Krasis & Askesis; Justice & Purity

Justice is krasis: the proper mixture of things, according to the pertinent formal recipe (as in a mixing bowl (cf. Plato’s Receptacle), a word present in our “theocracy” and “democracy” and “bureaucracy”) that a thing enacts as it becomes. But krasis is possible only in the absence of any accretions that ought not to be present in a thing. Any such accretions drive out what ought to be present in a thing; for, there is only so much room in things. The purpose of askesis, then, is to eliminate from life and from oneself all the accretions that have built up since birth, and that interfere – or could or might interfere – with justice. When we pray that a man may proceed through life “unspotted from the world,” we ask that his adventures may not prompt deformations of his character that push it further away from its original justice by way of such accretions – such deformations being the “spots.”

Properly done, askesis is comparable to the process that we undergo in chiropractic, when the deformities that cascade from an initial compensation for the pain of a wound are worked out of the body. It is also comparable to the ideal of psychoanalysis, in which accumulated neuroses are unwound one by one, until the psyche is restored to its initial pure unblemished equilibrium.

All of this triggered by contemplation of the purity of the ocean; the purity of nature, as compared with man and his societies. In wild nature, unjust accretions are eliminated quickly as the whole system homeostatically seeks equilibrium – krasis. In domesticated nature, it can take a bit longer.

Ritual Purity With & Without God

The Social Gospel, the activities of Social Justice Warriors, Political Correctness, electioneering, and the like (and their counterparts on the right side of the aisle) are all desperate and in the end bootless Pharisaical ritual purifications, undertaken to assuage the universal feeling of having done less well than one might have. They fail, in the first place because scapegoating never provides more than a few minutes of emotional relief, and in the second because they involve no inward purgation, and a fortiori no sort of metanoia, which is the only thing that can salve the sick conscience and repair the wounded mind. They wash the outside of the bowl, but not the inside.

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The Limit of Theology

Our staunch Mormon commenter Leo rightly points out that,

… apart from revelation and experience [reason must] be humble. The Book of Job is full of arguments back and forth, quite impressive ones, and the conclusion of the book suggests humility before God regardless of how tight one’s argument might look. The world’s philosophical schools are hardly in agreement, and a recent study suggests 62% of philosophers are non-believers. Many of them would argue against all religion by the light of their reason.

That this is all true is fairly obvious. And we would do well to remember it; I, in particular, should bear it ever in mind, I know (all too well, as I grope forward – I hope it is forward – through the darkness, knees skinned and toes stubbed on this scandal and that). Reason ought to be humble; reason would be the first to insist upon it. That reason should be humble is only reasonable; the notion is an issue and product of reason. Therein lies a clue.

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Essay on Rene Girard at The Brussels Journal

My latest at The Brussels Journal is an essay entitled “René Girard on the ‘Ontological Sickness.’” I taught Girard’s I See Satan Fall like Lightning to the students in my “Introduction to Literary Criticism” this semester and found myself re-reading him with a good deal of renewed interest. Girard’s notion of “ontological sickness” explains a good deal about modernity, especially about what is sometimes called “entitlement mentality.” In the essay, I try to show how this is so. The essay includes an interpretation of what I regard as one of the major modern parables about the “ontological sickness,” the HAL subplot of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The link is http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/5178

I offer a sample below.

In Things Hidden, Girard writes: “Modern people still fondly imagine that their discomfort and unease is a product of the strait-jacket that religious taboos, cultural prohibitions and, in our day, even the legal forms of protection guaranteed by the judiciary place upon desire. They think that once this confinement is over, desire will be able to blossom forth [and that] its wonderful innocence will finally be able to bear fruit.” The modern subject, wanting liberté, inveterately seeks liberation and just as inveterately experiences the belaboring frustration of its every liberating triumph. The “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848) of the Seneca Falls Convention of early feminists employs the essential “liberationist” vocabulary: “Disenfranchisement,” “social and religious degradation,” a mass of the “oppressed,” whose constituents “feel… aggrieved” and who want “rights and privileges” wickedly withheld by malefactors. The male oppressor, as the document asserts, “Has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for [the generic woman] a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.” In her much-celebrated speech on the same occasion, Elizabeth Cady Stanton invoked the image of the sovereign self in its absoluteness: “There is a solitude… more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea,” which neither “eye nor touch of man or angel has ever pierced.”

