A Response to Josh Field on Voicecraft
How Is It That People Come To Understand That It Is Truly Important To Understand What Is Truly Important?
Likewise, how do people come to understand the importance of understanding?
On the wonderful Voicecraft network, Josh Field recently asked the question which composes the title of this work, and I have to say it’s one of the most important questions in the world. The subtitle is the question Tim Adalin asked as a corollary, and I think both questions are strongly tied to the mysterious question: “How does anyone leave Plato’s Cave on their own?” Yes, Plato in The Republic tells us that prisoners are “dragged out” of the Cave, but that still leaves open the question of how “the first prisoner” escaped, and that would require some explanation which rests on “intrinsic motivation.” Why did that “first prisoner” or “prisoner not dragged out” decide to leave? It’s mysterious, and I think the answer to this question is closely tied to Mr. Field’s question.
Voicecraft | Philosophy & Culture
To the making of self and world, The identities of self, other, and world are in transition. The love and suffering…
Turning to theology, I think this question is similar to the Christian question, “How does someone know they need to believe in God?” Do people on their own come to understand they need faith, or is it only by God’s grace and “call” for us that we realize our need? Christian theologians have debated this idea passionately, fearing that if human’s are given too much agency in the choice, that will detract from God’s grace and power, but if human’s aren’t given any agency at all, that would suggest humans don’t have free will, which then would make faith and Salvation seem arbitrary, random, and even cruel, seeing as if someone people are Saved, that means others aren’t. This “cruelty” can be avoided by taking a Universalist approach, say as does Karl Barth (I think), which means God forces us all, by His Grace, to be Saved, but there are theologians who argue the Bible does not support Barth’s interpretation. And so the debate rages on…My point here is only to suggest the debate on “How are people Saved?” is similar to the question regarding Plato’s Cave, both of which for me are similar to Field’s question.
Echoes of the question appear in other places: Walker Percy was once asked why the South had so many good novelists, and he replied that it was because the South ‘got beat.’ A strange answer, but by it (as Flannery O’Connor argued), Percy meant that the South had its ideals and idols broken and was forced into humbleness. With that humbleness, the South began seeing the world differently, and as a result started exploring topics which generate great literature. What constitutes “great literature” is a topic which exceeds the scope of this work (though is expanded on in “Fiction Is the Mathematics of the Humanities” by O.G. Rose), but the question it suggests is like the questions we have already explored: “Why does someone start writing great literature versus literature? What happens to make someone ‘have the eyes’ to see what this takes?”
Well, according to Percy, who was a Christian, it has something to do with humility and brokenness. Christianity stresses the need for us to realize our “brokenness” if we are to be Saved, and indeed I do think “epistemic humility” is a key step in starting to “understand that it matters to understand what matters.” If we aren’t “epistemically humble,” that basically means we think we already know what needs to be known, and if that happens to not be “what matters” (which it likely won’t be), then it seems practically impossible that we would be “shaken awake” into realizing the error of our ways. Considering that it is highly unlikely we will naturally “know what matters,” I think it is very safe to say that the first thing we need to answer Field’s question is epistemic humility. Otherwise, it will not be possible for us to “move” from what we “think matters” naturally to what “actually matters.”
Point 1A: We need epistemic humility (which can be associated with “recognizing our brokenness,” etc.)
“Epistemic humility” is a kind of orientation to the world, a state where we overcome our pride and ego “enough” to have our minds change. Without this, we likely won’t come to understand what matters unless we just happened to be born understanding this, which is very unlikely (though I cannot say impossible). This require accepting our imperception, our finitude, our ignorance, and the like, but that just begs a new question: How do people recognize their short-comings to become epistemically humble? This question basically asks: How do people overcome their egos?
“The Blank Canvas” by O.G. Rose explores why intellectual development ultimately requires a dialectic between thought and action. The paper explores a lot more than that, but this point is enough for here: whatever the answer is to Field’s question, the answer cannot be “just thought” or “just acted” on. A dialectic is needed, and that gets us into Hegel. Hegel describes in The Phenomenology of Spirit a dialectic process which entails negation and sublimation “toward” Absolute Knowing, which always “(re)constitutes” us — for a description of this, you cannot beat the work of Dr. Cadell Last. I am not going to here explain this process, but, if you take my word for it, a process like what Hegel describes is a necessary precondition for true “epistemic humility,” without which “understanding what matters” becomes highly unlikely. Something “like” “the phenomenological journey” is necessary, which I personally link up with David Hume’s “return to common life” (as described in “Deconstructing Common Life”). I think both Hume and Hegel are extremely similar on this point, and ultimately both of them are describing a need for us to “integrate with lack.” This is another topic which must be explored, and I will send those interested to “The Philosophy of Lack” series, which can be found here.
Point 1B: People must undergo a “process” (like Hegel’s “phenomenological journey” or Hume’s “return to common life”) which makes them accept their finitude and “integrate with lack.” (This is a “negation” versus an “effacement, as discussed in “Negation Versus Effacement” by O.G. Rose.)
Alright, fine, but assuming people have “epistemic humility,” surely that is not enough to give us “understanding of what matters,” is it? Epistemic humility is only a starting point, an “opening” in which something can enter, but that “opening” itself cannot be that thing. Indeed, epistemic humility is only a precondition for realizing “what matters” — it is not the whole of it. Just because we are willing to change doesn’t mean we will experience that which will make us change — so how do we undergo such an experience? Well, not easily, precisely because it is so hard to determine “correspondence” while stuck in “coherence.”
