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  1. The Consolations of Philosophy...and Detection
  2. What Faith Are You?
  3. Some Hyper-General Digressions
  4. Fact for the Day
  5. The Ideal, and What to Make Of It
  6. Errant Thought
  7. Quote for the Day
  8. Modern Yoga's Fountainhead
  9. Age, Exercise, and the Soul
  10. Mike Perry on Chesterton

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Religion, Philosophy

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Consolations of Philosophy...and Detection
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I’ve written before about the role light entertainment plays as a stimulus in my mental economy. Given that I’m naturally something of a depressive, I use regular doses of light entertainment to keep me at an even keel. Over the years, this has often translated into a taste for detective fiction. Perhaps surprisingly, in the past six months or so, this has translated into a taste for reading philosophy. And perhaps more surprisingly, I find that I get very much the same sort of pleasure out of philosophy that I did out of detective stories. The pleasure I’m talking about does not lie in proving that I’m smarter than the authors of detective stories, at least if that implies attempting to figure out the guilty party before the book’s denouement. On the few occasions I’ve been tempted to do this, I’ve learned two things: (1) few authors are so dense as to fail to scatter three or four red-herrings about their plot and (2) few authors actually provide enough clues to logically (or in philosophical language, necessarily) eliminate all but one of the potential suspects. Hence, the actual solution often ends up striking me as arbitrary, being at the whim of the author. Occasionally, when dealing with authors who are fairly relaxed about their standards of plotting, I strongly suspect that the decision as to whether this suspect or that suspect is the guilty party wasn’t made by the author until the final chapter of the book was being written. Under these circumstances, my native laziness (or perhaps a spirit of methodological economy) bids me to abstain from such pointless problem solving, and to wait patiently for the solution to be revealed while sipping a glass of red wine. After all, I’m paying the price of the book for the fictional detective to do the work, not me! No, the pleasure I get from detective stories usually boils down to appreciating the interaction of the characters, often with some witty dialogue tossed in, as they attempt to solve a problem. When I decide to buy additional books by the same author, I inevitably ask myself if I care to spend more time in the company of the characters of the last book. Now, the situation in philosophy strikes me, being a seasoned consumer of light entertainment, as closely parallel. I’ve read enough philosophy books and encyclopedia-of-philosophy articles at this point to notice that the same basic problems keep coming up over and over again. Even when one philosopher explicitly argues against the views of another, they often share more ground than they fight over. Just today I spent a leisurely morning examining a case of this occluded commonality when I read that Kant, in his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic, trash talks his Scots contemporary, Thomas Reid, for failing to “probe more deeply into the nature of reason,” and for "putting on a bold face without any proper insight into the question, by appealing... posted by Friedrich at June 21, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What Faith Are You?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A fun quiz from BeliefNet. I came up 100% Mahayana Buddhist and 90% Hindu. I don't have much in common with 7th Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses; I'd have thought I have more kinship with Eastern Orthodoxy than I seem to have. Hmm, have I linked to this quiz before? Anyway: Curious to hear how others score. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 15, 2009 | perma-link | (53) comments

Friday, March 13, 2009

Some Hyper-General Digressions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some recent discussions at this blog -- especially here and here -- have left me musing over some scattered and more-abstract-than-usual topics. No idea if the following reflections cohere into anything -- but why should they, eh? And maybe they'll prove useful to a few visitors, if only in a provoking-further-thought kind of way. At 2Blowhards we promote a lot of things. At the most specific level, we each have artists, entertainers, thinkers, and bloggers whose work we enjoy and want to call attention to. On a slightly more general level, we each have a bunch of gripes that we enjoy airing and points that we enjoy putting forward. Donald, for instance, would like to see the part of the world that appreciates visuals pay more respect to popular visual artists. Friedrich wonders why more isn't made of the political and economic matrices that art and culture arise from. My own preference is to peddle a Vedanta-ish "It's all culture, and tastes often change dramatically over time, so why get over-obsessed with judging and ranking? What's your personal reaction? What's your personal thought?" thing. But our overarching point here isn't to push any particular