December 09, 2015

People are creations of society or the Divine?

Quotation of the Day… by DON BOUDREAUX on DECEMBER 9, 2015
More fundamentally, consumers’ tastes are not exogenous or “given” to the market system. (What would have been your ‘taste’ or ‘preference’ for smart phones had you lived in the 12th century?) Consumers’ tastes are very much a product of not only the society and culture of which they are a part but also of the economy in which they participate. Yet contrary to people on the left (and to many on the right), this ‘endogeneity’ of consumers’ tastes and preferences is not a bug of the entrepreneurial market, it is a feature. [...]

It’s curious and telling that today a disproportionate amount of the skepticism to capitalist advertising and marketing comes from people on the political left. It’s curious and telling because this skepticism implies that each individual somehow has ‘real’ tastes and preferences that are independent of society – tastes and preferences that the individual, as such, possesses ‘naturally.’ A large chunk of the ‘real’ individual, in this mistaken view, exists independently of society. Society, therefore, can only support or distort the individual’s ‘true’ preferences and goals.

In contrast to this leftist view, those of us who are steeped in the Smithian-Austrian-Hayekian-Buchananite tradition understand that people are creations of society. And so we don’t sound the alarm the moment we discover that this taste or that preference has been ‘sparked’ or ‘changed’ by some activity of entrepreneurs. 

Adam Smith never said anything like: ‘the common good emerges when everybody works for their own selfish interest’... In fact, Smith never spoke favourably of selfishness. Richard confuses him with Ayn Rand (1960s) or even Bernard Mandeville (1734). They both lauded selfishness (Rand by making it a virtue and Mandeville by making it a social compulsion – ‘private vice, public benefits’). But not Adam Smith; he called Mandeville's theory 'licentious'.

Adam Smith never endorsed a policy of, or the behaviour of, greed. That is to confuse Adam Smith with Bernard Mandeville, author of the Fable of the Bees, 1734 (written over the years 1704 to 1737), who made greed a private vice but a public good. 

I have long had an ambition which, I am slowly realizing, is unlikely to be fulfilled. It is an ambition suggested in this blog’s title: the idea of putting together all the major philosophical traditions of the world into a full synthesis. Ken Wilber’s work has to date been the most valiant attempt anyone has made to fulfill that ambition. But I have argued in many ways that this attempt has failed. It must fail, in the perennialist form Wilber’s work takes: to claim that all the world’s wisdom (or “religious”) traditions are basically saying the same thing. That claim makes the attempt at putting the traditions together much easier. It is also false.

If I ever was a perennialist like Wilber, it would have been a very long time ago, before I started serious study of any traditions. I’ve never thought a synthesis would come that way. A true synthesis would need to be dialectical. But to offer a dialectical synthesis of all traditions seems pretty close to impossible. There is just too much out there. One can certainly love all wisdom, enjoy it, delight in it. But I don’t think one can actually know all wisdom well enough to put it all together in one lifetime. And one lifetime is all any of us has.

I’ve recently been closely studying Alasdair MacIntyre‘s work because I think he’s thought through these questions of comparative method more thoroughly than most. [...] At this point one might ask the question of how exactly traditions are to be counted – a question on which MacIntyre provides less guidance than he should. I go back and forth on this, but the number of traditions I might identify myself in seems to vary between two and five.

The five traditions in question would be Theravāda Buddhism, Madhyamaka Buddhism, Aristotelianism, utilitarian empiricism and historicism – springing above all, respectively, from the thought of Buddhaghosa, Śāntideva, Aristotle, David Hume, and G.W.F. Hegel (or even MacIntyre himself).

I meant to post this back in August when Levi Bryant finally started blogging again, but it somehow got stuck in my drafts (a veritable grave yard of unfinished thoughts and undead ideas!). The philosophical spirit Bryant expresses in his writing is rather unique in its capacity to inspire me to resist. I am very grateful to him for this. So many of my posts on Footnotes2Plato have been provoked by the ideas he has shared on Larval Subjects. I’ll add another to that long list.

