1. Who consoles Boethius in his prison cell but also reprimands him for having forgotten her?
2. What paradox puzzles and perplexes Boethius?
3. Why does "Philosophy" say divine foreknowledge does not rob us of free will?
4. Why did Anselm conclude that God must exist?
5. Why did Aquinas think there couldn't be an infinite regress of causes?
6. Is "Nothing" obviously the best answer to "What caused the cosmos?
- How hard would you find it to take consolation from Philosophy, if you were awaiting your execution? Do you think you could become more "mindful" and less fearful, by studying and reflecting philosophically on the vicissitudes and randomness of "fortune"?
- Comment: "Luck is the residue of design." (Branch Rickey) Can you improve your luck? Why do some succeed and others fail in life? Is it all luck?
- Is the Christian God similar enough to the Platonic form of the Good that a Platonist should be a Christian, or vice versa? Do both offer the same sort of "consolation"? Would Boethius's "Philosophy" be better named "Theodicy"? What's the difference between philosophical consolation and theological justification?
- Do you agree that divine foreknowlege and human free will are not mutually contradictory "if you believe that God is all-knowing?"
- What's your definition of free will? Even if you could not have acted otherwise, in any particular situation, are you still "free" just because you did not know that?
- Why do you think Boethius wrote Consolation of Philosophy as an imagined dialogue, instead of a soliloquy?
- Do you think not existing is an imperfection? What, exactly, is made less perfect by its failure to actually exist? Can we think our way to an understanding of what must be real, and what is merely imaginary?
- Can you infer from a (hypothetically-) necessary First Cause to an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent God? Can you rule out the possibility that a First Cause might be malevolent or Satanic?
- Bertrand Russell said he gave up belief in God when he encountered J.S. Mill's Autobiography account of not getting a satisfactory answer to the question "What caused God?" Is that a good question, and a good response?
- And there was this great question from Zach: "What would you miss most, in solitary confinement?" People, things, things that give you virtual contact with people...?
"Boethius in his cell imagined his visitor: Philosophy personified as a tall woman wearing a dress with the letters Pi to Theta on it. She berates him for deserting her and the stoicism she preached. Boethius’s own book was a response to her challenge..." (from Nigel's essay "Philosophy Should Be Conversation")==
COLLEGE students tell me they know how to look someone in the eye and type on their phones at the same time, their split attention undetected. They say it’s a skill they mastered in middle school when they wanted to text in class without getting caught. Now they use it when they want to be both with their friends and, as some put it, “elsewhere.” These days, we feel less of a need to hide the fact that we are dividing our attention. In a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, 89 percent of cellphone owners said they had used their phones during the last social gathering they attended. But they weren’t happy about it; 82 percent of adults felt that the way they used their phones in social settings hurt the conversation.I’ve been studying the psychology of online connectivity for more than 30 years. For the past five, I’ve had a special focus: What has happened to face-to-face conversation in a world where so many people say they would rather text than talk? I’ve looked at families, friendships and romance. I’ve studied schools, universities and workplaces. When college students explain to me how dividing their attention plays out in the dining hall, some refer to a “rule of three.” In a conversation among five or six people at dinner, you have to check that three people are paying attention — heads up — before you give yourself permission to look down at your phone. So conversation proceeds, but with different people having their heads up at different times. The effect is what you would expect: Conversation is kept relatively light, on topics where people feel they can drop in and out... (from Sherry Terkle's "Stop Googling. Let's Talk")
Sherry Turkle is a singular voice in the discourse about technology. She’s a skeptic who was once a believer, a clinical psychologist among the industry shills and the literary hand-wringers, an empiricist among the cherry-picking anecdotalists, a moderate among the extremists, a realist among the fantasists, a humanist but not a Luddite: a grown-up. She holds an endowed chair at M.I.T. and is on close collegial terms with the roboticists and affective-computing engineers who work there. Unlike Jaron Lanier, who bears the stodgy weight of being a Microsoft guy, or Evgeny Morozov, whose perspective is Belarussian, Turkle is a trusted and respected insider. As such, she serves as a kind of conscience for the tech world.
