Empiricism And Its Role In The Cathedral

Humans puttered around in ignorance listening to irrational traditions and being held back by traditional social structures. So goes the founding mythology of modernity, best summarized in the words of Immanuel Kant as he explains how feminism is right and true:

“Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on–then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind–among them the entire fair sex–should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous.” — What is Enlightenment, 1784

As we all know, this age of enlightenment led to an enlightened civilization, which has reached heights of brilliance in governance, toleran…or maybe not. This enlightenment was nothing short of a civilizational apocalypse, followed by a descent into chaos punctuated by outbreaks of violence, obscene stupidity and barbarity that surpassed all possible expectations. This enlightened civilization is now busy importing vast numbers of people from Africa and Asia, after having engaged in the most destructive war seen by man. This enlightened civilisation has managed to operate on the basis that all are equal, women can be men (and vice versa), and that rule by counting the heads of the population is somehow the absolute pinnacle of humanity. Nothing that comes from the enlightened civilization seems to make any sense whatsoever, with even the simple act of government resulting in diatribes on racial harmony, intersex advocacy, and POZ acceptance. The secret of modernity seems to be that it is irrecoverably stupid. But how could this be? The answer is provided in the concept of power above culture and society as outlined by De Jouvenel.

The full relevance of De Jouvenel’s insight, which appears to have been inherited from Tocqueville, is yet to be fully understood, but one primary one that forms the central core of Neoreaction must be the following: the success of a given tradition will be a result of its value to the central overriding power in that given society. The fallout from this observation can be seen from analyzing the “success” of liberalism, which I will argue in line with Moldbug is a direct descendant of Protestantism. I will even go further and argue that Empiricism, Positivism, Logical Positivism, Pragmatism, Operationalism and all other derivatives of modern Empiricism that originated post-Descartes are in effect offshoots of this Liberal tradition and in totality represent the core of the Calvinist thesis.

To begin with, let’s examine the concept of Empiricism being linked to Liberalism. First, it is worthwhile elaborating definitions. I will define Empiricism as it is described by Hans Herman Hoppe here:

“Empiricism is characterized by the fact that it accepts two intimately related basic propositions. The first and most central one is: Knowledge regarding reality which is called empirical knowledge, must be verifiable or at least falsifiable by observational experience. Observational experience can only lead to contingent knowledge (as opposed to necessary knowledge), because it is always of such a kind that, in principle, it could have been different than it actually was…..The second assumption of empiricism formulates the extension and application of the first assumption to problems of causality; causal explanation, and prediction. According to empiricism, to explain causally or predict a real phenomenon is to formulate a statement of either the type “if A, then B” or, should the variables allow quantitative measurement, “if an increase (decrease) in A, then an increase (decrease) in B.”” – ‘Economic  Science And The Austrian’ Method, H.H. Hoppe

This differs from Aristotle’s claimed empiricism as explained by Feyerabend: ““experience [is] the sum total of what is observed under normal circumstances (bright daylight; senses in good order; undisturbed and alert observer) and what is then described in some ordinary idiom that is understood by all” (p. 35).  It also involves interpreting what is currently perceived in light of “tradition” or “preconceived opinion” (p. 37). You will note that Aristotle places the observation within a tradition that makes the observation intelligible, as opposed to the universal nature of empiricism. For more criticism, Edward Feser has a fascinating number of posts here.

Modern Empiricism can really be better described as British Empiricism, and all derivations since as really the same thing. British Empiricism was founded by Locke, Bacon, Hume, and Berkeley, These same people played significant roles in the foundation of the Liberal tradition. In fact, separating British Empiricism from Liberalism proves to be almost impossible. Once you look close enough, every major player of liberalism has been a rabid empiricist in the British tradition in one way or another. This is something that has also been noticed by Charles Taylor:

