Category : Philosophy

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Søren Kierkegaard

Heavenly Father, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ felt sorrow and dread in the Garden of Gethsemane: Help us to remember that though we walk through the valley of the shadow, thou art always with us, that with thy philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, we may believe what we have not seen and trust where we cannot test, and so come at length to the eternal joy which thou hast prepared for those who love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who livest and reignest with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Posted in Church History, Philosophy, Spirituality/Prayer

Food for Thought from Paul Kingsnorth

From there:

Ultimately, without that higher purpose to bind it, society would fall — as it has — into “emotivism”, relativism and ultimately disintegration. If every culture is cored around a sacred order — whether Christian, Islamic or Hindu, the veneration of ancestors or the worship of Odin — then the collapse of that order will lead inevitably to the collapse of the culture it supported. There is a throne at the heart of every culture, and whoever sits on it will be the force we take our instruction from. The modern experiment has been the act of dethroning both literal human sovereigns and the representative of the sacred order, and replacing them with purely human, and purely abstract, notions — “the people” or “liberty” or “democracy” or “progress.”

I’m all for democracy (the real thing, please, not the corporate simulacra that currently squats in its place), but the dethroning of the sovereign — Christ — who sat at the heart of the Western sacred order did not lead to universal equality and justice. It led — via a bloody shortcut through Robespierre, Stalin and Hitler — to the complete triumph of the power of money, which has splintered our culture and our souls into a million angry shards.

The vacuum created by the collapse of our old taboos was filled by the poison gas of consumer capitalism. It has now infiltrated every aspect of our lives in the way that the Christian story once did, so much so that we barely even notice as it colonises everything — from the way we eat to the values we teach our children. Cut loose in a post-modern present — with no centre, no truth and no direction — we have not become independent-minded, responsible, democratic citizens in a human republic. We have become slaves to the self and to the power of money; broken worshippers before the monstrous idol of Progress. “In the ethics of the West,” wrote Spengler, “everything is direction, claim to power, will to affect the distant.”

After Virtue ends with its author declaring that the task we face today is similar to that set for those living through the collapse of Rome: not to “shore up the imperium” but to start building anew. Macintyre famously concluded that the West was waiting for “a new — and doubtless very different — St Benedict.” That was forty years ago, and we are still waiting, but it’s not a bad way to see the challenge we face. Despite the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan, the post-Christian West is not at all short on ideas, arguments, insults, ideologies, stratagems, conflicts or world-saving machines. But it is very short on saints; and how we need their love, wisdom, discipline and stillness amidst the chaos of the times. Maybe we had better start looking at how to embody a little of these qualities ourselves.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(PD) Abigail Favale–Feminism’s Last Battle

Feminism needs a serious reality check. In a Foucauldian framework that views reality as constructed by power, one must oppose reality in order to resist oppression. If the feminist movement hopes to endure and effectively advocate the dignity of women and girls worldwide, it must depart from the anti-realist path that led to this bloody battleground. To survive the pending Armageddon, feminism must lose its paranoid rejection of essential differences between the sexes. This does not mean a reversion to cartoonish, reductive caricatures. Men and women are different, but they are not polarized opposites; our difference is asymmetrical, consonant with a shared humanity and individual inimitability.

Only from a realist ground can we successfully discern which differences are a consequence of sexism, and which are not. Only from a realist ground can one make the confident argument that a man cannot merely opt into womanhood, because there is a pre-social givenness to womanness, a nature that is shaped by nurture, but not wholly conjured by it.

Institutional power and language profoundly influence how we perceive reality; that’s something the postmodernists get right. But to assert that power creates reality is to concede that woman is a construct—a concession that, for the feminist movement, will ultimately prove to be fatal.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Sexuality

(NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat–The Excesses of Antiracist Education

What’s really inflaming today’s fights, though, is that the structural-racist diagnosis isn’t being offered on its own. Instead it’s yoked to two sweeping theories about how to fight the problem it describes.

First, there is a novel theory of moral education, according to which the best way to deal with systemic inequality is to confront its white beneficiaries with their privileges and encourage them to wrestle with their sins.

Second, there is a Manichaean vision of public policy, in which all policymaking is either racist or antiracist, all racial disparities are the result of racism — and the measurement of any outcome short of perfect “equity” may be a form of structural racism itself.

The first idea is associated with Robin DiAngelo, the second with Ibram X. Kendi, and they converge in places like the work of Tema Okun, whose presentations train educators to see “white-supremacy culture” at work in traditional measures of academic attainment.

The impulses these ideas encourage take different forms in different institutions, but they usually circle around to similar goals…..

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Race/Race Relations

(Tablet) Robert Zaretsky–The philosophy of being good

Murdoch’s notion of the Good might seem little more than the reluctant addition of another “o” to “God”. Believers might wonder why Murdoch bothered, especially as her Platonic model did not come equipped with the standard features of the Christian model, including a personal relationship with the Maker and a warranty good for all eternity. Murdoch confessed that she herself had, at times, doubts about insisting upon the Good as our central point of reflection. Yet, she also maintained that there is something in the “serious attempt to look compassionately at human things which automatically suggests that ‘there is more than this’”.