The themes of the usurpation of being and of the radical autonomy of the individual, Girard’s self-inflating quasi-divine ego, come into their necessary conjunction at the inception of what would later take the name of women’s liberation.

The feminist “Declaration” and its adjunct texts were already hackneyed. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had set the tone brilliantly nearly a century before, in his Discourse upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind (1754). The second part of Rousseau’s essay begins with the speculative scenario that must have inspired Karl Marx to write The Communist Manifesto (1848 – the same year as the Seneca Falls Convention): “The first man, who, after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.” Not merely property, but society itself, for Rousseau, is theft or usurpation. Under tutelage of Girard, one might reduce the formula even further: Usurpation is the Other, by the mere fact of his existence. In the sequel, Rousseau, speaking on behalf of the usurped, rouses the mob against the usurper: “How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors, would that man have saved the human species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Be sure not to listen to this imposter; you are lost, if you forget that, the fruits of the earth belong equally to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!”

Any religion without a theodicy problem is immoral

Why does God allow evil?  You are asking for a reason for evil, but evil is by definition that which has no reason.  It is the absence of what should be there.  God cannot have a reason for it.  It cannot be good that evil be.  It cannot be that good relies in any necessary way on evil.  That would mean that good isn’t entirely good and can’t be self-subsistent; it means that God, Who is Subsistent Goodness, doesn’t exist.  If you think you have thought of a good reason for God to put sin in the world, repent and put such wicked thoughts aside.  It is not better that Satan fell and Adam sinned.

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O Felix Culpa

A.morphous, the Orthosphere’s cantankerous (and useful) Chief Antagonist, and a stout atheist, recently argued that if man had not Fallen, corrupting our nature, Christ would never have redeemed us, and there would be no such thing as Christianity.

It’s absolutely true, and there is no Christian who would deny it. If we had not Fallen, we would not need redemption, nor for that matter would we need religion.

But then, a.morphous also said that, “… it is the serpent that made us fully human.” This is not quite right. True, the lure Lucifer proffered made us the sort of human we are today; but that sort is less than fully human. It is Christ who makes us again fully human, and more.

It is in that “more” that we find the justification for our gratitude for the Fall.

Gratitude? Yes, indeed; for, as Orthospherean Dr. Bill then pointed out to a.morphous, his point is standard Christian doctrine: at the Easter Vigil in Roman, Lutheran and Anglican churches, a deacon sings in the ancient Exsultet:

O certe necessárium Adæ peccatum … O felix culpa …

O truly necessary sin of Adam … O happy fault …

Standard doctrine this may be, but it is somewhat shocking nonetheless. How could the tragedy of the Fall be an occasion of happiness, rather than grief? What is much more, how could it have been necessary?

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A perfect language

Two visions of a perfect language:

  1. A perfect language should be spare and clear.  Ambiguity and obfuscation should be made impossible or at least very difficult.  It should dissipate word game-induced confusion and allow reasoning in a straightforward, almost mechanical, way.
  2. A perfect language should be expansive and evocative.  It should provide the resources to capture every experience and intuition, every shade of meaning.  Far better to allow the possibility of confusion than to linguistically cut oneself off from a genuine aspect of the world and the human condition.

Analytic and Continental philosophy are divided by adherence to the different visions.  Do we dissolve philosophical puzzles by linguistic therapy, like Wittgenstein?  Does this mean removing pseudo-problems or just taking away the tools for expressing real problems?  Or do we, like Hegel, seek a grand synthesis in which every conflicting intuition can find its home?  This also has dangers, because attempts to “eff the ineffable” (as Roger Scruton once put it) often fall back on vagueness, and it really is possible to lose oneself in a fog of metaphors.