“Taylor’s argument is that naturalist research programs are not best explained by scientific advances, but by a repressed ideological motive. As Taylor puts this, naturalism encourages us to espouse  pseudo-scientific theories that are “extremely implausible” and require a “very powerful metaphysical set of preconceptions” in order to “over-ride so much that is so intuitively obvious about human life.” Rather than driven by a veritable science, Taylor argues such research programs are actually sustained by a moral movement that he traces back to the time of Descartes and Locke; this moral movement sees human life as striving towards an ideal of autonomous and disengaged mastery over self and nature. – P108-109 ‘Three Political Philosophers Debate Social Science: Leo Strauss, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor’ J.W. Blakely

““Whose is the moral vision of human life as comprised of self-defining, autonomous individuals who form groups, barter, and negotiate amidst value and meaning-neutral institutions? In brief, this is a picture of human life promoted by certain influential strains of liberalism. So it turns out positivist social science converges not only with instrumentalism but also with the view of human life that undergirds much of modern liberalism.54 Here Taylor has done extensive historical work to describe how social contract theories that emerged in the seventeenth century with Grotius, Pufendorf, Locke and others have become moral sources for the view that human beings “start off as political atoms” capable of “disengagement” from the world around them which no longer has any “larger, meaningful order.”55 Instead the individual is seen as the sovereign source of meanings and values. This in turn “yields a picture of the sovereign individual, who is ‘by nature’ not bound to any authority.”” – P92 ‘Three Political Philosophers Debate Social Science: Leo Strauss, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor’ J.W. Blakely

The question is, then, why is it the case that Empiricism has been so popular? Taylor seems to ascribe this to moral sentiment, Richard Dawkins like most people seems to ascribe it to a “zeitgeist” of progress (almost everyone seems to assume that the tail wags the dog), but as De Jouvenel implies, the truth seems to be that Empiricism has been promoted despite its lack of success and its incoherence, which means it has another value and usage to power. The answer seems to be that Empiricism has value as a societal acid, which is quickly followed up with an assertion of the primacy of the central power’s null hypothesis.

To follow this thesis, we need to go back to the rise of British Empiricism and the actors who took it up. These actors were liberals, protestants, and atheists of the French Revolution. These actors all had one thing in common – a desire and motive to oppose the current hierarchies of society. The battering ram value of Empiricism in this task is clearly obvious, and as such Empiricism was favored by the other actor which had the same goals – the central power.

Empiricism, then, can be seen in the same light as Protestantism, in that it formed a useful attack of order. As such, we can see John of Gaunt using Wycliffe as a tool (which is even admitted by Wikipedia here,) or maybe from a more modern example, we have the funding and organisation of revolutionaries by Progressive Foundations, such as the Ford foundation and civil rights litigation, among other things. Then we have the absolute deluge of funding which occurs for Empiricism in social sciences of all stripes. This then provides the missing variable – power acts and creates culture (also, behind every rebel is a sponsor; asymmetric warfare is a nonsense concept )

This needs to be separated again into two separate stages as I have suggested here. The first state is cynical usage by an actor seeking to undermine enemies as a strategy for greater power this could be monarchs, or even nobility themselves as noted by Tocqueville in his introduction to ‘Democracy in America.” This was followed by a locking in of this mechanism by actors who are unable to act any differently (democracy.) As such, we see the absurd spectacle of everyone working on the assumption that Empiricism works, and therefore that everyone has adopted it out of reasonableness, and that the cure is to reason the key parts of culture to a position of rationality. Nothing could be more delusional.

The spread and dominance of Empiricism is a result of active promotion by power. This has been augmented by the dominance of Britain, and then America due to their geopolitical positions and inherent capabilities of their populations. The claimed role of Empiricism on technological development is incoherent, and it is really an intellectual tradition that piggy backs on the success of technical development, which it has no claim to have created.

Further to this, it has been the intellectual basis and justification for the rise of bureaucratic governance and anti-hierarchy actors and movements which have largely been responsible for destroying society since the Enlightenment. The footprint of Empiricism is blatantly obvious in anti-racism, feminism, and all other movements of personal liberation linked to the liberal tradition. The mechanism always begins with claims that society can be subjected to empirical doubt, which is then replaced with the null hypothesis of power which is then not subjected to the same doubt. The clear incoherence of Empiricism and its subsequent variants will not lead to its removal and correction, as a constant flood of funding is provided for it by scientific governance advocates (Foundations) and the modern governance structure.

