Appeared-to-Blogly

May 3, 2018

For All the Right Reasons

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 12:41 pm

I’ve taken a break from my dissertation to write a chapter for a forthcoming book called Ethics, Left and Right: Moral Issues that Divide Us, projected to be used in college ethics courses. The angle of the anthology, as the title indicates, is to bring philosophers on both the political left and right into dialogue on the usual hot-button topics (gun control, abortion, feminism, immigration, race, etc.). My own chapter does more stage-setting work, as I sketch a conservative view of the world in general terms rather than defend a conservative position on a specific topic. The word count restriction was oppressive, but I am very proud of the result. Here it is.

It is no secret that philosophers, no less than their counterparts in other disciplines, overwhelmingly lean left. One recent book estimates that professors who identify as “far left” outnumber those who identify as “far right” between 30 to 1 and 50 to 1! The ratio is no doubt even more extreme among philosophers in particular, and has been for a long time (as documented by Neven Sesardic in his excellent book When Reason Goes on Holiday: Philosophers in Politics). Accordingly, there is more than reasonable suspicion that conservative views don’t often get a fair hearing in the university. So I think a book like this is a fantastic idea, and I hope it is successful. Much thanks to Bob Fischer, the editor, for having me contribute.

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February 24, 2018

We Don’t Need a National Conversation about Guns (or Nearly Anything Else)

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 6:39 pm

Below is an article I recently wrote for American Thinker, which ran a truncated version on Feb 22. Given my topic, I was amused to see that their website describes their mission as follows: “We want to advance the national conversation with fresh insight”.

We Don’t Need a National Conversation about Guns (or Nearly Anything Else)

I was, up until the Sunday afterward, blissfully ignorant of the horrific shooting that occurred in Parkland, Florida three days prior. Upon learning of the shooting, my heart sank. Sorrow turned to anger, frustration, and despair as I learned more details. Anger at the misinformation. No, the shooter wasn’t associated with a white supremacist group. Frustration at the preventability of this tragedy had the police and FBI done their jobs in following protocols and enforcing laws already in place. And despair that, judging by the deep divisions between us so apparent on social media, those who predict another civil war in this country may well be right.

Maybe I was better off not knowing. Maybe most of us would have been. Can knowing less national news, somewhat paradoxically, make for a broader, more accurate, and healthier perspective as a citizen? Does promoting a “national conversation” about this or that problem—most recently, gun control—do more harm than good? I think so. Being exposed to a constant cacophony of problems, the vast majority of which do not personally affect us, nonetheless engenders social unrest that does affect us. Just look at your social media feeds. Despite its ostensible purpose of “connecting” us, social media is, in fact, tearing us apart. Anti-American forces, foreign and domestic, know this and are doing what they can to exacerbate the problem.

It would be hard to exaggerate how much this sense of social unrest primes us to accept leftist philosophy: the problems seem so many and beyond our control that we might begin thinking that only something as big as the federal government can have the solutions. So we give it more power. Don’t miss the irony: in response to our sense of powerlessness, we relinquish more power. This is how the Leviathan grows. It would quickly starve if we just removed ourselves from the “national conversation” — or at least what is commonly meant by that term.

In another sense, engaging in a national conversation is our civic duty. This is, in effect, what national elections and congressional voting sessions are. But apart from our limited and infrequent contributions to those, there really is no national conversation to be had precisely because of our impotence at a national level. And this is a good thing.

Think about it. When someone close faces a problem, there is a sense, beyond merely being empathetic, in which we take their problem on as our own. We have a shared interest in each other’s flourishing, and in virtue of our intimacy we have privileged authority and insight and into the conditions of our flourishing. The more intimately acquainted we are with someone, the likelier we are to know just what they need. The converse also holds. The less intimately acquainted we are with someone, the less likely we are to know what they need, and the less authority we have to speak to their problem. And there is a point of distance when other peoples’ problems cease being our own, not because we don’t care, but because we are impotent to solve them.

National news media outlets of all varieties conspire to create the illusion of intimacy in matters that are almost always distant, and with it the illusion of authority and insight into those matters. If they’re telling me about something, I suppose I ought to know about it. And if I ought to know about it, I suppose I ought to do something. But when I discover I am powerless to do anything with the information I’ve been given, and yet dissonantly believe I need to know it, I get angry, frustrated, and fall into despair. At last, I feed the Leviathan.

