“The best thing about saying thank goodness in place of thank God is that there really are lots of ways of repaying your debt to goodness—by setting out to create more of it, for the benefit of those to come.” @danieldennett Happy Thanksgiving!

November 23, 2017

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RT @calvin_smith33: @keenantaylor_ #JRNL2720 Philosophy professor Dr. Phil Oliver was asked about the scale of the impact social media can have on social change he said, “I think we’re still figuring that out, but it looks like it has the power to shape elections.“ https://t.co/hTxDxWc5Wh

November 22, 2017

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November 21, 2017

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How to Live an Experiment

November 21, 2017

More Jamesian happiness today. We’ve briefly considered On a Certain Blindness (1899), which sounds a fundamentally altruistic note. It’s as interested in (though necessarily less comprehending of) others’ “springs of delight” as in one’s own. (We’ll take a closer look at Blindness next time.)

I’ve just finished Matthieu Ricard’s Altruism, and am struck by the consanguinity of Ricard’s Buddhism with James’s pragmatic pluralism. The latter celebrates individuality, subjectivity, and selfhood, sure; but it equally extols empathy and compassion.

Those virtues were on impressive display when young William James advised a friend – and himself – to counter what we’d nowadays call SAD (seasonal affective disorder) with a fictive inner shift of attention:

Image result for skimming gullsRemember when old December’s darkness is everywhere about you, that the world is really in every minutest point as full of life as in the most joyous morning you ever lived through; that the sun is whanging down, and the waves dancing, and the gulls skimming down at the mouth of the Amazon, for instance, as freshly as in the first morning of creation; and the hour is just as fit as any hour that ever was for a new gospel of cheer to be preached. I am sure that one can, by merely thinking of these matters of fact, limit the power of one’s evil moods over one’s way of looking at the cosmos.

Today, we turn back to two of his earlier essays: The Sentiment of Rationality (1879) and The Dilemma of Determinism (1884).

They convey the themes most central to James’s perpetual interest in personal flourishing: enthusiastic acceptance of one’s own and others’ distinctive individuality as the pre-eminent condition of feeling oneself “at home” in the world, at peace and at liberty to enjoy “the sufficiency of the present moment”; and, a sense of one’s own free agency as pragmatically vindicated by those who act on it (“my first act of free will shall be to believe in free will”). For James, to be happy is fully to inhabit the present and confidently anticipate your fitness to meet the future freely.

Why do we philosophize? James says we seek a more rational “frame of things,” marked by “a strong feeling of ease, peace, & rest” affording transition from confusion and perplexity to pleasure in rational comprehension. That’s a subjective definition of rationality, concerned not simply with the degree of objective fit between our ideas and the world but with the palpable and personal perception therof.

The poet Walt Whitman celebrated the feeling of sufficiency just “as I am,” and James says that “fluent” feeling is rationality’s sine qua non. “Whatever modes of conceiving the cosmos facilitate this fluency, produce the sentiment of rationality.” The very coupling of sentiment and rationality was already a clue, of course, that James’s approach would defy rational convention. Not many epistemologists are interested in how rationality feels. That didn’t deter James, who was given to mocking “our bald-headed young PhDs, boring one another at conferences” with their erkentnisstheories etc.

“Every one knows how when a painful thing has to be undergone in the near future, the vague feeling that it is impending penetrates all our thought with uneasiness and subtly vitiates our mood even when it does not control our attention; it keeps us from being at rest, at home in the given present. The same is true when a great happiness awaits us.” Anticipation is making me wait, is keeping me waiting, sang Carly Simon in a song made silly by association with ketchup. The waiting is the hardest part, sang Tom Petty. Fluency and sufficiency are hard to have and hold, but when you finally get there it’s the greatest deliverance and homecoming. Indeed, “coming to feel at home” is the great prize in life for the human animal.

“It is of the utmost practical importance to an animal that he should have prevision of the qualities of the objects that surround him, and especially that he should not come to rest in presence of circumstances that might be fraught either with peril or advantage.” Evolution wants us (so to speak) to feel at home in secure surroundings, and spurs our curiosity to interrogate our surroundings and insure their homeliness. 
Must we wait and hope for the fluent feeling of homey sufficiency to descend and grace us? No, we must muster our subjective energies and go after it. 

in every fact into which there enters an element of personal contribution on my part, as soon as this personal contribution demands a certain degree of subjective energy which, in its turn, calls for a certain amount of faith in the result,–so that, after all, the future fact is conditioned by my present faith in it,–how trebly asinine would it be for me to deny myself the use of the subjective method, the method of belief based on desire!

