Tradition, A-historical Positions and the Fallacy of Authority

A library itself is an embodiment of tradition.

A library itself is an embodiment of tradition.

By: Jay If a legal case was considering a man charged with adultery, would all the prosecution's arguments be ad hominem? Of course not. Several interesting discussions recently erupted with friends of mine that concern an interesting question regarding gold, libertarianism and appeals to authority.  These all relate in regard to a debate about Bitcoin and virtual currencies.  But aside from the question of Bitcoin, the issue of debate is about humans and human praxis.  Is it possible to create new system or government or new way of humans acting, and then simply implement it?  Will humans eventually "evolve" to no longer care about gold, jewels or assets, and move on to some new medium of exchange?  Is human nature malleable and in flux, able to be determined or altered by external stimuli?  Is every appeal to the past or history or an authority a fallacy, strictly speaking?  I answer in the negative to all the above, and here is why. Astute readers will notice that the above argumentation closely resembles a kind of argumentation we've seen in the past: it's very similar to ideological trends that arose during the so-called Enlightenment, and it's very close to Marxism and/or libertarian ideas.  I don't say that as a fallacy of association, but because the root presuppositions of these ideologies are the same.  At base is the idea that humans do not possess a specific nature and that "natures" are socially constructed philosophical assumptions.  This is why these Enlightenment strands of thought led to the Marxist conclusion that humans do not possess any definite nature.  In fact, there are no natures, since, as the sons of the Enlightenment following Bacon decided, nothing in nature possess an objective telos.  Any idea of purpose or objective discovery of a meaning or plan for things in nature was only in the mind of man.  It was only and solely determined by social constructs.  Furthermore, the idea of telos in nature was bound up with theism and some form of ancient metaphysics, and since Aristotle thought rocks had the essential property of apparently "going down," all of ancient metaphysics that dealt with natures and essences must be tossed out. But does an error on Aristotle's part somehow mean that there are no essences or natures?  Of course not, and I've argued at length on this blog why that is not so.  Bacon was correct that there needed to be a shift towards theorizing and experimentation, but the implementation of the scientific method as a tool in no way cancels out or destroys traditional knowledge derived from metaphysics or great works like Plato or the Bible.  No matter how many inventions or marvels the scientific method produces, it's still only a tool, not a comprehensive descriptor of all reality.  Now, my friends debating me would probably agree with some of that, but they don't realize how far they are in  line with impossible revolutionary philosophies.  While economics may seem like something disconnected from such obtuse questions, the reality is, one's view of metaphysics and anthropology directly impacts one's view of how humans operate and act, and one's own worldview. I think Mises and Ayn Rand are correct in regard to the fact that economically, humans operate for individual ends, and their ideas and products are their own.  In the sense of origins, ideas, and hence the architecture of economic production, emerge from individuals and their creativity.  But are we right to conclude from this that the atomistic individualism of modernity is correct?  This view, of course, is consonant with anarcho libertarianism in many cases.  In this sense, the individualism of the Enlightenment produced a lot of wealth, but also produces a breakdown of traditional cultures and borders.  Libertarianism is thus inherently globalist, and this is evident in the Memoirs of David Rockefeller, who learned his economics under Von Hayek: in Road to Serfdom, Von Hayek argues for the United Nations.  I'm not really concerned to debate libertarianism here, but to point out that it has always been a position of the oligarchy, it doesn't represent a real ideological challenge to the power structure as many imagine - it is the philosophy of origin of the present system.

The real problem with both Marxism and libertarianism is that they are ahistorical.  Humans are not atomized individuals that emerge as blank slates on the historical scene, free to impose upon the world whatever scheme or ideology they dream up.  Rather, humans are born into families and communities and are thereby bearers of a tradition, even in modernity.  The tradition or legacy one is born into cannot but inform the worldview of those that mature and progress in that society, and my friends themselves fail to see themselves as products of modern, Enlightenment Americanism.  America is an attempt at an Enlightenment republic based on the philosophy of empiricists like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, including the new ideas of their time – man as tabula rasa, all men as supposedly equal, atomized individuals with “rights” based in faulty philosophical concepts like “natural law.” 