Turkle’s previous book, “Alone Together,” was a damning report on human relationships in the digital age. By observing people’s interactions with robots, and by interviewing them about their computers and phones, she charted the ways in which new technologies render older values obsolete. When we replace human caregivers with robots, or talking with texting, we begin by arguing that the replacements are “better than nothing” but end up considering them “better than anything” — cleaner, less risky, less demanding. Paralleling this shift is a growing preference for the virtual over the real. Robots don’t care about people, but Turkle’s subjects were shockingly quick to settle for the feeling of being cared for and, similarly, to prefer the sense of community that social media deliver, because it comes without the hazards and commitments of a real-world community. In her interviews, again and again, Turkle observed a deep disappointment with human beings, who are flawed and forgetful, needy and unpredictable, in ways that machines are wired not to be. Her new book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” extends her critique, with less emphasis on robots and more on the dissatisfaction with technology reported by her recent interview subjects. She takes their dissatisfaction as a hopeful sign, and her book is straightforwardly a call to arms: Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place... (Jonathan Franzen review of Reclaiming Conversation, continues)
A follow-up from Sherry Turkle on the lost art of conversation:
My recent Sunday Review essay, adapted from my book “Reclaiming Conversation,” made a case for face-to-face talk. The piece argued that direct engagement is crucial for the development of empathy, the ability to put ourselves in the place of others. The article went on to say that it is time to make room for this most basic interaction by first accepting our vulnerability to the constant hum of online connection and then designing our lives and our products to protect against it.==
Some readers agreed with me. Others, even as they disagreed, captured the fragility of conversation today... (continues)
Though one goal of visiting a professor during office hours is certainly transactional — to increase your knowledge and improve your grade — the other is to visit someone who is making an effort to understand you and how you think. And a visit to a professor holds the possibility of giving a student the feeling of adult support and commitment.
But students say they don’t come to office hours because they are afraid of being too dull. They tell me they prefer to email professors because only with the time delay and the possibility of editing can they best explain their work. My students suggest that an email from them will put me in the best position to improve their ideas. They cast our meeting in purely transactional terms, judging that the online transaction will yield better results than a face-to-face meeting.
Zvi, a college junior who doesn’t like to see his professors in person but prefers to email, used transactional language to describe what he might get out of office hours: He has ideas; the professors have information that will improve them. In the end, Zvi walked back his position and admitted that he stays away from professors because he doesn’t feel grown-up enough to talk to them. His professors might be able to help him with this, but not because they’ll give him information.
Studies of mentoring show that what makes a difference, what can change the life of a student, is the presence of a strong figure who shows an interest, who, as a student might say, “gets me.”
You need face-to-face conversation for that. nyt
'Since, then, every mode of judgment comprehends its objects conformably to its own nature, and since God abides for ever in an eternal present, His knowledge, also transcending all movement of time, dwells in the simplicity of its own changeless present, and, embracing the whole infinite sweep of the past and of the future, contemplates all that falls within its simple cognition as if it were now taking place. And therefore, if thou wilt carefully consider that immediate presentment whereby it discriminates all things, thou wilt more rightly deem it not foreknowledge as of something future, but knowledge of a moment that never passes. For this cause the name chosen to describe it is not prevision, but providence, because, since utterly removed in nature from things mean and trivial, its outlook embraces all things as from some lofty height. Why, then, dost thou insist that the things which are surveyed by the Divine eye are involved in necessity, whereas clearly men impose no necessity on things which they see? Does the act of vision add any necessity to the things which thou seest before thy eyes?'
