Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 97

Irvin Yalom

Here it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Atheists are nicer than Christians. But only when someone’s watching.

How to die.

The sad race to build the world’s first sex robot.

The art of the ego: a very funny review of an apparently very stupid book.

What it actually means to “live in the present.”

What Europe can teach America about free speech. Maybe.

The architecture of truth.


Please notice that the duration of the comments window is three days (including publication day), and that comments are moderated for relevance (to the post one is allegedly commenting on), redundancy (not good), and tone (constructive is what we aim for). This applies to both the suggested readings and the regular posts. Thanks!

82 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 97

  1. Bunsen Burner

    Community is probably too broad a term these days to apply to all religion. However, as Emile Durkheim showed, religions are social institutions that enable a mutually supporting community to develop and thrive that can be far larger than communities based on kinship. Talk of fear is unhelpful as any large group needs some enforcement mechanisms to discourage free loaders. Would anyone say the same thing of the State? After all, it too has enforcement mechanisms to stop you from behaving in ways that are detrimental to it.

    There seems to be a view here that the existence of religion in modern societies must be explained only by an appeal to the irrational. That community is too shallow a reason for its existence. Consider the support – both financial and psychological – that religious institutions provide their believers. It’s a lot more than Rotary does, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. brodix

    We don’t need religion to make us love our neighbor(s), but we do need them, or something similar, to codify it.
    When communities are organically small, it isn’t just that everyone knows everyone else, but that the feedback loops are contained within the group, creating a sense of being part of a clear whole.
    With larger communities, we have a circles of friends and acquaintances, but they are the center of their own circles and it just keeps spreading out, so there has to be some structural framework.
    The state doesn’t necessarily care if you love your neighbor. They just come down hard if you kill them. Which means religion is not responsible for civil parameters, but is more about cultural attractors.
    Which gets around to branding. Don’t think Ford vs. GM, think NYC, Stanford, etc. It signifies a code that is both a standard of quality and a community.
    Then they speciate, but that’s nature.


  3. brodix


    “?How would you know? There were likely common ‘spiritual’ beliefs that vary from group to group…”

    I don’t equate spirituality specifically with religion. As I keep pointing out, a spiritual absolute would necessarily be the essence of awareness, from which we rise, not an ideal of knowledge and judgement from which we fell. More the new born babe, than the wise old man. Yet you certainly would not model a social code around the mental structures of a baby.

    The problem being when we try to make the social ideal into an absolute, the preferred as the only, thus competing on a profound level with other such idealizations.


    “That community is too shallow a reason for its existence.”

    That is why the branding is important. It is the “in group vs. out group,” which gives it cache.

    It is the set of standards we can count on, adhere to and assume other members do as well, in a complex social world, where geographic community isn’t necessarily cohesive.


  4. synred

    Protestants have a ‘fellowship’ room where they all meet after the service, drink coffee and talk.

    Catholics just get in their cars and go home after mass. Some priest stand at the exit to greet and chat, but they are easy to avoid.



  5. brodix


    Diff’rnt strokes for diff’rnt folks.

    For some, it is community and some it’s checking the boxes. That’s why politicians can’t be atheists. They haven’t checked the boxes.

    Bunsen, not saphsin….Sorry.


  6. synred

    That’s why politicians can’t be atheists

    Surely some are atheists. They best not admit it, if they have ambitions beyond the Palo Alto city council…


  7. synred

    They could try Unitarianism with its strict doctrine — “One God at most”

    What’d you get when you cross a Unitarian with a Jehovah Witness?


  8. brodix


    Yet if one person is holding onto some metaphysical premise, they would be considered a crackpot and if it was a bunch, with no political implications, it would be pseudoscience, like astrology, or homeopathy.

    The metaphysical claims by the traditional religions all arose when there wasn’t quite so much insistence on verifiability and those which survived, did so because they served political functions.

    While I don’t know much of its metaphysical claims, Scientology has been an effort to use the reputation of science to start an effectively religious movement.

