Category: philosophy

Aristotle for Everybody

by Andrea Elizabeth

As my daughter, son and I were on our 1 1/4 hour drive home from Denton yesterday evening, my husband called and said he downloaded Aristotle for Everybody on his audible account and was finding it interesting. I was surprised, and don’t recall if he said what prompted it. But what surprised me more was that my daughter was listening on speakerphone and said she wanted to listen to it. She said she thinks it’s interesting. She knew Aristotle was the student of Plato and the teacher of Alexander the Great, but I have never heard her express interest in philosophy before. My kids haven’t really engaged in talking about it with me, and I have given up on monologues with them. So we listened for the remaining 45 minutes of the trip, and then I asked her if she liked it. And she said yes. This morning she said she wants to use it for her required “informational book report”. Cool!

My impression so far: I wonder if Aristotle was OCD wanting to classify everything as he does. This hyperclassification and boundary making also struck me in C.S. Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet”. Though there was in AFE an acknowledgment of overlaps, such as immobile crustaceans that act like plants, and that may have been by the author, not Aristotle, I was impressed by a recent PBS documentary that talks about the interdependent relationships they are discovering between minerals and life, such as limestone being made by shell fish, and the role of bacteria in processing iron and such.

Universalism vs Justice

by Andrea Elizabeth

Now that I’ve watched the fourth and final installment of The Great Holiday Baking Show I will compare and contrast it to Universalism vs. Justice. Justice says that the perfectionist, pointy lady who had complicated, balanced flavors and fancy artistry deserved to win. That her free will helped her engage in skill-enhancing exercises, and she respected the right way to proof dough and layer puff pastry to produce superior results. The black lady did not deserve to win because of her laid back attitude and lack of practice with baking bread. She was too folksy and southern, if not funny and sometimes surprisingly good.

Perhaps Universalism says precise perfection is a western European hyperactive construct. Instead, community and family are more important than impressing people. Art is more about sentiment than presentation. Love is the key ingredient, not symmetry.

gathering and naming

by Andrea Elizabeth

I just read long Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy entries on existentialism and Heidegger. Therefore I am. Also is the active and contemplative life. But not the unaware life, including being unaware of what in unknown. At least not in maturity. But the unaware life is still human. I think. This could have only been two sentences.


ko wu, chih chih

by Andrea Elizabeth

“Chinese philosophical terms used in the Ta-hsüeh (Great Learning) to refer to two related stages or aspects of the self-cultivation process, subsequently given different interpretations by later Confucian thinkers. ‘Ko‘ can mean ‘correct’, ‘arrive at’ or ‘oppose’; ‘wu‘ means ‘things’. The first ‘chih‘ can mean ‘expand’ or ‘reach out’; the second ‘chih‘ means ‘knowledge’. Chu Hsi (1130-1200) took ‘ko wu‘ to mean arriving at li (principle, pattern) in human affairs and ‘chih chih‘ to mean the expansion of knowledge; an important part of the self-cultivation process involves expanding one’s moral knowledge by examining daily affairs and studying classics and historical documents. Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529) took ‘ko wu‘ to mean correcting the activities of one’s hear/mind (hsin), and ‘chih chih‘ the reaching out of one’s innate knowledge (liang chih); an important part of the self-culitivation process involves making fully manifest one’s innate knowledge by constantly watching out for and eliminating distortive desires.”

from The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy randomly arrived at by letting the book open where it may and reading the first entry that came to my eye like I used to do with the Bible.

Applying this principle, today I watched the last half of a PBS documentary on Gene Robinson, Love Free or Die. The first elected openly gay bishop is cuter and more compelling that I expected. So is his significant other. The most unfortunate part is the end statistics detailing how it is illegal to be gay punishable by jail and even death in some countries. This gives them the moral high ground to appeal for justice and equal rights. The most compelling voice for keeping the tradition of homosexuality is a sin was Bishop Rowen Williams. Someone told him that to take up one’s cross is righteous, but woe to those who crucify others. He paused and agreed that ‘not committing homosexual sin does need to be a voluntary sacrifice and not coerced. If it is not agreed upon, it reflects the very damaged state of the Church.’ The least compelling where the picketers that had signs saying “God hates fags”, and the scary, beefy motorcycle guy picketing people to split from the Episcopal Church and follow the Bible. Then there was the distraught, confused lady who was sad about it all, but had to vote against gay clergy and marriage anyway. The Gay Pride Parade freak show didn’t score many points, imo, either. Except for the few normal looking ones handing out water.

