How the West Won—but “Western Civ” Lost


This article appears in the Spring 2014 issue of the Intercollegiate Review. Check out the rest of the issue right here. This essay is adapted from How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity (ISI Books).

It’s remarkably unfashionable to study—or even talk about—the West these days.

Forty years ago the most important and popular freshman course at the best American colleges and universities was “Western Civilization.” It not only covered the general history of the West but also included historical surveys of art, music, literature, philosophy, science, and other matters. But this course has long since disappeared from most college catalogues on grounds that Western civilization is but one of many civilizations and it is ethnocentric and arrogant to study ours.

It is widely claimed that to offer a course in “Western Civilization” is to become an apologist “forWestern hegemony and oppression” (as the classicist Bruce Thornton aptly put it). Thus, Stanford dropped its widely admired “West­ern Civilization” course just months after the Reverend Jesse Jackson came on campus and led members of the Black Student Union in chants of “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western Civ has got to go.” More recently, faculty at the University of Texas condemned “Western Civilization” courses as inherently right wing, and Yale even returned a $20 million contribution rather than reinstate the course.

To the extent that this policy pre­vails, Americans will become increas­ingly ignorant of how the modern world came to be. Worse yet, they are in danger of being badly misled by a flood of absurd, politically correct fabrications, all of them popular on college campuses: That the Greeks copied their whole culture from black Egyptians. That European science originated in Islam. That Western affluence was stolen from non-West­ern societies. That Western modernity was really produced in China, and not so very long ago. The truth is that, although the West wisely adopted bits and pieces of technology from Asia, modernity is entirely the product of West­ern civilization.

I use the term modernity to identify that fundamental store of scientific knowledge and procedures, powerful technologies, artistic achievements, political freedoms, economic arrangements, moral sensibilities, and improved standards of living that characterize Western nations and are now revolutionizing life in the rest of the world. For there is another truth: to the extent that other cultures have failed to adopt at least major aspects of Western ways, they remain backward and impoverished.

Ideas Matter

This is not to say that the old “West­ern Civilization” classes got every­thing right. Despite their value, these courses usually were far too enamored of philosophy and art, far too reluctant to acknowledge the positive effects of Christian­ity, and amazingly oblivious to advances in technology, especially those transforming mundane activi­ties such as farming and banking.

Also, both the textbooks and the instructors involved in the old “Western Civ” courses were content merely to describe the rise of West­ern civilization. They usually avoided any comparisons with Islam or Asia and ignored the issue of why moder­nity happened only in the West.

To explore that question is not eth­nocentric; it is the only way to develop an informed understanding of how and why our world emerged as it did.

In early times China was far ahead of Europe in terms of many vital technologies. But when Portuguese voyag­ers reached China in 1517, they found a backward society in which the privi­leged classes were far more concerned with crippling young girls by binding their feet than with develop­ing more productive agriculture—despite frequent famines. Why?

Or why did the powerful Ottoman Empire depend on Western foreigners to provide it with fleets and arms?

Or, to change the focus, why did science and democracy originate in the West, along with represen­tational art, chimneys, soap, pipe organs, and a system of musical notation? Why was it that for sev­eral hundred years beginning in the thirteenth century only Euro­peans had eyeglasses or mechanical clocks? And what about telescopes, microscopes, and periscopes?

There have been many attempts to answer these questions. Several recent authors attribute it all to favorable geog­raphy—that Europe benefited from a benign climate, more fertile fields, and abundant natural resources, especially iron and coal. But, as Victor Davis Han­son pointed out in his book Carnage and Culture, “China, India, and Africa are especially blessed in natural ores, and enjoy growing seasons superior to those of northern Europe.” Moreover, much of Europe was covered with dense hardwood forests that could not read­ily be cleared to permit farming or grazing until iron tools became avail­able. Little wonder that Europe was long occupied by cultures far behind those of the Middle East and Asia.

Other scholars have attributed the success of the West to guns and steel, to sailing ships, or to superior agriculture. The problem here is that these “causes” are part of what needs to be explained: why did Europeans excel at metallurgy, ship­building, and farming? The same objection arises to the claim that science holds the secret of “Western domina­tion,” as well as to the Marx­ist thesis that it was all due to capitalism. Why did science and capitalism develop only in Europe?

In attempting to explain this remarkable cultural singularity, we must, of course, pay attention to material factors—obviously history would have been quite different had Europe lacked iron and coal or been landlocked. Even so, explanations should not—cannot—rest primarily on material conditions and forces. It is ideas that matter (though this basic premise, too, is quite unfashionable in contempo­rary scholarly circles). As the distinguished economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey observed, “Material, economic forces . . . were not the original and sustaining causes of the modern rise.” Or, as she put it in the subtitle of her fine book: “Why economics can’t explain the modern world.” Quietly mocking Karl Marx, McCloskey asserted that Europe achieved moder­nity because of “ideology.”

If Marx was sincere when he dismissed the possibility of ideas being causative agents as “ideo­logical humbug,” one must wonder why he labored so long to communicate his socialist ideas rather than just relaxing and letting “economic determinism” run its “inevitable” course. In fact, Marx’s beloved material causes exist mainly as humans perceive them—as people pursue goals guided by their ideas about what is desirable and possible. Indeed, to explain why working-class people so often did not embrace the socialist revolution, Marx and Friedrich Engels had to invent the concept of “false conscious­ness”—an entirely ideological cause.

