The main principle of Pyrrho’s thought is expressed by the word acatalepsia, which connotes the ability to withhold assent from doctrines regarding the truth of things in their own nature; against every statement its contradiction may be advanced with equal justification. Secondly, it is necessary in view of this fact to preserve an attitude of intellectual suspense, or, as Timon expressed it, no assertion can be known to be better than another. Thirdly, Pyrrho applied these results to life in general, concluding that, since nothing can be known, the only proper attitude is ataraxia, “freedom from worry”. (“By suspending judgment, by confining oneself to phenomena or objects as they appear, and by asserting nothing definite as to how they really are, one can escape the perplexities of life and attain an imperturbable peace of mind.”)
Sounds a lot like a nihilist.
Conservatives agree that history is the appropriate starting point, but some of them believe that it is not a contingent fact that certain political arrangements have historically fostered good lives, while others have been detrimental to them. Conservatives who believe this think that there is a deeper explanation for the historical success or failure of various arrangements. There is a moral order in reality, political arrangements that conform to this order foster good lives, those that conflict with it are bound to make lives worse. These conservatives are committed to a â€œbelief about the nature and scope of rational understanding, which, on the one hand, confines it to the promulgation of abstract general propositions and, on the other hand, extends its relevance to the whole of human life – a doctrine which may be called â€˜rationalismâ€™. And there is as much difference between rational enquiry and â€˜rationalismâ€™ as there is between scientific enquiry and â€˜scientismâ€™, and it is a difference of the same kind. Moreover, it is important that a writer who wishes to contest the excessive claims of â€˜rationalismâ€™ should observe the difference, because if he fails to do so he will not only be liable to self-contradiction (for his argument will itself be nothing if it is not rational), but also he will make himself appear the advocate of irrationality, which is going further than he either needs or intends to go.â€2
Rationalistically inclined conservatives are willing to learn from history, but only because history points beyond itself toward more fundamental considerations. That these considerations center on a moral order is agreed to by all of them. But they nevertheless disagree whether the order is providential, as it is held to be by various religions; or a Platonic chain of being at whose pinnacle is the Form of the Good; or the Hegelian unfolding of the dialectic of clashing forces culminating in the final unity of reason and action; or the one reflected by natural law, which, if adhered to, would remove all obstacles from the path of realizing the purpose inherent in human nature; or some further possibility.
A Platonic conservatism; intelligent.
For the man who has once stooped to consider such questions, and to reckon up the value of external things, is not far from forgetting what manner of man he is. Why, what is it that you ask me? Is death preferable, or life? I reply, Life. Pain or pleasure? I reply, Pleasure.”
“Well, but if I do not act, I shall lose my head.”
“Then go and act! But for my part I will not act.”
“Because you think yourself but one among the many threads which make up the texture of the doublet. You should aim at being like men in generalâ€”just as your thread has no ambition either to be anything distinguished compared with the other threads. But I desire to be the purpleâ€”that small and shining part which makes the rest seem fair and beautiful. Why then do you bid me become even as the multitude? Then were I no longer the purple.”
I believe in tragedies… and I believe in aesthetics as a guide. Nature is logical; what is beautiful is most often good. And an action matters more an an idealistic sense, of its contribution to this order, than in a material sense.
Human beings exist in a meaningful world. When we use terms such as “mind” and “mental” we are referring to some aspect of this world. But this is not something internal, locked away inside a physical body. Think of a painting by Picasso: the famous “Guernica,” perhaps. How do we understand and appreciate this? The type of pigment is important, as are the brushstrokes used. So too are the colours and the shapes of the figures. But to understand what the painting means and the genius of its creator we reach beyond the canvas itself to the context in which it was created. This entails historical, political, cultural, and personal dimensions. Without engaging with its context, we could never appreciate “Guernica” as a work of genius. Its meaning does not reside in the pigment or the canvas but in the relation between these and the world in which it was created and now exists. Similarly, we will never be able to understand the various elements of our mental life such as thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and values if we think of them as located inside the brain. Trying to grasp the meaningful reality of sadness, alienation, obsession, fear, and madness by looking at scans or analysing biochemistry is like trying to understand a painting by looking at the canvas without reference to its wider world.
In other words, context defines meaning by defining the tokens of meaning.
Meaning is a response to reality, not an abstraction independent of it.
So when we look for meaning, we look for things that effect changes in the context of ultimate existence that we call reality.