The fact that some gay people are so happy to have found love, to me speaks of damaged people who can’t turn their back on love. They sincerely believe that they will die without it. Maybe God is merciful to such as those who cannot accept being a eunuch, like Matthew says. But at the same time, I sense a bit of a latent acknowledgement that maybe they should have given up more in order to have a natural family. They are not ready to move on from their childhood baggage to a more sacrificial life.

is goodness a thing

by Andrea Elizabeth

Agatha Christie’s “Mystery of the Blue Jar” (pardon the over-enunciation in this recording) has an intriguing opinion by the self-professed “doctor of souls”. He doesn’t believe in ghosts or communicative spirits of the departed, but that blind justice gropes to find resolution.  This brings to mind, despite the twist in the ending, Divine Command Theory, which I just heard about on Facebook. According to my Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, DCT addresses whether there is ontological virtue, such as justice, or if goodness is solely based on obedience to God’s, what could be considered, arbitrary commands. Atheists claim to have a handle on virtue without listening to God, but Kierkegaard has an interesting take on it:

“Many Christians find divine command ethics attractive because the ethics of love advocated in the Gospels makes love the subject of a command. Matthew 22:37-40 records Jesus as saying that we are commanded to love God and the neighbor. According to Kierkegaard, there are two reasons to suppose that Christian love of neighbor must be an obligation imposed by divine command: first, only an obligatory love can be sufficiently extensive to embrace everyone, even one’s enemies; second, only an obligatory love can be invulnerable to changes in its objects, a love that alters not when it alteration finds.”

Well if such a sequence is rare, then heads is due

by Andrea Elizabeth

From the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy

gambler’s fallacy, also called Monte Carlo fallacy, the fallacy of supposing, of a sequence of independent events, that the probabilities of later outcomes must increase or decrease to “compensate” for earlier outcomes. For example, since (by Bernoulli’s theorem) in a long run of tosses of a fair coin it is very probable that the coin will come up heads roughly half the time, one might think that a coin that has not come up heads recently must be “due” to come up heads – must have a probability greater than one-half of doing so. But this is a misunderstanding of the law of large numbers, which requires no such compensating tendencies of the coin. The probability of heads remains one-half for each toss despite the preponderance, so far; of tails. In the sufficiently long run what “compensates” for the presence of improbably long subsequences in which, say, tails strongly predominate, is simply that such subsequences occur rarely and therefore have only a slight effect on the statistical character of the whole. See Bernoulli’s theorem

Bernoulli’s theorem is too complicated. The entry before that on St. Bernard of Clairvaux is more interesting:

(1090 – 1153), French Cistercian monk, mystic, and religious leader. He is most noted for his doctrine of Christian humility and his depiction of the mytical experience, which exerted considerable influence on later Christian mystics. Educated in France, he entered the monastery at Citeaux in 1112, and three years later founded a daughter monastery at Clairvaux.

According to Bernard, honest self-knowledge should reveal the extnt to which we fail to be what we should be in the eyes of God. That self-knowledge should lead us to curb our pride and so become more humble. Humility is necessary for contemplation of God, the highest form of which is union with God. Consistent with orthodox Christian doctrine, Bernard maintains that mystical union does not entail identity. One does not become God; rather, one’s will and God’s will come into complete conformity. See mysticism.

Not sure it’s Orthodox according to St. Athanasius.

Why women don’t like Kierkegaard

by Andrea Elizabeth

Inspired by yesterday’s article, this morning I again, after a long hiatus, picked up Either/Or Part II. Part I was from the point of view of the aesthete, and Part II is from the point of view of the ethicist. Aesthetics by nature are more interesting than ethics. Do is more interesting than don’t. Do opens the realms of possibilities, don’t closes the door. This is probably why Part I is a lot thicker than Part II. I think I must have quit reading after this: “but there is one thing for which I thank God with my whole soul, and that is that she is the only I have ever loved, the first, and there is one thing for which I pray to God with my whole heart, that he will give me the strength never to want o love any other.” (page 9)

To all who find themselves in this ideal arrangement, good for you. Preach on against those of us who did not. Club us over the head for our instability, recklessness, waywardness, dangerousness, immorality, and deservedness of being shunned. There, that was a self-indulgent pity party.

The third reason I’ve put this book at arms’ length is that Kierkegaard was never married. He courted Regina for four years, finally proposed, then dropped her immediately after she accepted. How can he preach about marriage?

