We can love only concrete reals; this because to love is to will the good of another, and we cannot do anything good for an irreal idea, but only for a real being characterized by that idea. You can’t benefit autonomy per se. You can however benefit people, by granting them autonomy; and while that will lead to an increase in the quantity of autonomy present in a people, it will not benefit the notion of autonomy itself.
Not, “how I became religious,” but “how I came to understand religion.”
It is extremely difficult for most moderns to negotiate the passage to the fundamentally spiritual perspective that all humans shared before the Enlightenment. At least, I found it so, for the longest time. Despite a number of spiritual experiences that I could nowise gainsay, I could make no philosophical sense of spiritual realities using the intellectual tool kit my Modern education had provided me. I got a lot of training in how to think about the physical, but I didn’t know how to think about the spiritual (or, for that matter, anything not physical). That made it somewhat incredible, and indeed somewhat scandalous. And this made it quite difficult to be wholeheartedly religious – to worship or say the Credo without invoking a string of philosophical hedges and equivocations that rather emptied the whole procedure of its numinous, compelling quality, and thus of its point.
Having no way to comprehend spiritual realities, I could not even understand quite exactly what the articles of the Credo properly mean, or what I was meant to be doing in worship. I now realize that I often encounter that same incapacity in atheist interlocutors. They don’t seem to have a way of understanding what it is that theists are talking about. So their arguments often miss the point entirely, and when theists point this out to them they simply can’t see that they are fundamentally misunderstanding the terms of the dialogue.
Modernity’s inadequacy to spiritual realities is echoed in its incomprehension of consciousness, agency, meaning, value, morality, and in the limit truth, beauty, and virtue – or their antipodes. Under its own terms, Modernism cannot account for these things, and must if it is to discuss them at all resort to unprincipled exceptions. This renders it incapable of coherent treatment of any of the basic aspects of life as it is actually lived and experienced. It is, in a word, unable to understand minds, or therefore persons, or a fortiori their lives.
Modernity does however comprehend bodies, better by an order of magnitude than any previous age. So naturally, and like any other successful weltanschauung, it wants to interpret everything under its own terms. It wants to make bodies basic, and reduce all experience to motions of bodies.
Modernism takes bodies to be utterly dead. It wants to say that everything is motions of those dead objects. But as is obvious to the most cursory consideration, the life of the mind is not a congeries of dead things, or of their lifeless collisions. It is an active, lively process. It is a series of happenings, a temporal assemblage of occasions, each of which – whether conscious or not – is in some degree alive to its past and intends some future.
[Of such lively intensions implemented in actual transactions among entities is the causal nexus that connects and relates disparate events constituted as a coherent integral world system.]
It is furthermore transparently obvious that no configuration of dead things can be alive. Only what is alive can be alive.
As incoherent, then, the Modern project of reducing life to motions of dead bodies is, not just doomed to failure, not just impossible (as a complete consistent logical calculus, while conceivable, is not possible), but strictly meaningless, ergo unthinkable: not even wrong.
This modest offering stems from two provocations. One is Richard Cocks’ piquant disquisition at The People of Shambhala, referenced here at The Orthosphere, concerning the limitations inherent in the modern school of thought that calls itself Logical Positivism or Analytical Philosophy; the other is a pedagogical necessity that befell me last week to explicate in class for the students of my “Writing about Literature” course a famous passage from William Wordsworth’s Prelude, Book I. My title must obviously be taken cum grano salis, as logical positivists and analytical philosophers would immediately reduce Wordsworth’s observations and arguments to their own insipid categories. Frankly, I cannot imagine the logical positivists or analytical philosophers, or howsoever they dub themselves, making any sense whatsoever of Wordsworth’s verses or, for that matter, being interested in or aware of them. Wordsworth’s fundamental assumptions must be opaque to such people.
I have written up my lecture-outline as a short essay. I append the text on which I comment at the end of the essay. Those sufficiently generous to feel curiosity about the essay might want to read the excerpt first. I take for my illustration the fourth panel of The Voyage of Life (1842) by Thomas Cole, one of the founders of the Hudson Valley School.
A Brief Essay on the Adventure of the Boat at Night: It is an observation of natural philosophy that ontogeny repeats phylogeny: That is, the gestation and maturation of the individual repeat the gestation and maturation of the family, genus, or the species. More generally speaking, everything that exists is an effect that research – or introspection – can trace back to a cause until the procedure finds its destination in a First Cause. These facts entail any number of paradoxes, not least the poet William Wordsworth’s contention, found in his little poem “My Heart Leaps Up” (1802), that “the child is the father of the man”:
Wordsworth averred often in his prosaic self-explanations that his every line of verse belonged to one great conjectural poem such that each smaller poem was but part of a transcendent whole, which could perhaps never be completed in the poet’s lifetime. That one Wordsworthian poem should comment on another should come therefore as no surprise. The few short lines, almost throwaway verse, of “My heart leaps up” indeed suggest much concerning a crucial passage from one of the early books of one of Wordsworth’s most ambitious poems – the epic-length verse-autobiography The Prelude, begun by the poet as early as 1798 but never published until after his death in 1850. In the episode in question, Wordsworth recounts one of the adventures of his boyhood, in the Lake District of Northwest England just below the Scottish Border, the native locale where he spent his childhood and to which he returned to live later in life after the peregrinations of his young adulthood.
