The line from Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” is quite a challenge to faith. How easy it is to believe will depend on circumstance; a victim of the Holocaust, someone dying from cancer, a brilliant man being made to teach nothing but English composition. It is tempting to quibble that it is not God saying it was very good – just the Biblical writer – but probably the proper response is “if You say so!”
Eric Voegelin writes that the role of philosophy is to save us from evil; to develop pairs of concepts that cast light on good and evil and that “philosophy springs from the love of being; it is man’s loving endeavor to perceive the order of being and to attune himself to it.” Voegelin adopts the classical Greek cosmocentric fixation on being. A Logos permeates existence and we should align ourselves with that Logos. If, however, God is not a being, but beyond being, then to concentrate on being is to ignore God and transcendence, the very thing Voegelin opposes and attributes to modern Gnosticism. To simply love “being” seems to include loving all the horrors inherent in being. Continue reading →
Philosophy is concerned with the most important questions and the most important questions are debatable. Science restricts itself to questions that can be settled through experiment and empirical evidence, while ideally regarding scientific results as tentative and open to revision upon new evidence
Some theists imagine that quantum mechanics can lend support to spiritual realities. They point to the Copenhagen interpretation, which incidentally has no fixed meaning. But one meaning is an agreement to shut up and calculate. The equations of quantum mechanics work therefore there is no necessity to figure out what the implications for physical reality are concerning these equations. Continue reading →
The Idea of a University in Nine Discourses
by John Henry Newman (1858) available online
At a time when the proper mission of a university has been obscured by commercial and ideological interests, we can with profit consult the classic lectures on this topic delivered by Cardinal Newman to commemorate the establishment of a Catholic university in Dublin.
It is unfortunate, as Newman points out, that English lacks a convenient word for what he means as the distinctive excellence of the intellect, the equivalent of what “health” is for the body, because this is what a university education is meant to cultivate. Intellectual cultivation might aid professional success and moral refinement, but it is a separate good worthy of pursuit in itself. Newman refers most often to two particular facets of the properly formed mind. First there is what one might call a philosophical enlargement, an appreciation for the validity and proper limits of each discipline. Second, there is what he sometimes calls discipline of the mind, the habit of precision and systemization.
Commenters have from time to time chided me for what they perceive as a want of love in my posts, and by inference in my heart. I will confess that there are certain spectacles and sentiments, widely said to be heartwarming, that cause my breast to burn with a sensation that more closely resembles acid reflux after eating a large and spicy garlic pizza, but the people I live with do not regard me as a particularly mean old man. I am perfectly capable of complimenting a young mother on her ugly baby, of patting the head of a smelly and disobedient dog, of smacking my lips over a plate of unsavory slop, and of scrawling a spurious A on a paper that makes no sense at all. Continue reading →
“We have been Banter’d and Bubbl’d and Cheated and Banter’d and Bubbl’d”
English Drinking Song (1700)
The Washington American was a small-town newspaper published at Washington on the Brazos, a long defunct river landing about twenty miles from here. In 1856, the newspaper printed among its advertisement a standing wager by Henry G. Hudson of Boonville, then the seat of this county, but also now defunct. Hudson’s wager was that he was the best marksman in the State of Texas, and he placed no limit on the stakes, although he did stipulate handicapping for age. Hudson was cocky for a man of fifty-six years, but he knew that time is unkind to even the deadliest deadeye. Here is the advertisement. Continue reading →
Arnold Bertonneau (1832 -1912); Photograph from the mid-1860s
My great-grand uncle Arnold Bertonneau (1832 – 1912) traveled from New Orleans to Boston and Washington D.C. in April, 1864, to present his Creole Petition to Congress, which ultimately rejected it. On 12 April Bertonneau responded to an invitation by the Massachusetts Republicans to speak on the merits of his proposal. After an introduction by Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew, Bertonneau delivered the following words:
BEFORE THE OUTBREAK of the rebellion, Louisiana contained about forty thousand free colored people, and three hundred twelve thousand persons held in slavery. In the city of New Orleans, there were upwards of twenty thousand free persons of color. Nearly all the free persons of color read and write. The free people have always been on the side of
law and good order, always peaceful and self-sustaining, always loyal. Taxed on an assessment of more than fifteen million dollars — among many other things, for the support of public-school education — debarred from the right of sending their children to the common schools which they have been and are compelled to aid in supporting, taxed on their property, and compelled to contribute toward the general expense of sustaining the state, they have always been and now are prohibited from exercising the elective franchise.
When the first fratricidal shot was fired at Sumter, and Louisiana had joined her fortunes with the other seceding states, surrounded by enemies educated in the belief that “Africans and their descendants had no rights that white men were bound to respect,” without arms and ammunition, or any means of self-defense, the condition and position of our people were extremely perilous. When summoned to volunteer in the defense of the state and city against Northern invasion, situated as we were, could we do otherwise than heed the warning and volunteer in the defense of New Orleans? Could we have adopted a better policy? In the city of New Orleans, under the Confederate government, we raised one regiment of a thousand men, the line officers of which were colored.
“It was a time in our history that one does not like to look back upon . . . . Between the troublesome negroes, the unsubdued Confederates, and the lawless among our own soldiers, life was by no means an easy problem to solve.”
Elizabeth Bacon Custer, Tenting on the Plains (1893).
Thomas Bertonneau recently commented that Reconstruction soured American race relations for a century, and that the Reconstructionist revivals of 1965 and 2020 made and are making matters worse. I would say that this is because these were and are Radical Reconstructions that commit the evil they purportedly correct. The evil they purportedly correct is violation of Kant’s categorical imperative by slavery, “Jim Crow,” and “systemic racism,” all of which scant the natural autonomy of Black subjects. The evil they undoubtedly commit is violation of that same imperative by treating all people, Black and White, as mere means to the ends of Radical Reconstructists—as mere progress-pickers on their Radical plantation.
You may have seen that the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State Tweeted an assurance of welcome to students, specifically extending the warm hand of friendship to students from groups that may feel, or that may pretend to feel, unwelcome in a College of Liberal Arts. I cannot read the name of every one of these groups, but along with Black students, Muslim and Jewish students, Latino students, and LGBTQ students, the Tweet extended the warm hand of friendship to “conservative students.” This naturally sparked outrage among the students whose identities are sufficiently important to be capitalized, and the warm hand of friendship was quickly withdrawn. Continue reading →
Perusall is a “digital learning platform” that allows students to “share” marginalia from the virtual margins of their virtual textbooks. Thus, a student can peruse not only the textbook, but also his peer’s paratext of questions, reflections and objections. Perusall also allows students to see the passages that their peers have highlighted, a feature that suggests Perusenomore might have been a more appropriate name. To peruse is to read closely, and this feature clearly permits lazy students to skim the text by skipping from one peer-highlighted passage to the next. Continue reading →