I believe this thesis stands up to scrutiny. Even a cursory review of the history of the spread of Empiricism has the footprints of power all over it. The recent example of the pulse growth of Empiricism in the 20th century provides a good case example. The funding of Positivism by foundations such as the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations in the form of the Social Science Research Council show that power made such a movement successful–not the other way around. The motive for these actors to fund such things betrays their roles as parts of the sovereign governance of the Cathedral.

Culture across not just social science, but every aspect of life, seems to follow the foundations’ funding, not vice versa.

Another aspect of Empiricism, which has been of exceptional (and really key) value to the rise of bureaucratic and systematic governance (which rejects the validity of a rational actor using judgement), is that it provides support for the very validity of systematic governance.

If Empiricism is correct, then reality is deterministic and society is subjectable to scientific analysis, and more importantly governance by systems such as democracy, constitutions, and republicanism. Again, we can see the link between determinism, liberalism and Empiricism very clearly in the birth of modernity. Hobbes, Locke and the entire school of thinkers pushing systematic governance contra-monarchical rule all shared the same outlook and thinking (again also noted by Tocqueville).

The success of Empiricism, liberalism, and governance by systems is linked constantly. But to call this a system is somewhat misleading, as in effect what I am declaring as per Jouvenel is this system is not really a system that can stand on its own.

It is in reality a negative impression of unthinking Power’s boot, which largely explains how amongst all current traditions, this Liberal-Protestant-Empiricist system is the only one allowed to be utterly logically incoherent.

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12 Comments

  1. Humans are imitative. They imitate the gods or if no gods are available they copy the powerful. When Captain Cook returned from his second voyage he brought back a south sea islander named Mai. Lord Sandwich, Cook’s patron, adopted Mai. He was introduced to royalty and was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. By the 18th century the wealthiest and most powerful could sentimentalize people who a few decades earlier they would have considered savages and viewed as competition. We entered the Age of Indulgence.

    The striving classes could, more or less, imitate this gesture of status. Those further down who were too close to the realities of other groups and who could not sentimentalize them became scapegoats, the proletariat.

    Primordial imitation was later rationalized as “diversity” and “tolerance.” Because the West is still so far ahead of the Rest, we are still imitating people who sentimentalize the endless and increasingly aggressive manifestations of Mai.

    But mimesis of alienated elites is becoming harder so the scapegoating mechanism is ratcheting up. We are in for a long process of finding new imitation models as pain moves up the food chain.

    It doesn’t matter if we are Protestant, Catholic, atheist or sun worshippers.

  2. A really interesting article. I hope this won’t be conceived as a tangent, but I am linking empiricism to a widely held access to vital knowledge, a liberation of such knowledge, and that may be where Protestantism intersects. After all, IQ variations aside, all but the very unfortunate can put to use a basic scientific method to analyze various aspects of their own lives and the world around them. Since such empirical observation and reason is the primary zeitgeist following the French Revolution, it makes sense to look at its beginnings.

    Consider this. A primary difference between Catholics and Protestants (obviously opposing forces during the Enlightenment in many respects) is the nature of various ritual actions. Catholicism has a system of sacraments, through which divine forces and energies can be manipulated. Protestantism meanwhile dismisses these as mere ‘ordinances’ which is to say their power is only symbolic. This strips the priest of any active role, no esoteric knowledge or expertise separate him from the layman. Nothing is hidden, not even that which is absolutely central to the society itself. When exposed, can it be a surprise that such things are not only usurped by meddlesome individuals of our own tribe, but also outside elements eager to discredit and destabilize our core?

    Empiricism allows us to question everything, but only insofar as all that is Tradition is somehow ‘debunked’ by scientists, or philosophers, or social critics, etc. Empiricism of course won’t challenge the dogmas of Modernity. After all, its goal at inception was to move humanity onwards. If human biodiversity is confirmed by empiricism?… well, into the bin goes that study! Obviously it wasn’t conducted to the standards of what a diverse multicultural society ought to expect. We need some affirmative action ‘scientist’ Tyrones, stat!