Believe it or not, I only this evening realized that, while my post of the 26th and JM Smith’s post of the 23rd were quite different, both concerned Babylon. I suppose his post must have played a role in my intuition – in an email correspondence with Tom Bertonneau a few days later – that “Babel” might be a suitable name for our Enemy in his current corporeal instantiation. In retrospect, it seems as though it could hardly have been otherwise. But at the time, I had no conscious recollection of Dr. Smith’s excellent essay. None whatsoever. Had you asked me about it, I would have been able to reel off a précis of the piece. But at no point in the writing of my post a few days later did it occur to my recollection.
In this event, at least two things are of interest to me.
George Inness (May 1, 1825 – August 3, 1894) belonged to the second generation of the so-called Hudson River or Hudson River Valley School, the first distinctively American school of painting. In his early work, Inness advances the “luminist” tendency of his precursors (Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and others); and like them, he is almost exclusively a landscape painter, interested in the effects of light on mountain, valley, plain, lake, ocean, and sky. In his later work, Inness innovates in the direction of Impressionism. The Hudson River painters were American Romantics, steeped in the nature-philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his followers, but also conversant with the late-medieval tradition of reading nature as the outward sign of the supernatural (think Jakob Boehme), a tendency that culminates in the strange but influential writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Inness occasionally identified himself as a Swedenborgian.
Alrenous recently argued that Free Will is Analytically Impossible because we cannot do other than what we want to do, and we can’t control – can’t change – what we want (unless we uncontrollably want to, etc.). So, it’s our wants that run us, not we ourselves.
Is there a difference between what we want to do and what we will to do, on this account? Apparently not. If so, then all that Alrenous has done is kick the question of free will down the road a bit: the will is subsumed in desire, as its mere outworking or byproduct; so that the question goes back a step in the order of operations, from whether the will is free to whether its animating desire is free. But then that leaves quite open the question whether the whole system of will cum desire is free.
A hard-working, well-liked, and professionally productive Associate Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science at Upstate Consolation University has hired a law firm to help him in his fight to have his recent summary termination of employment overturned and is promising to take his complaint to civil court. Brainerd Feta-Stilton’s firing came astonishingly enough just after he had generated major publicity for his institution by discovering a new Trans-Neptunian object. Even more surprisingly, Feta-Stilton had tentatively named the object Ugna, in honor of Dr. Edwima Ugna, the very same university official who subsequently terminated him. Ugna, who has served as Upstate Consolation University’s Provost since 2006, had in the past praised Feta-Stilton for his scientific achievements, which have brought many grants and endowments to the institution, as well as much positive exposure.
Given the productive discussion that has ensued from my quotations from Constantine’s Edict of Milan and Theodosius’ Codex here at The Orthosphere, I thought that it would not be inappropriate to call attention to an article of mine that appears in the latest number of Anthropoetics, the online journal of Generative Anthropology and related sciences. The article bears the title, Flaubert’s Tentation de Saint-Antoine : Three Approaches. Educated people know Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880) mainly as the author of Madame Bovary (1857) and A Sentimental Education (1869), classics of the Nineteenth Century social novel – and simply of the novel. Like the poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867), Flaubert stands in a line of dissentient artists and intellectuals who, in France, stem from the counter-revolutionary thinking of Joseph de Maistre (1753 – 1821). That fact by itself should attract the interest of Traditionalists; but more than that, Flaubert maintained a lifelong fascination for the history of religion, most particularly that of Christianity. Indeed, the work that occupied Flaubert longer than any other and which he considered to be his masterpiece, is La tentation de Saint-Antoine (final version 1870). La tentation is difficult work to describe. It is in some fashion a novel, but it is otherwise a drama of the imagination in the form of an internal monologue by the famous instigator of desert monachism (the Thebaïd) whose life spanned the last half of the Third and the first half of the Fourth Centuries.
Flaubert wrote a number of other works with a religious content, notably his Trois Contes or Three Tales (1877), one of which is about Herod, John the Baptist, and Salome, another about St. Julian the Hospitaler, and the third about a naive but pious woman who lives out her life in the confines of small village. Flaubert’s Salammbô (1862), set in Carthage just after the First Punic War, treats the notorious Moloch Cult in detail.
The article not only offers an interpretation of La tentation from three perspectives – Voegelinian, Girardian, and Gansian – but it also traces the unexpected influence of the masterpiece on later writers. John Dos Passos’ first important novel, Three Soldiers (1921), an autobiographical fictionalization of its author’s wartime experiences, frequently alludes to and may be said to absorb La tentation.
How to get students to respect the professor… Carry a hand phaser! That’s Rachel, a very good sport!