Plato’s suggestions

readingsOur regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Interesting article over at the Electric Agora by my friend Dan Kaufman, who argues that the usual reasons given in support of a liberal arts education are seriously flawed. I think Dan is wrong on almost every point, and the two of us are going to have a friendly discussion about this in an upcoming episode of our occasional video series.

Roger Cohen at the New York Times argues that it’s time to quit this nonsense about gluten-free and similar health non-issues (except, of course, for the few who really do have health issues): “Gluten has done O.K. by humanity for upward of 10 millennia. It’s bad for some people, but the epidemic of food intolerance has gone way over the top.”

Ever heard of wealth therapy? It’s the latest psycho-nonsense aimed at making the super-rich feel like the normal human beings they very clearly aren’t. “In 2008, when we saw hundreds of our clients lose 30% to 40% of their net worth, it was an absolutely terrifying, helpless, horrifying experience.” Right, but not nearly as terrifying as it was for those regular folks who lost their house and/or their job, and who can’t afford wealth therapy.

A new biography of David Hume, “the philosopher who got rich,” is out, and it looks like it’s going to be well worth reading.

A brief history of Utopias: “Alternative universes are really devices for embarrassing the present, as imaginary cultures are used to estrange and unsettle our own.”

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Categories: Plato's Suggestions

46 replies

  1. Thanks Dan, I guess that takes care of labnut’s creative interpretation. Oh, and glad you are not going through a midlife crisis. You seemed fine to me the other night when we were having risotto at my place…

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  2. Labnut was correct, regarding the connection between the ultimate value of the humanities and sacralization. I made exactly that point in one of my replies in the comments section over at the Electric Agora. And it *was* meant to tie in to another essay I wrote, titled, “Religion without Spirituality,” in which I argue for a non-supernaturalist account of the sacred, via our experience of arts and letters.

    http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/blog/2015/3/13/religion-without-spirituality

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  3. Massimo, haha, yes, the risotto test, and presumably neither the risotto nor the serving of it were gratuitous. I look forward to your discussion of Dan’s essay with him on the Sophia program and hope you will both provide a link to it on your respective websites. As a side note to Dan K, while I can appreciate yours and Dan T’s editorial discretion and authority in this matter, I do think your failure to publish my last point by point elaboration of my prior comment on your post, while allowing another’s critical remark of me to pass muster, was rather transparently self-serving. You might just as easily have emailed this commentator to indicate that you were handling this matter in-house and were therefore not going to allow his to be published. My feelings here were particularly exacerbated because I had just read your ridiculously uncharitable comment to ejwinner and compared part of his comment to the sort of thing one commonly hears on Rush Limbaugh’s and Sean Hannity’s broadcasts.

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  4. The above is confusing in part–instead of “I had just read your ridiculously uncharitable comment to ejwinner and compared part of his comment . . .” should read “I had just read your ridiculously uncharitable comment to ejwinner where you compared part of his comment . . . .”

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  5. Dan-K, Massimo,
    Thanks Dan, I guess that takes care of labnut’s creative interpretation.

    What a pity. I rather like my interpretation. But then we do all tend to love our own way of seeing life 🙂

    I guess I am going to have to use the argument of last resort, the critic knows the mind of the author better that the author knows his own mind! In this respect I will join legions of critics who make a living from this hypernatural practice. One can get away with it when the author cannot reply from the other side of the grave but that might be premature given the proven testimony that he enjoyed a last supper of risotto.

    I look forward to an entertaining debate between the two of you.

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  6. Dan,

    yes, the bit about the humanities and sacralization was very clear. I was just wondering about labnut’s more creative interpretation.

    Thomas,

    “presumably neither the risotto nor the serving of it were gratuitous”

    Well, we didn’t charge Dan for the dinner… 😉 But no, not gratuitous!

    labnut,

    “I guess I am going to have to use the argument of last resort, the critic knows the mind of the author better that the author knows his own mind!”

    As you say, fortunately you are blocked from going full postmodernist on us by the fact that Dan survived my risotto!

    “he enjoyed a last supper of risotto”

    I sure hope it wasn’t his *last* supper!

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  7. Oh, and a quick comment on the concept of the “sacred”: if by that one means (like people normally do) something that cannot be touched or questioned under no circumstances, then no, I don’t recognize any such thing.

    If one simply means something that is very very important to someone, then sure. But I think that usage neither reflects common understanding of the word, nor is it particularly helpful (instead of saying that philosophy is sacred to me, I just say that it it very very important…).

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  8. Massimo: The non-supernaturalist sense of ‘sacred’ that I mean is drawn from the following elements of the common dictionary definition —

    –reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object: e.g. a morning hour sacred to study.

    –regarded with reverence: e.g. the sacred memory of a dead hero.

    –secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right: sacred oaths; sacred rights.

    –properly immune from violence, interference, etc., as a person or office.

    And my point is not that philosophy or arts and letters are sacred. Rather, our experience of them can engender a sense of the sacred in our lives, without any appeal to the supernatural.

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  9. Thomas,

    incidentally, it probably isn’t kosher for you to post complaints about another blog’s policies here. Dan may or may not have been in error in that particular case, but my blog isn’t the place to discuss it.

    Dan,

    yes, I understand where you get the importation of the term “sacred” and in what sense. I still think it’s a bad idea, because it has too strong links with the religious meaning. Just like, you know, “soul,” or “free will.” I’d rather avoid all three terms altogether, and use secular equivalents instead.

