“If God is Dead, Who Gets His House?”

Great title for an essay; read the whole thing here.


79 thoughts on ““If God is Dead, Who Gets His House?”

  1. Kleiner

    I am sure I read this in a much different way than Huenemann did, but I find the article amusing and a bit pitiable. Sometimes atheists act like 14 year olds who have run away from home in a fit of rebellion – but cry themsevles to sleep after having snuck back into the house because they are scared. (By the way, I was raised atheist and remained vigorously “anti-theist” throughout college, so I know how atheists think).

    So atheists find themselves desiring community and transcendence (meaning). Summed up nicely in the line “Science does not visit you in the hospital.” I don’t find this surprising at all. We have a natural desire for these things. Now the question is this – can that natural desire be in vain? This is one of those “bottom line” and “the rubber hits the road” type questions. How you answer it determines everything. Atheists must say yes, natural desires can be in vain. Theists say no, they cannot.

    I might add that I think the evidence is overwhelming in favor of the latter. Every other natural desire (assuming we could agree on which desires count as natural) is not in vain. Bees desire flowers for their pollen, and their are flowers. We desire food, and nature provides us with nourishing plants and animals. We desire intimacy and creation of new life, and nature has ordered the male and female in a such a way (a quite astonishing if you really think about it) that this can come about. etc etc … In short, the world is REALLY teleologically organized.


  2. Mike

    I would prefer when larger groups of people come together they do so for particular moral or artistic purposes. Not just to pat each other on the back because they share similar beliefs.

    It’s great that churches meet these sorts of needs for so many people but as the society becomes more pluralistic I wish people wouldn’t keep drawing the same sorts lines to keep each other apart. It’s stupid and boring.

    If people want the same old sorts of houses they may as well pick ones that exist. It’s also much easier to promote social change with an existing community. (Unlike Dawkins, I don’t think “supernaturalism” is somehow going to be destroyed or that that’s a worthy goal.)


    Of obedience, faith, adhesiveness;
    As I stand aloof and look there is to me something profoundly
        affecting in large masses of men following the
        lead of those who do not believe in men.

    Walt Whitman


  3. Kleiner

    Disclaimer: it is the end of the semester, so I am grouchy from grading.

    I have to call Mike on his straw men:

    1) The community I am a part of has creeds, but that does not mean that we just get together and pat each other on the back for sharing beliefs. Check the statistics, the fact is that religious people are far more generous than atheists. (A study on this just came out, it was not even close). In other words, religious communities tend to be more “other-looking” than non-religious communities. You suggest the opposite.

    2) The function of creeds is not to exclude (draw lines to keep each other apart). The purpos of creeds is positive: (a) to express a truth a community feels convicted by (it is not “my” truth and I did not find the truth, the truth found me) and (b) to invite others to reflect to see where their heart leads them. I don’t consider this “stupid and boring” – it is just part of the human condition for us to try to make sense of our lives. Everyone has a “creed” (a family of core beliefs, beliefs that inform their actions, relationships, and hopes). You might think you stand “aloof” of it, but you are doing the exact same thing. Your creed is pluralism and a celebration of the ‘interesting and fun’ over the ‘boring and mundane’.

    3) Whitman must be playing with the same charicature of Christianity that Nz attacks. Read Aquinas, read Kierkegaard, read John Paul the Great – Christianity is concerned with THIS life and is fundamentally humanistic (in fact, I’d argue that Christian humanism is the only kind of humanism that will really work).


  4. Mike

    I’m not really trying to criticize Kleiner’s community. The catholic church has a better track record than most. Except the obvious exceptions.

    I’m actually trying to dissuade the athiests from forming communities that are likely to lack substance. Christian communities vary so widely it’s impossible not to strawman them.

    Kleiner’s the one who thinks he knows athiests because he knows what he was like as one. I do the same thing sometimes with “Christians” but I know many don’t share my experiences.


  5. Kleiner

    Very gracious of you Mike. You know, at some point we should actually meet in person and you should let me buy you a pint (or something else if you are averse to such things). Sometimes I come down on you on the blog. I consider many of your posts to be opportunities to reject the all too common and all too quick dismissal of the religious point of view. It isn’t even that I think you necessarily do such a thing, but your posts often give me the chance to rant about it. Thanks!

    To be clear – I obviously don’t speak for all atheists. They come in lots of different stripes. I point out that I was once an atheist for two reasons: (a) I believe that I know their arguments pretty darn well – sometimes better than some of the atheists I now meet! and (b) I understand, in a personal and existential way, some of the attraction of atheism. I don’t mean to suggest I know the heart of every atheist though.


  6. Mike

    :) we should share a pint sometime. It would probably clarify a lot.

    Actually, I’m going to be in Logan tonight/tomorrow and I intend to spend some time at the Owl. Especially if the deck is open.


  7. Mike

    The catholic and orthodox churches are what’s kept alive western monasticism. Western monasticism is all about lived practices. I find their forms of life the closest to what I’m shooting for (deliberate living). I look back a bit farther to take a look at the philosophical schools for examples. But looking so far back lacks context compared to traditions that have been carried through to the present. So I also look to existing monastic forms in the east and the west.

    And I’m married and believe strongly in engagement so I’m not looking for that particular type of communal living as a rule of life.

    People like Thomas Merton manage to be engaged yet set apart.

    Better than thought systems are life systems.


  8. Kleiner

    I quite agree. Part of the project in John Paul the Great’s ‘Theology of the Body’ is to argue that this lived practice is available to people of all different vocations (the monastic life, priesthood, marriage, parenting, etc). And the central point of his work is to show that this “deliberate living” does not entail an absolute “no-saying” to the world (that is, it seeks a Christian life that is not subject to Nz’s critique of Christianity).


  9. Mike

    Really I just want to talk to people where they’re at. I don’t want to change people’s metaphysical beliefs. At most I want people to be able to understand deeply one other belief system in order for them to gain more sympathetic eyes. I think people in the world will continue to have different metaphysical perspectives but even those with widely different views share enough usually that they should be willing to work together. But many religious people (I have to include some athiests in this group) just seem to want to focus so much on those things and getting them right. It seems like such a minor part of life to me.

    All of us in this country share much more than we differ on, culture has provided this hugely shared context. It’s not profitable for organizations to focus on the shared values (here I’m especially thinking of Democrats/Republicans) so they just get ignored in favor of arguing again over the things where disagreements exist. I love disagreements but not where a lot of real work needs to be done.

    Like with the abortion debate, how much further ahead would we be if we all just agreed we want to make abortion rare and chose methods we could all agree on instead of focusing on the one we can’t agree on (legality). People who are really concerned about these sorts of things will start choosing better strategies.

    If you don’t learn from history you’re doomed to repeat it. (or whatever that exact quote is)

    I should get back to work now.


  10. Mike

    Just to clarify, Kleiner said,

    You might think you stand “aloof” of it, but you are doing the exact same thing. Your creed is pluralism and a celebration of the ‘interesting and fun’ over the ‘boring and mundane’.

    I don’t see myself standing aloof of making metaphysical claims, only of joining in the masses of followers in a very literal sense meaning I choose no metaphysical institutional affiliation. I do recognize a few traditions as my own (especially philosophical ones) but no ‘house’.

    Kleiner wants to find metaphysical claims implicitly but if you choose that method, it’s very hard to then deny that people change their metaphysical point of view from day to day, sometimes moment to moment. And that’s exactly the sort of thinking that leads me to call myself a pluralist. I’m just trying to be honest with myself about it.

    I affiliate with my family as an institution but they, like the world more generally, have disagreements about many metaphysical issues. Catholics, protestants, mormons, agnostics, their lives look eerily similar to me. They seem to be succeeding and failing in the same ways. Which is the major voice? The metaphysical system or the culture you’re born into? (I’m not claiming these are entirely separate).

