July 16, 2007

"The purpose of modern education is to make you a more wealthy person."

"But when I read English at Bristol, the idea was that you ended up a richer person."

39 comments:

Sloanasaurus said...

Quite a nobbish essay.

Wealth should naturally flow from education. Yes, some majors are less applicable to the market moments after graduation than others, but in the end education will make you more wealthy if properly combined with motivation and common sense.

A friend of mine making $40k per year as a bartender at a nice hotel while we were in college. My first salary was $17,000 with a business mgt degree. Today my friend is still a bartender, and advocates for government health care and more government retirement benefits. Yikes. He has motivation and common sense, but no education.

Justin said...

From the article...

Education has changed course since then. Those poor young people at university nowadays send me their CVs and have five-year plans and targets and loans to pay. For them, education is about transforming themselves into an effective economic unit.

This mostly describes my education. I was too young to appreciate it.

I majored in Business Marketing. Who loves business? Who loves to study business? Business isn't fun. Business gives you money. My entire curriculum was focused on how to make money. Bleh. I'm bitter.

vet66 said...

If by "wealth" one means both intellectually and spiritually richer for the experience.

The practical application of an education is to provide the skills required to function in a complex business environment. One can't compose business goals and papers in text messaging format.

Education is a lifelong thrill ride, not something to put behind you in a search for material wealth. It is the way of life that makes the practitioner a better citizen.

It is a pity that the liberal education of years past has been subverted by those bent on indoctrination into the cult of socialism and anti-hero worship.

Education should be the inspiration to look into the heavens with wonder. If Education becomes a business it fails the discipline test. Sitting at a bistro table, smoking a Galloise, and pontificating about the meaningless of it all will not get you a job.

Education, above all, should teach humility, not arrogance!

Pogo said...

A good liberal arts education makes it possible for you to live a life properly examined.

Technical degrees such as engineering, law, medicine, computer applications, and business, more or less teach you a skill. But they leave unanswered and unanswearable the queries "Why?" and "Is this all there is?"

Learning a skill without the means for self-reflection is great until you hit forty. Then all hell breaks loose, and one faces life's slings and arrows and this mortal coil quite alone, bereft of the consolations of philosophy and literature.

Then, only the autodidact has the hope contained in learning. The remainder discover or rediscover religion, or alcohol, or someone new. Absent a decent awareness of Aristotle or Aurelius, the truth that man does not live by bread alone must be rediscovered each generation.

Tim said...

"A good liberal arts education makes it possible for you to live a life properly examined."

Agreed.

And isn't it ironic, in this wealthy society of ours, that the more money we make, the more money we think we need to make?

P. Rich said...

The writer smacks of a tradesman (by British standards) who has never dispensed with his subliminal upper-class aspirations. Clues are scattered throughout the article, the most obvious a casual attitude toward crass achievement. And as he will always be on the outside looking in on that particular societal ball, he sets himself above "the student", a substitute for his own personal underclass.

Those born to wealth and privilege can quite literally afford this attitude. We ordinary folk might have to stoop to hard work, even that involved in acquiring a useful university degree or two.

The pernicious aspect of this article is that it all too easily can be read as justification for skating through and having fun, with the vague expectation that something wonderful will magically follow. Instead, what will shortly ensue is harsh reality.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Not having had the benefit of a liberal arts education in my youth, I am proudest of what I have taught myself, rather than what others have instructed me in.

I still learn what I want to know for my own satisfaction. If I read Richard III its because I want to get something out of it, not because its assigned reading.

Of course, I have also missed the group self examination that being in college in your early years gives you. I spent those years (from 18-22) in the Air Force, and although we had some alcohol induced philosophical discussions, without the benefit of a common, instructed basis, we always spent hours forming the groundwork we could have easily picked up in a few hours of instruction.

I really don't think education will make you financially richer; if it did each Ph.d would be a millionare, right?

David said...

"I majored in Business Marketing. Who loves business? Who loves to study business? Business isn't fun"...lots of people love business and think business is fun; some people even like to study business.

Get into a field you love, or at least like.

John Kindley said...

I have mixed feelings on this question, reflected in my meandering educational and professional career. Coming out of high school, I believed one should do what one loved and presumably the money, not necessarily a lot but "enough," would follow. I was enthralled by the big questions of life, by philosophy, and initially wanted to attend St. John's College in Annapolis. I was practical enough to realize, however, that a lot of people graduate from that very liberal arts college with a lot of debt and virtually no job prospects. I no longer wanted to be dependent on my parents or to go deep into debt and also believed that I should get experience of real life and learn the skills to be self-sufficent (which I thought would also benefit and illuminate later academic education), so instead joined the Navy, thinking I might attend St. John's later. A year into my enlistment I obtained a position at the U.S. Naval Academy. Two-and-a-half years into that I underwent a crisis of conscience (despite being in the top fourth of my class), felt like I was being called to the Catholic priesthood, and no longer wanted to be a "cogwheel in the war machine of a godless state." After resigning from USNA and serving two years in the enlisted ranks which I owed the Navy I obtained a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Dallas (which was a second choice of mine in high school because of its core curriculum based on the Great Books, and which had the advantage over St. John's of accepting transfer students, so that I could obtain my B.A. after just 3 semesters at UD).

Only then did I fully realize the extreme difficulty and uncertainty (not to mention pedantry) of pursuing a PhD in philosophy and obtaining a position as a professor of philosophy (only half scholarship offered because while I was in 99 percentile on verbal part of GRE I was only 56 percentile in math helped me realize this), so it was off to law school at UW for me, incurring the substantial debt associated therewith (despite the GI Bill and paying in-state tuition after driving a Brinks truck in Milwaukee during the preceding year). Law school to my surprise turned out to be quite interesting intellectually (at least in some courses, for the first year or so), and especially because I stumbled on a topic for writing a law review article that I found immensely interesting and worthy of my best efforts.

