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Archive for May, 2005

Conservative Index

Human Events Online gives a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries:

HUMAN EVENTS asked a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders to help us compile a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Each panelist nominated a number of titles and then voted on a ballot including all books nominated. A title received a score of 10 points for being listed No. 1 by one of our panelists, 9 points for being listed No. 2, etc. Appropriately, The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, earned the highest aggregate score and the No. 1 listing.

Each book is accompanied by a short ‘graph of rationale. But here’s just the straight list.

  1. Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
  2. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
  3. Mao Zedong, Quotations from Chairman Mao
  4. Alfred Kinsey, The Kinsey Report
  5. John Dewey, Democracy and Education
  6. Karl Marx, Das Kapital
  7. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
  8. Auguste Comte, The Course of Positive Philosophy
  9. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
  10. John Maynard Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

The list of scholars follows the (longer) list of honorable mentions.

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Pope Pledges to End Orthodox Rift

CNN reports Pope pledges to end Orthodox rift:

“I want to repeat my willingness to assume as a fundamental commitment working to reconstitute the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ, with all my energy,” he said to applause from the estimated 200,000 people at the Mass.

Words aren’t enough, he said, adding that “concrete gestures” were needed even from ordinary Catholics to reach out toward the Orthodox.

“I also ask all of you to decisively take the path of spiritual ecumenism, which in prayer will open the door to the Holy Spirit who alone can create unity,” he said.

Benedict has said previously that reaching out to the Orthodox and other Christians would be a priority of his papacy, and his call to ordinary Catholics to take the charge as well built on that agenda. . . .

In his greetings at the start of the Mass, Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari referred to the city’s Orthodox ties, saying the arrival of St. Nicholas’ bones in 1057 “built a bridge between the East and West that neither time nor divisions have ever demolished.”

“Even in these days, many brothers of the eastern churches have been united with us, encouraging us to continue with renewed commitment and enthusiasm on the path of prayer and ecumenical dialogue,” the archbishop said.

In a bid to improve relations, the Vatican’s top ecumenical official, Cardinal Walter Kasper, proposed this week at the Bari conference to hold a synod, or meeting of Catholic and Orthodox bishops, news reports said.

Father Vladimir Kuciumov, rector of the Russian Orthodox Church in Bari, said Benedict had already made a good start toward improving relations with the Orthodox in some of his inaugural homilies and speeches.

“We hope for the best,” he said in a telephone interview Sunday. “We still have to see, but there is a hope to improve our relations.”

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Kevin replies to my “Till . . . We Have Faces” in his “Masks and Modes.” As his reply unfolds along two lines of thought, so, too, will my reply.

1. Personhood Backwards and Forwards

Kevin goes to some lengths to defend himself from my charges of modalism. Unfortunately, the way he does so leaves my charges unanswered. Instead of showing how it is that his position does not radically identify person with nature, and thus logically entails modalism, he utilizes the terms I introduced into the issue but reads into them both more and less than I intended. This is, perhaps, not unjustified since the terms hypostasis and prosopos do have a range of meanings that differ somewhat between philosophical and theological contexts. I’ll take on the responsibility for not more carefully clarifying the terminology.

That being said, however, the substance of my charges against Kevin’s position remain and should be clear: he identifies person with nature. To do so in (strictly speaking) theological terms is to propose modalism. While Kevin is right to draw some distinctions between human and divine persons, what is true of both, as I have argued, is that a person is not strictly identifiable with his nature.

While Kevin has asserted that he thinks the same thing–i.e., that persons are not radically identifiable with their natures–nothing in his own arguments provides a basis for that assertion. Indeed, this has been my point. It is the substance of his argument itself that substantiates my charges. He has had ample opportunity to show, by way of argument instead of by mere assertion, how it is that his belief in monergism does not entail such a radical identification of person and nature. But he has yet to do so. Or, if he has, he has been too subtle for my poor thickheaded mind.

But so as to be clear about the mapping of personhood, backwards and forwards, onto God: I take as the fundmental starting point for talk of human personhood, the divine personhood of the Trinity and Christological personhood. In other words the Trinity and Christology are revelational facts that are not derivable from human experience and reason. Apart from revelation we would not know there is a Trinity or Christ is the incarnate God. We cannot argue from human personhood to Trinity or the Incarnation. But if the Trinity and the Incarnation are facts–and Christians take them to be so–then they are the fundamental realities that define human personhood. From these points only is it helpful to derive our concepts of human personhood as made in the image and likeness of this God who is Three-in-One and incarnate as two natures and two wills in one Person.