While Murdoch acknowledged the difficulty in pinning down what this “more” is, she kept returning to the Good. Just as transcendence in religion leads to God, transcendence in morality must lead to the Good – a claim rooted not in psychology, but in reality. Convinced that goodness is a form of realism, Murdoch declares that a good person living in isolation makes no more sense than a living tree suspended in mid air. Both the tree and person need to be rooted, the one to live and the other to achieve the good. “A good man must know certain things about his surroundings, most obviously the existence of other people and their claims. The chief enemy of excellence in morality (and also in art) is personal fantasy: the tissue of self-aggrandising and consoling wishes and dreams which prevents one from seeing what is there outside one.”

Just how successful, though, was Weil at this near impossible task? As she lay dying at a sanatorium in Ashford in August 1943, her tubercular lungs fatally compromised by her refusal to eat more calories than her fellow French under the German occupation, Weil’s doctors were frustrated and bewildered. But the nurses had her full attention. “How much time do you devote each day to thinking?” she would ask them. I cannot help but wonder if she ever truly saw what those nurses were attempting to do. Namely, to keep her from a death Weil perhaps thought consoling, but the nurses certainly thought tragically pointless.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy

Wednesday Food for Thought–Immanuel Kant on how people treat animals can tell you who they are

Our author here goes on to speak of duties to beings that are above us and beneath us. But since all animals exist only as means, and not for their own sakes, in that they have no self-consciousness, whereas man is the end, such that I can no longer ask: Why does he exist?, as can be done with animals, it follows that we have no immediate duties to animals; our duties towards them are indirect duties to humanity. Since animals are an analogue of humanity, we observe duties to mankind when we observe them as analogues to this, and thus cultivate our duties to humanity. If a dog, for example, has served his master long and faithfully, that is an analogue of merit; hence I must reward it, and once the dog can serve no longer, must look after him to the end, for I thereby cultivate my duty to humanity, as I am called upon to do; so if the acts of animals arise out of the same principium from which human actions spring, and the animal actions are analogues of this, we have duties to animals, in that we thereby promote the cause of humanity. So if a man has his dog shot, because it can no longer earn a living for him, he is by no means in breach of any duty to the dog, since the latter is incapable of judgement, but he thereby damages the kindly and humane qualities in himself, which he ought to exercise in virtue of his duties to mankind. Lest he extinguish such qualities, he must already practise a similar kindliness towards animals; for a person who already displays such cruelty to animals is also no less hardened towards men. We can already know the human heart, even in regard to animals. Thus Hogarth, in his engravings,* also depicts the beginnings of cruelty, where already the children are practising it upon animals, e.g., by pulling the tail of a dog or cat; in another scene we see the progress of cruelty, where the man runs over a child; and finally the culmination of cruelty in a murder, at which point the rewards of it appear horrifying. This provides a good lesson to children. The more we devote ourselves to observing animals and their behaviour, the more we love them, on seeing how greatly they care for their young; in such a context, we cannot even contemplate cruelty to a wolf.

–Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), E.T. by Peter Heath, p. 212

Posted in Animals, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy

(Unherd) Peter Franklin– Is The end of woke nigh?

The question therefore is whether wokeness today is remotely comparable to the role Christianity played as Rome crumbled. Note that I’m not talking about how much wokeness owes as an ideology to the worldview that Christianity built — I’ll leave that debate to the likes of Tom Holland. Rather, I’m asking whether wokeness has the capacity to offer a unifying vision of such compelling power as to overwhelm and supersede the existing order.

And here the answer is clear: it does not.

First, wokeness is too geographically limited in scope. The impact that it’s made so far depends on conditions that apply specifically to the United States of America — especially in regard to that country’s history of slavery, segregation and ongoing racial discrimination. The global reach of social media helps to explain why the Black Lives Matter movement made waves far beyond America; but it does not change the very different context of race relations in other countries.

Even a country with as revolutionary a history as France has made it abundantly clear that American-style wokeness will not be taking root in French soil. Whether that’s expressed by the ruling establishment centred upon President Macron or a youth vote that’s shockingly skewed towards the far-Right, we English-speakers need to remember that we are not the world.

Read it all (from the long line of should-have-already-been-posted material).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General

(Deseret News) Carl Trueman–The new culture war battleground is you

Flowing from an acknowledgment of our bodily identity, we must confront our necessary dependence upon others. As bioethicist Carter Snead has argued, we humans are always characterized by dependence. As babies and children we are utterly dependent upon others. As we grow, we become less dependent to a degree, but then as we reach old age, we become more dependent once again. At no point are we ever the free-standing autonomous creatures of Rousseau’s thought experiment. And it is our bodies that are the source of this dependence, our physical constitutions that connect to others and define the nature of those connections. Acknowledging this reality should transform how we think both of ourselves and of others.
“We all exist for the sake of one another.”

“Others” do not exist for “our” satisfaction or self-actualization. Rather we all exist for the sake of one another. And that, of course, has implications for sexual morality and behavior. To those who acknowledge their bodies as who they are, not simply the raw material of self-creation, and who understand the rational, dependent nature of our life, sex can never be simply a means of personal pleasure whereby others are reduced to being mere instruments of our own satisfaction. Nor can it come to occupy a central place in how identity is understood. It is not sexual desire that defines us but the relationships of which sexual activity is a meaningful part.