artist, thinker, topic, or point of view. It's to promote a better, richer, and more freewheeling cultural conversation than we're often offered by the usual institutions and outlets. Does the art (or book, or architecture, or music, or movie, or design ...) press overfocus on a handful of hot trends and chic names? Do the various art establishments deliver naive, fun-free, and narrow accounts of culture and art? We do our modest and amateur best to 1) point out how restricted the usual conversations are, and 2) offer examples of different, more spirited, and (we hope) more rewarding ways of talking about these things. I'm usually wary of speaking for my co-bloggers, but in this case I think it's safe: What we share here isn't a devotion to any particular artist, school, or point of view. It's to a conviction that the experience of art and culture is its own payoff. After all, if you don't find your life enriched by an engagement with the arts, why would you bother involving yourself at all? It isn't as though deepening your culture-knowledge, awakening your culture-responsiveness, or sharpening your culture-sensibilites is going to ensure you a secure retirement or win you more attractive lovers. In fact, for most people an involvement in the arts isn't going to deliver practical payoffs of any sort. What does "expertise in the arts" mean anyway? Can it be measured? How? If not, then what are we really talking about? Art isn't math, engineering, or science, after all. The changeable, vaporous stuff -- the cloud of tastes, quirks, preferences, and opinions that we all inhabit and that we bring to bear on all our culture-experiences -- is inescapable. The culture-adventure either enriches your life or it doesn't. (If it doesn't, that's cool, no harm done -- we'll... posted by Michael at March 13, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In Iraq, Al-Qaeda leaders have attempted to prevent women from buying cucumbers. Source. Still, there's no getting around it: A woman handling a cucumber can be a suggestive thing. My suggestion: How about we enjoy the moment and maintain a decent amount of self-control at the same time? Hey, how about we experience that combo -- arousal, humor, and dignity -- as sexily worthwhile in its own right? Enlighten me please: What is it that fundamentalists find so threatening about contrasts, dissonances, multiple levels, ironies, paradoxes, provocations, and flirtations? I pretty much live for 'em myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2008 | perma-link | (81) comments

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Ideal, and What to Make Of It
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been thinking some recently about the difference between "what a person considers the ideal" and "what a person thinks might be useful in the here and now." One reason for this is that The Wife and I recently visited a show of paintings and drawings by Nicolas Poussin at the Metropolitan Museum, and Poussin will often get a person thinking about such things. Another reason is a small-t theory that I'm working on: It seems to me that people often get themselves in trouble because they scramble the two categories. Instead of doing what they can with what's available in the present tense, they try to impose their ideal regardless of what the actual situation before them really presents. Or maybe they too-regularly deduce their way to present-day behavior from the ideal, despite the practical fact that there's often not much connection between what idealism suggests and what's-needed-here-and-now. Still, there is that question of the ideal ... Whatever else it is, it's certainly a part of life. What to make of it? How to deal with it? Poussin shows how the ideal can be so near, yet so far To me, the question of the ideal is a little like the question of sex fantasies. We all have them. What to do about it? And what to do with them? (If anything, of course.) Sad experience suggests that imposing fantasies ("Hey, honey, let's me dress up like Batman and you like Catwoman!") can flop. Instead of delivering the expected bliss, acting on the desired ideal can instead spoil what might actually be magic about the present moment. Still ... It's impossible not to feel an attachment to your favorite dreams and imaginings. And maybe there are in fact some ways of indulging in them that can pay off nicely. For some reason, for instance, I'm especially vulnerable to topless-beach fantasies; they seem to represent some kind of erotic ideal to me. And damned if a week The Wife and I once spent on a French-Caribbean island wasn't one of the most pleasing things I've ever lived through. Of course, it took an enormous amount of practical real-world effort to arrange, execute, and pay for our week of ideal bliss ... (If anyone was wondering: The Wife enjoyed it too, or so she tells me.) My tentative conclusion: Our ideals and fantasies are resources that can confer much pleasure; that can sometimes serve as beacons and reminders; but that can also screw our lives up completely; and that are therefore perhaps usually best enjoyed at a bit of a distance. Rough rule for myself: Enjoy the fantasy -- don't impose it. If the moment's right, go ahead and enter into it -- but be prepared for the fact that even a week on a topless beach in the Caribbean will come to an end. But, generally speaking, do what you can to deal honorably and fairly with what's immediately before you. And don't be... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Errant Thought
