(really good piece)
[Q]: “CURT, HOW DO I LEARN PHILOSOPHY?” A: WELL THAT REQUIRES DEFINING PHILOSOPHY AND CHOOSING WHAT YOU WANT TO LEARN FROM IT.
—“Hey curt, since you mentioned newbies. If an individual was beginning planning a self taught curriculum in philosophy, what would you recommend for sources? And does eastern philosophy like the teachings of the Tao hold any significance in your paradigm?”—
First, we need to define Philosophy. Which I think I can successfully do by stating it’s a set of ideas that assist us in forming a framework of understanding, whether by imitation of others – whether real or mythical (virtue), rules of conduct and decision making(deontological), or understanding of the mechanics of the universe(teleological), with which we can use limited human knowledge and reason for the purposes of acting to achieve needs, satisfactions, and fulfillments, by cooperating successfully in a world of others doing the same.
This hierarchy of philosophies is important: imitation of virtue, dedication to rules, and understanding of cause and effect producing outcomes, place different demands on the individual.
i – children and primitive cultures rely on virtue (religion)
ii – adults in developing cultures rely on rules (law)
iii – the wise in mature cultures rely on outcomes (science)
This is the usual progression of one’s personal philosophy through life. As children, adults and at our maturity we make use of virtue, rule, and outcome ethics because that is the best we can manage at every stage of our development.
This progression also remains useful, and is why wise me resort to “what would jesus do” or “what would such and such a great man do?”. Because that virtuous wisdom is, at times, the only possible means of decision making with sparse information. Just as we fall back upon rules when we are unsure of outcomes. Just as we rely upon our knowledge of outcomes to make decisions when we have accumulated the knowledge and experience to do so.
So it is not a matter of choosing virtue, rule, or outcome ethics. It is a matter of acquiring each so that one can apply each in the circumstances where one possesses the information to do so – and conversely: one can judge the ethics of others by the rules they apply in each circumstance. A child who errs by virtue ethics is forgivable. An adult who errs by rules is forgivable. An wise man who errs despite his vast knowledge of a subject is forgivable. Yet the inverse is not true: a wise man who relies upon rules when he is masterful is suspect, an adult who relies upon virtue is suspect. A child who relies upon anything other than virtue is suspect.
There is a reason why women and people of lower IQ favor religion, why people in the liberal arts favor philosophy and pseudoscience, and why men and people of higher IQ favor history and science. That is because they possess the means by which to acquire and use those systems of of thought given their experience and ability.
Furthermore, the acquisition of virtue, rule and outcome knowledge is costly to the individual. Not all can afford the investment, and not all have access to the literature or teachers from whom they can learn it. We do not expect feral children to demonstrate any of the ethical frameworks, and it is very difficult not to expect a first world child not to posses at least virtue ethics, if not rule ethics, and we attempt (possibly, if not probably, foolishly) to teach our children outcome ethics in the present era.
-One’s control over one’s actions in life-
Different philosophies whether virtuous, rational, or scientific are more or less use in different circumstances. We can break philosophies into:
It is very hard to classify any one of the bodies of thought below because all philosophical systems contain attributes of each category. I’ve organized them the best that I can.
-Religions- (faith) —
Christianity provides a body of myth and ritual with but one purpose: the extension of kinship love to non kin, as a means of generating universal inclusiveness. It is a religion of benevolent pacification cured only by it’s opposite in the martial nobility.
Islam provides rules and virtues for people with limited intelligence to observe and daily rituals to enforce them – although this is a false promise since it achieves the opposite.
I am uncomfortable commending on Hinduism since I am not sure I really understand it sufficiently (I see it through buddha’s eyes, as needing reformation), and all other ‘religions’ that I know of have been unsuccessful, or are obviously detrimental.
Japan’s Shintoism combines both monarchy, ancestor worship and buddhism to produce fealty to family, clan, tribe and nation, as well as self control. For an homogenous people the combination of history, nature worship, and self control is hard to criticize other than the people are often frustrated and emotionally repressed.
–Disciplines– (training) —
Buddhism provides a means of achieving personal satisfaction for those who live in worlds where they have few resources, few options, little control over their circumstances. It focuses on the self. Combined with Yoga it is extremely attractive to women.
