Burgess Laughlin

Stark's *Victory of Reason*

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2. "Disciplined procedures" seems to be methodological, but does he discuss philosophical methodology or only the derivatives -- that is, methods in the particular sciences and arts?

3. What reason does Bernstein give for those disciplined procedures arising in (I assume) Western Europe, rather than in China, Classical Islam, or, for that matter, the ancient Greek culture? In other words, does he answer these questions: Why there and why then?

4. Is Bernstein's work fully documented?

2. I think one of the weaknesses of the Bernstein book is that he does not discuss the philosophical methodology that led to the discoveries that he discusses. The book is more an account of the men and the discoveries they made. Here is a sampling from the book.

"Sampling is essential to risk-taking."(p. 74)

"A more ambitious and influential effort to use the statistical process of sampling was reported in 1662, eight years after the correspondence between Pascal and Fermat(and the year in which Pascal finally discovered for himself whether God is or God is not). The work in question was a small book published in London and titled Natural and Political Observations made upon the Bills of Mortality. The book contained a compilation of births and deaths in London from 1604 to 1661, along with an extended commentary interpreting the data. In the annals of statistical and sociological research, this little book was a stunning breakthrough, a daring leap into the use of sampling methods and the calculation of probabilities- the raw material of every method of risk management, from insurance and the measurement of environmental risks to the design of the most complex derivatives." (P. 74-75)

3. Bernstein starts with the Greeks, discusses the influence of the Arabic numbering system, but he argues that the discoveries of Pascal and Fermat are the beginning of wisdom when it comes to risk management.(p. 22)

4. Each chapter has footnotes and the Bibliography is eleven pages long. Bernstein provides the following background about the book in the Acknowledgments section.

“The suggestion that I write a book about risk came from the late Erwin Glickes, then president of The Free Press. Erwin was a man who projected copious amounts of power, persuasiveness, and charm. Although he considered my long experience as a professional investor to be sufficient qualification for the task he had in mind, I soon discovered, as I had feared, that risk does not begin and end on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The vastness of the subject matter is daunting. Risk touches on the most profound aspects of psychology, mathematics, statistics, and history. The literature is monumental, and each days’s headlines bring many new items of interest. Consequently, I have had to be selective. I believe, however, that the omission of any important material was the result of a decision on my part rather than an act of oversight.” (p. ix)

Stark, on the otherhand, had plenty of opportunities to provide specific examples to support his argument. I was disappointed when he failed to do so.

Here's an example from Bernstein providing examples and documenting his sources.

"Pascal produced an interesting by-product when he decided to turn over the profits from his bus line to help support the Port-Royal monastery.[20] In 1662, a group of his associates at the monastery published a work of great importance, La logique, ou l'art de penser(Logic, or the Art of Thinking), a book that ran to five editions between 1662 and 1668* Although its authorship was not revealed, the primary--but not the sole--author is believed to have been Antoine Arnauld, a man characterized by Hacking as "perhaps the most brilliant theologian of his time."[21] The book was immediately translated into other languages throughout Europe and was still in use as a textbook in the nineteenth century.

The last part of the book contains four chapters on probability that cover the process of developing a hypothesis from a limited set of facts; today, this process is called statistical inference. Among other matters, these chapters contain a "rule for the proper use of reason in determining when to accept human authority," rules for interpreting miracles, a basis of interpreting historical events, and the application of numerical measures to probability.[22]"(p.70)

* The Latin title for this book was Ars Cogitandi. See Hacking, 1975. pp. 12 and 24. (p. 70)

Notes from Chapter 4: The French Connection(p. 341)

[20] The material about the Port-Royal monastery is from Hacking, 1975, pp. 73-77.

[21] Ibid., p. 25.

[22] Ibid., p. 74.

From the Bibliography(p. 357)

Hacking, Ian, 1975. The Emergence of Probability: A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas about Probability, Induction, and Statistical Inference. London: Cambridge University Press.*

At the beginning of the Bibliography Bernstein provides the following:

Note: References identified with an asterisk were especially valuable.(p. 353)

Hacking's book had an asterisk included in the bibliography.

Bernstein's example provides a specific business(the bus line) benefitting a monastery(the Port-Royal Monastery) and a result contributing to the advance of reason(Logic, or The Art of Thinking). Stark argued that the monasterys promoted capitalism and reason but never provided specific examples that could be verified.

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Roman Empire -- 31 B.C. to 476 A.D., [...] Essential distinguishing characteristics: unified government, and Classical culture.

Dark Ages -- 476 A.D. to 1066 A.D., [...] Essential distinguishing characteristics: semi-anarchic tribal warfare, absence of writing as such (except by select men and monks in cloistered abbeys).

Middles Ages -- 476 A.D. to late 1300s A.D., [...] Essential distinguishing characteristics: eventual development of feudalism, pure Christian culture unaltered by other influences.

Renaissance -- from 1374 A.D. onwards, [...] Essential distinguishing characteristics: abolition of feudalism, re-adoption of Classical culture, together with modified (post-Aquinas) Christianity.

