Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Jun 1 Chapters 10-12 questions

Jun 1 Chapters 10-12 questions
Don Enss

Chapter 10. Christ is come: Plato and Christianity

11.     What was the real secret to Christianity’s success in the late Roman and Greek world?
22.     What does Herman consider the key factor to explain Christianity’s amazing spread?
33.    A man “should take each moment and hold it tenderly in his hands,” Origen later wrote, in order “to  examine what other possible meaning it may hold, what other purpose or end.” What was that  defining moment for Origen?
4.4.   What did Origen do “in order to free himself from his libidinal energies?”

Chapter 11. Toward the Heavenly City

11.      “Eusebius, however, felt no compunction in explaining how everything that had happened in the  Christian Church since the Crucifixion – all the apostolic labors, all the sudden conversions, all the  persecutions and martyrdoms – had led inexorably to this miraculous event.” What was this event?
22.     What did Lactantius’s professor, Arnobius, predict about wars?
33.     What was the major step of the Council of Nicaea?
44.     What will be the catchphrase of the early Middle Ages that will have a “sweeping impact on      Western culture for the next thousand years and beyond?”

Chapter 12. Inquiring Minds: Aristotle Strikes Back

11.      In Boethius’s dream, who was the woman who came to stand beside and comfort him in prison?
22.      According to Herman, “Boethius is the first Christian thinker to realize,” what?
33.     “Above all, Boethius treated Plato and Aristotle as the essential anchors of a civilized education. It’s  a point of view that linked Boethius not only to the Middle Ages, which read his works with  passionate devotion, but indirectly to every college and university today that still teaches what his  world, and ours, call,” what?

44.      Aristotle said, “All men desire to know.” Peter Abelard added what to that statement?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Changing of the Watchtower

DQ from Dr. Oliver: If Tertullian and other early church fathers hadn't declared that "all secular powers are hostile to God," but had instead embraced genuine toleration (freedom from, as well as for religion), do you think our cultural landscape would be very different today? 170 

In short, no.

My favorite line of questionable research from Arthur Herman is on page 168, which reads as such: “By the measure of the age, Constantine was not a superstitious man.” Perhaps, he gets a break by qualifying “superstition” with “the measure of the age,” but superstition seems to be the very root of the problem.

For example, Constantine and his troops gain confidence from the words of a “pagan oracle” that “an enemy of Rome would be Killed.” This is the ancient equivalent of calling a famous TV psychic’s 900 number and asking them to predict your family’s future. Secondly, Constantine and his troops worship the all-powerful god called Sol Invictus, who was the mandatory sun god and the benefactor of war (p. 168).

Further, Constantine believed in precognition. And as the author noted, his Christian officers were more than willing to interpret his dreams for him, to their advantage. It’s almost like a scene from a Mel Brooks film.

Gods are an excellent way to ground one’s beliefs, and religious promises of fortune, safety, salvation, victory as well as a sense of community and belonging are attractive features. This is understandable, due to the nature of humanity. But as we see with Plato, Aristotle, and all the branches of philosophy and religion that stem, adapt, appropriate from these two great Greek thinkers, the common thread seems to come back to power and authority. 

Orwell once implied that there’s no such thing as law, there’s only power. I’ve come to believe this more every day.

Constantine’s conversion, at first, was one of toleration. But before long, the persecuted would become the persecutors. And as with all religious persecutors, they’re dead set on stamping out all impiety.

With (insert your god here) on your side, how can you possibly be wrong—and how could someone prove otherwise? 

Then again, someone always comes along and asks "how do you know that?" 

DQ: Pew research polls show that religion is in sharp decline in the U.S. Where do you see the future of religion, gods, secularism, and philosophy in this future?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Quiz June 1

My Tuesday's shaping up to be very busy, with many errands in advance of the cross-country roadtrip I'll be starting Thursday (flying back just in time for class)... so I thought I'd get a jump-start on this. Please help me out and post some good DQs (you can edit them right into this document). Happy Memorial Day!

10-Christ Is Come-Plato and Christianity
1. What did Plato do for Christianity, and vice versa?

2. How did Origen depart from his teacher Clement?

3. How did Origen view Socrates, in relation to conscience, wrongdoing, Jesus, or the embodied soul?

4. What did Origen do for Christian theology?

  • If the "secret of Paul's success" and Christianity's was their message of belonging, permanence, moral purpose, and hope, what does that tell us about our "deepest emotional needs"? Are our needs philosophically relevant and respectable? 149
  • God "has appointed a day" of judgment (148), but - being omniscient - must already know how it will go. Is there a conceptual problem with reconciling an all-knowing, all-powerful creator with the idea of judging his/her/its own creation? Aren't the judg-ees already doomed, having been created imperfect only then to be assessed and penalized for their imperfection?
  • Has any religion come close to supplying "the answers to all the questions [of] Plato, Aristotle, and their disciples" (150)? How has Christianity persuaded so many that it has? Why didn't Paul's early Athenian audience set the tone for its subsequent reception?
  • Can you explain in simple language what it could mean to "reconcile the eternal split between spirit and matter" (152) by persecuting a charismatic person with a divine afflatus?
  • Were Plotinus's students right to protest Clement's "vulgarization of Plato and their master"? 154
  • "Churches... still saw themselves largely as centers of worship rather than moral instruction." 159 How do they see themselves and how do you see them today? 
  • Please post yours...
11-Toward the Heavenly City
1.  Who first made Church and State a cultural issue?

