The Human Condition
Julian Baggini (Oxford University Press: December 2006), 224 pages.
What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has intrigued the great philosophers — and has been hilariously lampooned by Monty Python. Indeed, the whole idea strikes many of us as vaguely pompous and perhaps more than a little absurd. Is there one profound answer, an ultimate purpose behind human existence? Julian Baggini thinks not. Rather, as Baggini argues in What's It All About, meaning can be found in a variety of ways. He succinctly breaks down six answers people commonly suggest when considering what life is all about—helping others, serving humanity, being happy, becoming successful, enjoying each day as if it were your last, and "freeing your mind." By reducing the vague, mysterious question of "meaning" to a series of more specific (if unmysterious) questions about what gives life purpose and value, he shows that the quest for meaning can be personal, empowering, and uplifting. Illustrating his argument with the thoughts of many of the great philosophers and examples drawn from everyday life, Baggini convincingly shows that the search for meaning is personal and within the power of each of us to find. ~ Product Description
Harry G. Frankfurt (Stanford University Press: September 2006), 136 pages.
Harry G. Frankfurt begins these lectures by asking, "What is it about human beings that makes it possible for us to take ourselves seriously?" Based on the Tanner Lectures in Moral Philosophy, Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right delves into this provocative and original question. The author maintains that taking ourselves seriously presupposes an inward-directed, reflexive oversight that enables us to focus our attention directly upon ourselves, and "it means that we are not prepared to accept ourselves just as we come. We want our thoughts, our feelings, our choices, and our behavior to make sense. We are not satisfied to think that our ideas are formed haphazardly, or that our actions are driven by transient and opaque impulses or by mindless decisions. We need to direct ourselves — or at any rate to believe that we are directing ourselves — in thoughtful conformity to stable and appropriate norms. We want to get things right." The essays delineate two features that have a critical role to play in this: our rationality, and our ability to love. Frankfurt incisively explores the roles of reason and of love in our active lives, and considers the relation between these two motivating forces of our actions. The argument is that the authority of practical reason is less fundamental than the authority of love. Love, as the author defines it, is a volitional matter, that is, it consists in what we are actually committed to caring about. Frankfurt adds that "The object of love can be almost anything — a life, a quality of experience, a person, a group, a moral ideal, a tradition, whatever." However, these objects and ideals are difficult to comprehend and often in conflict with each other. Moral principles play an important supporting role in this process as they help us develop and elucidate a vision that inspires our love. ~ Product Description
Nomy Arpaly (Princeton University Press: Jul 2006), 158 pages.
Perhaps everything we think, feel, and do is determined, and humans — like stones or clouds — are slaves to the laws of nature. Would that be a terrible state? Philosophers who take the incompatibilist position think so, arguing that a deterministic world would be one without moral responsibility and perhaps without true love, meaningful art, and real rationality. But compatibilists and semicompatibilists argue that determinism need not worry us. As long as our actions stem, in an appropriate way, from us, or respond in some way to reasons, our actions are meaningful and can be judged on their moral (or other) merit. In this highly original work, Nomy Arpaly argues that a deterministic world does not preclude moral responsibility, rationality, and love — in short, meaningful lives — but that there would still be something lamentable about a deterministic world. A person may respond well to reasons, and her actions may faithfully reflect her true self or values, but she may still feel that she is not free. Arpaly argues that compatibilists and semicompatibilists are wrong to dismiss this feeling — for which there are no philosophical consolations — as philosophically irrelevant. On the way to this bittersweet conclusion, Arpaly sets forth surprising theories about acting for reasons, the widely accepted idea that "ought implies can," moral blame, and more.
"The Brave New World Wide Web," National Review Online
My conservative instinct says there's really nothing new under the sun. Technology almost by definition is developed to solve problems (necessity, recall, is invention's mommy). But, as conservative philosophy teaches us, the "problems" of the human condition are permanent. So while technology is ever changing, the human desires we try to satisfy with technology remain constant. For example, every innovation in mass media has been a boon to the porn industry. You can be sure that when we finally create holographic technology, it'll be put to good triple-X use long before we have a chance to see Hamlet in digital 3-D.
Gary L. Drescher (MIT Press: May 2006), 363 pages.
