Category : Philosophy

(Oxford Student) Petition Launched To Remove Law Professor John Finnis For what are Alleged to be “Discriminatory” Comments

A petition to remove Emeritus Professor of Law and Legal Philosophy John Finnis from teaching has attracted three hundred and fifty signatures in five days. Finnis has been accused of having “a long record of extremely discriminatory views against many groups of disadvantaged people”, including the LGBTQ community. Finnis co-teaches a series of seminars for postgraduate students who choose to take the jurisprudence and political theory course in the BCL or M.Jur degree.

Remarks highlighted by the authors of the petition as particularly discriminatory include a comment from his Collected Essays in which he suggests that homosexual conduct is “never a valid, humanly acceptable choice and form of life” and is “destructive of human character and relationships” because “it treats human sexual capacities in a way which is deeply hostile to the self-understanding of those members who are willing to commit themselves to real marriage”. This essay was published in 2011 but refers to arguments he made in a previous essay from 1994….

Professor Finnis told The Oxford Student that “The petition travesties my position, and my testimony in American constitutional litigation. Anyone who consults the Law Faculty website and follows the links in the petition can see the petition’s many errors. I stand by all these writings. There is not a ‘phobic’ sentence in them. The 1994 essay promotes a classical and strictly philosophical moral critique of all non-marital sex acts and has been republished many times, most recently by Oxford University Press in the third volume of my Collected Essays.”

Read it all.

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

Posted in Anthropology, Education, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology

(City Journal) Gerald Russello–Our New Religion: Humanitarianism is displacing Christianity, but without its redeeming effects

Paradoxically, now that humanitarianism has fully cut itself loose from Christianity, its categories and language have inserted themselves back into Christian thought. This infiltration prevents Christians at times from noticing that they’re arguing not in Christian categories but humanitarian ones. Almost every national bishops’ conference in the West, for example, speaks the language of humanitarianism. Mahoney sees this as the problem with much of Pope Francis’s language as well— too often, the language of mercy is emptied of theological content, and condemnations of “rigidity” seem to echo a rights-based view of the person. This trend is problematic because humanitarian language is antithetical to the Christian message, and also because it elides the sharp criticism of humanitarian thinking offered by, among others, Pope Emeritus Benedict. Benedict clearly distinguished between authentic Christian teaching and the “humanitarian moral message” in his Introduction to Christianity and his Regensberg lecture, both of which Mahoney discusses. Mahoney calls for the return of an older way of reasoning about our moral selves, which involves a transcendent dimension through which we can know our obligations to ourselves and one another.

Mahoney acknowledges that many of his co-religionists already accept his message—but why should atheists care that humanitarianism seeks to replace Christianity, when they reject the significance of the West’s moral collapse? Mahoney explains, using the powerful witness of Solzhenitsyn, that without a divine warrant, humanitarianism points to tyranny and the negation of true politics. We may already be seeing what a post-Christian politics might look like. The humanitarian religion of the twenty-first century will not be the same one as that of the twentieth; rather than Soviet Man, it will elevate the “woke” protester or Twitter provocateur. Both the authoritarian and racialist Right and the identity-obsessed Left offer glimpses of a post-Christian politics, and neither is a model for a healthy democracy.

Indeed, as Christianity fades, we don’t see a decline in religious fervor or doctrinal vigilance. Humanitarianism is itself a religion, and as Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule has argued, modern secularism has its own eschatology (the eternal overcoming of “hatred”), its own sacraments and holidays, and various prohibitions and commandments, usually centered around specific groups. Coupled with the rise of various would-be pagan religions and the cult of the self, these movements represent a retreat from rational reflection on politics.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Books, History, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(The Mod) Sex, Art and God: Carl Trueman Talks With Camille Paglia

Why do you as an atheist think that the God of the Bible offers a more realistic approach to reality than post-structuralism? 

Camille Paglia:Post-structuralism is a cynical, reductive, and monotonously simplistic methodology that arose from the devastated landscape of twentieth-century Europe, torn by two colossal world wars.  It has nothing whatever to do with American culture, American imagination, or American achievement in literature, art, music, and film.  The trendy professors who imported post-structuralist jargon into U.S. academe were fools and frauds, and they deserve to be unmasked and condemned for their destruction of the humanities.

The worship of Michel Foucault (called “Saint Foucault” in the title of one sycophantish book) has been the worst kind of idolatry, elevating a derivative writer of limited historical knowledge to godlike status.  Foucault borrowed from a host of prior writers, from Emile Durkheim and Max Weber to the great Canadian-American sociologist, Erving Goffman (a major influence on my work).  For three decades, young professors have been forced to nervously pay homage to Foucault’s name, as if he were the Messiah.  Elite academe likes to insult religion and religious belief—except when it comes to the sacred names of post-structuralism, before whom all are expected to kneel.

