Aug 25, 2011

Love and Human Motivation in the Republic (part 1)

Reading my way once again through a text I've been revisiting for more than two decades, Plato's Republic , I never fail -- any time I read it anew -- to be struck by some novel, or perhaps not entirely novel but at least forgotten or passed over, feature of the work and of Plato's thought.  I'm happy to be teaching it again this semester, at least portions of the grand dialogue, that is, one of Plato's best known and -- as I get old enough to benefit from traversing Plato's sizable corpus a number of times, more in some parts than others -- one of his finest on multiple philosophical levels.  Rather than allowing the task of justifying to some extent why the Republic is entitled to such a laudatory judgement -- particularly given that there are plenty of Plato scholars who'd dispute that with me, who am decidedly not a Plato scholar, just an admirer --I'll say what some of the features that struck me this time were.

Aug 21, 2011

Catching Up With Anselm the Christian Philosopher

I'm still in the midst of writing another Anselm-themed post which will appear later this week (or next week), dealing with justice, mercy, and our (often inadequate) images of the divine -- but I found myself, instead of reading through those texts most germane to such purposes and topics, following once again down the paths, seemingly so straightforward and sunlit, but occasionally and admittedly to me obscure, of the beginning five chapters of Anselm's first treatise, the Monologion.  This text, in our times relatively little known and studied (except by Anselm scholars, philosophers of religion, or historians of medieval thought), is both programmatically and exemplarily emblematic of the Anselmian project of fides quaerens intellectum, "faith seeking understanding" -- although some better Anselm scholars than myself have argued that an equally important and characteristic contribution by Anselm is his well-worked-out conception of justice as rectitudo voluntatis propter se servata, "rectitude of will kept for its own sake".

Rereading and ruminating upon these chapters, mulling through them, actively dialoging with their assertions and arguments -- using them as they were designed, by Anselm's own lights -- got me thinking both about Anselm's moral theory (the broad and multifarious topic about which I'm currently -- with painful, though perhaps not painstaking, slowness -- researching and writing a book) and about the "problem" of Christian philosophy (as it is often put, concealing a tangled an wideranging number of problems, issues, historical phenomena, debates. . . ).  I noticed a confluence of these two sets of concerns.

Aug 15, 2011

Summer and Winter Foolishness

Years ago in reading, I encountered the distinction between two families of fools -- and two types of foolishness.  I've invoked that easily remembered and vivid distinction by way of explanation in many conversations down the years, and have puzzled about precisely what goes wrong with the winter fool -- how to explain their folly in terms of defective practical reasoning, what specific defects or failures are involved, what concepts and what moral theories best illuminate this all-too-common but somewhat complex mode of misreasoning.

Why would this distinction -- originating in a Jewish proverb, then trickling through Russian folklore, eventually popping up and popularized in Hemmingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls -- continue to draw the interest of a moral theorist?  Well, for one because folly is the classical opposite to wisdom. It is practical wisdom, what the Greeks called phronesis, what the biblical Wisdom literature (which bears similarities to, draws upon, and reworks other similarly sapiential literature not only names but personifies, what the Latin west in its turn termed at some times prudentia, at others sapientia.  It's not enough to know what comprises and constitutes wisdom, though -- and that's tough-enough knowledge to acquire and retain, a never-ending arduous task in actuality -- one also needs to know what the various pitfalls, temptations, and forms of foolishness are, not least to recognize and avoid them, but also to understand them -- for by understanding how one goes wrong, one better grasps how one, choosing differently, goes right.

Aug 11, 2011

In Favor of Platform Pluralism

News  -- and even more than news, speculation -- about social media runs in seeming cycles, enhanced and deepened in imaginative resonance by the complex feedback between the tradition, albeit partially online and streaming media and the users and developers of social media platforms, with a number of social media experts, sites, and magazines as go-betweens in the loops.

It could be just a reflection of the position I occupy -- a rather humble, at times behind the curve, more information-consumer than opinion-former spot -- but it seems to me that there has been a rise in frequency and prominence of one genre of speculation and one closely associated template of news story.  Perhaps I'm off, and these have been going on at the pitch and tempo they assume at present, unbeknownst to or unnoted by me, bent on exploring, using, and integrating social media in more traditionally academic pursuits.

Aug 6, 2011

Which ISME Do You Mean?

Last week, with my partner, I participated in and presented in an excellent, fruitful conference of one of the two ISME organizations with which I am involved.  There are, as it turns out, at least four associations bearing that acronym (as well as a women's fashion catalog, not surprising given that Philosophy also names a skin care product line, and Orexis a rather dubiously successful male enhancement pill).  I've been a longstanding member of the International Society for MacIntyrian Enquiry, and more recently became involved (in a currently much more amateur manner) with the International Society for Military Ethics.

Last week's conference was the meeting of the former organization -- and I'll write more in posts soon to come about selected highlights of those sessions -- but I was not the only attendant to belong to -- or even note the anacronymic ambiguity of -- the two organizations.  The MacIntyrian ISME as a matter of deliberate policy -- since this is in fact what the tradition-dependent moral inquiry Alasdair MacIntyre espouses requires -- invites keynote speakers who are not for the most part MacIntryre scholars or even admirers (sometimes, they are strong critics). One of the keynote speakers, James Connelly, began by noting that he was more accustomed to thinking of the second organization, in whose conversations, projects, inquiries, and debates he was very active.  His presentation dealt with two different fields of ethics, typically called and thought of under the rubric of "applied ethics":  military ethics and environmental ethics.  And the guiding question, which he developed into a stark and detailed contrast, was: what are thought of, spoken about, or advocated as "virtues" in these two fields?

Aug 4, 2011

Memories and Meadows

After signing off for the summer -- practically speaking for the remainder of June and the whole of July, since I'm now back at my base and resuming writing -- I drove from the Hudson Valley in New York to the Midwest, where I picked up my children and headed out with them on a series of trips traversing northeastern Illinois, northwestern Indiana, and southwestern Wisconsin, residing alternately with family, friends, and occasionally at hotels.

This has become a yearly ritual, a marathon of days, a few of which comprise down time, many of which involve some additional travel from whatever places we temporarily call home.  This five-week period, we hit Michigan City's Summerfest, the Waukesha County Fair, a local 4th of July Celebration, and our annual 3-day Lemco Family Reunion.  We ate at  restaurants, picnicked, cooked, and hit LeDuc's for what remains still the best frozen custard.  We visited, among other places, Navy Pier, a Lego Museum, Donely's Wild West Town, two Zoos, the Milwaukee Public Museum, Holy Hill, and a Honey Museum, located just north of Ashippun, Wisconsin.  And, it was at the latter -- or rather by it -- that I realized something.