2.  What's the etymology of "religion"?

3. Who asked what Athens has to do with Jerusalem?

4. What did Augustine say about the relation between faith and reason (or rational understanding)?

  • If Tertullian and other early church fathers hadn't declared that "all secular powers are hostile to God," but had instead embraced genuine toleration (freedom from, as well as for religion), do you think our cultural landscape would be very different today? 170 
  • "By the measure of the age, Constantine was not a superstitious man." 168 Do you buy that?
  • Church and State is an intractable issue in American politics, but should it be? Is there serious dispute, constitutional or ethical, as to the necessity of state neutrality regarding religion?
  • Justinian deemed himself Ruler of the Cosmos. (172) Clearly his cosmos was too small, but the heads of leaders and aspirants for leadership tend always to be too big. Can you name some genuinely humble world leaders, past or present? How can we innoculate ourselves against the worst from big-headed future leaders?
  • Was Arnobius right: will war ever become obsolete? 174
  • How would you characterize the appropriate relation between reason and faith? What forms of faith are rationally acceptable? Is it the province of reason to make that determination? Is there anything to be said for Tertullian's and Kierkegaard's "Creo quia est absurdum"? 
  • Please post yours...

12-Inquiring Minds-Aristotle Strikes Back
1. Boethius, an orthodox Catholic, mentions not even a single what in his Consolation of Philosophy?

2. How did "the Irish save civilization"?

3. What are the seven " liberal arts"?

4. How did Abelard reverse Anselm?

  • Do you agree with Boethius about the place of the liberal arts in a civilized education? 191 Does Higher Ed, generally (if we judge by current trends)? What do you think of the present emphasis on "student success" defined in terms of the rate and rapidity of graduation?
  • Comment: Socrates' death was victorious "because Philosophy had been at his side." 189
  • What do you think of Boethius' free will solution (God sees everything "in one go" etc.)?
  • Do you prefer "the real Plato" or "the yeasty mystical concoction of the Neoplatonists"? 191
  • Comment: "God is to be found in goodness itself and nowhere else." 192
  • Can philosophers reasonably ignore whatever "doesn't fit into a syllogism"? 195
  • Are you impressed at all by the clarity or simplicity of Anselm's Ontological Argument? (197) Is it possibly onto something? Is the J&Mo cartoon below on target?
  • Abelard said we need to question and doubt, in order to know. But he never doubted his own Christian faith, saying "I will never be a philosopher." (203) Is his position rationally defensible? Can a critically-minded person simply form a protective wall around specific beliefs, without compromising his/her credibility and intellectual character?
  • Please post yours...
We'll soon begin spending the last third of our class period looking at Gros's Philosophy of Walking, but if you can't wait for that I recommend dipping into Rebecca Solnit's wonderful Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Check out the clever trail at the bottom of the pages.

Some old posts-

Romans & redeemers


We get another big swatch of Jennifer Hecht’s Doubt today in A&S,from the Romans and Christians to Hypatia to Zen. The sheer volume of erudition here is dizzying.

Paul of Tarsus, publicist for Jesus (though they’d never met) and founder of Christianity as we know it, gets his 15 seconds. So, this deserves a reprise…

Paul developed and evangelized some of the amazing new ideas that were brewing in the Judaism that raised him. But his biggest ideas,belief in belief and belief in eternal life, were not central to the Jewish tradition.

Jesus was himself a doubter, but Paulian Christianity comes to view doubt as an obstacle to salvation and an impediment to faith rather than a critical tool for seeking evidence and truth (and exposing their absence, in the spirit of Socrates).

Like Socrates, we get Jesus at 2d, 3d, and umpteenth-hand. He wasn’t a writer. The first three Gospels were written about half a century after he died. So maybe he was a Cynic, a doubter and a dedicated thorn in the side of the establishment.

His last words did indeed imply that he was expecting something that did not seem to be happening. The message to the flock ever since, though, seems to have been that it’s ok to doubt so long as you don’t finally act on your doubt. Keepers of the faith have done an impressive job over the centuries of glossing Jesus’ expectations and ours that either something happens or it doesn’t. Looks like it didn’t. Again and again.

But the end-times keep coming back, and belief without evidence turns out to have incredible magic powers to compel assent (or at least stifle dissent). “Everything is possible for him who believes. Help me overcome my unbelief!” As Jesus told Doubting Thomas: “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” A virgin birth, water-walking, sea-parting, resurrection, eternal life in paradise… no problem. Just believe. “I do believe in magic. I do. I do!” You don’t? What’s the matter with you?? Not enough faith, or– like Augustine, who gets too little credit for paving Descartes’ way– not enough resistance just yet to the seductions of corporeal existence.

This is all so un-pragmatic, this separation of belief from action. (SeeC.S. Peirce: beliefs are ideas we’re prepared to act on, and “what is more wholesome than any particular belief is integrity of belief… to avoid looking into the support of any belief from a fear that it may turn out rotten is quite as immoral as it is disadvantageous.”)

And not just un-pragmatic. Un-American, even, and of questionable sincerity. But there it is. As Tim McGraw’s dad used to insist: ya gotta believe, if you want to win the game of life.

But let’s go back, before we go forward. Cicero‘s wonderful dialogue with a Skeptic, a Stoic, and an Epicurean would have been fun to join. “Cotta” says it all: Are you not ashamed as a scientist, as an observer and investigator of nature, to seek your criterion of truth from minds steeped in conventional beliefs? The whole theory is ridiculous… I do not believe these gods of yours exist at all, least of all the uninvolved, uninterested ones like the Epicurean-inspired Disinterested Deist Deity. If this is all that a god is, a being untouched by care or love of human kind, then I wave him good-bye.

