Saturday, December 5, 2020

Briefly Noted: We Are In The Fight Of Our Lives Over Epistemology

Today there are two important articles out that, while they may be different in tone, I think you'll recognize as closely connected and directly related to our larger cultural and political crisis.

The first article is, remarkably, by a Yale graduate in philosophy. I say "remarkably" because I would have expected someone so sensible to have been weeded out. The sentence in the article that REALLY jumped out at me is this one:

 "we are in the fight of our lives over epistemology"

Call it a fight instigated by a Great Philosophical Reset--one that dates back centuries but is reaching critical mass today in the public and civic life of our culture. Of course, few of our elite political masters would recognize this crisis as an epistemological or philosophical one. One no longer expects depth from politicians. Our real masters might well recognize the reality of this fight over epistemology--and for precisely that reason they would seek to cancel the very thought from the public discourse. 

Yet it is a reality, and it's the reality that I attempted to address in the earlier years of this blog, especially from 2010-2012. The reality of this struggle, with its roots in epistemology, is also the reason that--seemingly in an earlier life--I translated Etienne Gilson's Thomist Reason and the Critique of Knowledge. In more recent days, this conviction lies behind my periodic presentation of the thinking of people like (but not limited to) Patrick Deneen. In one post I wrote the following--and the principles Deneen refers to are in fact epistemological and metaphysical. Most moderns would disdain preoccupation with such principles, but they do in fact control our world, willy nilly:

Deneen's overall thesis is that all liberalism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction--progressive liberalism may get to the bottom of the slippery slope faster, but classical liberalism or libertarianism will get to the bottom just as surely because their fundamental principles are the same. Indeed, in a notable quote (see below) Deneen states with regard to the historical ignorance of his students: 

     The pervasive ignorance of our students ... is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. 
The civilization he speaks of, of course, is that of Western liberalism.

Deneen approaches the question of liberalism's death-wish from a philosophical and historical perspective but, before dismissing this as arcane theorizing, be advised that Deneen--writing in 2018--is keenly aware of current political realities. He writes with Trump--and "populism" generally--very much at the front of his mind.

So, with that introduction, the first article is:

Transgenderism Is Orwellian

As prescient as George Orwell was, even he didn’t have the foresight to see that a major battle would be fought over the truism that women cannot become men.

To whet your appetite for the entire article:

In both conceptions, reality “exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.” In fact, it is lunacy to believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right.

This belief is cognitively dissonant with belief in an everyday experience in which the truths of the world and society hammer themselves home with shattering force. But learning to reconcile these two seemingly irreconcilable beliefs is a principal exercise in the subtle art of doublethink.

The first belief lends itself to solipsism. The second belief suggests objectivity. But the synthesis of the two leads to a perilous equilibrium where the only real goal is power. Because there are no objective truths, one can make whatever reality he pleases. But because one has to contend with other thinking beings, in order to have true control over reality, one must also control them. 


Power typically is the ability to make people do things they otherwise would not do. And for power to be meaningful, one must in fact make people do things they otherwise would not do. For absent that, it simply would be the confluence of people’s desired actions.

But in collective solipsism, it is not enough to make people do things. You must make them believe things—as much as one can believe in something they know to be false. So in this system, you have to force people to believe things that they otherwise would reject. Without doing so the objective world still has primacy.


As prescient as Orwell was, even he didn’t have the foresight to see that a major battle would be fought over the truism that women cannot become men. But if we cede this battle—claiming that it is irrelevant or a distraction—we will have tacitly repudiated objectivity, one of the cornerstones of our civilization.

While our brave new world has a slightly brighter patina than Orwell’s dystopia and has closer and closer approximations to soma in the form of media and drugs, we are in the fight of our lives over epistemology. The consequences of failure would make Nineteen Eighty-Four look mild. Already, we see the news and social media practicing for the day that they institute Minitrue. They’re looking forward to it. 

The second article addresses the very practical consequences that flow from the Great Reset in epistemology: 

The Great Reset and Klaus Schwab

This article focuses on the everyday consequences we can expect from the Great Reset implicit in the slogan: Build back better. But make no mistake about it--it flows from the epistemology and philosophy that animate this quest for temporal power.