Stoicism provides a means of achieving personal happiness for those who live in civilized worlds but who have little control over their environments. Stoicism is the opposite of buddhism in that buddhism achieves satisfaction by escapism and internal discipline, while stoicism achieves satisfaction by means of creating many small successes in daily life, accumulating in your achievement of virtue independent of the opinions of others. Combined with Sport it is extremely attractive to men.
I tend to have a favorable view of both buddhism and stoicism.
–Rationalisms— (reasoning) —
Confucianism provides a means of obtaining satisfaction by conformity to fixed roles in society and providing us with wisdom for operating within those roles. Unfortunately Confucianism is paired with Sun Tzu: the philosophy of deception, and Lao Tzu: the philosophy of the poor within a hierarchical system. Together they advocate submission to authority as a means of avoiding conflict.
Ancient Greco-Roman Philosophy – prior to Aristotle is interesting for the breadth of experiment that occurred in seeking a solution. I recommend The Ethics and the Politics. That’s all.
Christian Natural Law Philosophy – Aquinas is interesting, but I would recommend skipping him, reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries on Natural Law instead.
Anglo Empirical (Moral) Philosophy – Locke, Smith and Hume constitute the enlightenment philosophers of necessity.
Continental Philosophy – is reactionary in order to compensate for the disorder produced by the errors in anglo empirical philosophy’s assumption of an aristocracy of everyone. So Continental is little more than an attempt to create a rational rather than supernatural justification of existing moral orders. There is plenty of wisdom in that philosophy, and great aspiration to it. Especially Nietzsche, who is the point of demarcation between christian mysticism and naturalistic philosophy. but it is also the source pseudoscience and lies.
Cosmopolitan Philosophy (Pseudoscience, Loading, framing and overloading) Marx, Freud, Cantor, Mises, Rothbard. The only cosmopolitan I recommend is Popper and while he is most definitely a cosmopolitan, he adopted Hayek’s information theory.
(When I criticize rationalism it is the incremental development of pseudoscience and deceit by justificationism, loading, framing, and overloading that I am trying to reverse with Testimonialism. The anglos philosophers were wrong in their assumptions of man, but right in their method of argument. The continentals were right in their assumptions of man but wrong in their method of argument. The cosmopolitans were dishonest in their articulation of man, and dishonest in their method of argument.)
Anglo Ratio-Scientific (Legal) Philosophy – Anglo Common Law, Machiavelli, Jefferson, Pareto, Durkheim, (Popper), Hayek, (Doolittle).
Science: The discovery of general rules by repeated observation resulting in accumulated wisdom. Virtue, Rules, Wisdom, where wisdom feeds back to virtue and rules. This is an inter-generational process of empirical refinement.
–Laws– (captured rules) —
Judaism provides a means for not only exiting their incompetent classes but an entire body of law to master, and overwhelming pressure to remain within the polity which is ensured by the hostility to outsiders and therefore outsider hostility to insiders. Judaism is perhaps the ultimate synthesis of rule based systems and history even if it is a failed system because it lacks the moral content necessary to hold land. It originated with pastoralists and remains a pastorialist (unlanded) doctrine. It lacks intertemporal moral content. That is why the jews cannot hold land.
Anglo Constitutionalism expresses philosophy as law and very much under natural law, presumably as logically and scientifically constructed as is possible. Most americans are legalists – the law as religious order. Legalism can be thought of as the struggle to understand the laws of cooperation, just as we understand the laws of the physical universe. All anglo legal theory is an empirical attempt to discover and codify natural law in the absence of human discretion. This is a scientific experiment unique to anglo civilization. It is flawed only by the assumption that it is in the interests of the lower classes to compete meritocratic-ally. The fact is that only with eugenic manorialism or a substitute can such a system function. This is why no other groups use it. They are too weighted down with the lower classes who are incapable of competition and cooperation by moral means.
(I tend to view law as the ultimate expression of any philosophy (which as an anglo american I would). But then I am action oriented, from the martial and commercial class, and arguably a member of the lesser aristocracy.)
–Science– (investigation) —
Aristotelianism (what we call science) is demanding and at times forces us to confront uncomfortable truths, but at least when large numbers of us adopt it, we are able to master reality better than all other philosophies combined. The problem is that it is an aristocratic philosophy because it requires great effort and ability to learn and apply. Which is why we invest so heavily in education: we must.