Thank you for providing this structure. I have no objections to the dates, assuming that particular years are used for convenience and that readers realize that broad changes occurred gradually and at different rates in various places.

I do have doubts about some of the periods' essential distinguishing characteristics that you suggest.


First, I am making two assumptions: Ideas cause history, and the most fundamental ideas have the widest effects.

This topic-thread is about Victory of Reason, which holds that a certain religion caused Western Civilization (especially its "democracy," capitalism, and advanced technology) to blossom when and where it did. A corresponding scheme of periodization should identify the worldviews (religion or explicit philosophy) of each period considered. Other, narrower criteria would be more commensurate if we were talking about the history of a narrower subject, such as the history of inks used in writing. But, even then, discussion should lead to a hierarchically deeper investigation.

A religion is "an early form of philosophy," says Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Lexicon, p. 411. However, a religion includes not only those fundamental ideas that make it philosophical, but also a lot of other cultural items that are the effects of those ideas -- examples are rituals, books, temples, paintings, social movements, and institutions.


Here are my tentative suggestions for periodization commensurate with the subject of this topic-thread:

Period: The Roman Empire. At the beginning, the dominant worldview is paganism, a religion whose metaphysics is two-world but integrated by a hierarchy of super-man gods who generally oversee affairs here in the visible world. The integrating nature of the Roman government is a reflection of this worldview. However, by the middle of the imperial period, after a long stretch of near-anarchy at the imperial level, this general paganism is being supplanted by various cults and philosophies offering personal salvation for an afterlife in another world, a world more sharply dichotomized from this one, compared to the pagan view. By the early 300s, the most powerful, if not most popular, religion of salvation is Christianity. It is the religion of the emperors throughout the remainder of the period of the now disintegrating Roman Empire even though many "Romans" continue to be pagans, Jews, or other religionists.

Period: The Middle Ages, Part I -- The Dark Age. In W. Europe, the most powerful, nearly monopolistic worldview is now Latin-Christianity, shaped particularly by Augustine. In Prof. Stark's terminology, this is the Church of Piety, that is, the stream of Christianity more concerned about the next life than this one. A sign of its power is the concentration of education, as an institution, mainly in the monasteries.

Period: The Middle Ages, Parts II and III -- The Central and High Middle Ages: In W. Europe, Latin-Christianity continues its near-monopoly, but the Church of the World -- fed largely by a slow, continuing revival of ancient Latin and Greek writings -- begins coming to the fore. Two signs of this radical change are:

- The rise, first, of "secular" cathedral schools in urban centers and, second, of the universities as academic guilds (c. 1175-1225) slowly separating from exclusively religious institutions.

- A gradually widening split (sanctioned in part by Thomas Aquinas) between the study of philosophy and the study of theology. (Philosophy remains, however, the "handmaiden" of theology.)

Period: The Renaissance: In W. Europe, Latin-Christianity remains the dominant worldview, but in a form now heavily diluted by a nearly complete revival of Greek philosophical and scientific writings as well as pagan Latin writings. This period ends c. 1550 with the culture splitting into at least two streams:

- A stream of reaction (both as Protestantism and as anti-intellectual "Counter-Reformation" Catholicism) against the this-worldly culture of the Renaissance.

- A stream that, in its extreme form, will in the next 150 years lead to deism, a sign of almost complete absorption of Classical Greek philosophy. (By "Classical" I mean roughly the period 600-300 BCE.)


We have talked enough about mills and periodization. As moderator I am closing off these particular discussions and opening this topic-thread to anyone else who has comments or questions about Prof. Stark's book, Victory of Reason.

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A few quick points. Burgess asks, perhaps somewhat rhetorically,

If I were pursuing this subject, I would initially ask these questions:

1. Was Kepler a Christian -- and if so, in what sense? (The same question would apply to Galileo and Newton.)

2. Was Kepler (or Galileo or Newton) both a Christian and a follower, in some measure, of an ancient Greek philosopher? In other words, can a scientist be a hyphenated Christian: Pythagorean-Christian, Aristotelian-Christian, or Platonist-Christian?

Kepler was a profound Christian, Galileo less so, and Newton a zealot [*]. As far as influences, Kepler was a hodgepodge of neo-Platonic, Aristotelian, and a dose of neo-Pythagorean. Galileo was primarily Aristotelian more in the Paduan tradition, and Newton was ... well, he was Newton.

I would not hypehenate any of these scientists with Christianity, at least as far as primary method is concerned. Of the three some had more or less Christian influences on methodology, but this was relatively minor within the overall framework of their work. I think Stark can make a case for Christianity as a motivating factor, but not as method employed.

[*]Newton was a fanatic fundamentalist deeply steeped within religion. He consumed vast amounts of theological writings and devoutly held to an Arian view of Christ; the New Testament was corrupted and the Holy Trinity was blasphemy. Newton filled notebook after notebook with Biblical quotes and writings, obsessing over God as Supreme. There was no pantheism in Newton's religiosity, but rather a Puritan spirit; understanding nature was a duty to God, revealing God's master plan. It was a religious decoding, as was his lifelong search decoding the scriptures for revealing divine prophecy, decoding the symbolism and calculating when would be the Second Coming. Newton devised rules for the proper interpretation of scripture, rules if followed would lead to accurate interpretations from prophecy. In endless notebooks Newton wrote, analyzing these divine prophecies and revelations, expressing a deep rage against blasphemers. Newton's theological writings far exceed his scientific writings, perhaps as much as 2.5 million words on religion. In short, Newton was passionate for theology throughout his life, and at times his religiosity spilled over into his science as well.

