Sunday, December 09, 2012

Proper Divisions, Understanding, and the Spontaneous Orders

In my last post, I discussed how certain kinds of spontaneous orders could be separated. I propose these divisions because I think understanding these relations will help us to understand their relationships to each other in the larger civil society.

I have recently been working on developing the divisions Frederick Turner proposed: the market economy, the gift economy, the divine economy, and the political economy. In each, I propose inclusion of the following spontaneous orders:

The market economy – money, the catallaxy (trade), and technology for living
The gift economy – the sciences (the True), philanthropy (the Good), and the arts (the Beautiful)
The divine economy – morality, religion, and philosophy
The political economy – democracy and common law

Understanding what orders were in the gift economy and what the gift economy was has helped me to understand the nature of the orders in that economy – and what I personally needed to do to succeed in a gift economy spontaneous order. Understanding I was a participant in the gift economy helped me to understand that I would have to give work away in order to successfully transition into the market economy with my skills. Which is in fact what happened when I landed a writing consultant position with the George Bush Center.

However, the relations among the orders seemed to me incomplete, even as helpful as they were. For example, I have been working with Euel Elliott at UTD on a paper on technology, and in doing so, I discovered that there was a strong relation among the technological order, the catallaxy, and the scientific order. I have also been reading Randall Collins’ fantastic book “The Sociology of Philosophies,” in which he discusses the fact that a mathematical revolution preceded the Scientific Revolution, and both involved the development of technologies specific to mathematical and scientific discoveries – all of which led to what Collins terms “rapid discovery science,” in which there is a moving front of discovery with rapid consensus reached, which keeps discoveries happening very quickly. This suggested a relationship among these orders, as well as the fact that there are two distinct kinds of technological orders: one for mathematical/scientific discovery, and one for practical living. Of course, there are overlaps. Lenses for glasses led to lenses for first telescopes, then microscopes. Computers, invented for mathematics, are now used for practical living. Yet, the fact remains that there are distinct developments that should be apparent to pretty much anyone.

I came to realize that if one could loosely group together math, science, technology, and the economic orders into one grouping and loosely group together government, philanthropy, philosophy, religion, and the arts into another, that we 1) have C.P. Snow’s divisions, and 2) we have an explanation why so many who are anti-market are also anti-science, anti-technology, and anti-math, yet pro-art, pro-government, and pro-philosophy (equally, one can see why so many scientists are dismissive of philosophy, religion, and the arts). And then I thought about the fact that Hayek considers economics to be a “knowledge problem” that the catallaxy solves. This resulted in my thinking through these classifications and developing the matrix in my last posting. However, since then, I have developed the classification schema further.

I had divided things into the True, the Practical, the Good, and Wisdom. However, better, more accurate labels would be:

Practical Knowledge – money – catallaxy – technology for living
Pure Knowledge (facts) – math – physical science – technology for math and science
Practical Wisdom (the Good) – social sciences – government – philanthropy
Pure Wisdom (the True) – philosophy – religion – the arts

We still have a continuum of abstraction (on the left) to the concrete (on the right). I will also note that historically, we see the development of the concrete into the mixed into the more abstract. Technology is developed before trade, which is developed before money. The arts (like storytelling) likely evolved before religion, which preceded philosophy. As Collins points out in his discussion of philosophy, high levels of creativity and development are associated with increasing abstraction.

