The twentieth century was one in which limits on state power were removed in order to let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abattoir. We Americans are the only ones who didn’t get creamed at some point during all of this. We are free and prosperous because we have inherited political and value systems fabricated by a particular set of eighteenth-century intellectuals who happened to get it right. But we have lost touch with those intellectuals.
– Neal Stephenson
And now to the last of the Guardian weekly readings posts, with a look at Spinoza. There’s an odd resemblance to Calvin, at least in my personal pantheon, that would have horrified both of them. Each is a beautifully structured thinker, in a very admirable way, but one that I just can’t follow along with.
The particular thing about Spinoza is the recent vogue in attributing the entire foundation of the modern world to him, exemplified in a whole series of things by Jonathan Israel.
- Part 1: Philosophy as a way of life
- Part 2: Miracles and God’s will
- Part 3: What God is not
- Part 4: All there is, is God
- Part 5: On human nature
- Part 6: Understanding the emotions
- Part 7: On the ethics of the self
- Part 8: Reading the Ethics
“Computers are great, and I not only encourage their use by my students, I try to teach students how to use computers better. But for about three hours a week, we set the computers aside and look at books. It’s not so great a sacrifice.”
– Alan Jacobs, Laptops of the Borg
I’m thinking more and more about a similar policy for the Fall; check out the post for some of the classroom-use considerations, on top of the handwritten notes point that I blogged earlier.
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
– Magna Carta, 15 June 1215.
Francis Cleans House at Vatican’s Financial Watchdog: “By reforming the Church, Francis is doing more than serving his flock. He is making a contribution to the well-being of people of all faiths and no faith all over the world.”
One of the political blogs I follow has the habit of occasionally venturing into theology; surprised to see this today about a bit of Vatican inside baseball.
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
– Sun Tzu
When I started studying political philosophy in graduate school, the emphasis was on the classics and above all, Plato. Augustine, the Church Fathers, and Bonaventure only kept reinforcing this as I got farther and farther into theology. Here Mark Vernon gives a fair rundown on how Plato somehow stands across Western thinking.
- Part 1: Why Plato?
- Part 2: Who was Plato’s Socrates?
- Part 3: Philosophy as a way of life
- Part 4: What do you love?
- Part 5: Love and the perception of forms
- Part 6: The philosophical school
- Part 7: Plato and Christianity
- Part 8: A man for all seasons
Plato: a very short introduction will give you more, as will Stanford (Web), but the more important thing to grasp about any ancient philosopher is that they’re pursuing a way of life. Then you could consider the Republic or even the Complete Works in tandem with Plato’s Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues, which is one of the few texts I’ve found that covers all the dialogues.
I’ve been looking forward to this, since despite being a Catholic theologian who’s firmly convinced that double predestination is a horrible blasphemy, I’ve always admired Calvin as a theologian. The sheer architectural brilliance and comprehensive nature of his thought inspires a kind of intellectual awe. If I had landed at a Reformed college rather than a Catholic one (Deo gratias), I could easily have wound up a Calvinist.
In belated commemoration of his deathiversary (May 27, 1564), here’s the Weekly Reader on John Calvin. We’re still working through these sets of Guardian posts on various thinkers (Plato and Spinoza to go).
In their choice of writer, the newspaper really rolled sixes with Paul Helm (Helm’s Deep), who’s one of the best bloggers on the wider Reformed tradition as well as the writer of an amazing Calvin book.
- Part 1: A world figure
- Part 2: A practical theology
- Part 3: Knowledge of God and of ourselves
- Part 4: Word and Spirit
- Part 5: Predestination
- Part 6: The world
- Part 7: Heresy and death
- Part 8: The legacy
Fuller take to be found at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. If you’re up for more reading, try this fine biography by F. Bruce Gordon and then perhaps move on to The Unaccommodated Calvin by Muller. (NB: Calvin is not necessarily the same as Calvinism.)
For the truly brave, of course, there’s no substitute for Calvin himself. Institutes of the Christian Religion is his Summa, although as it’s two thick volumes, the bravery will definitely be required.
Follow the link to see why, as Philip Jenkins continues his discussion. It also shows how much, perhaps, of the past had to be forgotten to reach our more ecumenical age. I’m sure the reporter who asked me about this was expecting to hear that there was no problem any more.
And indeed, in the United States, there probably would not be. But how much of that would simply be due to not taking these things as seriously as our forebears did, rather than actual growth in understanding?
When I was in elementary school, I vaguely remember something called the Weekly Reader that functioned like a newspaper for children. A lot of water and a great many books have gone under the bridge since then, but I thought a Weekly Reading post might be fun to keep up.
The Guardian has a whole series going on major thinkers, and we’ll be reviewing what they have to say on Calvin, Plato, and Spinoza before we’re through. After that, it’ll be far enough into the summer to have some of my own reading built up.
But first, Thomas Aquinas! The following columns by Tina Beattie do a good job on the basics of his outlook. I wouldn’t normally think to find this in the Guardian, but they’re being honest brokers.
- Part 1: Rediscovering a father of modernity
- Part 2: The mind as soul
- Part 3: Scripture, reason, and the being of God
- Part 4: How did the world begin
- Part 5: What does it mean to be human?
- Part 6: Natural law
- Part 7: The question of evil
- Part 8: Thomas for today
If you’re up for some more reading, there’s always the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or any of these (for a start):
- Chesterton, The Dumb Ox
- Penguin Classics, Selected Writings
- Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching: Introducing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas
Monty Python was right!
But still interesting; I’m going to look forward to the next few posts along these lines. Always admired Philip Jenkins‘s scholarship.
Ironically, a few years ago, a reporter asked me about the prohibition against Catholics becoming Masons. I’d thought it had dropped out, but it turned out that it’s still in force.
Some day, Faculty Assembly, some day…