Resist!-a reading list. Additional suggestions?

March 17, 2018

from Twitter


RT @bymarktwain: It is not best that we should all think alike; it is a difference of opinion that makes horse races. #MarkTwain

March 16, 2018

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RT @JohnKaag: Happy to announce Hiking with Nietzsche–with a stellar cover by Na Kim. Out in Sept. On order now.

March 16, 2018

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Big questions

March 15, 2018

from Twitter

Big questions

March 15, 2018

Stephen Hawking has died. “The only subject he found exciting was cosmology because, he said, it dealt with ‘the big question: Where did the universe come from?’”

In late antiquity and the middle ages the big questions tended to be more about life’s rumored sequel and how to achieve it. Hawking’s view was that there would be no sequel, nor was there any need to appeal to anything outside the universe, like God, to explain how it began. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Augustine first thought you had to make alliance with the forces of good, in their death struggle with the forces of darkness. He was on the right track, I tend to think, before his big conversion. He was right to suppose that our side needs all good hands on deck, to resist and overcome evil. He put that conversion off as long as he could, praying for purity but only in due course. For the record, though: I don’t think he was right to think of our carnal condition as an entombment. Incorporeal souls sow no wild oats, ascetics enjoy few existential delights.

So, buoyed by Platonism, he “put all forms of materialism firmly behind him” and “turned back the clock of intellectual history.” The old Greek commitment to reason was not finally comforting enough to him. “He returned to a version of the comforting supernatural stories which most of the first philosophers sought to dispense with, or at least to rationalize.”

Boethius‘s Consolation of Philosophy dialogue found its own form of comfort, not in Augustine’s Christianity but in Lady Philosophy’s timeless stoicism. God (or Good?) sees all in a single atemporal sweep, “at a go,” and thus somehow leaves the hapless victim of tortured persecution and execution as free as it found him. He can still choose to be “philosophical” about every misfortune, even to his dying breath on the rack. His freedom’s a lot like Kris Kristofferson’s and Janis Joplin’s, “just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Anselm‘s God, “than which nothing greater can be conceived,” and his famous “proof” thereof, is another of those notorious sleights of hand made to do heavy philosophical lifting with nothing more muscular than verbiage. It’s still shocking to me, how many bright people (including young Russell, briefly) it’s seduced.

Speaking of great misfortune, poor Abelard‘s is painful to ponder. Gottlieb blames “his scholarly prowess and his passionate involvement with logic” for emboldening him to undertake his own fateful seduction. How ironic, that he would go on to make his mark as “the first serious moral philosopher of medieval times” and “to apply rational analysis to the nature of moral goodness.” Too little, too late.

Moses Maimonides did not address Abelard’s peculiar form of perplexity but did try to bring philosophy, science, and religion together. “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.” But try telling that to the world. He was right, though. “You must accept the truth from whatever source it comes.” But, “Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.”

He was onto confirmation bias early. “We naturally like what we have been accustomed to, and are attracted towards it. […] The same is the case with those opinions of man to which he has been accustomed from his youth; he likes them, defends them, and shuns the opposite views.”

Was he really the first to say this?: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Did he anticipate James’s Will to Believe notion that “our errors are not such awfully solemn things”? “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”

He was sort of a bioethicist before his time: “The physician should not treat the disease but the patient who is suffering from it.” And, “No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means.” Actually that might have helped Abelard, with a little timely saltpeter in his diet.

William of Ockham‘s famous “razor” said we should keep our theories simple, our ontology thin. “It is pointless to do with more what can be done with less.” Remember Goober’s beard?

Remember Buridan’s Ass? Apparently “no such animal appears in his writings.” Too bad, he’s been such a workhorse for logicians.

Giordano Bruno was a mystic friar, but he also had a vivd scifi imagination. He said there must be other worlds and “countless suns” out there in the Void, “innumerable globes like this on which we live and grow.” We’ve only confirmed that in the past twenty years or so. It (and other heresies) got him torched in 1600. Carl Sagan and Neil Tyson tell his story.

Finally today in CoPhi, Aquinas. His First Cause Argument, echoing Aristotle, said a never-ending series of causes and effects would lead to an unacceptable regress. The first term in any explanatory sequence, he thought, has to be self-evident. But is that itself self-evident? Russell says, of “the supposed impossibility of a series having no first term: Every mathematician knows that there is no such impossibility; the series of negative integers ending with minus one is an instance to the contrary. But here again no Catholic is likely to abandon belief in God even if he becomes convinced that Saint Thomas’s arguments are bad; he will invent other arguments, or take refuge in revelation.” It’s not just Catholics. Remember confirmation bias?