In Good and Real, Gary Drescher examines a series of provocative paradoxes about consciousness, choice, ethics, quantum mechanics, and other topics, in an effort to reconcile a purely mechanical view of the universe with key aspects of our subjective impressions of our own existence. Many scientists suspect that the universe can ultimately be described by a simple (perhaps even deterministic) formalism; all that is real unfolds mechanically according to that formalism. But how, then, is it possible for us to be conscious, or to make genuine choices? And how can there be an ethical dimension to such choices? Drescher sketches computational models of consciousness, choice, and subjunctive reasoning—what would happen if this or that were to occur?—to show how such phenomena are compatible with a mechanical, even deterministic universe. Analyses of Newcomb's Problem (a paradox about choice) and the Prisoner's Dilemma (a paradox about self-interest vs. altruism, arguably reducible to Newcomb's Problem) help bring the problems and proposed solutions into focus. Regarding quantum mechanics, Drescher builds on Everett's relative-state formulation—but presenting a simplified formalism, accessible to laypersons—to argue that, contrary to some popular impressions, quantum mechanics is compatible with an objective, deterministic physical reality, and that there is no special connection between quantum phenomena and consciousness. In each of several disparate but intertwined topics ranging from physics to ethics, Drescher argues that a missing technical linchpin can make the quest for objectivity seem impossible, until the elusive technical fix is at hand. ~ Product Description
J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler (NavPress: Jan. 17, 2006), 224 pages.
Starting from the American "pursuit of happiness," Moreland (a philosophy professor at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University) and Issler (a Christian education and theology professor, also at Talbot) connect with a widely felt desire. Yet they immediately take readers into deeper reflection of the very content of the happiness we pursue, arguing that our consumerist culture has replaced the more satisfying content of true happiness with a poor substitute. Moving smoothly into a discussion of discipleship, they focus on spiritual disciplines as the key to true happiness in life. Subsequent chapters explore how the spiritual disciplines can be used to improve many areas of our lives–emotions, thoughts, risk taking and the development of a more mature faith during difficult times. They end with a convincing chapter on the importance of spiritual friendships. Although exploring some deep topics, this will still be accessible to most readers and very useful for study groups, particularly with the excellent discussion questions at the end of each chapter. The practical suggestions and creative exercises throughout will be particularly helpful for those new to spiritual disciplines. ~ Publishers Weekly
Louis P. Pojman (Oxford University Press: July 2005), 320 pages.
Since the dawn of human history, people have exhibited wildly contradictory qualities: good and evil, love and hate, strength and weakness, kindness and cruelty, aggressiveness and pacifism, generosity and greed, courage and cowardice. Experiencing a sense of eternity in our hearts--but at the same time confined to temporal and spatial constraints--we seek to understand ourselves, both individually and as a species. What is our nature? What is this enigma that we call human? Who are we? In Who Are We?, esteemed author Louis P. Pojman seeks to find answers to these questions by exploring major theories in Western philosophy and religion, along with several traditions in Eastern thought. The most comprehensive work of its kind, the volume opens with chapters on the Hebrew/Christian view of human nature and the contrasting classical Greek theories, outlining a dichotomy between faith and reason that loosely frames the rest of the book. Following chapters cover the medieval view, Hindu and Buddhist perspectives, conservative and liberal theories, Kant's Copernican revolution, Schopenhauer's transcendental idealism, and Karl Marx's theory. Freud's psychoanalytic view, the existentialist perspective, the Darwinian view, and scientific-materialism are also discussed. Pojman concludes with a discussion of the question of free will, ultimately asserting that each one of us must decide for ourselves who and what we are, and, based on that answer, how we shall live. ~ Product Description
Harold Bloom (Riverhead Books: Oct 2005), 320 pages.
Emulating one of his favorite critics, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Bloom returns once more to sift through the Western canon, this time to discern and describe those writers whose brand of wisdom he holds in highest esteem. Beginning with Job and Ecclesiastes, and ranging from Plato, Homer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Johnson and Goethe to Emerson, Nietzsche, Freud and Proust, Bloom writes gracefully about each as he evaluates by comparison and teases out indicators of their subtle interrelationships. Into this highbrow brew he interjects a personal note, describing how he is writing in the aftermath of life-threatening illness and with a renewed sense of the preciousness of literature's great lessons. At the heart of Bloom's project is the ancient quarrel between "poetry" and "philosophy." In Bloom's opinion, we ought not have to choose between Homer and Plato; we can have both, as long as we recognize that poetry is superior. Bloom considers Cervantes and Shakespeare the masters of wisdom in modern literature, "equals of Ecclesiastes, and the Book of Job, of Homer and Plato." He justifies his tastes with close readings of King Lear and Macbeth that find a Shakespearean variety of nihilism, a form of wisdom Bloom identifies as central to the poetic tradition. ~ Publishers Weekly
Peter S. Williams (Damaris: Jan 2005), 499 pages.
