So-called value disputes: reflections and autobiography
© Henry A. Flynt, Jr.
My essay “Values, Reverence, Humility” (1997) amounts to an intellectual journal. It affords no guideposts to the reader. There is a careful list at the end of writings which I cite in the body text. The writings I make most of are:
“Introduction,” Philosophy Proper: the never-published 1961 version
“Free Time, Boredom, and Liked Work,” From Culture to Veramusement (originally 1963)
“Philosophical Reflections I” (October 1973), in Blueprint
“Critical Notes on Personhood, Part V: Elevated Being (State of Action)” (1993)
“Analytical Sketch of Life-Conduct” (January 1997). The source of a capsule human self-definition which I invoke repeatedly.
The course of my reflections produced three distinctly separate essays in one text:
I. So-called value disputes: reflections and autobiography (pages 1-15 and 23 of the 1997 draft)
II. Philosophy of reverence and humility (pages 16-19, 23-24, 30-31)
III. Self-degradation and its rationale (pages 16, 20-22, 25-29)
The 1997 draft is brutal, if the reader is not prepared. First, I insist on my claims to overmaster the consensus reality. That alters the dimensions of generic philosophical questions drastically. The reader is asked to take an idiosyncratic extremism into account. Then—I slip and slide all over the epistemological landscape. My approach was to sift through an eclectic subject-matter to find conclusions I could commit to; I would worry later about reconstructing them at the appropriate level. I realized in 1997 that the chronicle of my iconoclasm might try the reader excessively, and I prepared an abridgement which drastically compresses everything before I.A.2.
Here we introduce the newly separate essay I. It was a philosophical examination of values, and valuing—interwoven with my intellectual autobiography. The 1997 draft remains an insider’s document. This introduction can do no more than orient the already-initiated reader.
Some explanations here will be repeated in the newly separate essay II. I don’t want to force the reader of that essay to read this one first.
Through most of the 1997 draft, I suited myself by pondering the situation of one who “takes the world on one’s shoulders.” The person for whom the determination of reality is within the scope of individual responsibility. (It may be a mistake even to mention it, but Rilke depicted this perspective in conjunction with his character Malte Brigge.) I do not address people who are content to “get along”—except insofar as they provide a milieu and a contrast.
Much of the text, then, is interwoven with genius theory. How did I have the nerve to write about issues which matter to only a few people? Answer: If I had been falsely modest, if I had pretended to be at more of a loss than I am, then I would have bored myself. I insist on being mindful of the altered boundaries of possibility afforded by meta-technology etc. Because the altered boundaries condition the possibility of inspiration.
Personal commitments which can be articulated as propositions are here called “beliefs.” Shall I simply be gullible, shall I believe everything told me by a person with any sort of advantage over me?
My path is one of unique wariness toward the shared cognitive orientation. I do not consign the responsibility of judgment to anyone else. My process of disabusing myself of inner deceptions places me at the vertex of judgment. One questions the beliefs that one respects, or has internalized. The point is that when the text says “for me” or “as I do,” I meant “me” literally. I did not mean “for us” or “as we do.” The essay, in these passages, was autobiography.
In some sense, the questioning of internalized beliefs is free of circumstances—but not entirely. Commonplace contingencies, even, are in play. Questioning takes place in the alert waking state. While I am dreaming, the possibility of confronting my self-deception may not be available, or is not available.
In order to test beliefs, as opposed to swallowing them, one has to discern in oneself the possibility of acquiescing to beliefs which one knows are faulty. One has also to discern in oneself the possibility of accepting beliefs which would be found faulty if one bothered to examine them. It is ordinary—but it is highly non-trivial.
Placed in question are:
—beliefs which serve an inner need for comfort (e.g. survival of your personality after death)
—practical knowledge which you avow.
Practical knowledge?—was I referring to the common lore by which we navigate the world? [I’m not sure that I used ‘conative beliefs’ for beliefs that basic. Could I have meant beliefs which have a large following without being consensus beliefs, such as “the efficacy of prayer”?]
The logic instilled in us is questioned. Contending with logic affords cognitive disillusionment. It affords new logical experiences such as are gained via my illusion-demonstrations.
(Aside: Let me offer a heads-up to anyone who supposes that these thoughts are idle ravings. In 1999, Graham Priest mentioned my illusion-demonstrations in a paper in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy. For that matter, in the years after 1997, eight or so recordings of my music have been published. My work is beginning to get in the official record.)