    To put it another way, it would be great to be able to focus on the sort of freedom from desire that both Christians and Buddhists pursue but the much more pressing concern to me is helping people define need and want apart from contemporary marketing.


  11. Huenemann

    Vince — with you, I find evangelical atheists tiresome. I used to be one myself — until I found myself tiresome! Nowadays my attitude is something like “Don’t agree with theism? Fine — then don’t believe, and move on.” The only point at which I might raise a fuss is when someone’s religion is prompting them to actually hurt themselves or someone else. So long as theism is either beneficent or sterile, live and let live, say I.

    I also think that atheists getting together because they are atheists and , as Kleiner tries to put it, trying to sneak back inside the house like faint-hearted teenage runaways, is, well, silly. If a bunch of people want to get together and talk about worthwhile humanitarian efforts, or scientific discoveries, or good books, or new ideas, that’s terrific. But using “atheism” as a rallying point seems to me laughably obtuse. It’s like starting a club for those people who don’t believe in Santa Claus — just what would anyone expect to get out of it?!


  12. Mike

    I’ll be at the Owl at noon tomorrow if anyone (of age and interest) can make it. If another time tomorrow is better, let me know. I’ll check this again later tonight. I’m fairly flexible tomorrow as long as I have some idea for timeframe by tonight.

    It would be great to see some of you in person.

    I don’t look much like this owl in person, I’m bright red (especially as I’ll likely be coming on my bike) with a bit of orange-ish brown on top. My skin color is nearly translucent.


  13. Kleiner

    Mike and I always get pulled off on tangents (or at least I do), so thanks for getting us back on track Vince.
    I agree with Huenemann, it seems silly to me to have an “Church of Atheism”. But what I find interesting about the presence of some interest in such a thing is what it tells us about the condition of the individual person vis-a-vis community and the transcendent.

    Like Vince, I am not a big proselytizer, at least not in the ordinary sense of being a “bible beater”. I press people to think of their lives as a question. This is a kind of proselytizing in that I agree with John Paul the Great that “Every human life is a question to which Christ is the answer”. What I take this to mean is that a tension between the imminent and transcendent, the individual and the community, ,,, is written on our hearts and that these tensions find ultimate resolution only in the Incarnation. (see Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death, also the Theology of the Body by JPII).

    What was so telling, at least to me, about that article was the feeling that these tensions had to be addressed. Same thing with the “reinventing the sacred” piece. Of course, to my mind anyone who thinks they can “invent” the sacred don’t really understand the sacred (which is Gift, not a product of our work). Still, the deep seated need to engage the sacred (the transcendent, the Other), is at work even there.

    Vince – yes, Levinas is rather like a Buber on phenomenological steroids. That said, I am not sure Levinas is any more profound than Buber for it.


  14. Huenemann

    I’ll try to be at the Owl at noon on Saturday. It would be fun if Vince and Harrison could make it, too.


  15. Mike

    I think that’s ‘religion without religion’. I think I gave Vince my copy of “Prayers and Tears”, the Caputo book.

    So it sounds like Vince and Charlie can make it. Kleiner? I’ll be there, just got into town a bit ago.


  16. Kleiner

    Oops, I meant “religion without religion”. Thanks for the correction. The way I wrote it, one might think Derrida actually made sense and did not delight in contradictions and absurdities!!! Take those away, would he be famous?

    Not sure yet if I will be there tomorrow, but I hope so.


  17. Huenemann Post author

    “Every human life is a question to which Christ is the answer” — I would say that every human life is a question which is its own answer.

    “Religion without religion” seems to me always to in fact be “religion with religion” — Kleiner’s typo caught what Derrida really meant (in true Derridean fashion!).


  18. Kleiner

    Huenemann has put THE issue in a nutshell – autonomy or heteronomy? Huenemann chooses autonomy. Levinas and Buber choose heteronomy. I think Heidegger chooses heteronomy too (his critiique of technological thinking is, I think, a critique of “egological” autonomy). I am very sympathetic to heteronomy – man becomes himself in relation. In other words, we are not and cannot be “self-sufficient”, we are not the answers to ourselves.

    This is a rubber hits the road issue. It is what makes Nz a “metaphysician” (he is still obsessed with freedom).

    Don’t think I am going to make it to the Owl. I have a long “honey-do” list. Amy put it this way: “Who would you rather disappoint – some philosophers or your 7 month pregnant wife?” Hell hath no fury like a pregnant woman scorned!


  19. Mike

    Just got back, too bad Kleiner couldn’t make it. Completely understandable though.

    I’ll probably come back up a few times later this summer, I’ll let you know.


  20. Mike

    What Vince says —

    One more thought on the Church of Atheism. “The Humanist Manifesto” was a bit damning of theistic views. I wonder if the Church of Atheism can find charity in their new Creeds for other human communities … theists included. There will always be the cultic extremes on both sides.

    Is a bit what I’m shooting for. I definitely don’t have a problem with heteronomy when the community is humanity or even the biosphere. There’s obviously a contrast here between my personal views and “what I’m shooting for”. :)

    A lot of people dedicate their lives to serving humanity in one form or another and this sort of vision for the world crosses the boundaries of metaphysical commitments. These people don’t need to be distracted from what they’re doing by bringing up irrelevant issues. They just need to be supported and encouraged to do more. I’m damning of theistic points of view at times simply because I find them overly distracting but for people who already have those views, listening to my stupid rants can be equally pointless.

    Whatever it is that can launch you into the atmosphere to help move us further along as humans is the thing. You can call it whatever you want or frame it in any way you want. The important thing is to pay enough attention to the relevant context so you’re making good decisions. The main thing is that I don’t think this ‘relevant context’ is traditional metaphysics (i don’t think traditional metaphysical training helps solve the important problems so much as introducing less important, more distracting ones — [someone Vince works with, Jan, said something of this same nature to me once, I think he actually said ‘don’t study philosophy, that’ll just confuse you!’]). This ‘relevant context’ is at least historical and contemporary context, I’m not sure what else. That’s why I’d rather have ‘pay attention’ as my mantra.

    To throw a bone towards autonomy I’d point out that It’s hard to understand others without having a good understanding of yourself and gaining a good understanding of yourself is a full time job. Nietzsche says something similar, much more eloquently in “Human all too Human” somewhere.

    Hidden beneath a lot of the junk I write is a question. The question is–

    What is enlightenment? How do we characterize it and hope to achieve it, help others to achieve it?

    And no, it’s not Christ, plenty have claimed Christ and led horrendous lives (don’t mistake this argument for an argument against ‘real’ Christianity, maybe they’re not claiming the ‘real’ Christ, who wants to delve into that confusion?).

    And no, it’s not athiesm (don’t mistake this argument for an argument against ‘real’ athiesm, maybe they’re not following the true path, who wants to delve into that confusion?) .

    Better than focusing on the Platonic form of a thing is to focus on the numerous contradictory forms of that thing which actually exist. That’s the koan to consume.

    However, I must say many of those delving into the confusion, seeking the real paths make up a laundry list of humanitarians. So depth of thought itself demonstrates its value?


  21. Kleiner

    Mike said, “I’d point out it’s hard to understand others without having a good understanding of yourself …”

    But this makes a presumption that Levinas, Buber, and Heidegger want to reject. It presumes that there is some “isolated ego” that “is” something on its own. Kierkegaard would argue (see Sickness Unto Death) that such isolated subjectivity fails to even be a “self” at all! Pascal, in the Pensees, argues that the attempt to look inward to “know yourself” ends in the horror of an abyss. Walker Percy suggests that any attempt to know yourself in this way will result in your falling “into a pit”.

    Point is this: What if there is no substantial “self” or ego? What if the starting point IS relationships? I would think Mike would be attracted to this view – instead of having an isolated ego that has the problem of becoming socially active, the self simply “is” social activity/relations.
    You presume Descartes’ starting point. But I don’t think we should. I don’t think ther is some isolated “self” that can be known, and I don’t think you know yourself first. Instead, insofar as you do know yourself, you know yourself last (Aquinas makes this argument in Q84 of the Summa) and what you “are” is consituted relations.
    Kierkegaard from SUD: “the self is a relation that relates itself to itself … [that] in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.”