If you’re climbing in the Alps and must face either certain death or a death-defying leap, you’d better believe in yourself. “The part of wisdom clearly is to believe what one desires; for the belief is one of the indispensable preliminary conditions of the realization of its object. There are then cases where faith creates its own verification.” That’s the view Bertrand Russell derided as the will to make-believe. But Russell was no climber, though like us all he was a chooser and a decider.

Are our choices and decisions freely willed? It so, we can’t allow ourselves to be compelled to believe. “Our first act of freedom, if we are free, ought in all inward propriety to be to affirm that we are free.” That was James’s own decision, when he “just about touched bottom” and then fortuitously discovered Renouvier’s definition of free will as the directed control of one’s own attentive mind and decided to experiment with it. To attend to one thing and not another is to court a specific range of possibilities. James was forever battling the Rationalist/Idealist Hegelians and Positivist Necessitarians  of his day, whose doctrines seemed to deny possibility as a real feature of our world. 

“A world with a chance in it of being altogether good, even if the chance never come to pass, is better than a world with no such chance at all… the chance that in moral respects the future may be other and better than the past has been” is more rational if it frees us to entertain and experiment with more possibilities, and occasionally to summon our personal energy, to sustain a promising but insecure leap of belief and action towards something better. That’s taking a chance, and not surrendering to fate.
As we’ve noted, some of us are more at home in a personal world of chance and risk. Those who are, studies seem to show, are happier.

The “Stone” essay “How to Live a Lie” proposes that James was a “free will fictionalist” who willfully accepted propositions that defy rational belief. I don’t think much of the Times headline-writer’s decision to label that a “Lie,” fiction at its best is a vehicle of truth. Better to call it living an experiment, in the Millian sense: each of us, insofar as our lives become for us projects in pursuit of well-being, are experimentalists seeking the right personal fit between our beliefs, statements, actions, and experience. James was a life-long free will experimentalist, who found that believing in free will conduced to the best version of himself, made the most “rational” sense of his experience, made him a better philosopher and a better human being, made him happy in the fullest sense of the term. No lie.

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November 20, 2017

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Peirce & James, Nietzsche, Freud

November 20, 2017

Image result for softballOrig. publ. 4.13.17.

Attended my second High School softball game in three days, on another lovely late afternoon in April. “Cruelest month” – ? No, happy days! Next year’s going to be weird, with no players under our roof left to cheer for. Dr. Seuss may not have said it but we’ll need to remember it: “Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened.” Actually, a little sadness will be ok too. And the game will go on. Ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Today in CoPhi it’s the American Pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James (and John Dewey, R.I.P., and George Santayana, both neglected by Nigel), the godless post-nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche, and the psychoanalytic therapeutics of Sigmund Freud.

We begin with a squirrel, whose circumnavigation of a tree was the improbable occasion for James’s account of the pragmatic method. (That’s the view from his summer place in New Hampshire atop my masthead, btw.) His camping companions couldn’t decide whether a scampering, circling squirrel was itself circled by the human observers who tried and failed to keep the frenetic rodent constantly in their sights or not.

...Mindful of the scholastic adage that whenever you meet a contradiction you must make a distinction, I immediately sought and found one, as follows: “Which party is right,” I said, “depends on what you PRACTICALLY MEAN by ‘going round’ the squirrel. If you mean passing from the north of him to the east, then to the south, then to the west, and then to the north of him again, obviously the man does go round him, for he occupies these successive positions. But if on the contrary you mean being first in front of him, then on the right of him, then behind him, then on his left, and finally in front again, it is quite as obvious that the man fails to go round him, for by the compensating movements the squirrel makes, he keeps his belly turned towards the man all the time, and his back turned away. Make the distinction, and there is no occasion for any farther dispute. You are both right and both wrong according as you conceive the verb ‘to go round’ in one practical fashion or the other.” Altho one or two of the hotter disputants called my speech a shuffling evasion, saying they wanted no quibbling or scholastic hair-splitting, but meant just plain honest English ’round,’ the majority seemed to think that the distinction had assuaged the dispute. What Pragmatism Means

A silly and trivial dispute, perhaps, but helpfully illustrative of how pragmatists think. Define your terms, say what practical difference the competing answers would make, and get on with more pressing concerns. It all depends on “why you want to know and what difference it will actually make,” if any. If none, forget about it.

