"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, September 08, 2005

TRC---FEMA For Existentialists

Below, my colleague Hunter Baker, with a little help from the devastatingly logical Dr. Francis Beckwith and an astute Classical Liberal (persons manifestly of no little learning in these things), attempts a Socratic dialogue with a product of the Western educational system and thereby its wellspring and guiding light, modern philosophy.

But I fear the classical reference here is to the Myth of Sisyphus (well-appropriated by the modernist/failed sentimentalist Albert Camus) where the cosmically condemned pushes a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down the other side, ad eternum ad infinitum.

I consulted a really cool guy named Mortimer Adler on this and he had already given it some thought. (Like they say, read the whole thing.)


If we're going to get retro about it (there is an amnesia in the modern academy from Plato [c. 400 BCE] to the Enlightenment [c. 1400-1800 CE]), philosophy's first question, its First Thing, was to ask, "What is Good?"

In a Socratic dialogue, everybody hanging with Socrates was asking the same question. They had a common purpose. But this is not the case in 2000+ CE. We are all solipsists, each at the center of our own universe. To seek wisdom and the resonances of a higher moral order and purpose is no longer our joint enterprise. Everyman for himself.


Adler points out that the modern philosophical enterprise shuns First Things, metaphysics and the question of what is good, and skips to Second Things, science and empiricism, that which we can measure and prove, and epistemology, how we know that we know.

For those of us who seek those ineffable First Things (and the ancient Greeks and today's Buddhists did and do that, without the aid of "revelation"), the discussion of Second Things is kindergarten, and hardly worth the sense of occasion that vivifies those nights with that party animal Socrates and made them worth preserving for 2400 years.

I mean, the name of God is on the lips of every drunk, but a night with Sisyphus, even if you're trying to help, is a lot like work. A gathering of the Socrateans was always a party. Right now, The Reform Club's Second Things charity case is caught in No Man's Land, appealing to First Things even as he denies their existence. The question in the original post continues to beg itself---What is Good? That it can be asked at all provides its own answer. Good exists.

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(This occasionally humble correspondent has been MIA of late due to illness in the family. My thanks for the gentle encouragement of those who wrote me, and to those who would have if they'd have known. Received good news tonight---recovery is coming, albeit slowly. I suppose that if my family were of the Peter Singer/Second Things mold, we'd have flushed her over dependence and quality of life issues. But she ain't heavy, she's my mother.)

10 comments:

Jay D. Homnick said...

Tom, we wish your mother a speedy recovery.

Hunter Baker said...

I wondered where you had gone, Tom. Thanks for filling us in. Now, I feel guilty for not having written!

idealist said...

Hey Tom, I was wondering were you are. I feel guilty for not having written, too. Of course it's September and that means I get to watch the Phillies chase, but probably miss a playoff spot.

But as to your blog point, I'm truly not sure what to do. I'm thinking there will always be an underclass. We do, however, need to give everyone who truly wants a chance. The heart of America is a strong middle class and the belief that everyone can at least get an education and a job if they wish

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thanks for the kind thoughts, all. Ma is improving, albeit too slowly to feel good about it.

Idealist, I think sometimes the conservative concern for the (likely permanent) underclass is underestimated; it is also almost always ill-expressed. I think that it's the intractability of the (liberal, and worse, irredeemably partisan) education establishment that usually leaves the right with nothing but weak babble about the Gordian Knot solution of vouchers on their lips. (Not that vouchers are bad, but...)

Please believe that on the whole, conservatives are in accord with their icon Adam Smith, who in 1776 wrote:

The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference.

I do believe that the academy, which by most accounts in thorough possession of the left, is more interested in changing society through the inculcation of secular humanist "values" (my apology for the "scare quotes") than lifting their charges from poverty.

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Personal note, Idealist. I don't have enough stress in my life without dragging the Phillies into it? ;-)

connie deady said...

Secular humanism: for some reason that has become the bogeyman of the right. Perhaps they equate leftist with Marx's anti-religiosity. I don't think that secular humanism at all amounts to an abandonment of values. I think many of the left are extremely value driven.

