Category Archives: Philosophy

Elementary my dear Sherlock. A response to “The Atheist Atrocities Fallacy — Hitler, Stalin & Pol Pot”

I got somewhat excited when I came across this article. It addresses a topic that I had been thinking about recently. And I was hoping for an argument that might rip me. Unfortunately, it fell flat. Here are just a few of the reasons.

I think it’s contradictory for an atheist to blame another atheist (Stalin) on his religious background for his atrocities, when it is not acceptable for religious person to do the same. Furthermore, an implication of such an argument is that atheists can always blame their religious heritage for their mis-deeds.

We seem to forget that origins of the word religion comes from a Latin word meaning to “revere.” Its history is one where authors use it to distinguish “religion” from “true religion.” The most famous example of this is the reformation: Catholic = false religion; Protestant = true religion (see Sloterdijk’s You must Change Your Life). In this sense, yes, most atheists do indeed revere science.

(I will use the term “religious” in the current sense of the word in the rest of the post)

If Stalin’s atrocities were basically religious in nature, then does this mean that every professed atheist that commits violence is susceptible to being maligned as religious by the New Atheists? What’s the point, then, of claiming you’re an atheist if all your crimes will disqualify you as being an atheist? Here we are right back at another accusation by New Atheists: “Religious people are not honest with themselves.” The accusation goes both ways.

I agree that the numbers game (“you too”) is a bad way to argue for many reasons. And I agree that “It is at its core, a tu quoque fallacy, employed to deflect justified charges of religious violence, by erroneously charging atheism with similar, if not worse, conduct.” This is true: responsibility needs to present in these discussion. However. Because Sherlock seems to think that the very way religion operates is oppressive, he cannot bring himself to the say that “belief in X does not necessarily lead to atrocities.”

Many New Atheists (including Sherlock) cling to an optimism that if religions ceased to exist, the world would necessarily become a better place. Many religious people think this is the case with their religion as well. This is obviously no different from saying: “Well, I’m right. If everyone would just listen to me, things would be better.”

Again, there is a forgetting that the Secular is so thoroughly saturated by the religious (see A Secular Age by C. Taylor).

The New Atheist movement often claims to be a movement that is in a state of wonder, and in awe of the universe. A state that claims not to have all the answers, a free investigation. But again and again it shows itself to be a caricature of what Maritain called a positive atheism in the mid-20th century; Merleau-Ponty writes: “‘It is an active combat against everything that suggests God, an ‘antitheism,’ an act of inverted faith,’ a ‘refusal’ of God,’ a ‘defiance against God.’ This antitheism certainly exists, but since it is an inverted theology, it is not a philosophy, and by focusing the whole discussion on it, one shows perhaps that it holds locked up within itself the very theology it is attacking” ( In Praise of Philosophy).

Proust and Merleau-Ponty on memory, naming, and perception

Memory, naming, and perception: three daily aspects of human life. One cannot collapse them to each other, but they are closely linked. Our memories – who we are, what we know, how we have experienced things previously – shape our perception, give us the ability to name old things, and anticipate our future expression. Naming draws things, people, and categories out of an undefined generality and thereby gives birth to and sustains much of our perception and memory; the moment of naming often coincides with the moment of seeing or of memory. At the same time, we seek for our naming to coincide with what we perceive, and a good memory must bear a close relationship to what we have perceived in the past. Memory, naming, and perception are inseparable and persistently separate.

How we remember, name, and perceive matters quite a bit. It is often rightly observed that how we see the world bears a close relationship to our ability to act well in the world. Only if we can see and name violence, goodness, where God is working in the world, the potential for human flourishing, and so on, can we act ethically. And because the world is made up of stories, our ability for such sight and naming will come largely from the stories we receive and encounter, and whether we receive them with the grace to remember them well. Continue reading Proust and Merleau-Ponty on memory, naming, and perception

The Power of Names

How we name things fundamentally shapes the way we interact with the world. There are a few good examples that I often fall back on in order to demonstrate this point. But this might be the best example I have encountered in a very long time. The article is easy to read and pretty much speaks for itself.

The Working Melancholic

Yet another naming of the world that really hits home for me.

Psychologically, present-day cynics can be understood as borderline melancholics, who can keep their symptoms of depression under control and can remain more or less able to work. Indeed, this is the essential point in modern cynicism: the ability of its bearers to work—in spite of anything that might happen, and especially, after anything that might happen.” -Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason

Growing? Changing?