What would I have done differently, knowing what I know now? I would have skipped liberal arts education entirely. My natural interest in philosophy would have led me to read and learn about it on my own. While it was helpful to have a community of scholars to discuss big ideas and hang out with and to have professors critique and guide my work, it wasn't helpful to the tune of thousands of dollars, and economically the B.A. I received was virtually worthless. I would have skipped the Navy, for the aforementioned reason (though the priesthood idea has gone by the wayside). And I would have skipped law school, because while sometimes interesting intellectually it did precious little to actually prepare me for the actual practice of law (and this is not a slam on UW Law relative to other law schools, because UW with its extensive clinical programs etc. makes more of an effort than most to be practical). It was not worth the time and money, except in the sense that it constitutes an artificial barrier to entry imposed by the profession to inflate the price for legal services (just as the AMA artificially restricts entry to the medical profession to inflate the price of medical services, as discussed by Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom).

So, gee, I'm not sure what I would have done differently, knowing what I know now. Maybe an economics degree if I still wanted to wax philosophical; otherwise maybe a two year business school, or computer tech training.

Cedarford said...

The whole point of the article was the question of the value of education and if it should be premised on whether or not it should be about making a small number wealthier or on making individuals and society as a whole richer.

There is of course a societal imperative to steer students into fields that promise to broaden and strengthen the economy for the benefit of all, to boost productivity. To get students in fields that are in the national interest and reward them accordingly - like America's crash program to get more scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and Russian speakers after Sputnik.

America's once-enormous lead over the rest of the world in agriculture came from government-funded land-grant colleges teaching the latest productivity boosting sciences and technology. And from massive government subsidies to railroads, waterways, rural electrification and other spending that created markets.

The libertarian myth of the "rugged hard-working" individual, alone, defining their own success in a meritocracy where the "genius of the free market" determines "each person's individual worth" - is a myth. A ridiculous myth.

And though the economy cannot be separated from the product of the educational system - much as educrats wish to want to make salaries for Womens Studies majors as good as those of chemical engineers -

All societies in the West and Asia have generally placed limits on unchecked greed and materialism in their recorded histories - and have traditionally regarded education NOT as an opportunity to emplace individuals to grasp more "stuff for themselves" but to enrich all. So the hyper-ambitious, manipulative, greedy have NOT been given much approval as to their morality, their adding to harmony, their being "balanced" in life and in desirable personal traits......

It comes, I think, from knowledge that without strong central government control, inhibitory structures on the massses from revolt as Marx detailed, and monopoly on force - that gross inequalities of wealth make any society unstable. Nor can society long endure wealth gaps that create different moralities - one for the masses, the other for Ivan Boesky, The Fast Andy Fastow family, Charles Keating, and Rep William Jeffersons and Duke Cunninghams and their sugar daddies out there.

Societal instability is all but guaranteed when there is a vanishing middle class, a vast populace of a declining or stagnant standard of living concluding the game is rigged against them - and they see a small band of exploitative Lords of the Universe and Elites gathering up most of the wealth and power, living life large...The "sanctity" of private property and wealth only exists in the minds of the masses if they believe the wealth was fairly gained - that it is an acceptable natural disparity in a society set up still for the common good, and not a society transmuted into the masses screwed for a small plutocracy.

Sloanasaurus misses this:

Wealth should naturally flow from education. Yes, some majors are less applicable to the market moments after graduation than others, but in the end education will make you more wealthy if properly combined with motivation and common sense.

A friend of mine making $40k per year as a bartender at a nice hotel while we were in college. My first salary was $17,000 with a business mgt degree. Today my friend is still a bartender, and advocates for government health care and more government retirement benefits. Yikes. He has motivation and common sense, but no education.


Perhaps he advocates for better health care because our present system is an expensive disgrace 50% higher per capita than any major industrialized nation, that now fails to cover 1/6th of the population, is killing American companies global competitiveness, produces over a million medical bankruptcies a year (bankruptcies so rare in Asia and Europe that they are major news stories when they happen to a family).

No, Sloan, in the end, education will not make you more wealthy if combined with motivation and common sense. If you find your passion is to be an aeronautical engineer PhD, computer engineer competing with 32 million people overseas, or a veternarian or firefighter vs. being a prestigious law school graduate willing to do 80 hour workweeks for the Partnership brass ring 20 years later.. or banker with an MBA.

Or you are simply member of a wealthy family in the middleman international trade biz, well-positioned to reap a fortune from destroying a US industry and profiting from the China trade or other 3rd World cheap labor pools...

Since the early 1980s, America has dramatically declined in the yardstick of social mobility. We are now far less likely to change from the "quintiles" we are born into than almost all of those "socialist" Euro nations or Asian ones. And in America it is far more likely that a baby born with millionaire parents will become a multimillionaire or billionaire than the odds even one of 1,000 babies born in the lowest quintile will ever become a millionaire.

Sloanasaurus said...

Cedar, your disgust in free markets is clear.

The libertarian myth of the "rugged hard-working" individual, alone, defining their own success in a meritocracy where the "genius of the free market" determines "each person's individual worth" - is a myth. A ridiculous myth.

You cannot be more wrong. This country was built on free market capitalism. It wasn't gov sponsored univiersities that made this country a leader in agriculture it was vast stretches of untouched land tilled by independent farmers. It was inventions by industrialists that made farming more efficient. Likewise, the government didn't build the railroads, the government granted land to the private investors who raised money from the public at large to build the railroads.

The government didn't fund Henry Ford or Thomas Edison, or David Packard, or Bill Gates, or John D. Rockafeller.

America was built by the people not by the government.

Liam said...

No matter what your education or income level, you shall be judged by when and where you wear shorts. And what kind of shorts.
And the length of the inseam.
And how you look in Chambry shirt.
And no seersucker after Labor day!

Sloanasaurus said...

So the hyper-ambitious, manipulative, greedy have NOT been given much approval as to their morality, their adding to harmony, their being "balanced" in life and in desirable personal traits

This reminds me of a statement Bono made once when he first came to America.

He said when he was growing up in Ireland, they would see the rich guy on the hill and people would say "I'm gonna get that rich guy." However in America, Bono noticed something different. Instead of wanting to get that rich guy, Americans wanted to be like that rich guy.

