The Faustian pact

A meme that has interested me in recent years is the Faustian pact. I am not a fan of literature, but this motif has come to my attention in a few ways:

I. Goethe’s ‘Faust, part I’

II. Wilde’s ‘A picture of Dorian Gray’ (I had to read it for sociology: my lecturer was very eccentric and said it was relevant to the study of the face in sociology)

III. ‘Star wars: Revenge of the Sith’

What is the Faustian pact? It is the age old ‘deal with the devil’. A person wants something and sells their soul to the devil (mephistoles), (entailed as) that which defines who they are, that which is most important to them, for that object. In the process of making a deal with the devil, the agent becomes horribly deformed beyond recognition in their pursuit.

The faustian pact interests me, not because it is ‘true’, but it is such a predominant motif in literature. These norms invade our mind as we are taught stories from birth, we take these norms for granted, we even appreciate them, but most of all, they are just memes.

Norms and choice

A reader of this blog commented on my post on norms. She said:

"personally, i believe that norms are purely societal…and adhering to any of them (or not) is you own personal choice regarding what your stance is with being accepted in society or your lack of interest in being accepted in society…or if you deem it necessary as a vehicle for whatever personal purpose"

Hume tells us that ‘reason is the slave of the passions’, that the power of reason is always subject to the power of irreason. (This is something as a Kantian I struggle with but reluctantly accept)

Sometimes we don’t have a choice as to what norms to accept: does a first century Jew know how to object to homophobia? Does a hungry child object to sucking his mother’s teat (Spinoza reference)? Does a fashionable girl in this day and age freely choose to accept the contemporary clothing customs?

I think norms undermine a lot of our freedom. Here is my argument:

I. Norms pervade our culture (proof: empirical)
II. Some norms are non-rational (example: smoking)
III. Reason is the slave of irreason (proof: confabulation and other instantiations of instinct predominating over reason)
IV. If we have freedom at all, it is characterised by rational autonomy (Kantian presupposition)
IV. Since irreason has stronger influence than reason, norms pervade freewill (Lemma: This does not deny freewill, it merely undermines it)

What is a norm?

Here are a series of statements:

‘You must believe that Jesus is here to offer salvation from sin in order to recieve it’

‘It is wrong to kill’

‘You should get a better job’

‘Short skirts are so in this season’

What is the similarities between the above statements? They are NORMS. What are norms?

Norms are a type of fact. A fact about how the world should be, a fact about how people should behave. A normative fact is contrasted to a descriptive fact. A descriptive fact simply describes the world as it is.

Analytic philosophy has a problem: they are naturalist, the naturalist ontology cannot accept weird types of facts such as norms, because all there are are descriptive facts (‘is-facts’), not ‘should-facts’.

My concern is this: what is the nature of a norm? where does it come from? I shall take it as a given that there are norms. Here are possibilities of where norms have come from:

I. Norms correspond to objective facts (truthbearers), so there isn’t much distinction between a norm and a description

II. Norms are created by a greater power who we must obey, be it society, or God’s law.

I am a Kantian, so I like the first explanation. I am also a sociologist, so I like the second explanation. Maybe it’s a mix, like social norms are defined by society, moral norms are defined by reason. But what about religious norms? Like not eating certain meats.

When does a moral imperative become a social one? Consider homosexuality; it is the way a person chooses to live, but it is also apparently a ‘moral’ issue.

WHen we have considered norms, we have opened a real can of worms.

The eleventh thesis of Feuerbach

"Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." (Marx, Eleven Theses on Feuerbach)

This used to be an important maxim, but I ask myself now: do I really believe in it?

I used to think it as important, because people believe philosophy is a deliberating act, one where it is all talk and no balls. *Clearly*, the discipline had to make a difference to the world. Right?

Lets analyse the claim, break it down, identify presuppositions and evaluate!

I shall divide it into two premises:

{"Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways}; {the point is to change it}." (Marx, Eleven Theses on Feuerbach)

I. Philosophers have previously only interpreted the world in various ways

II. The point of philosophy is to change it.

I shall subdivide the first premise

I.i. Philosophers have functioned by interpreting the world

I.ii. Philosophy and its meaning is taken as a given

I.iii. The notion of interpretation is taken as a given

I shall subdivide the second premise

II.i. Philosophy should change the world

II.ii. Philosophy and its meaning is taken as a given

II.iii. It is right (normative) to change the world

II.iv. It is important to change the world

II.v. ‘Changing the world’ is a normative proposition ‘Changing the world’ is given to be a justified proposition

The key assumptions that arouse me are the following:

A. ‘Philosophy’ is taken as a given

B. ‘Changing the world’ is a moral imperative

C. The imperative of changing the world is without a theory of moral justification

Assumption A has been addressed by me in the past.