But let us return to the issue of knowledge and wisdom. I want to make it quite clear what I mean when I talk about knowledge. I particularly want to make a distinction between facts and truth. In his essay “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” Nietzsche discusses the statement that a camel is a mammal, saying that this is a truth of a sort, but one of limited value. These truths of “limited value” are what I would like to call “facts.” Facts are in the realm of knowledge, and are in many ways defined by the language. It is a fact that a camel is a mammal. A mammal is defined as an animal which is warm-blooded, has hair, and feeds milk to its young. Since a camel does/has all of these things, we classify camels as mammals. It fits into this arbitrary conceptual category we have created so we can better study, understand, and talk about them. For all things we could talk about in this manner, I prefer using the word “fact” to discuss them, since these are knowledge-statements. To use another example, let us say I filled my car with gas. One would typically say it is true that I filled my car with gas. I would rather say it is a fact that I filled my car with gas. This use of the word “fact” is supported by its etymology: “fact” comes from the Latin factum, for “done,” the neuter past participle of facere, “to do.” An action of some sort is needed for something to be a fact. That action is our hierarchical categorizing of objects. “All knowledge originates from separation, delimitation, and restriction; there is no absolute knowledge of the whole” (Nietzsche, PT, 109, pg. 39). So “all explaining and knowing is nothing but categorizing” (PT, 141, pg. 47). With facts, we end up with a plurality made up of pluralities. To be reductionist or deconstructionist is to be concerned only with the facts. On the other hand, those against knowledge, who believe we cannot know anything, are those who cannot find fulfillment in knowledge alone. What they seek is wisdom. Knowledge is indeed not enough. But that is hardly reason enough to abandon knowledge any more than the connection of wisdom to religion was sufficient reason, despite the decline of religion in the West, to abandon wisdom. If we abandon knowledge, we will only find ourselves doubly absent – of knowledge and of wisdom. Instead, we need to return to wisdom, to replace what is truly missing.

In the same essay referred to above, Nietzsche says that art “speaks the truth quite generally in the form of lies” (TL, 96). Nietzsche is here talking about truth as facts. Art does not need facts, it gives us everything as illusion. One can have art that is blatantly non-factual, yet still have wisdom-truth in this sense. So works of art and literature act as one of the primary sources of wisdom, as the source of truth in this sense. “The term sophos, which means ‘wise (man)’, originally referred to skill in any part, and particularly in the art of poetry” (Charles Kahn, 9). The artist is the wise man. But this wisdom may or may not even be connected to facts as such. Gabriel Garcia Marquez does not really believe someone can be so beautiful they can literally contradict the law of gravity and shoot up into the air. With magical realism we have “fact-statements” coming into conflict with “truth-statements.” One way of creating meaning is through repetition. Another way is to create an image so amazing one cannot forget it. This latter approach is the soul of magical realism and of such surrealist painters as Dali and Magritte. How can one forget the scene in One Hundred Years of Solitude where Remedios the Beauty she shot into the heavens because was so beautiful? Or when José Arcadio shot himself and

A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.

"Holy Mother of God!" Úrsula shouted. (129-130)

This blood is going places and doing things blood should not be able to do, but that does not matter here. What matters is the truth uncovered by this scene, and that, because it is so strange, we remember it. Meaning is tied to memory (and Memory, in Greek mythology, is the mother of the Muses). We remember things that are repeated (patterned repetition is doubly repetitious, and thus more meaningful to us), and we remember things that are as amazing as these images – the “shock of the new” the Modernists were so enamored with. It is evolutionarily important to be surprised at, shocked by, and thus remember new things, since new, unknown things could potentially be dangerous – and it is good to remember surprising things so we are not continually surprised at the new thing with each subsequent encounter with it. We give meaning to those things we remember. We see this connection too in the Greek word for truth, aletheia. Lethe is the river of forgetting, the river dead souls must drink from before rebirth. Letheia is thus forgetting. A-letheia is not- or un-forgetting. Thus truth, aletheia, is unforgetting, remembering. Art speaks the truth precisely because it, as Kundera says, uncovers aspects of existence we have forgotten. Great art speaks aletheia what we are continually letheia, even after we have experienced the work of art. Art does this through lies precisely because every uncovering of physis/logos is a covering, as “physis kryptesthai philei” (Heraclitus, K. X), “Nature loves to hide.” This is how we understand, if not on a completely logical, rational level of explanation, what Marquez means about a woman being that beautiful, or a murdered man’s blood returning home. We understand these a-rational truths, a-rational because they are true without being factual. Marquez manages to highlight and make beautiful this element, of the potential separation between truth and fact – a separation which is the soul of religious mythology.

Gyorgy Doczi says wisdom is seeing the world as one, unified. This is a legitimate definition of wisdom and of truth. The words truth and betrothed are related, through the Old English treowth, meaning “good faith,” which gives us the words “truth” and “troth.” To betroth is to marry, meaning truth can be seen as a betrothal of facts, the unifying or marrying of facts. “Men who love wisdom must be good inquirers into many things indeed” (Heraclitus, K. IX). Truth as wisdom is unifying.

