Being Audenesque Part II

Continuing with the collection of excerpts, from the period around 1940.

Tradition and Value (Essays and Review, 1940)

“Human history is a wave-series of civilizations. At the crest of each, society is united in a community of belief, a standard concept of the True and the Real ‘with reference to which its activities can be given purpose and meaning and value.’ In each trough this common standard disintegrates; ‘public truth is shattered into innumerable private truths.’ An artist is always confronted with the problem, What has value? What and according to what pattern of emphasis shall I select my materials? Those born in the crest periods can give the answer of their society in which they are assenting members; but those born in troughs can only give personal subjective answers with no guarantee that they will be valid for others.”

(This reminds me of Kuhnian Paradigms in a socio-historical context. Even though Kuhn himself restricted the use of the term to the hard sciences, the term paradigm shift has been widely applied to many realms of human experience as a change in a fundamental model of events. But, this quote presents an inkling of the concept of paradigm shift before Kuhn and his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). )

“In our own time, the Machine has deprived even words like society and class of any real meaning. Instead there are only small groups, each united by a common specialization which dictates economic interest; men no longer have neighbours tied to them by geography, only a far-flung association of personal friends kept in touch with by machinery. The effect of the machine on life overshadows completely any political effects. Capitalist America is far more like a Communist Russia than it is like the America of 1800, and there is not the slightest reason to suppose that owning the means of production will create for the people a sudden traditional source of value.”

“I welcome the atomization of society and I look forward to a socialism based on it, to the day when the disintegration of tradition will be as final and universal for the masses as it is already for the artists, because it will be only when they fully realize their ‘aloneness’ and accept it, that men will be able to achieve a real unity through a common recognition of their diversity, and only when they are conscious that all symbols are symbols and not life, that they will be able to use them properly to live and communicate with each other […]”

Empirics for the Million (Review of Dangerous Thoughts. By Lancelot Hogben. 1940)

“Much as Professor Hogben dislikes Plato and Rousseau, his humanism seems to me to imply one or the other: either the scientists are the philosophical elite who know what man’s ‘fundamental needs’ are and must take the appropriate political steps to see that he lives in small communities, does not travel, has four children, and looks at ‘common things’ like daffodils and not at ‘second-hand things’ like paintings, or the common man is a Noble Savage who instinctively knows what is good and has faith in the future and only needs the scientist to teach him the technique while the few misfits are take care of by expert psychiatrists.

There is something to be said for both points of view. The empirical technique is the only successful method for doing anything, whether it is warfare, scientific research or writing poetry, and many of the faults of the common man are due, in part at least, to material conditions which are absurd because not only does no one like them, but technological advance has made them unnecessary.

But is empiricism enough?”

A Review of How to Read a Book, by Mortimer J. Adler (Essays and Reviews 1940)

“Intellectual training, in my opinion, begins with and only with specialization in one of the three principal disciplines; the linguistic, the scientific, or the mathematical. It is only by going some distance into a single problem of knowledge that we are made aware of our natural indolence and woolly mindedness, and of how many particulars are needed in order to make a single generalization.”

Romantic or Free? (The Smith College Commencement Address, June 17, 1940)

“Art as a means to satisfy internal spiritual needs and science as a means to satisfy external material needs are included in an undifferentiated complex of communal activities.”

“For the statement that two atoms of hydrogen combined with an atom of oxygen form the molecule of water […] you must make four acts of faith, four assumptions that you cannot prove. These are (to quote Collingwood):

  1. That there is a world of nature, i.e., that there are things which happen of themselves and cannot be produced or prevented by anybody’s act.
  2. That the world of nature is a world of events, i.e., that the things of which it is composed are things to which events happen or things which move.
  3. But throughout this world there is one set of laws according to which all movements or events, in spite of all differences, agree in happening.
  4. That nevertheless there are in the world many different realms, each composed of a class of things peculiar to itself, to which events of a peculiar kind happen, and that the peculiar laws of these several realms are modifications of the universal law mentioned in the third article.”