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Somebody -- I feel badly I can't remember who -- observed that in the first millenium BCE religion went through a shift in attitude towards sex. Religions that had arisen before the mid-first millenium, such as Greek religion, Judaism, and Hinduism, were pretty matter of fact about sex. Whereas religions that arose after the shift, such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, find sex to be a much more questionable topic. Just noodling with this idea, I came up with a possible (or possibly goofy) explanation. It seems to me that the pre-shift religions derived from pastoralist cultures, and the post-shift religions derived from agricultural-trading cultures. The pastoralists, who lived in large part by breeding animals, would have found sexual fecundity an unambiguous and wholly natural good thing. The agricultural-trading cultures would have found sexual fecundity a mixed bag, as those societies would have been faced with a constant tendency to outgrow their arable land or the trading capital. I just toss this out there to stimulate discussion. Interested to hear your thoughts. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 19, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- From John Gray: "Repressing [religion] is like repressing sex, a self-defeating enterprise ... The attempt to eradicate religion only leads to it reappearing in grotesque and degraded forms." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 15, 2008 | perma-link | (32) comments

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Modern Yoga's Fountainhead
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Although the physical practices of yoga have a reputation as something ancient, even timeless, the historical fact seems to be that nearly all modern yoga stems from one man: Krishnamacharya, who lived from 1899 to 1989. Krishnamacharya not only brought together and revived what was around of yoga at the time of his youth, he developed most of the practices -- the postures and the sequences -- that people in yoga classes are executing today. Fernando Pages Ruiz does his best to sort out fact from legend. Best, Michael UPDATE: Alan Little, a real scholar of yoga history, offers a lot of helpful info and interpretation in the comments on this posting, and in this posting at his own website.... posted by Michael at September 26, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Age, Exercise, and the Soul
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A long weekend at the beach with old friends turned out to mean more physical activity than I've had in a long time ... Swimming, tennis ... Even a few hours of beach volleyball, a first for me. What a rush volleyball in the sand is. I crouched, jumped, scrambled, and managed a couple of diving, twisting, face-planting saves. Who da Man? I haven't treated myself to that much athletic excitement in a long time. For a few minutes again I was (or at least I felt like) a young bull. Yoga, walking, and Gyrotonics, my current preferred physical activities, are wonderful -- I owe them much and recommend them highly. But it's also true that they don't deliver primal energy-blasts. (Learn about the "Gyrotonic Expansion System" here and here.) After our beach volleyball marathon, I plunged into a cold pool, did some vigorous lap-swimming, and emerged feeling like a swaggering alpha-male, seven feet tall, all-powerful, and ready to rumble. It's interesting the way that sports can make you feel, isn't it? Exertion crossed with a spirit of play -- the laughs, the competitive effort, the occasional feats of prowess -- can deliver some serious adrenaline-surges, as well as a high that stays with you for a while. A few days later, and I'm still enjoying the buzz. I wonder if retirement is especially hard for professional athletes. Are they ever able to experience such highs again? My weekend adventures reminded me of a couple of observations and reflections that I've been chewing on for a while on the topic of the body, exercise, aging, and (brace yourself) the soul. I wrote back here about how going through some fairly serious surgery six years ago affected my experience of my body. Short version: Before surgery, my challenge had been how to manage having too much energy. At 47, I felt physically young still; I felt like a 25 year old who had a few more aches and pains than most 25 year olds do. Since the surgery, though, things have been much different. My energy levels never returned to their pre-op state, so my challenge since has been contending with having too little energy. In other words, I had the funny -- bewildering, upsetting, interesting -- experience of going into surgery feeling like a young adult and emerging from it as someone in the midst of late middle age. Subjectively speaking, my body aged overnight from 25 to 55. Took some getting used to. What I've recently found myself thinking about has to do with the developments I've just finished describing. It goes like this: When you're young, you tend to identify with your body. Impulses translate into action near-instantaneously. You think, it does; when your body is tired, you go to sleep. When you're young, injuries to your body affect your very nature, and physical triumphs can convince you that there's something special about you. When you're young, there's such a small gap... posted by Michael at August 21, 2007 | perma-link | (41) comments