Your culture differences regarding greed are well noted Cedar. But, this greed is part of America. It is part of our culture of freedom. In America, it is traditional to value freedom above all other values, including equality. In America we all want the opportunity to be rich. We don't have an envy problem like other cultures.

Keeping the government out of our life is part of this freedom. America will cease being America when something else is valued more.

The Emperor said...

But they leave unanswered and unanswearable the queries "Why?" and "Is this all there is?"

1. Why not?

2. Probably.

OK, enough self-reflection. Go learn a skill and get to work everyone.

John Kindley said...

"In America, it is traditional to value freedom above all other values, including equality."

I agree with most of what you say, Sloan, but I also agree with the long line of libertarians who recognize that natural rights and freedom are violated by a certain conception of capitalism, in whose hands the government has been an instrument of oppression.

Thomas Paine had some momentous words on equality in his essay Agrarian Justice:

"There are two kinds of property. Firstly, natural property, or that which comes to us from the Creator of the universe,-- such as the earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property,-- the invention of men. In the latter equality is impossible; for to distribute it equally it would be necessary that all should have contributed in the same proportion, which can never be the case; and this being the case, every individual would hold on to his own property, as his right share. Equality of natural property is the subject of this little essay. Every individual in the world is born therein with legitimate claims on a certain kind of property, or its equivalent."

And later, a summary of the rationale for the geolibertarian, Georgist, "single-tax" thesis: "Man did not make the earth . . . "[I]t is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor therefore . . . owes to the community a ground-rent . . . for the land which he holds," or Land Value Tax (LVT).

No other kind of tax is legitimate according to the geolibertarians, whose philosophy, readily found by a Google search, I highly recommend to your consideration. The highly regarded philosopher of natural rights, Hillel Steiner, among others, has also recognized that inheritance taxes appear to be legitimate, the idea as I understand it being that a dead guy doesn't have a natural right to possess or dispose of property.

hdhouse said...

education...hmmm

more wealthy....arrggghhh

wealthier...correct.

grammar doesn't count does it.

Cedarford said...

In America, it is traditional to value freedom above all other values, including equality."

No, that is the corporatists motto, along with their amiable tools, the libertarians, that make that claim.

Much of that Constitution libertarians profess to venerate as their Holy Parchment in fact was about bounding and limiting some individual and some state freedoms for the greater good. It was a patch not just of the oppression of George III but of the disastrous "over-liberties" of the Articles of Confederation.

The tradition the Revolution came out of was of the Levellers, the Protestant revolt against wealthy Elites informing their lives and faith, of the Glorious Revolution. America later drew heavily on it's Conferderation failure, the French Revolution, industrial labor reforms, Marxism in ensuring that the intent of the Constitution, the Preamble, (which speaks to a lot more than the freedom and liberty of fatcat elites to do as they wish), was better met....

Read the Preamble sometime.

Liberty is just one of what scholars say were 5 Goals which the Preamble recognized that none could be expressed at their absolute - without trammelling other goals.

The goals start with the expression "We the People" - not we the Gentry or moneygivers to Congress. Add in promoting Domestic Tranquility, the Common Defense, General Welfare (of all the people), establish Justice, in addition to "the blessings of liberty".

Individual Liberty, in the abslute, in the absence of other rights and central goals - means shit. It is just puerile fantasy of the "no gummint, ever" boys and arrested development men that dream of freedom with no price or limits, but who lack the guts to move to such "no government" libertarian paradises as The Congo, Iraq, the Outlaw lands of barbarians elsewhere, or join the tinfoil hatters with their beloved, much stroked guns in rural Idaho.

So they seem to be content worshipping CEOs and owner elites...their paragons of freedom and liberty...

From the NYTimes article on the New Gilded Age of Clinton & Bush II“:
Carnegie made it abundantly clear that the centerpiece of his gospel of wealth philosophy was that individuals do not create wealth by themselves,” said David Nasaw, a historian at City University of New York and the author of “Andrew Carnegie” (Penguin Press). “The creator of wealth in his view was the community, and individuals like himself were trustees of that wealth.”

Repaying the community did not mean for Carnegie raising the wages of his steelworkers. Quite the contrary, he sometimes cut wages and, in doing so, presided over violent antiunion actions.

Carnegie did not concern himself with income inequality. His whole focus was philanthropy. He favored a confiscatory estate tax for those who failed to arrange to return, before their deaths, the fortunes the community had made possible. And today dozens of libraries, cultural centers, museums and foundations bear Carnegie’s name.


But despite his philanthropy, he was hounded until his death by his bad reputation from Homestead, his lethal devotion to income inequalities and struggle against a fair wage for other Americans. In his last years, he admitted that Marx and others did have a point that the workers were part of the community, were part of wealth creation, and his adamant stand against wealth redistribution except that occuring on his whim alone had hurt his reputation, his Christian goals, and his good intents...

hdhouse said...

Jesus Cedarford in the words of my great grandfather "you talka too much".

Thorley Winston said...

Those born to wealth and privilege can quite literally afford this attitude. We ordinary folk might have to stoop to hard work, even that involved in acquiring a useful university degree or two.

Here, here. I was the first person from my working-class family to go to college and I took it pretty seriously. The whole point of post-secondary education is that it should enable you to earn more than you would likely otherwise earn because of the skills or knowledge that you’ve gained by going. There might be other benefits as well but it’s the economic ones that are used to justify public-support through our tax dollars.

John Kindley said...

"In his last years, he admitted that Marx and others did have a point that the workers were part of the community, were part of wealth creation, and his adamant stand against wealth redistribution except that occuring on his whim alone had hurt his reputation, his Christian goals, and his good intents..."

Cedarford,

You and I have quite different views on the proper role of government in remedying inequities, but we share the view, contra some libertarians, that such inequities exist and should be remedied. If government could be brought to carry out some just wealth distribution along the lines envisioned in Paine's Agrarian Justice, that in my view would be a good thing, but unfortunately government has long been in the pockets of the "elites" you speak of, and so I have little hope of something like that actually happening. Mandating minimum wages and taxing the poor and middle class to pay for military adventures and occasionally doling it back to them in the form of various government social programs isn't going to cut it. One of the worst and most inequitable things the government does is confiscate big chunks of the earnings of the poor and middle class, keeping them constantly on the brink of insolvency and thereby limiting their independence. In my view, absolutely no one (wealthy or poor, just to keep things equal) should have to pay any tax on those fruits of one's labor that are necessary to establish and maintain a decent and reasonably secure standard of living (say, on income up to the mean U.S. household income). Desisting from that injustice would do more to remedy inequity than anything the government could "do."