If you want truth, you have to avoid making up anything.

Lucretius (our first selection in the Hitch anthology, from De Rerum Natura) was another Epicurean, but he downplayed the god-talk. The finality of death and the absence of the gods did not seem depressing; indeed, they seemed to add to the sweetness of life.

Marcus Aurelius, as close to a philosopher-king as the West would ever know: “I am a part of the whole which is governed by nature.”He had a Big Picture cosmic perspective. From a vantage “raised up above the earth,” consider life’s brevity and our common humanity. We are one species, as Carl Sagan liked to say, and our time here is brief. Don’t squander it in fear, worry, malice and meanness.

Now, fast forward (past those refreshingly-strange gnostics and their contempt for the creator God) to Boethius, “last of the Romans, first of the scholastics.” His Consolations of Philosophy “completely ignored Christianity.” That’s really hard to do.

Finally (today) the tragedy of Hypatia. Her alleged killer Cyril nearly killed philosophy and science and civilization as well, and was rewarded with Sainthood. What else is new?

More potentially-offensive, conversationally-catalytic Jesus and Mo-


The J&M Top Ten
1. birth
2. women2
3. abuse2
4. hear
5. used
6. rights
7. fools2
8. small
9. tweet
10. must

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Aristotle's Tomb or Bust?

"A Greek archaeologist who has been leading a 20-year excavation in northern Greece said on Thursday that he believed he had unearthed the tomb of Aristotle."


A stroll in May

We'll get all of us all into the picture, next time. Great camera work, Dean!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chapter 7: What is real and who is answering the question?

The statement that everything real must in principle be quantifiable is an interesting one. I must say that I find myself on both sides of the fence. I agree with it because when applying these terms to my personal life it makes sense. For example, I know that my mother’s love for me is “real”. This is measured by my experiences with her. She not only tells me this daily but she her actions show it. I can call my mother any time, day or night, and she will be there. If I need advice, prayer, someone to talk to, mercy funds added into my checking account she’s there to meet the need. Even growing up, her providing a roof over my head, clean clothes, food to eat and even dance tuition for dance camp, these actions are quantifiable to me.

 My question is what is real and what is not?  Who is answering the question? According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of real is “actually existing or happening: not imaginary” To quantify something that means “to find or calculate the quantity or amount of something”. If you asked me if success is real, I’d say yes. My success would be measured upon my education. For example, I was the first in my family to graduate high school, graduate college receiving a bachelor’s degree and working on a master’s degree. Obviously I know that there are other scenarios that fit the question better such as how much money will you have in bank after working a 40 hour work week making $20 an hour. That is very easy to define as real and quantifiable; however, what is the definition of real and who is answering the question? 

Chapter 9: An Unexpected Death

Although we know that death is inevitable, death is not an easy concept to grasp. Whether it’s an elderly person given the news that they have only 6 months left to live or healthy newborn baby killed in a car accident, death is hard to digest. In chapter 9, Julius Caesar describes the best kind of death as “An unexpected one”. I agree!

I agree with this because it’s a guideline that everyone should follow. Because we don’t know when our time is up, life should be spent trying to achieve as much good as possible. I believe that if people understood this to its fullest, families would be undivided, friendships could be restored and more energy would go towards resolving the problem instead of arguing and fighting. I am not saying that life would be perfect if this guideline was followed; however, there could be more peace and harmony.

I found this interesting quote on Pinterest that says “Be grateful, appreciate every second of life. Be kind to others, smile often and lend a hand. Be positive, about everything. Be flexible, it’s ok to bend your own rules from time to time. Celebrate, even the small things. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t take yourself too seriously, laugh at yourself. Be spontaneous and adventurous. Enjoy the small things. Don’t wait for the right moment, make the moment. Say I love you, often.” In my opinion, Julius Caesar was right by saying the best kind of death is “An unexpected one” because you put less focus on dying and more on living the best life possible.

Do the Ethically Right Thing

In the controversial and critically acclaimed film, “Do The Right Thing,” Ossie Davis’ character, “Da Mayor,” tells Spike Lee’s character, “Mookie,” “Always do the right thing.” (Lee, 1989) This short, yet powerful statement more than sets the tone for this classic movie, but it has more than helped define how I try and live my life, personally and professionally. Yet, when I look at my own ethical framework, I am left to wonder what else goes into my personal decision making process. Am I guided by theories of virtue, deontology, or utilitarianism? Do I have a detailed plan that will help me during ethically challenging times? These are just some of the questions that I will attempt to answer in this post.
The Virtue, Deontological and Utilitarianism theories have shaped decision making for many years. These aforementioned theories are all solid theories, but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Virtue theory is rooted in a simple thought of right versus wrong and serves as the strength of that theory. (Trianosky, 1990, p. 335) Yet, the virtue is hurt by the extremes of the theory. The strength of deontology can be found in the fact that this theory asks people to consider their professional responsibilities above all other things. This strength is undermined by the fact that personal life may suffer at such a request. (Morales, 2010) Utilitarianism looks at the greater good, but fails to take into consideration those that may be affected negatively by the decision. (Six Religions, 2014)
Good or bad, these theories combined are very useful in helping people establish a decision making process. The decision making process is an excellent playbook for how professionals should conduct themselves. By using the decision-making process in all decisions, professionals set a standard for their actions and avoid being labeled as showing favoritism. The decision making process should have six steps. Step one addresses your ethical awareness. Step two seeks to determine if your situation is truly an ethical issue. Moving forward, step three examines the legal viability of the situation and whether if legal counsel is needed. Step four can be described as the war games process. All probable actions and outcomes are examined thoroughly. Then step five seeks to pinpoint which decision-making theory would be best suited to guide your decision. Finally, step six is the execution of your plan by seeking out chain of command, recommending an ethical decision and embracing the process.