  22. Kleiner

    First, the only semi-serious pomo response to Huenemann: the way he is asking the question itself presumes traditional metaphysical categories, so I cannot really answer it.

    But that is much too cute, and I think Huenemann asks a reasonable question. So let me be clear: I don’t deny that there are “I”s – I think I could be properly called a “personalist” (certainly the category of “person” is incredibly important to Christian philosophy in general and to the thought of people like JPII, with whom I have great attraction).

    I like how Vince phrases the issue it with his insights culled from Judaism. I think a similar “middle way” can be sought in reflections on the Trinity.

    So, the self is a relation (it is itself the relation relating itself), but there are relata. What are they? Well, Kierkegaard refers to the finite, the infinite. Levinas talks about the self and Other. Pretty oblique. Whatever they are, we can call them “I”s if you really want. I’m not interested in banishing the category of the subject from the philosophical lexicon. And I don’t think most pomo philosophers (there might be some exceptions) are interested in completely destorying some category of the self. What they are interested in is destroying “subjectivity” as understood by the Cartesian tradition.
    So what “are” the relata? (Notice how the question of being keeps sneaking in, and how we usually “enframe” being as “self-identical substance”.) Well, whatever the “I” is, on the view I am toying with here it is not a “substance”. It is not self-sufficient, is not self-contained. It is fundamentally social. This is why we encounter the self first and foremost as a task and a “tension” (finite-infinite, body-soul, etc).

    On top of these metaphysical questions, we also have a methodical question (starting points). Should we (can we) start with some isolated and fixed substance, or do we start with relations? The latter is a revolutionary step in philosophy. See Heidegger – he gets at Dasein by looking at its situated activities (Being-in-the-world) and relations (Being-with-others, being-toward death, throwness, projection, etc). By starting with the relations and, as it were, working back to the relata, subjectivity is radically recast and refigured. What is the benefit? We just might find ourselves side-stepping the typical pitfalls of modern thought (mind-body problems, freedom-determinsm debate, etc) and find new fertile soil for understanding our selves and out moral obligations to others.


  23. Kleiner

    I am not sure if Nz is the first pomo philosopher or the last modern one. I am inclined to think he is perhaps both (rejects the Cartesian subject, but hold on to frankly modern notions of autonomy).
    But to the point here – wouldn’t Nz deny that there is some “I” in the Cartesian sense? He is very critical of notions of free will that come out of that tradition. For Nz, isn’t the “self” just a relation – in this case a relation (a tension or balancing act) between a slew of different and opposing impulses and desires? Outside of talking about that tension (the self as a task or project), there would not be much we could say about the “self” since it is not a “thing”.


  24. Huenemann Post author

    Funny you should raise this question, as I was just reading relevant passages in “Daybreak.” Right, he discounts the ego. He thinks the self is built out of a bunch of drives, and the self is basically a negotiation among them. It is a thing in the way that “Congress” is a thing. I think contemporary cogsci bears this out — it fits neatly with Dennett’s “Pandemonium” model of mind.

    So, in the end, I do want to agree with the claim that the self is relational — it’s just relational among units that are “internal” to the self/brain, rather than external. Again, it’s like saying that Congress arises out of the relations and actions among its members. Things external to Congress have a say only insofar as some member of Congress is expressing their interests.

    Ultimately, I think all the units participating in the event that is consciousness are all stupid, nonconscious algorithms, sensitively attuned to each others’ behaviors. Again, like Congress!


  25. Anonymous

    I have read about that syndrome, Vince, and it fits very neatly with Levains.

    I think Walker Percy nails the Nz “internal” attitude (I agree with Huenemann’s characterization of it) in Lost in the Cosmos. The Nzian falls into a pit of himself.

    I wonder if Huenemann really thinks what he says. Or, better, does Huenemann really live according to what he says? (Maybe he does, I am just asking). Are you “more yourself” when you are alone or when you are with others? Is the experience with others (your wife, children, friends, colleagues) just an accidental add on to a more substantial self-experience, or is it itself constituitive of what you call your experience? In short, isn’t Aristotle right when he calls man “social animal”? Solitary man is unhealthy in a fundamental (almost ontological) way – relations are not accidental.

    This is where Nz remains modern, I think. He loves the privacy of the isolated subject. Heidegger often gets read this way (see his critique of the “they” in Being and Time), but I do not think he should. His remarks on our everday being-with-others are not normative, they are descriptive. What I think philosophers need to get over is the constant demand for the extra-ordinary (isn’t this Nz in a nutshell, a demand for the extra-ordinary?). Let the ordinary be redeemed! (Ultimately I am a sacramental thinker).


  26. Mike

    Who are Gandhi, Jesus and MLK, Jr if not extra-ordinary? You simply want to cast a new light upon the ordinary? (sacralization of the mundane?) The extra-ordinary (outside voice) is what has the capacity to change the ordinary (repentance even). Which is why the extra-ordinary is what’s required. It’s not enough to look for the salvation, we must bring it, and quit being so wimpy. Really I’m about the extraordinary (especially strangeness, peculiarity – the Samaritan woman) in contrast to the impossible (Derrida) not in contrast to the ordinary. The ordinary is the most extraordinary of all (there, I recast the light for you).

    I’m looking for this quote in HaH but not having any luck. I always get stuck without the quotes I want when I’ve been reading non-linearly.


  27. Anonymous

    I am not denying that the extra-ordinary is necessary. But (and I think I am talking in a way Mike would approve of) we need to get the ordinary “back” (as Abraham gets Isaac back). The demand should not be for the exciting and the strange. The demand for those things leads us to a forgetfullness of the concrete, particular, and ordinary character of most of our lives. As Mother Theresa put it, “Theologians talk too much, sometimes they should shut up and sweep the floor.”

    Instead, the extra-ordinary intersects the ordinary. But this is not an ultimately private affair. We “find ourselves” in the concrete and ordinary relational activities (Levinas says, paraphrasing, that we ‘are shoulders to lean on, hands to wipe the brow, backs to burden’). That is – love. Isn’t this intersection of the extra-ordinary and the ordinary what is so distinctive (and radical) about Christianity? (the infinite meets the finite in a cow barn?!) Is it possible that all “ordinary” activities can be sacramental (in the broad sense of that word, not the narrow sense of the 7 sacraments).
    We really should all read JPII’s Theology of the Body together at some point.


  28. Huenemann Post author

    There’s consciousness, and then there’s “true conscious self-aware full-on consciousness.” I’m not sure if a human being needs other human beings around in order to be plain-old conscious. A human born into a Robinson-Crusoe situation (okay, Adam before Eve) would still exhibit behavioral traits we could explain only by attributing consciousness to him/her. Still, that human being would be pretty alien to any of us raised in human society. (Same, I suspect, with monkeys raised in isolation vs. those raised in a group. There’s probably someone pulling in big bucks in grants to prove this unfortunate fact.) So, I can agree that in order for a human to have the sort of consciousness we prize and cherish, there need to be other humans around — which is to say, the appropriately stimulating environment. (Clever cushy robots might be able to do the trick — behavioral equivalents of mommas and papas — but they’d have to be SO clever that we might as well stick to the old-fashioned way!)

    So where does that leave us? Consciousness is a tricky thing. To have it in its basic form, you need a complex, interactive, self-regulating and self-checking apparatus, placed in a suitably interesting and responsive environment. Enhance that environment — especially with other conscious things — and you get even fancier and more nuanced forms of consciousness.


  29. Mike

    I believe in a strong value in the ordinary understanding and being in the world. Especially in contrast to technologies which enable us to avoid real encounters with the world. Lack of the ordinary in this sense is ultimately a shallow understanding.

