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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Paul Griffith said what many of us are thinking

Courtesy of Duke Photography
Originally from England, Paul Griffiths, the Warren professor of Catholic theology, came to Duke in 2008.

Duke theology professor Paul Griffiths created a firestorm recently by criticizing time-consuming racial equity meetings that, in his view, detracted from research, teaching, and study:
It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show.

He was promptly accused, in response, of “racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.” Yet in the entire correspondence, which he recently published, he says nothing that could reasonably be construed that way. It also came out that he had been subject to a kangaroo court for months over his objections to the meetings. Dr Griffiths resigned yesterday. A recent graduate wrote in response to the news:
In a discussion about the racist incidents with some other Div School students, I said that perhaps the way we were responding to the incidents was hurting rather than helping, because after every incident the black students would make public announcements about how hurt and afraid and rejected they felt, and then everyone would hatch plans to re-educate the whole university on issues of racism. I suggested that instead perhaps we should respond to the perpetrators like we would a bully, with strength and confidence and even defiance, to show them they didn’t have power over anyone. You would have thought I had suggested we start a chapter of the KKK. They made it clear I was a horrible person in denial of the harsh realities of racism for suggesting such a thing, and I learned to keep my mouth shut.

This is a clear example but not the only one. Rule by authoritarian mobs with a vested interest in promoting intergroup conflict is morphing into our future as a society.

Meanwhile, academics are popping up everywhere to advance ideas like those of Australian philosopher Robert Simpson: “However, once we extrapolate beyond the clear-cut cases, the question of what counts as free speech gets rather tricky,” so “I’d propose a third way: put free ‘speech’ as such to one side, and replace it with a series of more narrowly targeted expressive liberties.” He cites Canada as a good example but Canada has just enacted a law against Islamophobia, a law whose implications are engendering increasing alarm. Dr Simpson's article is a sound reason to believe that we should stick to opting for free speech in all but the most “clear-cut cases.

Last week, we looked at some ways in which the war on freedom is rotting our intellectual life: In a world governed by naturalism, power is its own justification and it need not be exercised in a rational way. Many of the controversies and contentions that surround us are easier to sort out if we keep that in mind. For example, let's revisit some earlier themes, to see the shape of what’s to come in more detail:

Read it all here and here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Question of Immortality

Egyptian mirror case
Mirrors in ancient Egypt had the same shape as the ankh, the symbol of life. 

"Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are able to see anything."-- Saul Bellow

"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."-- the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Alice C. Linsley

More than 30 years of anthropological investigation of the Horite Habiru (Hebrew) has led me to the conclusion that Messianic expectation is expressed in the burial practices of Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors who believed in bodily resurrection and anticipated a Righteous Ruler who would overcome death and lead His people to immortality. This view of immortality involves the body in resurrected form. For the Horite Hebrew a disembodied soul represented a second death.

The word Sheol is likely derived from the ancient Egyptian word Sheut (šwt), meaning shadow. The Egyptians believed that something of the dead person continues as a shadow beyond the grave, but this is not immortality. For the Nilotic peoples, immortality involved resurrection from the dead, and specifically the resurrection of the divine ruler. Embalming of royal mummies was a science as early as 2800 BC. Reference to a Righteous Ruler-Priest who would overcome death and lead his people to immortality is found in the Pyramid Texts (2400 BC) and in the Coffin Texts (2100 BC). These texts express the desire of the people to share in the immortality of the risen Righteous Ruler. He represented the people as a whole so great pains were taken to bury the ruler in hopes that he might be the one to rise with the Sun, the Creator's emblem. Being raised to life this royal person was expected to make intercessions for the people.

The ancient Egyptians considered the blessed dead “the living ones.” In pre-dynastic times and in the earliest dynasties the people were believed to follow their deified ruler from this world to the next. Their immortality depended on that of their ruler. The ruler was to be righteous, circumcised, and undefiled by contact with blood or corpses. This is why the Nilotic rulers were attended by purification priests.

As Augustine noted, "the Egyptians alone believe in the resurrection, as they carefully preserved their dead bodies." (Jon Davies, "Death, burial, and rebirth in the religions of antiquity", Routledge, 1999, p. 27). Royal tombs were built at the Horite Habiru shrine city of Nekhen before the first Egyptian Dynasty. The oldest section of Nekhen dates to about 4,000 B.C. At Nekhen, Proto-Saharan nobles were buried with red ocher, a symbol of blood. Life is in the blood. Burial of rulers in red ochre is virtually universal between 45,000 and 5,000 years ago.

