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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Voegelin on Gnosticism

I recall that in one blog discussion someone showed up and said, "It's funny that Voegelin is supposed to be such a scholar, but on Gnosticism he had no idea what he was talking about." His "evidence" for this was to link to some fellow leading a modern Gnostic cult who said Voegelin had no idea what he was talking about!

In any case, here is Voegelin 25 years after The New Science of Politics came out:

"nor: More specifically, if I may: would you do anything differently with your third part on Gnosticism as the nature of modernity?

"voegelin: Well, yes. Because in the twenty-five years intervening since the book was published, we know so much more now about the continuous trends in Western intellectual history. Gnosticism is certainly not the only trend."

So, he used a term that, given that state of historical research at the time, seemed apt, but then, as more facts were uncovered, he changed his mind.

You know, the way a scholar should do.

Oh, and the fct that we know so much more than 25 years ago is a good refutation of Ryan Murphy's classification of history as basically little more than hearsay!

9 comments:

  1. I said you could update your priors against historical evidence. There can still be "good" history and "bad" history. My point was that if we are interested in causality, at the very least you need to show that things move together (correlation) in such a way that would be predicted by the existence of a causal relationship.

    For instance, if you want to say that X causes war and you see X and war in a specific context, you should check to see all the other times in history where there was X and war to see if war was any more likely to take place in the presence of X.

    McCloskey in her most recent book annoyed the hell out of me by constantly referring to certain history as being "scientific." She gave no way to distinguish what made some historical analysis scientific and other analysis not except the stuff that isn't tended to be what she disagreed with. She did this repeatedly. At one point she rips on some economic historians for using a t-test because using a t-test violates ex post ergo propter hoc. I have no idea why any historical analysis (expect one practicing statistical methods when they are actually applicable) wouldn't also violate ex post ergo propter hoc, unless you grant historians some Godlike power to magically divine causality somehow else.

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  2. "My point was that if we are interested in causality, at the very least you need to show that things move together (correlation) in such a way that would be predicted by the existence of a causal relationship."

    And historians have no need whatsoever of finding such "causal" relationships.

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  3. Ryan, consider this: if we want to know why Aaron Burr refused to challenge Jefferson for the presidency after the tied election of 1800, what use do we have for statistical studies purporting to find "causation"? What, are we going to assemble a set of all vice-presidential candidates who tied with their parties presidential candidate in the electoral college and try to correlate what they decided to do with their weight, or hair style, or deodorant?

    No, we look at what Burr said at the time, and before, and afterwards, and what others thought, etc., until we understand enough that we say, "Ah, well, that is just what Burr would do in that situation."

    History is about the concrete. Statistics only apply to abstracted generalities.

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  4. Looking at what Burr said is a reasonable first approximation. But you need to import theory to tell you Marxists are wrong for believing that he did it because of his ideology (or whatever). You need some theory of human nature to say he did what he did for the reasons he said and not to maximize expected wealth for some contrived reason. Or an evolutionary psychologist might say he had a certain gene that gave him emotions that wouldn't make him want to back down, because not backing down signals high status.

    You can go on forever. Which is correct?

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  5. No, sorry, history is a self-contained discipline. It stands in no need of help from economics, Marxist theory, psychology, etc., any more than physics does.

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  6. If a politician with an obvious ulterior motive is supporting a bill and he says he does it for the good of the consumer, we believe him because it's concrete?

    Note that you cannot connect his ulterior motive to his actions without public choice.

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  7. "If a politician with an obvious ulterior motive is supporting a bill and he says he does it for the good of the consumer, we believe him because it's concrete?"

    Ryan, being an historian has nothing to do with believing what people say! What he says is *evidence*, but it is the historian who decides evidence of what.

    And people knew about ulterior motives a long time before public choice theory existed!

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  8. "it is the historian who decides evidence of what"

    i.e. divining causality.

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  9. Ryan, I can tell you, as someone who has struggled to learn to play music decently over many years, that learning to play is neither a matter of magic nor of finding statistical "causality."

    Similarly, after struggling for many years to grasp what historical understanding is, I can again assure you it does not involve magically "divining" things, nor does it involve statistical correlations.

    If you actually are interested in what it does involve, I *could* teach you, but not if you insist upon plugging your ears and chanting "divining causality."

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