    Without pursuing the exciting and the strange (which I would also call “difficult tasks” ) it’s tough to learn the difficult lessons. So in this case the ordinary is what promotes the shallow understanding.

    But a reversal is what’s necessary (desperate times call for desperate measures) and thus we need to revive the ‘creative battle’ (MLK/Gandhi). [Charlie– What is the creative battle if not the “pistol wielding peace corps?”]

    The ordinary understanding gives us the centeredness and awareness we’ll need, the extraordinary, the vision and ability to do what’s required.


  30. Kleiner

    We have a lot of terminology on the table. For the sake of attaching some of it to something, I will use Kierkegaard.

    I think Huenemann is right, we don’t need others in order to be “conscious” in some sense or another. Recall that for Kierkegaard in Sickness Unto Death, one can be conscious once one relates himself to himself. But, Kierkegaard draws a distinction between being “conscious” and being a “self”. Quite a bit more is packed into the latter.

    I must confess, I am not that interested in questions of mere consciousness. Discussions of that sort are probably prone to the kind of reductionism Huenemann supposes in his last post. I am interested in questions regarding the self. I think all of the regular posters here agree (whether we come from Nz, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Christianity, whatever) that the self is a “task” that involves some kind of “tension”. Anyway, the issue at hand here is what that task consists in – whether it is a purely autonomous thing or whether the task has a fundamentally heteronomous character.


  31. Kleiner

    The Self After Postmodernity, written by one of my mentors Calvin Schrag, is a nice read on some of these issues.

    Aside (since the ordinary-extraordinary is a different topic from the self topic): We are confusing ourselves with our terms and so talking past each other. I would have said something very different if my categories were the difficult and the easy instead of the extraordinary and the ordinary.
    I don’t equate the “extraordinary” with the “difficult” and the “ordinary” with the “easy”. It seems to me that some extraordinary things are difficult and some are easy. Some ordinary things are easy but many are difficult (is there anything so ordinary as feeding a child, but is there anything more difficult when it is at 3am and you are frustrated from crying?).


  32. Mike

    Well, I would say something like the problems of the self and the problems of the world are the same. Even that the solution to one implies the solution to the other.

    I do think the path to get there is the self though. Because the altruistic self with a shallow understanding isn’t much help to the other selves. [this is basically what that passage in Nietzsche says, in it he’s responding to someone who’s criticizing egoism or something like that, let me know if anyone else finds it, it’s definitely in HAH in the middle somewhere even (in the middle of the green book probably in I or II)].

    Here’s another section in Nietzsche (not as relevant but still relevant).

    Error regarding life necessary to life. — Every belief in the value and dignity of life rests on false thinking; it is possible only through the fact that empathy with the universal life and suffering of mankind is very feebly developed in the individual. Even those rarer men who think beyond themselves at all have an eye, not for the universal life, but for fenced-off portions of it. If one knows how to keep the exceptions principally in view, I mean the greatly gifted and pure of soul, takes their production for the goal of world-evolution and rejoices in the effects they in turn produce, one may believe in the value of life, because then one is overlooking all other men: thinking falsely, that is to say. And likewise if, though one does keep in view all mankind, one accords validity only to one species of drives, the less egoistical, and justifies them in face of all the others, then again one can hope for something of mankind as a whole and to this extent believe in the value of life: this, in this case too, through falsity of thinking. Whichever of these attitudes one adopts, however, one is by adopting it an exception among men. The great majority endure life without complaining overmuch; they believe in the value of existence but they do so precisely because each of them exists for himself alone, refusing to step out of himself as those exceptions do: everything outside themselves they notice not at all or at most as a dim shadow. Thus for the ordinary, everyday man the value of life rests solely on the fact that he regards himself more highly than he does the world. The great lack of imagination from which he suffers means he is unable to feel his way into other beings and thus he participates as little as possible in their fortunes and sufferings. (HAH, I, 33)


  33. Mike

    I think the extraordinary itself is difficult, almost by definition.

    Your example is extraordinary because the majority of of your existence up until this point has been X and now you’re doing Y (at 3am).

    Any defense of the ordinary (to you) is also a defense of the easy (to you). Now what’s ordinary to someone else, mankind more generally or the “ordinary world”, that’s different. Isn’t that about right?

    Pursuing the extraordinary (to you) is the only path towards growth. Repetition, that which is self-same, is a nihilism, a living form of suicide.

    We have an extraordinary ability to frame the world though so this would be impossible to identify in others.


  34. Mike

    I have at least two full roles for the peculiar. One is the outside voice (muse) that can bring us out, the other is what we produce from that voice. This is how MLK, Jr heard Gandhi and learned the creative battle (this is how he re-understood Jesus).

    Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. I was particularly moved by his Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts. The whole concept of Satyagraha (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. The “turn the other cheek” philosophy and the “love your enemies” philosophy were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.

    Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social contracts theory of Hobbes, the “back to nature” optimism of Rousseau, the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi.

    From the Autobio (arranged posthumously) of MLK, Jr.


  35. Mike

    One of my goals is to pull philosophers away from the impossible and intangible categories and back into the ordinary battles. (a defense of the ordinary?)


  36. Kleiner

    Regarding what kind of other will do, Levinas speaks of Other than otherness. Think Kant – the other person, even ourselves, can fall into an “enframing”. (If you assume Kant’s transcendental idealism, which I think Derrida does, then you can see why he would speak about the “impossibility” of encountering the Other. Levinas and Heidegger are both more optimistic in trying to find a way to “see the face” or to “think that whcih has not been thought”).

    I think Vince is right, the “call” is an important category here. When Heidegger speaks about the call in Being and Time he suggests that it comes from “nowhere” – from me but also not from me. Later Heidegger, though, seems to have pushed the other further away – it is that which is not thought about in our thinking. Still, the category may be broad enough for Heidegger to include poetry, art, even the experience of boredom. Not so for Levinas, he centralizes it in the “face”.

    I am reminded of CS Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces”;
    “I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
    But what it would be to have a “face”, in this instance, is to recognize the disordered character of one’s relationships (sin consciousness). Heidegger secularizes the concept in Being and Time, but he suggests we have a “face” (authenticity) only once we hear the call – a call which says “GUILTY”.

    Aside (since I think this stream is tangential): if the ordinary were so easy, then why don’t people do ordinary acts of kindness more often? (Opening a door for a person, saying thank you, letting someone into your lane in a traffic jam, sweeping the floor, etc). Could it be that they have fallen into a pit of themselves? Might it be that we are so inward looking, so totally wrapped up in our egological consciousness (from Levinas) that we do not see the easy and ordinary works of love that we are called to perform that are right outside our door – in our homes even? I’m not taking anything away from the civil rights movers and shakers (MLK, Ghandi), but I suspect that for most of us the call is much more humble. Cleaning the diapers of invalids in nursing homes, cleaning litter from trails, giving shelter/supplies to the scared and disenfranchised (an incredibly pressing need right here in Logan, the Spanish speaking Catholic community in this valley is still shell-shocked from the massive deportation of hundreds of families in the meat packing raid which absolutely devastated that community and left many children and woman alone and without support).


  37. Kleiner

    Mike – yes, I thought you would like my “turn to the ordinary”, I thought it was right up your alley. That’s why I think our terminology is screwing us up there and we are talking a bit past each other.


  38. Mike

    I have to admit once you guys get into this sort of talk (impossible, nowhere, wholly other) I think you’re heading straight into the abyss.

    It sounds like you’re saying ‘ordinary acts of kindness’ are rare events so that’s self refuting. It would then become an extraordinary act of kindness.

    Yes, this argument is purely terminological. I’ll stop now :) Good stuff though. I tend to agree, ordinary kindnesses are lacking so now only extraordinary kindnesses exist and that’s too bad. For an encouraging counter example, Sarah likes to point out how kind everyone is to everyone else on the way in and out of liquor stores in Utah.