I've been something of a fan of Andrew Carnegie and his "Gospel of Wealth," with some reservations. I appreciated that he recognized that his great wealth was in large measure due to the vast contribution of society as a whole rather than solely to his own effort and genius, and his support of confiscatory estate taxes, which I think are a good thing. On the other hand, I was taken aback by his smug belief that he could spend the money which his workers helped produce better than they could if they had received more of the fruits of their labor (more worker-owned cooperative enterprises could be part of the solution to this). The NYTimes article you cite provides some good perspective, and I'm glad to see that he some some of the errors of his ways, good-intentioned though I presume him to be, towards the end of his life.

Thorley Winston said...

Perhaps he advocates for better health care because our present system is an expensive disgrace 50% higher per capita than any major industrialized nation, that now fails to cover 1/6th of the population, is killing American companies global competitiveness, produces over a million medical bankruptcies a year (bankruptcies so rare in Asia and Europe that they are major news stories when they happen to a family).

Where to begin. We do spend more on health care largely because with the exception of Japan we use more technology and the most cutting edge technology compared to pretty much any other country. While we get the benefits of the best technology (which leads to having the most productive health care system in the world), it’s also expensive to be the leader in innovation. In addition we do spend more on things like premature babies and heroic measures to save people in the last stages of life. Unless you’re planning some sort of government rationing system, then yes health care is going to be expensive because of the way Americans use it.

As far as the uninsured, the number of uninsured is exaggerated to put it mildly as many people who are uninsured for part of the year are counted as being among the uninsured. As are people who could afford it (particularly the young) but chose to go without it. The biggest trend we’ve found in people without health insurance (which we’ve really only begun to track officially since about 1993) is that while just under 90% of our native-born citizens (it’s over 80% for naturalized citizens) have some form of health insurance, less than 60% of non-citizens have health insurance. Which suggests that a large part of the uninsured “population“ (as opposed to “citizenry”) is related to our more liberalized immigration policy rather than our health care system.

While I’m sure lots of companies would love to pass along their legacy costs to the taxpayers, it’s really a function of the bad deals that certain industrial sectors (airlines, automobile manufacturing, steel companies, etc.) negotiated with labor unions for retirees which is hurting their competitiveness. There’s little evidence that it’s harmed the rest of the economy which isn’t burdened by such legacy costs. But if you want to detach health care coverage from employment as the president and most of the GOP frontrunners have suggested, I’m open to it.

And the “over a million medical bankruptcies a year” is a load of BS. The Department of Justice’s Executive Office of the United States Trustee found that over half of the people who file bankruptcy have no medical debt and less than 10% of the people who file for personal bankruptcy have more than $5000 in uncompensated medical bills which only made up about 6% of the total unsecured debt of people who file bankruptcy. The only people who have been hyping the “medically-related bankruptcy” angle are the ones who define “medically-related” so broadly as to include just having a death or a birth in the family or a gambling problem. In other words to get at the kind of numbers you’re claiming you have to define it so broadly, it becomes meaningless.

Revenant said...

Technical degrees such as engineering, law, medicine, computer applications, and business, more or less teach you a skill. But they leave unanswered and unanswearable the queries "Why?" and "Is this all there is?"

Engineers are generally smart enough to figure that stuff out for ourselves. The "big questions" of life seem big because most of the people asking them couldn't intelligently analyze a question if their lives depended on it.

John Kindley said...

"Engineers are generally smart enough to figure that stuff out for ourselves."

I would take the bait and ask, so, what IS the answer to "Why?" and "Is this all there is?", but I'm afraid I'd be treated to some variation of the answers "Evolution" and "Yes, this is all there is," wrapped up in the smug assurance that anyone doubting these answers "couldn't intelligently analyze a question if their lives depended on it."

Engineers are trained to solve questions that are well within human capacity to solve definitively, and I'm inclined to deduce from your comment, assuming it was meant seriously, that you've imagined that questions which by their nature are above the capacity of humans to solve definitively are in the same category and as simple to solve as engineering problems.

In any event, as Aquinas said, a little knowledge of higher things is more valuable than comprehensive knowledge of lower things.

Revenant said...

I would take the bait and ask, so, what IS the answer to "Why?" and "Is this all there is?", but I'm afraid I'd be treated to some variation of the answers "Evolution" and "Yes, this is all there is," wrapped up in the smug assurance that anyone doubting these answers "couldn't intelligently analyze a question if their lives depended on it."

You appear to suffer from the delusion that "engineer" and "scientist" are synonyms for "materialistic atheist". The answers to those two questions depend on your axioms and your underlying beliefs about the nature of reality. From there it is simply a matter of reasoning. Different rational thinkers arrive at different conclusions depending on the axioms they use.

Engineers are trained to solve questions that are well within human capacity to solve definitively

Engineers, scientists, doctors, and other rational thinkers are trained, when faced with a problem, to look at what we know, and what we don't know, and through the use of reason and the process of elimination to focus in on the likely solution.

Inasmuch as the big questions of life can be answered by means of human thought, engineers are trained with the tools necessary. Inasmuch as the big questions are unable to be answered by means of human thought, engineers -- and liberal arts majors, and everyone else on the face of the Earth -- lack the tools, if any, that would allow those questions to be answered. In neither case does a liberal arts education actually get you closer to the answers -- or, for that matter, closer to knowing that you can't get to the answers.

you've imagined that questions which by their nature are above the capacity of humans to solve definitively are in the same category and as simple to solve as engineering problems.

