Another day

There was a topic called “politics,” plain, or political philosophy, before it became “political science” in deference to post-modern fashions. There is, of course, nothing scientific about it, as there is nothing scientific about anthropology, or sociology, or (God help us) psychology, yet, we shouldn’t give them up on that account. Like politics, as I mentioned yesterday, they are something to talk about, and each was interesting, once upon a time. This was before the labcoats arrived with their calibrators and calculators; their scientific airs, and incomprehensible jargon; before daily tracking polls.

The word “philosophy” is also rather vexed, and people call themselves “philosophers” who are merely post-secondary schoolteachers; but leave that, or it will draw me astray.

“Science” meant knowledge, simply, and there were very many kinds. Or, it did mean that before it began to mean something narrower. Some knowledge might even be had from statistical correlations, but not much. Today, the labcoats patrol the boundaries. They decide who and what gets in.

One’s Bible reading on this topic could begin with I Paralipomenon (I Chronicles), chapter 21. This contains a warning. Recent Bible translations have scrambled this, but Satan has inspired David, in his pride, to take a census, and what he gets for it is a plague. Joab, his general, had warned that nothing good could come of this counting; because nothing good follows from transferring one’s faith from God to digits. We see this writ large in modern science, which distrusts God entirely. It is “science” as a means to power, and in its very nature is a method of coercion.

I mention this fully realizing that my own opposition to number-crunching, for which I find easy Biblical reinforcement, drives Modernists crazy (which is also easy to do). What I mean by it, should anyone be Christian, is to excite scepticism, of the oldest kind. What is our motive in pursuing statistical analysis? What can we learn that wasn’t obvious to start with?

The Greeks, likewise — or should I write, Plato and Aristotle — were not statisticians. More widely, the Greek mathematical fascination was founded in geometry, not arithmetic. (That’s how they could live with such an awkward numeral system.) Plato, like me, was distrustful of democracy, as well as pop entertainment, pop religion, and too, commerce, industry, and mechanical operations. (This did not mean he was against trade, or making a living; he was not insane.) He disparages the victory at Salamis, which surely delighted the crowds. This should shock gentle reader, who might call it treason.

His point, like the Bible’s, is larger than opposition to number-crunching, or “materialism,” per se. He, like his mentor Socrates, is against the worship of power. The State ought not to focus upon self-preservation; “the principles of true politics are those of morality enlarged.” Its function is to make civilization possible, not to develop an immense war machine.

All of the knowledge he seeks is related to wisdom. In this sense, it is utterly un-abstract. To understand the world is to grow in appreciation of a natural order, that is not our creation.

Today, it seems ludicrous to be against what we call “science”; to think it should serve wisdom rather than plausible, practical, “accountable” ends. This is why our contemporaries would be plenty shocked, if they actually read Greek and Hebrew classics. Far from confirming what Modernity takes for granted, they condemn these things; and they condemn them for reasons that are the opposite of the little reservations we might dream up.

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This old saw from Proverbs could be readily understood by a pagan Greek. Knowledge was understanding, wisdom. It necessarily involved trust and good faith. That is to say, it was not sceptical in our modern, distrustful, faithless sense. It was a fear founded in awe, yielding joy.