Monday, July 29, 2019

Darwin's Philosophic Understanding of Reason and Revelation

Charles Darwin was a scientific philosopher who took the side of reason against revelation, but with the understanding that he could not refute the possibility of revelation; and therefore he saw the irreconcilable tension between philosophy and the Bible that constitutes the vitality of Western civilization.  In this way, he took the position on the reason/revelation debate that has been adopted by the zetetic Socratic Straussians.  I have defended this interpretation of Darwin in some previous posts hereherehereherehereherehere, and here.  In this post, I will restate and elaborate some of my reasoning.

I call Darwin a "scientific philosopher" to indicate that he did not see a separation of science from philosophy.  In "Reason and Revelation," Leo Strauss observed that the distinction between science and philosophy did not arise until late in the 18th century, a distinction that created an opposition between "unscientific philosophy" and "unphilosophic science."  As a consequence of this, "there exists no longer a direct access to philosophy in its original meaning as quest for the true and final account of the whole" (144).

During his lifetime, Darwin was generally identified as both a "man of science" and a philosopher.  On board the Beagle, the seamen referred to Darwin as "the philosopher."  In his early notebooks, where he began to work out his theory of evolution, he had notes on his reading of many philosophers--such as Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and Adam Smith--particularly for his studies of the natural "moral sense," which later was written out in his Descent of Man.  After his death in 1882, William Spottiswoode, the President of the Royal Society of London, remembered Darwin as showing the "ideal of the philosophic life."  In his obituary for Nature, Thomas Huxley observed: "One could not converse with Darwin without being reminded of Socrates.  There was the same desire to find some one wiser than himself, the same belief in the sovereignty of reason." Huxley concluded by quoting the last line of the Apology: "The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways--I to die and you to live.  Which is the better, God only knows."  Even the iconic photographs of Darwin's head evoked the resemblance to Socrates.

Darwin's study of nature conformed to what Strauss called the "original meaning of philosophy" as based on the discovery of nature:
". . . Nature was discovered when the quest for the beginnings became guided by these two fundamental distinctions:
"a) the distinction between hearsay and seeing with one's own eyes--the beginnings of all things must be made manifest, or demonstrated, on the basis of what men can see always in broad daylight or through ascent from the visible things.
"b) the distinction between man-made things and things that are not man-made--the beginning of artificial things is man, but man is clearly not the first thing, the beginning of all things.  hence those things that are not man-made, lead more directly to the first things than do the artificial things.  The production of artefacts is due to contrivance, to forethought.  Nature was discovered when the possibility was realized that the first things may produce all other things, not by means of forethought, but by blind necessity. I say: the possibility.  It was not excluded that the origin of all things is forethought, divine forethought.  But this assertion required from now on a demonstration.  The characteristic outcome of the discovery of nature is the demand for rigorous demonstration of the existence of divine beings, for a demonstration which starts from the analysis of phenomena manifest to everyone.  Since no demonstration can presuppose the demonstrandum, philosophy is radically atheistic."  ("Reason and Revelation," 145-46; compare "Progress or Return?", 113-14, and Natural Right and History, 81-89)
Darwin described his scientific research during the five years of the voyage of the Beagle around the world as based on what he could see with his own eyes:
"During some part of the day I wrote my Journal, and took much pains in describing carefully and vividly all that I had seen; and this was good practice. . . ."
". . . Everything about which I thought or read was made to bear directly on what I had seen and was likely to see; and this habit of mind was continued during the years of the voyage.  I fee sure that it was this training which has enabled me to do whatever I have done in science." (Autobiography, 78).
He then began The Origin of Species in 1859 by claiming that his careful collection of and reflections on "certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings" could "throw some light on the origin of species--that mystery of mysteries."

Early in his life, Darwin felt compelled to believe that the origin of nature was "by means of forethought"--the work of a Divine Mind or intelligent designer, and thus he was a theist.  But gradually he began to doubt the anthropomorphic analogy--the idea that the First Cause must be a Mind--and he saw that all of nature could have arisen by natural necessity.  By the end of his life, he was a skeptical zetetic, who thought that while the human mind was unable to explain the mystery of the whole, there was no good reason to believe in Biblical Revelation; and the life of scientific inquiry into nature by reason alone was the best life for him.  Darwin did not reveal his skeptical doubt about the divine in the writings published in his lifetime.  But he did reveal this clearly in some of his correspondence that was marked "private" and in his Autobiography that he wrote for publication after his death.

In the section on "Religious Belief" in his Autobiography, Darwin related the evolution of his religious thought through four phases: New Testament Christianity, theism, agnosticism, and skepticism or rationalism. Darwin said that when he was on board the Beagle, he was "quite orthodox" in accepting the moral authority of the New Testament, although he had rejected the Old Testament because of its "manifestly false history of the world" (85).  But then he decided that there was not enough evidence for the Christian miracles, and that "the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become" (86).  He thus agreed with Strauss, who said that miracles must be incredible to the philosopher, even if he cannot prove them impossible: "all scientific accounts presuppose the impossibility of miracles" ("Reason and Revelation," 155).

By the time that he wrote The Origin of Species, Darwin reported, he had moved to being a theistic evolutionist who believed that the First Cause of all things was a Divine Mind:
"Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight.  This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity.  When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist" (92-93).

Notice how Darwin's language here echoes that of Philo, speaking at the end of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: "That the cause or causes or order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence."  Philo suggests that this "remote analogy to human intelligence" must be very remote, because all intelligent designers of our experience--humans and other animals--are embodied intelligences, and we have no direct experience of disembodied intelligence designing the world. 

Darwin's theism led him to employ the Thomistic idea of "dual causality"--God acted as the intelligent designer through "primary causes" to create the laws of nature at the beginning, but then those laws of nature worked through "secondary causes" that were open to scientific study.  This was the famous "two books" analogy: the Bible as the Book of God's Word and Nature as the Book of God's Works.

