Monday, November 12, 2007

Ecrasez Le Prince!

OK, there's no way I can even begin to respond in any kind of systematic fashion to what you wrote, so instead I will contribute a few things, some serious and some light, which in aggregate and combination may shed some light on the pas de deux and experiment in narcissism that is HAL VS. HAL.

1. First, I would like to quote in full the Lichtenberg epigram to which you allude.
"Everyone should study at least enough philosophy and literature to make his sexual experience more delectable."
-Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Notebooks
Fantastic, obviously. But this is no idle quotation. I think it raises the question of what is the proper value and function of knowledge in the context of a well-lived life. Admittedly, Lichtenberg seems to have a louche idea of what constitutes a well-lived life. Nevertheless, his impulse to seek an ultimate context for the pursuit and use of otherwise hermetic and lofty disciplines strikes me as correct. (Also, his louche idea of what constitues a well-lived life strikes me as correct).

2. You take offense with the perceived mendacity of Anscombites who deploy the rhetoric of feminism or medicine in order to bolster items from a preordained religious agenda. So do I. In fact, I believe I kind of started this whole thing with an email about that article to the nass masthead, reproduced below:
"Yet another stunningly disingenuous column from an Anscombite. This one claims that Princeton misstates the risks of sex because it fails to inform students that women are in fact commitment-zombies who are constitutionally unable to have casual sex. According to Dr. Miriam Grossman, it's science, ladies -- "oxycotin" specifically.

What irritates me about these articles is the dishonesty and disingenuousness which underwrite them. They have no true interest in science, and they have no true interest in feminism. Rather, since a morality derived from a religious world-view has become the love that dare not speak its name, they scavenge through the leavings of other fields, desperate to find anything which will prop up the crumbling edifice of conventional religion. How pathetic."
Now this was an email written in the intensity of private communication, so I don't know if I would put it in exactly these terms on this blog, but I think I still agree with what I wrote. These Anscombites try to come across as helpful and secular-rational, but all we see is dishonest and cowardly.

3. Is religion at root an individual or social phenomenon? You seem to side with individual, but I think the contemporary individuality of religion is to some extent a defense mechanism against the soulless materialism of modern public life. Also, we should examine to what extent our conception of the individuality of religion is due to the advent of Protestantism, as opposed to something intrinsic to religion itself. There are of course pre-Protestant examples which are emblematic of the individuality of religion -- e.g., Saul of Tarsus.

But, let's not shortchange the communal, social aspect of religion. One of the most greatest sociologists of all time, Emile Durkheim, thought that religion was exclusively a social phenomenon. Think of how central "church-going" is as opposed to scripture-reading to a religious population.

Here are two counter-arguments to the charge of Anscombe mendacity:
4. All our beliefs are overdetermined and underjustified. We somehow assemble bodies of beliefs which put forth the semblance of coherence, and we live under the spell of this coherence. Nobody does anything for purely religious reasons, and everything contains an admixture of everything else. Therefore, we should demand a motley justification of our ways adequate to the motley disposition of our beliefs.

5. Christians believe that God designed the universe. If this is true, won't the other disciplines (non-theological ones) be ultimately engaged in elucidating this design? We should expect biology, history, etc. to confirm theology because all of these things are ultimately the study of God and God's own in different ways. Leibniz, in his book, Confessio Philosophi compares philosophy to the activity of polishing a mirror the better to reflect the truth of revealed religion.

Lastly, consider the Scholastic credo, "intellego ut credam" - -"I understand in order to believe." This kind of dovetails with (4.) -- we believe what we believe not for simple reasons we can lay out, but rather based on the turbulent inertia of existence. Some intellectual arguments lead us to religious conclusions. Knowledge, science, medicine -- these are only expedients for living -- or if your name is Georg Christoph Lichtenberg -- expedients for fucking.

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