Assumption B needs to be examined, and by no means should be presupposed. On its own it may seem uncontraversial

Assumption C is the real can of worms. The notion of justification is the carpet that lies beneath B, we may assume that B is uncontraversial, but what we may find in C could undermine that. (I allude to the problem of meaning addressed by Kripkenstein’s notion of ‘quus’)

I think now that people who accept the eleventh tenet have some common sense assumptions, or worked out tenets which justify the tenet.

Some people use that quote of Marx to justify sociology, or theology, because they are political. But what grounds their claims? Here are a few ad hoc answers

  • Fictionalist (and error theory) account: their talk refers to a useful fiction; nothing grounds their account
  • Divine command – this is pretty self-explanatory
  • Common sense: social custom, human intuition or ‘common sense’ (the synthesis of the first two) justify moral claims {but what justifies custom/intuition/common sense?}

Initial thoughts on Wittgenstein’s language

Before I start, I will say this: I AM NOT AN EXPERT IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE. My expertise involve Kant, ethics, and social science. It is for the latter subject that I dare to read Wittgenstein. Anyhoo, on with the exegesis: in the style of Wittgenstein, I shall formulate my statements as remarks

  1. Wittgenstein considers the role of language, he investigates them as primarily being a media of reference. so the word ‘circle’ refers to O.
  2. Language has specific functions, it is an activity. Such as the ‘builder’s language’ where A gives commands and B takes them. So an instantiation of that notion of language would be

A: Get me the slab

B: Alright

3. Wittgenstein concentrates on ‘meaning’ and what it is to define meaning in language. He considers meaning as reference to an object and meaning as an ontological committment, saying that something is meaningful if it exists, these have putative problems with it.

4. What is so important about language that Wittgenstein has to talk about it for? What about the problems of philosophy like universals, skepticism, morality or ontology. I am getting some inklings about how important language can be, but haven’t gotten the full picture. Maybe it is the linguistic turn and not the copernican one that is important (or so the analytic philosophers say).

Language as creator of concepts

I was skimming through the Philosophical Investigations (Wittgenstein) and found this: "You learned the conceptpain‘ when you learned language"

I found this very interesting. We can be very basic and use our prephilosophical intuitions. We could also use primitive notions in philosophy and say ‘oh but doesn’t pain exist independently of language’, being an ontological realist about pain.

The concept pain is learned from language. The putative notion of pain is that it is physical, not linguistic. It is a perception given from the senses. What could Wittgenstein possibly mean?

Perhaps language determines the limits of intelligibility. If something is not intelligible by language, then we can say nothing of it. Consider this in sociolgocial terms. Certain social concepts may not exist, and do not exist because language does not have a determinate conception of it. The self, is a largely western phenomena, notions of ‘career’ or ‘individuality/uniqueness’ do not apply in contexts where the words pertinent to selfhood do not exist. Perhaps homosexuality, or evolutionism did not exist if the terms describing them were not present.

I am an agnostic. The term agnosticism was invented by Huxley. Before Huxley, no one was an ‘agnostic’, either they were religious or were atheists. The concept of marital rape, the rape of one’s spouse, was legally defined in the late 20thC, before it was possibly abuse, or even before that, it was having what is owed to them. Maybe if there were no agnostic, I would not be one. If there were no word for male, I would not be one. The linguistic turn is like the copernican revolution in that they both note how a given thing (language, the mind) creates the world we experience.


Greetings readers, my post pertains to two mental phenomena: my thoughts, and my feelings.

My thought pertains to a concept. Memetics. What is memetics? It is a term coined by Dawkins. A meme (the subject of memetics) is like a gene (the subject of genetics). Let me express it through an old psychological debate. Nature vs. nurture. Nature is that which is inherent within a being, nurture is that which is learned by a being. Genes are the nature of a person, but memes are cultural practices and social norms which are learned by a being. Objects of culture, such as social norms, or cultural practices/references (consider something like a comedic joke like the ‘Am I bothered?’ routine of Catherine Tate.) Memes are units by which we can understand society, in the same way that genes are units by which we can understand an organism. Dawkins makes a suggestion that there is a science of memes (or should be one) in the way that there is a science of genes. Dawkins, however, retains his biologist mindset when reading memes. This is a form of naturalism applied to social phenomena. (I will post more about naturalism and social phenomena, I promise). My thought is: perhaps we can removes Dawkins’ biological tint and look at memes for what they are. What is another word for memetics? How about sociology!