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Being Human

Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?

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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

Who Are We?

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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

Steve Jobs on Death Ending and Changing All

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No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

I Wish I Could Believe in Meaning

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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

Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil

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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.

Sam Harris on Religious Moderation

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The only reason why anyone is “moderate” in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought… The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is, rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt.

Beyond Death

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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

Donald W. Shriver, Jr. on Silent Screams

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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.

The Blank Slate

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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

Professing Feminism

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Feminists have often called Women’s Studies the “academic arm of the women’s movement.” But Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge charge that the attempt to make Women’s Studies serve a political agenda has led to deeply problematic results: dubious scholarship, pedagogical practices that resemble indoctrination more than education, and the alienation of countless potential supporters. In this new and expanded edition of their controversial 1994 book, the authors update their analysis of what’s gone wrong with Women’s Studies programs. Original chapters feature interviews with professors, students, and staffers who invested much time and effort in Women’s Studies, and new chapters look primarily at documents recently generated from within Women’s Studies itself. Through critiques of actual program mission statements, course descriptions, newsletters, and e-mail lists devoted to feminist pedagogy and Women’s Studies, and, not least, the writings of well-known feminist scholars, Patai and Koertge provide a detailed and devastating examination of the routine practices found in feminist teaching and research. ~ Publisher’s Description

Flourishing

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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

P.M. Forni on Whining and Spreading Misery

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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 up 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.

PJ O’Rourke on Humanity

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Of course the answer to my question about Middle Easterners is that all people are crazy and always have been. Just look at the pyramids, which are as crazy a structure as anybody would ever care to realize. The ancient Egyptians weren’t Middle Easterners in our modern terms. They were a civilization all on their own with a different language and a different culture a gazillion years ago. But they acted as perfectly mad as anything modern. There’s a deep streak of psychosis that runs through human beings, no matter what their culture.

PJ O’Rourke on Types of People

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The source of the word “humorist” is one who regards human beings in terms of their humors, you know, whether they’re sanguine or full of yellow bile, or whatever the four classical humors are. You stand back from people and regard them as types. And one finds, especially by the time one reaches one’s fifties, that there are a limited number of types of people in the world, and you went to high school with every single one of them. You can visit the Eskimos, you can visit the Bushmen in the Kalahari, you can go to Israel, you can go to Egypt, but everybody you meet is going to be somebody you went to high school with.

James Waller on Human Nature and Pessimism

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My own pessimism comes more from understanding human nature and the relative ease with which ordinary people can come to commit extraordinary evil. Until we fully understand and appreciate that, we’re kind of at a loss to try and stop it. It seems to me that some of our discussion still revolves around the idea that perpetrators of genocide are very much on the fringe, and that there aren’t a lot of these people. But when we recognize how relatively easy it is for ordinary people to become involved in this, that just takes the discussion to a different place… It’s easier for me to sleep at night if I think that perpetrators of genocide and mass killing are lunatics or insane or only found in cultures like Germany. I don’t blame people for jumping to those explanations. But for me it begins with the issue of numbers. We know that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, but very seldom do we step back and ask the question: How many people does it take to kill 6 million people? We know that 800,000 Rwandans died in 100 days, but again, how many people does it take to kill 800,000 people? If you want to say that the only people who do this are lunatics or insecure, then I just don’t know if you can round up that many people like that in a given society to commit the scale of atrocity that we see in genocide. You simply can’t rely on the fringes of society to do that. A lot of ordinary people are going to have to be recruited into that effort as well.

James Waller on the Thin Veneer of Civilization

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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.

M. Faraday on Family Values in Cuba

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Another woman on the block, a ranking government official, told me, “You know, the one thing we really have to thank … [here she tugged at an imaginary beard; those less kindly disposed toward El Jefe of the Long Wind massage imaginary horns but similarly do not speak his name] … for is that he relieved us of the Catholic curse, and so we have fewer sexual hang-ups than anyone in the Latin world. We use birth control like happy whores and we can divorce with the drop of a jockstrap.” Some 82 percent of married Cuban women 15 to 49 regularly use birth control, compared with 70 percent in the U.S.. Abortions are free of stigma and charge, and they are readily available and volubly defended by government officials. Divorce, my neighbor tells me, is so common in Cuba that the joke is that the child who actually lives at home with both biological parents will surely require psychotherapy.

Jonah Goldberg on Human Responsibility

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Noting that we’re all human beings can be worthwhile, but it can also be a verbal white flag for abject moral surrender. Put another way: All the great political and moral conflicts have been between human beings. To date, civilization’s greatest battles — rhetorical or otherwise — have not been with Styrofoam, dog hair, gerbils, or toe jam. Nazis are human beings. Murderers and pedophiles are human beings. To say that humanity somehow exonerates rather than confers accountability is to say that humanity is in fact meaningless. Joe Blow killed a child? Well, he’s just a human being — cut him some slack. Sure, Jack the Ripper was a rough chap, but he was a carbon-based life form.

Os Guinness on the Weight of Prophetic Witness

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Prisoner 174517 was thirsty. Seeing a fat icicle hanging just outside his hut in the Auschwitz extermination camp, he reached out of the window and broke it off to quench his thirst. But before he could get the icicle to his mouth, a guard snatched it out of his hands and dashed it to pieces on the filthy ground. “Warum?” the prisoner burst out instinctively — “Why?” “Hier ist kein warum,” the guard answered with brutal finality — “Here there is no why.” ¶ That for Primo Levi, the Italian Jewish scientist and writer, was the essence of the death camps — places not only of unchallengable, arbitrary authority but of absolute evil that defied all explanation. In the face of such wickedness, explanations born of psychology, sociology, and economics were pathetic in their inadequacy. One could only shoulder the weight of such an experience and bear witness to the world. “Never again” was too confident an assertion. You never know was the needed refrain.

Madeleine L’Engle on Longing for Home

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We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes…

Rethinking Evil: Contemporary Perspectives

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This innovative volume will be welcomed by moral and political philosophers, social scientists, and anyone who reflects seriously on the twentieth century’s heavy burden of war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other evidence of people’s desire to harm one another. Mar’a P’a Lara brings together a provocative set of essays that reexamine evil in the context of a "postmetaphysical" world, a world that no longer equates natural and human evil and no longer believes in an omnipotent God. The question of how and why God permits evil events to occur is replaced by the question of how and why humans perform radically evil acts. ~ Product Description

Cary Tennis on Alcoholism and Redemption

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It’s that experience of utter hopelessness, or moments of clarity, or hitting bottom, at which some sufferers typically call out to a higher power for help and others seek the aid of psychiatrists, healers and scientists. The common paradox in all these experiences is that personal powerlessness is twinned with personal responsibility: You suddenly realize that while no one can cure you, neither can you cure yourself on your own. You need God, or friends, or an institution, or a belief system, or something — anything — not yourself. And thus begins, in myriad forms, the archetypal untangling of epistemological knots that results, ultimately, in an unaddicted ego that knows it is both profoundly free and profoundly interdependent. And that’s the basis of a healthy society. For that reason, many recovered addicts view with suspicion systems of government aid that seem to prolong dependency and/or to shield sufferers from the fundamental hopelessness of their situation. Thus we would expect Bush, not just as a political conservative, but as somebody who’s experienced deep hopelessness, aloneness in the universe and the need for God, to view welfare and other government attempts to eliminate suffering as simply, and wrongly, shielding people from their true problems, the recognition of which alone could catalyze deep change.