I was going to write a blog post about why growing (learning how to change) is good for us. I was going to write about how when we don’t think that we need to change, we actually do. And I was going to add that we are happy with the way things are, and that we are fine with whatever we are doing. Then I was going to say something along the lines of, “you will change whether you are aware of it or not, so you might as well try and participate in the change so that you can guide it.”

But. I came across a passage of writing by a German philosopher with whom I have been growing more and more fascinated with, Peter Sloterdijk. The philosopher claims to have written the book that Heidegger should have written. From what I can gather upon my preliminary understanding of his work, his writings are basically a mix between Heidegger, Nietzsche and Zizek.

Here is the passage:

“‘You must change your life!’ – these words seem to come from a sphere in which no objections can be raised. Nor can we establish from where they are spoken; only their verticality is beyond doubt. […] It is not enough to say that Rilke retranslated ethics in an aestheticizing fashion into a succinct, cyclopian, archaic-brutal form. He discovered a stone that embodies the torso of ‘religion’, ethics and asceticism as such: a construct that exudes a call from above, reduced to the pure command, the unconditional instruction, the illuminated utterance of being that can be understood – and which only speaks in the imperative.

If one wished to transfer all the teaches of the papyrus religions, the parchment religions, the stylus and quill religions, the calligraphical and typographical, all order rules and sect programmes, all instruction for meditation and doctrines of stages, and all training programmes and dietologies into a single workshop where they would be summarized in a final act of editing: their utmost concentrate would express nothing other than what the poet sees emanating from the archaic torso of Apollo in a moment of translucidity.

‘You must change your life!’ – this is the imperative that exceeds the options of hypothetical and categorical. It is the absolute imperative—the quintessential metanoetic command. It provides the keyword for revolution in the second person singular. It defines life as a slope from its higher to its lower forms. I am already living, but something is telling me with unchallengable authority: you are not living properly. The numinous authority of form enjoys the prerogative of being able to tell me ‘You must’. It is the authority of a different life in this life. This authority touches on a subtle insufficiency within me that is older and freer than sin; it is my innermost not-yet. In my most conscious moment, I am affected by the absolute objection to my status quo: my change is the one thing that is necessary.”  – Peter Sloterdijk from You Must Change your Life

This passage caught me off guard. I’ve heard the “Be yourself” mantra, but the impetus to constantly change is something that I thought was not something that people sought. Perhaps people don’t seek it in a healthy way?

Harrison’s Spoken Essay on Gardens

I just wanted to share this with you. Grab a scotch, as Harrison does, and listen to poetry, myth, philosophy and other beautiful things.

Care (good work) seems to be innately human (though, in some sense, I would argue that animals share this). If there is to be any meaningful fulfillment, it has to be done through care. Put at its worst, there is no joy without hard, often painful, work.

I wonder. What of those moments where work itself seems to be meaningless and where there seems to be nothing worth doing? All is Vanity. Where would this fit in to this essay?

The World Beyond The Barrier

“At the close of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche expressed his scorn for his contemporaries’ stupid insistence on trying to “see through everything” (263). He protested the lack of reverence and discretion which fueled their tactless attempt to “touch, lick, and finger everything” (213). The phenomenon Nietzsche decried is the frenzied desire we still see all around us, the desire to cast aside every veil, penetrate every surface, transgress every barrier in order to get our hands on the real thing lying behind it. We seem to have installed in the modern world a new “beyondness,” a new untouchable, or a new secularized sacred, one that inspires a new desire for transgression. This secularized sacred originates not in a belief in the existence of another world, but from the belief that what we want in this world always lies behind a barrier which prevents our access to it.” 175

This is taken from Joan Copjec’s The Object-Gaze: Shame, Hejab, Cinema. I found this last sentence to be just as profound as it is provocative. But is it true?

There is a similar belief that says: anything worth doing requires hard work.

There is a great satisfaction that one gets from learning something new or completing a project, especially when they are difficult. We all know this kind of satisfaction. But I’d like to examine it in more detail. So for me, this often means learning a difficult piece of music.

In order to let the music speak, I must be sensitive to every detail and challenge that it presents to me and let the details of the music unfold according to their role within the piece. This kind of engagement takes time. The more advanced the piece is, the more time I must spend with it. When one spends time with something, a relationship is formed. In this case, it is a demanding relationship with very specific expectations. I expect to make the music my own. I expect that my previous work has enabled me to meet every challenge and that I will grow because of it.