America is the first real attempt at a secular, atomistic republic. It is, as I have shown elsewhere, “right wing” revolutionary Illuminism (Girondin) in contrast to the Jacobins.  It is the first attempt at a propositionally based nation – something that achieved its apex in Lincoln, who absurdly divided “nation” from a certain people group, imagining it to be a purely propositional creation.  The social contract error of Locke is therefore the foundation of all these absurd positions, whether Locke, Jefferson or the Marxists.  Government is viewed as a human social construct that either has no authority over men, or as a totalitarian entity that controls every area of life.  In similar fashion, the economics of a people cannot be divorced from the worldview or culture of a people.  Just as libertarians and Enlightenment descendants think that government (the social contract) and social order (hierarchy or class) are purely rational human constructs, so also do they assume that economics is some idea that can be imposed on external reality.  They fail to see economics is also a manifestation of cultures with histories and a tradition intimately tied to a people and/or race. 

The unfortunate truth that almost no one will be able to swallow in Amerika is that this is all b.s.  All of this Enlightenment garbage listed above is not true.  It’s not by accident that Enlightenment liberalism and its presuppositions have led to feminism, gay rights, gender “equality,” gender as a social construct, Marxism, etc. – because they’re all based on the Marxist and leftist error that human nature, or the natures of things, can be altered by external stimuli (because they don’t exist).  Since things don’t have any objective nature in these views, it follows that they are completely malleable and programmable by re-education or external stimuli.  Certainly external stimuli can affect our DNA or change our thoughts on a matter, but neither of these has anything to do with whether we have souls.  Only if one viewed man as something purely mental with a body would these even make sense. No, man is much more than merely a mind with a body – he has a deeper core to his being which is at root mysterious.  It is his soul, and could in a sense be called his “essence,” and it marks him out as distinct from other animals or inanimate things.  Libertarians may not share the plan for enforced statist education, but they share the same assumptions of man as an autonomous blank slate.  Likewise, in economics, goods, trade, mediums of currency, and assets like gold are always going to exist.  Humans have always valued gold, and always will, regardless of whether one views gold as possessing an intrinsic value or not. 

At this point, my friends accused my reasoning of being based on historical appeal and the fallacy of authority.  But are all appeals to history and authority fallacies?   One of my friends has accused me of this numerous times in discussions on these issues.  Setting aside for a moment the question of whether a universe where both logical laws and anarchism are somehow compatible, let us even see if such claims are always fallacies in logic proper.  The fallacy of authority is as follows:

Most of what authority A has to say on subject matter S is correct.

A says P about subject matter S.

Therefore, P is correct.

In logic, that is a fallacy, because it may or may not be true.  It also doesn’t mean that the claim is necessarily false. It just means that it may or may not be true.  But is this fallacy something that can be totalized?  In other words, can this be applied to all fields and all human interaction?  I argue no, and it will become quite evident why, even in simple things.  It’s also important to understand the place of logic.  Logic is not an all-encompassing entity that can be used to explain all aspects of reality, any more than mathematics is an all-encompassing explanation for all reality.  Mathematics and logic are intimately related, but they are inadequate as being fully descriptive for things like history/the past, the self, meaning, love, evil, morals or anything outside our visible experience, like memories.  

All of these things are examples of phenomena that are very real, but don’t exactly fit into the categories of what is numeric and what is a logical necessity.  Math and logic deal with things like quantitative extension or necessary relations among concepts, but don’t explain much in regard to things like I listed.   But we wouldn’t say that those things above are therefore “irrational,” or non-existent because they aren’t explained well by math and logic.  For example, some have tried to tie morals to purely rational syllogisms and claims, with the intent of working out a rationalist utilitarian ethics.  The history of utilitarian ethics, however, has proven entirely bankrupt in this regard, precisely because it shares the same Enlightenment/atheistic presuppositions as the rest of the Enlightenment errors, like the social contract.  If people of their opinion were more consistent, they would have to go the route of Hume and adopt total skepticism, since there is no “measurement” of the past.

To make this more clear, however, we need consider only linguistic philosophy.  Any claim of knowledge at all, by anyone, involves concepts and ideas that were transmitted from someone else in the past, that now in turn informs our knowledge in the present.  Anything you know, you learned through the language you were taught as a child, and the teachers who instructed you.  They, in turn, learned language and mathematics from others before them.  So even complex, ideal things like math and logic are not things that are transmitted to humans apart from a tradition.  When you learned 2 + 2 = 4, you learned a specific tradition of mathematics that has been historically informed by Greek and Indian culture.  Some children do not learn these things and do not know how to read, write and do math, but you were taught it via the culture and tradition you were born into, which inherited these great ideas from the West that other cultures have not had, and still do not have.  Does that mean it was inextricably bound to those cultures?  Obviously not, but nevertheless, it came through that route.  And it is therefore evident that all knowledge of any kind, particularly what are ultimately esoteric things like math and logic, are a part of a historic tradition – not something you as a lone individual grabbed out of the aether through your own rationalism.  Furthermore, this doesn’t entail cultural relativism either, since cultures can be more or less rational. 