    I’m about the ordinary in contrast to the abstract and the strange in contrast to the impossible.


  39. Mike

    A friend of mine was very involved with the hispanic population in Cache Valley. That’s exactly right, the sorts of things that need to be done. These are exactly the sorts of things MLK, Jr did. Once he started gaining traction with civil rights, he moved on to some problems of poverty in Chicago. People claimed he was distracting from his core message but he was listening and trying to meet needs. So these sorts of things are no more humble than MLK, they’re the same. The only difference is how much recognition the external world gives (which was mostly annoying wiretapping and led to his eventual death anyhow). His task was one which required some sort of notice but our tasks are OUR tasks and may or may not imply any sort of external recognition.

    My thinking is that you have to listen well to determine your task and your purpose and you can’t be counting on other people to give that to you. To say each person is unique and has his own calling (which doesn’t have much to do with public approval or praise — it’s also not likely to be your only calling, time provides multiple voices) is the sense of autonomy I believe in.

    Nietzsche also understands what it means to listen. He’s egocentric but there’s also a prominent fullness there, a fullness found rarely elsewhere. An expansive enough form of autonomy sure starts to look like a heteronomy and the reverse is also true. Even if you have a weak view of the self I’m guessing you still don’t think you’re able to evaluate from a point of view outside whatever this context is. To think you can is still an idolatry — dishonest.


  40. Kleiner

    Are we “Being-for-itself” (Sartre, Nz) or Being-for-Others (Levinas, Christianity, etc)?

    Huenemann said:
    “Consciousness is a tricky thing. To have it in its basic form, you need a complex, interactive, self-regulating and self-checking apparatus, placed in a suitably interesting and responsive environment. Enhance that environment — especially with other conscious things — and you get even fancier and more nuanced forms of consciousness.”

    Since Huenemann thinks (rightly I would think) that some animals have some kind of “mere consciousness”, are we then to take from the above quotation that the only difference between me and a chimp is how fancy our environments are? If Amy and I took home a chimp this summer instead of a human baby, and raised it just as we have raised Madeline, would it have the more “nuanced” consciousness that Madeline is developing and that we have?

    Surely the answer is NO. Humans have, by nature, actualizable capacities that chimps do not have. The difference between humans and chimps is not just environmental, it is ontological. We are a different KIND and are capable of relationships in a way that far exceeds the capacity of a chimp (for whom, my guess is, there is no “face”). Chimps are wonderful creatures, very sophisticated. But the are not persons. We are animals, Charlie – but stop reducing (enframing) me!!! :)


  41. Huenemann Post author

    Ha ha! You know, when scientists were first doing genomic sequencing, they were studying chimp vs. human DNA, looking for telling differences, and looking and looking and looking … and the rumor did start up that all the differences were environmental! Finally they found a tiny difference. But I agree with you: of course the human internal apparatus is different from a chimp’s. I was only contrasting a human in a boring environment with a human in an exciting one.

    By the way, I think chimps are persons, but not human persons. The extra features one has to throw in to the definition of “person” to rule out chimps as persons seem to me gratuitous.


  42. Kleiner

    Well, we disagree about personhood. (The genomic differences are not the only differences, you forget the soul!).

    Has Huenemann morphed into a jackass? … No comment.


  43. Mike

    From my favorite C.S. Lewis book, the Four Loves (Lewis is referencing St. Francis “brother ass” ) —

    Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his sense can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body. There’s no living with it till we recognize that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon. Until some theory has sophisticated them, every man, woman and child in the world knows this. The fact that we have bodies is the oldest joke there is.


  44. Kleiner

    There are a lot of people interested in environmental ethics that try to argue that all sorts of natural objects (trees, animals, even eco-systems) have “faces”.

    I am torn. On the one hand, I do think that nature can function as an “icon” (I have in mind Jean-Luc Marion’s discussion of the icon and the idol in the first section of God Without Being). If that is what we mean by a “face” or a “thou”, then fine. But my moral compass tells me that there I have very different kinds of moral obligations to other persons (humans) as opposed to trees, beavers, etc.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am a bit of a tree hugger and I consider myself deeply committed to environmental causes (some might say fanatically so). I do think we have moral obligations to animals and the environment. (Aside: this is something other Christians, the Pope, and evangelical groups like Creation Care are starting to pick up on. My prediction: Evangelical Christians and NRA members will be the catalyst for real environmental policy change in this country, making for some very strange bedfellows for the traditional Greenpeace environmentalist clan).

    But, I stop short of leveling our moral obligations (a la the sentientism of Singer or the radical leveling of “deep ecology”). I think of my environmental obligations in terms of “stewardship” (what Heidegger calls shepherding) and icon. It seems to me to be deeply counterintuitive (and simply metaphysically confused) to say I have the same obligations to trees as to persons. For that reason, I resist saying they have “faces” or are “thous” – I fear there is an alternative moral agenda potentially at work there.
    So, tree as thou as icon – yes. Tree as thou as having equivalent moral standing with persons – no.


  45. Mike

    Actually, the gun owners who might understand something like stewardship (haven’t sold out) now belong to the Gun Owners of America (my uncle who’s a longtime hunter and Catholic even (for Kleiner) bailed on the NRA as it stopped exclusively supporting gun owners’ rights). I do agree something like that is more likely to create the change, ranchers, the types of folks who attend the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (I helped them with a webcast a few years ago), that’s where we could look for a more moderated and practical environmentalism, something a larger subsection of the population can get on board with. These are the folks who have appropriated ordinary ecology, not simply idealized it. Incidentally, there’s a news magazine where some western ranchers and environmentalists meet, High Country News.


  46. Kleiner

    I was not meaning to attribute that kind of thinking to Buber (or Levinas). But there are some in the “deep ecology” movement that have tried to press that reading on them.

    I quite agree with what Vince has said, and would even press it further. Treating the world as “it” (technological thinking) harms not only the environment – it harms man. We “dehumanize” ourselves when we disclose in terms of the I-it.

    That said, I am pretty sure I am a “speciesist” (Singer’s term). I do think human persons are special (we have rational souls, other creatures do not). Now I do not conclude from this that other things are not worthwhile, that we can use them for our own convenience, etc. Like Vince, I wholly disagree with the practices he mentions above, but I might disagree with them for different reasons. I am not a vegetarian, I think it is morally permissible to eat meat (kill animals). Now I think we can do this in a way that “sherpherds” and respects the animals dignity as a creature. But I don’t think it is morally permissible to kill and eat humans. In other words, I would cling to the claim that humans are “special” in some manner or another – that is, have a higher moral standing. I think Singer’s sentientist utilitarian arguments are bogus, and the even more radical deep ecology arguments are on even thinner ground. All that said, we need not make the mistake of saying that other creatures have, then, no moral standing. The medieval “great chain of being” might come in handy here when combined with a “letting the tree be a tree” (Heidegger speaks of shepherding Being and “letting it be”).

    I suspect Vince and I are on the same page here, though I am wording it in the lingo of environmental ethics. Vince and I both are clearly very sympathetic to Buber (I would include Levinas and Heidegger’s critique of technology).


  47. Mike

    I’m willing to accept any point of view that’s likely to help address and repeat (keep us focused) on the issues that need to be addressed. The messy work of morality is to let some things be in order to get other things done.

    We demonstrate our morality by the extent to which we address these pressing needs and orient our communities around meeting them.

    In other words, when Kleiner takes on these sorts of arguments (Singer) I think he’s not only being distracting but also that he’s being immoral, given the contemporary context. Talk is not ‘just talk’. Every word is an action.

    I’m not trying to be harsh, he just threw Singer out the window and should pay attention to what the moral implications (in a very practical sense) of that sort of thing look like. Singer doesn’t quite live up to his own ideals but I think he still gives 20 percent of his salary to relief organizations. He’s a fine voice to help orient non-thiestic communities toward moral good.

