Category Archives: philosophy

James K.A. Smith: ‘We were created for stories’


Two of the most-clicked posts on this blog have been Paul Holmer: How literature functions and Umberto Eco on theory and narrative. The common theme between the two might be that storytelling is not only necessary, but also of greater value than systematized and abstracted knowledge. Granted, the structure of Eco’s quotation seems to give priority to theorizing, but Holmer argues that humans learn more broadly and deeply from stories than from abstract or systematic knowledge.

So a quotation from James K.A. Smith’s book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church,  found in this recent review, was a welcome addition to the theme:

“We were created for stories, not propositions; for drama, not bullet points.”

In this context, it’s probably worth remembering that beloved storyteller C.S. Lewis warned against systematizing the Bible.

Philosopher David McNaughton on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien


One of my buds at the university has this excellent website called What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher? It’s devoted to interviews with contemporary philosophers, and the conversational blend of biography and perspective is always fascinating, at least to people like me. I’ve previously posted an excerpt from the interview with Michael Ruse.

In the latest interview, David McNaughton, who like Ruse is a philosopher at Florida State, talks about his love of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Both of these Inklings, especially Lewis, make appearances throughout the interview. (McNaughton doesn’t name Tolkien, but he names The Lord of the Rings as a favorite three times.)

Happy Summertime!

21 Stoic Life Hacks For #Stoicweek | Thought Catalog


Stoicism never has gone away, not completely. For good reasons:

“This guide for living has been so effective and resilient that it’s been used by some of the most powerful, successful and wise people in all of history. From Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome to Epictetus, a former slave, it’s a philosophy designed for extreme abundance and adversity alike. It was the favorite of leaders like Cato (who challenged Caesar), Bill Clinton and Theodore Roosevelt, writers like Seneca and Ambrose Bierce, painters like Eugene Delacroix, entrepreneurs like Elizabeth Holmes and Tim Ferriss, sports teams like the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, soldiers like Frederick the Great and James Stockdale, and countless other practitioners over the centuries.”

Source: 21 Stoic Life Hacks For #Stoicweek | Thought Catalog

Also see:

Margaret Graver on Stoicism & Emotion

Paradoxes for Better Living, 1

Paradoxes for Better Living, 2

Paradoxes for Better Living, 3

Andy Warhol’s semi-Stoic psychology — plus 40 more quotations from Thought Catalog

Undue Influence And Free Will


Following my recent post on undue influence as a possible legal recourse in certain situations, I want to give some additional and complementary perspective.

Here’s an excerpt from a book by Robert Kane, philosopher and acclaimed teacher at the University of Texas at Austin:

“Now it may occur to you that, to some extent, we do live in such a world, where we are free to make choices but may be manipulated into making many of them by advertising, television, spin doctors, salespersons, marketers, and sometime even friends, parents, relatives, rivals, or enemies.”

He easily could have added professors, bosses, ministers, preachers, gurus, and self-identified prophets.

Kane continues:

“One sign of how important free will is to us is that people feel revulsion at such manipulation and feel demeaned by it when they find out it has been done to them. They realize that they may have thought they were their own persons because they were choosing in accord with their own desires and purposes, but all along their desires and purposes had been manipulated by others who wanted them to choose exactly as they did. Such manipulation is demeaning because, when subjected to it, we realize we were not our own persons; and having free will is about being your own person.”

The book excerpt is from Kane’s A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford University Press, 2005).

In my previous post on undue influence, I quoted Steve Hassan, counselor and cult-deprogramming expert (with several books on the subject), saying he believes people who join cults and high-control groups do not in fact choose freely.

Another key insight into undue influence is found on a website devoted to Jonestown & Peoples Temple and maintained by San Diego State University’s Department of Religious Studies.

On the site, in an article on undue influence, Patrick O’Reilly, PhD, writes, “The legal way to view undue influence is to see it as an act of deceit and manipulation in order to suppress an individual’s free will and replace that free will with the goal of the perpetrator.”

Consider this especially when contrasting a stated goal and a hidden agenda. Such a contrast is certainly possible in many kinds of churches. If a leader manipulates a group with a stated goal while trying to bring about a hidden agenda, he might be guilty of undue influence.

O’Reilly also describes the element of “siege mentality” present in cases of undue influence, and it is pretty creepy when considered as a means of converting others to one’s own goal:

“Anyone who is not part of the perpetrator’s plan is a potential or actual threat to the victim.”

In other words, the undue influencer says, I’m the one who is trying to help you, and those others are trying to lead you astray.

A false dilemma or false choice of us versus them has been established.

Said to an emotionally vulnerable person, that can be manipulation and deceit at their worst.
 
Take-aways:

  1. People are manipulable.
  2. Some people in positions of influence and leadership have mastered the techniques of manipulation.
  3. When a person is manipulated in certain ways and in certain types of situations, he might have grounds for legal action.

 

Knowing and not knowing stuff about God


Philosopher Charles Hartshorne apparently had a strong belief in divine love. However, he questioned the historically mainstream idea that we should think about God in terms of what He is not.

This excerpt is from an article entitled “Charles Hartshorne: Dipolar Theism,” from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Many theologians, eager to affirm the transcendence of God, emphasize what cannot be known of God and argue that, in view of this ignorance, the most appropriate theological language is by way of negation (via negativa): God is not finite (infinite), not changeable (immutable), not affected by anything external (impassible), not contingent (necessary), not in time (non-temporal), and so forth. Hartshorne also emphasized what is not known of God and he did not deny that negations play an important role in religious discourse. In A Natural Theology for Our Time, he comments that our knowledge of the concrete divine reality is ‘negligibly small.’ He argues, however, that as the sole or even primary approach to religious language, ‘the negative way’ is a case of false modesty. Negative theologians are supposedly being deferential to God by stressing what cannot be known or said of God, but this masks the fact that they consider themselves privy to enough knowledge about the divine reality to know what cannot be attributed to it.

(Boldface added.)

As far as that boldfaced section goes, I have a vague recollection of reading something similar in a Norman Geisler book. His characterization of knowledge, at least in one respect, went something like this: Does it make sense to say we know we can go up to a certain point and go no further? Is it possible to know exactly where our knowledge stops without knowing something of what’s just beyond? Figuratively speaking, am I standing at an opaque wall or am I standing in a fog in which some objects and items are easily identified and others are harder to recognize?

I like the fog analogy because of something I recently re-read in G.K. Chesterton, not that Chesterton had the academic credentials of a Hartshorne or a Geisler. Chesterton said, essentially, the logician tries to get heaven into his head (and his head splits), while the poet just wants to get his head into heaven (and he is filled with wonder). I’m trying to re-route my own mind along those lines: do I want to sort everything out and explain everything and nail it all down, or do I want to discover and enjoy and immerse myself? One mode tries to get everything into one’s head, and the other mode tries to get one’s head exposed to everything.

Granted, ignorance is the mode that allowed bad religion to influence so much of history, and so much of my own life. A guy at least needs tools to protect himself, just as a farmer needs a fence around his flock and a rifle for the larger predators. Knowledge can be real light when it has real meaning for our lives. But once reasonable defenses are built against arrogant ignorance and manipulative control, maybe a guy can settle down and get back to enjoying life, the cosmos, even God.

A bit of affirmation


‘Postmodernism’ has jumped the shark: We are now post-postmodern


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Google Books NGram Postmodern Modernism Modernity