But then Darwin saw that this anthropomorphic analogy--that there was a divine intelligent designer analogous to human intelligent designers--was fallacious, because while we have experiential knowledge of how human intelligent designers create artifacts, we have no experience with how a divine intelligent designer could create everything out of nothing.  Moreover, once we see how the law of natural selection can explain the natural evolution of species, we have no need to posit a divinely intelligent First Cause, which cannot be rationally demonstrated to exist.
"The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered.  We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man.  There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.  Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws" (87)
Darwin thus agreed with Strauss: "the notion of inquiry presupposes the realization of the fundamental difference between human production and the production of things which are not manmade, so that no conclusion from human production to the production of non-manmade things is possible except if it is first established by demonstration that the visible universe has been made by thinking beings" ("Progress or Return?", 113).  Here Darwin and Strauss have identified the fundamental flaw of "intelligent design theory" in the fallacy of reasoning through an anthropomorphic analogy, which is the subject of a previous post here.

Darwin had to admit, however, that his philosophical science of natural evolution could not provide complete knowledge of the whole, because it could not explain the origin of the universe or the origin of life.  "The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic" (Autobiography, 94).

Darwin thus agreed with Strauss that while scientific philosophy strives for knowledge of the whole, this is forever unattainable.  "Human wisdom is knowledge of ignorance: there is no knowledge of the whole but only knowledge of parts, hence only partial knowledge of parts, hence no unqualified transcending, even by the wisest man as such, of the sphere of opinion" (The City and Man, 20).

This Socratic knowledge of his ignorance put Darwin into a state of "skepticism or rationalism," in which he could neither accept nor refute revelation, and thus the conflict of reason and revelation was irreconcilable, with neither being able to rationally refute the other.  Darwin admitted that he could not demonstrate the impossibility of some people having some direct experience of God by revelation.  He observed: "My father used to quote an unanswerable argument, by which an old lady, a Mrs. Barlow, who suspected him of unorthodoxy, hoped to convert him: 'Doctor, I know that sugar is sweet in my mouth, and I know that my Redeemer liveth.'" (Autobiography, 96)

And yet this "unanswerable argument" did not convince Darwin to choose revelation over reason.  "As for myself I believe that I have acted rightly in steadily following and devoting my life to science.  I feel no remorse from having committed any great sin" (95).

This "unanswerable argument" seems to be what Strauss identified as "the fact of revelation as known through faith," which the unbeliever cannot know, because he has not had "the experience of faith" ("Reason and Revelation," 142).   The debate between reason and revelation remains unreconcilable, and the question is settled for the believer by "the fact of revelation," while it is settled for the Socratic philosopher by "the fact that he is a philosopher" ("Progress or Return?", 122).

For thousands of years, this conflict between reason and revelation could not be publicly debated, because the philosophic proponents of reason would have been persecuted; and so the philosophers could speak about the conflict only through esoteric writing.  In reading Alfarabi and Maimonides, Strauss learned about both the reason/revelation conflict and esoteric writing.  But then, remarkably, Strauss himself wrote openly about reason and revelation without facing persecution, because he lived in a modern liberal order with freedom of thought and speech.  This achievement of liberalism began during Darwin's lifetime, when for the first time, a Darwinian liberalism made it possible to openly confront the tension between reason and revelation.  That will be the theme for my next post.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Strauss and Darwin as Zetetics in the Reason/Revelation Debate

In deciding how to find their bearings in the universe and how best to live their lives, Leo Strauss said, human beings face a fundamental choice: should they live in pious obedience to God whom they fear and love, or should they live under the guidance of their own minds as based on their human understanding of the world--"a life of obedient love versus a life of free insight" (1953, 74)?

In answering this question, they must choose between the two roots of Western civilization--reason and revelation, Athens and Jerusalem, Greek philosophy and the Bible.  Strauss thought that the vitality of Western civilization arose from the tension between these two peaks of human existence.  Over the past few centuries, this debate has been between science and religion, and particularly Darwinian evolution and the Biblical creation story (Strauss 2006, 144, 155, 160-61, 171, 173, 177).  Strauss's account of this debate is best stated in his "Reason and Revelation," a lecture delivered in 1948 at Hartford Theological Seminary (Strauss 2006), in "Progress or Return?," a series of lectures at Hillel House at the University of Chicago in 1952 (Strauss 1997), and in some parts of Natural Right and History (74-77).

In the history of the West, there had been attempts to resolve this tension either by synthesizing philosophy and theology in a unified vision or by showing that one side could refute the other.  But Strauss thought no such resolution of the tension was possible, because any supposed synthesis would require one side to be subordinated to the other, and because neither could truly refute the other without begging the question at issue.

The failure of philosophy to refute revelation creates a special problem for philosophy, Strauss believed.  If the philosophic life is to be rationally defensible, the philosopher must refute the claim that divine revelation shows that a life of obedience to God's law is superior to a life of rational inquiry into all things.  If philosophy cannot refute revelation, then the choice of the philosophic life would seem to be an arbitrary choice unsupported by reason; and yet Strauss wanted to claim that the life of philosophy is in fact rationally defensible.  By contrast, the life devoted to revelation does not face this kind of problem.  Since submission to revelation is based on faith rather than reason, the failure of revelation to refute philosophy through rational argument does not render the life of faith incoherent.

This is what Strauss called "the theological-political problem," which he identified as "the theme of my studies" (Strauss 1997, 453).  Strauss learned about this problem primarily from his reading of the medieval Jewish and Muslim philosophers--particularly, Maimonides and Alfarabi--who saw the conflict between Greek philosophy and the Bible or the Koran.  Although Strauss tried to claim that the reason-revelation debate can be seen in Greek philosophy and the Bible, he admitted that, of course, the Greek philosophers did not know the Bible, and the Biblical authors did not know Greek philosophy.  It is not clear, therefore, that the conflict between ancient Greek philosophy and religious myth is the same as the conflict between Greek philosophy and Biblical revelation in the Middle Ages.  After all, the Bible agrees with Greek philosophy in criticizing polytheistic religious myth.

