Monthly Archives: June 2018

An Essentialist Making the Case for Nominalism

In a post entitled “‘Essentialist’ means just what I say it means…,” anti-liberal blogger Zippy Catholic described the terms “Essentialist” and “Nominalist”:

[A]n antiessentialist (or nominalist) will view a word like “liberalism” the way Humpty Dumpty views it. The word refers not to an objective external essence but to whatever internal state of his mind that Humpty chooses it to refer to; nothing more, nothing less, and always subject to Humpty’s will. Nobody else can impute an implication that Humpty does not agree to, because there is no essence to the referent other than just what Humpty wills. If Humpty is a liberal, it is only because Humpty agrees in every particular with what liberal means and implies, and further agrees that he is one. “Liberal”, if it applies legitimately as a label to Humpty, does so only because he chooses for it to apply and chooses all that it entails.

An essentialist understands a word to refer to some real essence that is external to and independent of the person who utters it. A speaker[‘s] … words refer to objective things and have objective implications about which he may be completely ignorant or mistaken. Humpty is a liberal if Humpty is in fact loyal to liberalism, which is an objective thing independent of Humpty.

In another blog post entitled “Definition of liberalism,” Zippy defines liberalism as:

Liberalism is the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is a primary legitimate purpose of government.

More recently, in the comment section of a recent blog post on the Orthosphere entitled “Deplorable Gnon“, contributor Thomas F. Bertonneau stated:

Hillary’s gnashing of teeth belongs to her gnosticism, which … schemes to realize just as soon as it can derealize all those who stand in its way just by being. Like the witch-hanging Puritanism of which it is the heir, contemporary liberalism, which, as you say, is socialism, corresponds to a sacrificial cult.

Here I take Mr. Bertonneau to mean “witch-hanging Puritanism” is a form of liberalism. He repeated this point in another post entitled “What is Puritanism.” This struck me as odd given that I have been told on numerous occasions there existed broad agreement as to the definitions of liberalism among the people who contribute and comment both on the Orthosphere and its sister blogs like Zippy Catholic. To my knowledge, no puritan sect (especially not the witch-hanging sort) thought it was important to secure the freedom and equal rights of the people under its control. In fact, I would say it is obvious on its face that the contrary is true.

There are a few things I could draw from this situation. First, I think this only confirms my suspicion that those who contribute and comment within the anti-liberal community are using different definitions for “liberalism” (and probably other terms) and yet they are discussing these terms as if a common understanding was broadly understood. This makes a coherent conversation on the subject difficult in my estimation. Second, I assume based on the posts I have read written by Mr. Bertonneau, that he holds himself to be an essentialist. As an essentialist he would have to believe that a real definition of liberalism exists independent of his own mind. However, his recent writings seem to suggest that he defines liberalism not as Zippy defines it but rather as anything Mr. Bertonneau dislikes about modern Western culture. For example, in his post “What is Puritanism” he conflates Puritanism with Liberalism and asserts:

Many Catholic congregations in North America qualify as Puritanical in that they have liberalized themselves and so assimilated themselves to the Left, which is indeed a heresy of Christianity.  All humanities professors are Puritans – as are all college administrators.  Trumpskyites in North America and adherents of the Fidesz Party in Hungary are not Puritans.  Everything today describing itself as “comedy” is archly Puritanical and extremely unfunny.  It never smiles; it only smirks and scowls and uses four-letter language. Islam is ultra-Puritanical. That California, governed by an octogenarian ex-Jesuit, is the vanguard Puritan republic of the United States, the Salem Colony of its day, is in no way belied by the other fact that it is the home-state of the pornography industry.

This strikes me as a nominalist manner of thinking. In fact, it specifically reminded me of Zippy’s post on Humpty Dumpty cited above.