It was believed that the mummification of rulers would preserve the unity of the body and the spirit which might become separated at death. The second death meant not becoming an "akh" and only as an akh could one enjoy the resurrection life. The ankh for the ancient Egyptians was the hieroglyphic sign of life. It is symbolic of the Sun's daily course, the solar arc. By prayers and sacrifices, the priests of old attempted to keep the KaBa together, preparing the ruler to receive the resurrection at some future time. The resurrection was pictured as a royal procession from the tomb. The procession to the ruler's tomb on the day of burial would be continued beyond the grave at the deified ruler's resurrection. This Horite Hebrew tradition stands behind Paul’s description of Jesus Christ leading captives from the grave to immortality: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." (Ephesians 4:8) The same conception is found in Psalm 68:18: "When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train..."

Imagine how speculation might have arisen surrounding the burial of the most righteous rulers. Will this be the one to rise again?  This understanding of immortality is central to Messianic expectation which speaks of a third day rising with the Sun. He rises with healing in His wings, an allusion to Horus as the red-cloaked falcon soaring above the Sun as it makes its westward journey.

Consider how Horus, the archetype of Christ, describes himself in the Coffin texts (passage 148):

"I am Horus, the great Falcon upon the ramparts of the house of him of the hidden name. My flight has reached the horizon. I have passed by the gods of Nut. I have gone further than the gods of old. Even the most ancient bird could not equal my very first flight. I have removed my place beyond the powers of Set, the foe of my father Osiris. No other god could do what I have done. I have brought the ways of eternity to the twilight of the morning. I am unique in my flight. My wrath will be turned against the enemy of my father Osiris and I will put him beneath my feet in my name of 'Red Cloak'." (Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt by R.T. Rundle Clark, p. 216)

Psalm 110:1, a messianic reference written about 1000 years later, draws on this received tradition: "The Lord says to my Lord: 'Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet."

Messianic expectation originated among Abraham's Nilotic ruler-priest ancestors long before Judaism emerged as a world religion. Horites believed that a deified son would die and rise again; that he would embody kindness and unite the peoples. This is why the Bible scholar Frank Moore Cross cannot avoid the conclusion that the God of Israel is the God of the Horites.

Related reading: Sheol and the Second Death; The Christ in Nilotic Mythology; Resurrection as Mirrored Reality; Ethical Concerns of Archaic Communities; Archaic Rulers, Ascendancy, and the Foreshadowing of Christ; St. Paul's Application of Greek Philosophy

Monday, November 7, 2016

Philosophers on 2016 Presidential Election

Slavoj Žižek, one of the most famous living philosophers, endorsed Donald Trump for president. As someone who cares greatly about philosophy’s role in the world, I was disappointed by this news, and not simply because I disagree with him. Žižek is an unusual philosopher. While he’s highly controversial, he’s both publicly and academically renowned and he uses his own philosophy and ideas from great historical thinkers to engage with contemporary events. As a result, he’s one of the few philosophers whose political views are widely reported and listened to.

Unfortunately, this means that when Žižek speaks about Trump, he does so in a public-philosophy vacuum, as there are few other philosophers who can or will publicly debate his ideas. Ironically, by wading into discussion over the US election, Žižek has effectively highlighted philosophy’s failure to engage in contemporary public discourse.

Read it all here.

Here is what Zizek has said in an interview with Sergio Cantone.

Sergio Cantone: “Donald Trump. The phenomenon of Donald Trump.So the US is facing a kind of revolutionary period?”

Slayoj Zizek: “Of course, Trump is personally disgusting, bad racist jokes, vulgarities and so on. But at the same time did you notice how he said some very correct things about Palestine and Israel? He said we should also see Palestinian interests and approach the situation in a more neutral way. He said we should not just antagonise Russia, find a dialogue there. He was even for higher minimal wages. He hinted that he would not like simply to cancel Obama’s universal health care, Obama care …”

Sergio Cantone: “He is a liberal centrist …”

Slayoj Zizek: “Yes! That’s my provocative thesis! That if you scrap this ridiculous and, I admit it, dangerous surface, he is a much more opportunist candidate and his actual politics perhaps will not be so bad.”

Read it all here.

PEA Soup asks "Should We Let Trump Off the Hook?" and leads with this:

Donald Trump loves himself. And while professional psychologists and psychiatrists cannot ethically diagnose him, many have made it quite clear that they think Trump has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). George Simon, a clinical psychologist specializing in manipulation, is archiving video clips of Trump “to use in workshops because there’s no better example” of a narcissist in action.

