It's more Saints today in CoPhi, and more Harvards: Anselm & Aquinas (with commentary on the latter from Anthony Kenny), Robert Nozick and political philosophy. Inexplicably, our politics chapter omits discussion of the most important political philosopher of the 20th century, John Rawls. We'll rectify that in class.
Anselm stumped for the divine moral perfection (and omnipotence and omniscience) of a being “than which none greater could be conceived.” His Ontological Argumentis either ingenious or ridiculous, depending on who you ask. But it rarely persuades those who do not come at it armed with antecedent faith. "Faith seeking understanding," or maybe just the appearance of rational cover.
Anselm considers reason subordinate to faith. 'I believe in order to understand,' he says; following Augustine, he holds that without belief it is impossible to understand. God, he says, is not just... St Anselm, like his predecessors in Christian philosophy, is in the Platonic rather than the Aristotelian tradition. For this reason, he has not the distinctive characteristics of the philosophy which is called "scholastic," which culminated in Thomas Aquinas. Russell
In the time of Aquinas, the battle for Aristotle, as against Plato, still had to be fought. The influence of Aquinas secured the victory [for Aristotle] until the Renaissance; then Plato, who became better known than in the Middle Ages, again aquired supremacy... RussellIndeed, "Aquinas fully endorsed Aristotle..." (Cave & Light)
Aquinas was sure there had to be an uncaused cause in back of everything, or else we’d never get to an end of explaining. Well, we probably won’t. Not ’til the would-be explainers themselves are gone. But is an uncaused cause really a step forward, explanatorily speaking?
Both of those guys were committed, of course, to belief in a heavenly afterlife. Samuel Scheffler, in the Stone recently, wrote of the afterlife here. Here, of course, is where people live the lives their beliefs inform. Life, not god or supernaturalism, is the natural impulse behind religion. Dewey's continuous human community is another way of naming nature's afterlife.
But what if you learned that the species would expire within a month of your own passing? That's Scheffler's thought experiment. He thinks he and we would be profoundly unsettled, that life would suffer an instant meaning collapse, and that this shows how invested we all are in a natural afterlife for humans (though not each of us in particular) on earth. He thinks "the continuing existence of other people after our deaths -- even that of complete strangers -- matters more to us than does our own survival and that of our loved ones." That's what he means when he begins his essay: "I believe in life after death."
He also explained his view on Philosophy Bites.
Our old dead Italian Saints said nothing about this, so far as I'm aware. Anthony Kenny does say Aquinas still agreed with Aristotle about "the best way to spend your lifetime down here on Earth," that happiness is ultimately an activity rather than a feeling, and that "the supreme happiness for rational beings was an intellectual activity." To Aristotle's standard "pagan virtues" he added faith (in Christian revelation), hope (for heavenly ascent), and charity (toward god and neighbor).
But the charity he seems to admire most in Aquinas is of the intellectual variety, "always trying to balance arguments from both sides" and treat those whose conclusions he disputes with civility.
Neither of today's 20th century Harvard philosophers was a Saint, but both were civil.
Robert Nozick began his academic career as a narrow analyst and wunderkind libertarian, but evolved well beyond his starting place. He came to realize that astringent libertarianism neglects "the reality of our social solidarity and humane concern for others." He came also to the view that "thinking about life is more like mulling it over" than like pinning it with a syllogism. "It feels like growing up more." He kept growing, 'til stomach cancer took him at age 63.
Nozick's chapter on dying in The Examined Life begins,
THEY SAY NO ONE is able to take seriously the possibility of his or her own death, but this does not get it exactly right. (Does everyone take seriously the possibility of his or her own life?) A person's own death does become real to him after the death of both parents.He's right about that, in my experience.
Before his death (as Yogi Berra might have said) Nozick gave us the good oldExperience Machine. We just talked about this the other day. Here's a Yalie to talk about it too.
John Rawls, says Carlin Romano, wrote "the most important book of English-language political theory since Mill's On Liberty. His goal was a coherent theory of "justice as fairness" whose appeal would span the spectrum, after emerging from behind a "Veil of Ignorance." Not everyone buys it, but we all talk about it. Michael Sandel does too, to a much bigger class than ours, albeit mostly virtual & MOOCy.
And now there's a musical stage show. How many political philosophers can say that?! Rawls@dawn
Also a propos of politics, happily included in our chapter today: historicity, Kantian respect, egalitarianism, libertarianism, affirmative action ("reverse discrimination"), the Marxist critique of sham democracy, and paradoxes of conscience. Plenty, as usual, on our plates.