Continuing with logic, one grapples with structures blocking receptiveness to ecstatic experience. One accedes to a wondrousness which is different from the nondiscursive ecstasy which I call radiance or relish at the destination. [In some respect these “wonders” are free of circumstances. But not entirely free of circumstances; cf. the observation about dreaming on page 19 of the 1997 draft.]
The 1997 draft is cognizant of my goal of proving the impossible, e.g. my 1996 try at a proof that 1 = 2.
I may want to know, for my own realization or completion, whether the simplest arithmetic is intellectually vulnerable—whether my informed understanding confirms that arithmetic fails by norms which it implicitly demands. That is because customary arithmetic is a practice or pattern which is implanted in my culture, my mental equipment—it is an adopted constituent of my self—unless and until it is defeated by reasoning which satisfies norms implicit in the doctrine. Because of the intellectually elemental character of arithmetic, its defeat would thrust me into a realm of unheard-of possibilities, and would furnish the means of leaving the “inescapable” acknowledged reality.
I make running remarks about the dramatic feelings which cultural exploration may elicit: excitement, awe, etc. Let us consider the never-published 1961 “Introduction” of Philosophy Proper. It intimated that awe and mystery are rather ridiculous: in their correlation with cosmic grandiosity and supernaturalism. All the same, I acknowledged motivation and striving as constituents of the thoughtful life. The quality of the path I offered was not awesomeness, but excitement, daring. The “value” which was required was intellectual courage, and the rewards were rewards to intellectual courage.
Why did I give excitement, rather than awe, as my favored sensibility in the 1961 “Introduction”? Well, Philosophy Proper would not uphold ordinary personhood; it would demolish ordinary personhood. It left human self-definition without any substantiation. “Philosophical Reflections,” a complement to Philosophy Proper, commended a dimensionless condition, an annulment of truth-polarity. In its perspective, purported evidence of human dimensionality is a mirage.
My perspective would be accused—not surprisingly—of leaving us with nothing. “Awe” connotes cosmic grandiosity. The sensibility which fit the role in which I cast myself was not “the awesome,” but “the risky.”
Implicit in my path is a requirement of rigor: because the development has to overmatch the part of the inherited culture thought to be unconquerable. The person who wants a legitimate proof of the impossible (if there is one to be had) is after a lever to turn “reality” upside-down. This person risks various social penalties—namely the resentment of the conventionally minded at having their sanity-mirage shattered. He or she reaps a mixed reward. All the same, this venture will shift the universe underneath him or her—public opinion or no public opinion.
The absolute endeavor proposes to pre-empt the entire future of science. The standard goal of cogitation, to discover the truth, is superseded. For me, the escape from mental servility is bound up with the capacity for joy. I only claim to be speaking for myself.
The impetus to strip my consciousness of acquired deception involves taking total responsibility for the culture, and holding myself to a standard which a professional scientist would call insane because there is no gentlemen’s agreement, no pledge of conformity. One has to reconstitute oneself—while one’s relation to other people is basically a matter of holding them at bay, of preventing them from disturbing oneself. When one manages thus to reconstitute oneself, this result, this insight, has a momentum.
What I do, after demanding so much of myself in order to disabuse myself of the cultural delusions, is to strive to entrench the achieved insight. One may devolve to ideas such that the very possibility of thinking them is new information. New mental abilities are invented, the boundary of the logically possible is moved—as I said at the beginning. So the world as it is must be opposed; must be swept away. And one turns to handholds for change.
To speak specifically of the decades of my adult life, my direction has evinced all sorts of tactical maneuvering, and maturation. “The inception” could be taken as my passage from positivism to ultra-positivism around February 1960, and my repudiation of serious modern music at the end of 1960. After that, I maneuvered, as when I stepped into the role of a career artist from 1987 to 1993.
That was one thing. It would have been another thing for me to recant, and to affiliate with one of the cultural tendencies rewarded with success. (To lapse into common and crass dereliction.) That could not have been an indifferent “choice.” It would mean that I had been psychically tortured to the point of collapsing, or becoming a shadow of myself. I would know it to be a defeat, a humiliation—even if the adherents of the successful tendencies wouldn’t see it that way. I would lose myself. Anyone who wants that outcome for me is a deadly, deadly enemy. We aren’t talking about indifferent choices.
The depreciating relativism which says that life-styles are arbitrary choices is psychologically unrealistic. Let us get something basic out of the way. You assuredly do not choose what is over your head. To put it in pedestrian terms, people may choose not to become waiters or waitresses. But short people do not choose not to become professional basketball players; a trait beyond their control has “chosen” for them.