And yet, if we may without unfitness compare God's present and man's, just as ye see certain things in this your temporary present, so does He see all things in His eternal present. Wherefore this Divine anticipation changes not the natures and properties of things, and it beholds things present before it, just as they will hereafter come to pass in time. Nor does it confound things in its judgment, but in the one mental view distinguishes alike what will come necessarily and what without necessity. For even as ye, when at one and the same time ye see a man walking on the earth and the sun rising in the sky, distinguish between the two, though one glance embraces both, and judge the former voluntary, the latter necessary action: so also the Divine vision in its universal range of view does in no wise confuse the characters of the things which are present to its regard, though future in respect of time. Whence it follows that when it perceives that something will come into existence, and yet is perfectly aware that this is unbound by any necessity, its apprehension is not opinion, but rather knowledge based on truth. And if to this thou sayest that what God sees to be about to come to pass cannot fail to come to pass, and that what cannot fail to come to pass happens of necessity, and wilt tie me down to this word necessity, I will acknowledge that thou affirmest a most solid truth, but one which scarcely anyone can approach to who has not made theDivine his special study. For my answer would be that the same future event is necessary from the standpoint of Divine knowledge, but when considered in its own nature it seems absolutely free and unfettered. So, then, there are two necessities—one simple, as that men are necessarily mortal; the other conditioned, as that, if you know that someone is walking, he must necessarily be walking. For that which is known cannot indeed be otherwise than as it is known to be, and yet this fact by no means carries with it that other simple necessity. For the former necessity is not imposed by the thing's own proper nature, but by the addition of a condition. No necessity compels one who is voluntarily walking to go forward, although it is necessary for him to go forward at the moment of walking. In the same way, then, if Providence sees anything as present, that must necessarily be, though it is bound by no necessity of nature. Now, God views as present those coming events which happen of free will. These, accordingly, from the standpoint of the Divine vision are made necessary conditionally on the Divine cognizance; viewed, however, in themselves, they desist not from the absolute freedom naturally theirs. Accordingly, without doubt, all things will come to pass which God foreknows as about to happen, but of these certain proceed of free will; and though these happen, yet by the fact of their existence they do not lose their proper nature, in virtue of which before they happened it was really possible that they might not have come to pass.
'What difference, then, does the denial of necessity make, since, through their being conditioned by Divine knowledge, they come to pass as if they were in all respects under the compulsion of necessity? This difference, surely, which we saw in the case of the instances I formerly took, the sun's rising and the man's walking; which at the moment of their occurrence could not but be taking place, and yet one of them before it took place was necessarily obliged to be, while the other was not so at all. So likewise the things which to God are present without doubt exist, but some of them come from the necessity of things, others from the power of the agent. Quite rightly, then, have we said that these things are necessary if viewed from the standpoint of the Divine knowledge; but if they are considered in themselves, they are free from the bonds of necessity, even as everything which is accessible to sense, regarded from the standpoint of Thought, is universal, but viewed in its own nature particular. "But," thou wilt say, "if it is in my power to change my purpose, I shall make void providence, since I shall perchance change something which comes within its foreknowledge." My answer is: Thou canst indeed turn aside thy purpose; but since the truth of providence is ever at hand to see that thou canst, and whether thou dost, and whither thou turnest thyself, thou canst not avoid the Divine foreknowledge, even as thou canst not escape the sight of a present spectator, although of thy free will thou turn thyself to various actions. Wilt thou, then, say: "Shall the Divine knowledge be changed at my discretion, so that, when I will this or that, providence changes its knowledge correspondingly?"
'True, for the Divine vision anticipates all that is coming, and transforms and reduces it to the form of its own present knowledge, and varies not, as thou deemest, in its foreknowledge, alternating to this or that, but in a single flash it forestalls and includes thy mutations without altering. And this ever-present comprehension and survey of all things God has received, not from the issue of future events, but from the simplicity of His own nature. Hereby also is resolved the objection which a little while ago gave thee offence—that our doings in the future were spoken of as if supplying the cause of God's knowledge. For this faculty of knowledge, embracing all things in its immediate cognizance, has itself fixed the bounds of all things, yet itself owes nothing to what comes after.
'And all this being so, the freedom of man's will stands unshaken, and laws are not unrighteous, since their rewards and punishments are held forth to wills unbound by any necessity. God, who foreknoweth all things, still looks down from above, and the ever-present eternity of His vision concurs with the future character of all our acts, and dispenseth to the good rewards, to the bad punishments. Our hopes and prayers also are not fixed on God in vain, and when they are rightly directed cannot fail of effect. Therefore, withstand vice, practise virtue, lift up your souls to right hopes, offer humble prayers to Heaven. Great is the necessity of righteousness laid upon you if ye will not hide it from yourselves, seeing that all your actions are done before the eyes of a Judge who seeth all things.'
