Wednesday, June 8, 2016
The Ax Grinder’s Cave
What can be explained on fewer principles is explained needlessly by more. —William of Ockham, Sum of All Logic
I’m on a mission—not from God, like in the Blues Brothers movie—but an investigative mission to discover the real purpose of this text. A Socratic mission, if you will.
I mentioned last week that the last few chapters seemed like a sprint rather than a stroll. Now, I’m thinking it’s more like a Gish Gallop. Something was bothering me while I read Chapters 13 and 14. I don’t know enough about history off the top of my head to spot inconsistencies, but a pattern started to emerge. Then I got to Chapter 15: The Razor’s Edge. In Herman’s conversational style, he provides an interesting analogy to demonstrate Ockham’s Razor.
Ockham’s Razor, as it was later coined, has many more implications than Herman indicates.
Ockham’s Razor cuts through the area of epistemology, ontology, theology, and metaphysics. Herman later notes this on page 246, but something wasn’t ringing true. Herman’s two-glasses analogy struck me as strange. As I thought about it more, it struck me a suspicious.
Why demonstrate Ockham’s Razor with two things that actually exist? The analogy is too simplistic.
I have to admit I was looking forward to a gallop through the Crusades. But when Herman focused on the “success” of the Crusades, I began to understand he was making an argument.
The first thing I realized is that I failed to apply the principles I learned in How to Read a Book, written by Mortimer Adler and Charles Doren. For works of philosophy, one has to look for “what question or questions it tries to answer.” This is a great place to start. I think I started off on the wrong foot: I was reading Herman’s book like it was an academic history book. Now I realize that Herman is making an argument. I should know this because the last chapter comes to a “Conclusion.” It’s right there in black and white. For me, this is a different level of reading. So I decided to do what I always try to do when analyzing an argument, which happens to be Number Two on Dr. Bombardi’s “Seven Steps of Analysis”—determine the conclusion.
The shorter version of his conclusion is that without the Christian God (Plato), science (Aristotle) is doomed to be “riddled with false façades and shoddy superficialities, and it is populated by institutions that have become obsessed with process for its own sake, rather than keeping Western civilization “on message” regarding the larger meaning of freedom and liberty, community and spiritual truth” (p. 569).
The idea that science is incomplete without spirituality is debatable, but I get the feeling that Herman is up to something else.
Herman brings Plato and Aristotle into the 21st century. He uses three events to make his case: the September 11th attacks, the human genome, and 2008 housing market crash.
To continue his “footnote” theme, Herman concludes that the September 11th attacks were because the Islamic world “contemplated the mystic and divine and little else (Plato).” He says the human genome “isn’t a seed or a substance but a sequential unfolding inside the DNA molecule.” I’m not sure what he means by “unfolding,” but I have a hunch. Further (and this is the biggest stretch so far) he somehow draws an analogical line from Werner Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty to the 2008 financial crash. Essentially, he asserts that the 2008 crash was caused by “the inability of governments and large, centralizing institutions to keep up with the information needed to make the right economic decisions.” Amazingly, no mention whatsoever of the corrupt derivative market and mortgage-backed securities.
To that effect, Herman's Ockham's Razor analogy supports his argument, but to what end?
I think it’s important to note that Arthur Herman is a fellow at the Hudson Institute, which is a conservative think-tank funded, among others, by the Koch brothers. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, “it has substantially boosted its focus on international issues such as the Middle East, Latin America and Islam”.
I invite everyone to read the “Conclusion” chapter and tell me if you get the same feeling. This by itself doesn’t discredit the text. I really enjoy the “stroll,” and I really like his writing style, but I can’t help but think there’s an ax grinding in the background of his breezy prose.
I think we just have to keep in mind that Herman is making an argument.
This is my take on the text so far. I could be wrong, and I’m open to further evidence to the contrary.
DQ: Religious and political worldviews often change the meaning of events, but do you think they change the facts?