Works Cited
Lee, S. (Director). (1989). Do The Right Thing [Motion picture]. USA: Universal Studios.
Morales, E. (2010, December). Basics of Deontology [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVARdM93zsw
Six Religions. (2014, February). Moral Philosophy - Deontology Vs Utilitarianism [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDMedWiZ_Iw
Trianosky, G. (1990). What is Virtue Ethics All About? American
Philosophical Quarterly, 27(4), 335-344.

"I Don't #&@$ With You!"

Why is it so difficult for democracies to persuade most of the people that they're "all in this together"? (125)
President John F. Kennedy famously said, “A rising tide lifts all boats (Khan).” This quote comes from the idea that “improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in the economy (Wikipedia contributors).” Though this quote means well, it is a flawed philosophy rooted in the thought that we are all in this together. Democracies seek to push the greater good forward, but the greater good is made up of individuals. Individuals will always look after their own interests before they look out for the interest of others. Thus, democracies are left trying to persuade the often unpersuadable.
Democracies are built to promote the idea that a collective we is greater than an individual I. The flaw in this philosophy can be traced back to a clear, distinct flaw. The concept of the true nature of good and evil serves as a hurdle to bringing the masses together. Look at the plight of Julius Caesar! Caesar desired to give people a voice, but that idea threatened the interests of the aristocrats. Thus, the evil side of man rises to the surface and the good essence of man suffers. Therefore, we come face to face with the reality that interests of a few will endanger the hopes of many.
Works Cited
Khan, Shamus. "We Are Not All in This Together." The New York Times 14 Dec. 2013: n. pag. Web. 25 May 2016.

Wikipedia contributors. "A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2016. Web. 25 May 2016.

Creation and Logic

  • "Would a God necessarily have to be a "supreme geometer," (95) committed to an ordered and rational creation? What if the creator had a preference for disunity and a messy creation?" 
While a further advanced study in creationism would help better answer this question, my background in private schools and a strong christian upbringing (church on Wednesday and Sunday, prayers before meals, family culture centered around faith) allows me to have some insight into this question. I have always thought that God is that which we can not explain. Our natural human fear of the unknown allows us to formulate some type of greater human being. The genesis of most of our theories and ideas stems from our own internal biological feelings.We want answers to questions that we can not solve about ourselves, the world, and society, be it microbiological or astrophysical, (especially for philosophers). So from a human standpoint I envision these thinkers attempting to make sense of their world given the most recent and available tools they had. The relationship between creator and created is complex. Most human beings will have a desire to understand their conception or creation. Most will try to relate it to some identifiable phenomena they experience rationally or emotionally. Neither is wrong, it's what makes human existence a universal, and beautiful phenomena. Perhaps, the creator or creation point happened and it was messy, yet, as humans beings we desire to make sense logical and ordered sense of our world. Perhaps geometry is our idea but we want to pay respect to the being, be it God or science that allowed us to understand and have it discover-able. Perhaps we want to think of God as being similar to us, the rational thinker.

Do you see the “mixed constitution” (114) as a healthy precursor of our balance of powers, or a foreshadowing of political dissolution and mob rule? Does modern democratic man “live from day to day” without order or restraint? (115) Was Plato prescient about class struggle between rich and poor and the “dismal cycle” of decay and revolution “without end or purpose”? (116)
Don Enss
James Madison is considered by most historians to be the Father of the Constitution. Madison like other colonial leaders were students of Greek and Latin and were well-versed in the Classics. Madison did what Aristotle had done prior to writing about Politics. Before the convention in Philadelphia, he devoted several months to studying the governments of many countries and noted their strengths and weaknesses. This allowed him to guide the delegates in their discussions and compromises in crafting the constitution.
 It is important to remember that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were almost all well-to-do, white, propertied males who were drafting a constitution that would be used to govern the United States and protect their interests. They represented the “elite” in the country and were treated with a greater measure of respect than some of our current leaders because the populace had seen their contribution in winning independence from England and knew that they had placed their property, fortunes, and lives on the line.
 The original draft of the Constitution was very limited and included no protection for an individual’s rights. Thomas Jefferson in Paris, France during the convention exerted his influence to have certain rights included in the final document. Madison who was close to Jefferson included twelve amendments, the first ten of which are the Bill of Rights. They satisfied the concerns of those male citizens about a federal government that would exericse too much power, and insured that the Constitution would be ratified by the necessary nine states.
Clearly, dividing the government into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial borrowed from the Greek and Roman governments.  While almost all Americans were reluctant to consider the president as a monarch, the (One), he was the titular head of state, they recognized the elite (Few) as the colonial aristocrats, and the (Many) as themselves. This system worked because neither branch had so much power that it overwhelmed the other two. While each carried out the functions and powers designated to them, they were not above trying to take more power if they could wrest it from the others and that continues to today.
Fortunately, the Constitution is an evolving document with a measure of permanence that allows for it to be modified if required, as it has been seventeen times since the original ten amendments were accepted. This feature has helped to minimize efforts by some to enforce their beliefs and values on others especially if they conflict with the rights of others even if those individuals are in the minority. This has generally thwarted mob rule since citizens hold the Constitution in high regard as the Supreme law of the land.

