Saturday, March 06, 2010

The end of reason?

I am re-reading The Road to Serfdom as it's been awhile and I tend to forget material that is not right in front of me. One of my favorite chapters in the book is one entitled, "The End of Truth" where Hayek discusses propaganda and it's role in a totalitarian society. He argues that intellectual freedom is important because it leads to intellectual progress:

...So long as dissent in not suppressed, there will always be some who will query the ideas ruling their contemporaries and put new ideas to the test of argument and propaganda.

This interaction of individuals, possessing different knowledge and different views, is what constitutes the life of thought. The growth of reason is a social process based on the existence of such differences. It is of its essence that its results cannot be predicted, that we cannot know which views will assist this growth and which will not--in short, that this growth cannot be governed by any views which we now possess without at the same time limiting it. To "plan" or "organize" the growth of mind, or for that matter, progress in general, is a contradiction in terms. The idea that the human mind ought "consciously" to control its own development confuses individual reason, which alone can "consciously control" anything, with the interpersonal process to which its growth is due. By attempting to control it, we are merely setting bounds to its development and must sooner or later produce a stagnation of thought and a decline of reason.

The tragedy of collectivist thought is that, while it starts out to make reason supreme, it ends by destroying reason because it misconceives the process on which the growth of reason depends.


When I think of the suppression of free thought in areas like global warming or children who are suspended for their political beliefs, I wonder how future generations will ever learn how to figure out truth from fiction, or learn critical thought and reason. If science, truth and reason lead to progress and our society suppresses it, will we stagnate both economically and in terms of our progress as a society? I am going to assume that the answer is "yes."

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55 Comments:

Blogger Thomas said...

I think it was Eric Voegelin who used the term "logophobia" to describe not just the rejection of reason but the anger directed at those who set themselves against the culture of unreason. How does one avoid a retreat into pessimism?

9:19 AM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Helen said...

Thomas,

"How does one avoid a retreat into pessimism?"

That's what collectivists want you to do. Why go along? Look at the Tea Parties or even Scott Brown's election. The MSM wants you to think that there is no hope, no chance for change, but that is a mistake. And who cares if people are angry towards you? So what? It probably just means you are effective. I think learning to tolerate the anger and deflect it is the best way to handle it.

10:01 AM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Stephanie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:13 AM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

"I think learning to tolerate the anger and deflect it is the best way to handle it."

This reminds me of child-rearing, when a kid will shout "I hate you!!!" and a smart parent knows not to listen (apparently today's helicopter parents want to be cool to their kids, so hearing that breaks their heart.)

Sometimes you just gotta not care that certain people are mad at you.

10:13 AM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Dr.D said...

Although we are far more advanced today than we were in the early 20th century, I think the rate of advance has slowed drastically because we have stifled or tried to channel thought and we have denied the existence of truth. This is critical both in terms of inquiry and growth, and also in terms of societal sense of direction and confidence.

A hundred years ago, we were a vastly more confident society, with far fewer self doubts. We believed the Truth of the Christian religion, and we did not listen to this continual stream of condemnation from within about the evils of America. That would have been instantly rejected at that time, but not so today in our weakened state.

Relativism, and the lack of belief in Truth, are killing us as a society.

10:15 AM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

On topic, I think we are already living in a police state. We've long had a political system that lavishes in railing against and punishing politically-unpopular people and organizations. Obama's administration is new only in terms of degree.

We are really at the mercy of whatever the police, prosecutors, businessmen, union bosses or Congresscritters want to do with our life, liberty, property and happiness. To say nothing of false rape accusers, divorce attorneys, zoning boards, DEA agents and TSA screeners.

Think about it - IF one of these people wanted to ruin YOU, what would be there to stop them?

Not a whole lot. It's bullshit.

10:22 AM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger GawainsGhost said...

"There is no truth."

Let's examine this statement logically, shall we?

Assume that it's false. In which case, the opposite is true, and therefore there is truth.

Assume that it's true. In which case, the statement stands, and therefore there is no truth.

But if there is no truth, then no statement can be true, including the statement "There is no truth." Thus, the statement contradicts itself and must be false. Ergo, there is truth. QED.

This is elementary logic. Relativisim is the bastard child of an empty mind.

11:02 AM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Dr.D said...

GawainsGhost has given a logical, but not particularly useful proof of the existence of truth. I say not particularly useful because the issue is not that people consciously deny the existence of truth (in most cases), but rather that this denial is buried in their underlying assumptions about life.

