Archive for October, 2019

RT @tpmquote: There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.–George Santayana

October 31, 2019

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October 31, 2019

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Dehumanization https://t.co/wfWUyvmF0l

October 31, 2019

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Dehumanization

October 31, 2019

Two remarkable human beings visited our campus and shared their stories of survival yesterday.

Frances Cutler Hahn was a hidden child in France. Born in 1938, she was very young when her parents hid her in a Catholic children’s home to save her life. During the Holocaust she practiced two religions, had five names and took refuge in seven homes with eight different families. Her mother was murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau and her father, a member of the French resistance, died of wounds he suffered in combat. She will talk about what impact these experiences have had on her life and attitudes.

Jack Cohen, born in 1932 in Greece, lived as quietly as possible in the Italian occupied section of Greece from 1941 until the Germans began arresting and deporting Greek Jews to the ghettos and death camps in 1943. The family fled to a monastery in the mountains for two years until it became too dangerous to remain there. Once again the family fled, this time to a small village, until the end of the war. Although most of the family survived, Jack’s grandmother was captured and, presumably, murdered. They never saw her again.

Our last CoPhi midterm report presentation, in a coincidence of serendipitous synchronicity,  immediately preceded this event. The topic: “dehumanization.” That’s exactly the deplorable phenomenon behind the holocaust, and behind so much of the loathsome ugliness in our public political discourse today.

As Mr. Cohen said, that’s humanity at its worst; but we should turn our attention and our intentions to humanity at its best. Without the kindness, altruism, and willingness to “stick their necks out” of some “righteous Gentiles,” said Mrs. Hahn, countless more innocent lives (including hers and Mr. Cohen’s) would have been sacrificed to irrational hatred. Most of us are not haters, but few of us want to stick our necks out. That’s how the haters win.

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Leibniz’s search for meaning https://t.co/U44OXa0aLK

October 30, 2019

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Leibniz’s search for meaning

October 30, 2019
Leibniz searched harder for fame and philosophical reputation, I suspect. But he did invent the calculus. Or maybe he and Newton both did, in a nice pre-established harmony of genius invention. There’s no denying Leibniz’s intelligence, but there is some question as to his grasp of the depths of human suffering.

A monad, says the Philosophical Dictionary, is “a complete individual substance in the philosophies of Conway and Leibniz, who supposed that each contains all of its properties—past, present, and future.”
Anne Conway came up with that term and lent it to Georg W.F. Leibniz, who bent it to mean something very different from her more Spinozistic view that “all beings are modes of god, the one and only spiritual substance.” His monadology, coupled with theodicy (“an attempt to explain or defend the perfect benevolence of god despite the apparent presence of evil in the world”), resulted in one of the more bizarre and bloodless metaphysical systems ever devised by the mind of man… or monad. Matthew Stewart tells the tale of Leibniz’s attempt to one-up the humble lens-grinding pantheist Spinoza in The Courtier and the Heretic. “The difference between Leibniz and Spinoza on happiness, as on all subjects, comes down to their different attitudes toward God…”

And towards material reality, and humane credulity.

Leibniz rejected the Cartesian account of matter, according to which matter, the essence of which is extension, could be considered a substance. Leibniz held instead that only beings endowed with true unity and capable of action can count as substances. The ultimate expression of Leibniz’s view comes in his celebrated theory of monads, in which the only beings that will count as genuine substances and hence be considered real are mind-like simple substances endowed with perception and appetite… this position, denying the reality of bodies and asserting that monads are the grounds of all corporeal phenomena, as well as its metaphysical corollaries has shocked many. Bertrand Russell, for example, famously remarked in the Preface to his book on Leibniz that he felt that “the Monadology was a kind of fantastic fairy tale, coherent perhaps, but wholly arbitrary.” And, in perhaps the wittiest and most biting rhetorical question asked of Leibniz, Voltaire gibes, “Can you really believe that a drop of urine is an infinity of monads, and that each of these has ideas, however obscure, of the universe as a whole?” SEP

No, not really. My hunch is that Leibniz was motivated more by a hunger for attention, notoriety, and philosophical distinction, a desire to distinguish himself from the pack of rationalists like Spinoza and Descartes. My judgment aligns with William James’s, that Leibniz’s philosophy is superficial, feeble, cold, and unreal. But it’s entertaining, and it’s a useful prod to hold our philosophers to a standard more humane and relevant to the actual experience of real human beings. Voltaire’s Candide, “stunned, stupefied, despairing, bleeding, trembling,”  asked the right question: If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others like?” I don’t want to know. If this is scientific optimism, I’ll pass.

I’ll pass on pessimism too. James’s pragmatic meliorism is the sane alternative, in a world of woe (and joy, and all points in between) like ours.