According to Michael and Catherine Zuckert, in Leo Strauss and the Problem of Political Philosophy, the best way to see the theological-political problem is to state Strauss's position as a "paradoxical syllogism":
"PROPOSITION 1:  In order to be a rationally defensible pursuit, philosophy must be able to refute revelation in a non-question-begging way."
"PROPOSITION 2:  Philosophy cannot refute revelation."
"PROPOSITION 3:  Philosophy is a rationally defensible pursuit." (314)
To resolve the problem in holding these three propositions, the Straussians have said that Strauss actually denied one of these three propositions; but they disagree about which one of the propositions needs to be denied. The Zuckerts lay out four alternative interpretations, and they imply that the most persuasive interpretation is that of the "zetetics, who argue that Strauss persisted in his view that the possibility of revelation could not be refuted by philosophy but who also maintain that Strauss had worked out a way to rationally justify the choice of the philosophic life without that refutation" (315), thus rejecting Proposition 1.  (The term zetetic is derived from the Greek verb zeteo--to seek or inquire--so a zetetic philosopher is one who seeks the truth or inquires about things without ever attaining full knowledge or wisdom.)

As my response to this, I will make three claims.  First, the Zuckerts are correct in identifying Strauss as a zetetic--as someone devoted to Socratic inquiry into the nature of the whole without expecting to achieve full knowledge of the whole--who makes a rational choice for philosophy over revelation but without ever refuting revelation.  Second, Charles Darwin was a zetetic scientific philosopher in choosing evolutionary science over Biblical creationism.  Third, the Darwinian liberalism that emerged during Darwin's lifetime promoted the public debate over reason and revelation that was revived by Strauss, which shows how the liberal social order secures the freedom of thought that allows people to freely choose between the philosophic life and the religious life.

In this post, I will explain the first claim.  In the next two posts, I will explain the second and third claims.

The Zuckerts rightly see four alternative positions among the Straussians interpreting Strauss's account of the reason/revelation debate.  The rationalists believe that philosophy really can refute revelation, and thus they deny Proposition 2--that philosophy cannot refute revelation.  The decisionists believe that philosophy cannot be rationally defended, that Strauss only arbitrarily decided in favor of philosophy, and so they deny Proposition 3--that philosophy is a rationally defensible pursuit.  The faith-based Straussians believe that Strauss points to the superiority of revelation over reason, and so they also deny Proposition 3, while claiming that any denial of this proposition must favor the choice for a life of faith in revelation.  The zetetics believe that while philosophy cannot refute revelation--thus denying Proposition 1--it is rational for those with the natural desire and capacity for philosophy to choose the philosophic life, when this is rightly understood as a Socratic quest for knowledge that never attains the full knowledge of the whole that would refute revelation.

The most prominent of the Straussian rationalists are Heinrich Meier (1997) and Thomas Pangle (2003).  They show how philosophers can give rational explanations for how religious belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and providential God arose among human beings to support human morality and politics; and they believe that such a rationalist explanation of religion makes it unnecessary to believe in divine revelation, which is the refutation of revelation.  But they fail to answer Strauss's argument that every rationalist explanation of the genealogy of religious belief begs the question at issue, because it assumes the validity of rationalist explanations, and it fails to prove that miracles, including the miracle of a revelatory experience of God, are impossible.  To prove the impossibility of miracles, one would have to have complete rational knowledge of the whole--of everything in the universe--so that there is no place for a mysterious miracle-working God.  Since we do not have--and never will have--such absolute knowledge of the whole, we cannot prove that the experience of revelation is impossible.  We cannot prove that it is impossible that the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of human life came as the miraculous work of the Creator.  To say that miracles are impossible because they are contrary to the rational laws of nature assumes what needs to be proven--that it is impossible that the laws of nature are legislated by a divine lawgiver who can miraculously set aside those laws by his omnipotent will, and that this God can reveal Himself miraculously to those who have faith in Him.

The Straussian decisionists include Stanley Rosen (2000) and Laurence Lampert (1996).  They say that Strauss did not truly believe that philosophy is a rationally defensible pursuit (Proposition 3), because while he did say this, this was only his exoteric or public teaching, and his esoteric or secret teaching for his careful readers was that the choice for philosophy is an arbitrary or ungrounded act of will.  For Lampert, this means that Strauss was a Nietzschean who saw the philosophic life as devoted not to the discovery of truth but to the creation of truth by willful invention of the will to power.  And yet, as the Zuckerts indicate, Lampert's Strauss is a "timid Nietzschean," because unlike Nietzsche, Strauss did not openly legislate values.  In public, Strauss claimed that philosophers discover truth rather than create it, and thus Strauss was afraid to "shed his Clark Kent everydayness to step forth as the Superman he could be" (322).

Rosen's interpretation of Strauss on philosophy is even more radical than Lampert's.  For Rosen, when Strauss says that the philosophic life is possible, and even the best possible life, his secret teaching is that this is a "noble lie":
"There is good reason to infer from Strauss's texts that the truly secret teaching is the impossibility of philosophy, an impossibility that must be concealed from the human race for its own salvation.  That is to say, philosophy, understood as the quest for universal knowledge, for the replacement of opinions by knowledge, for knowledge of the whole, is impossible.  We are left with knowledge of ignorance.  No wonder that philosophy, as Strauss conceives it, is incapable of refuting revelation.  One could almost be persuaded to entertain the hypothesis that the main difference between Strauss and Wittgenstein is exoteric.  That is, Strauss believes that philosophy is a noble lie, whereas Wittgenstein regards it as neither noble nor base but harmful" (2000, 564).
Rosen offers this as "speculation" and a "conjecture" that is not explicitly stated in Strauss's texts, although Rosen thinks there is good reason to infer it from Strauss's texts.  But as the Zuckerts rightly observe, Rosen's interpretation of Strauss here is dubious, because it asserts that the most prominent theme in all of Strauss's writing--the goodness of the philosophic life--is only an intentional lie.

