Curing Mad Truths by Rémi Brague

1In this collection of lectures, Brague begins by quoting G. K. Chesterton, “The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” The world exceeds our ability to understand it. Rationalism exhibits an overweening pride and excludes from its purview intuition, feelings, tradition, mystical experience, and even ordinary experience. In order to function we produce simplified models of reality. The rationalist mistakes these models for reality and, at times, even hubristically claims that if something exceeds his ability to understand it, it must not exist. Finding oneself vulnerable to the decisions of someone who has lost access to feelings, including fellow feeling, and moral intuition, and reliant purely on “reason” is a dangerous place to be.

The scholar and poet Giacomo Leopardi claims that reason has a tendency to occupy the whole soul and to push to the last consequences of a train of thought even when it contradicts nature. Thoughts and assumptions have their own logic, some of which can destroy civilization itself. As Leopardi puts it, “Reason must shed light but not commit arson.”[1] He tendentiously, but interestingly, writes, “Reason destroys the illusions without which man cannot live leading thereby to its own contrary, barbarism.”[2] Thus, reason becomes the source of barbarism and this sums up much of modernity. Scientific materialism, for Michel Henry, writes nature in the language of mathematics, but cannot tell us how to live a meaningful life. This is reminiscent of the evolutionary psychologist Edward Dutton’s claim that a belief in a good and moral God is necessary to provide the belief that one is a chosen people whose existence is worth preserving and defending and that having children has some kind of eternal significance. On top of that, sex is an instinct that reason can suppress and it is precisely the smart and educated among us who tend to do so. Reason cannot prove life is worth living, nor that it should be passed on to our children. Thus, the rational predilection for proof can commit the arson about which Leopardi warns. Barbarism predates and gives way to civilization only for civilization to become the victim of its own success and hubris, idolizing reason, science and proof, thereby losing sight of faith and hope in the life to come. Religion comes to be considered the meandering and wayward musings of a child. Continue reading

Consciousness & Time: Part I: Vulcans, Zombies, & Desert Islands

A guest post by our regular commenter PBW:

Imagine, for the moment, that at some time in the 1850s a Royal Navy vessel, operating to the south of Samoa, in running from a cyclone, finds a large uncharted desert isle. Inhabitants are nowhere to be found, but inhabitants there were, at least under the analogy of William Paley’s Watchmaker, because the island is replete with the artefacts of a much more technologically advanced civilisation than that of the explorers. There are buildings of peculiar construction and materials, and most mysterious of all, in all of these buildings are large “moving picture” frames. At one moment they will display scenes as from a play, though switching rapidly between characters who, while speaking, fill the whole frame. At the next, they might display scenes in strange cities of similar construction, filled with self-propelled vehicles moving at dizzying speed. In the skies are machines that fly. Again, they might show scenes from exotic landscapes, or views from the heavens onto the country far beneath, presumably from the flying machines. The people are heard to speak in a strange language, and music, often discordant, accompanies every scene. The people represented in these frames display a moral degeneracy as astonishing as the engineering itself.

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Will We Ever See the End of the Liberal College Professor?

A guest post by Richard Cocks:

There is a pathology responsible for many seemingly unrelated problems besetting higher education: liberalism. Once we understand the liberal mindset, we can identify the cause of the problems and what can be done about it.

One problem involves standards. Less and less is expected of students. So many different things contribute to this that it may be regarded as ‘over-determined;’ i.e., any one of these things might be enough to have the same result. The liberal mind, however, doesn’t even have the necessary tools to address the problem. For many liberals the idea of a canon itof great works is anathema. It is seen as elitist. The canon typically gets replaced with books regarded as politically, not literarily, worthy – designed to highlight issues of gender, class and race. Thus, students are not primarily being asked to understand difficult, challenging books that provide a source of cultural literacy, but mostly to parrot back the liberal political views of their teachers.

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