However, in that human personhood is intimately and inescapably connected to Trinitarian and Christological Personhood, what you say of one you say of the other. Any deviation from the Church’s understanding of the Trinity will affect one’s Christology and this will deform one’s understanding of personhood. Similarly, if one has a deficient understanding of human personhood, this will inescapably affect one’s Christological and Trinitarian understandings. So, it is not per se illegitimate for me to “backwards map” what I take to be Kevin’s understanding of human personhood on to Christological and Trinitarian dogma, because there is a related and necessary consistency that must be upheld among all three. What remains, then, is for Kevin to prove how his understanding of human personhood does not violate the Church’s understanding of Trinitarian and Christological realities.

This has consistently been my point. I believe that monergism is a heresy not because it emphasizes that humans cannot save themselves, not because it emphasizes the priority and sufficiency of God’s grace, but because its understanding of human personhood necessarily results in a deficient Trinitarianism and Christology. Kevin has yet to disprove my contentions.
(more…)

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Top Ten Conservative Colleges

Young America’s Foundation recently (last fall) compiled their list of the Top Ten Conservative Colleges. Unlike the MSN Encarta lists, this one is serious-for-real. These colleges embody, so thinks YAF, real conservative princples (and not just political ones). A description accmpanies each. From the YAF page:

In the market of American colleges and universities, a wide variety of rankings exist. Each year, U.S. News & World Report releases its “America’s Best Colleges” edition. The magazine grades each institution based on factors such as peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, and student selectivity. Yet, it does not rank the overall experience that colleges offer. That is why Young America’s Foundation presents the following list of ten institutions that offer a holistic conservative experience for students.

Although there are more than ten colleges and universities that could make the list, Young America’s Foundation deemed these ten institutions the best, but not in a particular order. Each year, we intend to re-evaluate these rankings.

Many conservative students seek ‘conservative’ alternatives in higher education, but they may not know that many institutions nationwide fit these criteria. The 2004-2005 “Top Ten Conservative College” list features ten institutions that proclaim, through their mission and programs, a dedication to discovering, maintaining and strengthening the conservative values of their students. The listed colleges offer an alternative to the liberal status quo, because they allow and encourage conservative students to explore conservative ideas and authors. Most offer coursework and scholarship in conservative thought and emphasize principles of smaller government, strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values. Many have a religious affiliation, but some do not.

This is not an exhaustive list of conservative institutions and should not be taken as such. Nor should it be the only source consulted in a college search. Young America’s Foundation recommends that this list serve as a starting point. Parents and students should read several sources and admissions materials, consult with friends and counselors, and make visits.

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From the OCF’s most recent issue of The Basil Leaf:

After thirty-nine years in the Episcopacy, I have become convinced that Orthodox unity in America must begin on the grass roots level. You, the laity, and in particular the young adult laity, are the conscience of the Church and the defenders of the faith. Consequently, I would like to see a
strong Pan-Orthodox lay movement, totally dedicated to the cause of
Orthodox unity. Insist that the unity of our Faith must transcend all other
interests. Insist that we silence those forces that would divide us. Insist that
we witness our Faith to North America without boundaries. Without the laity,
our churches would be empty and our liturgical and sacramental services
would be in vain. The clergy and laity, working together, are the “LAOS TOU
THEOU,” the “People of God” and together we constitute the Holy Orthodox Church.

We bring to mind the visionary words of the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. One can almost visualize the glorious and blessed day when all Orthodox bishops of America will open their first Synod in New York, or Chicago or Pittsburgh with the hymn, ‘Today the grace of the Holy Spirit assembled us together,’ and will appear to us not as ‘representatives’ of Greek, Russian or any other jurisdictions,’ and interests but as the very icon, the very ‘Epiphany’ of our unity within the Body of Christ; when each of them and all together will think and deliberate only in terms of the whole, putting aside all particular and national problems, real and important as they may be. On that day, we shall ‘taste and see’ the oneness of the North American Orthodox Church.”

Finally, let us always remember to ask our Lord for His guidance and strength: “Be mindful, O Lord, of Thy Holy Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church; confirm and strengthen it, increase it and keep it in peace, and preserve it unconquerable forever.” (from Morning Prayers)

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Though I am initially impressed with the following links, I haven’t thoroughly reviewed all the following, aside from the Orthodox NFP link, particularly for theological content. Caveat lector.

Orthodox Natural Family Planning Association

Abstinence Clearinghouse

One More Soul

Couple to Couple League

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Baby Healy Number 2 Update

Well, Anna saw the midwife last Friday. Things are looking great so far. We’ve got about five weeks to go and the baby is already in position. Head down low, back toward Anna’s right. It’s kinda freaky to be able to feel around Anna’s tummy and recognize, “Oh, that’s his back. And there’s his shoulders. And there’s his head.”