The philosophical underpinnings of the irony here was perhaps best articulated by Neil Postman in his classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death. When it comes to national news, which largely consists of information irrelevant to me, knowledge is not power. It leads instead, in Postman’s words, to “diminished social and political potency.” Prior to the advent of mass media technologies, the value of information was determined by how it affected my actions, and was disseminated and consumed accordingly. Back then, “the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives.” Contrast that with the sense of control we get from information that has little to no action-value by asking yourself a series of questions like the following:

What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha-is in Iran?

And we might add: what steps do you plan to take to reduce gun violence? The answer to these questions is: none, really. The most a civilized person can do is cast a vote every few years and hope for the best. Thus, the excessive consumption of national news encouraged by mass media has only served to “dignify irrelevance and amplify impotence.” While mass media technologies “may have made the country ‘one neighborhood,’” Postman observes, “it was a peculiar one, populated by strangers who knew nothing but the most superficial facts about each other.” And if we need proof of how quickly we can get nasty with strangers, just consider road rage. As common as it is, its virtual equivalent on the world wide roadways of the web is all the more. Armed with nothing but the most superficial facts about each other, we reconcile our belief in the importance of national news with our powerlessness to do anything with it by engaging in a “national conversation” – which is rarely more than impulsive snark, slogans, memes, and misinformation. It does more harm than good.

To combat the increasing sense of social unrest, we should replace the norm of interest in national affairs, created by excessive devotion to national news by mass media outlets, with an interest in the local affairs of our own state, county, community, and family. It was, after all, the conviction that local concerns should take precedence over the non-local that gave birth to our country (bye bye Britain!) and the principles upon which it was founded (Federalism, subsidiarity). We have bucked this conviction to our detriment. It is no secret that the guarantee of national exposure motivates mass shooters. That same guarantee is exploited by terrorists. And there is no doubt that national attention given to a handful of controversial police shootings is responsible for the myth that blacks are disproportionately victimized by law enforcement in the United States. Similar national attention given to isolated incidents of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are responsible for the myth that these are systemic problems in America. And as these “national conversations” continue, our sense of powerlessness grows, and the Leviathian right along with it.

I’m not recommending that we be luddites or political ostriches with our heads buried in the sand. But the wisdom in what Rod Dreher calls The Benedict Option is becoming clearer by the day. At the very least, we need to periodically take a rest from what is causing so much unrest. Turn off the TV and radio. Take a break from Facebook and Twitter. Don’t look at your cell phone. Doing so would be for the good of not just our own souls, but the soul of the country as well.

February 6, 2018

Juicy Quote XVI

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 7:10 pm

“To say that ‘God is perfect’ is true by definition requires more than showing that perfection is part of the definition of ‘God’ or the concept of God. It requires showing that this definition or concept is consistent. Leibniz saw this, and took pains to argue that the definition of God as ‘the being that has all perfections’ is consistent. This question about the consistency of the concept of God is the fundamental question in the ontological argument. Whether existence is a perfection, or necessary existence is a perfection, [or, we might add, whether existence is a predicate,] are really irrelevant questions … That so much should turn on such a simple question is, to me, a fascinating fact of metaphysics.”

—James Cargile, “The Ontological Argument,” Philosophy 50/191 (1975), p. 69, 80.

January 4, 2018

Books of 2017

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 11:37 am

Well, I don’t have much to show for in 2017, academically speaking. Moving states and remodeling an old house while teaching two classes will do that. Most of my reading time now is devoted to material for my dissertation. What other time I’ve had for books went to the following:

Nonfiction

  1. William Lane Craig, God Over All (Oxford, 2015).
  2. Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo (Doubleday, 2008).
  3. Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George, What is Marriage? (Encounter, 2012).
  4. John Kekes, A Case for Conservatism (Cornell, 1998).
  5. Michael Knowles, Reasons to Vote for Democrats (Self. Pub., 2017).
  6. William Manchester, The Last Lion Vol. 1. Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 (Little, Brown & Co., ed. 2012).
  7. William Manchester, The Last Lion Vol. 2. Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 (Little, Brown & Co., ed. 2012).
  8. William Manchester, The Last Lion Vol. 3. Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (Little, Brown & Co., ed. 2012).
  9. Jay Richards, Money, Greed, and God (HarperOne, 2010).
  10. Ann Rule, The Stranger Beside Me (Pocket, 2008).
  11. Neven Sesardic, When Reason Goes on Holiday ( Encounter, 2016).
  12. John Toland, Adolf Hitler Vol. 1 (Doubleday, ed. 1976).
  13. John Toland, Adolf Hitler Vol. 2 (Doubleday, ed. 1976).
  14. J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy (Harper, 2016).