I do not know if Plato was prescient about class struggle between the rich and the poor because that actually had existed long before him, but he was correct in recognizing it in his society. Most cultures always have some type of class structure where a few individuals at the very top have greater resources or power and make decisions that affect the rest of society. There are some individuals occupying various phases of the middle and the great majority of individuals at the bottom of the pyramid who struggle to make ends meet. Every decade or two, there are economic and financial cycles that rebalance the equity and this prevents a wholesale overthrow of the government.  The gap been the haves and have-nots has continued to grow in recent years in our country and it is possible that within the next twenty years we will see a shift to higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans and this will ease the burden on those individuals in the lower economic groups, but then the cycle will undoubtedly repeat itself; it is not a “dismal cycle” of decay, just a typical economic adjustment. The solution is greater citizen involvement to insure fairness and equity. This will minimize the impetus to rebel because citizens will trust that their voices and concerns are being heard.
Discussion Question for May 25th class.
On page 124, Herman states, “By following Aristotle’s rules for organizing the material for a speech, a speaker learns how to build a compelling case that allows no contradiction, while excluding cheap emotion or false reasoning.”

In your opinion, how close have the three candidates for the Presidency followed Aristotle’s rules?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An Unexpected Death

Julius Caesar describes the best kind of death as “An unexpected one”. For a general of the largest military the world had ever known, he must have seen a great deal of death and violence. It reminds me of the film “Platoon”, in which a Vietnam soldier describes being in constant war as “not so bad” because he was able to do whatever he wanted and was certain that his death would be unexpected and sudden, therefore he had no problem with it.
                I am inclined to agree with Julius Caesar. I feel that the anticipation of seeing your death coming would be a terrible situation. Criminals on death row are constantly being held under this level of pressure and studies show that their mental state is heavily effected. Alternatives would be such situations as slow debilitating disease/disorder such as cancer or alzheimer's. Slowly wasting away to a shell of your former self while your friends and family watch.
                I should probably note that it would be best for ME to die suddenly. I have experienced both the sudden loss of someone close to me as well as the obvious looming death of someone abusing drugs. The sudden loss is terrifying. You expect them at the door when it opens or when the phone rings. It I a massive and immediate adjustment. However, watching someone die slowly over time gives you mental and emotional time to prepare yourself as well as time to get yours (and perhaps theirs) affairs in order.
                In conclusion I feel that an unexpected death would be best for me, but not my family and friends.

Monday, May 23, 2016

May 25 Quiz

Happy #Towel Day!

A request from Dawn McCormack: "Could you or one of the students take a few photos of the MALA philosophy class and email them to me? I am updating the website and would like some photos with real students and professors in the program. Maybe even walking???"

So let's make a point of doing some photogenic-peripatic discussion time today! Send your best candid shots to Dawn.Mccormack@mtsu.edu.

Postscript. Great job, Dean. Now we just need to get you and Angel into the picture!

A Stroll in May (slideshow)

7-Knowledge is Power

1. What key Aristotelian principle was embodied by the Great Library at Alexandria?

2. What did Aristotelians have to save, to sustain his assumptions about nature and the universe?

3. What Archimedean claim would Aristotle have rejected, even though his own method implied it?

4. What were Archimedes' last words, and his most famous word?

  • Herophilus'"curiosity was insatiable," correcting Aristotle's anatomical errors and raising the first questions of medical ethics. (93) Do we adequately value and encourage curiosity in our educational institutions today?
  • Is there a case to be made for "saving the appearances" (94) as part of a program to take ordinary experience (the cave) at least as seriously as theory and refined scholarship (the light)? Isn't the appearance/reality distinction inherently biased against the former?
  • Would a God necessarily have to be a "supreme geometer," (95) committed to an ordered and rational creation? What if the creator had a preference for disunity and a messy creation?
  • Has the ideal of Pentathlos, the scholar-athlete, (96) held up as more than a collegiate marketing concept in our time?
  • Are Aristotelians and empiricists generally too specialized, too fixated on how and not why, techne but not theoria, on puzzles but not Big Picture breakthrougshs? (98)
  • Is it inevitable that research is driven by miliary-industrial applications? (99)
  • Is the "Eureka" moment an "inner eye" phenomenon, shackled by rigid proof-based inquiry with "no possiblity of dissent"? (The philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend had interesting thoughts on this.)
  • Do you agree that everything real must in principle be quantifiable? (102) What about mental phenomena-thoughts, intentions, feelings, delusions,...?
  • [Please post yours]