EPILOGUE. Within a short time of writing 'The Consolation of Philosophy,' Boethius died by a cruel death. As to the manner of his death there is some uncertainty. According to one account, he was cut down by the swords of the soldiers before the very judgment-seat of Theodoric; according to another, a cord was first fastened round his forehead, and tightened till 'his eyes started'; he was then killed with a club.
An old post
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Boethius & Bentham & animal rights
Today in CoPhi it's the pagan/stoic/Christian/Platonist martyr Boethius, and then the rights of animals.
We saw last time that Bertrand Russell had little regard for how Augustine, despite his philosophical sophistication when it came to hard-nut conceptual problems like time, ironically squandered much of his own on a preoccupation with sin, chastity, and staying out of hell.
Russell liked Boethius, or aspects of his thought at least. Boethius was also perplexed by time, and initially unimpressed by the alleged capacity of timeless divinity to accommodate both omniscience and free will. Like Russell, I'm struck by this "singular" thinker's ability to contemplate happiness (he thought all genuinely happy people are gods) while practically darkening death's door.
Boethius was consoled by the thought that God’s foreknowledge of everything, including the fact that Boethius himself (among too many others) would be unjustly imprisoned and tortured to death, in no way impaired his (Boethius’s) freedom or god's perfection. Consoled. Comforted.Calmed. Reconciled.
That’s apparently because God knows things timelessly, sees everything “in a go.” I don’t think that would really make me feel any better, in my prison cell. The real consolation of philosophy comes when it contributes to the liberation of mind and body (one thing, not two). But it’s still very cool to imagine Philosophy a comfort-woman, reminding us of our hard-earned wisdom when the going gets impossible.
And then, of course, they killed him. The list of martyred philosophers grows. And let’s not forget Hypatia and Bruno. [Russell] The problem of suffering (“evil”) was very real to them, as it is to so many of our fellow world-citizens. You can’t chalk it all up to free will. But can we even chalk torture or any other inflicted choice up to it, given the full scope of a genuinely omniscient creator’s knowledge? If He already knows what I’m going to do unto others and what others will do unto me, am I in any meaningful sense a free agent who might have done otherwise? The buck stops where?
For those keeping score, add Boethius to Aristotle's column.
[Christians 2, Philosophers 0... Christians & Muslims...JandMoandPaul...Mystics, scholastics, Ferengi... faith & reason...]
And now, for something completely different: animals. Not very many philosophers of note have denied that animals are capable of feeling pain. But Descartes did.
"Speciesism" is generally understood to to convey a pejorative connotation, but I went on record a long time ago as a species of speciesist. A pragmatist is bound to give priority to human interests, but an animal-loving pragmatist will always urge the rejection of allowing them to run roughshod over our furry fellow travelers whose planet it also is. Still, if animal research will save human lives I'm going to cast my vote in favor. [Full movie]
Kant's view that harming animals is wrong because it damages OUR character and relationships, however, is too speciesist for my blood.
I'm happy our text gives me another opportunity to put in a word for quirky old Jeremy Bentham, who rightly noted that pain and suffering know no species bounds. [Animal Rights... A Utilitarian View] Other critters don't process it with the magnifying human sort of emotional complexity, nor do they typically bear any detectably solicitous mutual regard of the human kind (though some primates and puppies do display what we're bound to anthropomorphize as tenderness and affection). But that doesn't make them robots.
Happily, Jeremy's still feeling no pain.
|Peter Singer (@PeterSinger)|
Are we making progress on animal welfare? My thoughts, briefly, in The Guadian:
An old post-
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Anselm, Aquinas, & politics
It's more Saints today in CoPhi, and more Harvards: Anselm & Aquinas (with commentary on the latter from Anthony Kenny), Robert Nozick and political philosophy. Inexplicably, our politics chapter omits discussion of the most important political philosopher of the 20th century, John Rawls. We'll rectify that in class.