Suppose one has an ability of the exceptional sort considered here. Then whether one cultivates and upholds it, or allows others to strip one of it, becomes the issue of winning oneself or failing to do so. Humiliation and shame are not freely chosen.
But people are egoic and devious. The person who has failed within does not necessarily admit it. A person will try to salvage social position even in failure. They may say “it’s all optional, nothing matters”—but they do not have a shred of substantiation for this churlish flippancy.
If you strive to win yourself, then you discover a code of conduct by trial and error. Namely, the code of conduct which is conducive to winning yourself. What I call requisite values. It’s arbitrary in the large scheme of things—it may even involve denial, or leaving needs unmet—but the person engaged in winning him or herself feels it as an imperative. They will even say, “I couldn’t do as most people do. Being like most other people is not an option.”
Even though I insisted on my idiosyncrasies, I did pretend to be at something of a loss. My public has underestimated personhood theory and the “evaluational processing of experience.” To accommodate that public, I opted for the level of “Uncompromising Positioning”—or for a lower level. I confine myself to the familiar in certain respects. I speak of our full stature, of our fate—of ourselves as possibility—and yet: I do not integrate the altered boundaries afforded by meta-technology etc.
What were the precedents? Over the decades, I had appealed to the public, or had sought to broaden my base. I accepted the life-world and social existence as topics. I would presuppose the social arena, positioning myself in deep compromises. (The chapter “Free Time, Boredom, and Liked Work,” which is a utopian speculation about the social-objectivist social arena.) By implication, then, I presupposed the interested, imaginative, striving person.
Now, in the 1997 text, I humored common sense: in order to examine zones which the prevailing civilization places in shadow—zones which pertain to our stature or fate.
I address ordinary personhood, which is hierarchical, longitudinal, etc.
I conduct the argument in verbal abstractions, as if I were doing “modern” philosophy, whereas I have expressed major reservations about this modern approach.
Speaking to the public about the person-world, I resort to the language of truth and honesty and their opposites. I have earned a right to be condescending toward truth which no other author has earned. (The revival of song-and-dance skepticism by Postmodernists doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.) But this breakthrough doesn’t register with most of my audience. Everyday life is another matter. There, truth imposes a merciless discipline. A person who tramples truth will land in one or another predictable niche. The addict; the petty swindler; the grand swindler; the adherent of a respectable delusion (religion); the idiosyncratic lunatic; etc. Many people find some of these niches attractive—obviously. Let me be clear: I don’t. I could not be happy living an Archbishop’s life if they offered me the job on a silver platter. Ditto for celebrity addicts. Etc.
The 1997 manuscript wove back and forth, trying to reach a public, trying not to forget the insights which launched my perspective. The result was a soup, epistemologically. To characterize the approach again: I’m exploring, searching for results I want to commit to. Once I find them, I hope to reconstruct them at the appropriate level.
We come to the topic specifically pondered in essay I. The discourse on values found in the positivist milieu—cf. W. Köhler and R. Carnap—and the notion of a value-dispute. I essayed to test this notion (or these notions) against my undertaking.
But first an observation about the positivist treatment. The positivists evidently wanted to sequester values in a landscape of facts. There was an appalling lack of insight on their part. If anything, it is facts that are sequestered in a landscape of values.
1) One has to commit to integrity to steer toward facts.
2) In practice, people mostly choose their beliefs to support their “values.”
In that 1961 introduction, I had said: most “philosophers” devote most of their effort to convincing their readers that it is an absolute obligation to have a specific and non-cognitive need for beliefs. Too right! I hardly realized in 1961 how far that imperative extends with intellectuals, the imperative of lying for the good fo the cause.
Value-disputes?—I needed to be autobiographical here. Do the early twentieth-century disquisitions on values, issuing from the positivist milieu, correlate with issues arising in my “career”? The 1997 draft surveys my campaigns over the years—the broad arguments I made which seek to change the reader’s allegiance. E.g. my extremist culture critique and brend theory, which urged a personal direction on the reader. E.g. the creep theory, which urged a personal direction on the creep. E.g. my embrace of ethnic music, for that matter. If ‘value-dispute’ can mean the advocacy of an allegiance, then most of my energy went into value-disputes.
But does it concede too much to call my campaigns value-disputes? Does it subordinate my campaigns to a supposedly stable, common branch of knowledge? Occasionally a debating partner would materialize, and we had a written exchange (Mac Low, Matz, Hoekzema). I underrate myself: if I pretend that the other’s position, and my own, are expressed in some embracing stable discourse. (That both sides of the debate subsist in a common medium of stable assertions.) That our “debates” consisted in the competitive assertion of dogmas.