There are not too many people who would say, "there is no truth" to which this proof is the rebuttal. The problem is the large number of people who live their lives based on the idea that there is no truth.

11:34 AM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger DADvocate said...

I think we are already living in a police state.

Or about as close to it as you can get. Our laws are such that no one can perform day to day activities without breaking some of them. The threat of selective enforcement is always over our head, and all enforcement is selective.

11:52 AM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger GawainsGhost said...

Dr. D has given an illogical and particularly unuseful response to my argument.

The idea that there is no truth is the foundation of relativism. To say that the problem is that a "large number of people live their lives based on the idea that there is not truth" is to ignore the salient fact that it is relativism which underlies the belief system.

The question is not, "Is there truth?" But rather, "What is truth?"

A nuance which escapes him.

12:35 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Dr.D said...

GG, you could not be more mistaken.

What I am saying is that many people are relativists, even without consciously choosing to take that position. How many people do you know who have ever said, "I am a relativist" or something equivalent? I have never heard a single person say such a thing, and yet countless people live this way.

To present your proof of the existence of truth to such a person will most likely elicit a response of "So?" They do not consciously deny truth; it is a subconscious denial.

12:42 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Francis W. Porretto said...

Reason is something we're all equipped to exercise. Indeed, a man who refuses to exercise his reason will only survive his folly if protected from the consequences by more powerful others. Yet environments have proliferated in which the exercise of reason is made unnecessary for survival, if not actively hostile to it: bastions, protected zones whose denizens are systematically shielded from reality as such. Universities. Bureaucracies. Entertainment media. These shelters exert a considerable attraction upon the young and unformed. It's their influence we must counteract.

Possibly the place to start is by freeing our young people from the fallacy that a majority vote can turn fantasy into fact, or wrong into right. It's a form of the canard that desires can engender rights, but it's seldom appreciated as such.

It's been said that "democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch." That's a pithy phrase, and one that deserves wide circulation. The oldest (and tersest) counterpoised maxim is, of course, "Vox populi, vox Dei" ("The voice of the people is the voice of God"), which isn't just bad reasoning, it's also bad religion and bad Latin.

Getting young Americans to discriminate between these maxims, and to understand why the former contains more truth, would be a major step.

1:54 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Methadras said...

There is always truth. Always. Outside of Omniscience, it's nearly impossible to glean, but it's there. We have to be its arbiters. We have to do our best to present it. There can be no middle ground to finding out what it is.

2:53 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

what gg gives is prove in logic of a paradox.

there are many different types of truth. a short list may be illustrative;

legal truth.(laws.)

emotional truth.(love/hate.)

empirical truth.(scientific proof.)

religious truth. (the word of god.)

physical truth. (brick walls. hard pavement.)

in each of these fields of study and practice truth can be achieved by consensus...and even in physical truth we have those who debate and try to prove otherwise. athletes, acrobats, hovering yogis.

but absolute truth? hmmm. i will leave that for first year ethics debates.

and francis touches on the concept of political truth, which is where the real snake pit lies...

...and i like the idea of teach logic in grade school. along with latin and greek, it would allow a broader understanding of the meaning of the words we use and thier origins, and how to use those words to form our reality.

like the word rhetoric for instance, obama?

but who would teach such things?

not members of a teacher`s union....

3:15 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Joe said...

Hayek and Mises are being repeatedly proven right--dramatically so--yet our leaders still embrace Keynes, who has repeatedly been proved wrong--dramatically so.

3:52 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Joe said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:52 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger Oligonicella said...

dr.alistair --

"and even in physical truth we have those who debate and try to prove otherwise. athletes, acrobats, hovering yogis."

Liked it except for that. Athletes and acrobats work within the bounds of physics and they know it. Hovering yogis are frauds and we know it. They really shouldn't be put in the same category.

Just a nit.

4:18 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

olig, i was having a bit of fun. me and michael jordan are constantly trying to fly.....

cheers.

4:26 PM, March 06, 2010  
Blogger 請客 said...

GOOD........................................

12:04 AM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Kevin M said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:01 AM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Joe said...

Kevin, amazing article. Once gain political correctness in the military causes problems. (Nothing new, one reason the US was so unprepared for WWII was the number of incompetent officers in the highest ranks.)