None of this may make a great bumper sticker, but it has this in its favor: It is the full account of what it means to be human. Expressive individualism is a distortion, because we are not born free but rather interdependent and embodied. This may not be the modern self we want, but it’s this true self that we must ultimately confront to answer the caterpillar’s penetrating question to Alice — the question we all must confront as we look into the mirror.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology

(StR) Greg Koukl–Why Pronouns Matter…a Lot

John said Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). Christ’s character helps us navigate the gender minefield. We protect people’s feelings (“grace”)—within reason—but we reject the narrative (“truth”). Three separate circumstances require three different responses.

First, I think we should call people by the names they choose for themselves. Names are different from pronouns since names are personal preferences by nature. Pronouns, though, refer to sex—a fixed feature of reality, not a preference. (With your own children, though, you may insist on a name consistent with their biology.)

Second, if you’re required to post your preferred pronoun, do not simply report your accurate gender. That reinforces the lie that pronouns reflect mere personal preference. Instead, post this: “I don’t have a preferred pronoun. I have a sex. I’m male [for example].”

This characterization is completely self-reflective. It says nothing about anyone but you. In principle, at least, it should not be a problem. You were asked for a self-assessment. You gave it. End of issue. Refuse to participate in the lie.

Third, if you’re asked to use preferred pronouns when speaking of others, then graciously, but firmly, refuse. Tell them this is not your view, so it would be dishonest and inauthentic to act like it was. Just say no. Hold your ground.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Language, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality

Ludwig Wittgenstein on why he ALMOST believed in Christ’s Resurrection

Found courtesy of Alan Jacobs there:

What inclines even me to believe in Christ’s Resurrection? It is as though I play with the thought. — If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. He is dead and decomposed. In that case he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation. We are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven. But if I am to be REALLY saved, — what I need is certainty — not wisdom, dreams of speculation — and this certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what is needed by my heart, my soul, not my speculative intelligence. For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can say: Only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: It is love that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the Resurrection; holds fast even to the Resurrection. What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption.

Posted in Easter, History, Philosophy

(PD) Can We Still Reason Together? A Conversation with Robert P. George

SS: In a discussion about advocacy for traditional marriage, one Princeton graduate student told me that she was uncomfortable with the idea of trying to convince others to oppose same-sex marriage by appealing to social science or the kind of arguments you have articulated in What Is Marriage. Although she herself is Catholic, to this student, such an approach felt deceptive—like smuggling in religious precepts under the guise of neutrality and disinterested intellectual inquiry.

How would you respond to her? Is it intellectually honest to make arguments based on natural law or social science for positions you only hold because of your own religious faith?

RG: From your description of her, it sounds like the graduate student you were talking to doesn’t understand the teachings of her own Catholic faith when it comes to the nature of morality, moral questions, and moral judgments, including those concerning marriage. Catholicism self-consciously embraces and proposes a certain understanding of marriage and the norms shaping and protecting it for reasons—reasons that are in principle accessible to anyone, Catholic or not. The point of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense was to articulate, explain, and defend those reasons.

Catholicism is not a fideistic religion. Quite the opposite. Its basic view of marriage as conjugal union (and not a mere form of sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership), for example, is not a matter of “religious precepts” that we (or the pope, or the Church) know because God has communicated them to us only by special revelation. Your friend may happen to believe what she believes about marriage because that is what the Church believes and teaches; but the Church herself believes and teaches what she believes and teaches on the subject for reasons that by the Church’s own lights—and her teachings—are available to be understood by “disinterested intellectual inquiry.” These reasons are matters of natural law.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology

(New Atlantis) John Sexton–A Reductionist History of Humankind: The trouble with Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens”

Harari’s claim that has drawn the most media attention is that we may be on the cusp of an era of super- (or possibly sub-) humans, with newspapers running such sensationalistic headlines as “Humans ‘will become God-like cyborgs within 200 years’” and “The age of the cyborg has begun.” He seems to believe that the “Singularity” is a certainty; that some “Dr. Frankenstein” will likely create “something truly superior to us, something that will look at us as condescendingly as we look at the Neanderthals.” But here again there are practical and technical obstacles that Harari overlooks. As Steven Pinker, of all people, has recently pointed out, most features of organisms, including senescence, are built deep into their genomic structure. If there were easy fixes to mortality and many other conditions, they would have been low-hanging fruit for natural selection, which will always prevail in the long run over the kind of “intelligent design” Harari envisions us undertaking in the near future.

Harari tends to think that it’s onward and upward for the modern project to master nature through technology, though he doubts whether the trajectory is really “upward” in the sense of involving genuine improvement in the human condition. But it may be that the golden age of technological progress has already passed. As Peter Thiel and others have observed, the development of new technology has arguably slowed in recent decades, a fact disguised by the dissemination of old technology in the form of consumer goods like personal computers and smart phones.

Still, Harari is right to suggest that scientific advancement potentially threatens much of what we now hold dear, including our humanity as we traditionally understand it. He is also right to point out that questions about the moral character of scientific experimentation always meet with the response that it is being done to “cure diseases and save human lives.” Harari says that “nobody can argue with” such a response. He is right, up to a point: given the value that modern societies put on health, it can be very difficult to question research conducted in the name of medicine. But arguments can still be made against some forms of experimentation and “enhancement.” One could also point out that science itself provides no reason to save human lives or care about curing diseases, whereas moral principles do. One might also ask whether physical health and longevity are the highest goods.