Another way to illustrate the method: what’s your current velocity, right now?

Charles Peirce, not related to Benjamin Franklin Pierce, said the final truth is what we would end up with if we could run all the experiments and investigations we’d like to. We’ll never run them all, so the truth at any given time is always provisional, always tied to the present state of inquiry and always subject to revision or rejection in the light of further experience. 
Bertrand Russell didn’t think much of this approach, and didn’t make much of an effort to grasp its intent. Pragmatists are often accused of denying the facts, when they explicitly acknowledge facts but propose that we understand truth (or falsehood) about the facts as what we say about them but never, in media res, entirely convergent with them. What we say is subject to the present stage of inquiry, the inconclusiveness of which requires an admission that what we would say at the ideal end of inquiry will surely differ. Hence the perpetual gap between facts and truths, and the pragmatists’ commitment to narrowing the gap in the long run while resisting unwarranted absolute claims in the interim.
So it’s not true, contrary to Russell’s derisive criticism, that pragmatists have to admit the truth of Santa’s existence. It may “work” for a four-year-old to think so, but toddlers don’t get the last word. 
This is a contentious and contestable view, admittedly, but it is not the caricatured reduction to whatever is “expedient” in a situation James’s critics (like Bertrand Russell) made it out to be. It’s more like Richard Rorty‘s neo-pragmatic and (later) Wittgensteinian invitation to an open and ongoing conversation between all comers with something to contribute. It is decidedly not a “Santa Claus” philosophy of truth.  Rorty said words are our tools and not symbolic snapshots corresponding to timeless propositional statements.  Our task is to “cope” with the world, not just copy it.

James may have been wrong about truth, but (to paraphrase A.C. Grayling’s comment on Descartes) if he was, he was interestingly, constructively, engagingly, entertainingly, provocatively wrong.
Besides, he’s the best writer in the James family (sorry, Henry) and possibly the best writer in the entire stable of American philosophers. I call him my favorite because he’s the one I’d most like to invite to the Boulevard for a beer. Unfortunately he didn’t drink. (Too bad they don’t serve nitrous oxide.) Also, unfortunately, he died in 1910. Read his letters and correspondence, they humanize his philosophy and place his “radical” views in the context of their genesis: the context of experience, and of life.
James’s interest in religion was rooted in the lives and experience of individuals, not particularly in God, heaven, the afterlife and so on. He psychologizes and naturalizes religion. It’s mostly about life on earth, for Jamesians, not (again) old St. Nick.

Let me know if you’d like to buy a good bargain-priced book about him. About us all, really.

Friedrich Nietzsche said “God is dead” and seemed at turns dismayed and liberated to think so. Is a godless world one in which “everything is permitted” or one in which objective and authoritative permission is no longer available, in which the old rules have been mooted and “free spirits” are unleashed to create new rules for themselves?  But is God dead, in Nietzsche’s terms? Maybe in old Europe, and maybe in more of the formerly sacred halls of worship in our own backyard than most of us will admit. Zarathustra may have come a century too soon in some quarters, and it may still be too soon in others, but it’s hard to deny that ours is an increasingly secular age. I don’t know many secularists who think everything is permitted.

Nor do I know many secularists who think compassion, kindness, and consideration are dead, dependent on a religious pedigree, or reflective of slavish resentment. That genealogy may explain the psychology behind some Christians’ worldview, but most people in my experience still want to be good for goodness’ sake. If your only motivation for being good, though, is to get to heaven, that’s not good. And it’s not goodness.

We’re hosting a talk by a representative godless secular humanist who thinks you can be good without a god next Friday, at our annual Spring Lyceum: Ronald Aronson, author of Living Without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, and the Undecided.

If an Ubermensch is “not held back by conventional moral codes,” he’d better be held back by law and communal disfavor. There are other, better names for people who “want to have their way without consideration of other people’s interests”: selfish egoists. Spoiled brats. NPDs. Mr. President. Not Superman.

