Beginning with Socrates and especially Plato, the “problem of universals” (called universalia by logicians of the Middle Ages) has plagued the history of thought to this day. But what was — or rather, what is — exactly this problem? Is there really a problem? I put this idea in my head that I need to devote myself to this problem, but the truth is that I still do not fully understand its importance. What I would like to be able to do is to convince a complete layman in philosophy that he should be interested in this problem. At the moment, I find that completely impossible. Below, I reproduce some definitions of the problem I found online just to start thinking about it. The road ahead will be arduous, so I’ll start slowly.
Integrity is loyalty in action to one’s convictions and values. As Ayn Rand put it, the man of integrity may “permit no breach between body and mind, between action and thought, between his life and his convictions….” But to keep all your value-judgments ready at hand amid the turbulence of everyday life is a volitional task. And a hard one. You need to hold the full context of your knowledge in focus while retaining your long-range purposes in front of your eyes all the time. The only way you can do that is if you have integrated your knowledge and purposes into principles.
Objectivism sees the virtuous man as one who follows reason at all costs. In this way, its main virtue is rationality, whose corollary is objectivity — adherence to reality through the rational recognition of facts. The rational man moves from the perceptual field of his moment-to-moment experiences to the conceptual field of abstract knowledge through the use of logic. The virtues show him in the form of principles the values he should pursue, and how to apply his rationality to the daily concrete choices he faces. Leonard Peikoff expounds the Objectivism’s main virtues in the same order they appear in John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged; I follow a slightly different order which I consider a bit more logical.
I will not pretend here that I fully understand Existentialism, Phenomenology or Thomism — I am just a student climbing the first steps of a long, long ladder. But ignorance works well as a first filter. The blunt intellectual knife which is all I have to work with, for the moment, impedes a complex elaboration of thought that might justify all sorts of absurdities. So it is navigating (or drowning) amidst this ignorance that I ask this question: Why do the most subjective philosophies try to disguise themselves as objective? They do not look at the world; they look at themselves.
Of course Jacques Maritain was not an Objectivist; he was a Thomist. But to be a Thomist, I learned, is to partake of at least the first (and, arguably, the most important) axiom of Objectivism: “Existence exists”. This makes my life much easier, now that I decided to present a non-existent paper on him at an upcoming conference.
The vast majority of people I know believe in some kind of afterlife. They do not necessarily think that they are going to a paradise with angels on the clouds, or to a Dantean hell where they will find all sinners, much less to an eternal recurrence of battles and banquets as in the Valhalla of the Vikings. They just can not accept that everything will simply end. Today, on another anniversary of my father’s death, I envy them.
My last post on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” didn’t amount to much, I know. But now it will get worse. Because I need a long digression in order to prepare the terrain for that elusive thing which is understanding. Aristotle first defines substance in the “Categories“, a work usually considered to be prior in time to the “Metaphysics”, and one which should be read first too. There he explains the foundations of many terms he uses afterwards in all of the corpus. There is also where he introduces his famous ten categories of being. All I want here is to get to the first category, but allow me to walk the whole way there.
Although Leonard Peikoff (and Objectivism) disagrees entirely with Plato, he admits the genius of the philosopher. Plato was the first to gather all the “suggestions” that had been produced by the pre-Socratics and the sophists, in addition to all the teachings of Socrates in a coherent whole. In doing so, he created philosophy as it is, for better or for worse.
I watch my mother lying in the hospital bed and I curse Epictetus. He says we have to be indifferent to indifferent things. He says indifferent things are pain, disease, death, and all that are beyond our control, all that don’t stem from our own actions and deeds. It is useless to fight God’s designs, so all we should do is behave and go with the flow, setting down into a serene resignation toward life’s hardships. We are supposed to think objectively about all that happen in our lives, striving to be just in our actions, performing our duties as rational men, fulfilling our role as divine creatures. In sum, he wants me to not give a fuck about my own mother’s approaching death — and that enrages me.
This post reproduces my review of the book “How to read a book: the classic guide to intelligent reading“, by Mortimer J. Adler and Dr. Charles Van Doren, posted a while back on Amazon. It is the recursive book I mention on a previous post called Teachers All Around.