Posts tagged with: philosophy

What is it like to engage the culture on a college campus through philosophy? Watch as Bruce McCluggage, Philosophy Instructor at Pike’s Peak Community College, shares firsthand what it is like to be On Call in the community college Culture as he interacts with students in the classroom, within philosophy club discussion groups and even at an atheist conference.

Watch as Bruce explains how philosophy presents an amazing opportunity to be . . .
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The deadline to register for the 2012 Acton University conference is this Friday, May 18! This means that you have less than five days to visit university.acton.org to finish that application you started a few days ago.

If I were going to try to explain Acton University, I could say that attendees and faculty alike are professionals who are among the best in their respective fields. I could also say that the number and variety of resources brought to the event by everyone involved, whether directly or indirectly, is simply astounding. Or, I could explain that both of these elements help us to create an environment that cultivates your ability to articulate your understanding of the Judeo-Christian view of liberty and morality and its application in a free and virtuous society. Try as I might, though, none of this accurately describes the experience you’ll have at Acton University this summer. But remember: You only have until Friday to register so that you can find out for yourself!

On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg addresses the “considerable fractures” that continue to divide conservative and libertarian positions on significant policy issues as well as on “deeper philosophical questions.” He pulls apart the “often tortuously drawn distinctions” surrounding the political labels and then offers some reasons why the “often unconscious but sometimes deliberate embrace of philosophical skepticism by some conservatives and libertarians should be challenged.”

Perceptive critics of skepticism have illustrated that the concern to be reasonable and avoid self-deception about reality is the starting point of any quest for philosophical truth: i.e., the very knowledge that skeptics believe we can’t know. What reason could skeptics therefore have for desiring to comprehend that, in the final analysis, all is unknowable, unless they are engaged in a quest for truth? In other words, skeptics draw their deduction that we should be philosophical skeptics from foundational assumptions they cannot doubt.

Also self-refuting is the common skeptic claim that reason is purely instrumental. For to defend this position, the skeptic’s reason necessarily engages in a non-instrumental task. He presumes it is good to know the truth of skepticism, and on grounds of reason rather than feelings. It is thus inconsistent for skeptics to assert that all philosophical viewpoints are arbitrary opinions. When skeptics posit that humans can only be motivated by sentiment rather than reason, they are not proposing this statement as their own impetuous preference. They claim to be making a rational judgment.

Read “Beyond Conservatism and Libertarianism” on Public Discourse by Samuel Gregg.

My ongoing reflection on the Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins continues with today’s Acton Commentary, “Bread First, Then Ethics.” This piece serves as a sort of follow-up to an earlier commentary, “Secular Scapegoats and ‘The Hunger Games,’” as well as an essay over at First Things I wrote with Todd Steen, “Hope in the Hunger Games.”

In this week’s commentary, I examine the dynamic of what might be understood to reflect Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as depicted in the Hunger Games (HT to Hunter Baker for his reference to Maslow). In general, “Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs.” Or more succinctly: bread first, then ethics.
Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsThis dynamic is captured nicely in a brief dialogue in the film between Katniss and Peeta. Peeta expresses his frustration at their situation: “I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them that they don’t own me. If I’m gonna die, I wanna still be me.”

To this Katniss responds bluntly: “I just can’t afford to think like that.” Survival first, then she can worry about making ethical stands or moral gestures. Bread first, then ethics.

In today’s piece, I conclude that “the pagan answer to the question of hope focuses on bread first, and only afterwards (and perhaps never) on spiritual or moral matters.” The situation is a bit more complex than this, however. What we should understand by “first” in this sense is not necessarily temporal, but rather a priority of purpose or significance.

There’s a certain element of truth to something like Maslow’s hierarchy, even if one might quibble with the details. As Bertolt Brecht famously put it, “Erst kommt das Fressen / Dann kommt die Moral,” or “First comes eating, then comes morality.” A church teaching that ignores the physical needs of people, or only on the life to come, is truncated and flawed. Scot McKnight’s recent book The King Jesus Gospel makes this point quite well.

Indeed, as the Puritan Richard Baxter observed,

If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings, not as if we were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men; God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily sense to the soul.

So seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be added as well. Do not allow for material goods to become a distraction, or even an idol, that steals attention away from our focus on “pardon and spiritual blessings.” But don’t let our focus on “spirituality” become otherworldly and disembodied.

The gospel is good news for the whole person, body and soul. What God has joined together, let no one tear asunder.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Galatians 2:10 reads, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” This is the conclusion to the Jerusalem Council, in which Paul and the leaders in Jerusalem are reconciled and unified, and where is decided that Paul and Barnabas “should go to the Gentiles, and they [James, Peter, and John] to the circumcised” (v. 9).

The concluding point that both groups are to keep in mind in their respective ventures is that they “remember the poor.” This will have some important significance for Paul and the Jerusalem Christians later on, as Paul brings the gifts of support from the Gentile churches to relieve the suffering of the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 24:17).

The first volume of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series includes Galatians, and includes some interesting considerations from various reformers on this text. Luther observes that “it is the task of a good pastor to be mindful of the poor. Wherever the church is there will be poor people, and more often than not they are the only true disciples of the gospel.” Wealth can be a powerful temptation.