But Sapiens provides us with no resources for answering questions about the moral implications of scientific and technological change. A commitment to a reductionist, mechanistic view of Homo sapiens may give us some insight into some of the aspects of our past most tied to our material nature. But Harari’s view of culture and of ethical norms as fundamentally fictional makes impossible any coherent moral framework for thinking about and shaping our future. And it asks us to pretend that we are not what we know ourselves to be — thinking and feeling subjects, moral agents with free will, and social beings whose culture builds upon the facts of the physical world but is not limited to them.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Science & Technology

(American Affairs) Patrick Deenen reviews Michael Sandel’s recent book “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?”

In the end, Sandel flinches: in spite of accusing the new ruling order of “tyranny,” he fails to locate any tyrants. This silence on the meri­tocracy’s self-deception, in what is otherwise a singularly powerful critique of the pathologies of meritocracy, is telling. Sandel is remark­ably incurious about whether meritocrats’ justifications of their moral eminence might in fact shroud the deeper “will to power” one would expect to find among tyrants.

For instance, Sandel evinces a lack of suspicion when listing a string of dubious actions by the meritocrats, concluding simply that they “have not governed very well”—not that they have governed with malevolence. He cites a string of failures from 1980 to the present, includ­ing “stagnant wages for most workers, inequalities of income and wealth not seen since the 1920s, the Iraq War, a nineteen-year, incon­clusive war in Afghanistan, financial deregulation, the financial crisis of 2008,” and so forth (29). In each instance, however, these were not “failures” if you were a member of the meritocracy. Almost to a person, the ruling class benefited from these crises, or at the very least, were not harmed by their consequences, even as they collectively diminished the prospects for flourishing among the meritocracy’s losers. Sandel regards these outcomes as failed policies of otherwise well-intentioned leaders, rather than identifying them as the expected outcomes of a ruling class’s efforts to maintain its position.

We return to where we began. At its outset, meritocracy, like most regimes, was defended as a just and beneficent new departure. It would replace the injustice of the ancien régime by encouraging and rewarding people for their talents. If inequality was to be an inescapable result, nevertheless the “industrious and rational” would afford benefits to the society as a whole. Prosperity, progress, and enlightenment would spread even to the “quarrelsome and contentious”: as Locke wrote, the life of the day laborer in England was better than the mightiest king of the Indians in America. Unlike in a vicious regime, the ruling meritocrats would govern not (merely) for their own advantage, but for the advantage and even common good of all.

Although it has barely been a century since Conant began his transformation of Harvard, and about a half century since the full realization of the new meritocratic regime celebrated by Gardner with the ascent of the “best and the brightest,” overwhelming evidence suggests that the meritocracy’s claims are altogether unbelievable, useful mainly as the self-serving subterfuge of an oppressive ruling class. For those outside the charmed meritocratic winner’s circle, prospects for flourishing have precipitously declined in recent dec­ades, as documented in such works as Charles Murray’s Coming Apart and Robert Putnam’s Our Kids. Among the noncredentialed, life spans are declining, deaths of despair increasing, material circumstances have worsened, social stability and moral formation have cratered. By their own admission, meritocratic elites have failed to improve race relations in America. The meritocrats’ claims to benefi­cence might once have been widely believed before this accumulating evidence, but now they largely function as a form of self-deceit among the rulers. Awareness of the potential for malevolent, even tyrannical intention behind these developments seems to be missing in Sandel. Yet such evidence seems increasingly apparent: approximately half the country showed its disbelief and contempt for elite ruling claims by voting for a demagogic anti-elitist. The reaction of the ruling class was four years of denying the legitimacy of the election, denouncing those who dared to vote for the demagogue, and unremitting efforts to “resist”—with hardly a moment to spare to reflect about their complicity in bringing about this wrenching period in our national history.

Sandel’s title, The Tyranny of Merit, is arguably more accurate an assessment of meritocracy than the ultimate thrust of his book. Ac­cording to the classical definition, meritocracy is a tyranny because its ruling class accrues benefits for itself while causing material, social, and spiritual impoverishment among those it governs. Sandel states that “merit can become a kind of tyranny,” but avoids discussing the motivations of the tyrants.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General

(City Journal) Bari Weiss–The Miseducation of America’s Elites

This Harvard-Westlake parents’ group is one of many organizing quietly around the country to fight what it describes as an ideological movement that has taken over their schools. This story is based on interviews with more than two dozen of these dissenters—teachers, parents, and children—at elite prep schools in two of the bluest states in the country: New York and California.

The parents in the backyard say that for every one of them, there are many more, too afraid to speak up. “I’ve talked to at least five couples who say: I get it. I think the way you do. I just don’t want the controversy right now,” related one mother. They are all eager for their story to be told—but not a single one would let me use their name. They worry about losing their jobs or hurting their children if their opposition to this ideology were known.

“The school can ask you to leave for any reason,” said one mother at Brentwood, another Los Angeles prep school. “Then you’ll be blacklisted from all the private schools and you’ll be known as a racist, which is worse than being called a murderer.”

