Category Archives: I argue

Some things are unprovable. Some things appear clearly evident to me. Still other things are provable, seem clear to me, but are not something I wish to spend my time attempting to prove.

So I just argue them. Feel free to disagree.

Facts I argue

On Benedict; the great, not the traitor

The French claim him as well as the Americans but, to whichever country Santayana may belong, his words are for us all . This is an excerpt from, “American Religion” by George Santayana. His is an almost poetic analysis of the Ethics of the great Benedict Spinoza. What follows is one of my favorite passages about one of my favorite thinkers. Spinoza is said to have invented the atheist’s god. For this, he was excommunicated from the Jewish religion. And for good measure, the Catholics excommunicated him as well.

Spinoza believed that religion’s purpose was to explain the divine, not to create illogical dogma that would cause logical people to turn their backs on the very concept of religion. His logical, dare I say scientific, analyses of Medieval philosophies and their shortcomings forever put an end to such philosophies’ importance to humanity. His work is claimed to have directly influenced those responsible for the Enlightenment. He argued against the division created by Descartes between the mind and the body, though his point of view has not prevailed and the West has been suffering under the ills that logically flow from an adherence to Cartesian dualism for more than three hundred years.

Spinoza came to know. In knowing, he found solace; and love. If what follows does not make sense the first reading through, read it again. It’s point is fairly simple: harmony with existence creates a love for existence. Harmony is two-fold, physical and mental. When in the presence of such a truth, even if the truth threatens your life, you love your existence because you are in harmony with your existence. You are in harmony with the Universe when  knowing your place in the bigger picture and your love becomes, thereby, Universal. Truth is, then, Spinoza’s path to god, not faith. He was excommunicated because his god was an immanent god, not a humanistic one. As Santayana put it:


“Here we touch the crown of Spinoza’s philosophy, that intellectual love of God in which the spirit was to be ultimately reconciled with universal power and universal truth. This love brings to consciousness a harmony intrinsic to existence; not an alleged harmony such as may be posited in religions or philosophies resting on faith, but a harmony which, as far as it goes, is actual and patent. In the realm of matter, this harmony is measured by the degree of adjustment, conformity, and cooperation which the part may have attended in the whole; in a word, it is measured by health. In the realm of truth, the same natural harmony extends as far as do capacity and pleasure in understanding the truth; so that besides health we may possess knowledge. And this is no passive union, no dead peace; the spirit rejoices it; for the spirit, being, according to Spinoza, an essential concomitant of all existence, shares the movement, the actuosa essentia of the universe; so that we necessarily love health and knowledge, and love the things in which health and knowledge are found. Insofar as omnificient power endows us with health, we necessarily love that power whose total movement makes for our own perfection; and insofar as we are able to understand the truth, we necessarily love the themes of an intense and unclouded vision, in which our imaginative faculty reaches its perfect function.

Of this religion of health and understanding Spinoza is a sublime prophet. By overcoming all human weaknesses, even when they seem kindly or noble, and by honoring power and truth, even if they should slay him, he entered into the sanctuary of an unruffled superhuman wisdom, and declared himself supremely happy, not because the world as he conceived it was flattering to his heart, but because the gravity of his heart disdained all flatteries, and with a sacrificial prophetic boldness uncovered and relished his destiny, however tragic his destiny might be. And presently peace descended; this keen scientific air seemed alone fit to breathe, and only this high tragedy worthy of a heroic and manly breast. Indeed the truth is a great cathartic and wonderfully relieves the vital distress of existence. We stand as on a mountaintop, and the spectacle, so out of scale with all our petty troubles, silences and overpowers the heart, expanding it for a moment into boundless sympathy with the universe.”

I argue Minutae Uncategorized

Deus Ex Machina

Dues Ex Machina is a phrase that has been variously translated. Today, there are people who claim it is a sign of G-d’s hand invisibly moving in our lives; the mysterious god machine. Most people have heard of the album by the band The Police, “Ghost In The Machine”. Less well known in non-psychological circles is the 1949 book The Concept of Mind by Gilbert Ryle where this term made its debut in modern times. Ryle argues against the concept of Dualism first made famous by the philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes.


Dualism is the ancient concept that the mind and body are distinct entities. The notion of dualism is the reason we have different definitions for ‘mind’ and ‘brain’. We think of consciousness and self-awareness in terms of our mind’s ability to understand itself and the world around it, yet we say the mind works within the physical construct of the brain. Descartes expounded this theory in the 1600’s in multiple treatises, including De Homine. The average reader is aware of the assertion, “Cogito Ergo Sum,” or, “I think therefore I am.” This is the most famous quote of Descartes, though from another text, and a most famous expression of mind/body dualism.What Gilbert Ryle argues against in, The Concept of Mind is this very notion put forth by Descartes. Ryle asserts that there is no mysterious mechanism occurring in the mind from which magically springs forth consciousness. He famously said there is no, ‘deus ex machina’ or no “ghost in the machine”. No magic, no mystery. We are unitary and unified beings, self-contained.