    In Christianity; “Turn the other cheek.” is an integral proposition, but it’s not metaphysical.

    In Judaism, The Ten Commandments are not metaphysical, even if their method of creation was.

    Is it that metaphysics of religions are not the core claim, but a useful device to test belief? Part of the wrapping, so to speak.

    The Rotarians don’t preform marriages and bury the dead, either.


  9. Daniel Kaufman

    Bunsen, my philosophy of religion definition is that religion is ultimately about focus on things metaphysical.

    = = =

    Well, this is untrue of Judaism. Indeed, the Rabbis explicitly warn against metaphysical and eschatological speculation in the Talmud. Judaism is focused almost entirely on practice and on community. As Abraham Cohen, one of the translators for the Soncino editions of the Talmud and Midrash wrote:

    “The interest in metaphysical speculation which characterized the thinkers of Greece and Rome was not shared by the teachers of Israel to any great extent… On the contrary, it was strongly discouraged as may be seen from this warning: ‘Whoever reflects on four things, it were a mercy if he had never come into the world, viz. what is above, what is beneath, what is before and what is after’. (Chag. 2.1)

    A reason why this kind of research was deprecated is to be looked for in the fact that the Rabbis felt that the problems of this world were more than sufficient to occupy their minds, and the consideration of transcendental theories would divert attention from matters of more practical importance. ‘Not inquiry but action is the chief thing’ (Aboth 1. 17)”

    –Abraham Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages

    Liked by 2 people

  10. synred

    that religious institutions provide their believers. It’s a lot more than Rotary does, right

    Rotary (or was in Kiwanis) gave a full scholarship to Duke to the daughter of my wife Tongan care giver. Even though we paid relatively well w/o letting an agency skim of the top, there’s no way they could have afforded this on their own.

    They even let her transfer to UC Berkeley when she was unhappy at Duke. Tongan’s have a strong sense of community and don’t like to be so far from family and church.


  11. synred

    While I don’t know much of its metaphysical claims, Scientology has been an effort to use the reputation of science to start an effectively religious movement.

    Nah, an effort to sell sci-fi w/o paying taxes. They call it religious though it has scientific trapping and pretenses.

    It’s illegal in Germany.


  12. brodix


    To go back to the point of disagreement;
    “The main motivator is community.”
    I suppose I was talking means and you were talking ends.


    They just can’t come out as atheist. Better to come out as gay.

    Rotarians don’t “perform marriages.”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. brodix


    “One God at most”

    Keep in mind both Athenian Democracy and Roman Republicanism originated in pantheistic societies.
    When the Gods argue, it sets a useful example.
    We just have separation of church and state.


  14. SocraticGadfly

    A non-physical soul is metaphysical. An afterlife based on said soul’s recreation is something metaphysical. A deity with a non-physical basis is something metaphysical. What more do I need to say?


  15. SocraticGadfly

    Per my previous post, I would say that a community organization that, even if it comes from a religious heritage, has none of the metaphysical focus of its parent religion, isn’t a religion. It’s not just Judaism, Dan. I’ve repeatedly said that, here and elsewhere, about what some people call Buddhism. And, I don’t think my take is alone, including in the professional world. And, I do have a background there, in summation.


  16. brodix


    I will agree anything “spiritual” qualifies as “metaphysical,” but given consciousness does exist, it does find itself attracted to aspects of its perception, i.e., love, etc, these attributes do have to be included in a viable attempt to understand this reality in which we find ourselves.

    What is “physical” in the first place? Atomism? We’ve chased that from grains of dust to string theory and it seems to be a chimera. All we can know is what our consciousness perceives. Why is that what is perceived is more valid than what is doing the perceiving? It could be argued the opposite, that consciousness is the only reality and everything else is illusory. Logically we have to meet somewhere in the middle, as both extremes come up short.

    Yet all of that would fall in the category of spiritualism, not necessarily religion.

    Is it the function of religion to propose metaphysical beliefs, or to make sense of and organize how people are drawn together, with metaphysics as an inescapable aspect of the reality in which we meet?


Comments are closed.