Now, I’ve used the English generic “his” here. My readers should not assume that we know the sex of the baby. We don’t. I may have my husbandly man’s intuition. And there may be some proverbial indications (the way the wind blows my wife’s hair at the quarter-moon on a Tuesday, for instance). But we’ll have it confirmed for us when the baby’s born. It’s just I’m lazy and don’t want to keep typing “his/her” and I just have an aversion to “its.”

The thing though is, we only have five weeks to go. I’ve been thinking, “Five weeks, heck that’s plenty of time.” But truth to tell, with the baby in position like he is (remember: generic “he”), the birth could happen any day. In fact, last week Anna was really feeling some pressure, though that has since subsided somewhat. But if the baby comes early, I’d really like it if he (generic) could wait till I’ve finished my last Loyola paper and turned in the first draft of my thesis. Let’s say: after 1 June. Hey, the baby’s not due till 28 June, so I don’t think that’s asking too much.

Still and all . . . wow. I’m about to be a father all over again. Wow.

Please pray for us–Anna, Sofie and me–and the baby. For health and safety of Anna and the baby. For me as a father and husband. This is the way God is saving me. May he make me worthy of these great and precious gifts.

Wow.

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Classics Links

Classical Christian Homeschooling: Introduction to Classical Education

American Classical League

Great Books Index

Loeb Classical Library

Ioci Antiqui homepage (ancient jokes in Latin and Greek)

Curculio

The Latin Library

YLE Radio 1 – Nuntii Latini (The news in Latin; audio)

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Ethics and Sextus Empiricus

Sextus Empiricus lived in the late second, early third centuries AD. He was a physician and a philosopher, and the last of the followers of Pyrrho of Elis (fourth/third century BC), an early Greek sceptic. One of Sextus’ works, Outlines of Pyrrhonism (or here) (Gr. Purroneioi Hupotuposeis), is most known for this formulation of the earlier sceptical arguments. Pyrrhonian sceptics do not deny knowledge altogether. Rather, they deny that there is any way we can know something to be true. That is to say, the problems are (as in the three most important of the Agrippan modes): a) infinite regress (i. e., that one’s belief is justified by something else, which itself needs justified by something else, and so on ad infinitum), or b) circular reasoning (i. e., that one’s belief is justified by something else, but that other thing receives its justification by the belief in question), or c) dogmatism (i. e., that one’s belief is justified by simple assertion of its truth, but this is no justification). Further, and this will have bearing on our ethical discussion in a moment, there is the problem of the criterion, that is to say, the problem of getting behind how a thing appears to us and to its essential reality. (Yes, folks, this was long before Kant said the same thing in the eighteenth century, some 1600 years later. This is why I study ancient philosophy: Ad fontes!)

In the Outlines, Sextus’ criticism of ethics comes in his account of the tenth of the ten modes (at Book I Chapter XIV/146-163) and in his examination of the good, the bad and the indifferent (at Book III Chapters XXI-XXIII/168-187). Sextus issues his criticisms on two fronts: on the strength of the conflict of different ethical accounts, and on the inability to actually define the essence of the good, bad or indifferent are and to determine whether things are good, bad, or indifferent by nature.

In the tenth mode, Sextus notes that ethics is based on rules of conduct (choice of a way of life or of a particular actions adopted by one person or many), habits (joint adoption of a certain kind of action by a number of men, the transgressor of which is not actually punished), laws (written contracts among members of a state, the transgressor of which is punished), legendary beliefs (acceptance of unhistorical and fictitious events, such as the legends about Cronos), and dogmatic conceptions (acceptance of a fact which seems to be established by analogy or some form of demonstration). He then proceeds to show the contradictory nature of these five things in themselves (e. g., by opposing habit to habit and law to law; so, some of the Ethiopians tattoo their children, but we do not; or, A Roman man who renounces his father’s property doe not pay father’s debt, but among the Rhodians he always pays them), as well as opposing each of these five things to one another (e. g., by, among other options, opposing habit to legendary belief, and rules of conduct to law; so, Cronos devoured his children, whereas we protect our children; and homicide is forbidden, but gladiators destroy one another). In other words, since there is no agreement among the things in themselves, or between them, making up ethics, then we must suspend judgment about ethical matters, for there is no way we can judge between them as to which is true or not.