Another author, Arthur Koestler, borrows Ryle’s term and publishes a book in 1967 entitled Ghost in the Machine in which he attempts to explain humanity’s self-destructive tendencies. For this exposition, Koestler expands upon the works of Behavioralist psychologists to argue that there is no mystical adjunct to humanity. For our purposes, the whole argument is really rather dry and unappealing to anyone not in the field of study in question. The practical upshot of his book however is that the term ‘ghost in the machine’ is brought forth to a wider audience: college students. That audience comes to understand that this term is derived from the works of Ryle, who was arguing with Descartes, who argued that the mind is distinct from the body; apart from it. This limited understanding allows one to form the opinion that the ‘ghost’ in the machine is our spirit or the holy.


When someone today claims that something is the ‘ghost in the machine’, they usually are claiming something along the lines that the whole is greater than the sum of its part. If someone decides to translate the ancient Greek more literally, they like to call it the ‘god machine’, the mysterious machinations that make our world make sense. This last translation is closer to the truth than anything put forth so far. In ancient Greek, ‘Dues ex Machina’ literally translates as “god from the machine”. That is, god FROM the machine.


Deus ex Machina is an expression most notably recounted in Poetics, by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It is a term of theatre, not theology or philosophy. The ‘god from the machine’ is literally a device used by a playwright, a bad playwright in Aristotle’s estimation, to resolve all the loose ends at the end of a play. One of the Greek gods would literally descend from above the scenery via ropes, land amongst the actors, and resolve all the issues using his or her godly powers. Aristotle did not think much of this tactic. He argued that a good author should be able to resolve all the tensions and disputes internally within the structure of the play, logically, on his own. Aristotle thought is was a cheap trick to simply wave a magic wand over a mess that was created by a playwright for his characters in order to wrap things up nicely at the end. Aristotle often noted that Oedipus was the perfect tragedy for this very fact. The author made a fine mess of everything throughout the whole play but the fates that befall all the characters tie together with a satisfying closure that can be traced to their own actions within the play. There was no need to appeal to some supernatural force for things to work themselves out.


You may believe in mind/body Dualism or that there is no one else home but yourself. That is not important to me. Either we are all hard-wiring or we are more than the sum of our parts or maybe there is a third or fourth option to the above two. Whatever. What is important is that ‘deus ex machina’ is a term of art created by someone less than one hundred years ago. It is a term borrowed without concern for its original context nor concern for how it may sound to the uninitiated reader. Sending down a god into a work of fiction to fix poor writing is a long walk from claiming that the lord moves in mysterious ways.

Flash Fiction I argue Poetry

Ernest Hemingway and Flash Fiction

Recently, I have read a few criticisms of what is currently referred to as flash fiction. Flash fiction is any short story that is really short; less than 500 words, depending on the publisher. Criticisms generally revolve around complaints about our society’s lack of attention span. Readers, the argument goes, cannot focus long enough on something to read a normal length short story. Or, worse yet, writers cannot hold their own focus long enough to craft a story of sufficient length.


Flash fiction is derided as merely one scene or vignette from within what should be a longer story. How can anyone built up a plot or characters a reader can understand and sympathize with? True, quality, stories need some essential elements and writers cannot, cannot, I have read, build any such depth into a story that is less than one page long.


As with any complaint one can make or any rule a professor or writer tells you to follow, you need not look far for proof against that complaint or rule. Stephen King tells us to avoid adverbs in his book on how to write and yet there are tens of adverbs in that very book. To be fair, I would argue that his real point is that the average writer uses adverbs too often and he figures that if he tells the reader to ‘never’ use them that the reader will expend great effort to comply, improving their writing. The argument, as I see it, is that instead of writing that a character was ‘hugely incompetent’, there is another word that can describe that extreme level of incompetence, maybe ‘inept’. The hallmark of good writing is economy of words. Never say in a paragraph what you can say in a sentence and never say in a sentence what you can say in a word. Adding an ‘ly’ to a verb is lazy writing if there is another word that can capture the same message a writer is attempting to convey.


I heard an interview with Ezra Pound years ago. In it, he relates the story of how upon the first day of his arrival to Paris he arose out of a subway station to be confronted by a park filled with the beautiful faces of women and children and flowers in bloom. He says that he absorbed that scene in one gestalt moment, walked to his hotel room and wrote a two page poem about what he saw. Six months later, he produced his famous, In a Station in the Metro:


The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals, on a wet, black bough.


Believe it or not, this poem marked the groundbreaking moment of his career as an innovator. You do need to know why unless you love poetry and, if you do, you can find answers to the ‘why’ elsewhere. My aim is simply to illustrate how a two page poem can be boiled down to its essence. This economy holds true for all forms of writing.

As to this complaint about ‘flash fiction’ ‘short shorts’ or ‘nano writing’, we need look no further for the glaring exception that proves this complaint bootless than Papa Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway’s writing is quality not because he writes about bullfights or big game hunting or fascists in Italy in 1930. Hemingway is considered great for the parcity of words needed to convey his story to the reader. To this point, when asked once what was he considered his best work, he said it was an unpublished piece that he wrote to win a bet at the Algonquin in New York while dining with other writers. The short story needed a beginning, a middle, and an end were the rules of the bet. Hemingway claimed he could write a short story in only six words. When the bet was taken by his fellow writers, Hemingway wrote this down on a napkin from the table, saying it was an ad in the classifieds:


For sale: baby shoes, never worn.