I am an atheist who takes religion very seriously and who believes (as I argue in Provocations) that the study of world religions should become the core curriculum of global education.  I call comparative religion the true multiculturalism.  Who is better prepared for life and its inevitable shocks and losses:  the faddish Foucault acolyte or the devout Jew or Christian?  The Bible is a masterpiece of world literature, an archive of Hebrew poetry of the very highest level.  Its hero sagas have saturated Western literature and flowered in epic Hollywood movies still broadcast at every holiday.  The parables of Jesus (with their vivid metaphors drawn from everyday life) strike to the core of human experience.

As I have repeatedly insisted, Marxism, of which post-structuralism is a derivative, has no metaphysics.  It sees nothing bigger than society, which constitutes only a tiny portion of the universe.  Marxism does not perceive nature, nor can it grasp the profound and enduring themes of major literature, including time and fate.  Marxist social analysis is a useful modern tool that all scholars should certainly know (Arnold Hauser’s 1951 Marxist epic, The Social History of Art, had a huge impact on me in graduate school).  However, in its indifference to the spiritual, Marxism is hopelessly inadequate as a description of human life and its possibilities.  By externalizing and projecting evil into unjust social structures and prophesying a paradise-like utopia via apocalyptic revolution, Marxism evades the central issue that both religion and great art boldly confront:  evil is rooted in the human heart.

Read it all (my emphasis).

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

(Economist) Francis Fukuyama and Kwame Anthony Appiah take on identity politics

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. By Francis Fukuyama. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 240 pages; $26. To be published in Britain by Profile Books in October; £16.99.

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity. By Kwame Anthony Appiah. Liveright; 256 pages; $27.95. Profile Books; £14.99.

One of the most remarkable recent developments in Anglo-American politics is the reification of the white working class. Google Trends, a website that tracks how often particular words or phrases are typed into the search engine, shows a huge spike in interest in that group when Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016. Interest has never quite subsided since. What is more, the white working class has gone from being mostly ignored to being assumed to have a consistent set of views, even a political agenda.

Many of the books published after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Mr Trump’s election tried to explain why this group in particular had turned on the political establishment. For example, “Us vs Them” by Ian Bremmer and “WTF” by Robert Peston found the answer in the travails of former industrial towns and the arrogance and selfishness of elites. Now come two more reflective takes. “Identity” and “The Lies That Bind” suggest that Western countries not only have deep economic and social problems, but philosophical ones too. People are looking at themselves and others in the wrong ways.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

Vital Food for Thought from Alisdair MacIntyre on Saint Benedict’s Feast Day

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead–often not recognising fully what they were doing–was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another–doubtless very different–St. Benedict.”

–Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Terre Haute, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 3rd. ed., 2007), p. 263 (my emphasis)

Update: Peter Leithardt’s comments on this are also worth pondering:

“The turning point, he says, occurred with a renunciation of the “task of shoring up the Roman imperium,” which required “men and women of good will” to begin to distinguish between sustaining moral community and maintaining the empire. Roman civilization was no longer seen as synonymous with civilization itself. Mutatis muntandis, this is the intellectual and practical transformation that has to take place before we can begin to construct “local forms of community” for the flourishing of civility and intellectual life. We need to acknowledge that our task isn’t to shore up America, or the West, or whatever. If we promote local communities of virtue as a tactic for shoring up the imperium, we haven’t really grasped MacIntyre’s point, or the depth of the crisis he described.

That renunciation is as emotionally difficult as the project of forming local communities is practically difficult.”

Posted in America/U.S.A., Canada, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, History, Philosophy, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–Anthony Kennedy and the Privatization of Meaning

Justice Anthony Kennedy didn’t invent the shift from community to autonomy, but in 1992 he articulated it more crisply than anyone else: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

In this sentence, which became famous as the “mystery of life” passage, there is no sense that individuals are embedded in a social order. There is no acknowledgment of the parts of ourselves that we don’t choose but inherit — family, race, social roles, historical legacies of oppression, our bodies, the habits that are handed down to us by our common culture.

There’s no we. We are all monads who walk around with our own individual opinions about existence, meaning and the universe. Each person is a self-created choosing individual, pursuing individual desires. There is no sense that we are part of a common flow connecting the past, present and future; instead, each of us creates our own worldview anew.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Philosophy, Supreme Court, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–The Fourth Great Awakening

The competitive virtues of Athens are usually narrated in myth while the compassionate virtues of Jerusalem often get narrated in parable.

Myth is a specific kind of story. Myths are generally set in a timeless Perilous Realm. The Perilous Realm usually has different rules than the normal world. Creatures have different superpowers, like the ability to fly or throw shafts of lightning. And those rules are taken very seriously. Within the Perilous Realm everything that happens in myth is “true,” in the sense that everything obeys the rules of that other world.

