@RobertTalisse @eeclarkjr Come together… over Roberta Muldoon?

October 22, 2021

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John Lithgow-This IS a dangerous time. https://t.co/81YPsKn64G via @firinglineshow

October 22, 2021

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On the Very Human Importance of Walking: A Reading List https://t.co/OqaYeCIwb9 via @lithub

October 22, 2021

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RT @MtsuUfo: MTSU UFO is hosting a giveaway for MTSU students & faculty (prize valued @ over $275)! To enter: Follow us (@MtsuUfo) & Like and retweet this post! Giveaway ends 11/19/2021 @ 5 p.m. If you want to learn more about UFO and your opportunities, contact us at Laura.Clippard@mtsu.edu https://t.co/YPnloqFbSL

October 21, 2021

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Convivial humanity

October 21, 2021

 How to live? More suggestions today in Happiness…

9. Be convivial: live with others. 10. Wake from the sleep of habit. 11. Live temperately. 12. Guard your humanity.

Introducing children to the art of conversation, Montaigne thought, brings them out of their private worlds and engenders indispensable social graces. The graceless and rude incivility of so much of our recent public discourse would seem to vindicate that view. He was a humanist in the fashion of Kurt Vonnegut, “trying to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishment” in a post-human paradise or hell. “We owe justice to men, and mercy and kindness to other creatures that may be capable of receiving it.” 

Or as Kurt put it, addressing our newest humans: “There’s only one rule… God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Only follow nature to be happy, Montaigne’s fan Denis Diderot has a Tahitian instruct Europeans. Many of Diderot’s readers would have construed that in libertine fashion, more as license than liberty . Others might hear echoes of the Stoics. I hear William James’s “savages and children of nature” in his essay On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings, “to whom we deem ourselves so much superior, certainly are alive where we are often dead…”

But we of the highly educated classes (so called) have most of us got far, far away from Nature. We are trained to seek the choice, the rare, the exquisite exclusively, and to overlook the common. We are stuffed with abstract conceptions, and glib with verbalities and verbosities; and in the culture of these higher functions the peculiar sources of joy connected with our simpler functions often dry up, and we grow stone-blind and insensible to life’s more elementary and general goods and joys.

The remedy under such conditions is to descend to a more profound and primitive level. To be imprisoned or shipwrecked or forced into the army would permanently show the good of life to many an over-educated pessimist.

Over-educated pessimists do abound, in the environment of my workaday world. They’re lop-sided. They need to get out more.

Living in the open air and on the ground, the lop-sided beam of the balance slowly rises to the level line; and the over-sensibilities and insensibilities even themselves out. The good of all the artificial schemes and fevers fades and pales; and that of seeing, smelling, tasting, sleeping, and daring and doing with one’s body, grows and grows…

Guarding our humanity means that for Montaigne, as it did for James: it means staying in touch with the life and health of the body, and resisting the call of those forms of transcendence that would have us “rise above the human”… for Montaigne, recall, even on the loftiest throne we’re still seated on our asses. Mustn’t get beyond our raisin’, as we say in the south. That’s when the seductions of authoritarianism most threaten our humanity, as Richard Rorty said in his last, recently posthumously published Pragmatism as Anti-Authoritarianism.

So… convivial pragmatism is a humanism. Montaigne was that kind of humanist too.

 

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October 21, 2021

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October 20, 2021

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Mind the gap and grow up

October 20, 2021

We close Warburton’s Little History today and tomorrow in CoPhi, with Peter Singer’s utilitarian urgency about expanding the circle of our moral concern beyond narrow speciesism and parochial self-interest.

In The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, he says “one wants to feel that one’s life has amounted to more than just consuming products and generating garbage… one likes to look back and say that one’s done the best one can to make this a better place for others. You can look at it from this point of view: What greater motivation can there be than doing whatever one possibly can to reduce pain and suffering?” g’r

One does want that. We all ought to want to do all we can to reduce pain and suffering. We’re more than a little distracted, though, and perturbed to have to confront the reality that most of us could do a great deal more, at minimal cost to ourselves, to improve and save the lives of countless others. This makes Singer unpopular in some quarters. But as Warburton says, like Socrates, Singer doesn’t mind being unpopular. Gadflies don’t mind being considered pests. They do perform a vital public service, whether we like it or not. Fortunately for Singer, he won’t be condemned to swallow hemlock. 

He’s all over YouTube. Here’s one of his old TED Talks, on effective altruism. Here’s his Google talk on The Life You Can Save. Here’s a recent New Yorker interview in which he acknowledges that he doesn’t live up to his own high standards of altruism (choosing, for instance, to spend money on his elderly mother when “there could have been better things you could have done with that…”). And in this recent conversation he says we don’t have to possess great personal wealth to begin leveraging our resources effectively and making a tangible difference for “the greatest number.” 