Secondly, science is the study of cause and effect. But scientific analysis implies the ability to act with discretion. At the same time, rule of law exists to prevent discretion, and thereby create rules that prevent others from using discretion to manipulate us.
Third, it is contentious open question whether at any scale discretionary action does more harm than good, or whether rule based action prohibits discretion when it may be beneficial.
To no small degree this debate between the purpose of social science being the development of rules (conservatism) or the development of discretion (progressivism) is the cause of the political conflict of visions. Hence Sowell’s criticism of the progressive “vision of the anointed’.
And it is the source of conflict between the Austrian (do nothing or naturalistic/german), Freshwater (develop rules/anglo) and Saltwater(discretionary/jewish) schools of economics – which is the discipline has evolved into our only social science.
So when you ask me “Where should I start in philosophy” the above understanding provides us with a framework for answering that question. You can seek to learn virtue, seek to learn wisdom, seek to learn scientific laws.
You can seek personal fulfillment independent of the world at the lower end of the spectrum, or you can seek personal fulfillment within the rich competition of the world. Or you can seek comprehension of all – politics – even if you choose to pursue only personal of familial happiness.
If you cause no harm by externality then I suppose that I don’t care which you choose. I would recommend that you know the truth first, and then read the ancient texts for insight into the wisdom of each age. But this is mere entertainment. These were old technologies that have been replaced with new technologies. it is sometimes entertaining to study watchmaking in an era of computer science, but it is merely entertainment, not necessary information.
I cannot give counsel on that choice. I can give you counsel if you choose law and science. This is partly because I was born naturally analytical and less affected by signals and emotions than most. If you are, as are many women, the opposite, then you may need to choose a different method of achieving happiness.
But, if by some chance, if you want to know the truth, regardless of the burden it places upon you then I will recommend that you start here:
START WITH THE GOAL
1) The Meditations of Aurelius. Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics. In that order.
THEN THE THEORY
1) Popper’s Knowledge and Ignorance and Hayek’s Use of Knowledge in Society. and Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson which will teach you the basic principle of costs in equilibrium. A brief introduction to Popper’s Critical Rationalism online, even if it is the few paragraphs on my site, In which you will be introduced to the darwinian approach to the evolution of knowledge. At which point you will understand that in the physical, social, and cognitive sciences, we speak in terms of information causing changes in state. Which is, as far as I know, the present, if not final, model of all human understanding about any domain.
NEXT THE EVOLUTION OF THE LAWS
2) The Magna Carta, The Declaration, Constitution, Bill of rights. The Milsom’s history of the common law. Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty, and Law, Legislation and Liberty.
THEN GO FOR WISDOM : THE SHORT LIST
Ricardo Duchesne: The Uniqueness of Western Civilization
JP Mallory: In Search of Indo Europeans
John Keegan: A History Of Warfare
Joseph Campbell : The Hero’s Journey
Karen Armstrong : The Great Transformation
Bryan Ward-Perkins: The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization
William Tucker: Marriage and Civilization
Emmanuel Todd: The Explanation of Ideology
Emmanuel Todd: The Invention of Europe
David Hackett Fischer: Albion‘s Seed: Four British Folkways in America
Daniel Hannan: Inventing Freedom
Alan MacFarlane : Origins of English Individualism
Gregory Clark: A Farewell to Alms
Matt Ridley: The Red Queen
Dale Petersen: Demonic Males
Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow
Francis Fukuyama: Trust
Jonathan Haidt: The Righteous Mind
Stephen Hicks : Explaining Postmodernism
Hans Hoppe: Democracy The God That Failed
THE LONGER LIST
If you read those works you will be able to both (a) understand testimonialism, propertarianism, and (b) work through the rest of my reading list at www.propertarianism.com/reading-list/ which is, as far as I know, the sum of works worth investment given our current knowledge of the technology of cooperation.
And after that it’s just experience and wisdom. And in gaining it, sorting the scarce kernels of wisdom from the vast chaff of human intellectual history.
The Philosophy of Aristocracy
The Propertarian Institute
Kiev, Ukraine (Tallinn, Estonia)