The faith-based Straussians don't deny Strauss's affirmation of philosophy, but they do interpret his account of the reason/revelation debate as stressing the limits of philosophy in ways that favor revelation as equal or even superior to philosophy.  The Zuckerts divide them into two groups.  One group includes two "West Coast Straussians"--Harry Jaffa (2012) and Susan Orr (1995).  (In a previous post here, I have written about the Zuckerts' mapping of Straussian geography--East-Coast, West-Coast, and Midwest Straussians.)  The second group consists of two people who are friendly critics of Strauss--Ralph Hancock (2007) and Peter Lawler (2007).

I have a special interest in Jaffa's reading of Strauss on reason and revelation, because his best statement was originally written in response to a letter that I and Rick Sorenson wrote to him in 1987.  Jaffa responded to us by saying that the unique teaching of the Bible is "the idea of the One God who is separate from the universe, of which He is the Creator," and "as both separate and unique, God is unknowable" (2012, 150).  Because He cannot be known by unassisted human reason, God can be known only by faith in revelation, and revelation is marked by miracles--with Creation itself being the primary miracle--that cannot be understood by reason, although reason cannot deny the possibility of miracles.

While Strauss saw this as setting up a sharp dichotomy between reason and faith, Jaffa claimed, there could be a synthesis of the two based on at least five points of common ground.  First, Socratic political philosophy and the Bible can agree that human beings are fundamentally ignorant of the whole, so that even Socrates had only knowledge of his ignorance; and complete knowledge of the whole must be forever unattainable (152, 155).  Second, because of this ignorance, both belief in philosophy and belief in the God of the Bible depend on acts of faith (153).  Third, reason and revelation need not be seen as contradictory if one sees that both reason and revelation are given to human beings by their Creator (153-54).  Fourth, philosophy and the Bible can agree on the authority of the moral order as based on the rule of reason over the passions (158-59).  Fifth, the political establishment of Christianity in fifth-century Rome was inconsistent with both reason and revelation, because the vitality of Western civilization as driven by the tension between reason and revelation required human freedom of thought in the reason/revelation debate to avoid both "theological despotism" (as in the medieval theocratic orders) or "ideological despotism" (as in the modern rule of a Hitler or a Stalin) (159-60).

Here Jaffa seemed to defend a Thomistic synthesis of reason and revelation, which departed from the argument of Jaffa's first book--Thomism and Aristotelianism--which stressed the conflict between Aristotelian rationalism and Thomistic faith.  At other times, oddly enough, in some lectures that were never published, Jaffa suggested that Thomas Aquinas's esoteric teaching was the superiority of the philosophic life over the life of Christian faith.  Thomas West has elaborated the reasoning for this position, and I have written about West's argument here.

Susan Orr's Jerusalem and Athens can be seen as statement of Jaffa's synthesis interpretation of Strauss as suggesting that he is neutral between reason and revelation or perhaps even tilting the scales towards revelation.  By contrast, Hancock and Lawler are Christian believers who think Strauss went too far to the side of reason in claiming that the philosophic life could fulfill the human erotic striving for transcendence without faithful submission to revelation: a life of philosophic inquiry without Christian faith in revelation cannot satisfy the deepest human longings for eternal redemption from the incompleteness of earthy life.

If this is true, then Pascal must have been correct in asserting the misery of man without God, because human beings have a yearning for God that cannot be satisfied by philosophy or any other human pursuit without faith.  But I think the Zuckerts are right in pointing out that Strauss is clear in rejecting this assertion as refuted by the fact that "the philosopher, as exemplified by Socrates in particular, lives on the islands of the blessed" (Strauss 2006, 161).  Pascal might answer by saying that Socrates did not have the Christian experience of faith-based happiness.  But, Strauss says, Plato could answer by saying that Pascal did not have the Socratic experience of philosophic happiness.

This appeal to the facts of the human experience of happiness is the crucial point for those the Zuckerts identify as zetetic or Socratic Straussians, who deny Proposition 1 of the paradoxical syllogism--the claim that philosophy cannot be a rationally defensible pursuit if it cannot refute revelation.  The Zuckerts point out that when Strauss seems to affirm this proposition, he is usually speaking of this as a "present day argument," thus suggesting that this is a modern philosophic position of Spinoza and others, but not the position of the ancient Socratic philosophers (Strauss 1997, 123).

In "Progress or Return?," Strauss wrote:
". . . The philosopher, when confronted with revelation, seems to be compelled to contradict the very idea of philosophy by rejecting without sufficient grounds.  How can we understand that?  The philosophic reply can be stated as follows: the question of utmost urgency, the question which does not permit suspense, is the question of how one should live.  Now this question is settled for Socrates by the fact that he is a philosopher.;  As a philosopher, he knows that we are ignorant of the most important things.  The ignorance, the evident fact of his ignorance, evidently proves that quest for knowledge of the most important things is the most important thing for us.  Philosophy is, then, evidently the right way of life.  This, in addition, according to him, is confirmed by the fact that he finds his happiness in acquiring the highest possible degree of clarity which he can acquire.  He sees no necessity whatever to assent to something which is not evident to him.  And if he is told that his disobedience to revelation might be fatal, he raises the question: what does fatal mean?  In the extreme case, it would be eternal damnation.  Now, the philosophers of the past were absolutely certain that an all-wise God would not punish with eternal damnation, or with anything else, such human beings as are seeking the truth or clarity.  We must consider later on whether this reply is quite sufficient.  At any rate, philosophy is meant--and that is the decisive point--not as a set of propositions, a teaching, or even a system, but as a way of life, a life animated by a peculiar passion, the philosophic desire or eros. . . ." (1997, 122)
So in choosing reason over revelation, the philosopher seems to contradict the very idea of philosophy by rejecting revelation without a rational refutation of revelation.  But the Socratic philosopher's choice of philosophy as the best way of life for him is warranted by three facts--the fact that he is a philosopher, the fact that his ignorance makes it necessary for him to seek knowledge, and the fact that he finds his happiness in a life of philosophic inquiry.  This makes a man like Socrates happy because he is driven by a "peculiar passion, the philosophic desire or eros."  This leaves open the possibility that other human beings who do not have this philosophic desire, or who do not feel it as intensely as Socrates, might have such a deep desire for religious understanding that their happiness comes not from philosophy but from faith.  A Socratic philosopher cannot refute revelation, because he cannot prove the impossibility that some human beings have had an experience of God through revelation in which they find their happiness by satisfying their natural desire for religious understanding.  But even without a philosophic refutation of revelation, the Socratic philosopher's experience of happiness in a life of philosophizing is evident.

