When I am reading Philosophy and Simulation, I encounter bizarre sentence that is shown below

But their position toward explanation gave their views an inevitable mystical tone: emergent properties, they said, must be accepted with an attitude of intellectual resignation, that is, they must be treated as brute facts toward which the only honest stance is one of natural piety.

I could not understand this phrase:

they must be treated as brute facts toward which the only honest stance is one of natural piety.


brute facts toward which the only honest stance is one of natural piety.

  • The only way to treat them is to take them as facts and religiously believe in them.
    – user3395
    Apr 21, 2016 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


A brute fact is a fact that has no explanation

A stance is an attitude.

Natural piety is a reference to a poem by William Wordsworth:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is the father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

I think that the writer meant was "that's just the way it is, accept it in the same way a child might believe in God".

I can't help wondering whether this text was written by a machine. It contains a number of clichéd word-pairs.

  • Do you have any evidence that the phrase "natural piety" originated with Mr Wordsworth or that he had some special influence on what it is understood to mean? I think it's a fairly common phrase, and readily understandable without reference to this particular poem.
    – Jay
    Apr 21, 2016 at 21:07
  • @Jay: the phrase was coined by Wordsworth, and was the subject of a dispute between himself and William Blake, who thought that natural piety did not exist. This is not a common phase; this is the first time i have seen a reference to it outside of lit-crit. The meaning of the phrase is still the subject of debate: there are at least two main candidates. I quoted the poem because "The child is the father of the man" is used as an argument in favour of one of the meanings. If you wish to know more, there is plenty more information about it on Google.
    – JavaLatte
    Apr 22, 2016 at 4:59
  • Hmm, I don't see how the phrase can have been invented by Wordsworth, as it was used by Francis Bacon in his essay "Of Superstition". I don't know when Bacon wrote this essay but he died in 1626 and Wordsworth wasn't born until 1770. Bacon wrote, "It were better to have no opinion of God at all, than such an opinion as is unworthy of him ... Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety ..."
    – Jay
    Apr 22, 2016 at 13:44
  • @Jay: nice research. I am not sure that "Atheism leaves a man... to natural piety" adds a lot to our understanding of the intended meaning though.
    – JavaLatte
    Apr 22, 2016 at 14:40
  • Adds much? No. In context, he was saying that atheism leads to rational contemplation of nature, while superstition leads to incoherent ideas. i.e. he was saying that accurate ideas about God are better than atheism, but atheism is better than false ideas about God. By "natural piety" I think he meant moral conduct coming from the person's own conscience as opposed to the teachings of a religion.The merits of the argument are, of course, irrelevant to the present discussion.
    – Jay
    Apr 22, 2016 at 16:58

Maybe the distinction between my answer here and JavaLatte's answer is too subtle to be worth worrying about, but for what it's worth:

I have no idea what the statement you quote is talking about. "Explanation" of what? "Emergent properties" of what?

But just going by the plain words:

A "brute fact" is a truth that cannot be ignored. Like, "I desperately wanted Sally to be my girlfriend, but the brute fact is that she just wasn't interested in me."

A "stance" is literally a physical position. Like we talk about a "fencer's stance" or a "boxer's stance", meaning the position in which he holds his body. In this case the word is used metaphorically. "The only honest stance" means the only position you can take that recognizes reality.

"Piety" means devotion, usually devotion to God. Like, "The monk demonstrated his piety by praying ten times a day." "Natural piety" means a piety that comes from within a person, as opposed to a fake or artificial piety. If, say, someone kneels when praying because he thinks this is just the obvious thing to do when addressing the all-powerful creator the universe, you might call that natural piety. If he kneels when praying because he saw someone else do it and he thinks this will impress the people around him with how devout he is, you'd call that artificial piety.

So putting it all together: When you consider these inescapable facts, the only response you can have that reflects reality is to accept this truth with a devotion that comes from your own understanding.

I'm still not clear what the truth that is being accepted is, but whatever.

  • "a devotion that comes frm your own understanding"? I think not. More blind faith,gotquestions.org/blind-faith.html
    – JavaLatte
    Apr 22, 2016 at 5:11
  • @JavaLatte Not sure how that citation backs up your position: it rejects the idea of "blind faith". But anyway, I can only say, shrug, we disagree, not sure how either of us would prove his position.
    – Jay
    Apr 22, 2016 at 13:17

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