Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Republic of the Mind
My brother, The Wizard, dropped the following on me this morning via email. What follows, is an excerpt from chapter one of Lynn Harold Hough’s book Free Men. The chapter is titled Free Men and Intelligence. I have highlighted a few portions of this excerpt, though I think it all should be highlighted. Hough’s thoughts, here, are so exquisitely beautiful I want to scream this from the roof tops. Bless you, Wizard, for sending me this.
If there is a happy isle where regenerated philosophers meet to live in endless felicity, there will be a golden moment when all deterministic views of existence go down forever in gales of derisive laughter. The truth is that a man can be a determinist and forever after cease to think. But a man cannot be a determinist and continue to be a philosopher. At least he cannot do it without surrendering to a process of self-stultification. For the moment you really begin to think and move toward the creation of philosophic system, you find it necessary to use enough freedom to destroy any system of determinism. In order to think at all you must assume that you have power to weigh alternatives, to distinguish between truth and error, and deliberately to follow a path of correct reasoning. And when you attempt to convey the result of your thought to others, you must make the very same assumptions regarding their powers. So thought is a matter of freedom at the first, at the last and, indeed, all the time. The philosopher who uses his free mind in order to construct a process of reasoning by means to which to deny the existence of freedom is really the funniest man in all the world. The philosophers on the happy isle at all events will never make this mistake. And if they will not, why should we?
But it is not merely a matter of formal philosophy. All use of intelligence is just an exercise of freedom thinking. Freedom is the major premise of every conversation. It is a hidden presence in every conclusion. It gives significance to every speech, changing sounds into meaning. It gives life to every book, changing queer marks on a page to carriers of definite meaning. It lurks on the counter between every buyer and seller. It lies at the heart of every attempt of persuasion. It is true that there are limitations to freedom. But it is also true that every time you think, and most of the times when you act, you are expressing freedom from limitations. Grammar is freedom turned into a theory of speech. Subject and object and verb express freedom in a formula. Logic is freedom turned into a theory of mental action. The syllogism is freedom inspecting its own briefest dialect. Proof is freedom aware of its own power to detect the difference between truth and error. Rhetoric is freedom turned into a gardener cultivating all the words in our wayward speech and teaching them to grow into power and beauty. Science is freedom robbing nature of its secrets and classifying all obtainable knowledge about the world in which we live. Philosophy is freedom battling with the ultimate problems of existence. Art is freedom choosing between ugliness and beauty. Politics is freedom manipulating human relationships. Industry is freedom making use of the material world in which it finds itself. Ethics is freedom inspecting its moral responsibility. Religion is freedom choosing to be on the side of God. Turn where you will in the human world and you find freedom in action. Intelligence at its best is freedom on the wing.
When we speak lightly of freedom in the name of anything else, however attractive that other thing may be, it is like speaking with contempt of foundations as very unimportant things while we confess a great interest in the houses which would fall to earth without the foundations. Freedom is the foundation of that house of the mind which every man must build. It is the foundation of that house of the mind in which humanity must live. Free men choosing are the citizens of the republic of the mind.
Freedom is the necessary assumption which makes all thought possible. It is the basis of all argument. It is implicit in all communication between the mind and mind. This is why it is so important that we analyze with the most searching instruments of thought the whole implicit structure of our eternal life. There are some things we can only deny if we are willing to face complete mental shipwreck. And freedom is one of them. Yet most men assume it so uncritically that they are actually willing to listen to argument denying its existence. It is as if a logician should say, “If you will just deny the major premise, I shall assure you the validity of the conclusion.”
This is the point at which the guardians of civilization must be forever on guard. For if freedom goes, everything which has the slightest value goes with it. And if freedom remains, everything of genuine value sooner or later comes within our grasp.
The most disquieting thing about the whole situation is the fashion in which men who are seemingly intelligent and really thoughtful will admit the validity of the position we have been defending, and then will go forth and think and argue as if no such position actually existed. In some way they are betrayed by the fact that when a position seems quite obvious, it is easy to suppose there is no real reason why we should think about its implications. The thought of most men falls upon fallacy just at the point of failing to realize the hidden and far reaching implications which lie hidden at the heart of some distinction which seems so perfectly obvious when clearly stated that they suppose it to be quite unnecessary to think about it at all. Indeed, no end of tragic mistakes in philosophic thought come from the fact that bright young men have gaily accepted important principles and then have laid them away on some shelf of the mind never thinking about them and never using them. And that way philosophic madness lies.
It is really a terribly responsible thing to accept any position as a part of our personal philosophy. That position is sure to involve sanctions which touch the most remote matters. Any assertion involves denial of the opposite. And this is a most difficult thing for a young thinker to see, especially if the opposite assertion comes above the surface of his mind a day or so after the original assertion was made. And then in philosophy an assertion about any great matter has a living force and goes forth to change all sorts of things in every direction. It is a simple fact that the conception of freedom is the most important conception in philosophic thought. And it is equally true that its corollaries are the least understood. When we have once seen that the mind is the arsenal of freedom, that no mental action is possible without it, that we must assume it in order to deny it, that any argument against its validity must be based upon the assumption of its presence in the mind of the man who constructs the argument and in the minds of men who listen to it, when we have come to understand that a negative conclusion concerning freedom involves a mental process which may be phrased, “I have now used my freedom to arrive at the important conclusion that I am not free” – when we have seen these things, we begin to have at least a dim idea of the fundamental place of freedom in the existence and the use of intelligence. And we are then ready to go on and think of its vast and outreaching ramifications.
Happy 50th Mort
Happy 50th birthday to my brother Mort. We remain as close the below photo suggests, in a time when a hoodie was a more practical item of clothing. We seldom hold hands any longer, well, unless we’re helping each other out of a trout stream. Happy Birthday, Mort.