    Empirical observation has its place, but there is no denying it has been a tool of the left since its inception. The Left cannot stand a structure not of their own making which towers immune to criticism. Religion, the integrity of our peoples, the illustrious history of the Occident, all of it has to go.

    1. Empiricism runs into problems explaining our world because in our level of existence there is no such thing as an objective observer. Truth exists, yes, but we cannot know truth about our world and our paradigm without it being revealed to us by an external source, i.e. the divine.

  3. gaikokumaniakku January 7, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    The analysis is good as far as it goes, but it leaves out a very important part – lawyers and lawsuits.

    The West, particularly the USA, is dominated by swarms of lawyers.

    Legal notions of fairness overturn sane notions of fairness.

    Legal notions of equality overturn the original 1776 notion of “no barons, no peasants” equality.

  4. Unphilosophical empiricism is a healthy attitude for practical men. When people start using it to construct a Grand Philosophical System, then it becomes destructive. The Left has a short memory even for slights–every morning Leftists awake in terror having dreamed that the 1950s might return. To the Left, Empiricism is nothing more than a cudgel with which to beat their opponents: they determine what experiences is admissible as evidence and so rig the game to their advantage.

  5. When I was an undergraduate at Evangelical University, all majors were required to take a religion battery: Freshmen took Old Testament 1 and 2, Sophomores New Testament 1 and 2, and Juniors: Theology 1 and 2. And the text for that year of Theology? Thiessen’s Lectures in Systematic Theology. I learned a lot that year. Especially how to be an evangelical religious empiricist.

    It is an overwhelming, yet accurate, picture of just how pwned modernity is by empiricism: fundamentalist evangelicals—the regressive butt of every progressive joke—are held captive to the same patently false epistemology as their persecutors.

  6. “This enlightenment was nothing short of a civilizational apocalypse, followed by a descent into chaos punctuated by outbreaks of violence, obscene stupidity and barbarity that surpassed all possible expectations. […] I will even go further and argue that Empiricism, Positivism, Logical Positivism, Pragmatism, Operationalism and all other derivatives of modern Empiricism that originated post-Descartes are in effect offshoots of this Liberal tradition and in totality represent the core of the Calvinist thesis.”

    I’ll re-iterate a claim a made in an article a few months ago – the civilisational apocalypse was not the result of the Enlightenment but specifically the result of Kant’s philosophy, which strangled the Enlightenment in its cradle. [http://www.socialmatter.net/2015/10/27/book-review-on-objectivisms-sweeping-theory-of-history-the-dim-hypothesis/]

    Empricism, Pragmatism, Logical Positivism and the rest are indeed Kant’s philosophical children — as is, however, the apiorism of Herman-Hoppe and other Austrians. The essence of Kant’s thought is the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, the cleavage between rationalist, deductive tautologies and empiricist, provisional observations. Logic has nothing to do with experience (and so logical statements are always empty tautologies), experience is not logical (and so knowledge gained from observation is always uncertain and provisional).

    1. The answer to Kant is to augment classical logic with a proper theory of concept-formation, placing inductive reasoning on a secure foundation and allowing man to systematically build his understanding of the universe.

      I’ve largely tapped out of this corner of the internet since I’ve realised that I am a child of the Enlightenment — an Enlightenment, though, that aimed to revive the best of classical civilisation and is fundamentally opposed to nihilistic modernity. Curious minds are urged to follow the link above and follow the same bunny trail I did.

  7. At no point does the author “prove” that Protestantism lead to empiricism. He just assumes it. The closest he comes to an argument is here: “Empiricism, then, can be seen in the same light as Protestantism, in that it formed a useful attack of order. As such, we can see John of Gaunt using Wycliffe as a tool”.

    This argument is to vague to be of any use. Of course if one system is going to supplant another system it entails that the existing order must be destroyed. But that does not entail that the new order is a rejection of hierarchy. By the author’s logic the Catholic church is the source of empiricism since like empiricism it was used as a battering ram in the late roman empire to dissolve entrenched pagan hierarchies.