Nietzsche’s un-Kantian exaltation of unreason found partial alliance with Sigmund Freud, but is also placed on the shrink’s couch as a classic textbook case of subterranean wish-fulfillment and unresolved, unconsious discontent with modernity. The Freudian Unconscious may not quite rise to the revolutionary status of Copernicus and Darwin, Frood may not have figured it all out, Deputy, but it would explain a lot. As “talking cures” go, though, I think I’d usually rather talk to a philosophical analyst than a psycho-…

Nietzsche himself was an early-adopter of psychoanalysis, and needed to be. He had a gift for his analyst, as documented in the film When Nietzsche Wept: eternal recurrence, the gift that keeps on giving. Or doesn’t. Its up to you to affirm or negate, to receive the gift as a great liberation or the greatest weight.

Freud’s reductive account of religion rivals Marx’s, and like Marx’s probably captures a significant but not comprehensive segment of believers. Much of Freud’s universe is unfalsifiable, as Sir Karl said, but it’s not hard to find a devout person who wants and finds more in religion than a protective paterfamilias in the sky. On the other hand, he wasn’t entirely off base when he said “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” And, “man’s judgments of value follow directly his wishes for happiness-accordingly, they are an attempt to support his illusions with arguments.”

?s Does it really “work” to believe in Santa? Didn’t you continue to receive presents after you stopped believing? Is believing in Santa analogous to believing in God? When James said truth is what works, did he mean what works for me, now? Or for us, on the whole and in the long run? Are words tools, or more like pictures? Is it possible that God is dead for some but not others, in some places and times more and in others less? Are compassion and kindness distinctively religious values? Do you know any kind and compassionate atheists? Should we embrace the irrational and emotional aspects of human nature, or try to overcome them? Is Freudian dream symbolism (snakes and caves etc.) profound or silly?
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4.13.17. It’s the birthday of Samuel Beckett, who waited for Godot but didn’t know what he waiting for… and of Thomas Jefferson, who couldn’t wait to declare our independence… and of Eudora Welty, who lived her whole life in the same house in Jackson, MS and said “the dullest man I ever saw in my life (Henry Miller) wasn’t interested in anything outside himself.” Emily Dickinson’s poem about madness in spring was about people like him.

5:30/6:17, 52/85, 7:17

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November 16, 2017

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Gravity, repetition, and fantasyland

November 16, 2017

We’ll finish our stroll with Gros’s Philosophy of Walking today. He says the distance walker experiences “an immense renunciation,” or resignation to being earthbound, that issues ultimately and paradoxically in “the joy of being” and an “utter bliss.” He’s probably exaggerating at both ends of that statement, hikers typically begin not in a spirit of resignation but rather of eager anticipation, and end at the bliss end of the scale for sure, but possibly not utterly  – but I haven’t hiked the AT yet, so I’ll suspend judgment. Bryson ended his hike all aglow, sure enough, but didn’t soft-pedal the challenges and indignities of the abortive journey either.

Daily walkers, or this one anyway, do not set out in the expectation of slipping the surly bonds of earth, nor do the typically mild and reassuring rewards of transit for its own sake generally rise to transcendent levels of ecstasy. We keep our feet on the ground and our heads out of the clouds, or short at least of Cloud Nine. Slow and steady is our mantra, we’re not racing anyone or renouncing anything. But we do indeed understand and accept that our place is here, on this earth and in this skin, as every step reinforces the point. We’re down to earth.

And yet, we also feel a pleasant lightness of being as we realize and celebrate the ease of traveling without encumbrance. Gros had to ditch his rucksack at the foot of a mountain to feel that. I ditch my figurative rucksack every morning as I step out the door and also find “nothing between me and the sky, me and the ground” but a leash and a friend.

Reflecting on Gandhi’s disciplined, principled marches for justice, Gros says you can better “hold yourself to account” through “meticulous self-examination” measured a step at a time. You can, but you can also – as he’s already told us – slip away from hyper-self-examination. A walk is a canvas, and each can be different.

Does walking cure apathy (“acedia”)? Some monks have said so, owing somehow to the rhythm and regularity of a steady gait. I know I find it harder not to care about things, during and after a walk. I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure I need to know why. Some gift horses just must be ridden and not riddled out.

I don’t know if Wordsworth was really the first poet of walking, but he was surely its poet laureate. “I calculate,” said De Quincy, “that… Wordsworth must have traversed a distance of 175,000 to 180,000 English miles—a mode of exertion which, to him, stood in the stead of alcohol and other stimulants whatsoever to animal spirits; to which, indeed, he was indebted for a life of unclouded happiness, and we for much of what is most excellent in his writings.”