1:38 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Stephen said...

Hayek is great on some themes, but this one is problematic: "The tragedy of collectivist thought is that, while it starts out to make reason supreme ..."
The two major modern theoreticians of collectivism are Rousseau and Marx.
Rousseau subordinates reason to emotionalism and blames reason for the development of civilization, which he thinks has corrupted everything.
Marx is an environmental determinist and sees reason as merely reflective of economically conflicting class interests.
In our times, the leading collectivist movement is postmodernism, which is extremely anti-reason and which draws heavily on Rousseau and Marx.

1:52 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Teflon said...

One must always separate the words of socialists from the actions.

While they do claim to be merely following the dictates of reason, every socialist regime in history, far from empowering the poor and disenfranchised, has harnessed the envy of the lower classes in order to enslave them. Only the nomenklatura is empowered; everyone else is shackled.


Only fools believe what socialists say---especially when they claim the purest of intentions. We must always ask the question the Founders did: how do we preserve liberty for all?

Secure liberty and prosperity follows in its wake. Seek prosperity at the expense of liberty and neither will ensue.

Homeschool your kids---it's the only way to pass this truth on.

2:29 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Helen, et al.
RE: There's a 'Thought'

It is become more and more apparent that a LOT of people, including those who manage/control various blogs, don't care for either (1) reason or (2) truth. Indeed. All they care for is their personal agenda.

I've 'spoken' what I perceive to be the 'truth' on a number of occasions. AND, because that 'truth' is based on evidence supporting the christian understanding of 'truth', I've been 'killed' on an number of sites accordingly.

The latest being PJM itself. I can no longer get a comment posted there. I suspect it is because of a kerfuffle between myself and Charlie (Colorado) Martin. Something regarding Tiger Woods, adultery, Buhhdism and a call for Tiger to come to Christ a while back.

So....

....why is it that the christian voice is 'silenced', e.g., 'suppressed', at PJM? As elsewhere, e.g., Daily Kos, Tim Blair, Little Green Footballs, Vodka Pundit, Red State and so many others?

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[A free society is one where it is 'safe' to be unpopular.]

2:46 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Kevin M said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:20 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

P.S....

Surely only Satan can be against the 'Truth'.....

So where does that put Roger?

3:26 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Kevin M said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:32 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Kevin M
RE: Thinking 'Apart'

"Think outside of the box: Dump your concept of "christian truth" and give the Socratic notion of truth a spin in the park. Cold, hard self-examination can be such a bitch, but the rewards are immeasurable." --  Kevin M

Forepart: All people should understand that Kevin M is, as any 'christian' would describe a 'satanist'. Therefore, understand this discussion accordingly.....

"As for "Christian truth," the market was cornered by Rick Warren and his Porpoise-Driven® Idiot Saliva. -- Kevin M.

Kevin has absolute no idea of christianity. Because of that he throws out this sort of 'arg'.....as we would put it in debate tournaments.....which I'm off of from state-level national qualifications as of last night.

I'll bet you're feeling "safer" by the minute!-- Kevin M

I've never been more 'safe'...than the moment I came to understand the Truth.

What's your 'point'?

3:37 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Kevin M said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:02 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

Chuck - whatever you think of Kevin's concept of Christianity (I don't have an opinion on it, FWIW), calling him a "Satanist" is getting a bit heated.

Chuck and Kevin - respectfully, I'd like you all to stop your multi-thread rift that threatens to pillage the blog like so many others have been pillaged by personal invective. I enjoy being here, but I would enjoy it a lot less if I knew every thread would eventually become a Chuck vs Kevin bloodfest.

4:07 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger jill said...

Great post. The next book I read will be Hayek's. Linked to you here.

4:10 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Kevin M said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:10 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Kevin M said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:13 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger midge said...

I was inspired to read Road to Serfdom (RTS), for the first time, by a post on Instapundit it seems like last spring. It spurred me on to read more Hayek.

If one wants to really understand Hayek's development of the collectivist mentality (I like the term collectivist as it covers all inevitable totalitarian efforts to enforce any collectivist scheme by whatever name it goes by) just outlined in RTS (Hayek admits as much), they should read a series of articles which Hayek published in the early 1940's that were collected (and expanded on) in the 1955 book titled The Counter Revolution of Science. It is the foundational work (with over 600 endnotes) for RTS.