Fiction

  1. Eric Larsen, The Devil in the White City
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Sadly, almost all of my books sat packed away in boxes for half the year. But it felt great to be on my feet more than my butt all summer. Now that the study is set up, though, this coming year should be a better showing. I’m in contract to contribute to an ethics anthology, and am going through a lot of books for that. And, of course, there’s what I need to get through for the dissertation!

March 21, 2017

Grandma Kelly’s Meaningful Life

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 5:15 pm
I’m presently teaching a course on the meaning of life, and today we covered Richard Taylor’s “Time and Life’s Meaning.” In that essay, Taylor argues that essential to a meaningful life is the exercise of creative potential unique to us rational creatures. Beethoven’s 9th symphony or Shakespeare’s plays, for example, break nature’s monotonous repetition of cause-and-effect by introducing something unprecedented, something novel and innovative, thereby introducing meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. Having just returned from my dear Grandma Kelly’s funeral, this passage from Taylor’s essay stuck out to me:
Lest the impression be given that the creative thought and work that I am praising is something rare, the possession of only a few, let it be noted that it exists in degrees and is, in one form or another, far from rare. What is rare is, I think, the proper appreciation of it. We tend to think of creative works as spectacular achievements, particularly in the arts, but in fact the human capacity to create something new is sometimes found in quite mundane things. Thus, for example, the establishment of a brilliant position in a game of chess is a perfect example of creativity, … . Things as common as gardening, woodworking and the like give scope to the originality of those who have the knack for them, and are probably the most constant source of life’s joys. … . My own favorite example of a creative work, and one whose value as a creation is rarely appreciated, is the raising of a beautiful family, something that is reserved for the relatively few who can, as a natural gift, do it well.
Taylor is right. And if there was anything evident from Monday’s services, it was that Grandma Kelly had that natural gift and raised a beautiful family well: 8 children, 25 grandchildren, and (of yet) 33 great-grandchildren. Just… wow. There can be no doubt that Grandma Kelly exercised her creative potential and lived a meaningful life!

February 24, 2017

Promiscuous Blogging

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics — camcintosh @ 12:16 pm

My poor failing blog. To add an insult to the injury of neglect, I’ve engaged in a bit of promiscuous blogging this month. It would be indecent not confess by unchaste escapades here.

pimpThanks to the editors at Rightly Considered, who asked me if I wanted to write a guest post for them. I wrote about whether it is rational to carry a gun. The numbers in the post could be tightened up, but the rough estimates, I think, sufficiently justify the philosophical point I tried to make. (Note: I understand that Rightly Considered is a bloga non grata among philosophers, so I hasten to add that I do not agree with other things written there.)

Thanks also to Kenny Pearce, who asked me to be a contributor to Prosblogion‘s Virtual Colloquium. I am looking forward to (potentially) receiving feedback on that post, which exposes the conceptual heart of my dissertation to the surgical minds of other philosophers. (Note: I understand that Prosblogion is not a bloga non grata among philosophers, so I hasten to add that I agree with everything that’s ever been written there.)

April 11, 2016

Review of Priest

Filed under: Philosophy,Reviews — camcintosh @ 5:13 pm

OneHere is a pre-print of my review of Graham Preist’s most recent book, One: Being an investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness (Oxford, 2014), forthcoming in Philosophy in Review.

It was a fun and engaging book to read, though I disagreed with almost every assertion made in it. But that’s OK. Part of the pleasure of reading it was in appreciating the power and elegance of a view so radically different from my own. I aspire to be able to defend my views with as much ingenuity, clarity, wit, and verve as Priest does his.

 

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…)

November 12, 2015

Pipe Sesh 2.0: The Welding Relation

Filed under: Philosophy,Pipe Sesh Post,Politics — camcintosh @ 7:56 pm

You’ve heard of “grounding” and “glue” and “compresence” and even “consubstantiation” as special relations that bind objects and layers of reality together. I now propose a special relation of welding. Metaphysical welding (not to be confused with metaphysical soldering).