One private school parent, born in a Communist nation, tells me: “I came to this country escaping the very same fear of retaliation that now my own child feels.” Another joked: “We need to feed our families. Oh, and pay $50,000 a year to have our children get indoctrinated.” A teacher in New York City put it most concisely: “To speak against this is to put all of your moral capital at risk.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Children, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Philosophy, Psychology, Theology

(AC) Rod Dreher–Ryan T. Anderson Was Made For This Moment

When he was running for president, Joe Biden vowed to sign the Equality Act if elected. Now that both the House and the Senate are in the hands of Democrats, odds are that the Equality Act will pass. Why does this concern you?

First, thankfully, odds are still against the bill becoming law. If the legislative filibuster remains, the Equality Act goes nowhere in the Senate. If they somehow convince Senator Manchin to vote to remove the legislative filibuster, then we’re in a different situation. The question would then be whether Senator McConnell can keep all 50 republicans opposed (and early signs are good as Senator Collins has said she now opposes the Equality Act). That would then leave a 50-50 split with VP Harris casting the deciding vote—unless, of course, Senator Manchin broke ranks and opposed the bill.

Second, why is the Equality Act so disconcerting? My most recent short treatment can be found last week in the New York Post. But I’ve been writing about the harms of the Equality Act, and its predecessor the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, since 2013. In books, law review articles, essays, op-eds, white papers, etc. etc. my basic argument has been that it gets the nature of the human person wrong, and by enshrining a false anthropology into law it’ll cause serious harms. (Basic idea being straight from MLK, who was building on Aquinas and Augustine, that for man-made law to be just, it needs to embody the natural law and the eternal law.)

The equality act would take a just law—the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which banned discrimination on the basis of race, and then add “sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity” everywhere that race is protected. It expands the number of private businesses that would now be classified as public accommodations. And it explicitly exempts itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). And it’s important to point out that because “sex” isn’t currently a protected class in Title II (public accommodations) or Title VI (federal funding recipients), by adding “sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity” to those titles the only religious liberty protections the Equality Act allows for would be those available to racists.

So the short answer is that the Equality Act treats people and institutions that believe we are created male and female, and that male and female are created for each other, as the legal equivalent of racists. And then all of the negative consequences for privacy and safety in single-sex facilities, for equality and fairness for athletics, for medicine when it comes to gender dysphoria (and abortion, see my NYPost op-ed) follow from that. If you get human nature wrong in law, there are consequences.

Because the vast majority of those consequences are not simply about “religious liberty,” the so-called Fairness for All alternative to the Equality Act isn’t actually fair, at all.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Sexuality, Theology: Scripture

(CC) James K. A. Smith–I’m a philosopher. We can’t think our way out of this mess.

As a young Christian philosopher, I wanted to be the confident, heresy-hunting Augustine, vanquishing the pagans with brilliance, fending off the Manichaeans and Pelagians with ironclad arguments. As a middle-aged man, I dream of being Mr. Rogers. When you’re young, it’s easy to confuse strength with dominance; when you’re older, you realize the feat of character it takes to be meek. I used to imagine my calling was to defend the Truth. Now I’m just trying to figure out how to love.

It’s not that I’ve given up on truth. It’s just that I’m less confident we’ll think our way out of the morass and malaise in which we find ourselves. Analysis won’t save us. And the truth of the gospel is less a message to be taught than a mystery enacted. Love won’t save us either, of course. But I’ve come to believe that the grace of God that will save us is more powerfully manifest in beloved community than in rational enlightenment. Or, as Hans Urs von Balthasar has put it, “Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed.”

What changed my mind?

In some ways, it was a philosophical appreciation for the limits of philosophy—a rational conclusion about the limits of reason.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy

(PD) Daniel Burns–Institutions and the Culture War

Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build shows (as I wrote in..[an essay] essay) that to the extent there can be any solution to our current social crisis, it will require us to reform our social and political institutions in order to make them better capable of fulfilling their indispensable moral-formative function.

The good news here is that healthy institutions have never required their members to be fully conscious of the formative moral function that they serve. Only in a Simpsons mob would people consciously demand that others impose authoritative restraints on their demands, and only minors are compelled to enter formative institutions for the sake of formation itself. Outside of institutions aimed at forming minors (i.e., schools and families), an adult institution will primarily aim to achieve its “core goal”—winning wars, growing food, manufacturing cars, reporting the news, advancing scientific knowledge, writing laws—but, along the way, it will necessarily “also form people so they can carry out that task successfully, responsibly, and reliably.” Come for the paycheck, stay for the moral formation; or, as Aristotle might have said, institutions come into being for the sake of living but exist for the sake of living well.

The bad news is that all this means we are already being formed by our institutions, even and precisely when we do not think of them as formative. Levin highlights social media and the university as two very formative institutions for today’s elite culture: the former molds us by “encouraging the vices most dangerous to a free society,” while the latter “shapes the students who come under its influence . . . in ways that answer to the broader culture war.” This may be why Levin keeps recurring to the claim that we regard our institutions more as platforms than as molds. For the distinction does not describe the real character of different institutions so much as the different attitudes with which we approach them. You may consider Twitter to be your own personal platform, but Jack Dorsey is chuckling all the way to his vipassana tech-detoxes in Myanmar: he has molded millions of Americans to fit his own institution’s “core goal” better than Henry Ford ever managed to mold a few thousand employees in Detroit.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy

(NYT) Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College

The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN picked up the story of a young female student harassed by white workers. The American Civil Liberties Union, which took the student’s case, said she was profiled for “eating while Black.”

Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.

Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories — as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her A.C.L.U. lawyer — set aside for Black students and other students of color.

But they did not offer any public apology or amends to the workers whose lives were gravely disrupted by the student’s accusation.

This is a tale of how race, class and power collided at the elite 145-year-old liberal arts college, where tuition, room and board top $78,000 a year and where the employees who keep the school running often come from working-class enclaves beyond the school’s elegant wrought iron gates. The story highlights the tensions between a student’s deeply felt sense of personal truth and facts that are at odds with it.

Read it all.

I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology, Race/Race Relations, Theology

(NPR) Do ‘Tight’ Cultures Fare Better In The Pandemic Than ‘Loose’ Cultures?

We shouldn’t confuse authoritarianism with tightness.

Following rules in terms of wearing masks and social distancing will help get us back faster to opening up the economy and to saving our freedom. And we can also look to other cultures that have been able to open up with greater success, like Taiwan for example. Increased self-regulation and [abidance of] physical distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large crowds allowed the country to keep both the infection and mortality rates low without shutting down the economy entirely. We need to think of this as being situation-specific in terms of following certain types of rules.

It requires using cultural intelligence to understand when we deploy tightness and when we deploy looseness. And my optimistic view is that we’re going to learn how to communicate about threats better, how to nudge people to follow rules, so that people understand the danger but also feel empowered to deal with it.

[In the U.S., for example, we] need to have national unity to cope with collective threat so that we are prepared as a nation to come together like we have in the past during other collected threats, such as after September 11.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Philosophy

Andrew Sullivan–Joe Biden’s Culture War Aggression

Biden has also signaled (and by executive order, has already launched) a very sharp departure from liberalism in his approach to civil rights. The vast majority of Americans support laws that protect minorities from discrimination, so that every American can have equality of opportunity, without their own talents being held back by prejudice. But Biden’s speech and executive orders come from a very different place. They explicitly replace the idea of equality in favor of what anti-liberal critical theorists call “equity.” They junk equality of opportunity in favor of equality of outcomes. Most people won’t notice that this new concept has been introduced — equity, equality, it all sounds the same — but they’ll soon find out the difference.

In critical theory, as James Lindsay explains, “‘equality’ means that citizen A and citizen B are treated equally, while ‘equity’ means adjusting shares in order to make citizen A and B equal.” Here’s how Biden defines “equity”: “the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”

In less tortured English, equity means giving the the named identity groups a specific advantage in treatment by the federal government over other groups — in order to make up for historic injustice and “systemic” oppression. Without “equity”, the argument runs, there can be no real “equality of opportunity.” Equity therefore comes first. Until equity is reached, equality is postponed — perhaps for ever.

Helping level up regions and populations that have experienced greater neglect or discrimination in the past is a good thing. But you could achieve this if you simply focused on relieving poverty in the relevant communities. You could invest in schools, reform policing, target environmental clean-ups, grow the economy, increase federal attention to the neglected, and thereby help the needy in precisely these groups. But that would not reflect critical theory’s insistence that race and identity trump class, and that America itself is inherently, from top to bottom, a “white supremacist” country. Biden just endorsed that with gusto.

The paradox, of course, is that to achieve “equity” you have to first take away equality for individuals who were born in the wrong identity group. Equity means treating individuals unequally so that groups are equal.

Read it all.

I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy

(NLJ) Jason Blakely–Scientism and Civilizational Rallying: Dawkins and the New Atheists

In Dawkins’s grand vision the world faced a dualistic split between the party of enlightened liberal atheism and backward authoritarian theism. His call was for a public movement of atheists to rally and mobilize into an open political bloc against religion. This suggested that the War on Terror should more rightly be reconceived as a War on Religion. In this way, scientific liberalism became for Dawkins a way to crusade against multiculturalism in favor of a liberal, scientific monoculture. Once religion had withered away and disappeared, humans would be free to enjoy freedom defined not as serious religious or spiritual pluralism, but as exercising various banal market freedoms.

Dawkins never seriously grappled with the tension between his avowals of the triumph of liberalism and his decidedly illiberal views on the religions constituting nearly every traditional human culture. Instead, for Dawkins the advent of a liberal, materialist atheism would mean a decline in world violence and a rise in social harmony. After all, Dawkins noted, “individual atheists may do evil things” but “they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism” and thus no war had been “fought in the name of atheism.”[5]

In other words, a liberal, atheist perpetual peace was on the horizon. At the same time the pages of The God Delusion expressed a unique, implicit justification for the War on Terror being waged all around Dawkins as he wrote. While he had believed he was popularizing the Darwinian science of memes, he had in fact joined in the construction of a culture for his fellow humans to inhabit. This was the varied scientistic culture of the War on Terror—truly a house with many rooms in it.

Read it all.

Posted in Atheism, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Science & Technology

(Tablet Magazine) American liberalism is in danger from a new ideology–Stop Being Shocked

No one has yet decided on the name for the force that has come to unseat liberalism. Some say it’s “Social Justice.” The author Rod Dreher has called it “therapeutic totalitarianism.” The writer Wesley Yang refers to it as “the successor ideology”—as in, the successor to liberalism.

At some point, it will have a formal name, one that properly describes its mixture of postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality. Until then, it is up to each of us to see it plainly. We need to look past the hashtags and slogans and the jargon to assess it honestly—and then to explain it to others.