Similarly, it is ideas that explain why science arose only in the West. Only Westerners thought that sci­ence was possible, that the universe functioned according to rational rules that could be discovered. We owe this belief partly to the ancient Greeks and partly to the unique Judeo-Christian conception of God as a rational cre­ator. Clearly, then, the French histo­rian Daniel Mornet had it right when he said that the French Revolution would not have occurred had there not been widespread poverty, but nei­ther would it have occurred without revolutionary philosophies, for it was “ideas that set men in motion.”
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Once we recognize the primacy of ideas, we realize the irrelevance of long-running scholarly debates about whether certain inventions were developed independently in Europe or imported from the East. Inven­tions not only must be made; they also must be sufficiently valued to be used. It is well known, for example, that the Chinese had gunpowder by the thirteenth century and even cast a few cannons. But centuries later they still lacked artillery and firearms. The Chinese also invented a mechanical clock, but Mandarins at the impe­rial court soon ordered all of them destroyed—so that when Westerners arrived, nobody in China really knew what time it was. An iron industry flourished in northern China in the eleventh century—but then the court Mandarins declared a state monop­oly on iron and seized everything, destroying China’s iron production.

Why were so many innovations and inventions abandoned or even outlawed in China? Because Con­fucian culture opposed change on grounds that the past was superior. The twelfth-century Mandarin Li Yen-chang captured this viewpoint when he said, “If scholars are made to concentrate their attention solely on the classics and are prevented from slip­ping into study of the vulgar practices of later genera­tions, then the empire will be fortunate indeed!”

In the early fifteenth century— decades before Christopher Columbus was even born—the great Chinese admiral Zheng He commanded a massive fleet that sailed across the Indian Ocean as far as East Africa, bringing back cargoes of exotic goods and animals. But despite seven suc­cessful voyages, Chinese exploration suddenly ceased upon Zheng He’s death in 1433. In fact, the emperor made it a capital offense to build oceangoing ships and attempted to erase records of Zheng He’s voyages. Why? The court Mandarins believed that there was nothing in the outer world of value to China and that any contacts were potentially unset­tling to the Confucian social order.

Contrast this with the medieval West’s eager adoption of technologies that had been invented elsewhere. As Samuel Lilley wrote in his his­tory of technological progress, “The European Middle Ages collected innovations from all over the world, especially from China, and built them into a new unity which formed the basis of our modern civilization.”

Now consider what our own world might look like had the West resisted rather than embraced such innova­tions. What if the phonograph had been outlawed, as the printing press was in the Ottoman Empire? What if the state had declared a monopoly on the incandescent lightbulb and destroyed all privately produced bulbs, as the Chinese did with iron production in the eleventh century?

Turning Points

Finally, it is equally out of fashion to give weight to specific events in history. It has become the received wisdom that events such as battles are mere decorations on the great flow of history, that the triumph of the Greeks over the immense Persian host at Marathon (490 BC) or their sinking of the Persian fleet at Sala­mis (480 BC) merely reflected (as one popular historian put it) “some­thing deeper . . . a shift in economic power from the Fertile Crescent to the Mediterranean.” Nonsense! Had the badly outnumbered Greeks lost either battle, that “shift” would not have occurred and we probably never would have heard of Plato or Aristotle.

But we have. And thank goodness for that.


Rodney Stark is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University and the author of How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity (ISI Books), from which this essay is adapted.


  • Paul Schumann

    Good piece.

    Gotta add Stark’s book to my reading list now.

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  • TeaParty1776

    “If we consider the fact that to this day everything that makes us civilized beings, every rational value that we possess—including the birth of science, the industrial revolution, the creation of the United States, even the structure of our language—is the result of Aristotle’s influence, of the degree to which, explicitly or implicitly, men accepted his epistemological principles, we would have to say: never have so many owed so much to one man.”

    -Ayn Rand, “For The New Intellectual”

    How many intellectual pretzels guide the bizarre claim of
    “the unique Judeo-Christian conception of God as a rational cre­ator?” Judiasm is a religion of and for primitive nomads and Christianity is a fantasy escape from Roman decadence. Both are mere rationalizations of deliberately and consciously taking leave of one’s senses and going out of one’s mind, ie, faith in an impossible supernatural realm. Any alleged rationality is mere historical coincidence, Aristotle’s influence or rationalism, a mystical peversion of reason deliberately split from the perception of concrete reality. Despite Stark’s wildly out-of-context view of the Dark Ages, including ignorance or evasion of the slow, random, layered end of culturally influential ideas, the Christian Dark Ages was almost the end of the West. The reintroduction of Aristotle lit up the West.

    • 3rdjerseyman

      Christophobia is at the very least a neurosis. Stark expands, at length, on the influence of the Scholastics. Do you imagine Roman Catholic scholars were ignorant of the Hellenic tradition? Aquinas and Aristotle were broadly in agreement. One might look at their consideration of first causes for illumination. It’s not so irrational as you assert. In fact, to Aristotle, it might seem quite irrational to claim the absence of Cause.