Pogo remarked that an education in one of the rational disciplines leaves "unanswered and unanswearable the queries 'Why?' and 'Is this all there is?'". The implication is that some other form of education *doesn't* leave those questions unanswered and unanswerable. You appear to think that neither question can be answered by humans. If so, why are you complaining at me rather than at Pogo? Or is it just that -- as your Aquinas quote below suggests -- you think that there ARE methods of human thought that can get the answers, and it is just that you don't think the rational ones are the ones that work?

But as it so happens I think the question "is this all there is" is well within the realm of human intellect. It is just that most humans don't like the answer, so they keep asking it until they get one they like.

In any event, as Aquinas said, a little knowledge of higher things is more valuable than comprehensive knowledge of lower things.

Aquinas believed that many of the "higher things", such as the existence of God, were well within the realm of human reason. You, by your own admission above, disagree with him on that point. In the absence of reason nothing is known -- things are merely believed.

Sloanasaurus said...

Excellent post Revenant. I am not sure how reason can get one to the existence of God. Perhaps all you can get to is an understanding that you don't or can't really understand eternity. After all, nothing in our realm lasts forever. Everything has a beginning and and end. Maybe someone can fool themselves in to believing that they understand the concept of "always existing," but how can it be understood when there is nothing to relate it to.

Sloanasaurus said...

Cedar, sometimes I wonder if you aren't just practicing your debating skills, but I am not sure where you are deriving your interpretations of the founding. The idea of property and the freedom that went with it was foremost on the minds of the founders. Nothing in their ideas were marxist. They believed in equality under the law and the equality to pursue ones dreams, but no one had the notion of equality in property.

There was a debate on the role of government in the economy. It was the famous Hamilton v. Jefferson debate. Hamilton wanted the government to support economic structures, such as supporting banks, trade etc... similar to England. Jefferson wanted the libertarian agrarian society as John Hindley speaks of. Hamilton's vision won out. Today we live in Hamilton's America.

Say what you want about the socialist visions of rich industrialists - they are out of touch with the average American. Nothing is more abhorrent to American liberty than after a hard days toil on the farm the state comes in and takes 1/3 of your crop and pisses it away all for the purpose of "equality in property." It just proves that you must take from freedom to get equality. Who wants that...

John Kindley said...

Don't know if anyone is still hanging around this old thread but here's something of a response.

Revenant, you seem to have adopted in this instance our hostess' penchant for sometimes making brief provacative statements that don't stand on their own without further explanation. Perhaps I read more into your comment than you meant. I took you to mean that the "big questions" are much simpler and easier to solve definitively than most people believe, and that people who think otherwise and haven't arrived at the same obvious solutions you have couldn't reason their way out of a paper bag. Since "most of the people" asking the "big questions" would tend to be highly represented among liberal arts majors, I took your comment as a slam against liberal arts majors.

I acknowledged above that majoring in philosophy or liberal arts doesn't necessarily make one better equipped than an intelligent engineer to answer the questions of philosophy. On the other hand, I think actually studying philosophy and what philosophers have said on different subjects, whether one is a philosophy major or a philosophically-minded engineering major, does help. It helps in the sense that one doesn't have to re-invent the wheel and is able to take into account considerations and reasonings that one might otherwise not have been exposed to or taken into account.

Aquinas did believe that the existence of God could be rationally-demonstrated. However, other intelligent philosophers have taken issue with and criticized Aquinas' proofs for the existence of God. I agree with Aquinas that the existence of God can be known through reason, but that doesn't mean that the critics of his arguments are numb-skulls or don't have a point. My own take on this is that "reason" was traditionally understood as being comprised of three faculties: immediate apprehension or understanding; judgment; and discursive "reasoning." The first of these capacities is the surest and I believe that that is the level on which the existence of God can be "rationally" known. It's not the same as faith.

I did my senior philosophy thesis on "The Metaphysical Nature and Cause of Moral Evil," which incorporated the traditional "problem of evil" (how can evil exist in a world created by a Good and omnipotent God?). Aquinas' "answer," in a nutshell, is that moral evil is caused by the "non-consideration of the rule." But this answer is more in the way of a description rather than an explanation, and raises more questions than it answers. Some will say that the possibility of committing evil was necessary for human freedom, and are confident (in the way I took you to have confidence in whatever answers you've arrived at) that this answer solves the problem of evil, but there's more to the problem than that.

Augustine analyzed the problem very rationally and deeply, with much intellectual integrity, in his Confessions, and arrived by his deliberations in mystery.

I spent a lot of time and thought in analyzing this problem as best I could, and arrived in the same place. This very likely is one of those "big questions" that is "above the capacity of humans to solve definitively," but I do think I learned something positive by the inquiry . . . Even if the nature of whatever "knowledge" I gained by the inquiry is of that sketchy quality that Aquinas thought was nevertheless of more value than fuller knowledge of more mundane things. With regard to the problem of evil, I can say with Socrates that "I know that I do not know." Such knowlege is really knowledge, in that it participates in Truth.

Revenant said...

I took you to mean that the "big questions" are much simpler and easier to solve definitively than most people believe

Well, they are. If, for example, you take as axioms that God is, by definition, all-powerful and incomprehensible then there's simply no point in pondering questions like "why?" and "what is God like?" -- the answer to both questions is "it is impossible for us to know". Anything beyond that is mental masturbation. "We can't know" is the definitive answer.

Other axioms get different answers.

Since "most of the people" asking the "big questions" would tend to be highly represented among liberal arts majors, I took your comment as a slam against liberal arts majors.

It was (and, admittedly, a response to Pogo's slam of the theoretical and applied sciences). I have a low opinion of liberal arts majors, stemming from the fact that it isn't a field for which intelligence and reasoning are requirements. Engineering and science are. This is not to say that there are no intelligent liberal arts majors -- only that intelligence is superfluous to a liberal arts degree. Science and engineering require the ability to think clearly and critically, and to separate what is true from what you merely wish was true. Hence I find myself, in my day job, having to explain to people who majored in Fuzzy Studies why, no, they cannot have a product that behaves in two mutually contradictory ways at the same time.

Anyway, I'm aware that Aquinas' arguments (and those of Augustine, for that matter) have many problems; I mentioned him only because you quoted him. It has since been amply demonstrated that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated through reason, unless (as you suggest) we count "just *knowing* that something is true" as a form of reason.