Wordsworth achieved in his wanderings what the Tibetan masters devised breathing and gymnastic exercises (lung-gom) to attain, the ability “of walking very fast over enormous distances without fatigue.” He and they may be our peripatetic role models, if we need them. For me, it’s enough simply to echo Montaigne’s observation:  “My thoughts sleep if I sit still.” I don’t necessarily have to go long and far, to shake off somnolence. I just have to go. And go. And go. It’s not for nothing that our last chapter is Repetition. Once more into the breach. Let’s go.
==
And once again, tonight, I get to repeat the happy experience of teaching the first of a two-class block in our school’s Master of Liberal Arts (MALA) program. Last semester it was Human Migration, this time it’s Cheating. My contribution: Cheating Truth (which, to be clear, I’m against). We’ll begin with a look at Princeton Professsor Harry Frankfurt’s classic “On Bullshit,” originally a mid-’80s essay in Raritan, revived in teeny pocket-book format in the mid-’00s, and on target now more than ever. As the author told Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, it just keeps “piling.”

I’ve been instructed not to require introductions from our students, since they’ve already had a half-dozen opening nights with different teachers all semester long and should know one another well enough by now. I get that, but it’s still hard for me not to begin my opening night, as I begin all my opening days each semester, with two questions: Who are you? and Why are you here? So, folks, I won’t ask. If any of you would care to volunteer that information, however…

And if anyone would care to volunteer a synopsis of what’s gone on in the cheating class so far, I’d love to be caught up. (So far the class has heard from my colleagues in Theater and Dance, Global Studies and Human Geography, Music, Political Science, and Sociology and Anthropology.)

Why “bullshit”? Isn’t it obvious? As Kurt Andersen says in his timely, troubling, yet vastly entertaining new alt-history of our land, it’s not a new phenomenon but lately it’s really coming to a head.

When John Adams said in the 1700s that “facts are stubborn things,” the overriding American principle of personal freedom was not yet enshrined in the Declaration or the Constitution, and the United States of America was itself still a dream. Two and a half centuries later the nation Adams cofounded has become a majority-rule de facto refutation of his truism: “our wishes, our inclinations” and ‘the dictates of our passions’ now apparently do ‘alter the state of facts and evidence,’ because extrteme cognitive liberty and the pursuit of happiness rule…

…mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that steep and simmer for a few centuries; run it through the anything-goes 1960s and the Internet age; the result is the America we inhabit today, where reality and fantasy are weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire – a 500-Year History

We’ve fostered “a promiscuous devotion to the untrue,” one nation under Twitter with liberty for disinterest in truth and facts for all.

Well, fortunately not all. Wits like Andersen and Frankfurt, and before them sages like Carl Sagan with his euphemistic baloney-detection kit, have done their best to call out and rein in our promiscuous magic thinking. May the force be with them, and with us all.

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November 15, 2017

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Mill, Darwin, Kierkegaard, & Marx

November 15, 2017
Busy days ahead! MillDarwinKierkegaardMarx
Then tomorrow tonight, it’s the first of my two classes in the MALA course on “Cheating”… my contribution: “Cheating Truth”…
 Last time this quartet of philosophers came up I was doing my bit for the Spring MALA course on Human Migration, worth a look back. Then, I called my block contribution “The Human Journey to Cosmopolitanism,” first retracing the genetic trail of Y-chromosome crumbs that prove we have indeed walked far, then wondering if we’ll ever complete the mission summarized by that ambitious (if premature) plaque on the moon.
Image result for "we came in peace" moon flag
“Premature,” I say, as evidenced by that other marker we left in the lunar dust.
Image result for "we came in peace" moon flag

Also premature perhaps in its implication that humans at this stage of their evolutionary development have in fact become a peaceable, or even reliably civil, species. I ventured out to the airport last night and was met with several instances of gratuitous incivility. Lots of us seem like powder kegs waiting to blow, these days. Oh well. At least I didn’t get beat up or kicked off a plane. I’d rather walk than fly any day.
We might check in tonight with Frederic Gros’s Philosophy of Walking, and Christopher Orlet’s Gymnasiums of the Mind, and “Walking to the stars“: Some of us fervently believe, with Nietzsche, Rousseau, and so many others, that the best ideas first come while walking. Some of us also believe we should expand our range to include more distant turf, over the Terran horizon. I’m a believer.