      • TeaParty1776

        Reducing (volitional) ideas to automatic psychology is a logical fallacy. Ideas are either true or false. Its also a dual-edged sword because the psychology of experiencing worship at a symbol of torture might be considered. Not that I would do it, of course, being logical and all that…

        You continue to drop context, define by non-essentials and babble about coincidences instead of causes. I referred to the basic fact of Christianity, of all religion, of its base, mysticism, of faith in an impossible supernatural realm. You reply with a myriad of historical coincidences, some factual, and evade the essence, faith in the supernatural. You seek your contradiction, reason and faith, in evasive scholarship as if it could conjure a new reality in which Whim is absolute and reality is not. In that context, worshipping a man being tortured seems almost rational, almost…Don’t you think Christianity is more at home in a graveyard than in a laboratory or factory? The first Christians gave away their possessions and waited for the magic carpet ride to unearned bliss. Why don’t you try that and report on your experience? You might not gain any wisdom but youre sure to feel humble and empathy with a monk in a dimly lighted cell lashing his back until it bleeds. Isnt that more Christian than science, prosperity and the US Constitution? Or have you folk been misleading everyone?

        • 3rdjerseyman

          You, are “a” nut.

          • TeaParty1776

            Man’s sacred mind, once again, triumphs over the moral depravity of faith in the supernatural.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            You are a confused nut.

          • TeaParty1776

            We are agreed that there is no rational justification for faith. Welcome to the Dark Ages.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            Didn’t you start by running your mouth about Aristotle? Have you read him? It’s irrational to presume a result without a cause.

          • TeaParty1776

            Youre confusing revelation w/reason. Mentally passive mystics

            ,who dont ask God for a context to revelation, invalidly apply their mental passivity to reason. Your claim above is out of context, a mere revelation in your mind, connected logically, hierarchically, contextually, to nothing. Aristotle is basically a realist, not a mystic. Remnants of Platonic mysticism, which he essentially refuted, in Aristotle’s philosophy can be validly ignored with no harm to his distinctive philosophy. Eg, Prime Mover, which you take out of Aristotle’s realist context. Platonic mystics have often complained about Aristotle’s lack of mysticism. Aristotle’s concern is rationally and systematically knowing and living in, not mystically despising and transcending, nature. You have found a piece of dirt on a bar of gold and regard the dirt as more valuable than the gold and throw the gold away. Evading reason, thats all you can do. Youre a mystic, waiting for glorious death.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            You remain, a nut, and a nut who neither reads deeply nor comprehends the argument put forth by the philosopher you claim to revere.

          • TeaParty1776

            Your floating abstractions are mere
            faith in an impossible supernatural.
            There is no evidence of God, merely an emotional response to the choice to evade perception-based reason. Metaphorically, faith reveals the Devil, not God. The Devil is in your head. If you put your head into a toilet, you could drown the Devil. I await the result
            of this test. Good luck!

          • 3rdjerseyman

            You’re right, you’re not a nut. You’re a twink.

          • TeaParty1776

            Your lack of intellectual defense of religion is like the Enlightenment.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            This from the guy with the toilet talk. You remain a twink, but also, I changed my mind, a nut.

            Your point is that everything came from nothing. Now that’s logic.

          • TeaParty1776

            Everything did not come from God, from nothing, etc. Everything did not come. Everything is eternal, w/no beginning or end.

            Existence exists. Existence is. Existence is not caused by consciousness (man’s, society’s or God’s). Existence will not vanish or change because consciousness wants that. Consciousness is merely the consciousness OF existence. Your primitive, non-Western view is noted.

            Existence is sneakin’ up on you. It’s gonna get you wherever you go. Your only hope is focusing your mind, thru your senses, on existence. You cannot survive as a brute animal, w/only your senses. Even primitive farming is a product of mind.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            They said to stay away from the purple acid. So no Kant for you. Nor, current cosmology. I like it though. But, I’ve got a soft spot for “outsider art” too.

          • TeaParty1776

            Let me see if I understand. I recognize that reality is real but thats unrealistic. You deny the reality of reality for a Cosmic Consciousness which alone is real and thats realistic. Do I have this right?

            Kant, exactly like religionists, claims the primacy of consciousness. As he summed up, “I have denied knowledge therefore, in order to make room for faith.”

          • 3rdjerseyman

            Your “faith” in the reality you perceive is touching.

          • TeaParty1776

            Within your impossible metaphysical primacy of consciousnes, agreed. But, within the metaphysical primacy of existence, false. Your primary retreat into consciousness, even calling it reality and using it as perspective on reality (instead of the reverse), literally corrupts all derivative attempts at knowing and evaluating reality. Sadly, reality will not bend to your Holy Wish, motivating derivative rationalizations and also rituals to appease the Ruling Consciousness. Eg, Indian rain dances or throwing virgins into volcanos for good crops. Sadly, your prayers and tears wont ever create, destroy or change reality. It is what it is. Existence is Identity. Consciousness is consciousness of existence.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            Consciousness is not constituitive? You know this how? It would seem you beleive it to be so, but prove it.

          • TeaParty1776

            Within the primacy of consciousness, proof, ie, a revelation from the supernatural, is prior to existence. Within the primacy of existence, proof is a relation between existence and the (conceptual) consciousness of existence. Youre impossibly attempting to justify a fundamental with a derivative from the fundamental. The metaphysical primacy of existence or consciousness is the fundamental philosophical issue. Everything else, from understanding how to walk to a destination to the most advanced physics, depends on it. An error here corrupts every further attempt at knowledge because every newly encountered thing will be related to consciousness split from existence rather than the consciousness of existence. Eg, the primitive mentality of natural coincidences ruled by supernatural causes. Its only been 2700? years since Thales discovered natural causes. Thus the extremely narrow knowledge of nature of primitive man. Instead of focusing his mind onto nature as his primary attempt at knowledge, he consulted subjective states of consciousness for a revelation about nature. As realists would expect, only what the primitive had previously put into his subjectivity was revealed.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            You elude and evade. But the point remains. How do you know your appreciation of “reality” is “true?” Multiverse, strings, dark energy. Where does your palpable reality fit into that? If only what is, is, I guess you are pretty sure you know what is, is. Your episteme is “the” episteme, because you say so. What else you got?

