It’s more Saints today in CoPhi, and more Harvards: Anselm & Aquinas (with commentary on the latter from Anthony Kenny), Robert Nozick and political philosophy. Inexplicably, our politics chapter omits discussion of the most important political philosopher of the 20th century, John Rawls. We’ll rectify that in class.
Anselm stumped for the divine moral perfection (and omnipotence and omniscience) of a being “than which none greater could be conceived.” His Ontological Argumentis either ingenious or ridiculous, depending on who you ask. But it rarely persuades those who do not come at it armed with antecedent faith. “Faith seeking understanding,” or maybe just the appearance of rational cover.
Anselm considers reason subordinate to faith. ‘I believe in order to understand,’ he says; following Augustine, he holds that without belief it is impossible to understand. God, he says, is not just… St Anselm, like his predecessors in Christian philosophy, is in the Platonic rather than the Aristotelian tradition. For this reason, he has not the distinctive characteristics of the philosophy which is called “scholastic,” which culminated in Thomas Aquinas. Russell
In the time of Aquinas, the battle for Aristotle, as against Plato, still had to be fought. The influence of Aquinas secured the victory [for Aristotle] until the Renaissance; then Plato, who became better known than in the Middle Ages, again aquired supremacy… Russell
Indeed, “Aquinas fully endorsed Aristotle…” (Cave & Light)
Neither of today’s 20th century Harvard philosophers was a Saint, but both were civil.
Robert Nozick began his academic career as a narrow analyst and wunderkind libertarian, but evolved well beyond his starting place. He came to realize that astringent libertarianism neglects “the reality of our social solidarity and humane concern for others.” He came also to the view that “thinking about life is more like mulling it over” than like pinning it with a syllogism. “It feels like growing up more.” He kept growing, ’til stomach cancer took him at age 63.
Nozick’s chapter on dying in The Examined Life begins,
THEY SAY NO ONE is able to take seriously the possibility of his or her own death, but this does not get it exactly right. (Does everyone take seriously the possibility of his or her own life?) A person’s own death does become real to him after the death of both parents.
He’s right about that, in my experience.
Before his death (as Yogi Berra might have said) Nozick gave us the good oldExperience Machine. We just talked about this the other day. Here’s a Yalie to talk about it too.
John Rawls, says Carlin Romano, wrote “the most important book of English-language political theory since Mill’s On Liberty. His goal was a coherent theory of “justice as fairness” whose appeal would span the spectrum, after emerging from behind a “Veil of Ignorance.” Not everyone buys it, but we all talk about it. Michael Sandel does too, to a much bigger class than ours, albeit mostly virtual & MOOCy.
And now there’s a musical stage show. How many political philosophers can say that?! Rawls@dawn
Also a propos of politics, happily included in our chapter today: historicity, Kantian respect, egalitarianism, libertarianism, affirmative action (“reverse discrimination”), the Marxist critique of sham democracy, and paradoxes of conscience. Plenty, as usual, on our plates.
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