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mike Perry on Chesterton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while back I wrote a couple of postings about G.K. Chesterton. Visit them and enjoy, if less for my ramblings than for the tons of brainy and imaginative comments that accumulated on them. Who knew there were such a lot of smart Chesterton buffs out there? And don't neglect to savor Philip Bess' musings on Chesterton. Philip is a very interesting architect and professor who has a deep and abiding passion for Chesterton's thought. Philip has recently been contributing some beautiful guest postings at Right Reason: here and here. Great -- and eye-opening -- passage: "Modern space" is characteristically non-hierarchical, abstract, rational, universal and undifferentiated; i.e., shapeless, not purpose-specific, and not characterized by the specific formal and figural qualities found in traditional spaces such as public squares, streets, and rooms. An interesting comment that unfortunately didn't find its way onto any of the Chesterton commentsthreads came from Mike Perry, the editor of a Chesterton volume called "Eugenics and Other Evils." Our blog's software was evidently misbehaving the day Mike tried to comment, and it refused to accept Mike's contribution. But Mike kindly emailed it to me instead, so I'm running his comment -- a response to a remark I'd made about "hyper-traditional Christianity" -- in its own posting. Here it is: I'd be intrigued by how you define "hyper-traditional Christianity"? In politics, if you go beyond a particular point of view, then you become a "hyper." A hyper-socialist, for instance, might want the State to own not just the means of production, such as factories, but everything from homes and cars to toothbrushes. But that's because we think of politics (not always accurately) as a line from right to left with different points labeled and directions implicit in the very meaning of terms. Moving toward capitalism isn't becoming more of a socialist, moving away is. But traditional religious views and practices aren't points along a line. They're more like communities, so there's no particular way to become "hyper." They define their existence in all directions. For example, traditional Catholics believe in the Trinity. You don't become a hyper-Catholic by believing in millions of God (like some forms of pantheism) or by believing in no God like atheists. Leave the Trinity and you leave traditional Catholicism no matter which direction you move. That's why "hyper-traditional Christianity" seems to have no meaning. Someone can be very traditional, if they have many traditions they keep seriously or not very traditional, if they have a few beliefs they keep indifferently (like proabortion Catholic politicians). But neither the "very" or the "not very" is a 'hyper." My thanks to Mike Perry. If anyone else has had trouble leaving comments on postings, please let me know at michaelblowhard at that gmail place. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Pejman on Nietzsche
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nietzsche buffs -- and that would certainly include Friedrich von Blowhard -- should have a ball wrestling with Pejman Yousefzadeh's musings about their ornery hero at Right Reason: here, here, here. Can I confess something? While I read a lot of Nietzsche and enjoyed it greatly, I've never taken his philosophy seriously. Shallow fellow that I am, I value Nietzsche for his brio, his irreverence, and his glee. I love him as a whacked-out, high-on-himself, over-the-top performer -- he's the Klaus Kinski of philosophers. But the substance of his thought? What he actually said? Hmm: it never occurred to me to pay much attention to that. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 2, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"The Man Who Was Thursday"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just finished G.K. Chesterton's novel "The Man Who Was Thursday." It's certainly a brilliant book; it's just as certainly one of the most peculiar books I've ever read. Although you might call it a metaphysical thriller, the effect it produces is anything like that of conventional fiction, philosophical or not. In the way it combines debate and fantasy, as well as in the way it continuously -- and whimsically -- keeps reframing its own nature, it comes across like a cross between an Escher print and a medieval romance. Fascinatin'! All that said, the novel is also intensely and explicitly Christian in its concerns. Fine and dandy, of course. But once again I find myself confessing that Christian conversations not only aren't ones that I find very inviting, they're so foreign to what runs through my own mind and spirit that when I attend to them I feel like I'm listening to people speaking Chinese. Which means in effect that, reading "The Man Who Was Thursday," I felt curious and amazed, but shut out as well. But of course that's my shortcoming, not the novel's. Recently, I read and reacted to Chesterton's "Orthodoxy." Philip Bess responded to my posting here. Visit the excellent and thoughtful blogger who calls himself the Man Who Is Thursday here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, May 18, 2007