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  10. Massimo, as a philosopher it’s very good to hear you say that nothing for you is “untouchable,” since I must admit that I’ve worried about your stoicism in this regard. There’s a huge difference between “self help” and “religion” as I see it, so it’s great to know that you take nothing off the table. Of course this led me to worry about Daniel Kaufman in this regard, though he’s addressed the issue above as well. Good!

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  11. Massimo,
    yes, I understand where you get the importation of the term “sacred” and in what sense. I still think it’s a bad idea,

    There is no real equivalent that expresses the depth and intensity of the word ‘sacred’.

    I still think it’s a bad idea, because it has too strong links with the religious meaning.

    Yes, there is that association and some of us think that is a jolly good thing. On the other hand the word has many non-religious uses. Both Ursula Goodenough and Stuart Kaufman wrote books about seeing the sacred in nature from a strictly naturalist perspective. And there are more books along these lines. In fact it is quite interesting to observe a secularist trend to find the sacred in nature and in science. It seems to indicate a deep need to find and see the sacred in life and some strands of atheism are trying to import this in a form cleansed of religion.

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  12. labnut,

    “There is no real equivalent that expresses the depth and intensity of the word ‘sacred’.”

    Because there is nothing completely beyond questioning in a secular worldview. I like it like that.

    “Both Ursula Goodenough and Stuart Kaufman wrote books about seeing the sacred in nature from a strictly naturalist perspective”

    Indeed, but I can’t help but think that the secular use of words like “sacred,” “spiritual” etc. is at the least a bit disingenuous, and I’d rather stay away from it.

    “It seems to indicate a deep need to find and see the sacred in life and some strands of atheism are trying to import this in a form cleansed of religion”

    I wholly disagree. I think the religious as well as the secular have a deep need for something *meaningful*, not sacred.

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  13. I’m with Massimo, or more. “Sacred” in the sense of Labnut treads very, very close to “ineffable,” and I reject that idea.

    To go Wittgenstein, if something really is “ineffable”:
    1. How do you know that your own attempt to explain it to others works?
    2. How do you know that you’re able to explain it to others?

    And, thus, Dan, I’ve just linked knowing-how, and knowing-that, and Wittgenstein, whom you like, in one tidy bundle.

    Thanks, folks, I’ll be here all week, and two shows on Saturday.

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  14. Risotto? I already told Massimo about my most recent Italian cooking, inspired by my recent vacation to California, and specifically, splurging on dinner in Monterey, which is near the artichoke and garlic capitals of the US:

    1. Whole wheat rotini
    2. Artichokes
    3. Diced tomatoes
    4. Chopped spinach (grown in abundance in the Imperial Valley, further south)
    5. Italian sausage
    6. “Baby bella” mushrooms
    7. Pesto, which of course contains garlic.

    Delizioso!

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  15. Hey, folks, what would Halloween be without a special Existential Comics, too? http://existentialcomics.com/comic/104

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  16. Massimo,
    Indeed, but I can’t help but think that the secular use of words like “sacred,” “spiritual” [by Kaufman & Goodenough] etc. is at the least a bit disingenuous, and I’d rather stay away from it.

    But they do use these words, to such an extent that they devoted books to the subject. Dan-K thinks the subject describes the Ends of the humanities and so clearly he ascribes great significance to it. Calling them disingenuous does not do them justice and I think it is really quite unfair. It is unfair to do this before you have made a serious attempt to appreciate their point of view and exactly what it is they are trying to convey. And then you need to give a serious reply rather than the dismissive ‘disingenuous’.

    So how do we understand this?

    My literature survey of different uses of the word ‘sacred’ uncovered four typical usages:
    1. associated with the presence of God;
    2. untouchable, unalterable, unquestionable, protected;
    3. special, set apart, truly valuable;
    4. worthy of great awe, respect and reverence, veneration.

    Rather than me trying to creatively guess(again) at Dan-K’s meaning I hope he will elaborate and give us a better understanding of what he is trying to say.

    Peter Berger makes the case that human societies build a “sacred canopy” to protect, stabilize, and give meaning to their worldview.

    Another writes says ‘the term “sacred value” denotes a way of thinking about a preference. Specifically, the application of a decision making rule that treats as prohibited any attempt to value that preference along a material scale.
    and
    a common feature of it to be a sense that nature is sacred and that ethical responsibilities naturally follow such a realization.

    Adam Franks says(Constant Fire) ‘what we value, what we hold sacred, is what motivates broad changes in cultural behavior’

    David Brooks said(Building Better Secularists) ‘The only secularism that can really arouse moral motivation and impel action is an enchanted secularism, one that puts emotional relations first and autonomy second

    The lesson I abstract from all this is that an ethical relationship with the world is an emotional relationship. These emotions are inspired by a feeling that something is special, set apart, truly valuable. These emotions are magnified by feelings of awe, respect, reverence and veneration. And according to Berger we erect a sacred canopy over that which is special, set apart, truly valuable, worthy of awe, respect and reverence.

    Now I think that Dan-K’s point is that the path to discerning the sacred canopy cannot be found in the sciences, because it lacks normative content. It is conveyed to us through the humanities(excepting philosophy) because the humanities cultivate our normative intuitions. One writer said that for us to feel and understand it we must have a poetic sensibility, an ability to resonate with noble intuitions. The humanities(excepting philosophy) develop our sensitivity and receptiveness to normative intuitions. This sensitivity and receptiveness, in its most highly developed form, is sacralisation.

    This is my best attempt at understanding Dan-K’s point of view and I really do hope he will continue the conversation. And I think we need to seriously engage with this point of view instead of just calling it disingenuous.

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