Passing bull 160 – Sense and nonsense


According to something I wrote, the ‘genius of Einstein gave us the insight that people who cannot explain an idea to a six year old can probably not understand it themselves’.  I am not sure where that leaves the theory of relativity, but it is a good talking point.

Hannah Arendt revealed two competing views in her lectures on Kant’s political philosophy.  Kant said that ‘every philosophical work must be susceptible of popularity; if not it probably conceals nonsense beneath a fog of seeming sophistication.’  Now, we lawyers have been copping that raspberry for centuries – as often as not in all fairness – together with priests and doctors.  (Economists are just out of this world.)

Elsewhere Kant said:

Do you really require that a kind of knowledge which concerns all men should transcend the common understanding and should only be revealed to you by philosophers?….In matters which concern all men without distinction, nature is not guilty of any partial distribution of her gifts, and in regard to the essential ends of human nature, the highest philosophy cannot advance further than is possible under the guidance which nature has bestowed even upon the most ordinary understanding.

Well, very few of us can penetrate The Critique of Pure Reason, but at least Kant’s heart was in the right place – and, since he was speaking before Einstein, Kant was speaking of a reachable objective.

Very few people read Hegel now.  The following shows why.

Philosophy by its very nature is something esoteric, which is not made for the mob, nor is it capable of being prepared for the mob; philosophy is philosophy only to the extent that is the very opposite of the intellect and even more the opposite of common sense, by which we understand the local and temporary limitations of generations; in its relation to this common sense, the world of philosophy as such is a world turned up-side down.

This is a direct contradiction, almost word for word, of Kant; it oozes with snobbery right down its front; and in truth it envisages a kind of intellectual apartheid.

When therefore we meet people who reveal or claim a level of learning that entitles them to talk down to us, let us tell them, among other things, that they are careering towards oblivion – and that we wish them God speed in their career.


‘The harms essentially are bad outcomes to financial consumers,’ he says.

‘A harm is, for instance, a financial consumer paying for a product that they don’t need, or paying for a product that is just completely inappropriate for them, or paying for a product which was faulted from its very inception.

‘It’s really important, and this is the influence of thinkers like Professor Sparrow, a regulatory agency needs to identify the harms that we want to prevent. It’s not so much about risks. Risks will always be there. There will always be the risks of the probability of the harm occurring.

‘Then you have drivers for harms. For instance, everyone talks about technological change. Technological change is not a risk, it’s not a harm but it’s a driver.’

Shipton says that when he first arrived in Australia for pre-meetings before taking over as ASIC chairman he met with APRA chairman Wayne Byres to discuss collaboration and co-operation.

‘I remember going to his office and saying to him in no uncertain terms I am absolutely firmly committed that ASIC as an organisation I work with is going to redouble, triple its efforts in ensuring that we work collaboratively, co-operate and we co-ordinate as and when necessary depending on the different regulatory settings,’ he says.

The Australian Financial Review, 8 August, 2018.

Hamlet said that there was a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.  That may be just as well, because otherwise we are all doomed.

I wonder if Hegel may have contemplated that the one phenomenon may have been – at the time – a risk, a harm, and a driver.

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