Tag Archives: philosophy

A Look at Unfashionable Philosophy


“Wittgenstein and Barfield disagree on a number of important matters; Barfield wrote that Wittgenstein never attempted historical analysis, and was therefore missing the proper foundation for evaluating language. Curiously, though, they also seem to share some significant ground. Barfield’s understanding of metaphor seems to mirror some of the claims that Wittgenstein makes about ostensive definition, though Barfield would claim that a poet (or, to use Wittgenstein’s language, one who has been inducted into the game of poetry) is able to glean a deeper insight from poetry than Wittgenstein would be willing to allow.”

The Thick of Things

It can be well worth one’s time to read unfashionable philosophy, and doubly so when one is able to read it with a mindfulness of the thinkers that are being celebrated in the modern day. When one does this, questions about the provenance of ideas and human capacities that tend to be held just beneath the surface are able to shoot up into view. Good ideas, and good questions, can be found in many places, and reading those people who are not the toast of the modern academy is an excellent way to be reminded of that fact. This essay puts together two men, one fashionable and the other not, who lived in the same period and, for most of their lives, lived in the same country.

As far as I am aware, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Owen Barfield never met. Barfield knew of Wittgenstein, and mentioned him briefly in one of his essays, but I…

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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!

Reality Check


More Santayana:

“Reality is more fluid and elusive than reason, and has, as it were, more dimensions than are known even to the latest geometry.” — George Santayana, in The Sense of Beauty

Welcome to Sunday Morning


I’m sorry some of you will be seen as mere numbers to strengthen a church’s marketing or political power. That’s the way of big Protestant churches in which the leaders have culture-war mentalities. But you should be seen as a real person who is part of a living community. Refocusing on persons and relationships seems to be important to Christos Yannaras, a Greek Orthodox philosopher and theologian, in his book Person and Eros. To appropriate some of his words for my point, instead of a number, you ought to be “an individual in relation,” someone who can experience a “dynamic actualization of relationship” in community, but when the “understanding of  the human being” is “purely in terms of its capacity for rational thought,” then community relationships and the beauty of worship are diminished (in some cases tacitly, in other cases intentionally), and the sermon, like a college lecture or political speech, becomes dominant.

The Objectivism Cult


Michael Shermer avoids a false dilemma in his assessment of Ayn Rand—and in the process reveals something that is bigger than him and her. Reading the following quotation, ask yourself, have you ever felt similarly about any other point of view or school of thought?

“I accept most of Rand’s philosophy, but not all of it. And despite my life-long commitment to many of Rand’s most important beliefs, Objectivists would no doubt reject me from their group for not accepting all of her precepts. This is ultimately what makes Objectivism a cult.”

Rand’s followers, the Objectivists, seemed to have demanded perfect assent to all Randian doctrine. Read all of Shermer’s The Unlikeliest Cult in History. It’s an outstanding article.

‘The Spirit of Abstraction’


“As soon as we accord to any category, isolated from all other categories, an arbitrary primacy, we are victims of the spirit of abstraction.” — Gabriel Marcel, in Man Against Mass Society

Gabriel Marcel was a French philosopher and playwright.

I have Marcel’s book Creative Fidelity, an essay collection that I’ve wanted to read for years, but when I dip into it, I rarely get very far due to fatigue or interruptions. I found the above quotations here, in a clear, interesting, and I might even say theological, article on Marcel’s life and work.

Marcel’s work is rich, but here I decided to focus on “abstraction” because it is precisely what I was worried about when I was thinking through the rhetoric and points of reference used by some evangelical leaders to address or comment on ministerial scandals during the past two years.

(I attempted a concrete example of such abstraction from Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch in this post written in the early days of the Mark Driscoll scandal. The above quotation from Marcel would have fit nicely in the post.)

If you’re as curious about Gabriel Marcel as I am, you might like these web portals:

Rockhurst University in Kansas, Mo., has a Gabriel Marcel Society.

Neumman University in Aston, Pa., is home to Marcel Studies, an online, peer-reviewed journal.

The University of Texas at Austin’s Henry Ransom Humanities Research Center has an online Gabriel Marcel inventory of materials available at the center.

I might as well end with another good Marcel quotation, this one challenging my affinity for Stoicism — and, more importantly, reminding us that hope is communal, that hope takes place in community. From his book Tragic Wisdom and Beyond:

“No doubt the solitary consciousness can achieve resignation [Stoicism], but it may well be here that this word actually means nothing but spiritual fatigue. For hope, which is just the opposite of resignation, something more is required. There can be no hope that does not constitute itself through a we and for a we. I would be tempted to say that all hope is at the bottom choral.”

What a great way to think about a genuine community: hope embodied, a choral hope.

A thread of Christianity present in Socrates — an excerpt from ‘Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline’


The late Colin Wilson, writing for Philosophy Now:

“In the next chapter of Beyond the Outsider, ‘The Strange Story of Modern Philosophy’, I begin by considering the ‘world rejection’ of Socrates, who tells his followers that since the philosopher spends his life trying to separate his soul from his body, his own death should be regarded as a consummation. This is consistent with his belief that only spirit is real, and matter is somehow unimportant and unreal. This notion would persist throughout the next two thousand years, harmonising comfortably with the Christian view that this world is unimportant compared to the next.”

from Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline | Issue 56 | Philosophy Now.via Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline | Issue 56 | Philosophy Now.