More questions: Can the definition of a word prove anything about the world? Is theoretical simplicity always better, even if the universe is complex? Does the possibility of other worlds somehow diminish humanity? Which is more plausible, that God exists but is not more powerful than Satan, or that neither God nor Satan exists? Why? Are supernatural stories of faith, redemption, and salvation comforting to you than the power of reason and evidence? And what do you say to Carl Sagan?:

“The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.” [More good questions here… ]

Today in Fantasyland, we note the Big Bang that erupted after the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) adopted its founding document in 1962 – the explosion of magical thinking when “dystopian and utopian fantasies seemed plausible” and the Weather Underground went to work making real explosions, kidnapping heiresses, robbing banks and creating general mayhem in the name of revolution.

And then came the Sexual Revolution, with the Pill “available everywhere by 1965. “When sex became far less consequential, it could become less ‘real’ and more like exciting fiction.” See Erica Jong and Philip Roth

This is real: Did you see all the kids who walked out for 17 minutes yesterday, in honor of the 17 latest school-shooting victims? This caps (for now) a history beginning with the first gun rights absolutists who surfaced on both the left and the right in the ’60s. By the late ’70s “hysterics [had] managed to take over the NRA, replacing its motto ‘Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation’ with the second half of the Second Amendment.”

Kurt Andersen realized fantasy would now rule pop culture, he says, when he saw Star Wars. “I remember walking out of the theater thinking the Force was the first faith with which I felt simpatico.”

Today in A&P, we note that “nearly all freethinkers strongly supported both the expansion of women’s rights and freedom of artistic expression” in the embryonic culture wars of the late 19th century, led by freethinkers like Twain (who said “go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company”) and Whitman. Whitman said “Resist much, obey little.” And, “Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.” And,

This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

He said not to argue about God, but I read this on a t-shirt: “God is a mean-spirited, pugnacious bully bent on revenge against His children for failing to live up to his impossible standards.”

Speaking of Augustine, Elizabeth Cady Stanton deplored his idea that motherhood is a curse. How would he know?  In her Bible she also deplored the prayer by which some Jewish men thank the almighty for so engendering them, and suggested an alternative: “I thank thee, O Lord, that I was not born a jackass.” But that one might fail the presupposition test.

Robert Ingersoll also offered recommendations for Bible study, advising censors applying the Comstock laws to take a close look at the “hundreds of grossly obscene passages not fit to be read by any decent man.” Bet they did.

Freethinkers and leftists came together over separation of church and state and freedom of speech, a coalition still in evidence in organizations like the ACLU. Freethinkers consistently uphold the constitutional prohibition against any religious test for high office. Of course, that never stops voters from dismissing and reviling honorable candidates like Gayle Jordan, or from imagining that America can cut itself off from the world, turn away from progressive politics and earth-centered solutions to our problems, and still be “great” enough to achieve a heavenly reward.

Jacoby offers a fine account of the Scopes Trial, and of how William Jennings Bryan’s witness stand concession that even he did not read the Bible literally made him appear pathetic.  He was on the stand because the Tennessee judge thought scientific expertise irrelevant to the evolutionary case. Have I mentioned lately that I have a personal connection to one of the disallowed scientific witnesses, Winterton Curtis (my first landlord, who used to pull $$ from my ears)?

Today in Bioethics, it’s case studies in medical paternalism

And if last time’s discussion of lab-grown meat left anyone salivating, my research reveals three places in Nashville where you can find that “Impossible Burger” I found in Indy. Bon appetit.

Image result for impossible burger

via Blogger

RT @PhilosophyNow: “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” Stephen Hawking 1942 -2018

March 14, 2018

from Twitter

RT @PhilosophyMttrs:

March 14, 2018

from Twitter

Stephen Hawking Sings Monty Python… Galaxy Song (Music Video) via @YouTube

March 14, 2018

from Twitter

RT @PhilosophyMttrs: Sometimes, when you give a quiz, you make up some questions that you think nobody could get wrong, and then this happens.

March 12, 2018

from Twitter

#SAAP2018 was great, so was the Vonnegut Liby/Museum. “We Humanists behave as well as we can, without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community…”

March 12, 2018

from Twitter