It’s time for another philosophy post, with a touch of history and politics thrown in to keep it spicy.
I’ve been reviewing my understanding of history: specifically, the history of Western Civilization. This has brought me to a great deal of reading, but among the best books in this reading list has to be The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, by Professor Anthony Esolen. As with most things I read, I don’t accept nor agree with the Professor on everything he writes in this book, but I found that he did get me to thinking about something I once took for granted: that logic and reason can explain all things. Guided by some of the material Esolen presents, and what I know of philosophy, I realized that logic has major shortcomings, and that those shortcomings translate directly to some fundamental flaws in modern Western Culture. As a result, I have come to accept one of his major assertions: that the period we call “the enlightenment” actually marked our entry into the dark ages, and the period we call “the dark ages” was actually the true age of enlightenment. Let me explain.
What the enlightenment actually did was divorce knowledge from everything except that which man can quantify and measure. In other words, it ushered in a new age of materialism. This is how we have arrived at a world where “science” is god and where everything outside the realm of what we call science is dismissed as some form of “mysticism.” This belief that science has “freed” us is the driving motivation behind Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s comment in my last post:
“Newtown changed us all. What I saw was through the eyes of a parent,” Blumenthal said. “The world is different today, and Newtown has changed America.”
Blumenthal believes that Newton set man free by advancing science (actually, the scientific method was developed in the period we call “the dark ages,” but we credit Newton, Bacon and others from the enlightenment because it fits the revisionism pushed by secular humanism). There’s just one problem with this belief that science can explain everything: it’s wrong!
Perhaps I should explain what I am getting at it by approaching this issue a little sideways. If you follow my posts, you’ve probably heard me say that understanding is not the same thing as knowledge, and it isn’t. Knowledge is nothing more than an amassed familiarity with facts. These facts can be of any number of things: scientific findings, mathematical principles, biology, history, politics or even who accompanied whom at the Golden Globes. Now, would we think that, if someone knows absolutely every fact there is to know about the latest celebrity gossip that this makes that person a genius? I should hope not, as this doesn’t meet the definition of the concept “genius.” This same principle would apply equally to education: a physics degree is not equivalent to a physical education degree, but neither degree actually speaks to the intelligence of the person who earned it. All it tells us is that a person has the ability to remember a great deal about celebrity gossip or the information presented in the curriculum of their college classes. Therefore, it follows that, just because someone commands familiarity with a great deal of facts, it doesn’t speak to their intelligence.
The next aspect of this equation would be intelligence: or the ability to understand facts and their inter-dependent relationships to each other. Take our celebrity gossip expert: do you think that she has to be of superior intellect to memorize all that gossip, or could she just be more motivated to do so than you or I? Furthermore, do you think she understands it? If she doesn’t use it to make any connections, the chances are that she doesn’t. However, if she uses her knowledge of celebrity gossip to figure out who is dating whom, and who is making a movie, or even what movie is being filmed, that shows a high level of understanding. Just knowing a fact does not allow someone to make the connection between them. That takes intelligence. Unfortunately, this is where the majority of people stop: they believe that intelligence is the end of knowing. It isn’t. In fact, the belief that intelligence is the end of knowing represents the potential for doing great harm to one’s self, as well as to your society, and even all of mankind.
[Sidebar: Interestingly enough, your IQ score is more a measure of your ability to learn facts than of your ability to understand them – which sort of tells you something about the intelligence of those who think it speaks to their intelligence.]
Intelligence is just the understanding of how to use knowledge, but to understand how to use knowledge requires wisdom. The problem with wisdom is that it cannot be learned through science or reason. Logic, the foundation of the modern Western world, is of no help to us, either. You see, wisdom is an intangible quality that is difficult to define or measure, thus, outside of the realm of “science.”
Definition of WISDOM
1a : accumulated philosophic or scientific learning : knowledge
b : ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : insight
c : good sense : judgment
d : generally accepted belief <challenges what has become accepted wisdom among many historians — Robert Darnton>
2: a wise attitude, belief, or course of action
3: the teachings of the ancient wise men
This is why the belief in science fails our society: science has no way to determine what is best for us, either individually, or as a society. Furthermore, science can be abused. It must be remembered that “science” is the justification behind modern racism. In the 1970’s, “science” was sure that we were going to be in an ice age now: last decade, it was sure we would be burning up. Now, “science” is just sure that the climate changes. We have the same problem with logic and reason. In fact, the manipulation of facts to suit one’s objective is often thought of as genius today. Hence, the person who “invented” the spin that turned an act of war into a “kinetic military action” is probably thought of in his/her circles as brilliant. The same is probably true for whoever turned taxes into “contributions” and welfare into “investments.” In reality, all of these are examples of unguided intelligence, and unguided intelligence is nearly always destructive. But then, knowing and understanding that it is destructive cannot be determined through logic or science: it comes from wisdom, and wisdom is that unquantifiable quality that likes outside science and, therefore, is dismissed by modern Western society.
Now how “smart” is that?
[Note: when the founders wrote of "the pursuit of happiness," they did not mean the freedom to seek pleasure. This is an historical term dating back to the ancient philosophers. It means to pursue virtue -- living a moral life -- and they taught that virtue is gained through wisdom. You'll even find this definition of "the pursuit of happiness" in the writings of the renowned English legal thinker, Sir William Blackstone, whose work formed the foundation for American jurisprudence. So, in a very real sense, the founders were telling us that we have a natural right to pursue wisdom so we can understand the best way to use our intelligence.]