8-Hole in the Soul

1. What did Cicero mean by an "Archimedean problem"?

2. Which anti-Roman resistance fighter later chronicled their unparalleled historical achievement?

3. How did Cicero's conception of the republic differ from Plato's?

4. What can a good orator say to his audience, if he's read and mastered his Rhetoric?

  • "...everything was a Roman copy of a Greek original." (111) Fair? What have the Romans ever done for us, Brian, aside from etching Plato and Aristotle "into the grain of Western civilization"?
  • Do you see the "mixed constitution" (114) as a healthy precursor of our balance of powers, or a foreshadowing of political dissolution and mob rule? Does modern democratic man "live from day to day" without order or restraint? (115) Was Plato prescient about class struggle between rich and poor and the "dismal cycle" of decay and revolution "without end or purpose"? (116)
  • Was Roman fatalism the fault of their politics and their fascination it (117), their personal temper, their incurious lust for conquest, or what? Are we replicating their decline, and their sense of being "never in worse shape" even as they were "never more powerful"?
  • Was there any truth to Cato's denunciation of Socrates the "windbag" (118)?
  • Cicero "admired Plato more than any other thinker" (120)-would you put him on Team Plato, or Team Aristotle?
  • Is public eloquence a problem for democracy, or a solution? (122)
  • Why is it so difficult for democracies to persuade most of the people that they're "all in this together"? (125)
  • ...
9-Dancing in the Light

1. What was Cicero's posthumous status?

2. What Platonic myth set the stage for Roman disaffection, degeneration, decay, decline, and dissolution?

3. What virtue did Seneca advise the wise to cultivate?

4. William Blake's "eternity in a grain of sand" is a possible  reflection of whose philosophy?

  • Do you agree with Caesar about the best kind of death? (129)
  • Are we "too happy"? (131) Is "true happiness" (133) more Platonic or Aristotelian, Epicurean or Stoic or Skeptical? Does it require "a flight from all worldly connections"? (144)
  • Is disaffection and alienation the natural outcome of cave-thinking? (132)
  • Is it wise to have "no fears and no hopes"? (135)
  • "What difference does it make" to you to live a long life? How do you interpret and respond to Marcus Aurelius' rhetorical question about that? (137)
  • Plotinus was "relentlessly antimaterialist" but he'd also read his Aristotle. Does that make sense? Does "the cave still reflect the distant light of truth"? (139) Do the woods look better or worse through Plotinus' eyes? (140)
  • What do you think of the Great Chain of Being idea? Does it really lead out of the cave? (141)
  • Do we all, "whether we know it or not, want to be one with perfection"? 142)
  • Can one be rationally persuaded to make the "leap of mystical illumination" or does it have to come in a flash? Have you ever or often (like Plotinus) "woken to [your]self out of the body"? (143)
  • ...
John Lachs's Stoic Pragmatism... ebook online... Lachs on YouTube... Peter Adamson's "History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps" podcast... Peter Adamson on YouTube... Adamson, Plotinus... Law & Justice, Cicero & Roman Republicanism... School of Life videos... A History of Ideas (BBC videos)... Stoics & Skeptics (Happiness)... Lovejoy's Great Chain of Being... summary... Old nonsense
“Despite the Great Chain of Being's traditional ranking of humans between animals and angels, there is no evolutionary justification for the common assumption that evolution is somehow 'aimed' at humans, or that humans are 'evolution's last word'.”
Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

“The soul in its nature loves God and longs to be at one with Him in the noble love of a daughter for a noble father; but coming to human birth and lured by the courtships of this sphere, she takes up with another love, a mortal, leaves her father and falls.”

“When we look outside of that on which we depend we ignore our unity; looking outward we see many faces; look inward and all is one head. If a man could but be turned about, he would see at once God and himself and the All.”

“Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.”

“Those who believe that the world of being is governed by luck or chance and that it depends upon material causes are far removed from the divine and from the notion of the One.”
According to Plotinus, the soul that has descended too far into matter needs to "merely think on essential being" in order to become reunited with its higher part (IV.8.4). This seems to constitute Plotinus' answer to any ethical questions that may have been posed to him. In fact, Plotinus develops a radical stance vis-a-vis ethics, and the problem of human suffering. In keeping with his doctrine that the higher part of the soul remains wholly unaffected by the disturbances of the sense-realm, Plotinus declares that only the lower part of the soul suffers, is subject to passions, and vices, etc. In order to drive the point home, Plotinus makes use of a striking illustration. Invoking the ancient torture device known as the Bull of Phalaris (a hollow bronze bull in which a victim was placed; the bull was then heated until it became red hot), he tells us that only the lower part of the soul will feel the torture, while the higher part remains in repose, in contemplation... IEP
But is matter really so debased, or so insensitive? William James, contemplating the mortal remains of a dear friend, spoke of the "sacred" matter that had been capable of assuming such exquisite form.
I found myself saying nicer things about the Stoics than I'd intended, yesterday, as we wrapped up our Maymester Happiness course. Maybe I'll continue that trend on Wednesday as our "Stroll Through Western Civilization" continues. (It was great seeing two of our fellow strollers last night at the Masters of Liberal Arts Open House, and some hot prospects for next time as well.)

I probably come across as more generally unsympathetic to the Stoics than is truly the case. I’m not hostile, just sometimes impatient with what seems their occasional surrender to circumstance when what’s really demanded is a fight. They’d say that’s an emotional judgment, and that we need to pick our fights with the greatest deliberation. A fight with Nero wasn’t going to save Seneca’s own skin, true enough, and it wasn’t going to look good in the philosophy books alongside a lifetime of counsel against anger and futility.

But lying down and dying at the behest of a crazed despot doesn’t look so good either.

I do still think Roman philosophy gets an undeservedly bad rap. Cicero in particular is way underrated as a philosopher, and in most texts underrepresented. Jennifer Hecht rectified that a bit in her Doubt: A History.