This zetetic understanding of philosophy and of the philosopher's choice for reason over revelation seems to be Strauss's understanding.  As I will indicate in the next post, Charles Darwin arrived at a similar understanding of his life devoted to scientific philosophizing, which was part of the intense debate over reason and revelation that arose publicly during his lifetime.


Hancock, Ralph. 2007. "What Was Political Philosophy? Or: The Straussian Philosopher and His Other, Political Science Reviewer 36.

Jaffa, Harry. 1952. Thomism and Aristotelianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jaffa, Harry. 2012. "Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy," in Crisis of the Strauss Divided. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Lampert, Laurence. 1996. Leo Strauss and Nietzsche. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lawler, Peter. 2007. "Strauss, Straussians, and Faith-Based Students of Strauss," Political Science Reviewer 36.

Meier, Heinrich. 2006. Leo Strauss and the Theological-Political Problem. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Orr, Susan. 1995. Jerusalem and Athens: Reason and Revelation in the Works of Leo Strauss. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Pangle, Thomas. Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Rosen, Stanley. 2000. "Leo Strauss and the Possibility of Philosophy," The Review of Metaphysics 53: 541-564.

Strauss, Leo. 1953. Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Strauss, Leo. 1997.  "Progress or Return?" In Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity: Essays and Lectures in Modern Jewish Thought, ed. Kenneth Hart Green. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Strauss, Leo. 2006. "Reason and Revelation." In Meier 2006.

Zuckert, Michael, and Catherine Zuckert. 2014. Leo Strauss and the Problem of Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Leo Strauss Endorsed "Might Makes Right" in World War Two

Over the years, I have written a series of posts claiming that the assertion of natural rights in Lockean liberalism depends on the forceful resistance to oppression and tyranny, which suggests that it really is true that might makes right.  Natural rights emerge in history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking the natural human tendency of individuals to rebellion against exploitation.  Thus it is that individuals assert what Locke called "the executive power of the law of nature" in punishing those who violate their natural rights.

For this reason, the history of Lockean liberalism has often turned on the history of warfare--both revolutionary and international warfare--and the history of weaponry.  So, for example, the Declaration of Independence was not just a declaration of Lockean principles but also a declaration of war, so that the success of those principles depended on the fortunes of war.  Similarly, the American debate over the justice of slavery was settled by the bloodiest war in American history.  And the establishment of the liberal international order after World War Two depended on the defeat of Nazi Germany in the war.

Some of my posts on this line of reasoning can be found hereherehere, hereherehereherehere, and here.

Recently, in reading for the first time a lecture by Leo Strauss delivered in 1943, I was interested by some of his remarks suggesting that he might have agreed with me about this.  It was delivered at a public session on "The Re-education of Axis Countries Concerning the Jews" at the annual meeting of the Conference on Jewish Relations, November 7, 1943, at the New School for Social Research in New York.  Strauss never published this in his lifetime.  It was published for the first time in 2007 in The Review of Politics (vol. 69, pp. 530-38).  It can be found online.

Here's the long paragraph that caught my attention:
"When we speak of re-education, we imply that the wrong education, which is to be replaced by a second education, by a re-education, is of crucial political importance.  We are apt to imply that the root of the difficulties is some sort of education, of indoctrination, viz. the Nazi indoctrination.  Is this really the case?  And how is it the case?  We must beware of taking the Nazi doctrines, their Rassenkunde [racial anthropology] and their geopolitics and what not, too seriously.  What was important, what did influence the Germans, what educated the Germans were not those pedantic follies by themselves, but the prospect opened up by Nazi rearmament, by Nazi diplomacy, and by Nazi arms, of the solution of all German problems by a short and decisive war.  And, after the hope of a short victorious war was shattered by the Spitfires, the prospect of the solution of all German problems by a new Hubertusberg peace on a planetary scale was destroyed. [The editor notes that "the Treaty of Hubertusburg at the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 established Prussia's place as a great European power."]  If we disregard the German high school teacher, if we consider the mass of the Germans, we shall find, I believe, that what guided their outlook, and hence their actions, was merely the crucial implication of the Nazi doctrine, viz. the implication that the needs of the German people as interpreted by the most efficient man in the land are the supreme law, not subject to any higher consideration.  To put it bluntly, the Nazi education consisted in this: that they convinced a substantial part of the German people that large scale and efficiently prepared and perpetrated crime pays.  I remember the argument of German students in the early 1920s: a country whose policies are not fettered by moral considerations is, other things being equal, twice as strong as a country whose policies are fettered by moral considerations.  For 50% of all possible ways and means are rejected, as immoral, by the moralistic countries, whereas all ways and means are open to the unscrupulous country.  It is evident that this doctrine is subject to the test of sense-experience and, hence, that the Nazi doctrine is a force only as long as Nazi strategy is successful.  The victory of the Anglo-Saxon-Russian combination, if followed by a just and stern and stable peace, will be the refutation of the Nazi doctrine, and thus will uproot Nazi education.  The re-education of Germany will not take place in classrooms: it is taking place right now in the open air on the banks of the Dnieper and among the ruins of the German cities. [The editor notes that "the Red Army crossed the Dnieper in early October 1943 and took Kiev November 6."]  It will be consummated by a meeting of British-American and of Russian tanks in Unter den Linden, and by the harmonious cooperation of the Western and Eastern occupying forces in bringing to trial the war criminals.  [Unter den Linden is a boulevard in the heart of Berlin.]  No proof is as convincing, as educating, as the demonstration ad oculos:  once the greatest German blockheads, impervious to any rational argument and to any feeling of mercy, will have seen with their own eyes that no brutality however cunning, no cruelty however shameless can dispense them from the necessity of relying on their victims' pity--once they have seen this, the decisive part of the re-educational process will have come to a successful conclusion" (532).
So Strauss thought that any talk about the need for "re-educating" the Germans was mistaken if this implied that the pretended theoretical doctrines of the Nazis should be taken seriously, because these theoretical doctrines were nothing more than "pedantic follies."  The only Nazi doctrine that was persuasive with the Germans was the claim that Nazi arms would win a short and decisive war that would give Germany global dominance that would solve all German problems and satisfy all the needs of the German people.  And this would all be possible because the Nazi leaders--under "the most efficient man in the land"--would be Machiavellian in being unconstrained by any moral considerations and consequently free to use all of the brutal means necessary for fighting a successful war.  The "moralistic countries" would be defeated by an utterly immoral country.  The Nazis would thus prove the Nazi doctrine "that large scale and efficiently prepared and perpetrated crime pays."