WolfgangMusculusBut in the account of Wolfgang Musculus (a little-known reformer with whom I am well familiar) on this text, we find too that poverty has its own temptations. Musculus writes, “There was a great need of this advice concerning both the earthly life of the faithful poor and the nature of religion itself. There was a real danger that not only would their bodies succumb to hunger but also that their souls would succumb to the temptation to defect and revert to Judaism. Hunger is a dangerous persuader and the one most closely linked to poverty” (emphasis added).

This recognition of the relationship between bodily needs and spiritual goods reminds me also of the following from the Puritan Richard Baxter, in a treatise on Galatians 6:10:

Do as much good as you are able to men’s bodies, in order to the greater good of souls. If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings, not as if we were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men; God hath so placed the soul in the body, that good or evil shall make its entrance by the bodily sense to the soul.

Unless you’re a nostalgic Gen-Xer or a parent of a small child, you probably haven’t given much thought to the Care Bears. But since their debut in 1981, they’ve popped up everywhere. Although they were originally characters created for a line of greeting cards, the Care Bears have since appeared in a TV series, two TV specials, five feature films, several music albums, a video game, and a comic book series. Books in which they’ve appeared have sold over 45 million copies.

They are also, as philosopher Brandon Watson explains, one of our era’s most influential (albeit fictional) group of virtue ethicists.

Whenever I teach virtue ethics, I tell my students that one can see the strengths of virtue ethics in the Care Bears — as well as the things usually criticized. For the Care Bears are virtue ethicists. Each Care Bear, and later each Care Bear cousin, reflects an aspect of the virtuous life, or of institutions or practices that contribute to, or have to be negotiated in, virtuous life. Tenderheart Bear represents sympathy, Friend Bear friendship, Cheer Bear good cheer, Grumpy Bear commiseration, Funshine Bear goodnatured play, Love-A-Lot Bear love, Champ Bear sportsmanship; we get things more indirectly with Bedtime Bear, as Care-A-Lot’s night watchbear, makes sure people get a good night’s sleep so that they can do good things during the day, Wish Bear helps people work towards making wishes come true, Good Luck Bear helps people take advantage of opportunities, Secret Bear looks after secrets among friends (hence the close link to Friend Bear), etc. The virtues are all related to the kinds of sentiments people express by greeting cards and they are heavily directed to the lives of children, in which birthdays and bedtimes (for instance) are major things and not knowing how to deal with someone who is grumpy, or feeling grumpy oneself, can really seem like it ruins your life. But it’s all virtue related. A lot of it comes from the fact that greeting cards get their entire raison d’etre from the importance of communication, and particularly communication of feelings, for maintaining good human relationships.

I always go on to say in class that the Care Bears, like all good virtue ethicists, are cute, cuddly, and preachy; unlike most virtue ethicists, however, they drive cloud cars and shoot rainbows out of symbols on their tummy. That’s a highly classified level of virtue technology even Aristotle never managed to discover.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In a conversation this morning on the way into the office I complained of what I called the “tyranny of pragmatism” that characterizes the approach of many students towards their education. In this I meant a kind of emphasis on what works, and in fact what works right now over what might work later or better.

Then I was reminded of this little catechism that appears in the notes of Luigi Taparelli’s treatise “Critical Analysis of the First Concepts of Social Economy,” which appears in translation in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Taparelli writes of “an odd catechism attributed to the Anglo-Americans but that we believe most appropriate for that ignoble part of any society that takes utilitarianism for its guide.”

It proceeds thus:

What is life? A time to earn money.
What is money? The goal of life.
What is man? A machine for earning money.
What is woman? A machine for spending money, and so forth

What is the purpose of an education today if not primarily to teach us what works to make money right now?

Each year my alma mater, Aquinas College  of Grand Rapids, Mich., invites students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community to take part in a wide range of activities throughout the week of January 28th to celebrate the feast of our patron saint.   Although this week officially bears the name of a celebration in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas, it is also a special time when members of the Aquinas College community celebrate the college’s heritage in the Dominican tradition.  This heritage is preserved through the college’s relationship with the Dominican sisters at the Marywood Dominican center and the Dominican charisms of prayer, study, community, and service.

During St. Thomas Aquinas week, the college community highlights each of the charisms in a special way through one or many of the various events that are organized. Fittingly enough, this year’s 21st Anniversary St. Thomas Aquinas Lecture will be given by Dr. Eleonore Stump of Saint Louis University called “The Problem of Suffering: A Thomistic Approach” on Friday, January 27 at 12:15 pm in the Wege Ballroom.  Dr. Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University  and author or editor of several books on Medieval philosophy, including Aquinas (2003), Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (2010) and the Oxford Handbook of Thomas Aquinas (2012).  The lecture is free, open to the public, and is sponsored by Catholic Studies – which is directed by Acton University lecturer Dr. John Pinheiro.

The next lecture in the works for the Catholic Studies program will be the Fourth Annual lecture in the Catholic Studies Speaker Series at Aquinas College.  This will be a special lecture on the Catholic intellectual tradition given by George Weigel on April 11, 2012.  Visit www.aquinas.edu for more information about these and other lectures that will be hosted byAquinasCollege throughout the rest of the academic year.