    This is the same as my earlier argument about abortion. Those who seek to start solving these sorts of issues will change their strategies.

    I’m on board with what Vince is after and how he describes these problems and I think he understands the middle way.


  48. Kleiner

    I was not making a comment on Singer as a person, I was remarking on his philosophical arguments. I don’t know or much care if he lives up to his principles, that is his affair, not mine. My point is that I have taken seriously the implications of his theory, and I think he is wrong! Now I am not sure what you mean by “given the contemporary context”, but I don’t see my remarking on Singer’s arguments is immoral! In fact, I might well have a moral responsibility to try to correct moral error when I see it!

    You think I am being “distracted”. But I don’t think I need to heed all of the practical implications of Singer’s theory because I don’t think his moral system is one that delivers real moral obligations. I don’t think he is a “fine voice” in orienting people toward moral good. Sometimes he does (his widely read world poverty argument is not bad), but I think there are times when his arguments would orient people toward evil rather than the good.

    Mike, I must point something out: for someone who wants “action” and to “just get things done” (a practical philosophy that just ‘goes to work’ ) , you sure talk a lot about abstract and theoretical philosophy yourself (even if most of it is complaining about how other people are being too abstract)! Insofar as I am “distracted”, aren’t you every bit as much so as I? If you think doing philosophy (even moral philosophy) distracts us from more important work – then heed your own advice and stop blogging on a philosophy page!!! For my part, I find your suggestion that making moral arguments distracts us from actually doing things is basically anti-intellectual. Look, thought and action are not an either/or. The best life is mixed, is it not?

    I try not to take philosophical discussions “personally” (get offended, etc). Let us just leave it at this:
    I agree that our moral life is best expressed in action, not in argument (this is not breaking news, who doesn’t think that?!). I am sure that Singer, aside from doing philosophy, donates his time and money to a number of worthwhile causes (though I suspect he might donate money to some causes I do not consider worthwhile). But please don’t presume (and it is a presumption) that I feel my moral life is fulfilled by merely making moral arguments. Let’s be frank, you don’t know me or my private charitable life. I can tell you that I fall well short of living up to my principles, but that I do more than mere talk.


  49. Mike

    I think speech is an action.

    I speak with philosophers because they’re the types of minds I want to address issues. It’s also an attempt at self correction where necessary.

    When in Rome…

    I’m not trying to say Kleiner is immoral overall or anything like that. I’m trying to say there are more moral ways to address moral issues. It’s a methodological point.


  50. Huenemann Post author

    My own take on the Mike/Kleiner dispute: I think Mike has in mind a rough sense of all the things that can be done to make the world better — a fairly uncontroversial list, including the reduction of poverty, starvation, suffering, and better environmental practices. He wants this stuff done, and doesn’t care what principles anyone needs to follow in order to get it done. Kleiner, I think, also wants this stuff done, but he does care as well about getting the principles right. He might even agree with Mike’s pragmatic thrust, but I bet he’d like to be clear on the principles so that the pragmatic push doesn’t go in the wrong direction. At this point Mike would rebel at wasting time and energy over discussing principles, and Kleiner would say it’s not a waste, and so on.


  51. Mike

    I’ll keep trying to demonstrate as clearly as possible why I think it’s a waste if necessary. That would probably turn me into a perpetual thorn in Kleiner’s side.

    It’s true, I don’t think there’s much of a theoretical path towards getting oneself or even society ‘right’. I think history agrees with me.

    I think it’s all messy sort of juggling/negotiating business (isn’t this Aristotelean?). Everyone, and especially philosophers should be about doing what’s important. Right now that’s all pretty clear. Talking about it is an action though. A necessary part of the process, usually we call this increasing awareness.


  52. Kleiner

    Well put Huenemann. I think that is the argument in a nutshell, and you have my position exactly right. My question (this is in part tongue in cheek) remains: why does Mike waste his time posting on a philosophy blog at all? He says “When in Rome” (perhaps better, “When in Athens”). But you do not have to be a citizen of Athens (most people are not).
    It rather reminds me of some analytic philosophers (“ordinary langauge philosophers” and Wittgensteinians) who spend their lifetimes arguing – philosophically – that philosophy is a waste of time. I just wonder, why not move on and do something else?

    Mike – I enjoy our sparring by the way. I hope you do, and I hope you find it all in the spirit of vigorous but ultimately friendly philosophical discussion. If this helps – our little spars have piqued the interest of students who frequently asked about our debates in my classes.


  53. Mike

    Kleiner — that’s excellent. Yes, I enjoy it and yes I’m part of the philosophical tradition (the outside voice part – skeptics, cynics, prophets?). Philosophers are also people who think a certain way. I can’t quit being a philosopher any more than I can quit being a human being.

    And it’s not the only thing I do (I recognize it’s not the only thing you do too). You sometimes function as an archetype for me. Which is terrible since it’s not a very human approach and I think it is as a result of not knowing you personally.

    Before somewhat recently I quit persuing philosophical discourse (I’ll get in that mode again once I get out all the crap in my head). Philosophy as therapy, something done for a time.

    It’s like Wittgenstein how he wrote the Tractatus then went off and taught in a children’s school for a while. He then realized he had something to say again and said it. He realized though that it was just one part of life and wholeness, probably not the most important part. The continued confusion in others still irritated his psyche because a full self and the world are the same. (this is a poor biographical sketch but useful device and Wittgenstein did ‘move on’ )

    I’m just in a phase that I’m using to shoot me forward.

    A Nietzschean point in the spirit of continued debate (though I do think we should meet sometime and that it would be helpful) —

    Writings of acquaintances and their readers. — We read the writings of our acquaintances (friends and foes) in a twofold sense, inasmuch as our knowledge continually whispers to us: ‘this is by him, a sign of his inner nature, his experiences, his talent’, while another kind of knowledge at the same time seeks to determine what his work is worth in itself, what evaluation it deserves apart from its author, what enrichment of knowledge it brings with it. As goes without saying, these two kinds of reading and evaluating disturb one another. Even a conversation with a friend will bring the fruits of knowledge to maturity only if both finally think only of the matter and forget they are friends. (HAH, I, 197)

    Do call me on things where I might not be helpful towards instruction. I know that’s you’re core task here and I value the philosophical education (the last remnants of a classical education). I’m paying more attention to what’s helpful in that regard, that earlier thread got to me. I’ll save some ramblings for more appropriate contexts.

    One more thing, from my point of view my voice is really mild (of course). But what I mean by this is that when I was a student at USU, my friends were much more adamant than me. I value philosophy much much more than most of the other skeptics and cynics. But they too understand philosophy quite well (and refuse it much more strongly than I). I believe in at least pushing the complaint.

    I also take some responsibility for pushing Vince toward philosophy but I hope I haven’t pulled him into some nonsense. I hope he expresses his voice as much as possible because he’s demonstrated more wisdom than I have.


  54. Mike

    The other way to put all this is that I believe in philosophy as a spiritual practice. I pick ways of thinking and acting that I think are constructive to the spirit. I’ve tried a number of traditional forms (including a more traditional/theoretical approach to the pursuit of truth) and found it wanting. This is the other part of the methodological point I was arguing against earlier. This isn’t religion without religion (religion with religion) it’s the pursuit of growth.

    The true myth says, “You must change your life.” (Rilke)

    Equally, the myth that fails to continually communicate that message ceases to be true.

        I’m a moralist and an advocate.


  55. Mike

    I would ask others about the methodological point about how we should be addressing moral issues. Is Kleiner’s ‘responsibility to correct moral error’, in the sense he’s using it, moral? To me it seems he’s attacking theory apart from practice (“I don’t know or much care if he lives up to his principles” ) which is either just straightforward nonsense or a waste of time.

    Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (NASB)

    Is Jesus’ evaluative method or Kleiner’s evaluative method the “correct answer”?