I wish I could believe in God. It would make my life meaningful," says a young woman amidst the buzz of a student party. But can life really have any meaning, and is it possible to believe in meaning without believing in God? In today's post-modern world, life and meaning no longer go hand-in-hand. Our secular culture insists that, like it or not, the only purpose for humanity is expressed in Darwin's evolutionary mantra, the survival of the fittest, and we would be naive to look elsewhere. Can we honestly believe "the truth is out there" in the face of such skepticism, or are we just kidding ourselves into believing a warm comfortable lie? Perhaps we should simply grow up and accept the harsh message of naturalistic evolution, but surely the way that most of us live our lives belies some sort of hope that there is a reason for it all? Williams digs beneath our skeptical culture and invites us to take time out from the party to seriously consider some of life's big questions — about truth, knowledge, goodness, and beauty. ~ Product Description
Peter Van Inwagen, ed. (Eerdmans: Oct 1, 2004), 332 pages.
The problem of evil has challenged religious minds and hearts throughout the ages. Just how can the presence of suffering, tragedy, and wrongdoing be squared with the all-powerful, all-loving God of faith? This book gathers some of the best, most meaningful recent reflections on the problem of evil, with contributions by shrewd thinkers in the areas of philosophy, theology, literature, linguistics, and sociology. In addition to bringing new insights to the old problem of evil, Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil is set apart from similar volumes by the often-novel approaches its authors take to the subject. Many of the essays pursue classic lines in speculative philosophy, but others address the problem of evil through biblical criticism, the thought of Simone Weil, and the faith of battered women and African American slaves. As a result, this book will interest a wide range of readers. Contributors: Paul Draper, Eduardo J. Echeverria, Laura Waddell Ekstrom, Stephen Griffith, Del Kiernan-Lewis, Richard T. McClelland, Barbara Omolade, Richard Otte, Alvin Plantinga, John R. Schneider, Robert Stanley, Peter van Inwagen, Carol Winkelmann, and Keith D. Wyma.
George Santayana on Sex said...
Sex endows the individual with a dumb and powerful instinct, which carries his body and soul continually toward another; makes it one of the dearest employments of his life to select and pursue a companion, and joins to possession the keenest pleasure, to rivalry the fiercest rage, and to solitude an eternal melancholy.
Arthur Schopenhauer on Sex said...
"Metaphysics of the Love of the Sexes" in The World as Will and Idea (K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.: 1906), p. 339.
The sexual impulse in all its degrees and nuances plays not only on the stage and in novels, but also in the real world, where, next to the love of life, it shows itself the strongest and most powerful of motives, constantly lays claim to half the powers and thoughts of the younger portion of mankind, to the ultimate goal of almost all human efforts, interrupts the most serious occupations every hour, sometimes embarrasses for a while even the greatest minds, does not hesitate to intrude with its trash, interfering with the negotiations of statesmen and the investigations of men of learning, knows how to slip its love letters and locks of hair even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts, and no less devises daily the most entangled and the worst actions, destroys the most valuable relationships, breaks the firmest bond, demands the sacrifice sometimes of life or health, sometimes of wealth, rank, and happiness, nay, robs those who are otherwise honest of all conscience, makes those who have hitherto been faithful, traitors; accordingly on the whole, appears as a malevolent demon that strives to pervert, confuse and overthrow everything.
Ric Ergenbright (Tyndale House: May 1, 2004), 160 pages.
When Ric Ergenbright began his travel career, his passion was seeing and photographing the differences between the world’s cultures. But time and experience showed him that human societies are more alike than not. People everywhere laugh when they are happy, cry when they are hurt, and ask the same "big" questions about life. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? Does God exist? Is there life after death? How then should I live? In Psalm 8, King David asks the question of the ages: "What is man?" How we answer this all-encompassing question determines how we live as individuals and societies, because our perspective of people, nature, and God is founded on our perception of man. It defines our understanding and expression of love; it governs our rule over the natural world; and it reveals the deity that we worship and serve. From the beginning, God has communicated His truth to man through images and stories of real-life events. Following this example, Ric Ergenbright combines current-day photographs of the worldwide family of man with the historical narrative of man’s creation, fall, and redemption to illustrate the eternal relevance and life-changing power of this story, which is for all people of all nations.