Anselm stumped for the divine moral perfection (and omnipotence and omniscience) of a being “than which none greater could be conceived.” His Ontological Argumentis either ingenious or ridiculous, depending on who you ask. But it rarely persuades those who do not come at it armed with antecedent faith. "Faith seeking understanding," or maybe just the appearance of rational cover.
Anselm considers reason subordinate to faith. 'I believe in order to understand,' he says; following Augustine, he holds that without belief it is impossible to understand. God, he says, is not just... St Anselm, like his predecessors in Christian philosophy, is in the Platonic rather than the Aristotelian tradition. For this reason, he has not the distinctive characteristics of the philosophy which is called "scholastic," which culminated in Thomas Aquinas. Russell
In the time of Aquinas, the battle for Aristotle, as against Plato, still had to be fought. The influence of Aquinas secured the victory [for Aristotle] until the Renaissance; then Plato, who became better known than in the Middle Ages, again aquired supremacy... Russell Indeed, "Aquinas fully endorsed Aristotle..." (Cave & Light)
Aquinas was sure there had to be an uncaused cause in back of everything, or else we’d never get to an end of explaining. Well, we probably won’t. Not ’til the would-be explainers themselves are gone. But is an uncaused cause really a step forward, explanatorily speaking?
Both of those guys were committed, of course, to belief in a heavenly afterlife. Samuel Scheffler, in the Stone recently, wrote of the afterlife here. Here, of course, is where people live the lives their beliefs inform. Life, not god or supernaturalism, is the natural impulse behind religion. Dewey's continuous human community is another way of naming nature's afterlife.
But what if you learned that the species would expire within a month of your own passing? That's Scheffler's thought experiment. He thinks he and we would be profoundly unsettled, that life would suffer an instant meaning collapse, and that this shows how invested we all are in a natural afterlife for humans (though not each of us in particular) on earth. He thinks "the continuing existence of other people after our deaths -- even that of complete strangers -- matters more to us than does our own survival and that of our loved ones." That's what he means when he begins his essay: "I believe in life after death."
He also explained his view on Philosophy Bites.
Our old dead Italian Saints said nothing about this, so far as I'm aware. Anthony Kenny does say Aquinas still agreed with Aristotle about "the best way to spend your lifetime down here on Earth," that happiness is ultimately an activity rather than a feeling, and that "the supreme happiness for rational beings was an intellectual activity." To Aristotle's standard "pagan virtues" he added faith (in Christian revelation), hope (for heavenly ascent), and charity (toward god and neighbor).
But the charity he seems to admire most in Aquinas is of the intellectual variety, "always trying to balance arguments from both sides" and treat those whose conclusions he disputes with civility.
Neither of today's 20th century Harvard philosophers was a Saint, but both were civil.
Robert Nozick began his academic career as a narrow analyst and wunderkind libertarian, but evolved well beyond his starting place. He came to realize that astringent libertarianism neglects "the reality of our social solidarity and humane concern for others." He came also to the view that "thinking about life is more like mulling it over" than like pinning it with a syllogism. "It feels like growing up more." He kept growing, 'til stomach cancer took him at age 63.
Nozick's chapter on dying in The Examined Life begins,
THEY SAY NO ONE is able to take seriously the possibility of his or her own death, but this does not get it exactly right. (Does everyone take seriously the possibility of his or her own life?) A person's own death does become real to him after the death of both parents.He's right about that, in my experience.
Before his death (as Yogi Berra might have said) Nozick gave us the good oldExperience Machine. We just talked about this the other day. Here's a Yalie to talk about it too.
John Rawls, says Carlin Romano, wrote "the most important book of English-language political theory since Mill's On Liberty. His goal was a coherent theory of "justice as fairness" whose appeal would span the spectrum, after emerging from behind a "Veil of Ignorance." Not everyone buys it, but we all talk about it.
And now there's a musical stage show. How many political philosophers can say that?! Rawls@dawn
Also a propos of politics, happily included in our chapter today: historicity, Kantian respect, egalitarianism, libertarianism, affirmative action ("reverse discrimination"), the Marxist critique of sham democracy, and paradoxes of conscience. Plenty, as usual, on our plates.