But, he is a complicated fellow and deserves more query. Maybe he’s chastising himself as the aesthete? Maybe Part I is his loving himself and Part II is his hating himself? If that’s so, I can be more sympathetic. But this goal, “But now to the subject. There are two things that I must regard as my particular task: to show the esthetic meaning of marriage and to show how the esthetic in it may be retained despite life’s numerous hindrances.” (page 8) Have your cake and eat it too? Sounds like a women’s magazine cover article on keeping your marriage sparkly. So did he break off his own engagement because he didn’t think the aesthetic immediacy of attraction could really be retained? Was this next part himself?:

“You, however, actually live by plundering; unnoticed, you creep up on people, steal from them their happy moment, their most beautiful moment, stick this shadow picture in your pocket as the tall man did in Schlemiel and take it out whenever you wish. You no doubt say that those involved lose nothing by this, that often they themselves perhaps do not know which is their most beautiful moment. You believe that they should rather be indebted to you , because with your study of lighting, which magic formulas, you permitted them to stand forth transfigured in the supernatural amplitude of the rare moments…. If one dared to hope that the energy that kindles you in such moments could take shape in you, distribute itself coherently over your life, well, then something great would certainly come of you , for you yourself are transfigured in such moments.” (page 10-11)

My current theory is that Kierkegaard did try to sustain the transfigured energy – but he chose to do it through philosophical writing, not marriage. I don’t think he liked the physical as much as the intellectual, thus his decision not to marry her, but to devote himself to his work. But he did have an emotional bond to her, which he found that he could sustain without marriage. He believed in constant transfiguration, and for a while had the patience for it. But eventually he fulfilled this prophecy, “you who once wrote to me that patience to bear life’s burdens must indeed be an extraordinary virtue, that you did not even have the patience to want to live. Your life disintegrates into nothing but interesting details like these.” And this is why he died so young after getting more and more negative. Why do the brightest lights die so young? I do like Kierkegaard.


after reading the entry on dialectical arguments

by Andrea Elizabeth

Good dialectical arguments result in both parties discounting each other’s premise and ending up with nothing.

I don’t agree.

You have to have a counter.

They may end up agreeing to disagree.

Then they both walk away with nothing.

They can keep their original premises.

But if they were intellectually honest, and equally good at debate, then they would both have to back down from their premises.

Unless one or both thought that absence of further argument doesn’t mean there isn’t a better answer. They could agree to wait for a better answer.

But some people are ready to test the argument and act on the conclusion if they believe in the process. Used to be, people believed answers were more available and if it couldn’t be seen, it didn’t exist. Nowadays people are ready to resign without a conclusion.

So I’ll agree with the moderns and you can agree with the traditionalists. That’s not nothing, is it?

It depends on the goal. If you believe in human rationality, then both should be able to agree. Disagreement can result in one person thinking the other person is less than human. If you like and respect the other person, you don’t want to think of them that way. If you can’t agree, you may end up disbelieving in rationality. Then it seems degenerative chaos is the only answer.

Some people don’t mind chaos. They like random variety.

That gives me a sick feeling.

So feelings triumph over rationality?

Maybe so.


by Andrea Elizabeth

Reading dictionaries may be fun after all. From the first page of the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy that my family got me for my birthday a few years ago:

Abduction: canons of reasoning for the discovery, as opposed to the justification, of scientific hypotheses or theories.

Reichenbach distinguished the context of justification and the context of discovery, arguing that philosophy legitimately is concerned only with the former, which concerns verification and confirmation, whereas the latter is a matter for psychology….

I like discovery and psychology better than justification.

Today few regard the search for rigorous formal logics of discovery as promising.

Keeping things informal is fine with me.

Why I don’t like philosophy

by Andrea Elizabeth

It’s too powerful. It can uproot tradition. It’s too easy to follow the logic and relate, and then before you know it you’re assassinating a king or czar or your brothers and sisters or even God. It can easily confuse people.

But the Church Fathers and Sts. John and Paul used philosophy. It’s also part of psychology – the study of the soul. And if our minds aren’t meant to understand complex things, aren’t they being wasted? And aren’t the Father’s pronouncements ultimately comforting? Yes, except the anathemas. Some Priests don’t read them because today’s society is so confused and we don’t want to condemn all the unorthodox. When the Church was more united, things were more black and white.

I’ve been reading a little of Nietsche and liking some of his writing, then today’s Random Psalm is 14:

14 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.

They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.

Is there no good in Nietzsche? But how does he have songs?

Also, in the above, God does want us to understand.