You guys have done a better job of taglining yours in the good ole God, America and apple pie rhetoric. We have some great ones too, we just can't market them as well. Compassion, humanity, equality, justice. Heck, we could even market them from the New Testament. Something about New Orleans reminds me of "so you have done to the least of my brethren you have done unto me" or words to that effect.

When I saw the first scenes from New Orleans it immediately struck me how black everyone was. Made me think of the scene from [i]The Titanic[/i] where the locked the gates to the lower decks so the poor people couldn't get out and compete with the rich in the upper decks for the limited lifeboats. I thought we had come further in a 100 years.

Glad your mom is doing better.

How about an E-A-G-L-E-S chant for tonight

connie deady said...

Secular humanism: for some reason that has become the bogeyman of the right. Perhaps they equate leftist with Marx's anti-religiosity. I don't think that secular humanism at all amounts to an abandonment of values. I think many of the left are extremely value driven.

You guys have done a better job of taglining yours in the good ole God, America and apple pie rhetoric. We have some great ones too, we just can't market them as well. Compassion, humanity, equality, justice. Heck, we could even market them from the New Testament. Something about New Orleans reminds me of "so you have done to the least of my brethren you have done unto me" or words to that effect.

When I saw the first scenes from New Orleans it immediately struck me how black everyone was. Made me think of the scene from [i]The Titanic[/i] where the locked the gates to the lower decks so the poor people couldn't get out and compete with the rich in the upper decks for the limited lifeboats. I thought we had come further in a 100 years.

Glad your mom is doing better.

How about an E-A-G-L-E-S chant for tonight

connie deady said...

Changed to my actual name.

Secular humanism: for some reason that has become the bogeyman of the right. Perhaps they equate leftist with Marx's anti-religiosity. I don't think that secular humanism at all amounts to an abandonment of values. I think many of the left are extremely value driven.

You guys have done a better job of taglining yours in the good ole God, America and apple pie rhetoric. We have some great ones too, we just can't market them as well. Compassion, humanity, equality, justice. Heck, we could even market them from the New Testament. Something about New Orleans reminds me of "so you have done to the least of my brethren you have done unto me" or words to that effect.

When I saw the first scenes from New Orleans it immediately struck me how black everyone was. Made me think of the scene from [i]The Titanic[/i] where the locked the gates to the lower decks so the poor people couldn't get out and compete with the rich in the upper decks for the limited lifeboats. I thought we had come further in a 100 years.

Glad your mom is doing better.

How about an E-A-G-L-E-S chant for tonight

connie deady said...

Sorry, I thought it wasn't posting. Please delete my extras if you can.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, anything you write is worth reading thrice, Connie. Welcome to The Club.

The question is whether the education establishment sees its role as education or upping the establishment. My view is it's the latter.

Secular humanism is of course a value system as rigid as any religion's. I use the term as a more polite form of "godless utalitarianism."

It is best to be careful about the Bible and politics. Nowhere does Jesus say go forth and rob the rich and redistribute to the poor.

In fact, The Parable of the Talents
(Matthew 25:14), is a perfect illustration of capitalism---to take a little and grow it into plenty. You could look it up.

connie deady said...

It's hard for me to defend the education establishment, because they've become so institutionalized and interested in self-perpetuation. But I don't see that as secular humanism or godless utilitariansim, as opposed to just the normal result of institutionalism. I could say the same thing about the Catholic church.

You know I'm a believer in "small is beautiful". I have no problem in deinstitutionalizing education and breaking up the system. I'm just not sure of the commitment of you guys to maintaining the concept of the right of everyone to education. God bless private colleges though, since my kid gets a huge scholarship to college from the college itself and a pittance in federal loans and grants, which Bush keeps wanting to cut.

When I was working in developmental disabilties in California, I remember being frustrated with the parents who so strongly supported state hospitals. They believed that as long as that physical building existed, there would be a government commitment to their children. I can sympathize now, because I feel that way about public schools.