If one is being honest with himself, it is very difficult to take an absolutely “essentialist” world view. Because, even if one does believe there to be real definitions out in the world and independent of the mind, the mind must first make this decision to believe this truth. As such, an essentialist is really just a nominalist who believes with certainty that real definitions exist. Or perhaps asserting real definitions exist is to simply assert a state of mind. Moreover, because the essentialist believes these real definitions exist he naturally tends to believe that his beliefs are in accord with these real definitions and accordingly anyone who believes differently or expresses uncertainty must be wrong. This is not to say that I believe real definitions do not exist for some things, but as the so called “broad agreement” or lack thereof as to the definitions employed on the  Orthosphere demonstrates, one cannot be sure that his particular definitions comport with the real definitions existing external to his mind.

 

 

 

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Consciousness as the Basis of Reality

In a recent Actualized.Org podcast entitled “What is Consciousness” Leo makes the assertion that consciousness is the basis of reality. This is opposed to the materialist paradigm which holds that matter is the basis of physical reality. It seems that materialists can be either atheist or theist. The atheist materialists would hold that there only exists matter and the physical laws that govern its interaction and that this makes up the entirety of reality. The theist materialist would hold that there exists a spiritual realm that is separate from the material but that we humans inhabit or are in contact with primarily the material realm.

I would describe the friendly folks over at the Orthosphere as theist materialists, believing they reside within a material universe created by God who declared it to be good and therefore the goodness of the material is not to be questioned. To them there is unquestionably a spiritual realm with which those of us inhabiting the material realm (if we’re good) will choose to align ourselves. Of course, I would not presume to speak for their point of view as I have been told on numerous occasions that I lack the capacity to fully understand their wisdom. I am merely presenting my interpretation of their world view based on what I have read from their contributors. I am sure Terry Morris will correct me if I have inaccurately described their beliefs.

It is unquestioned that most people are materialists of one sort or the other. One probable reason most people believe the materialist paradigm to be the correct description of reality is because it is easier to understand. Our senses seem to readily confirm the assumption that we are each individual units of consciousness living in a physical body, in a three dimensional, physical world of other physical objects. Some of these physical objects are living creatures with varying degrees of consciousness. In this model, consciousness seems to be an emergent quality of the physical universe. That is, consciousness naturally results when matter is arranged in a specific way.

By contrast, under the paradigm where consciousness is the basis of reality, consciousness is not an emergent property of physical reality but rather the fundamental property of physical reality. That is, the universe is created from consciousness. Two  counter arguments to this assertion readily come to mind. First, consciousness as I understand it is the quality of being aware and mere awareness which has no physical properties cannot logically be used to construct a physical universe. Second, (I suspect an Orthospherian would argue that) in order for there to be awareness there must first be someone or something that is aware which in turn presupposes that materiality precedes consciousness.

Leo contends that although consciousness has no physical properties, this allows it to take on all the infinite possibilities of physical reality. In other words, consciousness is a vessel for content. One could also justify consciousness as being the basis of physical reality through a thought experiment similar to Descartes “evil demon” scenario. In this thought experiment we acknowledge that physical reality is rendered through the mind therefore there is nothing necessarily physical or material about it but merely consciousness interpreting it as such. If one were to hold the point of view that consciousness is the fundamental basis of reality then one would have to discard the notion that in order for consciousness to exist there must first be a person who is conscious. In other words, consciousness would have to be able to exist independently which I suppose is not inconcievable.

Another aspect to consciousness is that it is both aware and self-aware. So not only is consciousness a building block (so to speak) of reality but it is also by definition aware of itself. Under this model consciousness is diffused throughout everything in the universe including biological objects and non biological objects. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that everything in the universe is diffused through consciousness. Of course certain things have greater degrees of consciousness. A chimp has more consciousness than a rock for example. From this perspective it seems entirely plausible that artificial intelligence will be able to have consciousness on the level of a human or perhaps greater because it was constructed in such a way so as to allow the underlying consciousness to manifest itself.

I suppose one might reasonably ask what difference does it make whether material or consciousness is the basis of reality and how might one confirm whether this is indeed the case? Leo contends that this can in fact be confirmed through spiritual practices such as meditation and use of psychedelics. If this has been so confirmed to an individual then I assume this knowledge will change the way he or she looks at the world. I am certainly open to this perspective but I cannot say that I have yet confirmed it one way or the other.

 

 

 

 

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