David Theroux of the Independent Institute concludes his two-part article on “secular theocracy” here (the full article can be read here). In this second part, Theroux observes that “C.S. Lewis understood that natural law applies to all human behavior including government officials.”

Indeed, it is hard to see how the rule of law can function apart from a conception of the natural law. Now as Theroux shows, not just any conception of the natural law will do. It has to be one rooted in the divine lawgiver to those created in his image, with the implications for dignity and basic rights entailed by such.

Otherwise you might have a “natural law” that empowers the strong over the weak on the basis of their ability to dominate, or their intelligence, or their “fitness” to rule. See, for instance, Sam Gregg’s explanation of how Plato and Aristotle justified slavery.

“Stupid is the new smart,” and “Pop culture is a wasteland” are just a few lines from Daniel J. Flynn’s introduction to Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America. Certainly, one does not need to read Flynn’s account to surmise that there are grave problems with our culture. But many would miss some great stories and a return to a people and time that crafted a great uplifting for mass audiences.

Flynn has profiled six intellectuals or thinkers who sprung out of the immigrant backgrounds and / or a working “blue collar” origins. They opened up and popularized the great works, theories, and conversations of Western Civilization for the everyman. It seems it is of little coincidence that in profiling Mortimer Adler, Eric Hoffer, Ray Bradbury, Will and Ariel Durant, and Milton Friedman, Flynn touches on diverse streams of thought such as history, literature, economics, philosophy, and popular story teller. Flynn laments that we do not see these type of public intellectuals today and we are surrounded by passive and meaningless entertainment that not only debases but detaches us from the great ideas and a common heritage.

Will and Ariel Durant popularized history with their widely popular 11-volume The Story of Civilization. Flynn lauds them as writers who “extracted history from the academic ghetto whither it had retreated, opening the conversation about the past to all comers.”

Mortimer Adler, who compiled The Great Books of the Western World set, once quipped, “The only education I got at Columbia was in one course.” That course studied the classic works of Western Civilization and Adler sought to package them for mass consumption. A brilliant mind, Adler received a Ph.D from Columbia without ever receiving a high school diploma, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. Adler held a disinterest and disdain for the academic bubble, and in turn academics turned their noses up at his work for packaging and popularizing the great works. “The Great Books Movement, for better or worse, offered education minus the middleman. It is no wonder the middleman objected so vociferously,” says Flynn.

The idea that somebody who took on entrepreneurial endeavors and worked a myriad of jobs in the economy might make a better or more notable economist makes sense. But it’s not always the case, when one looks at say the lifelong academic John Maynard Keynes. Flynn notes what many free marketers already know about Milton Friedman and that is he “waited tables, peddled socks door-to-door, and manned roadside fireworks stands. He attended the public schools and lived in rent controlled apartments.” Friedman harnessed his experiences, professorship, books, a “Newsweek” column, and a PBS series to popularize libertarian free-market economic principles. He transformed public policy and much of the economic lingo and ideas we borrow today directly comes from the free-market economist.

Eric Hoffer, the longshoremen philosopher, was the favorite author of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. His book The True Believer covers the psychology of mass movements. “Hoffer’s patriotism stemmed from the belief that America was the workingman’s country. That the everyman became president hardly proved America’s mediocrity; it proved the excellence of the American everyman,” says Flynn.

Ray Bradbury, still writing, and most noted for Fahrenheit 451, could not afford college. He has proudly said that he is an alumnus of the Los Angeles Public Library. Bradbury glamorized small town Midwestern life and the significance of books, while slamming the detached superficial culture that suffers from a lack of education and critical thinking.

Flynn has weaved together some wonderful stories to remind us that great culture and deeper ideas are accessible to the masses. I have often wondered how some history professors could turn a lively and passionate subject boring. History, and other academic subjects, have too often been turned into gender-bending, “evil colonialist” type studies, eschewing much of the established work of Western Civilization. They deliberately use their own inner language and codes. “The ivory tower has become a tower of babble,” Flynn says.

He makes the easy case that a vapid society is objectionable and bankrupt of purpose, meaning, and ideas. He also highlights the less known significance on society of six influential thinkers, who because of their background, were able to help uplift the masses to the great ideas and release those ideas from an academic ghetto. Outside of Friedman, I did not know much about these figures and the stories he tells are lively and I did not realize how some of these thinkers already had had an influence on me. Growing up, my family had the set of The Great Books of the Western World, so it was fascinating to hear the story behind it.

As somebody with a divinity degree, and as an observer of ministry and churches, I thought about this problem in our faith culture. Today, there is a serious issue with the need to see Church as a form of entertainment first. Too often churches reflect the very same problems that plague our culture. There is little use for serious deeper reflection in some churches, and little use for the study of doctrine and traditions. The consequences are that confusion abounds today about what Christianity teaches and its transformative power. A revival and renewal is not just needed in culture, but in many of our churches too. There is a great need for teachers and preachers to deliver that word in days such as these as well.