Book review: On Religion, Speeches to its Cultured Despisers

On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers
by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1799)

Orthosphere readers will have mixed feelings toward Schleiermacher.  On the one hand, he is perhaps the founder of the study of the phenomenology of religion, a study which was later carried to greater heights by Rudolf Otto and Mircea Eliade; he and these other thinkers have proved that religion is not merely a substitute for philosophy for the uneducated but contains its own irreducible value and insights.  In working to tie Protestant Christianity to the nascent Romantic Movement, Schleiermacher also stands as a forerunner of Romantic Christianity.  On the other hand, he more influentially stands as the founder of Liberal Protestantism, the project of gutting Christianity to accommodate bourgeois bohemian sensibilities.  Consider the title of the book.  It sounds ironic; we expect these “cultured” despisers to have their lack of proper cultivation quickly shown up.  The first speech’s hearty praise for the intelligence, morality, and progressiveness of its readers (presumed to be haters of religion) in what I took to be deliberately overwrought prose seems to confirm this impression.  I was a couple dozen pages in, still waiting for the hammer to drop, when I began to realize to my horror that Schleiermacher’s praise for his atheist friends is entirely in earnest and that what I had been reading is his real prose style.

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Book review: The Great Chain of Being

The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea
by Arthur O. Lovejoy, 1936
originally posted at Throne and Altar

The author proposes to trace the career of an idea from its invention by Plato to the early Romantics at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  To sum up, the “great chain of being” is a proposed reason God had for creating the universe.  Although perfect and self-sufficient, He is prompted by His very goodness to share His being and have it reflected in various partial ways through finite creatures.  Although some creatures are more excellent than others, none perfectly manifests the perfection of its Creator, so a fuller, better universe that more adequately glorifies its Creator will have a diversity of creatures all along the scale of being, from the highest angels to the lowest inert matter.

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It is Good to Sell College Admissions for Cash

I do not see why very wealthy parents should not purchase places for their dull offspring at prestigious universities.  College classes are very seldom full, so these silver-spoon admits very seldom “take the place” of students with more brains and less money.  In fact, with the wealthy parents’ gifts in hand, prestigious universities could cut costs for other students.  And if the classrooms get crowded, they could use the gifts to build bigger classrooms. Continue reading

Bores, Babblers and Buffoons

We speak for two reasons. One is to convey information, but what we say is often phatic, meaning that what we say is said to affirm that we are on some sort of “speaking terms” with the one we say it to. If I were to meet you on a sultry street, both of us bearing the sheen and stains of ample sweat, and if I (mopping my brow with a sodden handkerchief) were to observe that the day was a mite warm, the remark would be phatic. Insofar as information goes, this would be “needless to say.” Continue reading

Is God Omniscient? (Revised again)

Is God Omniscient? (Revised again)

2The Person shares in the Divine as being made in the image of God. We too are free. We are co-creators with God; He in His macrocosm and we in our microcosm.

What it means for us to be made in the image of God is not self-evident. Berdyaev’s philosophy explores what it might mean and takes it further than most.

Perhaps we underestimate just how many things we have in common with God.

Berdyaev agrees with the mystic Jacob Boehme that God emerges as Being from the Ungrund whose nature is complete Freedom. Freedom is more fundamental than love, or goodness. It is their precondition. The Ungrund is beyond concepts and rationality.[1]

The Ungrund is that from which God as a being, as the Creator, emerges. As Berdyaev writes, tautologically, the Creator does not exist without the created, God as love does not exist without the loved. God the Creator emerges simultaneously with His creation. God and Man create each other in this sense. God the Creator is the Logos responsible for cosmic order. Continue reading

Divest Yourself or Be Divested

In fifty years or less, everyone reading this will be gone.  Where you will be gone to is, of course, a controverted question, but the settled possibilities are nowhere at all, in or on the road to paradise, or clad in woolen underwear in a crowded and smoky room without air conditioning.  What all of these places have in common is that, once you are in one of them, you will be beyond caring about the place in which you are presently sitting, sipping your coffee and peering at your computer screen.  I have yet to encounter a theory of the afterlife in which the souls of the dead are hungry for news of the living. Continue reading

God Made the Countries and Man Pulled Them Down

Every true country is a land apart, for no place is a country unless it is stands out as different from other places.  The word country comes from the Latin phrase contrata terra, which means a land (terra) that contrasts (contrata) with other lands.  We say a rural district is in the country, for instance, because it stands apart from the city.  It is a contrata terra and things are different there. Continue reading

Berdyaev contra Kant

Berdyaev contra Kant

Luke 10:27

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.

Your neighbor is a Person – the highest possible good, along with God. Your neighbor’s supreme value comes from the fact that he is made in the image of God, with an immortal soul and shares in God’s eternal nature.

Kant gets close to this when he writes “treat yourself and others always as an end, and never merely as a means.” However, Kant posits the moral law as of supreme value. It is possible to see that this is where his true devotion lies. This is the fatal mistake of elevating something higher than the individual, concrete, Person in conjunction with God. This accounts for the intuition that there is something ascetic, forbidding and anti-human in Kant and his willingness to seek to achieve an illusory moral purity, through, for instance, never lying under any circumstances; a moral purity being unattainable in a fallen world. Continue reading

Self-driving Cars

Consciousness is what permits intelligent responses to unpredictable and unknown situations. A truly safe and functioning self-driving car would have to be conscious. At the moment computers regard a car filled with water, suspended 20 feet in the air on the end of two prongs of an earth moving machine as “parked.” It can’t tell the difference between a statue and a person. Snow and other weather conditions that obscure the sides of the road mean it grinds to a halt.

George Dyson, the science historian, son of Freeman Dyson, in an interview with Sam Harris pointed out, in response to Harris’ concern that if AGI is ever created it needs to be “controlled,” that, by definition, AGI will not be controllable. It will have a mind of its own. If we ever did develop an intelligence capable of safely driving cars in the actually variable conditions encountered in real life, i.e., outside the bland environment of southern California, there is no reason for thinking it would be our slave and drive our cars for us. More likely, we would be its slaves and drive cars for it.

“Folk Psychology:” you are buying into a crazy theory if you use this term

“Folk Psychology:” you are buying into a crazy theory if you use this term

Folk psychology is the derogatory term used by physicalists for our normal natural language (e.g., English, Spanish, etc.) way of describing mental states and explaining why people behave in certain ways.

E.g., she didn’t go to the concert on Saturday because she hates Taylor Swift.

Some materialists believe that those who believe in the existence of thoughts, beliefs, desires, motives and other mental states are victims of “folk psychology,” an unscientific attitude that will in due course be replaced by ex­planations in terms of the activities of nerves or brain states.

For those people, folk psychology is a kind of superstition, like belief in demons, and it will be left be­hind by the onward march of scientific understanding.

The alternative to folk psychology

The alternative to folk psychology is supposed to be scientific descriptions of the brain. Instead of talking about beliefs, we will describe brain states, or nerve firings. Instead of saying “Timmy likes Sally,” we will say “Timmy is in brain state G.”


There is no evidence of any kind that natural language descriptions of mental phenomena will be replaced by scientific descriptions of the activity of the brain. The claim that this will happen is complete science fiction at this point in time.

It does no good to complain that I am talking about beliefs and desires when there is no alternative at all to doing so. It would be like accusing me of being old-fashioned for driving to work instead of teleporting. Teleportation does not actually exist and may never exist. There is nothing scientific about contrasting reality with science fiction. Continue reading