Tuesday, January 04, 2011


World Affairs Joshua Muravchik thinks that the Arab world has a glaring deficit in epistemology:
In a recent article, Khaled Abu Toameh, the Palestinian journalist who moved from the Palestinian press to the Jerusalem Post so that he could practice his profession with integrity, recalled that “Mahmoud Abbas’s official news agency, Wafa, reported that Israel had released poison-resistant rats to drive Arab residents of Jerusalem out of their homes.” The Wafa report claimed that “settlers flood the Old City of Jerusalem with rats.” Abu Toameh added sardonically: “It is not clear how these rats were taught to stay away from Jews, who also happen to live in the Old City.”

Abu Toameh may not have considered the possibility that Israel’s infamous spy agency, Mossad, had found a way to train rats to infest only gentiles. There is now evidence that the Mossad has adapted this technique for use with sharks. Earlier this month at least two sharks attacked five European tourists off Sharm al-Sheik, Egypt, killing one. No Israeli swimmers were targeted by the sharks. According to the governor of Southern Sinai, Abed Al-Fadij, “We must not discount the possibility that Mossad threw the shark into the sea, in order to attack tourists who are having fun in Sharm al-Sheikh. Mossad is trying to hurt Egyptian tourism in any way possible, and the shark is one way for it to realize its plan.”

Apparently Egyptian tourism ranks right up there with the Iranian nuclear program as a threat to Israel. Another top threat is Mexican lawmaking. I learned this in Jeddah three years ago, when one of the barons of Saudi industry hosted me for lunch in his elegant executive dining room. In excellent English, this influential Saudi told me about the Israel spy agency’s bungled attempt to blow up the Mexican legislature.

Why would the Israelis want to bomb the Mexican legislature? My host was not sure, but he assured me that “everyone knows” they had done it. I persisted in my skepticism, explaining that I had not heard of this incident in any US news outlet. “Of course,” replied my host. “They’ve suppressed the story.” There was no need for him to remind me that Jews control the news media. What he also couldn’t explain was how the omnipotent Mossad could have botched the job.

This, after all, is the same agency that not only knows how to manipulate rats and sharks to spare Jews like the angel of death who passed over Jewish homes to persuade Pharaoh to let Moses lead the Jews out of Egypt. It is also the agency managed to warn 4,000 Jewish employees at the World Trade Center not to come to work on September 11, 2001, or to pass the warning on to their non-Jewish coworkers — a fact known to tens of millions of people across the Arab world.

There are laughs aplenty to be found in such stories, but in the end they are quite chilling. In 2002, a groundbreaking Arab Human Development report, written by a team of Arab scholars for the UN Development Program, pointed to three crippling deficits in the Arab world: freedom, knowledge, and women’s participation. These are indeed weaknesses in need of remediation.

But perhaps none is as glaring or damaging as the deficit of epistemology. Yes, in part the widespread Arab credulity toward the most cockamamie stories may reflect the region’s low rates of education. But my Saudi interlocutor was university-educated, and so in all likelihood was the Egyptian governor of South Sinai and the Wafa journalist who sniffed out the Israeli rat stratagem. So what we have here is a deficit not of knowledge but of the ability to make mature judgments about what is plausible and what is not.

Metaphysics and Epistemology are key branches of Philosophy. The first concerns itself with answering the question, "What is Existence?"; and the second with, "How do we know it?"

These are two of the most important questions in life; and almost all of the major controversies of our time boil down to one or the other.

Unfortunately, it is not only the Muslim/Arab world that happens to be infected with a major deficit in epistemology (thought they are in a more advanced stage of the disease); even western civilization--the bastion of reason and science-- has become horribly infested with philosophical insanities that pervert the very concepts of reality, truth, and knowledge.

What is most amazing, however, is how those who most distort these concepts frequently resort to "science" and "scientific principles" to justify their political delusions about what is real and what is true. Marxist, socialist, and communist regimes often tout their adherence to these same scientific priniciples to justify and lend credence to even the most horrific actions of their leaders. "GLORY TO SOVIET SCIENCE" comes to mind.

Let us talk about how knowledge is acquired in the real world, for a moment (and parts of the following come from a 2007 post I wrote on a related subject).

Empiricism is a theory which holds that the origin of all knowledge is the experience of our senses. The term also refers to the method of observation and experiment used in the natural sciences. Often, empiricism is contrasted with rationalism, a theory which holds that the mind may apprehend some truths directly, without requiring the medium of the senses.

The dispute between rationalism and empiricism takes places within epistemology, the branch of philosophy devoted to studying the nature, sources and limits of knowledge. And one of the important questions in epistemology is, "What does it mean to "know" something as opposed to merely having an opinion?" As you can see, this is not only a question that plagues the blogsphere and all political discourse; it is an issue that has been at the core of Western philosophy since before Socrates.

Until it is answered, all other questions become unsolvable.

Rationalism and empiricism are not conflicting philosophical concepts, so much as they are complementary ones. For example in some areas of mathematics, rationalism is clearly the method used to obtain knowledge and ideas about the universe; while in the physical sciences, empiricism generally rules.

G.W. Leibniz in New Essays on Human Understanding makes the following excellent argument to illustrate this (page 150 -151):
"The senses, although they are necessary for all our actual knowledge, are not sufficient to give us the whole of it, since the senses never give anything but instances, that is to say particular or individual truths. Now all the instances which confirm a general truth, however numerous they may be, are not sufficient to establish the universal necessity of this same truth, for it does not follow that what happened before will happen in the same way again. . . From which it appears that necessary truths, such as we find in pure mathematics, and particularly in arithmetic and geometry, must have principles whose proof does not depend on instances, nor consequently on the testimony of the senses, although without the senses it would never have occurred to us to think of them…"

Whatever the conflicts and disagreements philosophically between empiricism and rationalism they are actually complementary mental processes; and it seems reasonable to conclude that optimally gathering knowledge of the real world requires the use of both capabilities.