  1. Epistemology studies how knowledge can be acquired and validated.

    In our current battle, one side denies that knowledge and truth even exist, instead believing only in power and the mendacious narratives that support it. Essentially, the battle is over whether we should aspire to be human or just content ourselves with being amoral brute animals.

    Much of current schooling and media propaganda are designed to prevent even intelligent people from thinking. "Gender" is a prime example. It is what Ayn Rand called an "anti-concept," that serves no useful purpose but confuses every discussion in which it is used. There were already words for all the different things to which "gender" is applied -- biological sex, psychological conditions, cosplaying, and fetishes -- so there was no legitimate reason to apply "gender" to people. But it does make it impossible for anyone to know what someone is talking about when he uses the word "gender," and it makes it difficult even for the intelligent to think efficiently by using such a concept.

    For an analogy, think of trying to do modern mathematics using Roman numerals. That's why the powers that be insist on the word "gender:" it makes clarity almost impossible.

    I cover some of that in my book's chapter about post-modernism.

    1. I would say much the same is true of the abuse of the word "gay" as a proxy for homosexual. It forces the conversation away from behavior and into a cul-de-sac about personality. I remember clearly when it was hijacked my corporate media and always considered egregious.
      Tom S.

    2. The last sentence should read: I remember clearly when it was hijacked by corporate media and always considered it egregious.
      Tom S.

  2. I know Deneen and like him, but I think he is wrong about the intrinsically self-destructive nature of liberalism, especially as it was understood in America. The Founding Fathers of this country did indeed hold certain political truths, such as the equality of human beings (of all races and both sexes) and their endowment with certain natural rights to be true, not just for their times, but always. But they also believed that Christianity was true, and these two sets of beliefs formed the horizon within which politics operated up to and after the Civil War. At some point in the late 19th century American liberalism was challenged both by evolution, creating doubts about the truth of Scripture as well as the fixity of human nature. At roughly the same time, educated Americans, who had pursued advanced studies in Europe (we had no real graduate schools here) returned home infatuated with German political ideas, especially rejection of the separation of powers and faith in a disinterested bureaucracy. These two developments altered our original understanding of liberalism, which had prudently set limits to
    human freedom. In short, the practice of liberalism, American style, was much better than its theory. But all that is largely gone now. It is not taught anymore, either in our schools or in our institutions of “higher” learning. We are indeed in an epistemological crisis, but this is not the fault of our Founders.

    1. But they also believed that Christianity was true

      Yes, but Deneen (and James Schall, SJ) make it clear that "Christianity" is not congruent with Catholicism. After Luther, Aquinas was a mostly-dead letter in Christianity; thus Deneen's concern.

    2. In fact the notion that most of the prominent Founding Fathers were anything like real believing Christians is incorrect.

      OTOH, the Catholic influence on the American Founding was very real, and does lead back to Aquinas through Bellarmine:

      St. Robert Bellarmine's Influence on the Writing of the Declaration of Independence & the Virginia Declaration of Rights

    3. The Catholic influence on the founding is the subject of this book (not yet read, but on my to-do list):

      Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish Without Rome
      by Timothy Gordon

    4. Good stuff, Aletheia.
      On some specifics:
      "evolution, creating doubts about... the fixity of human nature."
      I don't see how such doubts *needed* to matter in a political context.
      Even if the human species "evolves", it does so, in the key respects, too slowly to matter (contrary to Marxist fantasies).

      As to "infatuated with German political ideas", don't forget Rousseau, who, as Allan Bloom emphasized, spurred the first sharp split w/in the Enlightenment, via not only Hegel (& thus Marxian Materialism), but Byron, Hawthorne, Tolstoy, and Thoreau, and a sort of Nietzschean rejection of the separation of powers.
      (If today's Lefty solipsists are Marxian heretics, Marx was a Puritan heretic.)
      Likely more thoughts later.