Even if one rejected this clear truth about tradition and knowledge, it would still be the case that anything you as an individual knows is based largely on the authority and testimony of others.  If you’ve read any scientific journal or paper, or watched a documentary, and haven’t yourself done all those experiments and tests and investigations, you are basing your knowledge on authority or testimony.  Indeed anything about the past not in one’s immediate experience would also have to be based on the testimony of others.  So are all appeals to the past and the testimony of others fallacies? Clearly not, or else no one could make a statement about anything in the past, but to go that route is absurd.  Thus is someone wanted to make the argument as I did that humans have always valued gold, for 6,000 years, and then extrapolate from that they will continue to do so, that is no more a fallacy than any claim based on induction.  Indeed – go read your David Hume again, because anytime you claim that induction itself is invalid because it’s based on the past, you destroy all knowledge period.  Remember that Hume is taking rationalist Enlightenment empiricism to its logical conclusion: if any appeal to the past or past experience is a fallacy, then there is no basis for induction.  But induction is crucial to all science and logic.  

My position is not the absurd one.  I believe knowledge is something born in a tradition and that some egalitarian leap away from all things past, like Marx and Mao said, is nothing but destructive to knowledge.  Indeed, one of my friends claims to love the trivium and quadrivium.  But those are not subjects of study that fell from the realm of forms into your mind, but are part of a medieval western tradition that was informed and born by Plato, Aristotle, the Bible and Tradition.  Furthermore, there are sciences higher than the quadrivium, one of which is metaphysics, which further backs up everything I say.  So man is not a blank slate and he is not an atomized individual who can adopt and invent traditions and economies and natures at will, but is bound by the objective tradition(s) of which is a part and of which he is able to come to know.  Therefore gold is something man will always value, because it is the common heritage of all his ancestors that he valued gold in economic interactions and there is no good reason to think he will cease. That’s not a fallacy anymore than saying “humans are self-interested” is a fallacy, because it has always been the case, and it is entirely rational to believe they will continue to do so.  On the contrary, the burden is on the shoulders of the Marxists to show why anyone should believe men will operate differently.

15 Comments on Tradition, A-historical Positions and the Fallacy of Authority

  1. Good job. You are a better writer when you are schooling someone. Are you Jewish or Christian?

    • Zane,

      Thanks for your comments. I have been inbetween those two for a while now, having investigated Orthodox Judaism for the last couple years. In terms of Christianity, I find Eastern Orthodoxy the most convincing, as opposed to Roman Catholicism or Protestantism.

      • Adeodatus // April 10, 2016 at 11:06 pm //

        Can you please expound on this? How can one be “in between” Orthodox Judaism and Christainity? You either affirm the Resurrection or you deny it. I’ve followed your posts for some time now and have always understood you to be clearly Orthodox Christian. Are you having doubts? I would find this greatly disturbing, seeing as your articles on the Christian faith have been very illuminating and credit such a great deal of illumination to yourself. If you reject or are considering the resurrection as a farce, I would be as much inclined to pray for myself as much as I would be for you.

      • I wrote this years ago.

      • Adeodatus // April 10, 2016 at 11:59 pm //

        True…point taken.
        What would you describe as your current status? Are you a catechumen in Orthodoxy?

  2. GOLD

    l have no problem saying gold will maintain its value long into the future. I don’t question the reliability of gold. However, if you believe gold will always be valuable, I can only assume you’re envisioning the next 100 years of the marketplace and not the next 100,000 years. I have a hard time believing gold will mean anything to people 100,000 years from now. Assuming technology continues evolving at an exponential rate, we’re probably more likely to trade photons than gold.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to think we’re ethically bound to gold, that we owe it to our ancestors because it’s what they used. Humans have been around for tens of thousands of years and we’ve only been trading gold for about 6,000 years. Before gold, people traded with stones, tools and animals. Based on your reasoning, our ancestors betrayed their ancestors by switching to gold. Why don’t we really set things straight and go back to trading furs?

    Maybe what you’re saying is that gold is practically inherently valuable, not actually inherently valuable. People have used and valued it for so long that it’s as if it’s inherently valuable. I wouldn’t disagree with that. If, however, you think it has actual inherent value, how would you demonstrate that? Appealing to past social consensus proves my claim that its value is determined by society.

