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Thursday, January 12, 2023

Garbage In, Garbage Out! What Are You Thinking? Philosophy Matters!

Ideas have consequences. Filling our heads with the true, the good and the beautiful leads us to God who is Truth Himself, as well as being all-good and all-beautiful. Conversely, filling our heads with the false, the evil, and the ugly... well... what do you think the result is?

My New Year's Resolution is to watch the Crisis of Faith Series (CFS) offered by the SSPX. The first few episodes are introducing some of the false philosophies that undergird the world's embrace of modernism, the "synthesis of all heresies."  Some of those introducing bad ideas were not malicious. Nevertheless, they contributed to screwing up the world bigtime. 

Others, on the other hand, were as malicious as Satan himself: Marx, Lenin, and Hitler come immediately to mind as well as Margaret Sanger and Alfred Kinsey -- liars all! Among them, they embraced mass murder, sodomy, and child abuse! And, in fact, we see plenty of their ideological children today whose arrogance is only matched by their dishonesty. 

Liars, grifters, and fraudsters fill the airways and social media and walk the halls of federal and state capitols. They run corporations and do bogus medical research and lie about their results. Yes, indeed, their number is legion. So it makes sense to develop critical thinking skills to root out and separate those who advance truth from those who, whether deliberately or not, advance falsehood.

Interest in identifying problematic philosophies led me a number of years ago to buy Benjamin Wiker's work, 10 Books that Screwed Up the World. His second culprit was René Descartes, one of the philosophers discussed by Fr. Wiseman in episode three of CFS.

I did a little research on the personal life of Descartes and he seemed to have much in common with today's "do-gooders" who often create havoc despite intending good. His maxim, Cogito ergo sum, "I think, therefore I am." emphasized dualism. Man's senses and man's reason are completely separate and have nothing to do with each other. Man is, in fact, alienated from himself in Descartes' philosophy. He believed that, because our senses sometimes deceive us, we can't trust them at all. So he threw out the possibility of knowing anything for sure that we received through the senses. Don't trust your body or anything you can learn through it. What did he come up with to replace knowledge achieved through the bodily senses? 

Cogito ergo sum. His maxim made the individual's thought process the foundation of his philosophy separate from anything he could learn through his body which couldn't be trusted. But, in fact, even his reason was questionable.

Systematic doubt about everything was Descartes' starting place. He paints himself into a corner and then gets out of it by claiming that what a man sees for himself as self-evident is true. But what if what's self-evident to you isn't self-evident to me? It's easy to see how Descartes' ideas morphed into today's, "What's true for you is true for you, but what's true for me is true for me." And, in many cases, never the twain shall meet!

I've never been much of a philosopher. I think I'm too practical. It's true that our senses sometimes deceive us. Optical illusions are one example. There's a road nearby where I always seem to see two people walking on the railroad tracks. But, in reality, what I'm seeing are two posts. But every time I go by there, I still seem to see two people on the tracks even though I know they aren't there. Does that illusion invalidate everything I see that really is there. Such a conclusion makes no sense to me. To throw out everything we learn from our senses because they sometimes are mistaken is like the proverbial throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Not to mention that our thinking sometimes fools us as well. If I think I'm a math whiz and believe it's "self-evident" is it true, even though it's false? 

Descartes' maxim seems to me to cancel out the ability to know anything at all ever, since our senses and our thinking can both fool us. So maybe we are all hooked up to the matrix having dreams piped into our brains where we think we are using our senses and reason when we are really anesthetized and not feeling or thinking at all. 

If you ask me, somebody needed to red pill Descartes.

At any rate, philosopher Peter Kreeft has a book called Socrates meets Descartes that I'm interested in reading. The word philosophy means love of learning or love of wisdom and the Bible is filled with wisdom literature, so the study of philosophy must be pleasing to God. Kreeft believes the two most important philosophers in history are Socrates, the Father of Philosophy, and Descartes, the Father of Modern Philosophy. I look forward to reading the conversation between these two. While I'm no fan of Descartes, I'm a big fan of Socrates!