Cicero‘s wonderful dialogue with a Skeptic, a Stoic, and an Epicurean, Nature of the Gods, would have been fun to join. “Cotta” says it all: 
Are you not ashamed as a scientist, as an observer and investigator of nature, to seek your criterion of truth from minds steeped in conventional beliefs? The whole theory is ridiculous… I do not believe these gods of yours exist at all, least of all the uninvolved, uninterested ones like the Epicurean-inspired Disinterested Deist Deity. If this is all that a god is, a being untouched by care or love of human kind, then I wave him good-bye.
If you want truth, as JMH observes, you have to avoid making things up.

Novelists and other artisans of the well-chosen and well-spoken word (like Hecht, a poet and historian as well as a terrific philosopher) have appreciated Cicero more than most of my philosophy colleagues. There’s Tom Wolfe‘s A Man in Full, for instance, in which Epictetus gets the star treatment.

Robert Harris’s Conspirata was good company last Fall on my daily commute up and down I-24, and before that Imperium. Simon Jones’s narration is delightful, even if he sounds a lot like Arthur Dent.

And then there’s the Victorian Trollope’s compendious Life of Cicero.

The older I get, the longer my reading list grows. Cicero said that was one of the consolations of aging. He was a wise old consul, and an honest Stoic.
After the loss of his daughter Tullia in childbirth, [Cicero] turned to Stoicism to assuage his grief. But ultimately he could not accept its terms: “It is not within our power to forget or gloss over circumstances which we believe to be evil…They tear at us, buffet us, goad us, scorch us, stifle us — and you tell us to forget about them?”
But my favorite mention of Cicero in all of literature is still from Emerson:
Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote those books. [An honest Stoic, 2.1.13]
But they were probably not in libraries when they had their most original ideas. Our study is out in the world.
Lucretius (our first selection in the Hitch anthology, from De Rerum Natura) was another Epicurean, but he downplayed the god-talk.The finality of death and the absence of the gods did not seem depressing; indeed, they seemed to add to the sweetness of life.

Marcus Aurelius, as close to a philosopher-king as the West would ever know: “I am a part of the whole which is governed by nature.”He had a Big Picture cosmic perspective. From a vantage “raised up above the earth,” consider life’s brevity and our common humanity. We are one species, as Carl Sagan liked to say, and our time here is brief. Don’t squander it in fear, worry, malice and meanness.

Marcus also said:
Whether the universe is a concourse of atoms, or nature is a system, let this first be established, that I am a part of the whole which is governed by nature; next, I am in a manner intimately related to the parts which are of the same kind with myself.
We are one species, as Carl also liked to say.

"Do not act as if thou were going to live ten thousand years." Well... depends on what "thou" means. Once we give up the delusion of immortality for our precious personal selves we can claim a wider identity. It's not hubris to hope and plan for a species-life of 10K, at least. Our species depends on it.

Now, fast forward (past those refreshingly-strange gnostics and their contempt for the creator God) to Boethius, “last of the Romans, first of the scholastics.” His Consolations of Philosophy“completely ignored Christianity.” That’s really hard to do. We'' talk about it next week.

Also coming soon, the tragedy of Hypatia. Her alleged killer Cyril nearly killed philosophy and science and civilization as well, and was rewarded with Sainthood. Also, a prominent spotlight of shame on Cosmos. [Romans & redeemers, 2.16.10... Back to the garden, 2.15.10... Seneca falls, 2.17.10... What the Stoics Have Done For Us, 1.31.13... Stoicism in Georgia, 9.13.12]... Be a friend & (or)go to hell, 9.12.12]
Interestingly related to Don's call last week for civics education. See also my "Democracy in America" post.
Boston Review (@BostonReview)
Public education should make citizens, not just workers, and that means focusing on the humanities—not just STEM. bit.ly/1OSGx0K

What does “cosmopolitan” really mean? Don’t trust Google on this, it takes you straight to that silly magazine with its sex tips and “lifestyle” advice. Funny, or sad, how current linguistic use has corrupted these grand old terms. (Think also of “epicurean,” “cynic,” maybe even “platonic”…)

The question arises in connection with Anthony Appiah’s book and interviewKosmopolites is the Greek root meaning citizen of the world, thecosmos. What a large identity to claim, and yet what a miniscule corner of existence we actually occupy.
The cosmos used to coincide strictly with the known terrestrial world, before anybody’d ever even circumnavigated it. Now we’ve seen our tiny world from space, in perspective.

So now we know: it’s a really big cosmos, and we are here.

So far as we can tell we’re the only part, around these parts anyway, that knows it’s part of a cosmos. We’re the cosmopolitans.
Alexandria was the greatest city the Western world had ever seen. People of all nations came here to live, to trade, to learn. On any given day, its harbors were thronged with merchants, scholars, and tourists. This was a city where Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, Syrians, Hebrews, Persians, Nubians, Phoenicians, Italians, Gauls, and Iberians exchanged merchandise and ideas. It is probably here that the word ‘cosmopolitan’ realized its true meaning: citizen, not just of a nation, but of the Cosmos. To be a citizen of the Cosmos

More Sagan… portal… mote… calendar… golden record… apple pie... Tyson's Cosmos

So who was the first cosmopolitan in philosophy? Socrates, possibly, he’s said to have declared himself a citizen of the world – but still so loyal an Athenian that he insisted on having his hemlock. Scholars wonder if that was really him or Plato talking.
Whether Socrates was self-consciously cosmopolitan in this way or not, there is no doubt that his ideas accelerated the development of cosmopolitanism and that he was in later antiquity embraced as a citizen of the world. In fact, the first philosopher in the West to give perfectly explicit expression to cosmopolitanism was the Socratically inspired Cynic Diogenes in the fourth century bce. It is said that “when he was asked where he came from, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.” SEP