That Nazi doctrine is "subject to the test of sense-experience," because we can see with our own eyes whether immoral warfare is victorious or not on the battlefield.  And so the defeat of the Nazis in World War Two is "the refutation of the Nazi doctrine."  This began when "the hope of a short victorious war was shattered by the Spitfires."  The Spitfire was a single-seat fighter aircraft used by the British Royal Air Force throughout World War Two.  The Spitfire was perceived as crucial during the Battle of Britain (from July to October of 1940) for blunting the attack of Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe, and thus saving Great Britain from German conquest.  From that point, seeing that Great Britain could not be conquered, the Germans knew--by their own eyes--that they would be fighting a long and costly war.

Then, by the middle of 1943, the Germans were in full retreat on the Eastern Front, falling back from the attack of the Red Army; and the British and Americans had opened a Southern Front by invading Sicily (in July of 1943) and then advancing through Italy.  Strauss points to the Battle of the Dneiper River, which was being fought as he spoke.  This was one of the biggest military campaigns of the war, involving almost four million troops.  The German troops had retreated from Russia to the Dneiper River, one of the major rivers of Europe, which divided the Ukraine in half between the west bank and the east bank.  Beginning on August 26, the Red Army launched a campaign to take the eastern bank and then cross to the western bank.  As the Red Army moved through the villages, cities, and countryside where the Germans had brutally killed and tortured innocent people, the Red Army soldiers became ever more aroused to vengeful retaliation to punish the Germans for their brutality.  By December 23, six weeks after Strauss's lecture, they had succeeded in taking complete control of the river.  This explains Strauss's remark that "the re-education of Germany will not take place in classrooms: it is taking place right now in the open air on the banks of the Dnieper."

Strauss then foresaw that this re-education of Germany would be consummated by a meeting of Allied tanks in Berlin, and then the Western and Eastern occupying forces would bring the German leaders to trial for war crimes.  He was anticipating what became the Nuremberg war crimes trials that began in November of 1945, acting under international law and the laws of war.  Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels escaped this punishment by committing suicide in the spring of 1945 before they could be captured.  This would prove the Nazi doctrine wrong by proving that "large scale and efficiently prepared and perpetrated crime" does not pay.  But this lesson in the legal rule of just punishment had to be preceded by the lesson taught by the meeting of Allied tanks in Berlin.

Notice that to refute the Nazi doctrine of the immoral rule of the stronger over the weaker, Strauss suggests, we cannot appeal to some transcendent standard of right set by God, Nature, or Reason.  Rather, we must appeal to "the test of sense-experience" by seeing that "moralistic countries" can defeat immoral countries in war as an exercise of "the executive power of the law of nature."

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Does Aristotelian Natural Right Require the Cosmic Teleology of the Unmoved Mover?

At the end of August, I will be going to the convention of the American Political Science Association in Washington, DC.  I will present a paper on "The Aristotelian Teleology of Darwinian Natural Right," as part of a Claremont Institute panel on "Natural Right and Classical Political Philosophy," with two other presenters (Glenn Ellmers and Dustin Sebell), two discussants (Catherine Zuckert and Richard Hassing) and a chair (Jason Jividen).

A big part of my paper will be a reconsideration of my argument that Darwinian science supports the Aristotelian immanent teleology of natural right, and that Leo Strauss was wrong in claiming that natural right requires an Aristotelian cosmic teleology that has been refuted by modern science.  I have written about this in previous posts (here , here,   herehere, and here).

Claiming that Aristotle's "teleological conception of the universe" depends on the teleology of "the heavens, the heavenly bodies, and their motion," Strauss cites two passages in Aristotle's Physics--196a25ff. and 199a3-5.  But as I and other readers have noted, those passages don't affirm any cosmic teleology of the heavenly bodies; and, on the contrary, this part of the Physics seems to say that the most evident manifestations of teleology are in the living phenomena of animals and plants rather than the nonliving phenomena of the universe.  So it's hard to see how these passages support Strauss's claims about the cosmic teleology of natural right.

Nevertheless, what Aristotle says elsewhere in his writings about the Unmoved Mover as the divinely perfect actuality that is the universal "mover of all things" (Meta. 1070b34)--including the heavenly spheres--does appear to some readers as a cosmological teleology that might confirm what Strauss says.  Desire for the Prime Mover causes the eternal revolution of the First Heaven, which carries with it the sun, the stars, and the planets.