          • TeaParty1776

            Within your primacy of consciousness, I elude and evade seeking the cause of existence outside of existence, in non-existence, in a consciousness outside of existence(, ie, a consciousness which not exist).

            But within the primacy of existence, you elude and evade existence. Youre claiming that something ,a superexistence consciousness, beyond existence, God, reveals itself inside your consciousness of non-existence. And this God caused everything else of which you are conscious. You have corrupted your tool of survival, your consciousness of existence, into an impossible cause of existence. You believe that existence does not exist, that its a mere manifestation of consciousness, not a consciousness of existence but a consciousness of non-existence, just consciousness alone, without existence, whatever that may mean. You perceive the concrete, material universe and tell yourself, it does not exist, that its an illusion caused by a consciousness beyond existence, a consciousness of nothing. The consciousness of nothing is your ideal. Unconsciousness, ie, death, is the religious ideal. Sadly, for your view, existence exists. Your religious ideal will not cause it to exist, to change or vanish because it is. It is. It exists. Existence exists, whether a pebble or the universe as a whole. And all knowledge is the consciousness of existence. Science is merely a type of consciousness of existence, not an application of the religious primacy of consciousness. Whatever science claims must be placed within the primacy of existence or science becomes corrupted by religion at the basic level of knowledge. Science then becomes what philosophy was in the Middle Ages, a mere handmaiden to theology. Physics is being now destroyed by mystical and subjective physicists. Science does not explain itself and does not provide its own basic method. Science is an application of philosophy. Rational philosophy created science and irrational philosophy is destroying it. Strings and multiverses are mystical and/or subjective interpretations of measurements and experiments. Science depends upon scientific method, which depends on philosophy, which depends on one’s stand on metaphysical primacy. Unlike religion, there is no place for the arbitrary in science. Leap Of Logic, David Harriman.

            Truth is derivative from one’s view of metaphysical primacy. The consciousness of existence exists. Its not true or false. You evade or ignore the immediate, direct consciousness of the difference between existence and consciousness, a part of common human experience.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            Science tells me- proves to me- that what I touch, smell, feel, taste and see are the merest fraction of what exists, what can be measured with the meager tools at our disposal. How then do I rely on my conscious appreciation of existence for the sum of reality? You claim a primacy for an “existence” that you, in no way, other than through your assumption of a shared consciousness and perception can prove exists. Would there be existence absent consciousness?

          • TeaParty1776

            Existence IS everything, a pebble and the universe as a whole. Existence is not an extra property tacked on to things. A pebble exists. The universe as a whole exists. Consciousness (soul, spirit) exists. Your mystical errors exist.
            Everything exists. Existence exists. Everything exists equally. There are no superior and inferior kinds of existence, with a gap between them that requires mysticism to bridge. There is just existence. Whether a pebble or an idea, they exist. Existence exists. Existence is a self–sufficient primary, with no need for an alleged consciousness to cause and sustain its existence. Because existence exists.

            Consciousness exists (as a property of some living organisms). Consciousness is the consciousness of existence. Consciousness is natural, not mystical, not reducible to matter.
            Man is conscious of existence. At any one time, consciousness is conscious of some things and not other things. That can change. We can be conscious of other things. Man’s consciousness is limited, has an identity, is conscious of existence by a specific means, eg, eyes, in a specific form, eg, visual consciousness. The measure of man’s consciousness is man’s life, not a mystical, supernatural, alleged consciousness. Man knows existence in a context, a context that man controls, so man can know more later. Omnipotence is not a rational standard for man’s consciousness. Man’s consciousness is man’s basic method of survival, not a pipeline to the Beyond.

            Existence exists, w/no dependence on an impossible consciousness beyond existence.
            Consciousness is metaphysically dependent upon existence. Consciousness is merely one more existent, like a pebble, w/no metapysical superiority. When man encounters something, he must tell himself that it exists, not that its a creation of a Transcendental Consciousness beyond it. Existence is not a mystery. Existence exists. Evading the existence of existence for an impossible Transcendental Consciousness is destructive to man’s survival. Man’s survival depends on man being conscious that existence exists, that it will not vanish or change if only the correct consciousness can be created. Either a farmer knows how to grow a field of wheat or he starves. Rain dancing will not conjure a Transcendantal Consciousness to cause rain. Man’s consciousness is sufficient for man’s survival. Evading man’s consciousness for an impossible Transcendental Consciousness is destructive to man’s life. “I dont want to think about it” is destructive. Man must think, must focus his mind, thru his senses, to know existence as guide to action. No alternative exists except in faith. And faith is an icepick to the brain. Faith reveals only what man has chosen to put into his own consciousness. Faith is not a guide to survival in existence. Man’s rational consciousness of existence has created our scientific-industrial civilization that is vastly superior to the ancient, grindng poverty of mystical cultures.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            What is, is. Got it. Don’t like religion, faith or ideas of transcendence. Got it. Any questions of “before” are irrelevant. Any ideas of “after” meaningless. There is a beginning, but nothing outside of it. We return to Aristotle, who you claimed as authority. He regards your position as logically absurd. I would describe your argument as a severely restricted positivism. As such, I can merely argue from history, that all that cannot be measured or quantified falls out side your view, and, in the end, you are reduced to catalogs of tautologies. What is, is, but exactly what is?

