Appeared-to-Blogly

January 1, 2017

Books of 2016

Filed under: Annual Book Log,Life — camcintosh @ 1:19 pm

Behold, the list of mostly non-work related books I (slowly) traversed in 2016:

Nonfiction

  1. Allison Hoover Bartlett, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Riverhead Books, 2010).
  2. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (Simon and Schuster, 1987).
  3. Arthur Brooks, The Conservative Heart (Broadside Books, 2015).
  4. Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  5. Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (University of Michigan Press, 1960).
  6. David Horowitz, Hating Whitey: And Other Progressive Causes (Spence, 1999).
  7. Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ (Thomas Nelson, 2016).
  8. John Lott, The War on Guns (Regnery, 2016).
  9. Michael Lynch, True to Life: Why Truth Matters (MT, 2005).
  10. Mike Martin, Self-Deception and Morality (Kansas, 1986).
  11. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (Penguin Books, 1985).
  12. Graham Priest, One: Being an Investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness (Oxford, 2014). Reviewed HERE.
  13. Nicholas Rescher, Philosophical Standardism: An Empirical Approach to Philosophical Methodology (Pittsburgh, 2000).
  14. Jeff Shaara, Civil War Battlefields (Ballantine, 2006).
  15. Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism? (Simon & Schuster, 1994).
  16. Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Race (Basic Books, 2013).
  17. Thomas Sowell, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics: An International Perspective (Basic Books, 2015).
  18. Benjamin Wiker, Ten Books that Screwed Up the World (Regnery, 2008).
  19. Benjamin Wiker, Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read (Regnery, 2010).

Fiction

  1. Ransom Riggs, Tales of the Peculiar
  2. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Although overall better than 2015’s showing, the uptick in politics probably offsets any gains in philosophy. Maybe that is a reflection of the intensity of the election year. I hope to resume more regular and rewarding reading habits in 2017, a year which will, God willing, see the completion of the ol’ dissertation and moving back to the Southeastern heartland.

I’ve been pretty bad at keeping my book resolutions of previous years. At the close of 2013 I resolved to read more books in 2014 than I did in 2013. Failed. At the close of 2014, I resolved to temper the bibliophilia driving me to acquire books much faster than I can read or even shelve them. Failed. At the close of 2015 I resolved to keep the flame of love for lady philosophy from burning out. I suppose that resolution was met, but cold winds are still blowing. So no resolution this year. Resolutions are for losers, anyway (of which I am proof).

November 15, 2016

What do Philosophers Have to Add to the Political Discussion?

Filed under: Life,Politics — camcintosh @ 3:48 pm

The title of this post is the question my students asked me at the beginning of class the day after Donald Trump won the election. I thought about the question for a moment, decided I didn’t really have anything to say about that, and moved on. But I continued to think about the question over the weekend and shared a few of my thoughts with class yesterday. The following is roughly what I said.

My basic instinct was right: I didn’t have anything to say because, well, philosophers don’t have that much to add to the political discussion, at least as it takes place on the front lines. Academics generally, but philosophers especially, are pathologically inclined to think their opinions are worth astronomically more than they are, especially on matters about which they do not specialize. Their very livelihoods come from publishing their opinions on very specific things, which can easily create the impression in oneself and others that their opinions on things generally carry more weight. But they don’t. So be wary of, for example, the English (and, yes, philosophy) professor who waxes eloquent on politics in class. That being said, take the following with an extra grain of salt.

As a general rule, I believe instructors should aspire to teach in a fair and balanced manner, and conceal as honestly as they can their own personal beliefs on controversial topics. Students can be very impressionable, and a likable or charismatic professor can have an enormous influence on what students come to believe. Instructors, therefore, ought to take special care to respect their students’ epistemic autonomy in what they say and the way they teach. Many professors are so certain of their moral and intellectual superiority that they intentionally exploit their position of influence to manipulate students into believing what they do. Witness, for example, philosopher Richard Rorty [“Universality and Truth,” in Robert B. Brandom (ed.), Rorty and His Critics (Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-22]:

I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities…try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own … The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students … When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. … You have to be educated in order to be a participant in our conversation … So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours … I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent domination of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents … I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers; the only difference is that I serve a better cause.