    Also for the modern surge in Empiricism or Verificationism and Logical Positivism we have to blame the Jews from the Vienna Circle.

    1. “Of course if one system is going to supplant another system it entails that the existing order must be destroyed. But that does not entail that the new order is a rejection of hierarchy.” Of course, but If the subsequent tradition is not in any way managed, controlled and subjected to any sort of quality control by a rational organisation or individual, then it will run on auto-pilot and will not correct itself from it’s “fuck you dad” position. Who can you call in the Liberal tradition to find out what the correct line is? Harvard? Princeton? Obama? This mess has no one in control and no way to control it.
      As for this “Also for the modern surge in Empiricism or Verificationism and Logical Positivism we have to blame the Jews from the Vienna Circle.” I will have to request you provide a explanation as to how the Vienna Circle accomplished this, because I have limited knowledge of that area. The Wiki page seems uncertain, and just advises the idea spread, but is not really robust. From my angle, I can direct you to first John Dewey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dewey) and then to Charles Merriam (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Edward_Merriam.) who created entire departments with rockefeller/ ford etc funding, and basically built the whole thing on pragmatism, which seems even more harebrained empiricist than logical positivism. Their rampant and psychotic liberalism is curious as well is it not?

  8. “Of course, but If the subsequent tradition is not in any way managed, controlled and subjected to any sort of quality control by a rational organisation or individual, then it will run on auto-pilot and will not correct itself from it’s “fuck you dad” position.”

    Wilhelmine germany, and Lutheran Sweden did fairly well at maintaining hierarchy. Also are you saying that the Protestant English Empire was on auto-pilot?

    “I will have to request you provide a explanation as to how the Vienna Circle accomplished this, because I have limited knowledge of that area.”

    Modern logical positivism was the result of A Jay Ayers in his work Language, Truth and Logic. Ayers was popularizing the philosophy of the Vienna Circle.

    “From my angle, I can direct you to first John Dewey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dewey) and then to Charles Merriam (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Edward_Merriam.) who created entire departments with rockefeller/ ford etc funding, and basically built the whole thing on pragmatism, which seems even more harebrained empiricist than logical positivism. Their rampant and psychotic liberalism is curious as well is it not?”

    I don’t deny that Dewey and other helped created modern Empiricism, or that Empiricism arose from only one source, but Ayers and the Vienna Circle were very powerful in propagating such a notion.

  9. To smote empiricism and salt the earth around it is, I think, the wrong move, and perhaps also the wrong choice of enemy.

    If you don’t desire a complete reversion to pre-technological modes of existence, then the role of empirical evidence in the advancement of technology makes it indispensable. It wasn’t until individuals, with recourse to vast and pedantic volumes of empirical evidence, questioned traditional folk beliefs that their glaring shortcomings became obvious enough to pierce through the accumulated socio-cultural blinders. This movement, in turn, opened up new ways for us to cognize societies and humans in general – many of which social matter puts to fantastic use.

    However well the old folk beliefs held societies together – and they held them together quite well – it is futile to try to reverse the one-way process that empiricism opened up.

    As De Jouvenal describes it in Ch. XI of “On Power”, contrary to popular belief what defines early societies is how strictly they conformed to and punished deviation from norms. What is interesting (and possibly wrong) is that he concludes his analysis with the assumption that we no longer do this. Simple observation of “social justice” culture should be enough to disabuse one of this idea.

    The problem, as I see it, is that what goes by the name “empirical science” at present is really a quite cautious means of exploring what is just outside of or just on the fringes of the absolute strictness of inherited custom and habit. This means it is still deeply constrained by what is socially acceptable. This very restraint is the reason it has even been allowed to occupy a space in civilized life. It is disruptive, but not so disruptive as to not be worthwhile.

    Part of what NRx has done is liberated certain empirical insights – in-egalitarianism, the reality of IQ – that were previously deemed too disruptive to be worthwhile by mainstream culture. It has pursued an empirical science beyond bounds past which popular science dare not go, and discovered hidden truths out there. It certainly makes one wonder what else is out there should we keep up this pursuit, rather than retreating to form a new culture around this handful of hard won truths.

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