On a primal level, our senses give us direct information about reality; and our brain is then capable of using rational deductive and inductive processes as a meta-process to evaluate that information further.

However you cut it, it seems clear that OUR MINDS are the source of our knowledge of the world, and while a given mind might be corrupted by a variety of factors, and its reliability may be suspect at times; the mind is the best tool we have for understanding and evaluating reality.

Certain very popular ideologies today subscribe to the notion that the human mind is incapable of knowing the real world because there is no world out there that exists separately from our senses.

In other words, everything that exists is all in our heads!

And, furthermore, these savants go on to tell us, what's in your head is no better than what's in my head.

When you think about it, these are rather amazing assertions, particularly the last, since it is inherently contradictory. Those who fervently believe this are essentially Cretans--or rather, they suffer from a variation of the famous Cretan Paradox. "What is in your head is no better than what is in my head" is a statement of absolutes which presupposes that the "my head" person is correct --i.e., what's in his head about this issue is the absolute truth--that what he "thinks" is no better or worse than what you think.

But, what if what's in your head tells you differently--i.e., what if you think you think better than him? Personally, I get a bad headache just thinking about the mental contortions necessary to formulate this theory in the first place.

In fact, almost all applications of postmodern philosophy (for that is what this crazy philosophical theory is called)--from art criticism to politics; and psychology from philosophy and rhetoric to science--result in a pervasive blurring and distortion of reality, rather than in its understanding.

'Science' which is based on the metaphysics and epistemology of Postmodernism essentially deconstructs both empiricism and rationalism ; and detaches science from truth.

In other words, where science fails to support an ideology, the absolute and overriding imperative of putting that ideology into practice means that science has to suspend its very essence as a truth-seeking activity and instead perpetrate lies.

If you think this is a rare occurrance these days, then I refer you to this instance of a supposed "scientist", who blatantly and unapologetically has rejected reason and truth in order to politically advance his own theories about climate change.

And this is where postmodern philosophy is really particularly handy for its proponents: when one wants to advance a pet political idea, without having to be bothered by those pesky concepts of reality or truth.

Back when the entire premises underlying postmodern philosophy were first beginning to make their way up the idea food chain, its theorists had a simple objective: to preserve faith and religion, which they believed was under siege from reason and logic.

Ironically, the epistemological basis for postmodernism has its origins in this desire to preserve both faith and religion.

Philosopher Stephen Hicks notes:
By the late 1700s religious thinkers had a choice—accept evidence and logic as the ultimate court of appeal and thereby reject their deeply-cherished religious ideals—or stick by their ideals and attack the whole idea that evidence and logic matter. “I had to deny knowledge,” wrote Kant in the Preface to the first Critique, “in order to make room for faith.” “Faith,” wrote Kierkegaard in Fear and trembling, “requires the crucifixion of reason”; so he proceeded to crucify reason and glorify the irrational.

Thus Kant and others in the 18th and 19th centuries paved the way (unintentionally, of course; but ideas do have consequences) for the more recent 20th and 21st century postmodern attacks on reason, logic and reality. Postmodernism is merely the latest incarnation of the Kantian rejection of reason in order to “make room for faith”. The irony is that in today's postmodern world, it is the supposed champions of reason and logic--scientists--and those that like to call themselves "the reality-based"community" who have wholly embraced religion and faith as primary, though it is an entirely secularized religion and perfectly godless faith.

I think that even Kant would be appalled.

Have you ever wondered why the political left is so relentlessly hostile to Christianity and Judaism? The answer is simple—they are in competition with these religions for the hearts of the people. The ideology of the left has evolved into a religion that is essentially even more fundamental (and certainly more fanatical) than either Christianity or Judaism--both of which had their more toxic elements blunted by the rationality of the Enlightenment. Interestingly, the left regularly makes common cause with a third religion, sharing with Islam a fundamentally postmodern view of both metaphysics and epistemology.

In the ensuing 300 years since Kant critiqued pure reason, religion--i.e., Christianity and Judaism-- have more or less come to an uneasy compromise with those who recognize the importance of reason, logic, and reality in the real world. This is almost certainly the psychological foundation of the Western concept of "the separation of church and state"; which is a very bold strategy designed to keep the fundamental conflict at bay and allow the independent development of both these spheres of human experience unimpeded by the other (sort of like "don't ask, don't tell").

The left refuses to accept such constraints on their religion, and have embraced postmodern rhetoric and politics with religious fervor in order to save their own sacred beliefs about socialism. This time instead of rescuing faith from reason and logic, they have managed to rescue science from those terrible shackles; and thuse they can make science whatever they want it to be; and have it say whatever they need it to say.

It is immensely interesting to observe how the left's topsy-turvy thinking about this conundrum works: realistically, rationally, and logically the left finds itself unable to criticize the excesses of Islam in any way, shape or form--without exposing for even the most dim-witted to be able to observe the fatal flaws and contradictions in their own religion--which disavows reality, reason, and logic.

Thus, the Muslim and Arab world has a fundamental philosophical connection with the today's leftist totalitarians. Both subscribe to the same philosophical insanities that are necessary to perpetuate an anti-reality, anti-truth, and anti-human worldview.

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