As for the problem of evil being one of the "big problems" of life -- it is only a problem for people whose axioms include "there is an all-powerful and loving God". Most of the world doesn't hold that axiom. That the minority of the world which *does* hold that axiom is still struggling to come up with an answer after two thousand years of argument suggests to me that maybe another look at the axioms is in order. :)

John Kindley said...

"Science and engineering require the ability to think clearly and critically, and to separate what is true from what you merely wish was true."

Science and engineering require the ability to think clearly and critically about the parts of the material universe that are the subject of their various disciplines. That narrow proficiency does not necessarily extend into areas that are arguably much more important. For example, I'm sure there are plenty of scientists and engineers whose reasonings have led them to conclusions at great odds with your libertarianism, which I share. If you want to say that their "axioms" about the nature of man and his role in society are different than yours and thus lead to different (but valid according to their axioms) conclusions, that would strike me as a cop out, because I think the correct "axioms" can be arrived at through correct reasoning. The reasoning that is required is on the philosophical level. So, either you or they are dum-dums when the critical skills which are supposedly a prerequisite for engineers are applied outside their (or your) area of expertise.

What I think is immediately apprehendable and knowable by human insight or reason is the essential unity of all existence. (That doesn't mean it obtrudes itself on everyone's consciousness at all times.) God's essence is "His" existence ("I am who am"). The Goodness of existence is evidenced by the desire or tendency of all things to preserve themselves in existence, and foremostly by insight into the aspirations and desires of one's own soul. The latter proposition about God's Goodness (as well as identifying the unity underlying all existence as "Personal") rests more on discursive reasoning than the former insight that God exists, and so can and has been debated and controverted till the cows come home. That doesn't mean that there isn't a truth to be apprehended there, despite the limits of human conception and language. And, of course, what I claim to be the self-evident and primordial truth about the essential unity grounding all existence can be denied, just as people can deny the self-evident truth that all men are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The great paradox and cross of human life is that what is most important to human life is shrouded in mystery. We absolutely can't avoid the question "How should I live, and to what purpose?" That's a bigger and more important question to me that trying to sort out intellectually how evil can exist in a world created by a Good and omnipotent God. I hesitate to say this, because I know it won't be in the least persuasive to you, but perhaps what most drew me to Christianity is its message that, whyever evil might exist, God suffers with us, and Himself bears the burdens we bear, and shows us the Way to overcome evil. Does that message compel the assent of our intellects? No, but to me it has the ring of truth.

So, "We can't know" is not the definitive answer you think it is. God is not utterly incomprehensible, as he shows Himself forth in the works of Creation and in the innermost desires of the human heart.

Revenant said...

Science and engineering require the ability to think clearly and critically about the parts of the material universe that are the subject of their various disciplines. That narrow proficiency does not necessarily extend into areas that are arguably much more important.

So you keep saying.

Aspects of the universe "perceived" and "comprehended" via irrational means can obviously only be discussed irrationally. And what's the point in having an irrational discussion? I can get that at the corner pub any time I want.

I am, however, curious about what these alleged parts of the universe are that are immune to comprehension through reason, logic, and empiricism.

If you want to say that their "axioms" about the nature of man and his role in society are different than yours and thus lead to different (but valid according to their axioms) conclusions, that would strike me as a cop out, because I think the correct "axioms" can be arrived at through correct reasoning.

If you're arriving at it through reasoning, it isn't an axiom. The axioms are the things you think it is unnecessary to prove, like "nothing can possess mutually exclusive traits". That your axioms allow you to reason to positions that other people simply accept doesn't say anything about either of your positions.

The Goodness of existence is evidenced by the desire or tendency of all things to preserve themselves in existence, and foremostly by insight into the aspirations and desires of one's own soul.

The two major flaws in that argument are (a) from the smallest scale to the very largest, the observed tendency of our universe is to die and decay, not to preserve and (b) inasmuch as things DO preserve themselves, it is a tautology that everything in existence tends to exist. You can't derive anything from that.

And, of course, what I claim to be the self-evident and primordial truth about the essential unity grounding all existence can be denied, just as people can deny the self-evident truth that all men are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This would be the aforementioned "different axioms" -- and yes, a "self-evident and primordial truth" arrived at through "insight" is pretty much the definition of an axiom.

So, "We can't know" is not the definitive answer you think it is. God is not utterly incomprehensible, as he shows Himself forth in the works of Creation and in the innermost desires of the human heart.

You missed the point. I don't think God is incomprehensible; I think God is fictional. My point was that IF you believe that God is beyond human comprehension (and many Christians do) then the answer to those questions is simply "we can't know".

John Kindley said...

Revenant,

I think in large measure we're talking past each other, hopefully not merely for the purpose of winning a debate or proving how smart we are. E.g. the reason I put "axioms" in quotes is because I was aware that if you can arrive at a particular conclusion through a process of reasoning then it really isn't an axiom, though other people might take that conclusion as an axiom. We're limited by the relative brevity of the medium of blog comments, though I highly suspect that if we launched tomes at each other we'd still find ourselves talking past each other to a large extent.

The problem is that our language and associated concepts ultimately originate from the names we give to sensory objects, no matter how abstract and sophisticated the subsequent development of our systems of thought. Human knowledge, therefore, is fitted to and most within its field of competence when thinking about the physical world, including the realm of engineering and science (another proposition of Aquinas'). That doesn't mean we can't have any knowledge of or say anything meaningful about metaphysics. The assertion that we can't say anything meaningful about metaphysics is itself a metaphysical claim, and philosophers can and have debated endlessly such a claim (and other metaphysical claims, in which category I would for purposes of this "argument" include ethics and political philosophy). That doesn't mean that there isn't a truth to the matter that can be understood by humans to a greater or less degree, but the relative natural weakness of our reasonings in areas outside our primordial competence (the physical world) makes it exceedingly difficult to "prove" our metaphysical conclusions to each other, or indeed to establish certainty about metaphysical propositions in our own mind. Thus, as one wag pointed out, philosophy has consisted largely of trying to prove that every other philosopher is an ass, in which endeavor most philosophers have generally succeeding.