Liberalism is an attempt at a spare political language, one that cuts through problems by eliminating words and the ideas that go with them.  Politics is indeed simplified when one is not allowed to talk about anything other than equal preference satisfaction.  Justice becomes for Rawls a constrained maximization problem, no different than the ones engineers solve all the time.  There is the price that one may only have arbitrary, private preferences, but liberalism disallows the language one would need to criticize this, making it an elegantly closed system.  Russell Kirk’s conservatism of prudence, on the other hand, may do a good job of evoking certain political virtues misplaced by the modern world, but it is too vague to be used as an impartial analytic tool.  (For example, has any traditionalist ever given a criterion, one that could be applied by any third party to give the same result, as to when a proposed reform is prudent vs. a utopian effort to build heaven on earth?)  It’s application is next to arbitrary.

Scholasticism attempts a compromise practice between the two schools of modern philosophy:  openness to the whole of reality–even though it means dealing in subtleties–while demanding the sort of clarity needed for the laws of logic to operate.  It attempts to do this by making very fine distinctions, even at the risk of being cumbersome.  In theology, the students of Aquinas and Scotus–and, for that matter, Calvin–have an austerity to them, a refusal to be carried along by pious sentiment past where their “data” will go, that I find beautiful.  They strike me as being men of firmer faith than their more extravagant contemporaries, because they act like they care about what is actually true.  Did Balthasar really believe that Christ descended into an otherwise-empty hell, or was it just for him a good story that expressed his own religious enthusiasm?  The ratio of real evidence gathering and reasoning to opaque verbiage does not inspire confidence.

One might say that we at the Orthosphere are attempting to practice a scholastic politics.

No Way Out But In

A proposition that cannot be carried into practice at all cannot be true. An act that cannot be implemented in actuality must be somehow incoherent: self-refuting – for example, you can’t mean it when you say, “this statement is a lie” – or a contradiction in terms either simple or implicit – e.g., there’s just no way to implement “2 + 3 = 4,” for it is a contradiction in terms. That such propositions can’t work logically means that they can’t work in practice.

But a proposition that can be carried into practice might be true. E.g., “It is best not to defer gratification.”

When we sin, we assert one or more of a number of propositions:

  1. God does not exist.
  2. God is not omniscient.
  3. God is amoral.
  4. The world is amoral.
  5. God does not care whether I behave well or not, nor does the world.
  6. Whether or not God cares about my behavior does not matter (to me, at least).

And so forth. When we misbehave, we effectually attest to our belief in at least one of these propositions, or else in one of a number of other propositions like them. And to attest belief in propositions is to testify to their truth, and so is to urge their truth: behavior is an effectual proposal for how it might be well to behave.

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Wherever an Altar is Found, There Every Last Feature of Civilization Exists

The very day that Dr. Bill posted Sport is not about hunting or fighting, David Sansone’s Greek Athletics and the Genesis of Sport landed on my stoop. Like George Hersey’s Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture, it is one of those little books that knits together a large and diverse range of apparently unrelated items and links them coherently to ancient sacrifice. I highly recommend both books, if only for the fascinating factoids to be found by the dozen on their every page.

Hersey shows that the tropes of classical architecture all derive from the sacrificial rite; Sansone argues persuasively that sport began as a relic of the sacrificial cult that in turn was a fossil of the hunt. Both bolster their cases with overwhelming evidence.

So, Maistre seems with every passing month to be more correct than even he perhaps ever knew, in saying that, “Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” Everything seems to go back to the sacrificial rite: to the hunt, to war, to violence and its expiation.

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Theism: A Simple Explanation for Children

Son:                 Daddy? Where do cats come from?

Father:            They come from other cats.

Son:                 But where do all cats come from?

Father:            Well, they come from the rest of the world. Things kept happening in the world, and then one day, with all those things happening, cats happened, too.

Son:                 Where do things come from? They had to come from somewhere, right?

Father:            Maybe they were always there. Maybe there have just always been things.

Son:                 But why are there always things?

Father:            Maybe it’s impossible for there to be nothing.

Son:                 So there has to be something.

Father:            Maybe.

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