          • TeaParty1776

            Existence exists, thus beginning and end are impossible and would imply the existence does not exist.

            Mystics, having rejected man’s basic method of survival, his mind, look at existence and feel terror and a desire to be dissolved into a omnipotent consciousness that will relieve the terror of man without mind.

            >Aristotle….regards your position as logically absurd


            > severely restricted positivism

            Positivism is merely one more primacy of consciousness philosophy. It reduces concrete reality to isolated perceptions or sensations, ie, states of consciousness.

            all that cannot be measured or quantified falls out side your view

            Measurement is the identification of quantitative relations among existents, based upon their properties and actions. If something could not be measured, it would have no properties and no relations to anything. It would not exist.

            Everything is measureable, cardinally or ordinally.

            > you are reduced to catalogs of tautologies

            True tautologies are based on the metaphysics of identity. Things are what they are. Existence is existence, not an illusion created by a consciousness which transcends existence.

            > What is, is, but exactly what is?

            Existence is. A pebble is. A house is. The whole of the universe is. You continue to apply the impossible primacy of consciousness as if youve validated it. Youre asking for something which allegedly transcends existence, allegedly giving it identity and meaning. But existence IS identity. Identity is existence. A thing’s properties are the thing. A pebble exists as a pebble. Thats it. Nothing transcends the pebble to give it identity and meaning. It meaning is relative to man’s life as judged by his mind focused on reality.

            There is no alternative to focusing mind onto reality, not this side of a grave. Mystics impossibly want consciousness without life, ie, Heaven. Forget Jesus and Mother Theresa. Follow Aristotle and Henry Ford.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            The pebble is an illusion. It is a series of spaces and vibrations that appear solid to our constrained perception. Even in so basic an item as a grain of sand you build on an untenable supposition. Great Ford!

          • TeaParty1776

            Science has been corrupted by a hidden, very abstract, mysticism in a deliberate (by intellectual leaders)

            attempt to return religion to cultural control. The first idea of mysticism and of your post is that the material universe is an illusion of man’s deceptive senses. And that man can transcend the illusion by a non-sensory start to knowledge, whether alleged a prioris of, Einstein’s free concepts or prayer.

            > constrained perception

            Relative to the unconstrained perception of God. Your mysticism. But everything has an identity, including perception. Man perceives reality by a specific means in a specific form, eg, eyes and vision. Mysticism condemns this because, allegedly, only knowledge without a method of knowledge is valid, ie, revelation into a passive consciousness. Is eating invalid because of the process of digestion? The consciousness of existence is an active process. Youre advocating an epistemological Original Sin, condemning man’s knowledge because its man’s, not God’s.

            Man knows reality via his senses and sense-based mind. But our volitional mind needs a rational epistemology, not pseudo-scientific mysticism.

            Space is not real nor subjective. The universe is not in space. Space is the consciousness of the distance among things. See Aristotle.

            Knowledge is contextual. In the context of perception, the base of man’s knowledge, pebbles are solid. Thats real in that context. Try to pass your finger thru a pebble. Vibrations are also real in a micro context. Science needs an integrative philosophy,not hidden mysticism.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            You tilt at strawmen. You ascribe “mysticism” to scientific fact. Positivism demands a cold eyed appreciation of facts. facts are established by that which can be quantified, measured and perceived- in this I am allowing you the constraints of what I think you ment by “existence.”
            I am merely pointing out, that through our mathematics, our engineering, our science, we have discovered that the world of our perception is insubstantial beyond the capabilities of our animal senses. This dislocates entirely your privileging of “existance.” Again, your repeating of the truth claim for existence as limited to the perceptible reality that conforms to the receiving instrument that is the end point we experience as the human animal, is a construction as much as any pantheon of gods and demons. It is simply insupportable on the evidence. The existence you describe, unless I misunderstand you completely, is as a lock to which the human brain, its associated sense pathways and computational processes is the key. As such, it is congruent entirely with a contingency that undermines the exclusivity and finality of your analysis.

          • TeaParty1776

            Yes, you completely misunderstand me. You are intellectally lost inside the primacy of consciousness, the philosophy rejected by the creation of the West and science. Philosophy is the base of all knowledge, inc/science.

            >through our mathematics, our engineering, our science, we have discovered that the world of our perception is insubstantial beyond the capabilities of our animal senses.

            Are you implying that mysticism is not the claim that perception and reason are invalid for knowing reality?!

            >existence as limited to the perceptible reality that conforms to the receiving instrument that is the end point we experience as the human animal

            You evade my repetition of existence as everything, inc/your comment above. Everything exists, including your fantasy of the primacy of consciousness. Your fantasy exists as a fantasy. Fantasy does not cause existence. Existence, with all its properties, including matter and consciousness, exists. Existence is not a manifestation of consciousness. The material universe is real, objectively real, not the product of consciousness, human or God. Your rejection of mind renders man impotent, thus motivating faith.