The new creed’s premise goes something like this: We are in a war in which the forces of justice and progress are arrayed against the forces of backwardness and oppression. And in a war, the normal rules of the game—due process; political compromise; the presumption of innocence; free speech; even reason itself—must be suspended. Indeed, those rules themselves were corrupt to begin with—designed, as they were, by dead white males in order to uphold their own power.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” as the writer Audre Lorde put it. And the master’s house must be dismantled—because the house is rotted at its foundation.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Education, Media, Movies & Television, Philosophy, Politics in General, Secularism

(New Atlantis) Yuval Levin–Prudence in a Storm

Everything therefore depends on our assessment of the severity of the crisis we are living through. We are called to judge our circumstances. And that means we are called to the hard work of prudence. As Greg Weiner puts it in his magisterial study of the subject:

An essential element of prudence is thus recognizing the difference between genuine emergency and the aggrandizing rhetoric of catastrophe. Not every moment is Munich, but Munich was. A wide range of experience and circumstances is necessary to discern the difference.

Not every moment is a time of exceptional crisis, but a few moments are. And how we think about the policies our country is now pursuing ultimately hinges on whether we judge this pandemic to be such a time. Most of us are not experts in the relevant knowledge, and we must make the necessary judgment as citizens, calling on our read of the available evidence and our degree of confidence in those who claim to know — calling, in the end, upon our prudence. This doesn’t free us from the need to consider tradeoffs. On the contrary, it compels us to consider them in full, and to do so in full knowledge of the limits of our judgment.

The debunkers may be right about some important elements of our situation, and we must not forget it. But it seems awfully likely they are not right on the whole. And so we need to treat this crisis as a grave emergency, with an eye to doing what’s required to protect the most vulnerable among us and recover our safety and prosperity — precisely so that we can return to normal life, and to our vitally important debates about how best to live it.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Søren Kierkegaard

Heavenly Father, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ felt sorrow and dread in the Garden of Gethsemane: Help us to remember that though we walk through the valley of the shadow, thou art always with us, that with thy philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, we may believe what we have not seen and trust where we cannot test, and so come at length to the eternal joy which thou hast prepared for those who love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who livest and reignest with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Posted in Church History, Denmark, Philosophy, Spirituality/Prayer

(1st Things) David Randall–Learning how to Die

How should colleges educate students? We have wandered a long way from what Michel de Montaigne thought should be the first principles of education.

For it seems to me that the first lessons in which we should steep his [the student’s] mind must be those that regulate his behavior and his sense, that will teach him to know himself and to die well and live well. Among the liberal arts, let us begin with the art that liberates us.

Montaigne did not mean “liberation” as the devotees of Paolo Freire’s pedagogy understand it. Montaigne wrote, “He who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. Knowing how to die frees us from all subjection and constraint.” No education matters more.

Modern American colleges dedicate themselves instead to life without limits, and the cant progressive politics of our day. The mission statements sprawl, paragraph piled on paragraph. Bureaucrats and professors unable to edit themselves teach an object lesson in the fruits of indiscipline. “Virtue . . . is a state of character concerned with choice,” said the philosopher; and colleges unable even to choose one guiding institutional virtue educate their students to a similar incapacity to choose, to develop character, to live by virtue.

Of course, students miseducated in such a regime display little virtue in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. They have no knowledge of how to die well, or even that they should.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Education, Philosophy, Young Adults

(Prospect Magazine) Bp Graham Tomlin–How coronavirus is giving us a crash course in a different moral universe

Over the past few weeks, we have seen something quite extraordinary. Without too much legal threat, we have voluntarily submitted to severe abstinence, denying ourselves the rights to mix freely, to go to pubs and restaurants, to watch live sport, to shake hands, to travel to work. As we go through this period of collective self-abnegation, the suppression of our personal ambitions and desires, we are learning how to redirect our personal longings for a greater good, to sacrifice what we would normally like to do for the good of the whole.

We are learning that for a society to work, and to stave off the threats that confront it, the prioritisation of individual choice on its own is not enough. A society cannot survive if each one of us pursues our own self-chosen goals independent of everyone else. We have to exercise restraint, the Queen’s “self-discipline and resolve,” to learn the capacity to sacrifice our own desires for the sake of the wider community.

To address the potentially even more serious challenges of climate change, or the elimination of global poverty, for example, will require an even greater and longer exercise in self-restraint. The question is, when this is all over, whether we will go back to what we have been used to in the recent past, or whether we will restore something of an equilibrium between the demands of individual ambition and the common good.

Saint Paul once wrote that the Christian idea of grace, the notion that we are recipients of goodness that we didn’t create, “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” It may sound quaint and Victorian. But unless we can learn to live self-controlled, disciplined lives, a little more like the ones we’re having to lead right now, there will be little future for our planet or the people who live on it. Maybe coronavirus is giving us a crash course in a different moral universe—one that might just be the saving of us.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Philosophy, Theology

(PD) Adam J. MacLeod–Essences or Intersectionality: Understanding Why We Can’t Understand Each Other

Intersectionality is many things. It is a group of theories that join at the confluence of postmodern philosophy, poststructural social science, and critical cultural and legal studies. It is also a movement, which brings spokespeople for minority races, gender- and sexual-identity activists, and socialists together with a certain kind of feminist. And, as Warren’s quip illustrates, it is also a pose. It is a way for “woke” people to demonstrate their intellectual, social, and moral superiority over the unwoke.