Difficult challenges install in me frustration, anxiety, fear of failure, and even despair. So I must take each challenge in manageable portions, lest I become discouraged and quit. When they are conquered, I have confirmation that my previous work is valid, enriched, and I am given confidence and excitement to keep going. Equally as important: it gives me reprieve from anxiety, frustration, fear of failure, and despair. I know that these small success are important without having to think about it because they are signs that the work is nearing completion. In isolation, the importance of each of these scattered challenges and the success that might await me are thrown into question. Only within the context of the complete work do they gain their unified importance.

The importance of the entire work is deemed as such if it is consistent with a more general, believed idea. An idea, or a truth, that orients one’s life. For instance, anything worth doing requires hard work.

This relationship between the work and the idea that propels it is fundamental to our experience of the world. The completed work means nothing without the idea and vice versa. The point is not to complete your work, but to continue to complete challenging work consistent with the idea. This also means that one should not attempt to derive ultimate satisfaction from the finishing of the work.  Rather, the completing of the work ensures that the believed idea continues to function. Without the work and the idea contributing to each other, both will die. Feed the idea with your work. Feed the work with your idea.

Let’s turn back to the original quote. Is it true that what I want always lies behind a barrier? I think that, on the contrary, the joyful experience that I have of overcoming barriers and obstacles is so powerful that it extends to so many spheres of my life — So far, in fact, that obstacles come to be looked at as life giving opportunities.

Do You Believe In Hard Work?

Let’s assume that the answer is yes. You believe that hard work contributes to a life worth living for everyone. So, are you hard worker? If you are not a hard worker and you say you believe in hard work because it will contribute to a life worth living, then do you really believe in hard work? If you say you believe it but your life doesn’t show it, then, should I say that you don’t believe in hard work? Perhaps you say that you believe in hard work to be in agreement with those people who do work hard and believe in their work. Fair enough. Who wants to have constantly defend this view against society? That’s a lot of work!

Perhaps this is how belief often works. It’s less work to have to have people secretly disbelieve you than it is to have to try and defend your beliefs.

How free is philosophical investigation?

I read a rather strange blog post from an author over at “an und für sich.” The professor complained that his undergrad students were satisfied, when viewing an artwork, or discussing a philosophical position, that it just comes down to a matter of opinion, how one was raised, etc. A consensus by way of commentary was reached that the reason for these statements was the fault of the students: there was an unwillingness to engage in conflict. Well, I mean, when I’m in a class setting, often I don’t really care to argue with people. There is nothing, really, to lose. If I am the curator of a gallery, then, absolutely I will have to defend why I choose to run my gallery according to certain principles and why I have these principles in the first place. Why? Because I have something to lose. I could lose my gallery, my job, my house, etc. So, to complain about students not having the need to be right in a discipline that is often very new to them is not a fair claim. Why should I have so much pride in the work that I have done as a philosopher when I have done no work as a philosopher?

So. How free is the philosophical investigation of the philosopher, especially as it pertains to a career choice. If I have built my career around a philosophy that has done me mostly well, why should I change course, which would thus negate practically all of my previous work? How many philosophers can you name that have changed their direction completely midway through their career? A change that could not be called political disillusionment. For we all know that political events inspire philosophers to change direction. Whence comes the giving up of one’s ideas that have been worked so hard for? Maybe at the onset there was a lot of turmoil before the choice was made to study Kantian metaphysics. Maybe the choice was clear. It doesn’t really matter. Because once your (career!) choice has been made, you cannot go back. You will spend the rest of your life defending your school of thought against its attackers. And you will spend the rest of your life attacking opposing disciplines. With that in mind, let us remember the example of Socrates who wrote (we think) nothing, and held no position at a university. If philosophy is about free investigation, have institutionalized universities and the type of careers that they foster destroyed the very nature of this discipline?

“How much truth can a spirit bear, how much truth can a spirit dare? That became for me more and more the real measure of value.” – Nietzsche 34 Ecce Homo

(According to Merleau-Ponty) Engagement with the things is the way to truly let them be

“The effective, present, ultimate and primary being, the thing itself, are in principle apprehended in transparency through their perspectives, offer themselves therefore only to someone who wishes not to have them but to see them, not to hold them as with forceps, or to immobilize them as under the objective of a microscope, but to let them be and to witness their continued being – to someone who therefore limits himself to giving them the hollow, the free space they ask for in return, the resonance they require, who follows their own movement, who is therefore not a nothingness the full being would come to stop up, but a question consonant with the porous being which it questions and from which it obtains not an answer, but a confirmation of its own astonishment. It is necessary to comprehend perception as this interrogative thought which lets the perceived world be rather than posits it, before which the things form and undo themselves in a sort of gliding, beneath the yes and the no.” – The Visible and The Invisible, 101-102