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Sunday
Jun192016

From our Fathers...

On Father's day, it is worth considering what we received from our fathers. As a society, we all have daddy-issues, and we celebrate how much more we all understand than those ignorant old coots. (This principal applies to technology and to science as much as to today's politics.) Because so much has been given to us, we got it for free, so we assume that its was cheap. It was not, and we must learn it again...
In the passages below, Groot describes an earlier time when people forgot and devalued what they thought they all knew...
"the semblance and conceit of knowledge without real knowledge. They proclaimed confident, unhesitating persuasion, on the greatest and gravest questions concerning man and society, in the bosoms of persons who had never bestowed upon them sufficient reflection to be aware that they involved any difficulty. Such persuasion had grown up gradually and unconsciously, partly by authoritative communication, partly by insensible transfusion, from others; the process beginning antecedent to reason as a capacity, continuing itself with little aid and no control from reason, and never being finally revised. With the great terms and current propositions concerning human life and society, a complex body of association had become accumulated from countless particulars, each separately trivial and lost to the memory, knit together by a powerful sentiment, and imbibed as it were by each man from the atmosphere of authority and example around him. Upon this basis the fancied knowledge really rested; and reason when invoked at all, was called in simply as an handmaid, expositor, or apologist of the preexisting sentiment; as an accessory after the fact, not as a test or verification. Every man found these persuasions in his own mind, without knowing how they became established there; and witnessed them in others, as portions of a general fund of unexamined common-place and credence."
and...
Because the words were at once of large meaning, embodied in old and familiar mental processes, and surrounded by a strong body of sentiment, the general assertions in which they were embodied appeared self-evident and imposing to every one: so that, in spite of continual dispute in particular cases, no one thought himself obliged to analyze the general propositions themselves, or to reflect whether he had verified their import, and could apply them rationally and consistently. The phenomenon here adverted to is too obvious, even at the present day, to need further elucidation as matter of fact. In morals, in politics, in political economy, on all subjects relating to man and society, the like confident persuasion of knowledge without the reality is sufficiently prevalent: the like generation and propagation, by authority and example, of unverified convictions, resting upon strong sentiment, without consciousness of the steps or conditions of their growth; the like enlistment of reason as the one-sided advocate of a pre-established sentiment; the like illusion, because every man is familiar with the language, that therefore every man is master of the complex facts, judgments, and tendencies, involved in its signification, and competent both to apply comprehensive words and to assume the truth or falsehood of large propositions, without any special analysis or study. 
Both quotes are from George Grote's History of Greece. Volume Eight. THE SOCRATIC AGE
Grote's work is similar in import and scale to Gibbon although he is less known today. He had begun work as early as 1822 but publicationof the first 10 volumes was not until 1836 and all 20 were not published until 1846. His precise language is evocative of that of Adam Smith, who categorized the workings of markets and economy, as he explores first principals of democratic society through an exhaustive account of the entire arc of ancient Greece. He is well worth reading.  
You can pick it up for Kindle on Amazon for a song, and it will be many months before you are again at a loss for something to do.

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