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But there are several problems with this idea, also. First would be that there is no God. If, however, a person accepts that irrational idea, and presumably most people always have, he must also consider the possibility that God might take it into his mind to change the laws of nature at any moment, since he is all powerful and can do anything he takes a mind to, like flooding the earth to wipe out most of humanity when they annoy him. That is not an idea conducive to scientific study.

One would think so, yet God changing the laws of nature is precisely the idea that appears in some of Newton's scientific writings. This is from Opticks, certainly the second most-famous of Newton's scientific works, and even considered by some to be the most influential.

And since Space is divisible in infinitum, and Matter is not necessarily in all places, it may be also allow'd that God is able to create Particles of Matter of several Sizes and Figures, and in several Proportions to Space, and perhaps of different Densities and Forces, and therefore to vary the Laws of Nature, and make Worlds of several sorts in several parts of the Universe. At least, I see nothing of Contradiction in all this. (Isaac Newton, Opticks, Book Three, Part I, pp. 403-404, Dover Publications, 1952/1979

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This little book [Victory of Reason]has value in at least two ways. First, its bold thesis, though poorly argued, is a "challenge text." It presents a thesis on a subject that deserves serious consideration -- more than it has received in academia in my experience. Any serious student of history or other professional intellectual should be able to answer such a thesis, both with criticism and with a positive alternative. Second, the most dangerous enemies of the Objectivist movement will not be Marxists and their like, but those who might sound like Objectivists in some of their conclusions, while relying on principles that are nonobjective -- that is, detached from reality. Prof. Stark's thesis is an example.

A perhaps here is another example: Thomas E. Woods, Jr., How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. The following description (which I modified slightly for easier reading) appears on the Amazon site for the book, but comes from the publisher:

From the Publisher

Ask a college student today what he knows about the Catholic Church and his answer might come down to one word: "corruption." But that one word should be "civilization." Western civilization has given us the miracles of modern science, the wealth of free-market economics, the security of the rule of law, a unique sense of human rights and freedom, charity as a virtue, splendid art and music, a philosophy grounded in reason, and innumerable other gifts that we take for granted as the wealthiest and most powerful civilization in history. But what is the ultimate source of these gifts? Bestselling author and professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr. provides the long neglected answer: the Catholic Church. Woods’s story goes far beyond the familiar tale of monks copying manuscripts and preserving the wisdom of classical antiquity. In How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, you’ll learn:

· Why modern science was born in the Catholic Church

· How Catholic priests developed the idea of free-market economics five hundred years before Adam Smith

· How the Catholic Church invented the university

· Why what you know about the Galileo affair is wrong

· How Western law grew out of Church canon law

· How the Church humanized the West by insisting on the sacredness of all human life

No institution has done more to shape Western civilization than the two-thousand-year-old Catholic Church—and in ways that many of us have forgotten or never known. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization is essential reading for recovering this lost truth.

About the Author

Professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr. is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, as well as The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era and The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy. He holds four Ivy League degrees, including an A.B. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from Columbia. He teaches courses in Western civilization, is the associate editor of The Latin Mass magazine, and is a prolific essayist on historical subjects. He lives with his family in Coram, New York.

[italics added for clarity.]

Note the credentials of the author. He is not a wild-eyed evangelist from the Bible Belt of the United States. He is firmly "established." He is another example of the kind of opponent Objectivist intellectual and political activists may face in the decades ahead.

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A perhaps here is another example: Thomas E. Woods, Jr., How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. The following description (which I modified slightly for easier reading) appears on the Amazon site for the book, but comes from the publisher:

[italics added for clarity.]

Note the credentials of the author. He is not a wild-eyed evangelist from the Bible Belt of the United States. He is firmly "established." He is another example of the kind of opponent Objectivist intellectual and political activists may face in the decades ahead.

I checked some other sites for book reviews and they are all similiar to the Amazon site. I found this

NRBS Book review interesting.

In How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, you'll learn:

How the idea of universal human "rights" comes not from John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, but from Catholic canon law.

Just War theory: how this indispensable tool of moral analysis originates with the Church

I find this interesting when compared to "Just War Theory" vs. American Self-Defense.

Just and Unjust Wars serves as the major textbook in the ethics classes taught at West Point and dozens of others colleges and military schools. More broadly, Just War Theory-for which Just and Unjust Wars is the most popular modern text-is the sole moral theory of war taught today.(Print text, p. 27)

I noticed that the review uses universal human "rights" and not individual human "rights".

My 'Books of Interest" list just got longer. :P

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I see that the next issue of The Objective Standard will contain a review of Stark's Victory of Reason by Andrew Bernstein. That should be interesting reading.

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