Gender, Class, and Race: and a light-hearted invitation to anecdotal testimony

After hearing a complaint from a father that he did not want his son’s English teacher inserting politics into every English class in the form of “gender, class, and race,” an English teacher responded “But, that’s all there is.” Proponents of this mantra are supposed to be precisely those who fret about “stereotyping” and sexism, classism, and racism.

1St. Augustine in the City of God systematically debunks astrology by highlighting its absurdities. One point he makes is that if astrology were true, then twins would share exactly the same fate, when they clearly do not. The astrologers counter, Augustine writes, that since twins are born a few minutes apart, this accounts for their differing destinies. Augustine responds that the idea that astrology, rather than simply focusing on birth month and star sign, is so precise that a three minute difference in birth time will have vastly different astrological implications and that astrologers will be able to make accurate predictions based on such a tiny time interval is ridiculous. The whole discussion is rather tedious if astrology has always seemed to the reader as an epistemic nonstarter. Continue reading

Quantum Physics and Reality: a preemptive response

(For someone who is offering to prove that quantum physics is spiritual.)

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In a world where the objective is subjective and the subjective is objective quantum physics has precious little to do with reality. Plato was correct when he described physical reality as the shadows on the back wall of a cave – not even a copy of primary reality, but a copy of a copy.

The idea that quantum physics could describe or point to spiritual reality is a claim of the grossest positivism. Positivism, the notion that all that is true is captured by the methods of science, is the product of a rationalistic delusion. It has proven itself completely unable to describe human existence in any satisfactory manner. Continue reading

Aristotle and Ethics

Ethics and metaphysics

Aristotle’s conception of ethics is consistent with Plato, his teacher’s notion that moral virtue is essential to human happiness and offers some useful and practical contributions on the matter.  However, there are some noticeable differences, some of which relate to their differing conceptions of God and the divine.

Metaphysics concerns notions of ultimate reality and human happiness has to take reality into account. How best to live is relative to the kind of world and universe we live in. Socrates, Plato’s teacher, wanted to dispense with metaphysics and focus on ethics. Plato saw that metaphysics and ethics are bound up together and Plato’s ethics seem to be influenced by his experience of The Form of the Good – the supreme level of reality symbolized by the sun in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and his awareness of the heaven beyond the heavens.

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Are We All Selfish?

Many students imagine that every human being and every action is selfish. Immanuel Kant was rightly suspicious of the tendency to defer everything to the “dear self,” and make ourselves an exception to a rule. However, the idea that everyone is selfish is largely the result of confusions involving language.

Hedonism is the notion that everything we do, we do for pleasure. Aristotle nixed this idea two millennia ago by stating that eating vetch might be the grandest happiness for a cow, but it is hardly sufficient for a human being. If pleasure were the secret of life, it would be possible to install an electrode in the pleasure center of human beings, have a button attached to a battery, and simply press the button for “happiness.” However, most sane individuals reject this scenario as the acme of human flourishing. Such thought experiments involving mechanical devices are simply a variation on the use of heroin. It feels good for a while, but it means nothing, and it prevents most of the things most people consider worthwhile, such as romantic relationships, projects meaningful to the individual, holding down a job, and being self-sufficient, and is likely to cause a premature death. Since heroin is addicting, it also subverts freedom and makes people slaves of a drug.

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Is Life Worth Living?

Faith and Hope

Picture3Discerning the nature of ultimate reality is a matter of intuition. A religious experience, for instance, needs to be interpreted and understood by the experiencer. Whether an experience is going to count as a genuine evidence or not is up to the person. And then, even if deemed genuine, it is necessary to decide what it means. For those lacking such experiences they are relying on someone else’s assessment and of course that assessment of his assessment might be wrong. Infallible arbiters we are not. Coming to know important truths is a creative process and those truths remain debatable. Continue reading

The Tragic Condition of Man

Picture3Berdyaev comments that the tragic condition of man results from our dual nature; the physical and divine. Being made in the image of God means participating in the mystery of Freedom, emerging from the causeless Ungrund. We are infinite beings living in a finite universe. It is precisely this fact that constitutes the Fall of man. And it is why we humans will never be thoroughly happy, with brief exceptions, so long as we may live. The release of death offers some prospect, at least, of future happiness. Perhaps a purely natural organism living out its life in a material universe could be expected to make some perfect adjustment to life circumstances, but this prospect is unattractive. Natural man following natural law, natural reason, and natural morals would be incapable of conceiving of anything higher, of anything to aim for, and as such he would no longer be man. The proof that the natural man does not exist is the fact that no man can serenely accommodate himself to such an existence. Even those who might pretend to have so reconciled themselves do so in an act of self-renouncing apparent heroism. It might seem heroic precisely because he has abandoned claim to divinity or aspiration – the ultimate in self-deifying self-sufficiency. But this means he has not abandoned his divine aspirations at all. Heroism itself requires the existence of transcendence. Continue reading