            Ie, the primitive ,mystical mentality in which nature is a realm of coincidences whimsically ruled by supernatural causes. If there is no necessity in nature, then science, as explanation, is impossible. Science is replaced by arbitrary and conventional descriptions of mysterious regularities which can end at any moment since there are no natural causes. Why would rain dancers attempt a natural explanation of drought if supernatural causes need to be contacted? How could they think of scientific farming?

          • 3rdjerseyman

            I will recommend the Stanford University online encyclopedia of philosophy. You strike me a bit like “outsider art.” It isn’t as though these questions haven’t been aired out previously. Your terms are too indistinct. Your description of existence is imprecise and disregarding of current state of the art science, physics and mathematics. You tilt at the strawman of “metaphysics” when one is not presented. Seriously, delve into the archives.

          • TeaParty1776

            Argument from authority. Mainstream modern thought is corrupt, worthless, conceptually DISintegrated, nihilist.

            I am NOT describing existence!!!!! I am identifying the existence of existence. Rocks, etc. exist. Rocks, etc. are not a manifestation of consciousness. You deny, implying existence is created by consciousness. My terms imply the existence of precision. You implicitly use subjectivism and mysticism as context for understanding science, then you drop context and claim only your understanding is true, an understanding that, allegedly, needs no philosophy. Absurd. You even note positivism, a philosophy, as context for science, then say no philosophy can judge science, as if a study of parts of reality (eg, physics, psychology, etc) can be understood out of context of reality as a whole. You are modern man, intellectually lost inside nihilism, ready to return to mysticism. Thus the rise of religious conservatism and the decline of the West. The only hope is Ayn Rand based on Aristotle. Modern mainstream philosophers have no answers, only more “nuances.” DIM Hypothesis, Leonard Peikoff.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            Tautology is insufficient. You remain stuck at “Is,is.” You also continue to tilt at strawmen, and seem to ascribe to yourself insight that has eluded the rest of us. Your repeated denigration of something you call “mysticism” is so imprecise in its relation to what you call “existence,” as to make your argument opaque. Projecting on to me, arguments I haven’t made creates a space for self regard, but not debate. If you claim to be an “objectivist,” then say so.

          • TeaParty1776

            “An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.

            It is worth noting, at this point, that what the enemies of reason seem to know, but its alleged defenders have not discovered, is the fact that axiomatic concepts are the guardians of man’s mind and the foundation of reason—the keystone, touchstone and hallmark of reason—and if reason is to be destroyed, it is axiomatic concepts that have to be destroyed.

            It is only man’s consciousness, a consciousness capable of conceptual errors, that needs a special identification of the directly given, to embrace and delimit the entire field of its awareness—to delimit it from the void of unreality to which conceptual errors can lead. Axiomatic concepts are epistemological guidelines. They sum up the essence of all human cognition: something exists of which I am conscious; I must discover its identity.”

            Ayn Rand, Intro Objectivist Epistemology

          • 3rdjerseyman

            The problem ensues with “directly perceived,” and “fundamentally given.” Perception is unstable and fundamentals are ideological constructs. Useful but, as we have learned, not definitive.

          • TeaParty1776

            The denial that perception is valid rests upon perception, unless, of course, your claim is based upon mysticism. You commit the fallacy of the stolen concept, claiming something while denying the base of the claim.

            The denial of fundamentals, ie, the denial of hierarchical abstractions, implies that your comment is not an abstraction from the perception of existence, that its not a rational claim, which is true. Youre a nihilist for whom reason is valid only to invalidate reason, not to know existence. Weimar Germany was dominated by nihilism, thus Nazism. As rocker Marianne Faithfull sang, “We’ve been trying to get high without having to pay.” You may recall that German nihilists didn’t get high and they did pay.

          • TeaParty1776

            > Projecting on to me, arguments I haven’t made

            You have implicitly made them but, like Kant, you “have denied knowledge therefore ,in order to make room for faith.” Your consistency in evading existence by retreating into your consciousness is perversely admirable.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            I don’t deny “existence nor knowledge,” and my faith, or lack thereof, doesn’t enter the conversation. I just don’t see how you can posit a reality as absolute when you are reliant for your perception of reality on the evolved mammalian brain and its discrete body of sensory equipment.
            I haven’t made the arguments as much as acknowledged them. It is not reasonable to dismiss them without grounding your own in the pre-exisitng debate.
            Every sophomore has wondered ” what if this is all a dream,” and every junior has coem around to “reality is what I can touch, taste, smell, see and hear.”
            From there, knowledge expands and complexity ensues.

          • TeaParty1776

            You continue to restate the impossible primacy of consciousness, ie, “posit a reality as absolute,” while denying it, ie, “I don’t deny ‘existence'” and “my faith, or lack thereof, doesn’t enter the conversation,” and “you are reliant for your perception of reality on the evolved mammalian brain and its discrete body of sensory equipment.” The last quote is your restatement of the mystic claim that perception is not a valid method of knowing supernatural reality because only a consciousness without identity can know reality, ie, revelation into an empty, passive consciousness. The identity of consciousness, however, is the way in which consciousness is conscious of existence.

            Your ignorance of the intellectual power of rational philosophy is typical of the modern “mind,” lost and disintegrated inside rationalizations of nihilism.

  • 3rdjerseyman

    Other than color, what “structures” do you find? And to what purpose?