Many professors agree with Rorty’s modus operandi in teaching, if not with the content of what he teaches, although I suspect they wouldn’t be as honest as Rorty in acknowledging their manipulation. So what, if anything, can students themselves do to respect their own epistemic autonomy and resist being manipulated, especially with respect to their political and religious beliefs?

I think it’s absolutely crucial for young people to try to put their finger on the contemporary zeitgeist: become aware of the popular moral, intellectual, and political theories of one’s day as popular moral, intellectual, and political theories of one’s day. Some degree of susceptibility to groupthink can be resisted simply by becoming aware of what one’s group thinks, as opposed what others think and have thought. Obviously, what is popular is not always wrong, but it ain’t always right, either, and we shouldn’t underestimate the power of peer pressure in a culture that is able to enforce conformity and punish dissent in unprecedented fashion with mass media.

The problem with this recommendation, however, is like the problem of how a fish can know it’s wet. How can we become aware of, and honestly assess, the moral and ideological trends of our day when our thinking is so much a product of them? But there is a solution to the fish problem: the fish can know it’s wet by jumping out of the water. So how do we, as metaphorical fish, jump out of the metaphorical water of our own culture?

Here is a twofold proposal. First, unplug. Radios, TVs, the Internet, video games, music, movies, and other forms of popular electronic media are 5% educational, 5% personally enriching (e.g., soul-building art, valuable social networking, etc.), and 90% entertainment-propaganda (one category) whose subliminal messages are the ectoplasm of the zeitgeist, the source of the stream you swim in. This point is forcefully made by authors like Alan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind and Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death. So, jump out of the stream on occasion. How? By reading good books (idem), especially good old books or good books about good old books. This is the second fold of the proposal. Reading such books allows us, albeit temporarily and imperfectly, to swim in a stream different from our own, so that when we jump back into ours we bring something of someone else’s perspective with us. To that effect, I recommended these books:

  • Plato, The Republic
  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
  • Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • Will Durant, The Lessons of History
  • Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present
  • Thomas Sowell, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics
  • Morton White, The Philosophy of the American Revolution
  • Alan Bloom (ed.), Confronting the Constitution

Afterward a student asked, “If you could recommend just one of these books, which would it be?” And another followed, “Are there Sparknotes on these?” I love my students. :-)

May 4, 2016

Pipe Sesh 5.0: Flashback

Filed under: Life,Pipe Sesh Post,Politics — camcintosh @ 12:29 am

Once upon a time there was a man named Joseph Smith. Joe was a very charismatic man. But he was also a treasure-seeking, duplicitous, sexist, power-hungry, moderately intelligent, manipulative, swindling scumbag. For all his vices, Joe managed to convince many credulous Christians that he was not just a Christian, but a timely Christian prophet. He wasn’t, of course. He was, in reality, just a treasure-seeking, duplicitous, sexist, power-hungry, moderately intelligent, manipulative, swindling scumbag. Sadly, though, many believed in his message. So they gave him treasure, power, and license to change accepted standards of Christian morality. OSBTrue Christians saw him for who and what he was, which forced him to start a new sect. Non-Christians also saw him for who and what he was, which reinforced their rejection of Christianity for what it wasn’t.

Today’s reflection was brought to you by Old Shenandoah’s Bootlegged. It is described as wonderfully aromatic and bite-free, with soft, nutty Burleys blended with good portion of silky black Cavendish and accented by the addition of some lemon Virginia.

March 27, 2016

Easter Thoughts

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 6:20 pm

Christianity, unlike most other religions, is a religion grounded in a particular historical event that either did or did not happen. That event—resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—is susceptible to historical investigation just like any other. Attempts to place the resurrection beyond the reach of falsification by taking it out of the messy, gritty realm of concrete, objective, investigable fact and putting it into the “safer” realm of subjective, spiritual, internal experience is dishonest in the extreme.