But first, those 19th century stars.

Mill, we’ve noted, disagree with Bentham about pleasure. He had nothing against “pushpin,” just impatience with humans who wouldn’t bother to explore more. His great passion was of course for liberty, so his insistence on qualitative pleasure-standards sets up a taut challenge: how to prescribe but not impose those standards, and still respect the rights of all to seek their own good in their own ways without (as John Lachs puts it) meddling. Open discussion in a free society, especially about our differences, forces invaluable self-critique. “If you don’t have your views challenged by people with opposing views, then you will probably end up holding them as ‘dead dogmas’…” But of course we rarely call out our own dogmas, it’s other people’s prejudices we detest. So we need to hear out other people.

The great Huxley-Wilberforce debate has probably grown in legend beyond its moment, but what wouldn’t I give to have been there! I think Dan Dennett is probably right, evolution by natural selection is probably the single best idea anyone ever had. Huxley was probably right too, when he upbraided himself for not having thought of it first. The best ideas are often right under our noses, out of sight.

Since Darwin’s day genetics, tonight’s topic, “has given a detailed explanation of how inheritance works.” It’s not just a theory, it’s a hypothesis with “a very substantial weight of evidence in support.”

The Danish Socrates said evidence/schmevidence, what’s that to me if my “subjective truth” says I should take a flying leap into the darkness. Some of us think Kierkegaard committed intellectual suicide, but we’re glad somebody stepped up to defend the irrationalist position. It gives us more to talk about. And it’s clear enough why some Existentialists (though not the atheists like Sartre) look back to the Melancholy Dane as their early prototype. Kierkegaard was all about “choosing how to live and the difficulty of knowing that your decision is the right one.” My view is that you only make that more difficult, when you renounce reason. And, you do contradict yourself in the broadest sense of reason when you write tracts attempting to vindicate your irrationalism. Nigel’s unvarnished judgment: “Faith involves risk. But it is also irrational: not based on reason.”

But, give Kierkegaard credit for defending “the subjective point of view” against the pure objectifiers in philosophy who leave themselves no place to stand, pretending to occupy Professor Nagel’s “view from nowhere.” That really is a Nowhere Land, Nowhere Man.

Karl Marx always looks angry. The “grim conditions” of industrial capitalism and its assault on the poor and powerless dispossessed sent him to the British Library and into collaboration with Engels to crank out their Manifesto. The political struggle of class demanded and predicted revolution, they said. They took Hegel’s history and said it’s all coming to a head much sooner than his intellectualistic analysis allowed, given its manifest material contradictions. Theye didn’t predict the Soviet Union, though.

“From each according to ability, to each according to need”: a beautiful vision, which American students seem conditioned to reject as impossible. Seems to work pretty well in places like Denmark and Switzerland, though.

Finally, Marx famously called religion “the opium of the people.” He didn’t think that was an insult, but a sympathetic explanation. “In the new world after the revolution human beings would achieve their humanity.” Sounds so naive, from the perspective of 2017. But humanity isan achievement, not just a genetic fact. We’ve got to reclaim it constantly.

Lotsa questions: Name two or three of your favorite pleasures. Are any of them higher or better than the others? In what way? Are any of yours higher or better than those of a friend whose list includes none of yours? Why or why not? Is state paternalism ever warranted? Why don’t we ever talk about state maternalism? What are the appropriate legal limits on speech and expression in a free society, if any? How would you reply to Wilberforce’s debate question? What do you think was the best idea ever? Do you want a map of your own genome? Why or why not? Do you agree with Darwin that the subject of God is “too profound for human intellect”? Does it mean we should all be agnostic? What would you have done, in Abraham’s position? Would you have doubted the “message” or challenged the messenger? Does it damage the parent-child relationship if Mom or Dad make it clear to the child that they’ll always defer to the perceived instructions of a “heavenly father,” even including murderous instructions? Does anything “trump the duty to be a good [parent]”? Would you ever do something you considered morally wrong, in the name of faith? Does taking a “leap of faith” make you irrational? How do you balance your subjective point of view with objectivity, and with the subjectivity of others? What role should inter-subjectivity play, in forming that balance? If you ever own a business will you pay your workers as little as possible and extract as much “surplus value” from them as you can? Is anything in history “inevitable”? Does religion make people more reconciled to oppression and exploitation, and less likely to revolt?

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