Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’
Culture – like religion and nation and race – provides a source of identity for contemporary human beings. And, like all three, it can become a form of confinement, conceptual mistakes underwriting moral ones. Yet all of them can also give contours to our freedom. Social identities connect the small scale where we live our lives alongside our kith and kin with larger movements, causes, and concerns. They can make a wider world intelligible, alive, and urgent. They can expand our horizons to communities larger than the ones we personally inhabit. But our lives must make sense, too, at the largest of all scales. We live in an era in which our actions, in the realm of ideology as in the realm of technology, increasingly have global effects. When it comes to the compass of our concern and compassion, humanity as a whole is not too broad a horizon.
We live with seven billion fellow humans on a small, warming planet. The cosmopolitan impulse that draws on our common humanity is no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity…
* Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization (widely quoted, but possibly apocryphal)
As we take E.M. Forster’s advice (Howard’s End), “only connect, we might send recently-reformed birthday wishes to Augustine of Hippo, AKA St. Augustine; he was born on this date in 354. Augustine famously came to his faith later in life, after a youth filled with worldly experience… including a long engagement (to an underaged girl– to wit the length), for which he left the concubine who was the love of his life, “The One”– and which he broke off just before the wedding.
After his embrace of the faith, Augustine became a theologian and philosopher whose writings (e.g., The City of God and Confessions) were hugely influential in the development of… western civilization.
… and sometimes the trash is treasure:
There’s a Covanta Holding Corp. incinerator outside Philadelphia that produces electricity from burning garbage. It also produces something else: stacks and stacks of blackened, sooty coins.
Over the course of a year, those nickels, dimes and quarters add up to about $360,000. That’s seven times the average income in the Philadelphia metropolitan region, and the money is piling up as Covanta waits for the U.S. Mint to resume coin purchases under an exchange program it suspended in November.
About $61.8 million of loose change is accidentally thrown away every year in the U.S., Covanta estimates. The coins get swept off restaurant tables, mixed in with scraps when people empty their pockets, and vacuumed up from carpets or sofa cushions. The money used to end up in the dump, but as trash volume increases and open space dwindles, landfill-disposal costs are up 25 percent in the past decade. That’s created an incentive for Covanta and other companies to develop ways to sift through mountains of garbage and extract steel, iron, aluminum and copper for sale to recyclers…
* Ray Bradbury,
As we check again under our sofa cushions, we might spare a thought for Blessed John (Johannes, Ioannes) Duns Scotus, O.F.M.; he died on this date in 1308. One of the most important philosophers of the High Middle Ages (with his arch-rival, William of Ockham), Duns Scotus was a champion of a form of Scholasticism that came to be known as Scotism.
But he may be better remembered as a result of the slurs of 16th Century philosophers, who considered him a sophist– and coined the insult “dunce” (someone incapable of scholarship) from the name “Dunse” given to his followers in the 1500s.
Photographer Robert Ormerod took a road trip from Roswell, New Mexico to Area 51, exploring our fascination with the unknown by immersing himself in the lore extra-terrestrials… and in the lives of those who seek them.
More of his photographs, with his commentary, at “Inside the everyday world of UFO hunters.”
* tagline of The X-Files
As we deliberate the Drake Equation, we might send ideal birthday greetings to Marsilio Ficino; he was born on this date in 1433. An Italian scholar and Catholic priest, he was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance. The first translator of Plato’s complete extant works into Latin, he was important in the revival of Neoplatonism, and was in touch with every major academic thinker and writer of his day. His Florentine Academy was an attempt to revive Plato’s Academy, and influenced both the direction and the tenor of the Italian Renaissance and thus the development of European philosophy.
Ficino was also an astrologer, and is credited with having inspired the Tarot card deck– the Tarot of Marseilles– that was the pattern from which many subsequent tarot decks derive.
Movie star Leonardo DiCaprio’s Malibu dream house hit the market on Friday, listing for $10.95 million. Leo purchased the midcentury California bungalow (can you still call something a bungalow when it costs more than $10 mil? The jury is out!) back in 1998, and the three bed, two bath home is a beaut. It’s on star-studded Carbon Beach, the views are killer, and the interiors are gorgeous.
But the truth is, life is probably meaningless and there is a strong chance that we all die alone. Could buying this house change any of that? Is it possible that life at 21844 Pacific Coast Highway, with your own private hot tub and large ocean front deck, could actually offer a reprieve from the agony of being a human in the world? Or, is it certain that “we cannot escape anguish, for we are anguish,” as John-Paul Sartre once put it? Great question!…
An existentialist interview with Leonardo DiCaprio’s real estate agent: “Leo DiCaprio’s $11 Million Malibu Beach House And The Soul-Crushing Agony Of Being Human.” [via the always-illuminating Pop Loser]
* Gautama Buddha
As we sigh, we might send nihilist birthday greetings to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche; he was born on this date in 1844. A philosopher, poet, composer, cultural critic, and classical philologist, Nietzsche is probably best remembered for his concepts of the “death of God”, the Übermensch, the eternal recurrence, the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy, and the will to power… which, among them, have had an extraordinary impact on thinkers as diverse as Martin Heidegger and Ayn Rand on the one hand, and Michel Foucault (whose birthday this also is) and Jacques Derrida on the other.
When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding “truth” within the realm of reason. If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare “look, a mammal’ I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value.
– Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn (On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense), 1873
* “Sheldon,” The Big Bang Theory
As we turn up the air conditioner, we might spare a thought for Sir Karl Raimund Popper; he died on this date in 1994. One of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Popper is best known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favor of empirical falsification: A theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments. (Or more simply put, whereas classical inductive approaches considered hypotheses false until proven true, Popper reversed the logic: conclusions drawn from an empirical finding are true until proven false.)
Popper was also a powerful critic of historicism in political thought, and (in books like The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism) an enemy of authoritarianism and totalitarianism.