If Jesus didn’t actually come back to life with a body that could be poked and prodded by skeptics or embraced and kissed by friends, I don’t give a damn what heart-warming lessons can be drawn from the story. But if he did, nothing else could have more profound existential ramifications. The following passage from Wright’s magisterial book on the resurrection is worth quoting at length:

The early Christians saw Jesus’ resurrection as the action of the creator god to reaffirm the essential goodness of creation and, in an initial and representative act of new creation, to establish a bridgehead within the present world of space, time and matter through which the whole new creation could now come to birth. Calling Jesus ‘son of god’ within this context of meaning, they constituted themselves by implication as a collection of rebel cells within Caesar’s empire, loyal to a different monarch, a different kyrios. Saying ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ proved to be self-involving in that it gained its meaning within this counter-­imperial worldview. The Sadducees were right to regard the doctrine of resurrection, and especially its announcement in relation to Jesus, as political dynamite.

Once again we must not confuse ‘meaning’ in this sense with ‘referent’. Just as ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ does not refer to the fact that ‘my sins have been forgiven’, even though it means that within its wider world of implication, so that same sentence does not refer to the fact that the true god disapproves of brutal tyranny, even though it means that. Some recent books, eager to bring out the political implications of the resurrection, have allowed this political ‘meaning’ to take over entirely, and have supposed that this argument is strengthened by suggesting that nothing much happened on the third day after Jesus’ death. Get rid of the original referent, and (so it appears) you allow the implication to take its place. But this misses the point the early Christians were eager to make, the point that brought them quickly into confrontation with the authorities both Jewish and pagan. To imply that Jesus ‘went to heaven when he died’, or that he is now simply a spiritual presence, and to suppose that such ideas exhaust the referential meaning of ‘Jesus was raised from the dead’, is to miss the point, to cut the nerve of the social, cultural and political critique. Death is the ultimate weapon of the tyrant; resurrection does not make a covenant with death, it overthrows it. The resurrection, in the full Jewish and early Christian sense, is the ultimate affirmation that creation matters, that embodied human beings matter. That is why resurrection has always had an inescapable political meaning; that is why the Sadducees in the first century, and the Enlightenment in our own day, have opposed it so strongly. No tyrant is threatened by Jesus going to heaven, leaving his body in a tomb. No governments face the authentic Christian challenge when the church’s social preaching tries to base itself on Jesus’ teaching, detached from the central and energizing fact of his resurrection (or when, for that matter, the resurrection is affirmed simply as an example of a supernatural ‘happy ending’ which guarantees post-mortem bliss).

…The resurrection constitutes Jesus as the world’s true sovereign, the ‘son of god’ who claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation. He is the start of the creator’s new world: its pilot project, indeed its pilot.[1]

That being said, as a Christian doing graduate work in philosophy, I often wonder what non-Christian philosophers would make of arguments for the resurrection, whether the historiographical treatments of Wright[2] and Licona[3] or the more philosophically rigorous formulations of Swinburne[4] and the McGrews[5], especially in light of how the standard Humean objection to miracles has been shown to be demonstrably fallacious.[6] Philosophers read and think about stuff all the time. It is their job, after all. Given the monumental significance of the resurrection, if true, don’t non-Christian philosophers owe it to themselves to read at least a few good books on the topic, and to devote some honest thought to how good of a case there is for it?[7] Some have done that, to be sure. But they are few. Most non-Christian philosophers are, I imagine, blissfully unaware that serious arguments for the resurrection even exist. But I suppose their lot is understandable. They’re no doubt too busy tackling the really important questions, like whether the principle of substitutivity of identiticals holds when substituting codesignators within the scope of temporal and modal operators.
(more…)

January 21, 2016

Juicy Quote XIII

Filed under: Ethics,Juicy Quotes,Life — camcintosh @ 11:31 am

“An increase of pride diminishes gratitude. So doth sensuality, or the increase of sensual appetites; which coming more and more under the power and impression of sensible objects, tends by degrees to make the mind insensible to any thing else. Those appetites take up the whole soul; and, through habit and custom, the water is all drawn out of other channels in which it naturally flows, and is carried as it were into one channel … Genuine virtue prevents that increase of the habits of pride and sensuality, which tend to diminish the exercises of the useful and necessary principles of nature. And a principle of general benevolence softens and sweetens the mind, makes it more susceptible of the proper influence of the gentler natural instincts, directs every one into its proper channel, determines the exercise to the proper manner and measure, and guides all to the best purposes.”

—Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (University of Michigan Press, 1960), pp. 93, 97.

January 4, 2016

Books of 2015

Filed under: Annual Book Log,Life — camcintosh @ 1:51 pm

In keeping with my blogging tradition of posting an annual book log, here is my 2015 showing:

Non-Fiction

  1. Lynne Rudder Baker, Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective (Oxford, 2013).
  2. Jeff Guinn, The Last Gunfight (Simon & Schuster, 2012).
  3. Steve Sheinkin, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers (Scholastic, 2012).
  4. Richard Carwardine, Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power (Vintage, 2007).
  5. Chris Kyle, American Sniper (Harper, 2013).
  6. Peter Kadzis, Blood: Stories of Life and Death from the Civil War (Thunder’s Mouth, 2000).
  7. David Roberts, Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration (W. W. Norton & Co., 2014).
  8. Mitchell Zuckoff, Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II (Harper Perennial, 2012).
  9. Richard Taylor, The Disciplined Life (Bethany House, 1962).
  10. Antonio Mendez, Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History (Penguin Books, 2013).

Fiction

  1. Orson Scott Card, Earth Unaware
  2. Orson Scott Card, Earth Afire
  3. Orson Scott Card, Earth Awakens
  4. H. G. Wells, War of the Worlds
  5. Gary Paulsen, Brian’s Winter
  6. Gary Paulsen, The River
  7. Gary Paulsen, Brian’s Return
  8. Gary Paulsen, Brian’s Hunt
  9. Richard Adams, Watership Down
  10. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

CoPAn abysmal list, really, as far as philosophy is concerned (Cf. 2013 and 2014). What can I say? The ‘game’ of professional philosophy and its star players disgust me more than ever. As a not-completely-subconcious act of personal protest, I’ve turned to other outlets to scratch inquisitive, creative itches. I still dutifully read the tenure files and enjoy my work. But that’s what it has become. Work. I never saw it that way before. Maybe that’s why I was better at it then. Anyway, the challenge I face this next year will be to keep that original flame of love for Lady Philosophy burning, and to not let the cold drafts of academia blow it out entirely. Here’s to 2016.

October 21, 2015

Pipe Sesh Post 1.0: Criminals in the Hands of an Angry Batman

Filed under: Ethics,Life,Pipe Sesh Post — camcintosh @ 12:34 am

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 12.32.48 AMFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been a Batman fan. One time—I must have been 4 or 5 years old—I entered a local Batman costume contest. Rumor had it that the real Batman would be there to determine the winner. It was a massive childhood disappointment. The moment I saw the “real” batman, I pegged him as a phony. He had nothing on Michael Keaton. I left angry at that charlatan and envious of another kid’s awesome utility belt.

Although Tim Burton’s Batman will always have a nostalgic place in my heart, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is as good as movies get. I like that they chose to emphasize the role of fear in the creation and maintenance of the Batman character. Batman is born out of Bruce Wayne’s fear of bats. He never quite loses the fear, but it becomes a healthy kind of fear, the kind that motivates action (Cf. Tom Morris on “The Purpose of Fear”). He uses this to create in criminals a different kind of fear, the kind that stifles and suppresses action.

But there is a certain tension inherent in that theme: it’s not obvious how to reconcile the concept of Batman as a fearsome character and the concept of Batman as a righteous character. A criminal can’t be deathly or desperately afraid of Batman if he knows Batman is not, as a matter of moral principle, an agent of death and mortal despair.

But do criminals need to know that Batman isn’t an agent of death and mortal despair? Perhaps not. All Batman needs to do is make them genuinely believe he is. Would such an act of deception be wrong? Again, perhaps not. Nazis forfeit their right to know the truth when they ask if you’re harboring Jews. Gotham’s criminals forfeit their right to know that Batman will not assume the divine role of taking a man’s life. And that’s a good, albeit terrifying, thing. The more a criminal fears Batman, the more deterred from criminal behavior he will be.