Myths respond to our hunger to do something heroic. Whether it is Zeus, Thor, Luke Skywalker or Wonder Woman, myths trace the archetypal chapters of the heroic quest or combat: refusing the call, the meeting of the mentor, the ordeal, seizing the sword and so on.

The core drama is external: fighting the forces of evil, enduring the harsh journey, developing the skills that make you the best.

Parable is a different kind of story. Parables are usually set in normal time and reality. Parables have ordinary human characters, never superheroes. The word parable comes from the Greek word meaning comparison. Parables are meant to be relatable and didactic.

Parables respond to our deep hunger to be in close relationship. Parables — think of the good Samaritan, the emperor’s new clothes, the prodigal son or the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz — are mostly about inner states, not external combat. Characters are presented with a moral dilemma or a moral occasion, and the key question is whether they express charity, faithfulness, forgiveness, commitment and love.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture

More Food for Thought from GK Chesterton–Everything will be denied until even the obvious will need to be defended

From there:

Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.

–Gilbert K. Chesterton, Heretics (London and New York:John Lane[The Bodley Head], 1905), pp. 304-305, my emphasis

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

(New Atlantis) Doug Sikkema–Taking a Careful look at the Modern disenchantment myth

That magic, religion, and superstition have all persisted up to the modern day does not quite demonstrate his claim that “we have never been disenchanted” — or, put another way, that “modernity signals a societal fissure” between religion and reason “that never occurred.” In his keenness to show that the idea of disenchantment is undermined by the persistence of both sides of the binary, he fails to examine a more interesting and arguably much more important line of inquiry: how this myth has altered the conditions in which both religion and science are now practiced. When we consider this, we see that despite the continued prevalence of enchanting beliefs and practices, we are indeed disenchanted in a more fundamental and pervasive way than Josephson-Storm recognizes.

Just recall his origin story for a moment and his blind spot becomes apparent. He deems pre-Revolutionary Europe to be merely a “historical moment” the Romantics were reacting against in their writings. In doing so “they were making grand themes out of the specifics of their local history.” But this reading fails to take seriously the broader cultural conditions in which such a political and philosophical climate even became possible. Might it have something to do with a broader notion of disenchantment, or “dis-God-ing” (to translate from Schiller’s “entgötterte Natur”), that transcended this particular place and time? If so, the German Romantics may have had real reason for concern, as may have the thinkers who built on their insights. Perhaps their understanding of history’s pattern as a linear alienation from God and nature was questionable, but the idea of a dis-godded condition becoming solidified in a theory of progress and in revolutionary politics, and of it manifesting in physical form in the new industrial world, was so terrifying to them precisely because they knew these things were greater than their particular historical moment.

The only way for the book’s argument to work, then, is to accept at face value the idea of disenchantment as the simple absence of religion and magic. But we are actually disenchanted in a much more profound way. Yes, religion and magic remain ubiquitous; but they are now performed against a backdrop in which disenchantment is regarded, in ways conscious and unconscious, as true. Disenchantment is the default position in the social imaginary, encoded in our language and in all manner of habits and practices that carry as if we inhabit a mechanistic world. It has become one of the myths we live by, even as we resist it.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

(TGC) Joe Carter–The Incel Movement and the Repugnant Logic of the Sexual Revolution

[The US Supreme Court 1965] Griswold [decision] was based on a negative right to privacy. But since then it has broadened to include new positive rights—such as the requirement of businesses to pay for abortifacients in their health-insurance plans and to use artistic talents to serve the “weddings” of same-sex couples.

Some sexual-rights advocates, such as bioethicist Jacob Appel, are now claiming a right even more expansive than the right to privacy: that “sexual pleasure is a fundamental right.” Based on this view, they argue for the inclusion of numerous new negative sexual rights, such as that women and girls have a right to sell their bodies for money.

Yet if sexual pleasure is fundamental, what happens to those who are unable to acquire it because of a lack of money or mate? We don’t deny people food or water because they can’t afford it, so why would deny them the “fundamental right” of sex?

The logic of sexual rights will compel, as Hanson noted, that sex may need to be redistributed using the power of the state. Hanson may be the “creepiest economist in America,” but he’s also able to follow the presuppositions of the sexual-rights advocates to their logical conclusion.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Canada, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Philosophy, Sexuality, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–The Loving Place in Italy for Children That Assumes Beauty

“Beauty educates,” said Serena, quoting Giussani. The children who come here often feel tossed aside. One used to be awakened by her mother with the words, “Get up, you piece of [expletive]. Breakfast is ready, you piece of [expletive].” But beautiful surroundings make the children who come here feel important, welcomed and cherished. If a toy breaks at Cometa, it is fixed right away. Likewise, every child is recoverable.