In the Metaphysics, Aristotle asserts that to explain the motion in the universe there must be a divine immaterial substance that is pure mind (nous) and "a mover that moves without being moved" (1072a25).  It moves without being moved by being an object of desire (orexis).  In all things, "nature always desires what is better" (GC 336b28).  And as divine perfection, the Unmoved Mover is the most desirable object that moves all things by being loved.  In its self-sufficient perfection, the Unmoved Mover does not desire or love anything beyond itself.  Its only activity is self-contemplation--"thought thinking itself" (nous noesis) (Meta. 1074b34).

The teleological ordering of nature--acting for the sake of an end--is more clearly manifest in living beings than in nonliving, because animals and plants must grow and develop as self-maintaining organisms for the sake of survival and reproduction.  Consequently, to see the universe as teleologically ordered, Aristotle must assume that the heavenly bodies--the stars, the sun, the planets, and the moon--are not inanimate beings but living beings.  In On the Heavens (De Caelo), he writes:
"On these questions it is well that we should seek to increase our understanding, though we have very little to go on, and we are placed at a great distance from the phenomena that we are trying to investigate.  Nevertheless, if we base our consideration on such things, we shall not find this difficulty by any means insoluble.  We think of the stars as mere bodies and as units with a serial order but completely inanimate (apsychon), and yet we ought to conceive of them as partaking of action and life.  Once we do this, things cease to appear surprising. . . . We must, then, think of the action of the stars as similar to that of animals and plants. . . . This then is the reason why the earth does not move at all, and the bodies near it have only few motions.  They do not arrive at the highest, but reach only as far as it is within their power to obtain a share in the divine principle.  But the first heaven reaches it immediately by one movement, and the stars that are between the first heaven and the bodies farthest from it reach it indeed, but reach it through a number of movements" (292a15-b25).
There are two points here that might lead a careful reader to doubt that Aristotle really believes what he is saying about the divine life and teleological order of the astronomical bodies.  First, Aristotle draws our attention to the fact that we can know very little about astronomical phenomena because they are so far away from us.  Elsewhere in De Caelo, he says that "very few of their attributes are perceptible by sense experience" (286a7).  In The Parts of Animals, he says that while the cosmological bodies "are of the highest worth and are divine," there is little opportunity for studying them because "there is so little evidence available to our sense experience."  By contrast, we have better means of information in studying animals and plants, which are "nearer to us and more akin to our nature," and we live amongst them (644b23-645a5), which sets the science of biology apart from theological astronomy.

The second point that suggests skepticism about Aristotle's cosmology is his comment that while "we" (Aristotle?) think of the stars as inanimate bodies, we "ought" to think of them as living beings.  Why "ought" we assume this?  Aristotle never gives us any scientific explanation of why we should believe that stars and planets are living beings like plants and animals.

In some passages in De Caelo and the Metaphysics, he indicates that the fundamental premises of his reasoning about cosmology are based not on observational evidence but on ancestral myths about the divinity of the heavens that must be accepted on faith.
"All men have a conception of the gods, and all assign to the divine the highest place, both foreigners and Greeks, as many as revere the gods. . . . If, then, there is something divine, as there is, what we have said about the first bodily substance has been well said.  The truth of it is also clear from the evidence of the senses, enough at least to warrant the assent of human faith [pistis]; for throughout all past time, according to the records handed down from generation to generation, we find no change either in the whole of the outermost heaven or in any of its proper parts" (DC 270b5-15).
For his "as there is," Aristotle offers no reasoning other than popular belief in the existence of divinity.
"Therefore we may feel convinced that these ancient beliefs, so much a part of our tradition, are true . . . Our ancestors assigned heaven, the upper region, to the gods, believing that it alone was deathless; our present argument bears witness that it is indeed imperishable and ungenerated" (DC 284a2-5).
Immediately before this passage, however, Aristotle admits that some people "think differently" and believe that the universe is not eternal but had a beginning.

And in the Metaphysics, he writes:
"The ancients of very early times bequeathed to posterity in the form of a myth a tradition that the heavenly bodies are gods and that the divinity encompasses the whole of nature.  The rest of the tradition has been added later as a means of persuading the multitude and as something useful for the laws and for matters of expediency; for they say that these gods are like men in form and like some of the other animals, and also other things that follow from or are similar to those stated.  But if one were to separate from the later additions the first point and attend to this alone (namely, that they thought the first substances to be gods), he might realize that this was divinely spoken and that, while probably every art and every philosophy has often reached a state of development as far as it could and then again has perished, these doctrines about the gods were saved like relics up to the present day.  Anyway, the opinion of our forefathers and of the earliest thinkers is evident to us to just this extent" (1074b1-14).
There are at least two possible ways of interpreting these passages.  Readers can assume that Aristotle regarded these religious myths about the divinity and cosmic teleology of the heavenly bodies as true myths.  Or readers can see Aristotle here as intimating that these superstitious beliefs are false, but he prefers not to openly challenge them.

In either case, Aristotle has not supported these mythic beliefs with observational evidence or demonstrative proof.  And so there is no good reason to doubt that the evidence and reasoning of modern science have refuted this religiously founded cosmic teleology.

It is true, however, that Aristotle does briefly point to some observational evidence for this theological cosmology--that the ancient records of astronomy (perhaps including the astronomical records of the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians) show that the outermost heaven of stars has remained unchanged (see the quotation above from De caelo, 270b).  But even this was cast into doubt when astronomers saw what looked like "new stars," or what modern astronomers have identified as a supernova--the exploding of a large star previously unseen that becomes bright enough to be seen for the first time.  Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (II.95) says that Hipparchus saw a nova in 134 BC, and he wondered whether this meant that stars are born and die and thus not eternal.

Beginning early in November of 1572, a supernova was visible around the world.  It was so bright that it was visible even during the day.  This was one of the eight supernovae visible to the naked eye in historical records.  In 1573, Tycho Brahe published his De nova stella, with his careful observations of this "new star."  It remained visible to the naked eye until 1574, when it finally faded from view.  Today, however, astronomers have found the remnant of "Tycho's Supernova," and it can be seen in X-ray light from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.  This is the kind of observational evidence in modern science that refutes Aristotle's theological cosmology of the heavenly bodies as divine and eternally unchanged.