No matter how well-meaning Descartes was, his philosophy formed a basis for moral relativism. He wanted to develop an alternative to skepticism, the denial of objective knowledge and, yet, his philosophy of doubting everything seems to fall into the same quicksand. He made himself and his perception the arbiter of truth. On one level that's fine. I may love black-eyed peas while you hate them. Both those things may be subjectively true. But there is objective truth. When I say, "I believe in God." and you say, "There is no God." we can't both be affirming a truth. One of us is wrong. But in Descartes' philosophy they can both be true. Why? Because he says what is "self-evident" to the reason is true. So atheist Richard Dawkins who sees God as a self-evident "delusion" cannot be refuted by Descartes' maxims. 

Descartes also throws out all the wisdom of the past because of disagreement.Where there is disagreement, he says, there is doubt and so all the wisdom of the ages has to go. And then he makes his own thought, totally subjective, the fulcrum of all truth. 

As I say, I'm no philosopher and maybe I've misrepresented Descartes, but I don't think so. The falsehood of his philosophy is self-evident to me. 

I found this quote by Wiker interesting:

Descartes' final error [was] his absolutely awful proof of the Existence of God....God must exist because he (Descartes, not God) can think of a being more perfect than himself. Therefore, he concludes, "this idea was placed in me by a nature truly more perfect than I was...and ...this nature was God." To make matters worse, Descartes then claims that it must be the case that his ideas, "Insofar as they are clear and distinct, cannot fail to be true" because they too come from God. Therefore, God exists, because Descartes can imagine Him, and all Descartes' clear and distinct ideas are absolutely true, because God put them there.

I pray that readers can see the foolishness of this reasoning. I can think of a man or woman who is more perfect than any I've ever met. Does that mean either of them necessarily exists? I can think of a superior alien race existing on a much nicer planet than Earth. Does either exist? Our thinking of anything is not proof that it exists, let along proof that whatever seems to me to be "clear and distinct" is given a divine stamp of authority, as if God put it there. Descartes' approach to religion is not only false, but creates the characteristically modern belief that God is whatever we "very clearly and very distinctly" imagine Him to be. And that means we fashion God after our own hearts, rather than our hearts and religion after God.

I'm guessing that Descartes had a monumental ego. His approach creates God in his image rather than his being created in God's image. And so Descartes is one of those whose ideas "screwed up the world." His philosophy undergirds the moral relativism so prevalent today that allows so much evil to be advanced as morally good. 

The only question left for me is why would anyone embrace Descartes' ideas as true when they are so patently ridiculous? I'm guessing that when Descartes' stomach growled, he didn't just think about food, but went for the real thing. 

"I eat therefore I am."


TF said...

Any discussion of Descartes inevitably leads to the singing of The Rhubarb Tart Song. At least it should. "I think therefore I am a rhubarb tart!"

Descartes would have looked at how a glass of water distorts a straw placed in it, and say, "See how our senses are not reliable!" But he's wrong on this count. Our vision accurately displays how water bends light. It's only our interpretation of what we sense that could be in error. This is simple common sense that Descartes willfully ignored. I suppose this helps explain why common sense is so uncommon these days.

Jude said...

I finished Episode 3 last night, great stuff!
Really good to find your article today, topped up my knowledge:0
Be interested to follow your thoughts throughout the 55 episodes!!!

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thanks for that hilarious rhubarb tart song, TF. I hope everyone watches it.

And thanks to you, Jude. I'm on episode 4 with Fr. Reuter talking about liberalism. We here in the Shenandoah Valley were blessed to have him celebrating Mass at the fairgroound in Front Royal during the lockdowns. He served us for about a year until he was transferred to Canada. What a great priest! Our experience with the SSPX has been phenomenal. All the priests coming to our chapel are well-formed, great preachers and confessors and have been incredibly self-sacrificing for our community. May God bless and keep them all.