    • TeaParty1776

      Perceptions arbitrarily associated by the arbitrary values of his arbitrarily selected group, his race. See “Multicultural Nihilism” by Peter Schwartz in Ayn Rand’s _Return To The Primitive_. Racism is an evasion of mind for mere perception. Skin color is the most obvious quality one perceives in man. Its an automatic judgment, requiring no mental effort to know or join.

      • 3rdjerseyman

        The assertion that perception is unstable rests upon the results of perception and observation because that is, after all, all we have, but it is neither mystical nor nihilistic. It is merely rational to observe and report the contingent and problematic nature of truth claims based on perceptible reality when those perceptions are observable, in the real, physical and observable world as unreliable, shifting and bendable in space/time.
        Weimar notwithstanding, You cannot live in perfect assurance that the results of your perception of the palpable world are not concretized as much by the receiver as the source.
        I refer you to Heisenberg’s principal.

        • TeaParty1776

          You continue evading my identification of your various voodoo curses. You can change the words with which you continue to restate your impossible, absurd ,rationalizing, primacy of consciousness but, sadly, existence will not cease existing. Rocks, houses, etc. will continue to exist and will continue to not be a manifestation of a metaphysically creative consciousness. You seem unable to think in principles because you continue to assert the same refuted principle with different examples. You intellectually careen back and forth between a miasma of floating abstractions and a chaos of concretes unintegrated into a principle.

          > The assertion that perception is unstable rests upon the results of perception and observation

          Fallacy of stolen concept. You deny the base of your claim. You use perception but deny its valid. What rationalization of this very obvious contradiction do you have? Is “observation” a mere restatement of perception or an undefined attempt at further evidence?

          > because that is, after all, all we have,

          Your evaded context: mysticism as epistemological standard, ie, since God has not revealed his demands, we are ignorant “because that [perception] is, after all, all we have” and perception. acc/to mysticism, is invalid.

          > neither mystical nor nihilistic. It is merely rational

          > contingent and problematic

          Within the primacy of consciousness, reason does not know reality. Your nihilism is the denial of knowledge of any reality, nature or alleged supernature.

          > problematic nature of truth claims based on perceptible reality

          Again, fallacy of stolen concept in denying perception, the needed base of reason.

          > perceptions are observable in the real, physical and observable world as unreliable, shifting and bendable in space/time.

          Floating abstractions not derived from the perception of reality

          What is observation? What is observing perceptions? Reason identifies and integrates perceptions. Perception is absolute. Perception exists, neither valid nor invalid. Senses are physical things responding to the rest of the physical universe, like wind bending trees. To perceive is to perceive reality, regardless of one’s reasoning about one’s perceptions.

          > bendable in space/time

          meaningless, mystical nonsense

          > You cannot live in perfect assurance that the results of your perception of the palpable world are not concretized as much by the receiver as the source.

          Knowledge, perceptual and conceptual is the product of existence and consciousness, neither one alone. The receiver (identity of consciousness) is the means by which consciousness knows reality. Your implicit Original Epistemological Sin damns man’s consciousness as not God’s consciousness, ie, mysticism as standard.

          >Heisenberg’s principal

          His metaphysics of chance is that of pre-scientific, primitive savages who knew only coincidences because they lacked the concept of causality. Chance is epistemological, a measure of ignorance, not metaphysical. Eg, there is a 50% chance of a tossed coin landing on the head side. But because coins have two sides, the coin is caused to land on one of two sides over the long run 50% of the time. The knowledge of chance depends on the metaphysics of causality. As Ayn Rand asked, “How does one compute probabilities of the unknowable?”

          Heidegger interpreted science with Kantian philosophical nihilism. A scientist who had a rational methodology would have differently interpreted the same science. Thus the profound importance of philosophy to science. Science does not stand on its own. Science was created by Aristotle and is being destroyed by Kant. *

          • 3rdjerseyman

            You are being rude. You reject Heisenberg even though his principal is observed in action. Dogma always treads the border of fanaticism. You my friend, cross the line.
            There is no way to be certain of that which you describe absent consciousness. Absent the ability to enunciate “is,” how can “is” be? Speaking of “nullity,” how does the void materialized absent observation?
            There is no sound until a sympathetic vibration in contact with a receptive nerve occurs.
            Neither a difficult nor controversial observation- and yes that’s funny.

          • TeaParty1776

            > You are being rude.

            Rudeness is a rational option to expose the rationalizing of evasion, man’s basic method of survival.

            >You reject Heisenberg even though his principal is observed in action.

            Your primacy of consciousness is applied here as the claim that man observes, not concrete reality by means of principles, but principles themselves. When Newton allegedly observed a falling apple, he did not observe universal gravity. He observed a falling apple that he conceptualized as universal gravity. You evade distinguishing existence from your consciousness of existence.

            > Dogma

            Within mindless perception (empiricism, Pragmatism, positivism, etc), mind
            creates arbitrary interpretations of perceptions but does not identify and integrate perceptions into objective concepts and induce the concepts into objective generalizations.

            > There is no way to be certain of that which you describe absent consciousness. Absent the ability to enunciate “is,” how can “is” be? Speaking of “nullity,”

            You continue to restate your absurd primacy of consciousness, as if consciousness creates existence rather than being conscious OF existence. It must be horrifying to experience a total lack of reality or, as you say, “nullity.” Can you describe it? Do you get dizzy and feel a pounding in your chest like people who have taken psychedelic drugs?

            You should stay away from heights, crowds, and gun shops.

            Soft music may help.

            > how does the void materialized absent observation?