That doesn’t sound “cynical” in the perverted modern sense at all, does it? Diogenes spent a lot of time under the stars. He knew where he was. [The real cosmopolitans, 9.18.12]

Some suggested quiz questions from chapter 6-9 of The Cave and the Light

Don Enss

Chapter 7. Knowledge is Power

11.      What was Aristarchus’s theory that was an “astonishing leap into the future?”
22.      Eratosthenes used Pytheas’s book and performed some calculations to formulate a thesis that took    1,500 years to prove. What was that thesis?
33.      Archimedes was the first mathematician to use the concept of ____________ in his work. It is the  cornerstone of calculus.
44.      What was a basic Aristotelian principle that Archimedes grasped from his years at Alexandria?

Chapter 8. Hole in the Soul: Plato and Aristotle in Rome

11.      “an Archimedean problem” was Cicero’s pet phrase for what?
22.      What was the intellectual breakthrough that Polybius had that became a model for all historians in  the future?
33.      In researching and writing his Histories, Polybius “hit upon the Roman’s one fatal weakness. What  was it?
44.      The balance between what two concepts does Cicero believe is essential for the future of all free  men?

Chapter 9. Dancing in the Light: The Birth of Neoplatonism

11.      What is the term that described the emptiness and meaninglessness that “Rome’s finest minds and  spirits,” felt about the “empire’s unparalleled prosperity and splendor?”
22.      According to Herman, who is the first romantic anthropologist?
33.      What is Seneca’s solution to life’s inevitable cruelties?

44.      According to Herman, Plotinus “was one of the most important and influential thinkers to appear    between Aristotle and Saint Augustine.” What school of thought is he credited with founding?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Argument Clinic

Don mentioned something the first day of class about utilizing philosophy to construct a good argument. I thought this might be a good time to post Dr. Oliver's much-employed example of how not to make a good argument, courtesy of Monty Python's The Flying Circus.

If you'll allow a collaborative edit, Dean, one good Python clip deserves another:

Monty Python (@montypython)
Brighten your Monday with a sing-along of this classic Python song (you might even learn something)! youtu.be/dBPf6P332uM #montypython

Friday, May 20, 2016

Socrates: The Anti-Doctrinaire

 What a Wonderful World

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
But they're really saying I love you

I hear baby's cry, and I watched them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world

Hidden in the last verse of Louis Armstrong’s hit “What a Wonderful World” is a bit of Aristotelian philosophy—what F. M. Cornford noted as the “philosophy of aspiration.” In Armstrong’s poignant, magical and dare I say platonic performance, the last verse leaves us with evanescent optimism: we’ll know more tomorrow that we do today. Arthur Herman in our text dubbed Aristotle “the first great advocate of progress” (p. 52).

Also, there’s a touch of Aristotelian teleology tucked in the first verse, where trees and flowers have a purpose, which is to bloom for me and you. Is this true, or does it have to be? English poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson seems closer to the mark in his poem “In Memorandum” when he penned that nature is red in tooth and claw. The truth of the matter is immaterial to Armstrong’s point, which I think is this: we’re only here for a little while, so make the best of it while you can. Richard Dawkins made this point more candidly in “Unweaving the Rainbow,” stating that “we’re all going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.” If we look at life that way, it truly is a wonderful world.

Louis Armstrong paints a utopian picture of reality. But this is art. If we discover the true or true-as-we-can-know nature of things, would that distract from Armstrong’s performance? As we trek through the footnotes of history, I’m beginning to see a deeper schism between Socrates and Plato.

If we imagine Socrates the gadfly, claiming to know nothing, questioning anyone in the agora who claims to possess knowledge and will stand to listen, as we see in the earlier dialogues, I find a Socrates that I can live with. Plato’s Theory of Forms seems to betray the Socratic Method.  

Notable English Classical Scholar F. M. Cornford, in his book “From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation,” recognized the emotional aspect of the supernatural.

"Philosophy, when she puts aside the finished products of religion and returns to the ‘nature of things,’ really goes back to that original representation out of which mythology itself had gathered shape. If we now call it ‘metaphysical,’ instead of ‘supernatural,’ the thing itself has not essentially changed its character. What has changed is, rather, man’s attitude towards it, which, from being active and emotional, has become intellectual and speculative."

The emotional need for certainty about physical and metaphysical “facts” led both Plato and Aristotle away from their teacher Socrates. Given the advances of modern science as a method and a body of ever-changing knowledge, both were wrong about nearly everything. Herman notes that even Aristotle’s disciples found themselves having to “save the appearances,” as noted by their contemporary Simplicius, whereas they noted the contradictions with reality, and “scientists began rigorously applying [Aristotle’s] methods instead of his doctrines” (p. 95).

So here, the unappropriated Socrates comes out the winner.

I can envision him in the agora, questioning the sophists—red (or orange) in the face they may be—still asking the same question: what is justice? Louis Armstrong says we'll know more tomorrow.

What a wonderful world, indeed.

DQs:  Chapter 7 is entitled "Knowledge is Power." Given the current political climate, is this true? Aristotle was a champion of knowledge and also wrote a book on rhetoric. Is rhetoric more powerful than knowledge in politics? Is Thrasymachus' "might makes right" the norm?