    5. By my lights, the Founders were a synthesis of the very best of the Western Tradition, and came early enough to not be bastardized by Rousseauism/ Jacobinism.
      Had the Bourbons not been such idiots, the Jacobins may not have gotten so much power so fast, and Rousseauism may not have gotten steam (as more that just another interesting set of approaches).
      As it was, Rousseauism did become the go-to outlook of the "avant-garde" crowd, with gruesome effects in due course.
      Yeah, epistemology matters, but so do historical accidents, which can spur stampede mov'ts, which in turn overwhelm the ability of institutions to prudently sort wheat from chaff.

    6. More on historical contingency, vs. longer-run trends, e.g. in Epistemology:
      What if one of the judges who sent Stalin to "cushy" exile (after his multiple arrests for various crimes), instead took more into account the long length of his career of bank robbery, kidnapping, etc., and gave Stalin sentences of decades, instead of just 2-3 years at a time?
      Would the USSR have survived Barbarossa, to inspire Commie revolutions in China, Cuba, Viet Nam, etc.?
      Would the US New Left been anything like what it became?

      What if Adolf was *permanently* blinded in the Fall 1918 gas attack (which instead became a big part of his legend)?
      Had he not been able to criss-cross the land (e.g. in the 1932 "Hitler over Germany" campaign), would there have been a Barbarossa, with huge upshots across the globe?

  3. Many thanks for the link to the Notturno article.

    My daughter is an adolescent, and her view of the world continues to unfold in front of her. The travails of this past year have afforded us to discuss the merits of examining the facts concerning COVID-19, and comparing these facts to the stories we are fed in the media.

    As our daughter is, like her adolescent peers, often online, she is constantly bombarded with enormous pressures concerning transgenderism and its ilk; discussions of fascist Trump; and an almost slavish requirement to constantly show your support for BLM, etc.

    This year, therefore has afforded us the opportunity to discuss the messages with which she is constantly being bombarded, and to pry apart the logic (usually lack of logic) behind the arguments/positions.

    The Notturno article, therefore, presents another excellent opportunity to discuss the craziness of many of these ideas.

    Again, thanks.


  4. Feeling philosophical today are we?

    I'm not sure that we're in the fight of our lives over epistemology. I think it's a side effect of a much bigger and intentionally created problem.

    The clash is not a naturally occurring it's being brought about by a larger force in almost every case.

    By saying that I do realize that the argument could become circular but there is a starting point that can not be ignored and that is people are being driven (in mass) into beliefs by agenda, not natural thought or social evolution.

    The media as an example... In almost every case by design today they seek to educate readers, not inform them. In making that very clear choice they are choosing to steer them vs allowing them to make informed decisions. That is a taught methodology using well know psychology.

    It's pure friggen evil but good luck on getting people to understand that.

    Transgenderisum is a great example of that. They took a mental health disorder and choose to make it about sexuality while at the same time explicitly saying it's not about being sexual and pulled it off.

    They took flamboyant gay men dressing up in drag for fun and applied that to gender dysphoria and said this is quite normal. Even the gay drag queens will tell you, no it is not and get the F-off my lawn.

    Once you have the believers hooked you are no longer talking about a "subject" and there is no longer a discussion to be had... Because you are now telling them there version of Jesus Christ doesn't exist.

    It's a REALLY nice trick!!!

    This is group psychology templated to any subject you choose to apply it to. It's as intentionally as Edward Bernays made it to be and it is why you will never convince any follow of any subject that their god isn't real. You can only inform then and allow them to unwind their beliefs on their own, but you will never CONVINCE them otherwise.

    Very few people understand that and it's why when in conversations with any random person today they seem so ignorant or resistant to impure thoughts that go against their religion's education.

    Try taking that approach into mind the next time you are dealing with a liberal... Don't try to convince them of anything but try planting a seed of critical thinking skills and see if it grows.

    The great reset is being driven by the great mind-f and I don't care if you are talking about the Soros group or the GOP... They all have moved over to using these tricks.

    1. I find Dr. Kenneth Minogue very insightful on liberalism (Big L in the sense we are ALL liberals) contradictions and trajectory. "The Liberal Mind" is short but very very sweet.

  5. "But in collective solipsism, it is not enough to make people do things. You must make them believe things—as much as one can believe in something they know to be false. So in this system, you have to force people to believe things that they otherwise would reject. Without doing so the objective world still has primacy."

