de Botton, Smith, Neill, Cupitt

We’re all doing Philosophy Bites today in CoPhi: Alain de Botton on architectureBarry Smith on wineAlex Neill on tragedy, and Don Cupitt on God. Connecting the dots will be interesting. Or impossible. But that’s how the world generally hangs together, isn’t it? Loosely, at best?

This lineup’s just a bit on the esoteric side. I do like Alain de Botton’s thoughts on the art and beauty of great architecture, and how we’re better people when we live in beautiful surroundings. But, to draw a connection with something we spoke of last semester in Environmental Ethics & Activism, functionality and efficiency are beautiful too. Windmills and solar panels are far more beautiful to me than internal combustion engines, and “earthships” more than ranch houses. The art of sustainability is beautiful.

The philosophy of wine? In vino veritas? Well, Barry Smith’s focus is even tighter. (Is “tight”still a euphemism for inebriation, btw? Along with things like pissed, sloshed, blitzed, plastered, etc.?) But he’s not interested, as William James was, in biochemically altered states of consciousness as vehicles of experience whose pursuit may be both mind-expanding and soul-destroying (and thus “tragic”).

No, Smith’s concerned with connoisseurship, the refined aesthetic splitting of hairs as to the fine phenomenological differences that can be bottled and capped and sold for outrageous sums to ostentatious self-congratulatory tipplers. What would Peter Singer say?

But ultimately, Smith’s obsession with spirits (like de Botton’s with architecture) is about the pursuit of happiness. I think Nigel’s right to wonder “what’s special about wine”? Smith’s reply does not go out of its way to recognize  the mutual inner significance of such devotions as his. How does he know someone couldn’t get as romantic and rhapsodic about orange juice as he does about his Cabernet? Our respective delights must be known at first hand to be appreciated.

Next, Alex Neill wonders how tragedy can be so pleasurable, how the painful feelings generated by the suffering of a dramatic character on stage or screen can be experienced as art. Beyond that, why do some of us enjoy horror, murder mysteries, roller coasters? Takes all kinds, is all. Or not all, but that’s about the extent of my own interest in this question. Others may differ. Bottom line is still, again, what makes you happy. That may be enough to redeem the paradoxical experience of tragedy.

Don Cupitt’s “God,” no omnipotent hegemonic universe-maker, is an anthropomorphic Jungian symbolic projection of love, perfection, bliss. He/It is an archetypal reflection of recurrent mortal human hopes and fears, and “doesn’t exist apart from from our faith in him.” That’s not what they taught me in Sunday School, but I do recall forming an early impression of a “very large human being, probably of the male sex.” Only later would I encounter New Age/New Thought notions of the omni-gendered “Father-Mother God(dess).”

For his part, Cupitt says “commitment to co-humanity has become my religion.” He’s a humanist, like (he says) Jesus. [Manifestos] And, I’ll bet, like the job applicant who says “straight edge punk is my religion” or the other one who was ready to make the sacred case for baseball. We all have our projections to bear.


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