Gary R. Habermas and J.P. Moreland (Wipf & Stock: Jan 2004), 462 pages.
By sharing the very latest scientific, philosophical, anthropological, ethical, and theological evidence on life after death, noted Christian scholars Habermas and Moreland present a strong case for immortality with this book. They begin by taking up the question of whether life after death is real what evidence supports its reality. They then explore what the afterlife is like and go on to show how having this reality in your future should affect the way you live here and now. This book will reassure you that there's no need to fear death — as long as you're prepared for the eternity that follows. It's also a great aid in developing a serious biblical, rational, and even scientific defense for belief in life beyond the grave. ~ Book Cover
"Truth Commissions and Judicial Trials" in The Provocations of Amnesty (New Africa Books: 2003) p. 69-70.
The agents of atrocities have a self-interest in keeping their acts invisible, buried, and publicly forgotten. The Nazis meant to plough under every death camp, and Himmler once consoled his SS cohorts that, while the German public would never know the full scope of their service to racial cleansing of the nation, they should always take pride in their work. In South African torture cells, the torturers taunted their victims with the prediction that, just as no one could hear their present screams, no one would remember them in the future either. The moral damages of amnesia are multiple: to victims, whose final indignity in survival or in death is to have their suffering forgotten; to perpetrators, whose moral health cannot be restored without confrontation of their immorality; and — not least — to a public that has every prudent self-interest in knowing enough about an evil past to be put on alert against its repetition.
Steven Pinker (Penguin Group: August 2003), 528 pages.
In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits-a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century-denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts. Injecting calm and rationality into debates that are notorious for ax-grinding and mud-slinging, Pinker shows the importance of an honest acknowledgment of human nature based on science and common sense. ~ Product Description
P.M. Forni on Spreading Misery said...
Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct (Macmillan: 2003), pp. 137-8.
What concerns me here, instead, is the continuous or recurring complaining that is an unwarranted spreading of misery. It is the kind that bespeaks helplessness rather than assertiveness, it more interested in assigning blame than in finding solutions, and is rooted in the feeling that life is unfair. Now, disappointments, disheartening setbacks, and dreams that fail to become reality are an inevitable part of being alive. Every day you spend on earth, however, also gives you an abundance of reasons to be grateful. It is upt to you to choose between giving in to dissatisfaction and resentment and embracing contentment and joy. My suggestion is that you make every effort to start walking toward joy today, not only for your own good but for the good of those closest to you as well.
F. Leron Shults (Eerdmans: February 2003), 280 pages.
With the profound changes in today's intellectual and scientific landscape, traditional ways of speaking about human nature, sin, and the image of God have lost their explanatory power. In this volume F.LeRonShults explores the challenges to and opportunities for rethinking currentreligious views of humankind in contemporary Western culture. From philosophy to theology, from physics to psychology, we find aturn to the categories of "relationality." Shults briefly traces this historyfrom Aristotle to Levinas, showing its impact on the Christian doctrine ofanthropology, and he argues that the biblical understanding of humanity has much to contribute to today's dialogue on persons and on humanbecoming in relation to God and others. Shults's work stands as a potenteffort to reform theological anthropology in a way that restores its relevance to contemporary interpretations of the world and our place in it. ~ Product Description
Corey L. M. Keyes and Jonathan Haidt, eds. (American Psychological Association: January 2003), 368 pages.
Toward redirecting mainstream psychology's focus from the disease model to the higher rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs that have long informed humanistic psychology, the contributors to these 13 chapters participated in the first Summit of Positive Psychology held in 1999. Keyes (sociology, Emory U.) and Haidt (social psychology, U. of Virginia) introduce the rationale for studying fulfillment, morality, and other factors that make life worthwhile. Keyes and foreword writer Martin Seligman, a former APA president, were summit co-chairs. ~ Product Description
James Waller on Civilization said...
"Ordinary People, Extraordinary Evil", Salon.com (August 2002).
In Rwanda and the Balkans, neighbors often killed neighbors. How did they turn on people they'd known all their lives? And in the Holocaust you had incidences of this, too — I'm thinking of Jan Gross' book, entitled "Neighbors," about a small village in Poland named Jedwabne where the Catholic half of the village killed the Jewish half simply because they were given permission to do so. You realize how thin this veneer of civilization is that we put up. We say we live as neighbors and in a community, but when something happens structurally that says now you have permission to persecute, to take from, to even kill people that you've lived with for years, the relative ease with which people can do that is incredible.