But Nietzsche does have some points about antisemitism, nationalism, and Master/Slave Morality. But could his uberman have fed Nazism?

I only trust the ultimate pronouncements of the Orthodox Church, but the other truth claims are an interesting and enlightening conversation. They point to parts of reality that you may not have yet thought of. However, f you are not grounded in the Church, you can be convinced these claims are mature gospel truth instead of tiny elements in a bigger picture. Like Uberman. He could be compared to a deified man. But he calls upon God and does not deny him.

Master/Slave Morality is more difficult. From Wikipedia:

In Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche’s genealogical account of the development of modern moral systems occupies central place. For Nietzsche, a fundamental shift took place during human history from thinking in terms of “good” and “bad” toward “good” and “evil”.

The initial form of morality was set by a warrior aristocracy and other ruling castes of ancient civilizations. Aristocratic values of “good” and “bad” coincided with and reflected their relationship to lower castes such as slaves. Nietzsche presents this “master morality” as the original system of morality—perhaps best associated with Homeric Greece. To be “good” was to be happy and to have the things related to happiness: wealth, strength, health, power, etc. To be “bad” was to be like the slaves over which the aristocracy ruled, poor, weak, sick, pathetic—an object of pity or disgust rather than hatred.

“Slave morality” comes about as a reaction to master-morality. Here, value emerges from the contrast between good and evil: good being associated with other-worldliness, charity, piety, restraint, meekness, and submission; and evil seen as worldly, cruel, selfish, wealthy, and aggressive. Nietzsche sees slave morality as pessimistic and fearful, values for them serving only to ease the existence for those who suffer from the very same thing. He associates slave-morality with the Jewish and Christian traditions, in a way that slave-morality is born out of the ressentiment of slaves. Nietzsche argued that the idea of equality allowed slaves to overcome their own condition without hating themselves. And by denying the inherent inequality of people (such as success, strength, beauty or intelligence), slaves acquired a method of escape, namely by generating new values on the basis of rejecting something that was seen as a perceived source of frustration. It was used to overcome the slave’s own sense of inferiority before the (better-off) masters. It does so by making out slave weakness to be a matter of choice, by, e.g., relabeling it as “meekness.” The “good man” of master morality is precisely the “evil man” of slave morality, while the “bad man” is recast as the “good man.”

Nietzsche sees the slave-morality as a source of the nihilism that has overtaken Europe. Modern Europe and Christianity exist in a hypocritical state due to a tension between master and slave morality, both values contradictorily determining, to varying degrees, the values of most Europeans (who are motley). Nietzsche calls for exceptional people to no longer be ashamed of their uniqueness in the face of a supposed morality-for-all, which he deems to be harmful to the flourishing of exceptional people. He cautions, however, that morality, per se, is not bad; it is good for the masses, and should be left to them. Exceptional people, on the other hand, should follow their own “inner law.” A favorite motto of Nietzsche, taken from Pindar, reads: “Become what you are.”

A long standing assumption about Nietzsche is that he preferred master over slave morality. However, the Nietzsche scholar Walter Kaufmann rejected this interpretation, writing that Nietzsche’s analyses of these two types of morality were only used in a descriptive and historic sense, they were not meant for any kind of acceptance or glorifications.[101]

There’s a lot to think about here. Did Christian slaveowners keep the slaves down by this teaching of good Christian meekness? Feminists also criticize doormat wives. Rightly? But with such talk you agitate and incense people to violent revolution. Gandhi advocated passive resistance a la Rosa Parks. That’s better, but in a documentary about the Civil Rights movement I heard that that only got them so far, then they had to get more militant. There is no one answer. I’ve heard that Jewish people are ashamed they took such a meek approach to their captivity and wish they’d been stronger. They couldn’t believe things would go that far, and that God would allow it. It’s probably why there are so many are atheists now.

I suppose the healthy thing is for the strong to help the weak and not lord it over them. But even Nietzsche believes in ressentiment among lesser ways of being:

“Aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy, especially his ideas of the self and his relation to society, also run through much of late-twentieth and early twenty-first century thought.[250][251] His deepening of the romantic-heroic tradition of the nineteenth century, for example, as expressed in the ideal of the “grand striver” appears in the work of thinkers from Cornelius Castoriadis to Roberto Mangabeira Unger.[252] For Nietzsche this grand striver overcomes obstacles, engages in epic struggles, pursues new goals, embraces recurrent novelty, and transcends existing structures and contexts.”

He denies transcendence to the eternal or otherworldly, but where else can you go beyond “existing structures and contexts”?


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