The people in Cometa don’t only treasure beauty, they assume it. In a world of distrust and betrayal, they assume there is beauty in each person and in every situation, so they lead with an almost unnerving level of hospitality.

The vocational high school curriculum is built around the idea that machines will soon be doing most physical tasks, but no machine will be able to create the feeling of a loving home. Whether they are being trained as waiters, carpenters, fabric designers or pastry chefs, students are taught to understand and create hospitable experiences. “Everything is a home,” said Mele. “Everything says, ‘Welcome to my home.’”

The idea is to give students the power to welcome others, born out of a sense that they have been welcomed. One of Giussani’s mottos resonates through Cometa: “Reality will not let you down.” You can take the radical leap, because life ultimately is beautiful.

This takes stubborn determination.

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Italy, Philosophy

(1st Things) Wilfred McClay: Postmodern Times

[Gene] Veith, who is a Missouri Synod Lutheran (and Professor of English at Concordia University in Wisconsin), has produced in Postmodern Times a more refined and cautious, but no less suggestive, contribution to the Schaeffer tradition of theologically informed cultural analysis. Hence, although the book will certainly be of interest to scholars, its subtitle suggests a different audience: reflective Protestants who want to understand what the apparent collapse of modernism may mean for the culture, for the Church, and for themselves as Christians.

Veith’s answer to these concerns is optimistic, but very cautiously so. The modernist worldview, with its “totalized” enlightened faith in secular, rationalistic, naturalistic, materialistic, and demystified modes of explanation for all things, has by and large been the sworn enemy of Christian orthodoxy. So modernism’s slow but inexorable loss of authority at the hands of physicists, philosophers of science, literary theorists, and others would seem to be a welcome development. But Veith warns that the secular ideology of postmodernism will eventually be every bit as hostile to Christianity as modernism was, and perhaps more so. Why? Because Christians have one thing in common with modernists: both believe in the possibility of intelligible absolute truths. Therefore both are guilty, in the eyes of postmodernists, of the sin of “universal or totalizing discourse,” the distrust of which is the hallmark of postmodernism.

Read it all from 1994.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Multiculturalism, pluralism, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(1st Things) Thomas White–The Metaphysics of Democracy

What is needed today is a Catholic metaphysics of democracy. Cosmopolitan liberalism is inherently unstable, but so is the current Catholic response to it. The Church’s engagement of democracy as a positive good comes in two historical stages, each recent and limited in success. The first came after World War II: the demise of the totalitarian regimes and the advent of Christian democracy in Western Europe. It provided the cultural space and fueled the optimism that made the Second Vatican Council possible. We may be accustomed to thinking about the secularization that followed the council as a sign of its ineffectiveness, despite all good intentions. But things could have been much worse. The positive vision of Christian humanism that the council articulated was inspirational in Western Europe at a critical moment. The Church was able to develop a complex social doctrine in a democratic context just at the time that it mattered, in response to the rival system of totalitarian communism, which risked engulfing the larger political order of world history.

The second stage took place during the pontificate of John Paul II, first in direct confrontation with communism and, subsequently, in the wake of its defeat. Democratic market economies succeeded and communism crumbled, but the end of the Cold War was treated by many as a triumph of capitalism alone, not of the spirit. The Church found herself in a paradoxical situation. She advanced a system that now has no need to reference its own religious roots and is indifferent to them.

There was a time when the leaders of the Church could continue to promote democratic values as part of a strategy of forming the future of the modern West. That strategy has lost its force, and the Church now risks becoming a sociological ghetto, or worse, an archeological museum of ideas. Today it seems that three options remain….

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Theology

The Economist reviews Patrick Deneen’s new Book ‘Why Liberalism Failed’

Over the past four centuries liberalism has been so successful that it has driven all its opponents off the battlefield. Now it is disintegrating, destroyed by a mix of hubris and internal contradictions, according to Patrick Deneen, a professor of politics at the University of Notre Dame.

The gathering wreckage of liberalism’s twilight years can be seen all around, especially in America, Mr Deneen’s main focus. The founding tenets of the faith have been shattered. Equality of opportunity has produced a new meritocratic aristocracy that has all the aloofness of the old aristocracy with none of its sense of noblesse oblige. Democracy has degenerated into a theatre of the absurd. And technological advances are reducing ever more areas of work into meaningless drudgery. “The gap between liberalism’s claims about itself and the lived reality of the citizenry” is now so wide that “the lie can no longer be accepted,” Mr Deneen writes. What better proof of this than the vision of 1,000 private planes whisking their occupants to Davos to discuss the question of “creating a shared future in a fragmented world”?

