On Being Uncertain:
A Case for Scepticism
by Sean Gabb
I will write nothing yet again about the great issues of the day. I will instead respond to several of my readers who objected to my confession of scepticism in my last piece about ghosts. I am asked how I can be a sceptic when our knowledge of the world is based on such sure foundations. How can I deny the obvious, and so join myself to the nihilists whose own course of doubt ends in the various kinds of political correctness, and whose denial of reality in earlier generations cleared the way for the gulag and the holocaust?
My answer is that the probability of a belief is not determined by its alleged consequences. As for nihilism, I am not devoid of belief. I have strong beliefs, indeed, on just about every subject. I am a sceptic in the sense that I do not believe rational certainty to be possible in any of these subjects. In arguing this, I do not pretend to originality. Nor do I claim that this will be an academically useful essay. I am writing while sat on a railway train, far away from my books. If I draw on the thoughts of Plato, Lucretius, Cicero, Sextus Empiricus, Descartes, Berkeley and Hume, it is without consulting them on any point, and often without having read them for many years. I will use and conflate and alter the ideas of others as I see fit to argue my case. This being said, I will begin. Continue reading
On Ghosts and the Supernatural
by Sean Gabb
One of my readers has asked me to give up for the moment on political controversy—where I have been, during this present year, writing with equal passion and lack of influence—and turn instead to the existence of ghosts. Here, I will oblige him to the best of my ability.
When asked about ghosts, Dr Johnson once affirmed their existence, giving in support the universal testimony of mankind. He had a point. In all times and places, and often without external influence, people have believed in life after death. Our earliest recognisable ancestors buried each other with their household goods, thereby showing a belief that these would be of continued use. Every nation of which I know has believed that the dead could be somehow brought in contact with the living. In the 12th book of the Odyssey, for example, Ulysses sacrifices a sheep, fills a trench with its blood, and waits for the ghosts that surround him to drink until they become visible and he can question them. In the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh—which I have yet to read—I believe that the spirits of the dead are summoned and questioned. My Chinese and Japanese students have told me some of their own traditional ghost stories. Turn where you will, people believe and have believed in ghosts. Who am I to doubt such universal testimony? Continue reading
by Jason Offutt
Note: A surprising number of our visitors have an interest in shadow people. Since we are nothing if not inclusive, here is one specially for them. SIG
The Lurking Shadow People
“This scares me and I don’t know what it is. I have been seeing them since I was a little girl. Always outta the corner of my eye a tall black shadow. I always feel like something or someone is by me. Last night I went down to my bedroom. There it was. Standing next to my dresser. I ran upstairs crying to my mom. She went down and looked saying it was only ’cause I was overtired. But I KNOW what I saw. It was so scary. I don’t know what it is. I need all the help I can get!” – Jessica’s cry for help, 10, January 2010. Continue reading
For those who may not recognise it, this is Caravaggio’s St John the Baptist, which is currently on display in Siena Cathedral. The artist was apparently in the habit of treating his boy models in a way that would give Esther Rantzen a stroke. Should any English tourist suspected of looking at this be arrested and charged on his return from Italy? Or is it only proley paedos who get done in England? Continue reading
Orwell and the Paranormal, by Philip Bounds
George Orwell sometimes complained that the English were incapable of intellectual consistency. One of the areas in which his own inconsistencies were most fascinatingly on display was that of the paranormal. As an atheist who was deeply interested in the ethical, cultural and religious consequences of the decline of religious faith, Orwell might have been expected to eschew all talk of ghosts, mediumship and psychokinesis.
In fact he had a casual interest in such things that lasted for the whole of his adult life. While at Eton he famously tore the leg off an effigy of an older pupil called Philip Yorke, reacting with horror shortly afterwards when Yorke died of leukaemia. More than thirty years later one of his last book reviews was a respectful account of Jean Burton’s Heyday of a Wizard, a well-documented biography of the Victorian medium Daniel Dunglas Home.
In between came a fleeting encounter with a ghost in Walberswick cemetery, correspondence with Sacheverell Sitwell on the subject of poltergeists and several other brushes with the world of the unknown. Whatever else it might have done, Orwell’s atheism did not preclude the feeling that there was more in heaven and earth than was dreamed of in Bertrand Russell’s philosophy.
Why was Orwell interested in the paranormal? And to what did extent did his fascination with it relate to his wider intellectual concerns? His most deeply considered remarks about the paranormal grew out of his engagement with literary modernism.
Several of the British modernists were Continue reading
by Roderick Long
No Matter, No Master: Godwin’s Humean Anarchism
The following article was written by Roderick T. Long for the SEASECS conference – February 2008 and linked on his Austro-Athenian Empire, May 10th, 2010.
William Godwin (1756-1836) is often regarded as essentially a Berkeleyan in his metaphysics and a Rousseauvian in his social philosophy. For example, Peter Marshall in his biography William Godwin describes Berkeley as “Godwin’s principal mentor in immaterialism” (p. 367); as for the Rousseau connection, Walter Bagehot described Godwin as “a disciple of Rousseau” (Economic Studies, 2nd ed., pp. 135-6), while Peter Landry more recently claims (incredibly, I should say) that Godwin “followed along in the footsteps of Rousseau in his nostalgia for the simple and the primitive.” (Biographical Sketches: The Thinkers.) Continue reading
THE FIGHT OF FAITH:
Christian Soldiers in Spiritual Conflict
Dr Alan C. Clifford
O HEAVENLY Father, the Father of all wisdom, understanding and true strength, we beseech Thee look mercifully upon Thy servants, and send Thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that when we must join to fight in the field for the glory of Thy Holy Name, we being strengthened with the defence of Thy right hand, may manfully stand in the confession of Thy faith and of Thy truth, and continue in the same unto the end of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Nicholas Ridley, bishop and martyr, 1555. Continue reading