Wisdom is a generalization tending towards the universal codified into a proverb. The process of cognition begins with noting, observing the particular and then working out what is general from the particular. From the general, a regulating principle, a law, emerges which can take the form of the universal. The universal, the law, and the general are then tested against the ground of particularity in practice. Practice is both the starting point and the testing ground of our conceptualization of the world. What is needed is not so much the recovery of practical philosophy as the recovery of the philosophy of practice. (Wa Thiong’o 26)

Since to practice is both to learn to do something, and to do something (as in to practice medicine), we can see that wisdom needs practice, or doing, for it to be valid. We have already seen that “fact” comes from “to do.” Wa Thiong’o is calling for a unification similar to what I am suggesting. One could see wisdom as understanding the scalar nature of the world, seeing the world as a fractal whole, and knowledge as seeing the world in its constituent parts. As we will see in more detail later, in discussing Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Will to Power, truth(s) would act as the strange attractors pulling the world-system together. By combining knowledge and wisdom, we get a more knowledgeable wisdom, or a wiser knowledge, that sees the world as scalar with emergent properties derived from its constituent parts. Since bringing together knowledge and wisdom creates variety in unity, it would show the world as beautiful. Knowledge alone is not enough; nor is wisdom alone. “Graspings: wholes and not wholes, convergent divergent, consonant dissonant, from all things one, and from one thing all” (Heraclitus, K. CXXIV). The unity of knowledge and wisdom is beauty. The interdisciplinarian is thus the scholar of beauty.

Finally, I want to make a quick note about my division of science into the physical sciences and the social sciences. The physical sciences are divided into what one could term a Great Chain of Being, with physics being the least complex entities one can study, molecules being the next in complexity, living organisms being the next in complexity, and neurobiology being the next in complexity. However, we then get a proliferation of social sciences: psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, history, political science, etc. These all certainly fit together as being in the next level of complexity – yet there is also a great proliferation at this level (one can say the same of, say, chemistry – one can learn organic and inorganic, quantum chemistry, etc. – but all chemists will learn some of each of these, while an economics student can easily avoid all the other social sciences, suggesting the divisions somehow differ). These divisions have emerged over time, and I do not believe them to be arbitrary. They represent something real in the world.

Thus I do not believe the social sciences – which one could also call, according to the above classification, and returning to an old terminology that was perhaps more accurate, the moral sciences – should be considered to be in the same category as the physical sciences. The methodologies of each should thus be very different. One will note that the moral sciences become classified as being practical, like government and philanthropy, but also part of the wisdom tradition, along with philosophy, religion, and the arts. Thus, it would seem that methods used in the wisdom tradition – those commonly used in philosophy, for example – would be more appropriate than those methods used for factual knowledge. As noted above, there is a world of difference between truth and facts. The facts of historicism can get in the way of understanding the truth about how an economy works, for example.

Note, too, that the practical wisdom of the social sciences are used to help us understand governance, the religious order, the artistic orders, the philosophical orders, the philanthropic order, the scientific order, the mathematical order, the technological orders, and of course the economic orders. Further, the pure wisdom of philosophy, religion, and the arts give each of us our moral education, resulting in the moral evolution of the moral order, which finds its expression in the practical wisdom orders of philanthropy, governance, and the moral sciences. One sees a similar relationship between the pure and practical knowledge orders.

Finally, one should note that there are some more foundational orders that do not fit into this schema. The language order, for example. Also, the moral order seems to negotiate between pure wisdom (truth) and practical wisdom (good). But not all orders have to fit into this structure, as the structure is hardly all-inclusive. Nor should it be understood as being intended as such. Further, not all things are spontaneous orders. Sports, for example, are things we do which are not spontaneous orders. Neither are families spontaneous orders. Nor are businesses – even though they are obviously found in the market economy. One could go on and on. But this should suffice to demonstrate that just because there are many social structures that are spontaneous orders, there are many others that are not. I am here not interested in hierarchical networks, only scale-free, self-organizing networks. The value of this particular organizational structure for these particular orders is that they are in fact related to each other in these ways. Understanding their relations to each other, and how they interact (or fail to interact) helps us understand the even more complex structure of civil society. 

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