In a short essay recently published on the Web, the political thinker Ken Masugi tells us about political scientists needing to recognize the validity of philosophical modes of thought. They’ve drifted away from reality as a result of their efforts to become quantitative empirical scientists. In that essay, Political Scientists Bow to the Laws of Nature, we can read:
After some hesitation, the American Political Science Association (APSA) has cancelled its annual four-day, pre-Labor Day convention, with Hurricane Isaac bearing down on its New Orleans venue. Even proud contemporary political science must eventually submit to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” in practice, while remaining resistant in theory.
Dr. Masugi gives us a highly summarized tale of American political scientists, through their professional societies, marginalizing and then even eliminating the study of those “laws of nature and of nature’s God”, eliminating philosophy from the study of politics. Perhaps his most interesting claim is that philosophical ways of thought are often closer to `nature’, empirical reality, than efforts to quantify, say, voting patterns and to turn elections into exercises in statistical analysis. The concluding paragraph of the essay tells us: “Following the lead of its Progressive founders, the political science profession has indeed marginalized the study of political philosophy.”
I think that the author, Ken Masugi, is right that we need philosophy, the study of more abstract realms of created being in my telling, as part of our efforts to understand politics. He might even agree with my claim that we need a proper philosophy as part of our efforts to study any and all realms of created being, even the most mundane parts of the physical world. The most abstract realms of created being are present in those most mundane parts of this concrete realm of created being and we won’t understand so much as a gnat, even in principle, if we don’t have an understanding of the abstract geometry which describes shapes at this concrete level of being and if we don’t have an understanding of the abstractions of relationships which allow us to describe complex environments in this same concrete level of being.
Mathematics and theoretical physical sciences (not just physics) are primarily about thinking; number-crunching should only start after some serious thinking is done. Sometimes, number-crunching isn’t even possible except on a purely hypothetical basis, such as sometimes happens in the speculative exploration of exotic states of matter not (yet?) reachable in human laboratories or directly observable in nature. As one extreme example, the tensor equation which is the center-piece of general relativity is a qualitative description of possible equations of a more quantitative sort. If you’re able to specify a few attributes, you might be able to turn this description into a solvable set of equations and discover, “Aha! I’ve found an equation for a simplified system with one dominant center of gravity in a perfectly symmetric sphere.” That discovery was the first explicit solution of Einstein’s equation and was later seen to be the description of a particular type of black hole.
Tensors and other tools of modern mathematics can be like that, allowing scientists to describe a system even when they can’t (yet?) produce equations which can give quantitative results. More generally, modern mathematics allows us to explore underlying concepts in a system, concepts about the very nature of the `space’ of interest and concepts having to do with relationships between entities in that space. By `space’, I mean a general concept which includes physical space but might also include, for example, a space which is a grid of possible states in a network of machines or human beings or both. Tensors, and the overlapping field of differential geometry, aren’t used just to analyze and understand black holes or the entire universe or other objects of interest to theoretical physicists; spinning machine parts are often designed with the help of tensor equations which are, often with much effort and ingenuity, particularized down to specific equations. It seems likely to me that there is a corresponding way to think of `purely non-qualitative’ problems, such as those of politics or moral relationships, so that we can qualitatively, abstractly, describe the nature of complex human communities or other created entities which are studied in the `soft’ sciences.
For example, we could maybe come up with concepts which are abstract descriptions of what can happen when relationships between members inside a community or between communities change. A moral creature embedded in a variety of communal relationships might suddenly find one or more of those communities is changing substantially so as to seem an entirely different sort of community. This might be a result of the community growing and becoming denser in relationships or as a result of a community losing moral structure.
I’m proposing that we use this sort of thinking, moving from the concrete realm of created being to a more abstract realm where we can reach a potentially more powerful conceptual understanding before returning to the more concrete and more particular realm. Physicists and others in the sciences, including engineering, have done this with remarkable success. In a field, such as politics, it would involve mostly conceptual relationships in the concrete realm of being rather than mostly quantitative relationships. I think this sort of thinking is done in the course of conceptual analyses of political systems or moral relationships, but I also think that it’s done on an ad-hoc basis so that it hasn’t had the desired change on metaphysical thinking, causing a lot of individual theorists to repeat the sort of effort which, as one example, Einstein and his friend Marcel Grossman carried out in learning how to use tensors and differential geometry to study gravity. That effort has been systematized and even clarified in a variety of books and articles and other instructional materials, but I know of no book which teaches thinkers in more `qualitative’ fields to abstract from a system being studied before trying to figure out how to particularize and analyze that system.
In my critique of our general inability to understand created being, not just human politics, I’ve pointed to one way of expanding those limited understandings and maybe correcting those understandings by borrowing from those fields such as quantum physics and gravitational theory which have penetrated to some pretty abstract realms of created being from their particular viewpoints. Modern physics has shot past the limits on created being which traditional physics and traditional meta-physics had given us. We can expand our understanding of created being, including the possible sources of moral nature for a creature, and we can do that by trying to stand upon the foundations which physics and mathematics and other sciences have given to us and trying to see what lies beyond. What is the true nature of created being? Am I right when I say there is one spectrum of created being and that concrete being is shaped from relatively more abstract being itself shaped from still more abstract being and so on until we reach the truths God manifested as the raw stuff of Creation? That is, am I right that we can consider matter as being frozen soul, in a semi-traditional way of speaking?
In a recent essay, Christian Traditionalism: Moving With God’s Story., I discussed the issue of modernizing and `upgrading’ the ways in which we analyze and understand our own natures in their various aspects, political and moral and so on. I’ll quote from that essay:
I’ll refer to the following graph I’ve used before:
We can start at Node y2, which represents our current understanding of The Spacetime of Our Universe This node is found on the bottom row. From that node, we work our way up through higher levels of abstraction until we reach a level which shows some promise for helping to understand, for example, human nature. So, by abstracting somewhat, we can reach Node x which is Abstractions Leading to Complex Paths and then travel down to Node z2 which is Human Nature including our understanding of our moral pathways through this world. This understanding is also supplemented by other abstractions as shown by the arrow from the unlabeled node titled Various Concrete Abstractions. By concrete abstractions, I intend to convey the idea of a level of abstract being which is close to that of our concrete world.
In other words, I’m recommending that we construct richer and more complex metaphysical systems for Creation by using abstractions from modern physics and mathematics. We are ourselves part of this Creation, including those aspects of human nature studied by political scientists and political philosophers, by psychologists and moral philosophers. In recent centuries, we seem to have suffered various breakdowns in our human systems along with—not coincidentally—a failure to advance our moral and communal understandings; we can’t understand how we can form coherent, morally well-organized communities from so many human beings with so many ways of organizing their moral and social activities. We have outgrown the metaphysics which is adequate to describe Greek city-states or human beings with a small number of communal relationships. Until we have a proper metaphysics, one which provides a proper description and allows for a proper understanding of the richness and complexity of fundamental created being as we now know it, matter and energy and fields and spacetime, we won’t be able to properly describe or understand the complex entities of this concrete realm, not human beings nor human communities. After all, a modern country is probably even richer and more complex than a binary star system and lies within the same realm of created being as does that star system. Why are we assuming a simpler set of descriptions for relationships?