From it one can better appreciate that not only was Hayek one of the 20th century's best economists, but a top-notch philosopher as well.

The book can be downloaded for free from the Internet Archive here:

http://www.archive.org/details/counterrevolutio030197mbp

4:34 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Satan said...

I just heard what was going on between Chuck and Kevin, and if it continues, I'm going to put an end to it personally.

Don't mess with me. Just sayin.'

4:43 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Kevin M said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:44 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Vader said...

The problem is that none of us is here long enough to work out more than a tiny fraction of the whole puzzle. We have no choice but to trust others to have discovered the preponderance of the truths we live by.

Put another way, any idiot can learn from his own experience; the smart man can learn from the experiences of others.

This is the foundation of conservatism as understood by Burke and Kirk. It seems to be a foreign concept to liberals and too many libertarians.

5:03 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger D.W. Drang said...

RE: "There is no truth", interesting post up at House of Eratosthenes.

5:15 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Swen said...

I think George Orwell predicted much of our current political discourse when he coined the term "doublethink" -- the act of simultaneously accepting as correct two mutually contradictory beliefs.

For example, we apply a good bit of doublethink if we believe that the government can suck billions of dollars out of the general economy, take a big cut for themselves, and then redistribute the remainder -- the "Stimulus" -- and actually improve the economy in the process.

Faced with the Stimulus, I think our grandparents would have told us that you can't stand in a bucket and lift yourself off the ground by the handle. You really can't 'spend your way to prosperity'.

It's not that we've reached the "end of reason", we're asked to willingly suspend our powers of reason and just "believe". Believe that this time there really will be a Free Lunch. Believe that the government can spend trillions it doesn't have and not raise our taxes. Believe that the government can cut the cost of health care but not ration services. Believe that we can raise the taxes on energy production but not increase the cost of your heating and electric bills.

We're asked to believe that this time the magic will work.

6:17 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Queezy Malanga said...

When truth is gone, all that's left is power.

7:15 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Kevin M
RE: Heh

Well, if you believe in Satan, then Roger is probably playing cards with the Easter Bunny and Bigfoot. -- Kevin M

Obviously...you are 'oblivious' to what's really going on around you. Too bad for you.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The greatest trick Satan has pulled is convincing people that he doesn't exist.]

P.S. On the other hand, if you've actually encountered his agents, you are of a different opinion.

P.P.S. And he'll 'hate' you for being so obstreperous.....

9:09 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Satan
RE: Give It Up

just heard what was going on between Chuck and Kevin, and if it continues, I'm going to put an end to it personally.

Don't mess with me. Just sayin.'
-- 'Satan'

Last time you/that-cretin sent someone against me, Someone of a 'Higher Power' kicked their 'ass'. Their 'screaming' was rather 'impressive'.

Send more....we're ready....

Chuck(le)
[Coincidence, n., When God works a miracle and doesn't get the creidt.]

9:12 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Topher, et al.
RE: Quiting

....I'd like you all to stop your multi-thread rift that threatens to pillage the blog like so many others have been pillaged by personal invective. -- Topher

I can understand your desire to not face reality. It's rather common. However, those of us who have learned to recognize mere perception FROM reality can only say, "Forget it!", meaning 'perception' vs. 'reality'.

You can't handle reality? Sounds like a 'personal problem' as any good platoon sergeant would tell you.

Hope that helps....

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Reality....what a concept! -- Robin Williams]

9:30 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Queezy Malanga
RE: Excercising 'Power'

When truth is gone, all that's left is power. -- Queezy Malanga

Indeed!

And we'll see another re-enactment of Tianneman Square on the Washington Mall....if we give Obama the 'power'.

However, I noticed, today, that Instapundit was citing the Declaration of Independence, like I was last year, vis-a-vis the Obama administration. The point here being that if university professors of Constitutional Law are citing the business about overthrowing the government, thinks are getting rather 'extreme'.

Not that I'm particularly worried about that. I'm just glad that brainiacs like him are FINALLY beginning to catch on.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Our safety, our liberty, depends upon preserving the Constitution of the United States as our fathers made it inviolate. The people of the United States are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution. -- Abraham Lincoln]

9:39 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

Chuck,

For me, "facing reality" doesn't have to include engaging in a petty personal quarrel between you and Kevin. Blog communities break down when people start shouting instead of discussing.

