23 Jan 2013

From Wittgenstein to Dennett

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Ludwig Wittgenstein

Daniel Dennett is a distinguished philosopher, at least, with respect to Philosophy of Mind. As a kind of philosophical sideline, however, he follows the unfortunate example of certain other contemporary professors and operates as a polemicist on behalf of bien pensant liberalism.

Dennett recently offered this supposedly well-tempered response to the horrifying militarism of the barbarous administration of George W. Bush.

Suppose that we face some horrific, terrible enemy, another Hitler or something really, really bad, and here’s two different armies that we could use to defend ourselves. I’ll call them the Gold Army and the Silver Army; same numbers, same training, same weaponry. They’re all armored and armed as well as we can do. The difference is that the Gold Army has been convinced that God is on their side and this is the cause of righteousness, and it’s as simple as that. The Silver Army is entirely composed of economists. They’re all making side insurance bets and calculating the odds of everything.

Which army do you want on the front lines? It’s very hard to say you want the economists, but think of what that means. What you’re saying is we’ll just have to hoodwink all these young people into some false beliefs for their own protection and for ours. It’s extremely hypocritical. It is a message that I recoil from, the idea that we should indoctrinate our soldiers. In the same way that we inoculate them against diseases, we should inoculate them against the economists’—or philosophers’—sort of thinking, since it might lead to them to think: am I so sure this cause is just? Am I really prepared to risk my life to protect? Do I have enough faith in my commanders that they’re doing the right thing? What if I’m clever enough and thoughtful enough to figure out a better battle plan, and I realize that this is futile? Am I still going to throw myself into the trenches? It’s a dilemma that I don’t know what to do about, although I think we should confront it at least.

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I could not avoid reflecting that, philosophically speaking, Mr. Dennett is a member of the school of Analytic Philosophy founded, twice essentially, in the course of the first half of the last century by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein was, indubitably, a neurasthenic and neurotic, a homosexual, a crank and a wet liberal goo-goo, hostile to wealth, prone to romanticizing the poor, indifferent or actively hostile to formality and tradition (try to find a photograph of Wittgenstein wearing a tie). But all his personal demons, all the balderdash that Ludwig Wittgenstein embraced did not prevent him from volunteering to serve as an officer in Austrian Army when WWI broke out.

Wittgenstein served as an artillery officer, fought on both the Russian and Italian fronts, and was awarded three major Imperial Austrian medals for valor. One commendation spoke of “[h]is exceptionally courageous behaviour, calmness, sang-froid, and heroism”, which had “won the total admiration of the troops.” Wittgenstein actually wrote much of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus while serving in the trenches.

What has happened to separate Dennett from Wittgenstein? Much more indoctrination in bad Moral Philosophy and religious heresy from which not even professional training and expertise in Analytic Philosophy suffices to inoculate the potential victim and secure immunity.

C.S. Lewis wrote a famous essay, titled The Abolition of Man, in which he describes the mind-and-soul-numbing impact of a typical liberal elementary school textbook (which he calls “The Green Book,” which systematically denies the objectivity of values, which –in other words– trains the young to be (sophisters, calculators, and) “economists,” i.e. liberal materialist conformists like Dennett.

The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius [Lewis's fictional names of the "Green Book"'s authors] could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

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Surellin

A little off-topic, but I believe that Wittgenstein was also a member of the Cambridge Apostles, along with Kim Philby & Co. Woops.



JDZ

Wittgenstein was elected to the Apostles through the efforts of Russell and G.E. Moore, but he objected to the exclusivity and hermetic pretensions of the club and could not be persuaded to participate.



Holynose

Really enjoyed this post. These Dennett scenario descriptions though, I find, do not necessarily express a stance for or against anything. Its still possible to enlist an army of economists if the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the enlisting body. I don’t know of any financial institution whose strategies regrading the recent conflicts have displayed hesitance. If anything these super-rational entities appear to be inoculated against super high risk or absurd betting.



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