Philip Bess on Chesterton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I received a very interesting response via email to my recent posting about G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" from Philip Bess, an architect, an author, and a professor of architecture at Notre Dame. It was too interesting not to share with others, so I asked Philip for permission to copy and paste it into the blog. Philip has kindly agreed. Here it is: Dear Michael Blowhard: Wow, thank you for the wonderful recent post on Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" (which John Massengale forwarded to me), especially impressive given your own existential caveats. While I don't agree with your characterization of Chesterton in all of its details (this owes, perhaps, to my being familiar with a larger part of the Chesterton corpus; though by no means a majority!), your review is nonetheless generously sympathetic. I appreciate too your gently-phrased advance warning to any would-be evangelists eager to think you may be on the edge of religious conversion, and hoping themselves to give you that just slight but decisive nudge. At the risk of appearing to be one of that type -- and advance apologies if indeed I am one of that type -- allow me nevertheless to give you my take on several of the interesting issues and questions your review has raised. 1) Several of your readers have already pointed out that "Orthodoxy" represents not Chesterton's apology for Catholicism (of which there are several later examples, to one of which I refer below), but rather simply for orthodox Christianity as summarized in The Apostles' Creed, which can be (and is) affirmed by Orthodox and many Protestant Christians as well as Roman Catholics. Chesterton states this almost in passing near the end of his Introduction: These essays are concerned only to discuss the actual fact that the central Christian theology (sufficiently summarized in the Apostles' Creed) is the best root of energy and sound ethics.... When the word "orthodoxy" is used here it means the Apostles' Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed. And the rest of the book simply proceeds with this understanding of Christianity. It also may or may not help to understand 1908 "Orthodoxy's" relationship to his 1905 book "Heretics," one of whose subjects made the off-hand remark that he would worry about the alleged deficiencies of his own philosophy "when Mr. Chesterton has given us his." "Orthodoxy" followed from that challenge. 2) I think you are absolutely right that Chesterton embraced orthodox Christianity (and ultimately Catholicism) not because he reasoned his way through all the propositions of its creed/s and catechism but rather because he simply came to believe 1) that Catholicism was foundational for, inseparable from and part and parcel of western culture (including the best parts of the modern world, not least science and technology); 2) that he found that Christian orthodoxy suited his own temperament and intellect; and 3) that he believed points... posted by Michael at May 18, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Chesterton's "Orthodoxy"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I recently finished reading G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy." I found it a fascinating book for a variety of reasons. For one: Chesterton describes his book as a far more modest project than it turns out to be. According to what he announces at the outset, he's simply setting forth how he came to embrace Catholicism at its most traditional. [CORRECTION: Make that "Christianity at its most traditional." Thanks to several visitors who pointed out that Chesterton didn't commit to Catholicism until a number of years after publishing "Orthodoxy."] But he doesn't in fact keep the book that personal; he doesn't stick to his announced limitations. Instead, he winds up making an aggressive and ambitious case for Catholicism as the truest account we have of life, and the most trustworthy guide we have to that life. I suppose that Chesterton, a sly fox, was pursuing this bait-and-switch strategy deliberately. Does it really matter if he wasn't? Given what a spokesguy for limits and forms he generally makes himself out to be, perhaps it does, if only a little. Anyway: a quick personal aside. I have a tendency to treat myself to looks into Christianity or Judaism -- into monotheism, Western-style -- once or twice a year. When I do this and I blog about my adventures, I always receive solicitous emails from people convinced that I'm teetering on the verge of committing to some Christian faith or other. I'm guessing that, in the view of these correspondents, I'm blogging out of intensely-felt spiritual agonies, and that all I need is a little love and encouragement to enable me to fall into the embrace of the Church. The care and interest are both much appreciated, of course. But they're based on a misapprehension. I'm not blogging out of a sense of agony and yearning. Really I'm not. I take my looks into Christianity and Judaism out of nothing more than