The most essential tenet of Intersectionality is that nothing is essential. There is no essential human nature, nothing essential about reason or logic, no essential meaning of “man” or “woman” or “white” or “efficient” or “liberty” or “law.” At the deepest point in the Intersectionality pool, the very center of the confluence where all of its tributaries come together, everything is invented by those who hold power. Not only cultural norms and language, but also natural rights and duties, biological definitions, religious convictions, economic and scientific rules, and logic are all constructed “discursive practices.” Everything is a social construct, built by those who want to leverage their superior economic, cultural, or political positions to preserve their privileges and keep others down in the zero-sum contest for power.

This is one of two convictions that all Intersectionalists share in common. They are all, to varying degrees, against essence. They are all convinced that some term or feature that unenlightened people take for granted is both artificial and unjust. They do not always agree on which terms and features must be torn down. But they all share a motivation to tear down some aspect of the apparent essence of something.

Socialists and critical legal studies theorists focus on the constructs of “law” and “economics.” They teach our young people that “due process,” “price,” and “liberty” are suspect artifices imposed upon the poor by the rich. Critical race and dominance feminist theorists teach our young people to reject traditional notions of natural equality and equality before the law. Gender-identity and queer theorists go after the assumption that there can be anything essentially “masculine” or “feminine.” And so on.

The other conviction that all Intersectionalists share is that the most privileged people, who are responsible for the construction of most of the oppressive discursive practices, are heterosexual, white males.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Language, Marriage & Family, Philosophy

(1st Things) Dana Gioia–Why Beauty Matters

Take the time to listen to it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Sightings) Russell Johnson–Martin Buber’s Hope in Polarized Times

At Carnegie Hall in 1952, Buber gave a lecture titled “Hope for this Hour.” His goal was to give an honest assessment of life during the escalating Cold War. He announced, “The human world is today, as never before, split into two camps, each of which understand the other as the embodiment of falsehood and itself as the embodiment of truth.” Buber does not advocate a centrist position between these two camps, nor does he here weigh in on the disputed points between them. Rather, Buber analyzes how this disagreement over economic philosophies is a site of polarization. He makes three points that are relevant for “this hour” in our social landscape.

First, we need to be critical of the way disagreements are framed. In polarization, Buber says, a person is “more than ever inclined to see his own principle in its original purity and the opposing one in its present deterioration, especially if the forces of propaganda confirm his instincts in order to make better use of them.” He continues, “Expressed in modern terminology, he believes that he has ideas, his opponent only ideologies. This obsession feeds the mistrust that incites the two camps.” Put differently, polarization attenuates critical thinking, making us all too easily satisfied that our commitments are right because they are superior to those of our opponents. We also become less sensitive to distinctions and concerns of the other side, since we think we already know what really motivates their political behavior. Mistrust snowballs, then, as each side believes the other side is intentionally misrepresenting reality. The first thing we need in polarized times, Buber writes, is “criticism of our criticism.” Unless we hold ourselves to a high standard when inferring the motives and concerns of the other side, suspicion will get the better of truth.

Second, we need “individuation,” which means not treating the other side as a monolith but recognizing that each person has unique convictions. This idea is central to Buber’s philosophy of dialogue. One effect of polarization, he argues in “Hope for this Hour,” is the transformation of ordinary mistrust into “massive mistrust.” It is normal and even necessary to treat with suspicion the claims of a person who has shown themselves to be untrustworthy. We should be leery of an individual who has made a pattern of playing fast and loose with the truth. However, any transition from distrusting an unreliable individual to distrusting an opposing camp is not a change of degree but of kind. The other side’s speech becomes guilty until proven innocent. “One no longer merely fears that the other will voluntarily dissemble, but one simply takes it for granted that he cannot do otherwise.” Polarization is not extreme disagreement, but the erosion of the conditions—like trust—necessary for working through disagreement.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Philosophy, Politics in General

(EF) Pablo Martinez–“Turning the truth into a matter of personal opinions, inexorably leads to loss of hope”

Question. We went from ‘I think therefore I am’, to ‘I feel therefore I am’, and then to post-truth. What is the reference that will be an anchor to human beings in this new decade?

Answer. The two great anchors of human beings are truth and hope. Both come together, they are inseparable and make the backbone of human existence. These two do not vary with time, we need them today just like twenty centuries ago. What changes is the relationship, the attitude of Man towards these two anchors. That’s where the origin of the current deep crisis of values lies. The replacement of ‘the Truth’ by ‘my truth’ has broken one of the anchors, dragging the other one, hope, with its breakup. In his best known work From Dawn To Decay, the renowned French historian Jacques Barzun, already warned that ‘the postmodern assault on the idea of truth could lead us to the destruction of 500 years of civilisation’.

The root of the conflict is not cultural or ideological, it is a moral one. Ultimately, it is not a matter of a new philosophy, but a matter of who has the authority in my life and in the world. Does anyone rule up there or can I rule?

A strong earthquake has shaken the foundations of Western civilisation, because in the last 30 years the foundation and nature of the truth have amazingly changed. The change is summed up in one sentence: ‘Truth is dead, long live to my truth!’

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Theology