He sets the ethical bar high, as did Socrates. Where else should it be?

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 LISTEN (recorded Oct.’20)

Today (again) in CoPhi we close Warburton’s Little History with Rawls’s Veil, Searle’s Chinese Room, Turing’s Test (and Depp’s Transcendence), and Singer’s Effective Altruism, before opening Susan Neiman’s Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age. And we conclude midterm reports.

She says you’re fooling yourself if you think youth is the happiest time of life. Ask Grandfather Philosophy. Enlightened maturity is best, though her hero Kant was more about deserving than actually achieving happiness. We should go for both. You should not have to “renounce your hopes and dreams” to get what you want and need. That’s Stones (not Stone) philosophy.

In “What is Enlightenment?” (1784) Kant answered his own question promptly and succinctly, for once. “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!”

In a distracted age like ours, and a country like ours (like Brian’s) where we’re so lockstep-sure that we’re all individuals, it takes a resolute and committed will to think for yourself. Even those who think they’re thinking may just be re-arranging their prejudices, William James probably wasn’t the first to say. Most people would die sooner than think, Bertrand Russell repeated. Real originality is hard. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, Honest Abe.

But I can vouch for the accuracy of this statement from Susan Neiman: “All the information in the world is no substitute for the guts to use your own judgement… Judgement is important because none of the answers to the questions that really move us can be found by following a rule.” Surprising statement from a Kantian, though even he was probably not much moved by the Categorical Imperative. Point is, there’s a big gap between the way things are (according to experience) and the way reason tells us they should be. “Growing up requires confronting the gap between the two, without giving up on either one.”

If travel is essential for growing up, the pandemic’s really set us back. Former Harvard President and Obama Treasury Secretary Larry Summers’s disdain for language-learning would too. As we’ve noted in discussing Julian Baggini’s How the World Thinks, and as Wittgenstein’s “language games” imply, learning a language is inseparable from thinking new thoughts and expanding your mental world.

Is 18 to 28 the best time of life? Neiman thinks it’s the hardest, made harder by the conceit that you should be loving it then and missing it the rest of your life. Better to look forward with the poet to a long and gratifying maturation. “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.”

Today in Fantasyland we notice the precedent in POTUS 40 for 45’s dangerous conflation of myth and reality, and wonder if there’s any way to control the spread of “cockamamie ideas and outright falsehoods” on the Internet.” Only one surefire way, apparently: log off.

And what do we think of the 80% of Americans who “say they never doubt the existence of God”? I think they need to think about it.

Originally published 10.27.20

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October 19, 2021

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Behind the shop

October 19, 2021

In Happiness today we’re on to the next batch of answers to Montaigne’s ultimate question: How to live?

5. Survive love and loss. 6. Use little tricks. 7. Question everything. 8. Keep a private room behind the shop.

Montaigne’s great lost love was that of his slightly older friend La Boetie at just age 32, “soon to be 33… God granted me this grace, that all my life up to now has been full of health and happiness.” I’d not have been so gracious and grateful myself, at that age. 

But of course, life expectancy in 1563–even adjusted for the Plague–was not much more. Still, it’s a remarkably equanimous parting judgment. Will I pronounce anything like it at 80 or 90? Hope so. My late father was full of gratitude for the life he’d enjoyed when he exited at not quite 80. I don’t think genes exactly code for that, I’m going to have to continue to work on acquiring the requisite ataraxia

Among the tricks that enable such a shift of outlook is the epeckho, the willing suspension or “holding back” of belief. Skepticism, translated into Socratic humility, is one solid source of self-preservation. But don’t confuse this with Pyrrho’s willful refusal to commit, which led him constantly to refrain from action and intent. Montaigne’s suspension is a way of treading lightly and being flexible, but it’s not an arrested stasis. Montaigne preferred to move, in contrast as well to Descartes meditatively transfixed by the flames he sats may or may not possess substantial existence. “Montaigne did his thinking in a richly populated environment…Descartes needed motionless withdrawal.”

And then there’s Blaise Pascal, shrinking from the silent stars and annoyed by his peers “playing the lute, singing, writing verse, tilting at the ring” and generally just getting on with living human lives rather than agonizing over the ultimate fate of their souls. Montaigne the humanist approved, preferring to ponder the fascinating varieties of ways to be human.

He preferred to do that while walking and riding. Much to his credit, he did climb back onto his horse, when not perambulating on shank’s mare. But even the most frenetic peripatetic must eventually retreat to the safe enclosure of walls, so Montaigne ascended his tower and found “real liberty” in the unobstructed country of the mind. I go to my ramshackle Little House in search of the same mental expansiveness. One of the great things about minds is their capacity to covert literal shacks to figurative towers. 

I’ll be retreating to mine shortly, apparently we’re about to be visited by painters. 

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