curiosity. Well, a strong curiosity, but mere curiosity anyway. Western monotheism is a knot I gnaw at. One reason for this: Western civ was partly formed by Western monotheism. I inhabit Western civ; I'm an arts-and-culture kinda guy. Hence, I'd like to understand the connections between Western monotheism and the life around me better than I do. The other basis for my curiosity and gnawing is even more dopey. Western monotheism has never worked for me in the most basic sense. Forget about ideas and beliefs, let's talk showbiz. I don't get it, emotionally or imaginatively. I stare at Western monotheism like I stare at a comic book series that fails to hook me. I find that I can tune in to the fascination and the magic for a second or two tops. Then it slips away from me again. As a result, I'd like to develop a better grasp on what it is I'm missing. (FWIW, and purely for the sake of self-indulgence: I not only don't get monotheism, I find it unappealing. It seems to... posted by Michael at May 8, 2007 | perma-link | (36) comments

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Politicized Religion Revisited: Some Data
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago I wrote about how politicized a nearby Lutheran church seemed. My wife and I continued our church-shopping in the University of Washington neighborhood, giving the Presbyterian church a test-drive last Sunday. The place was packed. Off-duty police were on hand to manage traffic along the street and the nearby parking garage. The service was pretty satisfying for me, one who has never been comfortable in church. Supporting the pastor was a choir of perhaps 40 people along with a brass (plus drums) ensemble: excellent music. The sermon was intellectually interesting, being largely a discussion of the city of Antioch -- its founding and its status at the time of Saint Paul. Apparently it was a seriously sinful town that was surprisingly receptive to the preaching of Paul and others. The pastor noted that Antioch was a pretty "diverse" place -- Levantines, Jews, Greeks, Romans, etc., and that diversity itself is an okay thing. Then he flipped the concept, noting that the diverse elements found singularity in Christ: neat job. All-in-all a good show, though Nancy was disappointed that there was no communion. But hey! -- these folks are Calvinists. (Follow up: today they had communion.) There was no talk from the pulpit about "hard-core capitalists" (as in the Lutheran service). And the church bulletin didn't mention peace rallies or meetings of left-wing political parties (as the Lutheran church also did). I hope I've established that the Presbyterian church seems to me far less political than the Lutheran church I described in the earlier post. Now here's the interesting bit: The Presbyterian church offers five services each Sunday whereas the Lutheran church has only one. Three of the Presbyterian services are "traditional" and are held Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon are two non-traditional services, and I don't know from experience if these are politicized or simply feature guitars or modern music, though I suspect the latter. For the heck of it, I surfed the Web to find out how many Sunday services other university-area churches offered. The Roman Catholic church had three regular masses and one small-scale one. The Methodist church had two services. Holding only one service were the Christian (Disciples of Christ), Congregational and Lutheran churches. The Episcopal church offered two services, but one might be a lesser one. What about involvement in politics? I don't know about the Episcopalians (but have my suspicions), Catholics and Disciples of Christ. But the Lutheran, Methodist and Congregational churches are strongly anti-Iraq war. Moreover, that Congregational church appears in the local news from time to time because its clergy take stands on various politically-related issues. Setting aside the unknowns, churches that seem politicized are doing far worse in terms of attendance than the non-political one. Yet Seattle (inside the city limits, especially) is a pretty left-wing place. Perhaps the politicized part of the populace is non-religious (distinctly possible) or maybe the politicized aspects of the churches are not an important draw factor for... posted by Donald at May 6, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Oakeshott Get-Together
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In early blogging days, I raved on a regular basis about the work of the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Although unknown to most Americans, Oakeshott (who died at the age of 89 in 1990) is a giant, at least in some very small circles. Along with David Hume, Stephen Toulmin, Michael Polanyi, and Denis Dutton, he's also one of the few philosophers whose work has meant anything to me personally -- for what that's worth, of course. I find his blend of conservatism and radicalism, of aestheticism and practicality very congenial. (Great Oakeshott quote, though I don't remember from where: "I'm a conservative in politics because I'm a radical in everything else.") I also find the way he presents his views -- and the way he explores life as he finds it -- mind-opening and helpful. Delightful, too: he's a heckuva writer, if in a mandarin, Henry Jamesian way. A