Thus, in one sense philosophy is futile, which is why I don't spend as much time knocking my head against metaphysical abstractions as I did as an undergraduate. I try to be more practical. (Incidentally, as a science-oriented guy, you might want to check out my science-oriented law revew article at www.proinformation.net.) As I Christian, I gave up my Catholicism in favor of Quakerism, a religion which eschews creeds and the credal understanding of faith as consisting of assent to certain propositions. I'm persuaded that based on the evidence Jesus rose from the dead and is the Son of God, but I rebel against the notion that salvation and worthiness rests upon belief in those admittedly debatable propositions. I put the emphasis instead where Jesus himself put it, in his answer to the person who asked Him what is the greatest commandment: "First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul; the second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself."

John Kindley said...

And note how those "Two Greatest Commandments" follow from the essential unity grounding all existence, a truth (rather, the Truth) which I take to be immediately apprehendable and knowable by human reason.

Galvanized said...

"I feel horribly sad for the people who must go through it all, carrying the burden of economic expectation rather then the spirit of exploration and adventure."

Amen to that.

And we need to realize that we take on the burden of economic expectation because we feel the need to prove our success with lifestyles and how much we acquire. So if the higher education is to prove something to someone other than oneself, then that is a burden, too. Still, for many, monetary success is an internal driver and a quest in itself. But to NEED the money and get the education for that reason, I agree, is sad.

Revenant said...

The problem is that our language and associated concepts ultimately originate from the names we give to sensory objects, no matter how abstract and sophisticated the subsequent development of our systems of thought.

A behavioral psychologist would agree, but then again behavioral psychology is almost entirely discredited today. In reality
human beings have many concepts that have no connection to sensory objects -- everything from love and justice to quantum mechanics and the square root of negative one. We are not only able to talk about things that have no connection to observable reality, but in fact really good at it.

The assertion that we can't say anything meaningful about metaphysics is itself a metaphysical claim, and philosophers can and have debated endlessly such a claim (and other metaphysical claims, in which category I would for purposes of this "argument" include ethics and political philosophy).

I think you're conflating "philosophers argue over it" with "there's a rational reason to doubt the correct answer". I don't see the connection between the two things. If it is impossible for humans to comprehend a concept then it is impossible for humans to have a meaningful discussion of the concept, inasmuch as "meaning" implies "having some idea as to whether or not what you're saying contains any truth at all". I am aware that some philosophers disagree, but that just underlines my point about intelligence and reasoning not being requirements for the field. What cannot be comprehended, cannot be comprehended.

I also have to say, in closing, that you really need to stop using "reasoning" to mean "just knowing that something is true". That is not what the word means in English, even if certain philosophers have played The Redefinition Game with it from time to time over the years.

John Kindley said...

"I also have to say, in closing, that you really need to stop using "reasoning" to mean "just knowing that something is true". That is not what the word means in English, even if certain philosophers have played The Redefinition Game with it from time to time over the years."

Geez, Revenant, my use of language is consistent with the venerable "3 modes of knowing" that I mentioned in a previous comment and that has been part of the understanding of traditional logic for centuries. Where I've used the word "reasoning" I've used it to apply to the third act of the mind, syllogizing and such, consistently with modern English usage. Every act of reasoning rests on underlying concepts which are immediately apprehended or understood, by the first act of the mind. The immediate apprehension by the first act of the mind is of its very nature more primary and more directly in contact with truth than what is constructed by the process of reasoning in the third act of the mind. That isn't to say that the things which are immediately apprehended can't be explicated by the third act of the mind, or that the immediate understanding by the first act of the mind can't be facilitated and brought on by the processes of the third act of the mind (e.g. with regard to the essential unity grounding all existence, see Parminedes).

All knowledge rests on the immediate understanding of the first act of the mind. Some of us have become so enthralled by our own ability to weave intricate webs of "reasonings" that we lose sight of the fact that "reasoning" relative to immediate apprehension is an imperfect mode of knowing.

". . . everything from love and justice to quantum mechanics and the square root of negative one. We are not only able to talk about things that have no connection to observable reality, but in fact really good at it."

All those things have obvious connections to observable reality. I don't know why you brought the fad of behavioral psychology into this. My comments were informed more by Thomistic epistemology, which if anything, contra Plato, recognizes that our faculty of knowing and understanding is bound up with the reality that we exist as animals (albeit rational animals) living in a physical world, which given your extreme skepticism of the possibility of any sort of metaphysical knowledge I would think would be more congenial to the bent of your thought.

"I am aware that some philosophers disagree, but that just underlines my point about intelligence and reasoning not being requirements for the field."

I also have to say, in closing, that you're obviously a moron. I would have refrained from such an observation if you had not so stupidly imputed stupidity to Aquinas, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and every other ancient and modern philosopher who has recognized and demonstrated the human capacity for knowledge, however imperfect, of metaphysical truths.

Revenant said...

The immediate apprehension by the first act of the mind is of its very nature more primary and more directly in contact with truth than what is constructed by the process of reasoning in the third act of the mind.

That statement is necessarily true if and only if the following two statements are also true:

(1): The axiom you have "immediately apprehended" happens to be true.
(2): The inferences you make from those axioms are less than absolutely certain to be true.

As to the second point, there are inferences that can be made that are logically simple enough to have no chance of being false. For example, given the axioms "human life is Good" and "God wants us to value that which is Good", the statement "God wants us to value human life" can be made with no loss of truth value, through the simple transitive property of a-b, b-c, therefore a-c.


As to the first point, if your axiom is, in fact, *wrong*, then those inferences which, through inaccuracy, take you further away from the implications of that axiom may in fact take you *closer* to the actual truth. For example, assume that the axiom "God wants us to be miserable" is false and the actual truth is that God values human life. A person who reasons from the first axiom that dead people can't be miserable and that killing is therefore wrong has stumbled upon the truth despite using shaky reasoning from an invalid premise.