    - So is this the Kool-aid the MSM is drinking?

  6. Oh, and with the "Great Reset" I shouldn't expect to be compensated (amongst many, many others) for losses incurred due to Covid-19 origination in China. That's right... we're all in this situation together now. Here ya go, here's some more skin off my back.

  7. Jordan Peterson is fond of saying, a person may well deny reality and objective truth al Ln they want until they slam up against physical pain. There is no philosophy or solipsism that can overcome the reality of physical pain. That suffering focuses the mind and clarifies thinking in a marvelous way. And make no mistake. Pain is coming for many many people if this insane power grab continues. Death and suffering will effect a sea change. Hunger and misery will remind us what is real and true, what matters, what doesn't, what's necessary and what's superfluous.

  8. Heard this at a Trump rally...

    Very apropos for these times.

  9. “You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

    “If I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible what was the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: 'Men had forgotten God; that is why all this has happened.' ”
    ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn
    Tom S.

  10. Gilson supervised the doctoral dissertation of Fr. Joseph Owers ('The Doctrine of Being in Aristotle's Metaphysics'). Owens supervised the doctoral distortion of one John Catan who in turn was my philosophy teacher.
    Catan tried to get me in to the whole metaphysics/epistemology thing but the only thing by Gilson that I could get through was his delightful book "Eloisa to Abelard ".

    However, I was awed by Owen's scholarship in about five languages including ancient Greek and Latin.

    Years later in my Master work in History Owens was my model.

    For me epistemology is easy.
    It is scientific knowledge, and all scientific knowledge comes down to two grammatical structures:

    1) Empirical propositions (factual statements) that are true or false base on perceptual evidence and can be tested by any competent researcher.

    2) Inferential Propositions (logical inferences) that conform to the rules of logic (e.g. syllogism) and can be tested by anyone who know the rules of logic.

    By science I do not mean only natural science. To my mind Marc Bloch's book "The Historian's Craft" posits the same epistemological criterion for establishing knowledge of the past.

    Similarly, the book by Bloch's teacher's at the Sorbonne Langlois and Seignobo's great mythological work "Study of History".

    Although, I have to admit that I keep bumping into a metaphysical issue when I think about the objects of historical inquiry are objects that don't exist.
    All other sciences study existing objects.

    But when I start think like that I turn on a ballgame and get back to earth.

    1. Have you tried Gilson's "The Unity of Philosophical Experience"? It is, in my view, in important respects his greatest book. It's his 1936 Harvard lectures and is both highly readable as well as a sweeping historical survey of Western thought.

    2. Bloch's wiki entry attributes to him the view
      "that the historian should attempt to explain and describe rather than evaluate in normative terms."
      I'm quite with him on this, and suggest that opinionated historians should Evaluate in separate "Afterwards", akin to OP-eds in newspapers.

    3. Problem is, as Richard Weaver noted, the apparent does not exhaust the real.

  11. As Swift puts it, "Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired." I would say we face an uphill battle.

    In a sense, if we bend the meaning of the story to fit our needs, the myth of Sisyphus is more apt.

    We are Sisyphus. The rock is our endless and futile attempt to win the argument.

    Thinking we can argue with liberals or leftists, who more or less believe in magic, and expect results, or argue with a liberal and shoehorn said liberal into sensibility, is itself a form of madness.

    This philosophical thread is heartwarming and takes me back to my own classes in metaphysics and epistemology. But you don't bring a knife to a gun fight.

  12. I left Berkeley a radical 46 years ago and for decades I thought that my familiarity with the mindset would allow me to flip my old mates. It's only been in the past four years that I've realized how impervious they are to any argument. It finally occurred to me that their sense of self is inextricably linked to their political ideology. Subtract the ideology and you would render them morally adrift. It is no accident that none of them retain any religious touchstones and the Catholics among them couldn't say a Rosary if their lives depended upon it.

    These aren't exactly earth shattering epiphanies, but I do find myself frequently wishing that we could just divorce and cease the endless bickering. It would be SO nice not to have to care what they thought about things.