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy

Food for Thought from Patrick Deneen in 2014–The Coming Persecution

From there:

[Michael] Shermer lauds the liberal society being brought ever more fully into view under the liberal dominion as one of equality, liberty, prosperity, and peace. This is at the very least a willful misreading of the signs of the time. The society that comes ever more clearly into view is one that efficiently and ruthlessly sifts the “winners” from the “losers,” the strong from the weak. It has transformed nearly every human institution – from the family to the schools to the universities to the government – to assist in this enterprise. Modern liberalism congratulates itself on its liberation of disadvantaged minorities – so long as some of their number can join the side of the winners – but is content to ignore or apply guilt-assuaging band-aids to the devastation of life prospects experienced by the “losers.” Tyler Cowen has described this aborning world as one in which “average is over,” in which you will either be one of the 10-15% of the winners, or 85-90% of the losers destined to live in the equivalent of favelas in Texas where you will be provided an endless supply of free Internet porn. This is the end of history, if we follow the logic of liberalism.

So, since Shermer ends with a prediction, let me make one also. Those Christians and other religious believers who resist the spirit of the age will be persecuted – not by being thrown to lions in the Coliseum, but by judicial, administrative, and legal marginalization. They will lose many of the institutions that they built to help the poor, the marginalized, the weak, and the disinherited. But finding themselves in the new imperium will call out new forms of living the Christian witness. They will live in the favelas, providing care for body and soul that cannot not be provided by either the state or the market. Like the early Church, they will live in a distinct way from the way of the empire, and their way of life will draw those who perhaps didn’t realize that this was what Christianity was, all along. When the liberal ideology collapses – as it will – the Church will remain, the gates of Hell not prevailing against it.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(TAC) Rod Dreher’s interview w/ Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen about his new book, ‘Why Liberalism Failed’

We can say, then, that liberalism is the political operating system of America. Our different parties are like “apps” that operate on that liberal operating system, reflecting its deepest commitments in what are most often its main political agendas: on the Right, the picture of the emancipated individual chooser that animates libertarian economics; and on the Left, the vision of the emancipated individual chooser that animates their libertarian “lifestyle” aspirations, particularly relating to sexuality and abortion.

You write that liberalism “has failed because it has succeeded.” Explain the paradox.

The aspiration of the liberated individual was always moderated by many other historical and cultural influences, especially – in the West – by orthodox forms of Christianity. For a long time, many people of good will understandably could be strong supporters and proponents of the official liberal political philosophy of the American order because of those moderating influences. However, I argue that those moderating influences have been eviscerated by the “success” of liberalism, by its coming fully into being. In this sense, it is an ideology that remakes society in its image – not in the violent manner of those competing and defeated ideologies of fascism and communism, but, rather, in most cases, through the invitation to regard individual liberty as the highest aspiration of the successful life. However, understanding its basic commitments, we can see ways that the liberal regime has certainly been extended through the powers of the state, including through such avenues as the HHS mandate as well as less obvious ways, such as transportation and housing policy, that moved most Americans out of communities and into suburbs.

I argue, then, that we see liberalism failing because it has succeeded. As liberalism has “become more fully itself,” it becomes more immoderate and reveals the falseness of its anthropological assumptions. The breakdown of our political order as well as the loss of any kind of common culture and even civil comportment is, in a sense, the reflection of the successful artificial creation of a state of nature. We are now seeing the results of a 500-year experiment that aims at liberating the individual from social, religious and familial ties, now held together only by the belief that what we have in common is the fact that we are all rights-bearing individuals.

Read it all (2nd emphasis mine).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Books, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, History, Philosophy

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–Truth emerges from disagreement and debate

Coming in to Broadcasting House this morning I saw for the first time the statue unveiled this week, of George Orwell, with its inscription on the wall behind, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” How badly we need that truth today.

I’ve been deeply troubled by what seems to me to be the assault on free speech taking place in British universities in the name of “safe space,” “trigger warnings,” and “micro-aggressions,” meaning any remark that someone might find offensive even if no offence is meant. So far has this gone that a month ago, students at an Oxford College banned the presence of a representative of the Christian Union on the grounds that some might find their presence alienating and offensive. Luckily the protest that followed led to the ban being swiftly overturned. But still …

I’m sure this entire movement has been undertaken for the highest of motives, to protect the feelings of the vulnerable, which I applaud, but you don’t achieve that by silencing dissenting views. A safe space is the exact opposite: a place where you give a respectful hearing to views opposed to your own, knowing that your views too will be listened to respectfully. That’s academic freedom and it’s essential to a free society.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Language, Philosophy

(CT) Stephen Backhouse reviews Alan Jacobs new book ‘How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds’

“As any wizard knows, to practice magic is to marshal the powers of the universe into a concentrated point. Spirits, forces of nature, and other humans are subjected to the magician’s wishes. If I practice magic, I am trying to bend reality to my will. Aleister Crowley, the magician dubbed the “wickedest man in the world,” famously summed up the occultist philosophy: “Do what thou will is the whole of the law.”