Then there is the most important thing of all -- which is that reasoning can show you that your original axioms were wrong. For example, the axioms underlying the belief that god(s) provide earthly rewards to the most holy and earthly punishments to the least holy ran smack up against the fact that that demonstrably doesn't happen. It is possible that the axioms you "immediately apprehended" just so happened, out of sheer blind luck, to be correct -- but you can't actually know that rationally until AFTER you've reasoned from them and determined that (a) they don't contradict each other and (b) they don't contradict reality. After you've done that, you can at least conclude that the axiom *might* be true.

Some of us have become so enthralled by our own ability to weave intricate webs of "reasonings" that we lose sight of the fact that "reasoning" relative to immediate apprehension is an imperfect mode of knowing.

Most humans "lose sight" of that belief -- thankfully, given that is observably false. The best way to determine if a person is trustworthy is not, for example, to "immediately apprehend" that he is and scoff at the "intricate web of reasoning" that points out the fact that "he's trustworthy" conflicts with "he drained my bank account, changed his name and left the country".

All those things have obvious connections to observable reality.

Where, in observable reality, are "love" and "justice" located? New Jersey?

I don't know why you brought the fad of behavioral psychology into this.

I brought it up because that "fad" shared the belief that all human concepts are ultimate derived from our senses. Yes, I know they weren't the first to make that particularly silly and baseless claim, but they were the most recent. The "fad" ended largely because psychology -- unlike, say, philosophy or theology -- actually does sometimes attempt to verify its beliefs against observed reality, and actual reality knocks holes in a lot of really pretty philosophical ideas.

which given your extreme skepticism of the possibility of any sort of metaphysical knowledge I would think would be more congenial to the bent of your thought.

I do a lot of software design, which naturally involves extensive manipulation of symbols which have no actual connection to reality. Sure, the media they are carried upon exist in reality, but the symbols themselves are governed by rules which are reality-independent in the same manner which pure logic is. If A, then B -- whether A and B exist in the real world or not.

So naturally I'm skeptical of the claim that all of our concepts aren't bound up in observed reality. One might say I've immediately apprehended, simply by living the life I live, that that claim is false. :)

I would have refrained from such an observation if you had not so stupidly imputed stupidity to Aquinas, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and every other ancient and modern philosopher who has recognized and demonstrated the human capacity for knowledge, however imperfect, of metaphysical truths.

First of all, none of those four men claimed that the incomprehensible could be discussed rationally -- so, no, I didn't insult them. I may have insulted you, but given your attitude I can't say that idea bothers me anymore.

Secondly, as none of those men made any demonstrably true claims about metaphysics, citing their opinions about metaphysics as proof that I'm a "moron" amounts to nothing more than an argument from authority fallacy.

Finally, the fact that those men determined metaphysical "truths" that violently contradicted the "truths" of others of those men would be, to an intelligent and thoughtful person, hard evidence that at least SOME of them never got anywhere near the truth!

There is no denying that Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato thought up some interesting ideas. But calling them "truths" is pure foolishness.

John Kindley said...

"First of all, none of those four men claimed that the incomprehensible could be discussed rationally . . ."

I have two answers to that: Yes, they did; and Neither did I. If you'd just look at this honestly for a minute rather than trying to score cheap points you'd see what I mean.

"Where, in observable reality, are "love" and "justice" located? New Jersey?"

Your parents loved you and you loved them. You loved macoroni and cheese and your D&D figurines. You tried to take your little sister's tricycle and she kicked your ass. From these and other instances of love and justice in observable reality you derived the concepts of love and justice. They're connected with observable reality, which was my point. Likewise, all of mathematics, even the purest mathematics, ultimately originates and is derived from measuring and numbering things in the physical world, even though, obviously, mathematics would not be possible without the intellect's power of abstraction.

A textbook I have on formal logic defines reasoning as "the act by which the mind acquires new knowledge by means of what it already knows."

I don't deny that "there are inferences that can be made that are logically simple enough to have no chance of being false." However, inferences affirming or denying the existence of God, for example, are generally not in that category. Nor do I deny that reasoning can show you that what you thought you already knew is in fact wrong. I do deny that any such reasoning has shown me that God does not exist or that we can't say anything meaningful at all about God or that we can't know that God exists. You might ascribe that to wishful thinking on my part, just as I might ascribe your maintaining of contrary positions to wishful thinking on your part. Again, a large part of the difficulty in my view, part of why people find it so easy to talk past each other on these matters, is that the primary and most natural object of the human intellect is the physical world.

When I say that the existence of God is immediately apprehendable by the human mind, I don't mean that as soon as we pop out of the womb or someday as we're walking down the street it just hits us, just as I don't mean that we can immediately apprehend that some guy we just met is "trustworthy."

The late Jacques Maritain, a highly-regarded and influential Thomist philosopher, put it pretty well, so I'll just quote him:

"When St. Paul affirmed that 'that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal power also, and divinity . . .' he was thinking not only of scientifically elaborated or specifically philosophical ways of establishing the existence of God. He had in mind also and above all the natural knowledge of the existence of God to which the vision of created things leads the reason of every man, philosopher or not. It is this doubly natural knowledge of God I wish to take up here. It is natural not only in the sense that it belongs to the rational order rather than to the supernatural order of faith, but also in the sense that it is prephilosophic and proceeds by the natural or, so to speak, instinctive manner proper to the first apperceptions of the intellect prior to every philosophical or scientifically rationalized elaboration. Before entering into the sphere of completely formed and articulated knowledge, in particular the sphere of metaphysical knowledge, the human mind is indeed capable of a prephilosophical knowledge which is virtually metaphysical. Therein is found the first, the primordial way of approach through which men became aware of the existence of God. Here everything depends on the natural intuition of being -- on the intuition of that act of existing which is the act of every act and the perfection of every perfection, in which all the intelligible structures of reality have their definitive actuation, and which overflows in activity in every being and in the intercommunication of all beings. Let us rouse ourselves, let us stop living in dreams or in the magic of images and formulas, of words, of signs and practical symbols. Once a man has been awakened to the reality of existence and of his own existence, when he has really perceived that formidable, sometimes elating, sometimes sickening or maddening fact 'I exist,' he is henceforth possessed by the intuition of being and the implications it bears with it."

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