Two (or more) objects x1, x2, … xn are *welded* together iff (i) each of x1, x2, … xn are of the same substance S, (ii) x1, x2, … xn are fused into one object, X, of substance S, and (ii) x1, x2, … xn’s fusion into X occurs without material from another substance, S*, used as a fusing agent. Welding seems to be symmetric and transitive: if x1 is welded to x2, it’s also true that x2 is welded to x1, and if x1 is welded to x2 and x2 is welded to x3, then x1 is welded to x3. Although it’s not obvious at first that welding is reflexive, consider: possibly, for some substance S (steel, say), S could be stretched out rectilinearly, then the ends of S could be curved to meet each other and welded together. So, welding is reflexive: possibly, x1 is welded to x1. But can the two ends of our rectilinear-shaped substance really be considered distinct objects? Do we need a distinction between objects and entities, or perhaps just between objects generally and individual (i.e., disjoint) objects? I won’t weigh in on that important question here. Suffice it to say that the two ends are not identical to each other. Whether the pre-welded rectilinear-shaped substance is identical to the post-welded circular-shaped substance is reminiscent of the problem of the material constitution. So maybe we should say when x1, x2, … xn are welded into X, the relation that obtains between x1, x2, … xn and X (i.e., welding) is very much like identity. But this gets complicated. When x1 gets welded to x2, does x1 and x2 cease to exist and a new object, X, come into existence? Or does X have x1 and x2 as proper parts? (Or perhaps improper parts? One thing having more than one improper part—there’s an odd idea.) In what sense can they be said to be proper parts if they literally fuse together to make X, an object of the very same substance as x1 and x2? And…

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 6.46.54 PMSo much for philosophy of welding. I’m playfully riffing on the facetious call for philosopher-welders by many in response to Marco Rubio’s remark that “Welders make more than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” See the video clip here.

Philosophers (among others), predictably, went into their drone-like counterexample mode impervious to the broader point Rubio was making, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics that allegedly show his statement about the respective incomes to be false. Forget that “fact-checking” that statement is more complicated than simply citing mean wages from the BLS. The broader point Rubio was making was not about philosophers and welders specifically. His point, which was obvious, was that trade jobs have more immediate social utility than do liberal arts educations, and that learning a trade will make you generally more employable than earning a four-year humanities degree. That is a cold hard fact—sad as it might be for a philosopher to hear—and, ironically, has been argued before by philosophers (See Matthew Crawford’s wonderful book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work). The reality is that many students who get liberal arts degrees leave university with more debt than education. It is neither feasible nor desirable that everyone go to university. There is a more pressing need for people to enter the work force than higher education. Hence, the absurd stigmatization of pursuing trade school instead of university.

But there is another mistake I see these philosophers making. In addition to arguing that Rubio’s statement, taken strictly and literally and out of context, is false, they are stooping to defend the usefulness of philosophy, thereby assuming the misguided premise that what justifies philosophy is its usefulness. Sure, philosophy can be useful. And I’m not talking about that philosophically flaccid social justice politics crap that masquerades as “philosophy”, however popular it is among the philosoactivists. And I’m not talking about Slick Willie’s weaselly use of the distinction between different senses of ‘is’, ingenious though it was. Real philosophy is useful. But its usefulness is incidental to its purpose. The practice of philosophy is intrinsically valuable and is its own reward, and so needn’t be—and, arguably, oughtn’t be—justified on grounds usefulness. Lady Philosophy stands quite well on her own, thank you.
CPS
Tonight’s reflection was brought to you by Drew Estate’s Central Park Stroll. The description on the label reads, “We really cherish the days when we’d stroll through Central Park on a lazy summer afternoon. The sweet aroma makes you feel like your [sic] standing outside a bakery; notes of chocolate, vanilla, caramel blend harmoniously whit [sic] mellow tobaccos.” Most salient, I found, was the hint of vanilla and the blend’s mellowness. I could smoke this stuff all day long.

September 25, 2015

Juicy Quote XII

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 4:09 pm

“The gist of Augustine’s view of faith and reason is summed up in his use of the scriptural passage “Unless you believe, you shall not understand.” He takes this to indicate a temporal priority of faith to understanding—as if to say, faith is where we begin but understanding is where we end up. And of course it is the end, the goal or telos, which gives meaning to the beginning—for as Augustine insists very emphatically, the journey is pointless apart form its destination. In one of his latest writings, Augustine says, “It is begun in faith, but completed by sight,” echoing one of his earliest works, in which he says, “Authority comes first in time, but Reason is first in reality. […] The road to understanding often begins with our believing what our teachers tell us—as when we believe a mathematical formula on the authority of our math teacher, even though we cannot really see what it means. But of course if we are good students then we desire to understand the changeless truth it signifies—to see it for ourselves, with our own mind’s eye.”

–Philip Cary, Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self (Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 145.

Cf. Anselm: “I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.”

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