    As for the fundamental philosophical problems you posed…

    IS HUMAN NATURE MALLEABLE?

    I don’t know what human nature is. Is it a soul, a spirit, a mind? If you can identify and define it, I’ll let you know if I think it’s malleable.

    IS EVERY APPEAL TO THE PAST OR AUTHORITY A FALLACY, STRICTLY SPEAKING?

    No, not every appeal to the past is a fallacy, but definitely one that says value isn’t determined by social consensus…based on the last 6,000 years of social consensus. (And if you appeal to Scripture, that’s merely an ancient social consensus.)

    IS THE MIND OF MAN A TABULA RASA?

    I’m not sure this question has been answered sufficiently in the study of philosophy. Yes, our brains are like computers in that they are programmed to arrange/interpret/organize data in a certain way. In that sense, they’re not blank slates. But computers are inanimate objects without natures, so ultimately the question is what distinguishes computers from minds. I don’t know the answer to that. I suppose you’ll say “life” or “soul.” But those things need to be defined as well. Arguing that a soul is that which humanness can’t do without still doesn’t define what a soul actually is, it only shows that something is necessary if humans are to be distinguished from inanimate objects.

    LIBERTARIANISM/INDIVIDUALISM LEADS TO MARXISM.

    I don’t see a direct causal relationship here. Focusing on individuality without considering history could lead one to any absurd philosophy, not just Marxism. People adopt and implement fundamentally different behaviors over time. This is proven by the fact that there was once one culture and now there are thousands. So the human ability to develop and implement new cultures isn’t debatable. I suppose you’ll argue that we need to get back to the one original culture, that all deviations from the traditions of the first culture were unethical godless compromises. But focusing on A completely disregards the history/culture/tradition between B and Z, which is what you originally set out to prevent.

    • “I have a hard time believing gold will mean anything to people 100,000 years from now.”

      Then it’s not really an issue, and not really relevant, since we were talking about Bitcoin, and not a 100k years in the future. No, I don’t think anyone is ethically bound to gold. I said real assets. Things like talley sticks were tokens that represented assets. Part of the point of the argument with Tommy was over virtual currencies. My only point was that real assets have value and are much harder to steal than virtual digits.

      The point is not merely gold, but the luxury items that humans have always valued, like jewels, goods, or some other asset. It’s absurd to even be arguing whether people will, in the near future, continue to value these things. Clearly they will, and that was the whole debate with Tommy.

      “…definitely one that says value isn’t determined by social consensus…based on the last 6,000 years of social consensus. (And if you appeal to Scripture, that’s merely an ancient social consensus.)”

      I think I showed in my article how this wasn’t the case. The problem between us would be much deeper than an appeal to Scripture, since as I understand, you’re an agnostic. As an agnostic, I don’t really see why you care, since knowledge is something seemingly impossible in your position.

      I think things like souls are mysterious, just like the list of things I gave that don’t exactly fit quantitative measurement, with math, or necessary relations, like logic. Unless one adopts pure materialism, which is utterly ridiculous, things like souls, love, evil, beauty, etc., are inherently mysterious. But mystery is not the same as contradiction, so there’s no need to conclude that because a soul cannot be “defined,” it doesn’t exist or is not rational to believe in. The claim that one must “define” any thing before it can be believed in is impossible for any position, since, for example, one could say define what it is to define, or explain how words “mean” things, or I refuse to enagage in a debate with you using words. The same could be said for any thing like this: math, symbols, etc. Reality is, at base, mysterious, as are our selves, but it doesn’t follow from that that we adopt total skepticism. Asking me to define what a soul is is like saying I won’t do math until you explain what a number is.

      There are plenty of great philosophical critiques that deal with the tabula rasa and the many absurdities that it results in, but I doubt there’s any point in dealing with it.

      The point about Marx and libertarianism was not that libertarianism leads necessarily to it, but that it is a tool with the same presuppositions as Marx that leads to cultural Marxism. I should have been more clear about that. Marx’s final stage is the withering away of the state – libertarianism.

    • The answer as to what distinguishes computers from human minds is simple; consciousness. Without consciousness there would be no computers because without consciousness there is no “knowing”, no awareness and hence no knowledge of the world. This is why you don’t find lumps of rock inventing computers. Consciousness is pre-eminent, matter is not pre-eminent. It is interesting is it not that most materialists seem to regard consciousness as not important, but the reason they regard it so is because they are secretly afraid of the implications of consciousness. It doesn’t fit in with their materialistic outlook so they ignore it or try to define it away.