            Sartre, another lapsed mystic, said Nothingness was at the heart of Being. How does this materializing void manifest itself to you? Is there a buzzing or the sound of many voices?

            >There is no sound until a sympathetic vibration in contact with a receptive nerve occurs.

            Sound is the auditory ,perceptual consciousness of existence. You seem to be making progress in distinguishing existence from your consciousness of existence.

            > yes that’s funny

            Within what context?

          • 3rdjerseyman

            Rudeness is emotion- the enemy of rationality.
            You continue to dance around the central point. Whether consciousness constitutes reality, or apprehend a neutral and eternal “existence” the fact remains, absent consciousness, it is impossible to even say “existence,” nevermind guarantee its, well, existence.
            Time and space do bend. That’s mathematics not mysticism. Heisenberg’s principal is observable.
            Again, your point seems reducible to the merest tautology.

          • TeaParty1776

            > it is impossible to even say “existence,” nevermind guarantee its, well, existence.

            You have correctly identified your continuing rationalization of the existence of existence and your continuing evasion of my repeated identification of your continuing evasions. Its literally impossible to reason with someone who evades reasoning.

            Rudeness, of course, is the only rational response to the religious and nihilist enemies of reason. Honest readers of your evasion of reason will have used my posts to identify your evasions and their rationalization. It is precisely intellectuals with your rationalizations who created the culture which guided the guards in the Nazi death camps into evading the existence of their evil.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            Rudeness is stupid. It’s also cowardly. As tot he Nazis, as is famously and accurately said, once you make the Nazi reference, you’ve lost.
            I might add that it was the godlessness of the Nazis that made the crematoria flame.
            Your epistemological ground is as mystical as those you denigrate. You posit existence outside of consciousness beyond the possibility of proof and reference reason as your proof. Circles are infinite, but that rather undermines your assertion while providing the classic proof of the Scholastics. I’m afraid your faith in a proof beyond proof marks you as a true believer. Great Ford!

          • TeaParty1776

            Toward nihilist intellectual monsters, rudeness is a moral obligation.

            Nazism ,like God, is a type of primacy of consciousness. Some Nazis thought race was a supernatural consciousness relative to which individual men were mere fragments. Nazis fled the same Kantian nihilism which guides your evasion of reason. Like you, Nazis fled into mysticism.

            > You posit existence outside of consciousness beyond the possibility of proof and reference reason as your proof.

            Your evasion is supplemented by an invincible, self-created, functional, stupidity. Proof is based on the self-evidence of, not reason, but existence. If not, “proof” is an infinite regress proving nothing. Youre an intellectual regression to deliberate, aggressive mindlessness, the essence ,along w/duty, of Weimar culture that dominates US universities. Your intellectual fraud and destructiveness and incompetence and submission to authority is exposed for honest blog readers. You have retreated from reality into a subjective chaos of meaningless symbols that you hope hides reality.

          • 3rdjerseyman

            So when it comes down to it, after I’ve indulged you and given you the courtesy of a thorough hearing, you are merely a self-absorbed asshole. You have provided proof beyond refutation for that theorem. Have a nice, if fundamentally disordered, existence.

          • TeaParty1776

            > courtesy of a thorough hearing

            Without engaging your mind.


            Rationally selfish.

            > disordered, existence.

            Within mysticism, reason is disordered. Within reason, mysticism is a pretense of salvation
            from the choice to evade. You are guilty of Originated Sin.

  • TeaParty1776

    May I speak to the Racial Entity in control of the racial fragment kown as Speak the Truth? We have an important message.

  • sactomike

    Race is not a real distinction. Any “racial” differences are minor variations compared to cultural differences. It is culture that matters. If you believe in the “myth” of an inscrutable and arbitrary God, you are not likely to develop science. If you believe in the “myth” of a logical and consistent God you might well decide to try and understand the rules of the Universe which He created. Note, it is not relevant whether either belief is true for this purpose. What matters is the impact that the myth to which you subscribe has on your relationship to knowledge, especially knowledge of the physical world. Science, capitalism, technology, political freedom, tolerance of minorities, and indeed a culture of treating ones fellow man and woman with dignity and respect, all developed in the West, not in Islam and not in China, etc. Why? We had the best “myths”. Now, those other cultures are adapting and their myths are changing, for the better.

  • sactomike

    I’m part way through the book. So far, I think it is the most interesting and important book I’ve ever read, displacing Our Kind by Marvin Harris (but only by a nose).


    Good job Mr. Stark. I have long contended that a classic education is far superior to others. Having said that, I believe that balance is necessary and beneficial. We have allowed those who believe they know truth with a capitol “T” to destroy our colleges and universities. They are self-righteous, self-serving muck-spout’s that must be driven from power before they destroy education

  • bill greene

    I read the comments below, and decided to ask Scotty to beam me up–there’s no intellgent life here!

  • ZorbaTheBuddha

    Even though the Western civilization can be credited with many achievements of science and technology, however, as far as the much needed search for ” meaning and purpose of life ” is concerned, it has not even remotely come close to it in 2000 years. Westerners have had a long history of going to the East in ” search of the truth ” despite knowing fully well that there may not be airconditioning, running hot water and a clean toilet.

    I think it’s time to bury the lines of division & arrogance called East & West and move towards a more practical ” Universal Civilization ” which includes best practises of both sides.No, it’s not a utopia, It is very much possible and fairly easy ONLY IF religion did not come in the way :-) Dig that.