This might sound like the stuff of medieval fantasy, but a quick glance at our culture confirms that habits of magical thinking are stubbornly persistent. Wherever one finds groups and individuals intent on ramming an agenda through the system—perhaps by manipulating boardroom membership, stacking organizations with the “right” people, or enacting ideologically driven purges—one finds shades of black magic. We don’t call political lobbying the “dark arts” for nothing.
Petitions, protests, and popular rallies reveal our deeply ingrained belief that voices shouting loudly in unison can shape reality. In today’s climate, many of us crave clear battle lines between good and evil and abhor anyone who dares admit that complex problems don’t have simple answers. And heaven help any poor public figures foolish enough to sincerely change their minds.

All these trends have hampered our ability to think carefully, judiciously, and generously. As a professor and public intellectual, Jacobs is well aware of the difficulties posed not so much by a lack of thinking, but instead by the way we think. “For me,” he writes, “the fundamental problem we have may best be described as an orientation of the will.””

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Philosophy, Psychology

(Guardian) Franklin Foer–Facebook’s war on free will: is technology is making our minds redundant?

All the values that Silicon Valley professes are the values of the 60s. The big tech companies present themselves as platforms for personal liberation. Everyone has the right to speak their mind on social media, to fulfil their intellectual and democratic potential, to express their individuality. Where television had been a passive medium that rendered citizens inert, Facebook is participatory and empowering. It allows users to read widely, think for themselves and form their own opinions.

We can’t entirely dismiss this rhetoric. There are parts of the world, even in the US, where Facebook emboldens citizens and enables them to organise themselves in opposition to power. But we shouldn’t accept Facebook’s self-conception as sincere, either. Facebook is a carefully managed top-down system, not a robust public square. It mimics some of the patterns of conversation, but that’s a surface trait.

In reality, Facebook is a tangle of rules and procedures for sorting information, rules devised by the corporation for the ultimate benefit of the corporation. Facebook is always surveilling users, always auditing them, using them as lab rats in its behavioural experiments. While it creates the impression that it offers choice, in truth Facebook paternalistically nudges users in the direction it deems best for them, which also happens to be the direction that gets them thoroughly addicted. It’s a phoniness that is most obvious in the compressed, historic career of Facebook’s mastermind.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Media, Philosophy, Psychology, Science & Technology

(NYT Op-ed) Bret Stephens–The Dying Art of Disagreement

So here’s where we stand: Intelligent disagreement is the lifeblood of any thriving society. Yet we in the United States are raising a younger generation who have never been taught either the how or the why of disagreement, and who seem to think that free speech is a one-way right: Namely, their right to disinvite, shout down or abuse anyone they dislike, lest they run the risk of listening to that person — or even allowing someone else to listen.

Can we do better?

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Psychology, Theology

(ABC R+E) John Ozolins–Why the Argument for Same-Sex Marriage is Not Sound

The main argument put forward in favour of altering the definition of marriage as being between a man and woman is that this discriminates against relationships between individuals of the same sex and hence constitutes a violation of their right to have their relationship recognised as having equal value.

In short, the argument is that it devalues their love.

The question I want to examine is whether this is a sound argument.

One way of encapsulating the logical form of the argument is the following:

1.All love between all persons is equal (Assumption – that is, an assertion that is taken as given).
2.Love is recognised through marriage (Assumption).
3.Marriage is a human right (Assumption).
4.Human rights apply to all human beings (Assumption).
5.Marriage is a human right of all human beings (from 3 and 4).
6.Love between gay individuals is equal to other forms of love (from 1).
7.Love between gay individuals is recognised through marriage (from 2 and 6).
8.Marriage between gay individuals is a human right (from 5 and 7).

The question now becomes one of determining whether the argument is sound, since it appears to be a valid argument – that is, assuming the premises from which it begins are true, the conclusion is true. On the other hand, if any of the premises are false, then the conclusion is false, though the argument is still valid (since the form of the argument is valid). It is another matter whether the argument is sound. It is not sound if any of the premises are false, since the conclusion will not be true.

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

(Atlantic) Kurt Andersen–How America Lost Its Mind

When did america become untethered from reality?

I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, Entertainment, History, Movies & Television, Philosophy, Psychology, Science & Technology

(TGC) Albert Mohler on the New Book “Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination”

There’s one clash of arguments in the book that may, over time, be seen as most important. Corvino presses the case for what he calls dignitary harm as differentiated from material harm. His description of dignitary harm is quite expansive:

(1) treating people as inferior, regardless of whether anyone recognizes the mistreatment;
(2) causing people to feel inferior, intentionally or not; and
(3) contributing to systemic moral inequality, intentionally or not.