Two Kinds of Sacrifice: René Girard’s Analysis of Scapegoating

Mimesis and scapegoating

Humans are intensely mimetic. We learn to talk, walk, and nearly everything else by imitation. But because we also imitate each other’s desires, other people become our Picture1rivals, as we compete for the same things. Taboos and prohibitions can be sufficient to mitigate this problem much of the time, but when there is a crisis, such as a flood, famine, plague, or war, and the social structure based on rules and hierarchies collapses, we find ourselves in a state of horrible equality. The natural hierarchy between a parent and a younger child, or between humans and animals, high status and low status individuals, reduces conflict. In a crisis, each person becomes another’s rival, chaos ensues, and violence breaks out.  It is a war of all against all. Without a public justice system, each of us wants to retaliate for the latest offense.  If not against you, then against a family member. There is no logical end to the conflict. A common resolution is if we all agree that a single person or a group of people are to blame.  This is the scapegoat.  We are scandalized by the scapegoat.  A “scandal” is etymologically a stumbling block.  Continue reading

Beauty, Truth, and the Creative Act

Picture1Knowledge, while hard to define, must have a connection with truth. Some truths are accessible only to a normally thinking, feeling, person. The truth of reciprocity is recognized, in practice, by everyone other than, presumably, some psychopaths. “In practice” because while some thinkers might imagine that reciprocity is merely a convention, or that we are “hard-wired” by evolution to merely think it is true, in practice everyone acts as though it were true – and actions are a better indication of actual beliefs than words.

Likewise, all human beings recognize the existence of beautiful things, the most beautiful things being qualities of soul, life, and action. So, is beauty objective or subjective? It is neither, as those words are usually understood. The word “objective” can usually be regarded as synonymous with “measurable” and “true; the way things are regardless of perception.” By contrast, “subjective” is often regarded as that which is illusory and not real.

But the word “subjective” can also be used as a name for all interiority; every thought, feeling, and intuition. It is the realm of humor, metaphor, poetry, sense of the divine, imagination, as well as logic and rationality. The subjective is fundamentally spiritual and it has priority over the world of objects. The world of objects, and “objective” knowledge, is parasitic on the feeling, thinking, perceiving, person. An object is a kind of dead, inanimate thing, trapped in deterministic processes. The subjective is noumenal and is where the numinous resides, while the objective is realm of the phenomenal. Continue reading

On Teaching

The dominant school of thought when it comes to teaching philosophy is for the professor to hide his opinions and to strive for an objective and neutral presentation of the generally agreed upon options. A kind of intellectually robotic approach. The Picture1opposite extreme would be a dogmatic brow-beating system of indoctrination employing ad hominem attacks against anyone not conforming to the party-line; all ill-feeling passion.

Since teaching is largely a mimetic process, it seems like the professor should be modeling what he wants the students to be; a self-motivated, interested, curious, reasonably open-minded, inquiring, learner. If all philosophical positions are neutral, no one viewpoint being inherently better than another, and it being essentially a matter of indifference as to which view a person adopts, why should any student consider any of it important? The favored neutral approach seems designed to neuter passionate interest. Continue reading

Quantum Mechanics and Religion revisited

At a 1932 conference on quantum mechanics it was suggested that physicists should not worry about what quantum mechanics indicates about the nature of reality and they should “shut up and calculate.” There have been popular books written like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters hinting that physicists were worried about the spiritual implications of their equations and this was the reason for their aversion.

Plato and the physicist David Bohm suggest that a creative mind lies behind everything. The shut up and calculate people continue to regard matter as the basic stuff – rather than creative mind. Is it not God in which we live and move and have our being? Have those who see physical reality as a simulation got a point? What about synchronicities that interrupt cause and effect? Don’t they provide evidence of the spiritual?

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Sean Carroll

“Shut up and calculate” is a very bad idea for science. Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist who is interested in the foundations of quantum mechanics. He suggests there are about 100 serious such people on the planet. According to him the most straightforward implication of the equations is that new versions of you and the universe are being created every time there is a quantum measurement, following the multiple worlds interpretation. Here is a link to a tiny summary here:

https://www.wired.com/story/sean-carroll-thinks-we-all-exist-on-multiple-worlds/ Continue reading