few quotes for your delectation: I regard as an enemy that modified form of Utopianism which picks at one problem of society at a given moment and is prepared to upset the whole of the society in order to get that one problem solved ... I should say that no problem in politics is ever solved permanently, and that no problem in politics should be allowed to get out of proportion and to exclude the real business of politics, which is to keep the society as a whole, in all its arrangements, coherent and stable as well as progressive ... The moral life of a man does not consist entirely in performing a number of reasonable actions, it consists in living according to certain habits of behaviour, which may be analysed into separate actions but which do not appear as separate actions except on a few occasions ... In a conversation the participants are not engaged in an inquiry or a debate; there is no "truth" to be discovered, no proposition to be proved, no conclusion sought. They are not concerned to inform, to persuade, or to refute one another, and therefore the cogency of their utterances does not depend upon their all speaking in the same idiom; they may differ without disagreeing ... Sensible yet sophisticated, bang-on yet nuanced, solid yet perverse -- I read Oakeshott experiencing mucho deep pleasure, and breathing big sighs of relief, too. Fun to notice that the once-every-few-years get-together of the Michael Oakeshott Association is taking place this year in Colorado Springs, from June 8th through June 11th. I wonder what Colorado Springs is going to make of having a crowd of Oakeshottians around. Here's the announcement and schedule; here's the MOA's home page. If you want to sample Oakeshott's brain and writing, you could start with Wikipedia's good entry; move on to this Andrew Sullivan talk (Sullivan did his dissertation on Oakeshott, and the talk is an excellent one); and then try perhaps a half a dozen essays in this collection. Here's one of the best of... posted by Michael at January 18, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, November 11, 2004

1000 Words -- Stephen Toulmin
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do you guys bother much with philosophy? In my hyper-amateurish way, I have the occasional go at it, though I sometimes wonder why. Body vs. mind, science vs. faith, left vs. right, objective vs. subjective -- good lord, what a bunch of over-rehearsed debates. The fingers pulling the triggers may change, but the spectacle always consists of the the same old guns firing the same old bullets. What is deconstruction if not the Western philosophy-conversation dismantling itself in protest over its own sheer tiresomeness? Meanwhile pretending to accomplish something of significance, of course. Does every Western-civ discussion have to steer us into the same dead ends? My hunch -- for what very little it's worth -- is that the answer is no. Happy to admit that I'm not remotely qualified to make these sorts of judgments. On my best day, I'm a struggling Philosophy-102 student. Well, not even a student; I just like reading intros-to-philosophy, the same way I like reading intros-to-economics. I'm almost always happier reading a good popularization of philosophy history than I am reading the actual work of philosophers, a fact I'm tempted to blame on the philosophers. How many of them qualify as enjoyable prose stylists, after all? But the truth is more likely that I'm just lazy, and enjoy being spoon-fed difficult subjects. Still, still. If I'm no scholar and am plenty fuzzy-headed, I've read a lot of basic philosophy, and I've even got a couple of philosophy-prof friends who offer trustworthy guidance and ridicule. So I've indulged myself, and have developed a few preferences and impressions. (Hume rules!) A hyper-general question, for instance: can anyone argue that modern (ie., Descartes and forward) Western philosophy has done anyone much good? Granted that it's fun ... Granted that it's an enormous, intricate edifice ... And granted that it's been assembled by brilliant minds and hands ... But to what end? It's my impression that the standard modern-Western philosophy-thing isn't peddling anything in the way of conclusions or "truth," let alone trustworthy life advice. (God forbid.) Instead, all modern-Western-philosophy has really been able to do is identify about a dozen Perpetual Major Questions (God, causality, right-and-wrong, knowledge, etc), and line up the major arguments that get made on various sides of these questions. Which, admittedly, is some kind of accomplishment. Nigel Warburton's "Philosophy: The Basics" takes just this approach; it's one of the quick intros I've enjoyed most. A naif's question: are the people who are currently "doing philosophy" able to add much to what the tradition has already laid down? The impression I've taken away from some timid looks into up-to-date philosophy is that it's a matter of filling in the few, tiny remaining squares -- an activity for specialists and tenured-prof-wannabes only. Between you and me, and off-the-record only, my philosophy-prof friends giggle at the idea that anything major remains to be done in modern Western philosophy. But, y'know, there are also all those non-standard philosophers whose work I've... posted by Michael at November 11, 2004 | perma-link | (23) comments