Don’t miss what Corvino claims here: even making someone “feel [morally] inferior, intentional or not” constitutes harm. As Anderson and Girgis understand, that means the end of religion, particularly any religion based on a claim to revelation. Taken to its logical conclusion, it means the end of all moral judgment. In their words:

Religious freedom includes nothing if not the rights to worship, proselytize, and convert—forms of conduct (and speech) that can express the conviction that outsiders are wrong. Perhaps not just wrong, but deluded about matters of cosmic importance around which they have ordered their lives—even damnably wrong.

Of course, both sides in a moral conflict see the other side’s position as morally inferior. But make no mistake: this idea of dignitary harm may be the biggest single threat to religious liberty in this entire book—and in our immediate future.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology

(PD) Ismail Royer–Bernie Sander’s Relativism Test Is Bad for Muslims and All Religious Believers

Thus, any Muslim unwilling to repudiate the belief that Islam is objectively true and that other religions are, at least in critical respects, objectively false, would be unqualified to serve under Bernie’s relativism test.

It also follows that any Muslims objecting to Vought’s appointment must either admit they don’t believe Islam is objectively true, admit they’re employing a double standard, or drop their objection to the appointment. The corollary to this, of course, is that any non-Muslims objecting to a Muslim’s appointment to public office merely on the basis of his religious beliefs are in precisely the same position. As James Madison wrote, the No Religious Test Clause means “Jews Turks & infidels” are free to serve in government. So long as a Muslim candidate for public service is qualified for office, the fact that he or she is an unapologetic Muslim can be no grounds for objecting to the appointment. Anyone who says otherwise while opposing Bernie’s test must either admit his bad faith or repudiate the Constitution.

I am inclined to think that Bernie Sanders and his allies mean well in opposing Vought’s nomination. They want to protect the feelings of members of a religious minority that has come under fire from many quarters. That sentiment is admirable and appreciated, but misguided. Bernie needs to realize that Muslims in America are more adult, and have more confidence in themselves and in the truth of their faith, than one might imagine. More importantly, by bending the Constitution in the name of pluralism to require relativism from all holders of public office, the institution of such a test would constitute a loss for Muslims and all religious believers in the long run.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(The Australian) Kevin Donelly–Australia should not deny Its Christian roots

Civil Liberties Australia, in its submission to the Senate inquiry on freedom of religion, argues Australia is not a Christian country on the basis that “it is not correct in law and in fact is directly contradicted by the Constitution”.

The reality proves otherwise: although Australia is a secular society, where there is a division between church and state, to deny the significance of Christianity is to deny the nation’s heritage and culture and to ignore what underpins our political and legal systems.

Rather than ignoring Christianity, the Constitution’s preamble includes the words: “Humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God” and parliaments around Australia begin with the Lord’s Prayer.

Perth lawyer Augusto Zimmermann says Australia’s political and legal systems owe much to Christianity.

He says: “It is evident the foundations of the Australian nation, and its laws, have discernible Christian-philosophical roots.”

Read it all.

Posted in Australia / NZ, History, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) William Doino–Alvin Plantinga’s Masterful Achievement

To appreciate his achievement, one should start by noting what Plantinga had to overcome. As Heather Templeton Dill said, announcing this year’s prize:

When Dr. Plantinga began his career in the late 1950’s, most academic philosophers deliberately rejected religiously informed philosophy. But early on, Dr. Plantinga defended a variety of arguments for the existence of God, marking the beginning of his efforts to put theistic belief back on the philosophical agenda.
Plantinga’s first important work, God and Other Minds, re-examined the classic arguments for and against God. It concluded that belief in the existence of God was rational, just as belief in other minds is. Arguments for the existence of other minds cannot be proven with certitude, yet most everyone accepts them as a given fact. Similarly, a religious believer’s personal encounter with the divine authorizes belief in a divine mind and creator—even if such a being cannot be strictly inferred from the secular world. Though these arguments sound simple, Plantinga worked them out with great intricacy and depth, and his book moved many skeptical minds toward belief.

His second major work, God, Freedom and Evil, proved even more consequential, as it dealt with the oft-heard objection that a good God is incompatible with a world filled with evil.

Read it all.

Posted in Apologetics, Philosophy, Theology

(G+M) Mark Kingwell–Artificial intelligence in 2017 means respect, not fear

…fear remains the dominant emotion when humans talk about technological change. Are self-driving cars better described as self-crashing? Is the Internet of Things, where we eagerly allow information-stealing algorithms into our rec rooms and kitchens, the end of privacy? Is the Singularity imminent?

But fright is closely seconded by wonder. Your smartphone makes Deep Blue look, as Mr. [Gary] Kasparov has said, like an alarm clock. In your pocket lies computing power exponentially greater than a Cray supercomputer from the 1970s that occupied an entire room and required an elaborate cooling system. Look at all the things I can do, not to mention dates I can make, while walking heedlessly down the sidewalk! This is familiar terrain. The debate about artificial intelligence is remarkable for not being a debate at all but rather, as with Trump-era politics or the cultural-appropriation issue, a series of conceptual standoffs. Can we get past the typical stalemates and break some new ground on artificial intelligence?

