Straussian Analysis: More Of What It Is and How It Works

RIP_Finnegan - [original thread]

Here's a point-by-point response:

I guess these aren't statements so let me clarify. To me it seems pretty clear that these ... "thinkers" are producers of worthless verbiage. When I saw Fanged Noumena I laughed. It's a joke, a very high effort one. I seek not to argue these points per se but to fully understand your differing perspective here.

We lack the space here to fully justify Heidegger, so let's appeal to physicists as you have to Dirac - Werner Heisenberg was a close friend of Heidegger's and wrote a Festschrift paper in his honor, and Heidegger was greatly respected by other physicists of the time such as von Weizs├Ącker. Since this was from my Viewpoint Focus, I'll add a personal note: my philosophical friend circle is about 80/20 STEM/Humanities, and Heidegger's writing on science is particularly popular with the physicists I've shown him to.

Nick Land is a weirder but simpler case. He writes in bizarre and abstract ways, but when you boil his work down to propositional fact claims it remains very interesting - for instance, he argues that technocapitalism arises from positive feedback loops between technological development and the intensification of commerce, and that many traditional pre-modern institutions acted as control mechanisms on that process. His application of cybernetics alone makes him a tremendously interesting thinker. If you're looking for clearer examples of his thought, he's usually a lot simpler and more direct in audio/visual content (maybe minus the blockchain stuff).

Is Strauss not just the Jordan Peterson thing where you "interpret" something to mean whatever you want?

No, and Strauss is quite aware of the danger of arbitrary interpretation (though I suspect he sometimes gets away with logical leaps through the sheer dazzling beauty of his arguments). Strauss is concerned with the eternal questions of political philosophy, but these questions can't be approached identically in every age. Philosophers must speak with reference to the prejudices of their time, and their engagement with eternal concerns is refracted through the contingent opinions of their society. As such, the concept of Straussian writing follows from a belief in eternal concerns.* The more expansive use of the phrase, that it is a way of avoiding persecution by speaking moderately, is harder to justify without a longer discussion of the relationship between philosophy and politics, but even then in Strauss's work it hardly justifies arbitrariness. Rather, it demands a close look at the specific political and cultural pressures that e.g. Xenophon faced to say one thing or not say another, and to discern carefully where the real thrust of his argument lies.

Makes me wonder if the concern with Straussian reading as a way of getting around persecution isn't, perhaps, our generation filtering our concern with eternal issues of political philosophy through the concerns of our time...

As for using a mathematical language, this fails because the point of Straussian writing is to conceal your esoteric teaching so that only philosophically virtuous readers will get it (the argument that philosophers don't do this is somewhat undermined by their tendency to explicitly say "I AM DOING THIS"). However, if you use some other method, like mathematics, an unvirtuous person can learn it - Stalinist mathematicians could decipher codes as well as Kolmogorovs. Think of it as a case of Goodhart's Law, where a metric ceases to be a useful metric once it becomes a target. You can't use something like mathematical skill or knowledge of a code as a metric for the target of philosophic virtue, because it then ceases to be a useful metric. In order to find the right metric for virtue, you have to ask... well, "what is virtue?" Good question.

*You can certainly take the other horn of the dilemma and say there are no eternal concerns of philosophy. Strauss calls this 'historicism', and has great respect for its best forms even as he disagrees with it.

How can you say "artists making sense of Society" with a straight face?

...well, I wasn't exactly - I was referencing the "We Live In A Society" meme with the caps on 'Live In'. The artists I'm talking about accept the incomprehensible complexity of the modern world, and refuse to simplify what cannot be simplified. In fact, common themes are incompleteness and irreducibility (Perec, for instance, wrote his masterwork Life A User's Manual structured by a giant Euler Square on which he superimposed a Knight's Tour, but intentionally failed to complete it by one square). You're not supposed to get propositional knowledge from Twin Peaks, but more like an expanded set of moods and imagery which you can bring back to your experience of everyday life.

I hope that clears some stuff up. My explanation of the Strauss stuff isn't as good as it could be, but Michael Millerman is great on it here or, if you also hate video content, Strauss's Persecution and the Art of Writing is a brief and very lucid read.