                                               A Video of Tycho's Supernova Remnant

And yet this refutation of Aristotle's cosmic teleology of the universe is not a refutation of his immanent teleology of plants and animals that he bases upon the observational evidence collected in his biological works.  For that reason, Strauss is wrong in saying that natural right depends upon a teleological view of the universe that has been refuted by modern science.

Even those scholars who interpret Aristotle's account of the Unmoved Mover as requiring a cosmic teleology sometimes concede that it is reasonable to ignore this cosmic teleology if we see that the immanent biological teleology can be defended scientifically on its own biological grounds.  See, for example, Charles H. Kahn, "The Place of the Prime Mover in Aristotle's Teleology," in Allan Gotthelf, ed., Aristotle on Nature and Living Things (Pittsburgh, PA: Mathesis Publications, 1985), 183-205.

Aristotelian natural right depends upon a biological teleology that is explained--in his biological works such as The Movement of Animals--as animal movement for the sake of an end through the combination of desire and thought.  For the voluntary action of an animal--including the human animal--we must have an end characterized as desirable and a cognitive specification of how it can be realized.  The good is the desirable, and thus the generic good for each species of animal varies according to the natural desires distinctive to that species, and the particular good for each individual animal varies according to the ranking and organization of natural desires distinctive to that individual with his peculiar temperament and capacities in the particular circumstances of his life.  (I have argued for this in Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature [Albany: SUNY Press, 1998].  See also Mortimer J. Adler, Desires Right and Wrong: The Ethics of Enough [New York: Macmillan, 1991].)

So the generic good for the human species is the inclusive end that encompasses all of the natural human desires, while the highest good for each human individual is the dominant end at the top of the ranking of natural desires that is best for that individual.  For example, the natural desire for intellectual understanding might be the dominant end for a philosopher like Socrates; but for others without Socratic propensities and capacities, the natural desire for intellectual understanding might rank lower than other natural desires.

Strauss disagreed with this, because he taught that the only natural human good is the philosophic life of the philosophic few, because he claimed "man's desire to know as his highest natural desire." And only the philosophic few have "the philosophic desire."  They are the only ones "by nature fit for philosophy." Consequently, the great multitude of human beings who live non-philosophic but moral lives are "mutilated" human beings, who live lives of "human misery, however splendid" or "despair disguised by delusion."  (Strauss, "Reason and Revelation," 146, 149, 176; "Progress or Return?," 122; The City and Man, 53-54.)

Oddly, however, Strauss never offered any demonstrative proof of this strange assertion.  There is at least one place where one might think the proof of the supremacy of the philosophic life has been provided--the end of Book 10 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.  But some readers have noticed that Aristotle's arguments there are remarkably dubious.  They are so dubious--particularly, when one considers them in the context of the whole of the Ethics--that the careful reader might conclude that Aristotle does not take them seriously, that he is actually mocking the Platonic arguments for the supremacy of philosophy as a human life that is divine.

I have written some posts on this herehereherehere, and here.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Justin Amash Declares His Independence from the Two-Party System

"Today, I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party."

That was Justin Amash's announcement on this 4th of July in an article for The Washington Post.  He is in his fourth term as the representative for Michigan's 3rd Congressional District in the House.  A few weeks ago, he provoked Trump and Republican Party leaders by becoming the first Republican in Congress to call for Trump's impeachment.  I wrote a blog post (here) about a town hall meeting in Grand Rapids where Amash explained his position.  Now, this announcement of his independence from the two-party system prepares the way for his running for President as the candidate of the Libertarian Party.

Many of the arguments that Amash makes in his Washington Post article were stated at his town hall meeting.  What is new in the article is his claim that George Washington in his Farewell Address of 1796 warned against the dangers of the excessive passions of a party system that we see today in the hyperpartisanship of American politics.

As Amash indicates, Washington said that the "spirit of party" or "faction" was "inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human Mind," and so it exists in all governments.  It is natural for human beings to divide into competing political factions fighting for dominance over their opponents.  (This is what Frans de Waal has called "chimpanzee politics.") Washington also concedes that "parties in free countries are useful checks upon the Administration of the Government and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty."  But still Washington worried about the "constant danger of excess," which he saw emerging in 1796, and which was fully displayed in the intensely partisan presidential election of 1800.

Amash quotes two paragraphs from Washington's address.  I have added the three questions in brackets:
". . . The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors [Trump?], turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty."
"It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public administration.  It agitates the Community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another [through social media and cable news networks?], foments occasionally riot and insurrection.  It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption [Russia?], which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.  Thus the policy and will of one country, are subjected to the policy and will of another."
By laying out his reasoning in this article, Amash indicates what would have to be said by his critics to refute his positions.

First, the critics would have to argue that the American two-party system today has not become dangerously excessive in its partisan passions.

Second, the critics would have to argue that congressional party leaders recognize the constitutional mandate for the Congress to act as an independent branch of government that checks the executive branch, even when the congressional party leaders belong to the same party as the President.  Alternatively, the critics could contend that the country is better off when the Congress allows the President to rule as the supreme leader without any limits, and so the constitutional system of separated and limited powers needs to be set aside.

Third, Amash's critics would have to show that he is wrong in claiming that the Congress no longer functions as a deliberative body, where outcomes are discovered through congressional debate over policy, because most major outcomes in the Congress today are dictated by the president, the speaker of the House, and the Senate majority leader. Or the critics could argue that there is no need for the whole body of Congress to deliberate about public policy, and it's better to allow policymaking by the President and a few congressional leaders.

Fourth, his critics would have to show that he is wrong in saying that most Americans are not rigidly partisan, because they don't see either of the two major parties as representing them, and that the two parties have become more partisan because they are catering to small groups of partisans (playing to the "base").

Finally, the critics would have to argue that most Americans support the existing two-party system, and so very few will vote for an independent or third-party candidate like Amash.  Over the next few years, we will see whether this is true.