What is Culture? (Review of Historian and Scientist, By Gaetano Salvemini. 1940)

“Until a student has learnt the following things:

  1. ‘Disconnected facts have no interest in themselves. They were all born free and equal. Facts begin to acquire significance only when they are grouped in a system of cause and effect. Only then does knowledge contribute to wisdom.’
  2. ‘The statistical method is valid when one wants to learn the average weight of pigs of various ages, but does not work when one wishes to measure the power of the human brain or the strength of revolutions.’
  3. ‘Objectivity results not from the absence of bias but from controversy between conflicting preconceptions, a controversy which is at bottom cooperation.’
  4. ‘One must give up the illusion of being able to learn everything.’

– until he has learned this, the student is incapable of learning anything else.

“The discovery of intensity with which men have believed in ideas and values has often been due, not as they imagined to their logic, but to their cultural or economic environment, [which] instead of teaching them greater logical caution and moral vigilance, has led many people, […] to deny the possibility of making any judgment except one of practical expediency.”

A Note on Order (Essays and Reviews, 1941)

“Fascism is what happens to an industrial society when disorder is accepted as inevitable but has reached a point where it is felt as intolerable. It provides a positive satisfaction to the ambition of the few, and a negative satisfaction to the inertia of the  many.”

“Science is a method of questioning which presupposes that the questioner has a particular question he wishes to ask of a particular subject. An essential feature of the method is a deliberate isolation of the experimental field from the rest of nature. The practical success of this technical device has led society to believe that this isolation is a characteristic of nature itself, and, while admitting in theory that the peculiar laws are modifications of the universal laws, to deny it in practice by ignoring that this  implies relations between peculiar realms themselves.

The social aspect of this has been the atomic view of society as multiplicity of unrelated special individuals pursuing special unrelated occupations, typical of liberal capitalist democracy. (In education, it appears as a doctrine of ‘self-expression’; in literature as the formless ‘naturalistic’ novel.)”

“In a civilized society, that is, one in which a common faith is combined with a skepticism about its finality, and which agrees with Pascal that ‘Nier, croire, et douter bien sont á l’homme ce que le courir est au cheval [to deny, to believe, and to doubt well are to man what the race is to the horse],’ orthodoxy can only be secured by a cooperation of which free controversy is an essential part.”

The Prolific and the Devourer (A book of aphorisms and reflections written in the summer of 1939, only to be abandoned in the autumn of the same year)

“Human law rests upon Force and Belief, belief in its rightness. The Way rests upon Faith and Skepticism. Faith that the divine law exists, and that our knowledge of it can improve; and skepticism that our knowledge of these laws can ever be perfect: to have perfect knowledge we should have to know perfectly, i.e., become the universe.”

“Kafka is […] wrong in saying: ‘Faith in progress does not mean that progress has already been made. That would be no faith.’ On the contrary, faith that progress will take place, on a basis of belief that no progress has so far been made, would not be faith but superstition.

“Our scientific knowledge is sufficient to justify our thinking that evil does not exist in the inorganic world. It is only with the appearance of life [that] disharmony, i.e., absence of regularity, becomes observable.”

“If there is one method in which we have faith to-day, and with reason, for it has consistently succeeded, it is the Scientific method of Faith and Skepticism. […] For what is the Scientific attitude but the attitude of love, the love that does not reject even the humblest fact, the love that resists not evil (recalcitrant evidence) nor judges, but is patient, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things.

The teaching of Jesus is the first application of the scientific approach to human behavior – reasoning from the particular to the universal. The Church only too rapidly retreated to the Greek method of starting with universals and making the particulars fit by force, but the see once sown, grew in secret. What we call Science is the application of the Way to our relations with the non-human world.”

“Man the Maker, i.e., man in his relation to the non-human world, as cultivator, herdsman, engineer, artist, has always followed the way of love. He discovered very early that it is useless to make moral judgments about Nature or to punish or even try to coerce her, that practical success depended upon a harmonization of his will with hers.”

“An idea has two purposes, to justify our satisfactions, and to find a way to remove our wants. In its aspects as justification, an idea is a pure reflection of our material life and neither can re-enter history as an effective agent nor wants to. In its aspect as a means to remove wants, it demands a change in our actions and so becomes an agent of change.”

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