I think we can, and Mr. Kasparov himself makes the first part of the argument. We can program non-human systems, he notes, to do what we already know how to do. Deep Blue won against him using brute force surveys of possible future moves, something human players do less quickly. But when it comes to things we humans don’t understand about ourselves, and so can’t translate into code, the stakes are different. Intuition, creativity, empathy – these are qualities of the human mind that the mind itself cannot map. To use Julian Jaynes’s memorable image, we are like flashlights, illuminating the external world but not the mechanisms by which we perceive it.

Read it all.

Posted in Canada, Philosophy, Science & Technology

(PD) Ryan Anderson–Faith and Reason, Beauty and Holiness

This time at college was also the first time I had ever met Evangelicals, and daily Mass-attending Catholics. Indeed, it was the first time I met any Christian deeply committed to the faith. And so, at Princeton University of all places, I started to think seriously as a Christian. And I came to see that there’s no conflict between faith and reason. I came to understand more deeply the reasons for the hope I have.

I also came to see just how misguided secular liberal policies were on the most urgent and important questions, and how much damage—in terms of human brokenness—these policies cause. I saw that to love my neighbor required me to help defend the truth in terms that my secular classmates could engage. That the knowledge I had acquired in thinking through these questions wasn’t just for me, it wasn’t just so I could be secure in my opinions, puffed up knowing that I’m right and they’re wrong, but was to be shared—and it was to be shared precisely because it is the truth that sets us free, and makes us flourish. This was what God was calling me to do then and there.

He may be calling some of you to do the same….

Read it all.

Posted in Apologetics, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology, Theology: Scripture, Young Adults

(CC) Elizabeth Palmer on Stephen Backhouse’s new biography–Kierkegaard and his gifts for the church

The second gift Kierkegaard gives the church is the withering power of his attacks on the established church in Denmark, including its dominant theology, its institutional structure, and its pastors. This stance is the focus of Kierkegaard’s polemical writings in which he became enmeshed during the last years of his life. He was offended by a theology that turned Christianity into a form of philosophical Hegelianism (Kierkegaard’s charge against the popular professor H. L. Martensen), by culturally and politically sanctioned church leaders (embodied for Kierkegaard by Bishop J. P. Mynster), and by anti-institutional populist forms of religion that made an idol of the masses (Kierkegaard’s view of the pastor-educator Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig). As Kierkegaard saw it, these manifestations of bourgeois faith lured Danes away from Jesus’ radical call to discipleship. Caught up in the crowd of a culturally sanctioned faith, Christians were saved from the offensive but necessary movement of throwing themselves as sinners on God’s mercy.

Although Christianity in 21st-century America is far from that of 19th-century Denmark, it is not only in Kierkegaard’s day that pastors were guilty of preaching in a way that “tones down, veils, suppresses, omits some of what is most decisively Christian” (as Kierkegaard put it in an 1854 newspaper article following Mynster’s death). Refusing on his deathbed to receive holy communion from a clergyman, Kierkegaard complained about a church that was beholden to the state, a church in which “the pastors are civil servants of the Crown.” Today the co-opting of the church comes from other directions. Fear of numerical decline, nostalgia for the way things used to be, or adherence to a political agenda exerts its own pressure toward conformity and security.

And clergy are not the only ones Kierkegaard faults. Pews as well as pulpits are filled with religious complacency:

The New Testament is very easy to understand. But we human beings are really a bunch of scheming swindlers; we pretend to be unable to understand it because we understand very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly at once. . . . I open the N.T. and read: “If you want to be perfect, then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come and follow me.” Good God, all the capitalists, the officeholders, and the pensioners, the whole race no less, would be almost beggars.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Denmark, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

Alvin Plantinga wins the 2017 Templeton prize

Alvin Plantinga, an American scholar whose rigorous writings over a half century have made theism – the belief in a divine reality or god – a serious option within academic philosophy, was announced today as the 2017 Templeton Prize Laureate.

Plantinga’s pioneering work began in the late 1950s, a time when academic philosophers generally rejected religiously informed philosophy. In his early books, however, Plantinga considered a variety of arguments for the existence of God in ways that put theistic belief back on the philosophical agenda.

Plantinga’s 1984 paper, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” challenged Christian philosophers to let their religious commitments shape their academic agenda and to pursue rigorous work based on a specifically Christian philosophical vision. At the same time, he was developing an account of knowledge, most fully expressed in the “Warrant Trilogy” published by Oxford University Press (1993 and 2000), making the case that religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and do not have to be defended or justified based on other beliefs. These arguments have now influenced three generations of professional philosophers.

Read it all.

Posted in Philosophy, Theology