Monday, 3 March 2014

Epistemic Humility

It is Carlyle, and not his critic Nietzsche, who is the true forerunner of twentieth-Fascism, with its mystical exaltation of the state and obliteration of compassion and the rights of the individual. That shadow cannot be removed from the later Carlyle, author of such efforts as The Nigger Question (1849) and Shooting Niagara: and After? (1867)and uncritical idolater of those iron men, Oliver Cromwell and Frederick the Great.
(from Introduction to Essays on Thomas Carlyle:1982)

This reading of Carlyle in Bloomspeak, can't stand, my dear. Heroes is about those men who surpass the state which in most of his essays he castigates as a pettifogging impediment. Open Latter Day Pamphlets (1850) at any point. Take this from the beginning of Downing Street :

From all corners of the wide British Dominion there rises one complaint against the ineffectuality of what are nicknamed our "red-tape" establishments, our Government Offices, Colonial Office, Foreign Office and the others, in Downing Street and the neighbourhood. To me individually these branches of human business are little known; but every British citizen and reflective passer-by has occasion to wonder much, and inquire earnestly, concerning them. To all men it is evident that the social interests of one hundred and fifty Millions of us depend on the mysterious industry there carried on; and likewise that the dissatisfaction with it is great, universal, and continually increasing in intensity,—in fact, mounting, we might say, to the pitch of settled despair.

From The New Downing Street first Para:

In looking at this wreck of Governments in all European countries, there is one consideration that suggests itself, sadly elucidative of our modern epoch. These Governments, we may be well assured, have gone to anarchy for this one reason inclusive of every other whatsoever, That they were not wise enough; that the spiritual talent embarked in them, the virtue, heroism, intellect, or by whatever other synonyms we designate it, was not adequate,—probably had long been inadequate, and so in its dim helplessness had suffered, or perhaps invited falsity to introduce itself; had suffered injustices, and solecisms, and contradictions of the Divine Fact, to accumulate in more than tolerable measure; whereupon said Governments were overset, and declared before all creatures to be too false.

Not much statolotry there, my dear! (Being a whale he spouts with careless ebullience.) I am led to think that the notion of epistemic peerage is overset by what Bernard Lonergan called scotosis. Not the Duns kind:

Let us name such an aberration of understanding a scotosis, and let us call the resultant blind spot a scotoma. Fundamentally, the scotosis is an unconscious process. It arises, no in conscious acts, but in the censorship that governs the emergence of psychic contents. Nonetheless, the whole process is not hidden from us, for the mere spontaneous exclusion of unwanted insights is not equal to the total range of eventualities.

A true or true-ish vision of things does not come by the application of knowledge and intelligence but by a vigilant epistemic humility.

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