Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Leo Strauss: The Man from Missouri

This is a summary made of extracts and paraphrase. Nearly half of the text is ironical. Since his ironies are easily overlooked, I indented them and marked typical expressions of distance in negrita.

Deutsche Fassung  >>> >>  Leo  Strauss: Der Mann aus Missouri

Leo Strauss had the idea that modern humanities and social sciences buried themselves in a hole beneath Plato's cave when they abdicated on common sense and cannot climb out without help.

The irresistible temptation is to quote Psalm 7:15 which however normally refers to a pit dug with an evil intention, not otherwise....
Pozo ha cavado, y lo ha ahondado;
Y en el hoyo que hizo caerá.
He dug a hole and made it deep, and he will fall into the hole that he dug --

Strauss' stance is that the modern, would-be scientific approach to Man imitates the sciences of Matter and goes nowhere.

Leo Strauss : An Epilogue


The man from Missouri is the prototype empiricist. He knows that he can see things and people as they really are.
He takes it for granted that he lives with other human beings of all descriptions in the same world and that because they are all human beings, they all understand one another somehow.

In this respect the old political science would not quarrel with the man from Missouri.
Yet a simple observation seems to be sufficient to show  that the man from Missouri is "naïf", because scientifically speaking he only sees colors, shapes,  mere "sense data" instead of "things" or people. He would however perceive "things" if he possessed "extrasensory perception".  –
Hearing that objection, the man from  Missouri scratches his head. By being silent, he remains in his way a philosopher.

The problem is that the new political science comes into being through an attempted break with common sense, but that break cannot consistently be carried out, as may be seen in a general way from the following consideration:

>> Empiricism cannot be established empiristically:

>> It is not known through sense data that the only possible objects of perception are sense data.

Those sense data become only known  through an abstraction which presupposes the legitimacy of our primary awareness of things and of people.

The inference is that the naïveté of the man from Missouri cannot be avoided. There is no thought which is not in the final analysis dependent on the legitimacy of that naiveté and the awareness or the knowledge going with it.

While it cannot be denied that prescientific thought about political things contains genuine knowledge, unfortunately that knowledge is inseparable from prejudice and superstitions. To get rid of the spurious elements in prescientific thought we must break with  it.

Common sense contains indeed genuine knowledge of broomsticks; but unfortunately that knowledge has the same status in common sense as the alleged knowledge concerning witches. Hence, by trusting common sense, one is in danger of bringing back the whole kingdom of darkness with Thomas Aquinas at its head.

To see the reliance on common sense which  pervades all empirical statements means to recognize the fundamental riddle, not to have solved it. No man needs to be ashamed to admit that he does not possess a solution to the fundamental riddle.

Denying that there is a riddle is a poor way of solving the riddle.
Surely no man ought to let himself be bullied into accepting that solution by the threat that otherwise he is a "metaphysician."

To  sustain our weaker brethren against that threat, one might tell them
that the belief accepted by the empiricists, according to which science is in principle susceptible of infinite progress, is itself tantamount to the belief that being is irretrievably mysterious.


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