How much more should we fear the one who we know has the power of life and death in His hands, perfectly good though He is? But this is the healthy kind of fear—the kind that prompts action, or, in Biblical terms, is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Wisdom is essentially action-oriented. A person is wise when he consistently knows and does the right thing. But a person becomes wise by first developing a healthy fear of a righteous judge, for such fear entails knowing something about the judge’s moral prescriptions, the consequences of failing to live up to them, and being motivated to act accordingly. And it is important to note that the life of wisdom begins with fear; it doesn’t dwell or end there. Eventually, love replaces fear as the motivation for obedience.

But the fool despises wisdom and, like Gotham’s criminal, dwells in the fear of the stifling kind, the fear of unknowing. They don’t know when or weather they’ll fall into the hands of an angry, righteous judge, but the prospect ought to cast a dark and terrifying shadow over their lives.

But amidst all these rejoicings Aslan himself quietly slipped away. And when the Kings and Queens noticed that he wasn’t there they said nothing about it. For Mr. Beaver had warned them, “He’ll be coming and going,” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down—and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all Consummate Gentlemanright. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” –C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Harper, 1994), p. 182.

Tonight’s reflection was brought to you by Ashton’s Consummate Gentleman. It has a robust and memorable flavor; it tastes a bit like how pine needles smell in the fall. Despite being a medium-bodied blend, one bowl was enough. The blend’s full description is on the label.

October 20, 2015

Pipe Sesh Post 0.0: Something Different

Filed under: Life,Pipe Sesh Post — camcintosh @ 3:58 pm

Believe it or not, this blog has been active under this domain for almost 10 years. It has functioned, for the most part, as an intellectual journal of sorts, where I scribble notes or thoughts that occur to me that might be worth exploring further. Its other function has been to host the most comprehensive outline and bibliographic resource on the project of natural theology in existence. The blog will continue to serve those functions, but it’s time, I think, for something a little different.

Philosopher's PipeI’m by no means an aficionado, but I’ve been enjoying getting more into pipe smoking this past year. The catalyst was being introduced to higher quality pipe tobacco blends, as opposed to those cheap 1.5oz plastic pouches of “pipe tobacco” that most people use to roll their own cigarettes, or dilute other stuff they’re rolling…

There is an excellent case to be made for pipe smoking. I won’t belabor it here, but you would do well to read Michael Foley’s fine piece, “Tobacco and the Soul,” as well as William Vallicella’s apologia for the pipe, in which he rightly observes:

If the cigarette is a one-night stand, the cigar is a brief affair. The typical cigarette smoker is out for a quick fix, not for love. The cigar aficionado is out for love, but without long-term commitment. The pipe, however, is a long and satisfying marriage.

But I will say this: the trope is true; pipe smoking does, for whatever reason, lend itself to philosophical reflection—not so much of a technical, analytic type, but more of the existential type. My last few pipe sessions, for instance, have been dominated by the question, “Do I really want to pursue a career in professional philosophy?” Not only does my need to be outside and to work with my hands conflict with a desk life in academia in general, the state of the profession in particular has become less than hospitable to people like me. More about that later, perhaps.

So to spice things up on this blog, I thought it might be a good idea to regularly start pipe session postings: brief reflections inspired by the pipe, accompanied by some completely amateurish comments on the session’s blend of choice. Stay tuned for the inaugural Pipe Sesh Post 1.0!

September 21, 2015

Juicy Quote XI

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Life — camcintosh @ 12:50 pm

“Something is practical if it helps you to realize your goals. If your goals include knowing who you really are, what life in this world is all about, and what’s ultimately important, then philosophy is eminently practical. If these things are not among your goals, well, then you need new goals.

—Tom Morris, Philosophy for Dummies (IDG Books, 1999), p. 335.

June 9, 2015

Juicy Quote X

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Life — camcintosh @ 7:45 pm

“It would be the height of folly to suppose that man’s sociality is wholly negative; but its corrupting side cannot be denied. Encounter with nature in solitude pulls one out of one’s social comfort zone in such a way that the ultimate questions obtrude themselves with full force. In society, they can strike one like jokes from a Woody Allen movie; in solitude, in the desert, they are serious. Nature is not God; but the solitary encounter with it, by breaking the spell of the social, can orient us toward Nature’s God.”

—William Vallicella, “Waiting for St. Benedict. Various Withdrawal Options

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