    In the end I’m probably not a contemporary “philosopher” because the term has fallen into disrepute.


  56. Huenemann Post author

    I think Mike’s pressing for a decision where none need be made. If Kleiner had a thought-police force that went around shutting down or arresting people following false moral principles, that would be one thing. (Not intending to give him any ideas!) Or if he insisted on everyone agreeing on principles before doing anything — this too would be unwise. But it’s possible to allow others to act while acting oneself and talking with others about principles — and, who knows, possibly revising what one is doing in consequence of those talks. It’s a real-time mix of practice, reflection upon practice, and learning from mistakes.


  57. Mike

    Sure, but recognizing the contemporary climate you have to think about how to approach this sort of thing for the best results, don’t you? I mean can’t we just let some debates die in order to focus on the most important things? I’m not even a huge fan of Singer but his thinking is pretty reasonable. Reasonable enough so much that I’d say where it’s lacking doesn’t have much to do with how reasonable it is. Yet it’s still at odds with people who have Kleiner’s sort of view.

    Can I really care? I don’t think so. It’s too hard to care about that sort of thing and seems irresponsible.

    I really am saying I can’t see these sorts of approaches to morality as moral. I might be wrong but how is this arguing over particulars that often look like the same practice, profitable?

    I wouldn’t be adverse to a longer description of why this is ultimately profitable.

    I agree arguing over other sorts of particulars of theories can be profitable, just not in this case.


  58. Mike

    I think there is plenty of structure in the religions (and irreligions) that exist to work from. It just takes a bit of rethinking and refocusing and getting back into the community with what they already know in hand.

    I’m not sure Kleiner thinks anything needs to be done. Or, he thinks what needs to be done is theoretical. I’m not sure. I also don’t think people should be as flamboyant as me without at least a bit of theory under their belt. But I recognize full lives along numerous paths.

    A number of my friends are activists of one sort or another (an investigative reporter, someone who works with homeless pets, a guy who does community development primarily in hispanic communities, a social worker about to get his law degree), even most of the programmers (open source). In a very real sense, every non-mormon in Utah is an activist. In some sense I’m speaking for them though rather poorly since I use a lot of religious language and things I hope other people (especially Christians and Mormons) would understand. I’m pretty sure their feeling is that I should be using expletives.

    I’ll eventually be writing for them and to them. But really I do write here for self correction, to see where my arguments can go and how they do.


  59. Kleiner

    Mike –
    I don’t consider the question of who qualifies as a “person” (what things have full moral value – humans, animals, ecosystems) to be “arguing over particulars”. Rather it seems to be a central question when it comes to how to discern what actions I ought to do and ought not do. This concerns very concrete questions – what should I eat? Should I euthanize myself when I get older and am a burden to the health care system?

    Still, of course I agree that the thing is to do moral deeds instead of just talking about them. And I think Vince is generally right in his last post about the individual-state/religion relationship. With Vince, I am not sure secular religion will have sufficient traction. This might sum up both points:

    “Now if words alone would suffice to make us good, they would rightly “harvest many rewards and great” as Theognis says, and we would have to provide them. But as it is, while words evidently do have the power to encourage and stimulate young men of generous mind, and while they can cause a character well-born and truly enamored of what is noble to be possessed by virtue, they do not have the capacity to turn the common run of people to goodness and nobility. For the natural tendecnsy of most people is to be swayed not by a sense of shame but by fear … … For most people are swayed rather by compulsion than argument, and by punishments rather than by a sense of what is noble.”
    Aristotle, Nicomachen Ethics X.9


  60. Mike

    I guess we have a fundamental disagreement about how reasoning works then. I think people can reason themselves into pretty much anything from almost anywhere. To think less seems like a gross misunderstanding of the human being.

    There are no silver bullets, no shortcuts. The trick is to work within the full complexity of what exists. Some patterns aren’t part of that. This has nothing to do with one theoretical point of view or another but it has a lot to do with being (which of course has theoretical points of view associated with it).

    It’s really odd to me that you don’t pick up on a lot of this from Nietzsche and Heidegger, I think it’s part of what they’re both getting at.


  61. Mike

    When the Dalai Lama points western adherents back to their own traditions he does so because he knows a full historical and contemporary context is the fastest track to enlightenment. Not that I’ve achieved that (how could I think something like that when I believe in the true myth?) but I get his point.

    Your full blown tradition isn’t only a particular form of Christianity. We’re all stuck in a larger tangled mess.

    Aside: it might be instructive to students to understand what the Buddhist “Middle Way” is. This isn’t what I was getting at when I referenced it earlier but I was pointing at it to get at my explanation.


  62. Kleiner

    I must confess that I am not entirely clear on your meaning. I’ll guess:
    I simply disagree with the claim that “people can reason themselves into pretty much anything from almost anywhere” – if what you mean by that is that reason is basically impotent because it is so radically “subjective”. I think truth remains a viable category. Sure, people can “rationalize” almost anything – but there is a difference between “reason” and “rationalization”.

    What Heidegger (Gadamer, and others) point out, rightly I think, is that reason does not operate in a vacuum. It is historically situated, and that puts us in a “hermeneutic situation”. But it remains the case that, to borrow from Holderlin, “some woodpaths lead to impenetrable thickets while others lead to clearings”. In other words, there is no absolute starting point (a la Descartes), we begin with the “always already” situatedness of Being-in-the-world. But we can still move forward, and vet our positions by looking into whether or not we have good reasons for holding them, etc. Given our hermeneutic situation, I think Lonergan’s “transcendental precepts” are a pretty good guide:
    Be attentive
    Be Intelligent
    Be reasonable
    Be responsible.


  63. Mike

    Because of our ability to rationalize, right reason isn’t quite the priority.

    I agree with what you said there but not how you are there. I recognize a strong disagreement in being (pattern recognition). I thought those guys could teach being but I guess they can’t so philosophy really is worthless.

    Like I said I’m working with an archetype here and I know that’s really lame.

    I just don’t see how right reason is ever going to get to right being. As far as I can tell, that can only be produced when right reason moves away from the forefront of your mind. (as an intellectual –a person who understands the world in a really heady way– I think that means the world around you itself has to start becoming propositions and conclusions — like the matrix -ha! Being present in the moment and awareness look different for different people. <– this is all completely ridiculous) I’m sounding too Buddhist.

    *Mike smacks himself around a little bit.*


  64. Kleiner

    “Because of our ability to rationalize, right reason isn’t quite the priority.” Isn’t it quite the opposite – because of our ability to rationalize, all the more reason that right reason should be a priority!

    Otherwise, I must confess that I have no idea what you are talking about with the “pattern” business.


  65. Mike

    What I’m saying is pursue right being at all costs. That might mean abandoning philosophy entirely to pursue religion as hardcore as possible. Ultimately your reason should be oriented around this pursuit. Not the reverse, else you’re likely to get nowhere because it starts from a poor recognition of where and who you are (by which i mean only a clear recognition that you’re not God — I can clarify this differently for non-theists).

    I see our differences as primarily an orientation issue that can only be clarified with experience, otherwise I don’ t think you can understand me (or me you?).

    Maybe I’m just exploring a Chimera. Anyone else see it?

    Isn’t this a Christian point, that reason too must be redeemed?

    It’s telling enough to me that changing my life always changes my thoughts and the reverse isn’t true.

    Also, pursing right being at all costs is the fastest way to learn how to fail successfully. That’s the sort of thing that produces real growth. It’s not an either/or proposition but it’s clear which needs to be the top priority. Real growth is what eventually produces the best thought (right reason).

    [on my avatar — i’d like to be the curious young owl, not the wise old one]


  66. Kleiner

    I like a lot of what Vince has said (as I find myself quite sympathetic with Levinas and Buber). So, I am not so much disagreeing with what he said as I am agreeing with what I said (Dr Katz).

    I would agree that sometimes Christians (and lots of other groups) “talk too much” and don’t do enough. This tendency is parodied brilliantly in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (they talk for so long about action that they forget what they were going to do).