In his post on the trauma of speculative realism (etc.), Bryant draws on a passage from Foucault’s Archaeology of History to link the essential structure of myth to the synthetic activity of the subject, that is, to the “temporalizing activity of the subject capable of forming a totality for itself in how it links historicity and futurity in the formation of a present” (Bryant’s words). [Speaking of the present, those in the Bay Area should join us at CIIS tonight for a lecture on Foucault’s life and works by Jamie Socci.

He argues that all prior forms of consciousness (i.e., ideologies) were possessed by the drive to mythologize, that is, to long for a lost origin. Speculative realism (etc.), finally, has exorcised humanity (or some posthuman object formerly known as a human subject) of this possession, freeing ‘us’ to contemplate the fact that ‘we’ are already dead. The enlightened speculative realist no longer believes in ghost stories, not even the ghost story called human subjectivity.

There is much I agree with Bryant about. I align myself with the same “minor” tradition in the history of philosophy that he hints at. I also seek to undermine “the self-present mastery of the subject” and take every opportunity I can to remind myself and others that “we live in the orbit–-in the astronomical sense of the word–-of things that exceed us.”

For precisely these reasons, I am drawn to the work of Schelling (no doubt a heterodox thinker not easily categorized by Western philosophical norms). His early Naturphilosophieand later positive philosophy of mythology and revelation were a century ahead of their time as a forerunner of depth psychology. [...] Joshua Ramey and Daniel Whistler discuss the implications of Schelling’s philosophy of mythology in their essay “The Physics of Sense: Bruno, Schelling, Deleuze” (2014).

For the integral Yoga, the end result of the Yoga of knowledge is not a dissolution into the vast impersonal Brahman; rather it is the unification of the Impersonal with the Supreme Personality. Sri Aurobindo describes three steps in the relation between the individual seeker and the personal aspect of the Divine. [...] The yogic process does not focus on an intellectual appreciation or understanding; rather, it emphasizes that a realization that takes up our existence and our conscious awareness into this new status is what is required.

The human mind separates the experience of the Transcendent, the unmoving Absolute, the Silent Impersonal from the apparently contradictory experience of the manifested world of forms, beings and forces. The materialist takes the position that the Personal, as embodied in the world of forms and forces is the reality and there is nothing else beyond. The practitioner of the Yoga of knowledge, the seeker of the Infinite sees the Impersonal as the only reality and the world of forms is considered to be something illusory and ephemeral. Usually these two are considered to be opposite extremes that cannot be reconciled to one another. Sri Aurobindo has taken the stance, however, that there is an Omnipresent Reality that not only unifies these two apparent contradictory views, but exceeds them and transcends them. [...]

The human mind operates by analyzing, dividing and parsing out information into distinct and separated categories and types. This is a knowledge that seeks out differences and fixates on them. Sri Aurobindo holds that the true knowledge, however, is the knowledge that unites and unifies, that finds ways to incorporate and embrace the apparent contradictions through a higher synthesis that resolves the conflict. [...] The individual forms do not exist independent of the Oneness. The Oneness is not destroyed because of the existence of these various forms within it.

Here are some recommendations of books to read that in some way or other challenge materialism. This is from Dr. Larry Dossey. Among his recommendations, I would particularly cite 
  • Smith’s “Beyond the Postmodern Mind”, 
  • Radin’s “Conscious Universe”, 
  • van Lommel’s “Consciousness Beyond Life”, 
  • Carter’s “Parapsychology and the Skeptics”, and 
  • Tart’s “The End of Materialism.” 
  • Perhaps the best of all – though a challenging read, heavily researched – is Kelley’s "Irreducible Mind.” 
Edward F. Kelly, ‎Adam Crabtree, ‎Paul Marshall - 2015 - ‎Preview - ‎More editions
Physicalism versus quantum mechanics. In Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics (3rd ed., pp. 245–260). Berlin: Springer.

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