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Reason Isn’t Everything

Archimedes Thoughtful

Archimedes Thoughtful (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is not such a great gap between mysticism and rationalism as we tend to imagine . . . we have all urged friends to “sleep on” a problem in the hope of finding a solution that has eluded them in their waking hours. When our minds are receptive and relaxed, ideas come from the deeper region of the mind. This has also been the experience of such scientists as Archimedes, who discovered his famous Principle in the bath. A truly creative philosopher or scientist has, like the mystic, to confront the dark world of uncreated reality and the cloud of unknowing in the hope of piercing it. As long as they wrestle  with logic and concepts, they are, necessarily, imprisoned in ideas or forms of thought that have already been established.

- Karen Armstrong, from “A History of God” (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993)

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Quotations

 

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Philosophy Vs Science

English: Mortimer Adler, Miami Book Fair Inter...

English: Mortimer Adler, Miami Book Fair International, 1988 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me make this last point quite clear. The conduct of human life and the organization of human society depend on our answers to such questions as what happiness consists in, what our duties are, what form of government is most just, what constitutes the common good of society, what freedom men should have, and so on. Not one of these questions, nor any question like them which involves right and wrong or good and bad, can be answered by science, now or ever. . .

In my judgement it is philosophy, not science, which should be uppermost in any culture or civilization, simply because the questions it can answer are more important for human life. Certainly it should be clear that the more science we possess, the more we need philosophy, because the more power we have, the more we need direction.

- Dr. Mortimer J. Adler from the book “Great Ideas From The Great Books”

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Quotations

 

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A Miscellany for Monday

Famous posthumous portrait of Niccolò Machiave...

Famous posthumous portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, if there is such a thing, “Happy Monday!”I have finished the writing assignment about Johnny Appleseed that I posted on about a week or so ago. Not having written under a deadline in many years, I must say it went pretty well. Now it’s up to the editors. I’ll tell you more when I’m able.

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I was thinking about my previous post on Chesterton and the opening quote has stuck in my mind: “This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately.”

It seems so obvious, yet everywhere one looks there is an emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism, things that divide and separate us as a people.

In the “Dictionary of Phrase & Fable” there is an entry titled “Divide and Govern.” Here’s what it says: “Divide a nation into parties, or set your enemies at loggerheads, and you can have your own way. A maxim of Machiavelli. . .”

So, who’s having their own way?

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The book I’m currently reading is “A World Lit Only By Fire; The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance” by William Manchester (Back Bay Books, 1993).

Be glad you don’t live in the Dark Ages. It was a nasty, brutish time when human life was very cheap. Manchester is an excellent writer and brings to one’s attention many fascinating aspects of this time in history. Like this: “The most baffling, elusive, yet in many ways the most significant dimensions of the medieval mind were invisible and silent. One was the medieval man’s total lack of ego. Even those with creative powers had no sense of self.”

What a contrast with today, where even people with no creative powers are absolutely full of self!

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Quotations, Reading, What I'm Reading

 

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A Moment With Gil: The Ethics of Elfland

A Moment With Gil: The Ethics of Elfland

So here we have chapter four of “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton. As you can tell by the chapter title, Gil can get a bit whimsical. To be honest, I’m not sure where the heck he pulled this one from, especially since one of the first quotes from the chapter has nothing to do with ethics or Elfland.

This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately.

I happen to agree with this wholeheartedly, as I suspect most people with any degree of common sense would. But how does it fit in with Elfland? My guess is this:

We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment.

We all hold in common the need for a sense of wonder and we find it in Elfland. As for the ethics thing it’s a bit of a stretch, but if you’ve read many fairy stories this should sound familiar.

In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.

Chesterton believed in the world as a magical place and the fairy story was his template for understanding it. Most fairy stories had conditions which the hero or heroine had to uphold for order and happiness to continue. Ethics are those conditions which keep the story going. The conditions, or ethics, are put there by the author of the tale.

In other words, life has a purpose. It is a story. It is “intended” by someone. This is opposed to the materialists who mostly saw the universe as a vast machine.

The size of this scientific universe gave one no novelty, no relief. The cosmos went on forever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance, such as forgiveness or free will.

There you have it. Without the purpose, without the storyteller, true ethics do not exist. A machine has no choice.

This modern universe is literally an empire; that is, it was vast, but it is not free.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Authors, Ideas, What I'm Reading

 

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Of Virility and Virtue

Virtue

Virtue (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

I recently began reading N.T. Wright‘s book “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters” (HarperOne, 2010). I’m not far enough in for a review at this point, but Wright has made the point that virtues – courage, self-discipline, etc. – are the building blocks of Christian character and need to be developed. No argument from me on that one.

Out of curiosity, I went to my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary and looked up “virtue.” One of the things I love about this dictionary is the way it gives the language roots of various words. In the case of “virtue” I learned something very interesting. It seems that both “virtue” and “virile” come from the same Latin root, vir. That is the Latin word for man or male or hero.

The first definition for “virtue” given is “conformity to a standard of right.” These days, one would have to be very heroic to pull that off! Yet it seems the ancients considered it to be very masculine to adhere to a code of moral conduct.

Something to ponder.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in What I'm Reading, Words

 

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A Moment with Gil: “The Suicide of Thought”

Last time I shared some of Chesterton’s words from chapter two of “Orthodoxy” called “The Maniac.” Chesterton’s main point there was that a person using pure reason with no base point or proper first principle could end up mad. As in crazy.

In chapter three, “The Suicide of Thought,” Chesterton takes on some of the dangers of modern thinking. Pretty incredible considering he wrote this over one hundred years ago. First he tackles what we would call today “relativism.”

“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.”

“…so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought.”

“We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.”

Chesterton also takes on the theory of progress. People want to make “progress” an ideal even though, “Progress itself cannot progress.”

“The main point here, however, is that this idea of a fundamental alteration in the standard is one of the things that make thought about the past or future simply impossible.”

“But as an ideal, change itself becomes unchangeable.”

The typically American philosophy of pragmatism also comes in for a harsh critique.

“Pragmatism is a matter of human needs; and one of the first of human needs is to be something more than a pragmatist. Extreme pragmatism is just as inhuman as the determinism it so powerfully attacks.”

There’s more of course – he takes-on skepticism and Nietzsche as well – but you get the idea. The main point for Chesterton in this chapter is that “complete free thought involves the doubting of thought itself.” If you follow that idea to its logical end the danger is that “the human intellect is free to destroy itself.”

A bit extreme? Maybe. Fortunately, most of today’s “free thinkers”  seldom follow their ideas all the way through.

In the next “Moment with Gil” we’ll visit Elfland.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Authors, Quotations, What I'm Reading

 

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A Moment With Gil: “The Maniac”

No, not Chesterton. “The Maniac” is chapter 2 of his book “Orthodoxy,” in which Gil takes aim at so-called freethinkers. A few quotes for your entertainment.

“The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who  has lost everything except his reason.”

“For we must remember that the materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than any religion . . . Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism. I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies.”

“Detached intellectualism is . . . all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton did have a way with words.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Authors, Quotations, What I'm Reading

 

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