Bound to the Wood

The “Shield of the Trinity” or Scutum Fidei (Latin for “shield of faith”).

Clement (150 – 215) and Origen (184 – 253) were the great exponents of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, the “Fathers of the Church” who initiated the Patristic period and were enormously influential in the formation of Christian doctrine and in the attempt of synthesis with the greco-roman philosophy.

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The Impossible Synthesis

Altarpiece of the Church Fathers”, by Michael Pacher (c. 1483).

Bertrand Russell, in his “History of Western Philosophy”, introduces the second part of the book by saying that the Middle Ages is the history of “growth and decay” of the Catholic synthesis. He knows so well what is being synthesized that he forgets to say it. But now, as I reread portions of the book, I know that the synthesis sought was between faith and reason. My “Medieval Philosophy” teacher thinks that it has been successful. I, for one, can not imagine where he got that idea from.

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Teachers All Around

The Great Books of the Western World — “Teachers all around”.

I have always heard about Aristotle, Plato, Dante, Spinoza and Kant, but I had never thought that “normal” people should read them. They lay in History, and whatever they had contributed to society was already embedded in our everyday lives, having already influenced whoever did whatever had to be done to create the technological era we live in and the chaotic pseudo-civilised society we live in. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t have to study Pythagoras — all I needed to know was how to calculate the hypotenuse. In fact, all we need now is to press the correct button in a calculator or to use the right command in any commonplace programming language. I have always been a practical man. I do stuff. I don’t sit at home engrossed in armchair thinking. Why should I read such complex arcane books? Moreover, I knew I wouldn’t understand much even if I tried.

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The Belligerent Fool

The belligerent fool.
(“Call of duty ghost.” / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Right from the beginning of my “scientific career”, I carried alongside another profession as a State Civil Police Officer. I’ve always had an adventurous spirit and I wanted to do some good to society. Since I had never been inclined for charity work, I thought that I could do some good by shooting bad people instead. Here, in Rio, I knew that wouldn’t be too difficult.

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The Uneducated Man

The uneducated man.
(“Portrait of Aristotle”, by Eric Gaba / CC BY-SA 2.5 / Derivative work)

It is hard to pinpoint exactly how I got to Philosophy, even though it all began just a few years ago. Things weren’t good in the company (again) and I was consumed by unidentified feelings of anxiety (as always), so I finally took the courage, quit my scientific job and became just a policeman. I couldn’t keep living a life of lies, pretending I was internally what I appeared to be externally. All I knew was that I needed answers for questions I could hardly formulate.

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 6: Atomism and the Death of Mind

“If there’s no such thing as a mind capable of observing evidence and reasoning according to the laws of logic, then every man’s conclusions express nothing but blind mechanistic reactions. Each man is then a machine — he’s a physical puppet guided by the laws of motion. […] He’s a little billiard ball system, in effect, rattling and quivering by mechanistic necessity.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 6.
(Materialism implies determinism, which, in turn, denies the mind. I wonder how a mind could have had the idea of denying itself. Original source of the image: Min Then.)

The Pythagoreans attempted to solve the problem raised by Heraclitus and Parmenides by postulating two worlds: one in constant flux, this world; and one eternal and immutable, the world of number. The Atomists attempted a very different reconciliation. In the process, they made possible the birth of modern science. They also caused the destruction of the mind.

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O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Floating Abstractions Eventually Fall

“All knowledge is interconnected. To cut off a single field — any field — from the rest of cognition is to drop the vast context which makes that field possible and which anchors it to reality. The ultimate result, as with any failure of integration, is floating abstractions and self-contradiction.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 127.
(The Hindenburg disaster. This is just a visual metaphor for a floating abstraction: when the context is dropped and reality sets in, concepts become a dangerous thing.)

Earlier when I talked about epistemological evasion I mentioned our mental laziness, how we avoid the effort to think correctly because it hurts. The problem is that if we really go through each idea thoroughly, we become responsible for it when we use it, and that is something we hate. This may sound offensive, but I have no doubt that this is the case with the vast majority of us, during the vast majority of our waking time. Of course, I include myself in this team of evaders.

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O.P.A.R. – Chapter 4: Objectivity

“Mr. Chamberlain treated Hitler’s demand as an isolated fact to be dealt with by an isolated response; to do this, he had to drop an immense amount of knowledge. […] The prime minister wanted ‘peace at any price.’ The price included the evasion of political philosophy, history, psychology, ethics, and more. The result was war.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 124-125.
(Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returns to Great Britain after signing the Munich Agreement, effectively handing Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Any new knowledge, proposal or idea must always be integrated to its full context, which is ultimately the sum of available knowledge. Such all-encompassing integration, far from being easy, demands a lot of effort, but is made possible through philosophy. The price of not heeding to it can be war. “Combat as philosophy of life – Philosophy as only alternative to combat.”)

According to Leonard Peikoff, objectivity means accepting that “thinking, to be valid, must adhere to reality”. Concepts do not belong only to consciousness or only to existence. They are the product of a specific type of relationship between the two, guided by a human method: logic.

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History of Philosophy – Lesson 5: Pythagoras and the World of Numbers

“…the crucial point is the vital importance of mathematics in discovering the laws of the world, in making sense of the universe […] modern science is in part a development of this discovery of the Pythagoreans.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 5.
(The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible. How crazy is that? I bet Drake would not have come up with that idea if it weren’t for the Pythagoreans. Original source: Kevin Gill; CC BY 2.0 / Desaturated from original)

So, Parmenides created a problem. The world was made of one single stuff but it appeared to change, while Logic asserted that was impossible. How to reconcile this in one single world? Well, you don’t. There are two worlds: the “world of appearances” here below, always changing and apprehended by the senses; the “real world” high above, immutable and hidden. And the real one, believe it or not, is made of numbers.

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O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Definitions and Kant’s Analytic-Synthetic Mess

“As an aid to the conceptualizing process, men select from the total content of the concept a few characteristics; they select the ones that best condense and differentiate that content at a given stage of human development. Such a selection in no way shrinks the concept’s content; on the contrary, it presupposes the richness of the concept. It presupposes that the concept is an integration of units, including all their features.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 102-103.
(There is a lot that is wrong in Kant’s conclusion that “There must exist synthetic a priori judgements.”, but the “synthetic” part of it is due to a faulty theory of concepts, one that conflates a concept’s definition with its content.)

I don’t partake of Ayn Rand’s (and Leonard Peikoff’s) animosity toward Kant. Yet his theory makes no sense at all to me.

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