In the last half of Book Three, he returns once again to ethics, this time examining it from the standpoint of our rational conceptions about the good, the bad and the indifferent, and on the nature of these things themselves. He looks the definitions of these three concepts in three ways: essentially, accidentally, and as productive of certain ends. The differences in the definitions of these terms shows our inability to get at the “real thing.” But if we define these concepts in terms of properties, we aren’t dealing with the essential thing itself, nor can we know if these adhere to an essence if we do not know what the essence is, and if other “essential things” have similar properties, then we are even further removed. And finally, if we cannot know the essence of the thing, then we cannot know if something is productive of ends related to that thing (e. g., happiness to the good). Since we cannot know what the good, the bad or the indifferent is, in itself, we must suspend judgment.

Furthermore, since there is substantive discrepancies among accounts of the good, and one cannot argue for one account or another lest he become a partisan for that account and lose objectivity, we must suspend judgment. But even if, for the sake of argument, we take up a particular claim about the good, to what does that good apply: the body, the soul, or both together? But if to the body, then that is irrational and we cannot know it. But if to the soul, then the soul and its parts are not able to be sensorily apprehended, and we cannot know it. And if not either, than not both together. In other words, good, bad and indifferent cannot be accounted for “by nature.” As Sextus puts it: “[I]t is impossible to explain how in a heap of atoms there can come about pleasure and assent or judgment that this object is choiceworthy and good, and that object to be avoided and evil” (III.XXIII/187).

The upshot of this, however, is not what one might first think. Pyrrhonian sceptics are not relativists. They do not think there is no truth, or that all “truths” are true. They are saying that we cannot know whether those things we think are true, are, in fact, true. On what the good is, we may certainly have an opinion, but it is just that, an opinion, which cannot be grounded in reason alone. But sceptics are not anarchists. As Sextus writes:

Adhering, then, to appearances we live in accordance with the normal rules of life, undogmatically, seeing that we cannot remain wholly inactive. And it would seem that this regulation of life is fourfold, and that one part of it lies in the guidance of Nature, another in the constraint of the passions, Another in the tradition of laws and customs, another in the instruction of the arts. Nature’s guidance is that by which we are naturally capable of sensation and thought; constraint of the passions is that whereby hunger drives us to food and thirst to drink; tradition of customs and laws, that whereby we regard piety in the conduct of life as good, but impiety as evil; instruction of the arts, that whereby we are not inactive in such arts as we adopt. But we make all these statements undogmatically. (Outlines, Book I Chapter XI/23-24)

The end of the Pyrrhonian sceptic is ataraxia, quietude of soul. One is not torn between judgments and impressions, but holds the opinions he holds undogmatically. In practice, in terms of ethics, the sceptic does not make ethical judgments but simply holds to appearances without conviction. That is to say, sceptics are utterly conventional in their morals, following the general dictates of society, though not dogmatically asserting that one must do so.

But here we are into the sceptical way of life, and this is beyond my point. What I can say is that Sextus shows very well the failure of the modernist paradigm: that reason can be the sole arbiter of ethical claims. But he also shows the failure of postmodern relativism (though I have not highlighted how this is the case in the summary above). That is to say, it is a non sequitor to move from “we cannot know the good” to “there is no good to know.”

No, contra postmodernism, we are reason-endowed creatures, and that reason is a powerful tool. But contra modernism, our reason is not the final arbiter of truth. We need something extra-rational to ground truth and our claims to knowledge and ethical certainty. Apart from such grounding, reason collapses in upon itself. But reason is, nonetheless, an inescapably powerful tool for knowledge, even if real and ultimate knowledge is, as Christianity asserts, Personal.

Thus ends the summary.

[Note: Additionally, one should consult Sextus' Against the Ethicists (Gr. Pros Ethikous), which historically came to be grouped with some other works under the title Against the Mathematicians (Gr. Pros Mathematikous) as the eleventh and final book of that collection. Jonathon Barnes and Julia Annas, The Modes of Scepticism is also a must read.]

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Sextus Empiricus

I’m now into my paper on Sextus Empiricus. I was undecided as to my paper topic until yesterday. I decided to focus on the Pyrrhonian suspension of judgment with regard to ethics, and, with that, on the “sceptical mode of life.”

A couple of interesting links to give some historical context and an overview of ideas:

Rhetoric, Skepticism and Sextus Empiricus

This link looks like a pretty good introduction to Sextus. I didn’t read through all of the introductory material closely, but it looks pretty accurate. The contents of book one are a great introduction to the Outlines.

Ancient Greek Skepticism [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

This is a more general historical overview of ancient scepticism itself. A good contextualization.

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