To determine “what matters” suggests that we determine what really corresponds with value versus only “seem” to correspond with value. Determining “correspondence” through “coherence” is really hard, and this is because “the map is indestructible,” a phrase which refers to the third book in The True Isn’t the Rational trilogy. What I mean by this can basically be found in the work, “On Conspiracies and Pandora’s Rationality,” but to get to the point: we determine rationality and “coherence” relative to what we believe is true (“what corresponds”), but that means rationality comes after we determine a truth. This begs the question: How do we rationally ascent to a truth? Ah, well….we don’t….
“Truth organizes values,” and this means we cannot determine “the rational” until we decide on a truth that thus cannot be decided on rationally (this is expanded on here in a discussion with Samuel Barnes). Critically, if rationality is in the business of coherence, and truth is in the business of correspondence, that means correspondence cannot be determined rationally. This point can be further argued by incorporating Kurt Gödel, as does The Map Is Indestructible, but I’ll avoid that elaboration here.
Point 2: We need something “transrational” or “nonrational” to determine what corresponds with what matters.
The category of “nonrational” is critical in Game Theory, as I discuss here with Lorenzo regarding Neurodiversity and Nash Equilibriums (or what I call “rational impasses”). We all have to decide what we will “invest in” (as Lorenzo and I discuss in “financial epistemology”), and generally I think it’s safe to say that we all want to invest in “what matters” versus what doesn’t, but that requires a “nonrational” choice. By what criteria can we make such a choice? It cannot be rational, but that also doesn’t mean it is “irrational”: it must be a choice with transcends the dichotomy and makes the dichotomy possible in the first place. Alright, fine, but what would that criteria be?
That’s a fricking good question.
“The Blank Canvas” would suggest the criteria has to entail a kind of action, and I would like to suggest that this action is one which leads us to experiencing something as beautiful. Beauty is the experience which says to us, “This matters,” and the action that leads us to having a beautiful experience is thus the choice that results in us undergoing something “nonrational” which makes possible rational action. This point is expanded on in “What Is the Beauty of Life?”, which hopefully establishes that “what we find meaningful” is “what we find beautiful” (though this of course requires us to define “beauty,” which is attempted in “On Beauty”).
Point 3: An experience of beauty is the nonrational occurrence which gives us “reason to believe” that x “corresponds” with “what matters.”
Critically, it should be acknowledged that we can never be certain that “x corresponds with what matters,” but beauty nevertheless can give us confidence of such (a point elaborated on in “On Certainty” by O.G. Rose). The choice is not because “certainty” or “epistemic nihilism” — “confidence” is a valid epistemic category. Beauty can give us grounds for that “confidence” (though I would note beauty must then be incorporated into a “trinitarian relations” with goodness and truth, as expanded on in “Philosophy of Lack 3,” after the third hour mark — a point that deserves elaboration, but I think that elaboration can be avoided here for now): if we experience x as “beautiful,” that gives us “reason to think” x has something to do with “what matters.”
Okay, fine, but how do we experience something as beautiful? That’s a great question, and I hope that a metaphysical and ontological outline for this answer can be found in “The Philosophy of Glimpses.” Assuming it is though, we still have to ask, “How do we experience beauty?” Well, this is explored in (Re)constructing “A Is A”: we have to make a “real choice” and commit to something. There has to be a possibility of failure and death. There has to be something we risk being a fool over. There has to be something for which we seek “a new sincerity.” We have to take a risk.
Point 4: Beauty occurs in the context in which we make a “real choice” and commit to something. Meaning and beauty emerge where we can fail and die. Meaning risks.
For people to understand what really matters in life, they have to take a stand for something. There has to be the possibility of losing everything. After all, if nothing matters, there’s nothing to lose. But that means if there’s nothing to lose, nothing matters.
Point 5: We understand what matters by understanding what is worth dying for, and that is what we “really choose” to live for based on what we, nonrationally, find beautiful, the finding of which requires humility.
Alright, but what motivates all this? How do we find the motivation to reach “Answer 5” here? Why should we ever make such a “real choice” as so described (which seems “self-justifying” and like it provides its own Heideggerian “ground” in the act of itself)? Well, it’s the only way to have “beauty” and meaning in our lives, and I assume we all want more beauty, yes? If this is false, then my argument fails, or at least it fails regarding those who don’t want more beauty. I am admittedly assuming we want more beauty in our lives — that is the “leap of faith” my argument rests on. Knowing this, discard this paper as you see fit.
To return to the questions which inspired this reflection, we cannot know the beautiful if we do not understand that ‘it is truly important to understand what is truly important,’ for beauty itself is ‘truly important.’ The experience of beauty gives us both reason to think our understanding is capable of actual understanding — that it can be about something “there” — and that the thing we understand matters. Beauty provides two answers, both to the question of “How do we know we understand?” and to the question, “How do we understand what matters?”
Since we inherently seek beauty (or so I assume), connecting “beauty” and “true understanding” thus makes us seek “true understanding.” Experiencing beauty is conditional, not relative (as the paper “On Beauty” argues), and by extension we have to understand what those conditions are to increase beauty in our lives. Thus, understanding is linked with beauty, both of which are organized by our sense of the good. Beauty links meaning and understanding.
‘The one who fears is not made perfect in love,’ and what we love is what we find beautiful, as what we find beautiful is what we love. We cannot make a “real choice’ which makes beauty possible in our lives without courage, which means the one who fears is one who will miss out on beauty. ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’ ‘Beauty will save the world.’