    But I think our desire to avoid “over-thinking and under-doing (theoria over praxis) can be overdone. I just don’t see this as an either/or. Christ himself embodies the synthesis between Word (logos, truth) and works.

    On the one hand, He calls us to “believe” (we are saved by faith, not works). For that reason, it is important that we believe the right things (Christianity has greater interest in orthodoxy rather than orthopraxy not because of excessive intellectualism, but because of Christ).
    But I don’t see the “conflict” between faith and works that some Protestants see. Why not? Christ also tells us that we should “abide” in Him (the Logos). Our “isms” must be put into action or else we are not abiding in him. Where there are no works there is no faith. The tree will be known by its fruit. Isn’t part of the core message of Christianity that right belief will lead to right being (through your faith you will be born anew in Him, when in faith you partake of the Sacraments, you are experiencing an almost “ontological” change in yourself)?

    I think it would be a mistake to live out one (theology/philosophy vs works) alone. Lots of theological talk without works is worthless (“Theologians talk too much, sometimes they should shut up and sweep the floor”- Mother Theresa). But I think it equally silly to think we should not do theology at all. I really resist the interpretation of Jesus and the NT as just a “be a good person manual”. Let’s not sacrifice intellectual wonderings about God on the altar of the practical.

    We should know who we are, know who God is, and live/act that out. Liturgy shows us how to live – it engages our bodies, our souls/minds, the individual comes together with the community, the finite meets the infinite, we give, we receive, we eat, we drink, we repent and we rejoice. Liturgical worship is “holistic” in the sense that it engages the whole being. Isn’t this the model? In other words, these either/ors between thought and action (I might be characuturing Mike here, but this is how I read him) are just false dilemmas.

    Can secular humanism (the Church of Atheism) engage man in this way? For whatever good works it might do, I don’t think so.


  67. Mike

    Just to express how irrational I truly am…

    I think Mormonism and most US born traditions are completely false intellectually.

    However, I know mormons and rivivalists who pursue right being in such a way that I find no substantial disagreement between us. It’s a riddle to me how they found what they did in that space but I accept it.

    Kleiner and I cannot come to agreement on this point because it’s experiential.

    I think the pursuit of right thinking over right being is Pharisaical thinking. It’s offensive to me. It’s not a false dilemma, it’s a matter of personal identity.

    This is the problem with academic philosophers generally, they pursue correctness instead of understanding. Kleiner demonstrates this so well that it helps me elucidate this phenomena.

    For Students –if you choose to be a philosopher, be a real philosopher– don’t go looking for silver bullets. Remember the life form of the sage is what you’re after. Don’t leave any rock unturned.

    Kleiner’s understanding of humanism (from what he’s written) is so astonishingly shallow I cannot fathom what his identity was like then, it sounds really terrible. I’m glad he found Christianity.


  68. Kleiner

    I am growing a bit impatient with what I take to be almost constant mischaracterizations of my thinking and the philosophical life in general (and I’m grumpy from grading). I am sure this will show here in this post, no hurt feelings intended.

    Feel free to make me a straw man, but I really don’t think I pursue “correctness over understanding”. I am not looking for easy “silver bullets”. I am not pursuing mere right thinking over and against right being. Perhaps this does not come through in my posts, but I tend to be very “existential” in my thinking and my philosophy. My whole post was meant to suggest that these are not either/ors, rather the well-lived life will include both (and it might be that one naturally leads to the other). My philosophical thinking is, at least to my mind, almost totally oriented to questions of living (personal identity).

    But if Mike wants to use this philosophy blog to philosophically trash philosophy, feel free. Isn’t he, after all, trying to correct me – and so becoming enthralled with correctness? And I’m the one that is guilty of hypocritical thinking? Mike, stop wasting your time correcting philosophers and go plant a tree – isn’t that the point of all of your posts? Or are you somehow called to save us philosophers from our own over-thinking by over-thinking with us?

    I cannot help but wonder who this conversation is directed toward. Is there a crisis of excessive intellectualism in Christian communities? I sure as hell don’t see that. Isn’t the American Christian experience basically similar to the American experience generally – that is, no one reads or thinks much at all? Really, are there a lot of Christian communities (or any other kind of community for that matter) that you find to be excessively philosophical? I can tell you that I don’t sit around my parish thinking, “Gee, my fellow parishioners are way too concerned with theology.” Let’s get real. The problem for most people is not that they think too much and act too little. The problem is that they think and act too little.


  69. Mike

    I’m sure I sound pretentious here and I’m sorry for that. I’m especially sorry that I don’t know Kleiner better personally.

    Kleiner’s last paragraph is telling — understanding your own personal, contemporary, and historical context is the key.

    I cannot help but wonder who this conversation is directed toward. Is there a crisis of excessive intellectualism in Christian communities? I sure as hell don’t see that. Isn’t the American Christian experience basically similar to the American experience generally – that is, no one reads or thinks much at all? Really, are there a lot of Christian communities (or any other kind of community for that matter) that you find to be excessively philosophical? Let’s get real. The problem for most people is not that they think too much and act too little. The problem is that they think and act too little.

    The problem with the american traditions is that they pick one simple philosophical concept and go with it. So they get to a point where they think they have right thinking (they think their being is different as well but from any external perspective they’re still best characterized as ‘ordinary americans’). This can’t be dispelled via more thinking, that just creates more structure around the original thinking. They fail to seek what’s true because they think they have it and they think the thinking is it.

    Sorry again, for keeping this inanity going. I’ll move on.

    I said this before, I’ll say it again — it’s highly likely I’m fighting a Chimera (a monster of my own making). In my psyche Kleiner matches a different category of myself (Evil Mike) that I’m arguing against. So all that I’ve said here is probably better said by replacing all instances of Kleiner with “Evil Mike” (even the stuff he wrote). I do think I’m saying something substantive here but the personal part (because Kleiner has attributes apart from his posts, i only take issue with the posts) is completely unwarranted in the kindness to strangers sort of way (it’s also somewhat impossible to describe without it, I couldn’t think how to do it). I take philosophy as a very very personal pursuit. I hope for examples, educators (and friends) in philosophy profs so I’m harder on them. It usually works out ok eventually when it happens in person, not so well online it seems.


  70. Kleiner

    I don’t think I want to be “good Mike” or “evil Mike”. Really, I take no personal offense to your comments, this is just good rough and tumble debate. At the end of the day, we seem to disagree on both the diagnosis and the remedy. I think you are wrong about philosophy (its prospects and its dangers) and I think some of your thinking is pretty slipshod. I must confess that sometimes I don’t even understand what you are talking about (especially the business about “patterns”). And I remain flummoxed as to why you bother trying to correct me (through thought) when you yourself seem to think that more thinking won’t solve the problem I allegedly have. In short, I just don’t understand why you bother posting on a philosophy blog when you seem to hate philosophy so much.
    But to each his own. I trust that you are a good guy, an intelligent fellow, and if I knew you better I might even understand where you are coming from. For my part, I continue to think that pursuing truth (knowledge, understanding, wisdom) through thought is a legitimate activity, that reason is not impotent, that it is important to evaluate positions and correct errors when possible, but that all of this is done for the sake of living well and doing well.

    I think Vince’s point (he seems to think it is similar to yours) about Buber and Talmudic wisdom is more substantive and much more cogent. I have a lot of sympathy for the “ethical turn” of Levinas and Buber. For my part, I have only insisted all along on a mixed life – it seems to me we ought to both think and work, and that these two activities are not opposed (and in fact, good works might require good thinking just as good works might facilitate better thinking).
    Anyway, I’m ready to move on from the discussion.


  71. Huenemann Post author

    Hmm — looks like we’ve reached an impasse here. I’ll employ executive authority and close off the thread — let’s hope we find new and more productive ways to explore these differences along a different thread!


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