Category : Philosophy

(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.

Read it all.

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