Image result for william james caricature

…there are unhappy men who think the salvation of the world impossible. Theirs is the doctrine known as pessimism. Optimism in turn would be the doctrine that thinks the world’s salvation inevitable. Midway between the two there stands what may be called the doctrine of meliorism… Meliorism treats salvation as neither inevitable nor impossible. It treats it as a possibility, which becomes more and more of a probability the more numerous the actual conditions of salvation become. It is clear that pragmatism must incline towards meliorism… Pragmatism: A New Name for an Old Way of ThinkingRefillism

And it’s clear that a world in which a Holocaust can happen must work harder for its salvation than the refined monistic theodicy of a Leibniz could ever manage to do. Two Holocaust survivors are visiting our campus this afternoon. The number of living witnesses to this historical human abomination and rebuke to over-refined rationalist-intellectualist philosophies is dwindling fast, we must hear their stories and learn their lessons while we still can. Soon there will be no more.

Fortunately we’ll still have the written testimony of literary and psychological heroes like Viktor Frankl, whose Man’s Search for Meaning is an amazing, inspiring document that attests to the power of endurance. He quotes Nietzsche: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

We had an excellent report on Existentialism Monday in CoPhi, out on the JUB stoa. Its gist was also Frankl’s message: “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

Leibniz really had no clue.

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Vatican wisdom https://t.co/ogpzmT9uHU

October 29, 2019

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Vatican wisdom

October 29, 2019

LISTEN. We’re scheduled to finish The Art of  Happiness today, concluding with a selection of the Vatican Collection of Aphorisms (named for its discovery in the Vatican Library in 1888). They have, a note proclaims, “less importance” than other works. There must be sound scholarly reasons for that judgment, but I find them every bit as interestingly provocative. It’s not really Vatican wisdom, of course, it just resided there in undeserved neglect. I find it important enough to ponder.

All pain is readily discounted...” Spock said “there is no pain” in an early episode of the original Star Trek. He was very clearly experiencing crippling, incapacitating pain, only the superhuman will of a Vulcan could “discount” it. But the suggestion that our experience of pain is in fact subject to volitional control has been useful to me ever since. I’m quite sure my own pain threshold is higher than average, because of my lifelong habit of discounting (by which I really mean re-framing): that’s not a pain, it’s a distraction…

We are born once. We cannot be born a second time… Life is ruined by procrastination…” We get just a few-score trips around the sun, if we’re lucky; but  we live most of our lives, most of us, as though we had nothing but time to burn. It must be a defense mechanism against despair. If we allowed ourselves to hear each second of life ticking into lost eternity we’d go mad. But timely regular reminders of our mortality are crucial to a life well-lived. Carpe, carpe…, as Mr. Keating said. Gather the harvest today, tomorrow may never come.

 “…when it comes to death, all of us human beings live in a city without walls.” Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey and the techno-optimistic transhumanists don’t accept this, but if we ever did build those walls the city would soon be miserably overcrowded with inhabitants whose indefinitely-extended time would suddenly be devalued. Remember death, Montaigne advised after falling from his steed, but don’t worry about it.

…we are protected by pleasure but destroyed by pain.” But pain is “readily discounted” by those who choose not to surrender to it but rather resist and re-frame. The pursuit of pleasure though, while it lasts, postpones our demise.

The person who says that everything happens necessarily cannot criticize the person who says [the opposite]…” Because that too was necessitated. Better to avoid necessity altogether, admit the contingencies of life and circumstance, and just try to make good choices (and learn from our mistakes).

We must laugh and philosophize and manage our households…” Or as David Hume said, be a philosopher but be still a (hu)man. 

We must try to make the latter part of the journey better than the first… when we reach the end, we must keep an even keel and remain cheerful.” The nectar, as John McDermott said, is in the journey. Enjoy it all, don’t regret its end but recall it with gratitude. Appreciate and celebrate the whole trip.

We must get out of the prison house of routine duties and politics.” And politics. Everyone living and paying attention in 2019 must understand this. Routine duties are not intrinsically imprisoning, except when we allow them to prevent us from doing more meaningful things. That, by the way, is why I get up at 5 in the morning.

…the false belief about the belly’s having unlimited capacity.” I only fall prey to that false belief when faced with a buffet spread like they had after the funeral the other day. And then its falsity is all too evident. Remember, next time: one or two bites of each of half a dozen desserts really ought to suffice, and might not exceed capacity. (A most practical bit of Epicurean wisdom, this!)

“Every man departs this life as though he had just been born.” Time to leave already? But I just got here! (But then there are those who really expect to enter pearly gates and think they can’t wait… or who’ve not managed to discount pain and can think of nothing but its cessation.)

Nothing is sufficient for the person who finds sufficiency too little.” Like the best cliches, this familiar one is too true.

The most important consequence of self-sufficiency is freedom.” Freedom from dependency is probably over-rated, since we can’t help depending on one another. But we’re all wired, it seems, to crave the feeling of strength and confidence that comes of self-reliance. Better to aim at self-sufficiency while acknowledging the help of others along the way that makes it possible at all.

And before we close this book, let’s remind ourselves one more time of the core principle of Epicurean happiness, Leading Doctrine #2: “Death means nothing to us, because that which has been broken down into atoms has no sensation and that which has no sensation is no concern of ours.” But let’s also recall the flip-side, implied throughout the Epicurean catalog: life is for the living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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October 28, 2019

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Preserving our oceans and rivers should not be a partisan issue. Protecting the land which sustains us should not be a partisan issue. Protecting the air we breathe should not be a partisan issue…this planet is our home. https://t.co/CzfldkxjZT

October 28, 2019

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