Then there was this nearly hysterical piece from Leiter Reports:

The latest bizarre twist in the 2016 election

Most readers have probably heard by now about an interview in which Trump jokes about various acts of sexual assault and how he can get away with them, which now is leading to speculation that he'll withdraw (he won't) or, perhaps a bit more likely, that the Republican Party will instruct the electors to choose someone else when they vote in December, probably Mike Pence, the extremely conservative Indiana Governor who is Trump's usually invisible VP candidate.  That would be a risky gambit for the Republicans, since it's not clear whether the message would get out in time to affect the election, and it's also not clear what the effect would actually be, given the cult-like loyalty Trump enjoys among an alarmingly large segment of the electorate.   I'll add links if I see any intelligent analyses of these possible scenarios (please e-mail me, readers, if you see any).  As things stand now, we are looking at a huge win for the Democrats, and Trump still has another month of gaffes and outbursts to come (plus two more debates, starting tomorrow)!
ADDENDUM:  This is informative on the options, such as they are.
ANOTHER:  Senator McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, officially withdraws support for Trump.  The Republican implosion begins.  Amazing it took this long!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Beware of Letters Bearing Poop

We've heard the adage "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" and now we should beware of letters bearing poo. At least some philosophers have become wary of opening their mail, according to this Washington Post report.

Presidential candidates are not the only ones who are behaving badly this year. Over the summer, at least four philosophers have received feces in the mail, BuzzFeed reports. What the four philosophers have in common is that they have all been critical of the University of Chicago’s Brian Leiter, the proprietor of the prominent Leiter Reports philosophy blog (and Leiter Law School Reports).

Read it all here.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Physicist Looks at Beauty

By George Stanciu

Last week, my wife, a painter-friend of ours, who wishes to be anonymous, and I did the Friday night walk down Canyon Road, the site of numerous galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a small town that is the third-largest art market in the United States. Halfway down Canyon Road, we stopped in at a contemporary gallery that had a new show featuring conceptual art that our painter friend was dying to see. Inside, I gazed at one wall of the gallery painted red with white block letters pronouncing “Belief + Doubt = Sanity”; on another wall I encountered a photograph of a human brain with the caption “A Thinking Machine”; next to the photograph was a large white canvas with the black letters “Pure Beauty.” Puzzled by what I saw, I mumbled, “What pointlessness. What happened to beauty?”

Our painter friend wheeled around to face me, and I was surprised to see black anger in his eyes. He shouted at me and apparently at everyone else in the gallery, “Beauty is an old-fashioned, idiotic concept. Representational art is dead, killed by the camera, by technologists, and by scientists. We contemporary artists are painting ideas.” Then, he pointed at me and yelled, “What do you theoretical physicists know about beauty! Nothing!”

I shrugged my shoulders, and if I hadn’t placed friendship above the truth, I would have said, “More than you artists, apparently.” I surmised that theoretical physicists talk more about beauty than present-day visual artists. I recalled that even as an undergraduate hardly a class in physics or mathematics went by without the word “beautiful” spoken.

Read it all here.

George Stanciu has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He is the Academic Dean Emeritus at Northeast Catholic College in Warner, New Hampshire, and he is the co-author of The New Biology and The New Story of Science and the author of many essays.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reality Making

Review of Mark Jago's Reality Making
Reviewed by Ricki Bliss, Lehigh University

Mark Jago (ed.), Reality Making, Oxford University Press, 2016, ISBN 9780198755722.

It would be hard for anyone interested in metaphysics not to have noticed the recent explosion of interest in notions of ground, ontological dependence, metaphysical structure, fundamentality and their like. Although doubtless the mushrooming of the literature devoted to these themes, and the cottage industry associated with them, has sprung from soils made fertile by time, sometimes one wonders what metaphysicians even did before Kit Fine told us we ought to be worried about grounding.

Mark Jago's edited collection offers eight new papers that contribute to the rapidly expanding literature on reality and its structure. Where this volume is, perhaps, unique and somewhat refreshing is that its focus is less on meta-issues pertaining to the over-arching structure of reality, and the kinds of concepts we use to understand it, and more on how certain first-order issues, particularly those associated with essentialism, can be brought to the conversation.

The volume opens with Martin Glazier's 'Laws and the Completeness of the Fundamental', in which he develops an account of the explanatory relationship between the derivative and the fundamental that makes appeal to the notion of the laws of metaphysics. In particular, what Glazier is concerned with is how, supposing there is something fundamental, whatever it is that is fundamental explains everything else. This paper offers an interesting discussion of some tricky issues pertaining to the connection between the fundamental and the derivative. And it makes a valuable contribution to what is, I hope, a growing body of literature devoted to filling in the details of a broader picture of reality -- one according to which there is something fundamental that gives rise to everything else - that we are so often told is intuitive and natural.

Naomi Thompson introduces and defends a view she calls 'metaphysical interdependence'. The current orthodoxy in the grounding literature is a species of metaphysical foundationalism: reality is hierarchically structured with chains of entities ordered by relations of ground terminating in something fundamental. Thompson argues that we have compelling reasons to take an alternative to this view seriously.

What does metaphysical interdependence commit us to? Unlike foundationalism, interdependence denies the well-foundedness of the grounding relation. And unlike both foundationalism and infinitism, interdependence denies that the grounding relation is asymmetric. Thus, (strong) metaphysical interdependence says that reality is ordered by relations of ground that are symmetric and non-wellfounded.

Read it all here.