I'll say what others are thinking - your contributions are normally wise and interesting, but you are rapidly becoming a self-parody, bombarding threads with foppish posts to defend yourself against what amount to small slights and disagreements.

9:47 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Topher
RE: Really?

I'll say what others are thinking - your contributions are normally wise and interesting, but you are rapidly becoming a self-parody, bombarding threads with foppish posts to defend yourself against what amount to small slights and disagreements. -- Topher

Please explain where telling the difference between 'truth' and 'power' is "foppish" posting? And how God has nothing to do with 'Truth'.

Now THERE'S a 'digression!

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The Truth will out....one way or another....]

9:51 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger AST said...

May I recommend an essay by a former professor of mine? It's called Victoriosa Loquacitas - The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else. Professor Nibley was a professor of Ancient History among other things. This article has influenced me for many years and I'm happy it has finally been put up on the internet. It's at:
http://www.ispartnewsite.farmsresearch.com/publications/books/?bookid=76&chapid=952

I promise to dig out my copy of TRTS and read it again.

10:28 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger midge said...

AST:

Don't read TRTS again. Read The Counter Revolution of Science instead. An online link is posted above in the comments.

BTW. The subtitle Hayek gave it fits with the theme of the post "the end of reason?" as Hayek subtitled it "Studies on the abuse of reason." But that was prior to postmodernism's attempt to "end reason." Again, Hayek was ahead of his time.


BTW2: I printed off and will read the article you provided a link to.

11:03 PM, March 07, 2010  
Blogger ZZMike said...

I've been reading it, too, on and off for some weeks. I found the reference to the Reader's Digest condensed version, and to the "comic book" version fascinating; it turns out that they're both still online - from the UK Institute for Economic Affairs:

http://www.iea.org.uk/

Reader's Digest Version

(the same)... with "The Intellectuals and Socialism"

Both of these include the "comic book" version.

One of his main threads was that "national planning" was one of the big threats to freedom. Captions:

"Planners Promise Utopias"
"But they can't agree on ONE utopia"
...
"Confidence in planners fades"
"The strong man is given power"
"The party takes over the country"
...

His scenario leads to a more drastic and unpleasant end than what we're seeing here, but I see quite a few parallels with what's going on now. Central planning; a central propaganda machine (CNN, NYT, &c.)

Also compelling are the descriptions of the criticisms it got when it came out (he tells about that in the various prefaces).

I think the best edition you can get is the U Chicago Press "TRTS, Text and Documents, The Definitive Edition", edited by Bruce Campbell.

TRTS deserves to be read.

2:04 AM, March 08, 2010  
Blogger Kevin M said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:01 AM, March 08, 2010  
Blogger Jane said...

We homeschool and have been enjoying the last three years with Classical Conversations, which is full of thousands of children nationwide, although it's still in its infancy. There is an association of brick-and-mortar Classical schools, but this is help for the homeschool.

The Classical model sprung up from an essay by Dorothy Sayers called, "The Lost Tools of Learning." It's a must-read for every person concerned about education.

http://www.gbt.org/text/sayers.html

Knowledge-Understanding-Wisdom
Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric

My children are still in elementary school and at this stage we are acquiring knowledge, but I can't wait to break out the logic books. I am so grateful that my older children love to read at ages 8 and 10. Lately they have been enjoying Susan Wise Bauer's series on the 'History of the World' as well as their literature books. They are required to read a chapter a day, but they often get caught up and read much more.

9:11 AM, March 08, 2010  
Blogger Dr.D said...

Jane, you are definitely on thee right track with Dorothy Sayer's model. When I first read that essay, I was simply blown away with what she has to say there. It is so very profound, and yet it is so simple as well. Stay with it.

10:48 AM, March 08, 2010  
Blogger Joe said...

Out of curiosity, if you think Christianity is bunk, does that make you a Satanist, or is there an application to fill out?

11:38 AM, March 08, 2010  
Blogger Satan said...

Go to CareerBuilder.com and they'll forward it.

My web page is still under construction.

12:18 PM, March 08, 2010  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

religion, like science, lots of things we are to believe...if we are to be "good".

the risk we run when we reserve judgement on these things we are to believe, is that we get tarred with the "evil" brush. or stupid or ignorant if we challenge algore`s mighty environmental industry.

better that we go ack to our desks and believe that they are busy making our lives better up there on the hill while we work away.

sleep children, sleep.

5:03 PM, March 08, 2010  

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