      Lets look at this logically. Inert matter is not conscious and cannot invent things. Some living matter appears to be conscious and appears to invent things but since materialists deny the idea of consciousness or mind being pre-eminent they are forced to the position that matter must radiate consciousness. But having been forced to this position they try to downplay the importance of consciousness because it threatens their idea of the human mind being some sort of digital computer. It never occurs to them that a non-conscious computer could never know anything about the world. It has no more knowledge than a lump of rock sitting on the ground. Any “intelligence” this computer displays has been put there by consciousness, that is by human consciousness. So again we can see that consciousness is pre-eminent.

      As Jay has pointed out in previous posts, the dire problem for materialists is this problem of meaning. Meaning can only be contained in consciousness and is therefore immaterial in nature. Matter cannot contain or hold meaning and this destroys the material argument that human beings are nothing but computers. Indeed it is highly likely that matter is an “idea” or experience within consciousness, just as the sense of smell is an experience within consciousness. The sense of smell cannot exist without consciousness and neither can matter. They are both experiences.

      When you ask what human nature is, it can be said that it is that set of consciousness’s that give man his unique perception of the world. Human beings find other human beings sexually attractive because an idealised conception of beauty exists within their conscious or unconscious psyche. They don’t find cats sexually attractive because cats do not represent man’s idealised idea of beauty. Cats on the other hand have a cats idealised idea of beauty which is why they like other cats. These things all occur within consciousness or “mind” and matter being unconscious in nature plays no part except in the sense of it being another sense perception.

  3. “The answer to what distinguishes minds from computers is simple, consciousness.”

    So the answer is simple enough that you must answer it with something mysterious? “Consciousness” is understood by no one. Since materialism is ridiculous, it doesn’t follow that the answer must be {>insert mysterious religious thing<}. I’m holding out for the non-mystery which will eventually be achieved through philosophy and science.

    I don’t have a problem denying materialism. One of the first things I ever embraced in philosophy was the idea that universals (laws of thought, numbers, etc.) can’t possibly be material in nature.

    “Matter cannot contain or hold meaning” sounds a lot like my argument that matter doesn’t contain inherent value.

    Arguing that “humans have a human idea of beauty and that’s why they’re attracted to other humans” misses the point and is no simple fix. What if we’re all just computers preprogrammed by the ultimate Developer to be attracted to other humans?

    As an agnostic, I don’t claim that knowledge is impossible or unattainable. I just claim ignorance when appropriate. I try to be honest about what I don’t know or understand. I find this approach strategically better than jumping from one philosophical lily pad to the next, all while dooming the world for rejecting my present lily pad.

    I agree that hard assets are currently the most reliable investments. I thought Jay was implying there’s some kind of universal moral obligation that would make this true forever. I wouldn’t agree with that. Gold trading will cease whenever humans believe they’ve found something better, just like when they went from furs to gold. Bitcoin will most likely burst, but I think the key is realizing that virtual currencies are the future, thus allowing one to profit with beta versions in the present.

  4. For reference, Alex and MIke Adams give the same analysis of Bitcoin I did. 2hrs 40 on

  5. Peter Friedman // April 21, 2016 at 2:06 pm // Reply

    You write as follows: “Humans are not atomized individuals that emerge as blank slates on the historical scene, free to impose upon the world whatever scheme or ideology they dream up. Rather, humans are born into families and communities and are thereby bearers of a tradition, even in modernity. The tradition or legacy one is born into cannot but inform the worldview of those that mature and progress in that society, and my friends themselves fail to see themselves as products of modern, Enlightenment Americanism.”

    Yet you also write: “I think Mises and Ayn Rand are correct in regard to the fact that economically, humans operate for individual ends, and their ideas and products are their own. In the sense of origins, ideas, and hence the architecture of economic production, emerge from individuals and their creativity.”

    How is it you can suggest that human tradition is a given from which individuals begin and on which they build, but you don’t seem to believe that community, wealth, opportunity, etc. are pre-existing conditions without which the individual’s ideas and products could not possibly have any value? In other words, the ideas and products individuals produce are just as much the product of the social and material realities from which they are born as they are of the individuals themselves.

    • Because I reject dialectics and believe in the one and the many in balance. But certainly people’s ideas are their own, they’re held responsible for them, even if they got them from others (i.e. Crimes).

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