|Education for What?||What's All the Fuss About?|
by Christopher Chantrill
October 16, 2004 at 8:00 pm
THE DEATH OF deconstructionist Jacques Derrida reminds us that philosophy is more than a series of footnotes to Plato. In the modern era philosophy has become a series of footnotes to Kant.
Kant resolved the contradiction between Newton and Hume. In Newton, mankind showed that the things of nature were predictable and reasonable; in Hume, we learned that you couldnt prove anything. Kant resolved all this in a strategic retreat. He said that we couldnt know true reality, the things-in-themselves; we could only know things as they appear to us. But that is still a lot.
We now accept, sort of, that knowledge is like an automobile, good until replaced with a newer model. And like the automobile this has set us free. When the greatest generation of German professors was replacing Newtonian mechanics with quantum mechanics a century ago, they didnt have to bother with rebuilding reality from scratch. All they had to do was show that their theories worked. And did they ever!
But what about us, the professors of arts and humanities whined? How did we fit into all this? It was the great achievement of Jacques Derrida to come up with the answer for them. They dont. In a lifetime of strenuous work and self-promotion, he proved conclusively that applying the ideas of Kant and his footnoters to the arts results in a big fat zero. Thats because the elements of language are interesting, but not important. The elements of the universe, on the other hand, are crucial.
In physics, as Heisenberg showed in Physics and Philosophy, there is no way to determine what really happens in an atomic event. If we blast a single quantum of light at an atom, we will be able to measure an electron streaking away from the atom. But we cannot see inside the atom and track the orbit of the electron before and after its collision with the quantum of light. Fortunately, it doesnt matter. We humans can deal perfectly well with the billions of light quanta entering our eyes and knocking electrons about on our retinas. The proof is that we move about in the world, we kill plants and animals for food, and we regenerate ourselves in our childrenrelying all the time on the faith that the sensations we experience are real.
You can apply the same principle applies in the world of language. Take the words and and the. By themselves, they mean nothing. But if we put them in quotes thus: and and the then we begin to have an inkling of meaning. Something is afoot. If we draw the curtain some more with the tagline: Everything she writes is a lie, including and and the, we immediately understand that, almost certainly, we are dealing with the famous line by the famous mid-century writer Mary McCarthy about the famous mid-century writer and playwright Lillian Hellman.
But what did Mary McCarthy really mean when she said that? A quick Google serves up a New Yorker article by TV host Dick Cavett. It was on his show on PBS in 1979 that Mary McCarthy delivered her famous line, and he is still wondering what it was all about. Had McCarthy planned the insult, as Nora Ephron assumed in her play Imaginary Friends? Was she just trying to generate some publicity to gin up her fading career? Who knows? Who will ever know?
In his life Jacques Derrida thoughtfully reminded us of all this, by refusing to define deconstruction, by building around himself a cult of celebrity, by hiding his ideas in a maze of jargon and contradiction. Maybe the elements of language, its grammatology, were just as mysterious and compelling as the elements of atoms. Or maybe not.
A few years ago they showed on TV an astronomical telescope that could detect and display each individual quantum of light that fell on its light detector. Initially, all you can see are individual, random sparks of light. But as the sparks accumulate by the thousands and the millions, they start to form into a continuous image, an image we can interpret as a map of the heavens.
Its the same way with words. A couple of words, like and and the dont mean much of anything. But as you assemble them into their ranks of thousands and tens of thousands they become, you might say, news you can use. You still cant tell if they really mean something, but you can certainly act as though they do.
To this day, nobody knows what quantum mechanics really means either, but lots of people have believed that they could use it to blow things up and make computers and cell phones. They have been amply rewarded for their faith.Nobody knows what language means either. But we can still be pretty sure that Lillian Hellman was a liar.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness...
But to make a man act [he must have]
the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove
or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie
that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison
At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
Civil Societya complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churchesbuilds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust
In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, The Scientist as Rebel
Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says we should....
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
When we received Christ, Phil added, all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh
I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all.
In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.
E. G. West, Education and the State