Monday, February 28, 2011

Blog Stalkers

The psychology of blog stalkers puzzles me. You ban them; you tell them that you ban them, and that you do not even read their asinine fulminations. Yet they submit away, wasting their own time more than mine, since deletions are so simple.

Third Places and Mediation

Yesterday, in The New York Times, the author of a short review of Sherry Turkle's book, Alone Together (which I am reading and appreciating) wrote this:

At times, Ms. Turkle can sound primly sanctimonious, complaining for instance that the sight at a local cafe of people focused on their computers and smartphones as they drink their coffee bothers her: “These people are not my friends,” she writes, “yet somehow I miss their presence.” Such sentimental whining undermines the larger and important points she wants to make in this volume — the notion that technology offers the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy and communication without emotional risk, while actually making people feel lonelier and more overwhelmed.

Although the review is more commendatory than derogative, this snide comment reveals the general coarsening of our culture. There is nothing "sanctimonious" or "whining" about the loss of unmediated human-to-human relations in public spaces. "Third places" (not work, not home), such as coffee shops, are meant to be places where one can either gather with selected others, be by oneself, or meet new people. Computer mediation removes a significant dimension of these areas of engagement. More people are "along together," unable to pry themselves from screens and phones. I experienced this myself a few weeks ago when I saw someone I knew in an excellent Christian coffee shop called Solid Grounds, in Littleton, Colorado. I made eye contact and asked a question. However, I did not see the cell phone hidden behind the woman's ear (although I did see the laptop open before her). In just a second, I realized I was interrupting something else, not initiating a conversation or even just saying a polite hello.

Alone Together explores these kinds of problems seriously, and should thus be taken seriously by those who are not content to be swallowed up by the data-sphere.

Jihad in our Midst

Jihadist ring discovered.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mirada Fine Art Gallery

Today I visited the Mirada Fine Art Gallery in Indian Hills, Colorado, with two friends. The building is a restored log cabin, which is nearly as interesting and compelling as the art works displated within. The gallery has two floors, a fine sound system, and ample space to walk and behold the paintings, sculptures, and woodworkings. The curators are warm and friendly. This space can also be used for dinners and other festive events.

The artworks varied in size, style, and focus, with quite a few mixed media pieces. Our party of three thoroughly enjoyed it all. I commend this gallery to you. Unlike galleries on Santa Fe in downtown Denver, Mirada is alone in the mountains, which confers upon it a certain solitary charm. Yet it is not that far from the greater Denver area, and is well worth the drive.

Facebook Exit

I have deactivated my Facebook account.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Arrest: Illness Unbidden (Corrected)

I read in Solzhenitsyn of the inimitable horrors of "The Arrest," the first chapter of The Gulag Archipelago. A scant ten pages in, and I had to stop reading. Imaging that kind of world was too unsettling. Although I live in America, I felt some pangs of paranoia. Might I be so arrested, taken as a political prisoner? Innocent civilians could be arrested at any time--even during an operation, even while taken on a date by a supposed suitor--and for any (or no) reason. This is how communism works: pure tyranny and pure terror. One's entire life, way of being, could be arrested, nullified--by that ruthless and heartless State playing God (and thus aping Satan).

Then, in light of the chronic suffering of several loved ones, I realized that illness is an "arrest." One is taken away from the familiar, the taken-for-granted way of life. We presuppose health as a condition for being: for walking, sleeping, even thinking. Then...we are arrested by illness--and often without warning, often during the best of times, or, at least, when our fears of this arrest have waned. The arrest comes unbidden: a loud and rude rap on the door in the middle of the night; as an interruption of a pleasant event--when we least expect the suddenness and sadness of it.

To where are we being dragged away? We know we are taken from the familiar, the usual, our homes, our loves, our likes, our boredoms. But to where? What will the prison will like? Who are the guards? What are the terms of release--if any? What will be left of my ties to friends, family, strangers, work, rest?

One have been arrested, and arrests are never pleasant or polite. They are rude, rough, unsettling--full of dread. One is taken captive, passive, yet required to do all manner of new and unmannerly things--tests, treatments, long sentences of waiting for test results, therapies that may bring more pain than relief, which may cause new symptoms, new maladies.

This arrest--the arrest of illness--is not accompanied by thugs of the state, as was Solzhenitsyn's arrest. No, loved ones try to offer help and hope. But they, too, have been arrested (I have been thus arrested), for their lives with the afflicted will not be the same. Routines change; hopes are deferred or will die; plans are scattered; the future stares back with opaque malignity.

Jesus Christ was arrested. He was arrested only after he healed the sick of manifold ills, raised the dead, loved the most unlovely, and preached the truth of good news of God's grace, forgiveness, and restoration--and the bad news of God's inescapable judgment of the unrepentant. This rebel with no weapons, this dissident with no death squads, was arrested, ripped away from his disciples by a clutch of thugs, led by a traitor in his midst, whom he had loved. He was taken away, to be punished for crimes he did not commit, to be spit upon, struck, and mocked by creatures he had himself created. He was tried without reason and sentenced without evidence. But that was the least of it. This arrest, trial, and conviction was unto a Cross, a torture stake: the cruelest invention of man's sadistic mind.

Yet he came to be arrested, taken away to injustice, torture, torment, and death. It was no surprise to him. It was foreordained for him to be forsaken, betrayed, rejected, sickened, dejected, desolated.

Our arrests come unbidden. His did not. While he absorbed the pain and despised the shame, he did it for those who authorized his arrest. This blood-work was wrought from eternity and endures for posterity.

Let all who are arrested by illness (or any of life's all-too-varied tragedies) remember that arrest, that prisoner, that Cross-bearer...who while taken down dead from the Cross, rose alive from the dead, scars remaining, but with life unending. The lamb who was slain has begun to reign: a more arresting thought cannot be thought.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Metro State Philosophy Conference

Hello All,

I wanted to remind you that there is just one week left to submit abstracts. Please contact me if you have questions.

Alison Coombs, President
Metro State Philosophy Club

Call for Papers

Self and Community:

Global and Multicultural Perspectives

Metropolitan State College of Denver

2nd Annual Philosophy Conference

April 13-15, 2011

Submission Deadline:

March 1, 2011

(Notification of Acceptance by March 11, 2011)

Undergraduate, graduate students, faculty and independent scholars are invited to submit papers for possible presentation. Papers topics should pertain to Critical Theory, Social and Political Philosophy, Ethics, Phenomenology, Metaphysics of the Self, and other areas in global and multicultural philosophy.

Submission Guidelines: You must submit an abstract of your presentation by March 1, 2011. The abstract should be 250 words or less. You will also need to include your name, school, position or year, email address, phone number, and type of submission. For Independent scholars, please include your highest degree received and the institution from which it was received. Please submit via email to Attach your abstract as a document without identifying information, and include your identifying information in the body of the e-mail. Papers and Presentations should be 20 -25 minutes, and 2500 - 3000 words in length.

Scheduled Keynote Speakers:

Eduardo Mendieta (SUNY, Stony Brook)

Dr. Mendieta's work emphasizes Critical theory, Latin American Philosophy, Globalization/Postcolonial theory, and Pragmatism. His most recent book is entitled Global Fragments: Globalizations, Latin Americanisms, and Critical Theory.

Karma Lekshe Tsomo (University of San Diego)

Dr. Tsomo's work emphasizes the role of women in Buddhism, Buddhism and bioethics, religion and cultural change, and Buddhism in the United States. Her most recent book is entitled Into the Jaws of Yama: Buddhism, Bioethics and Death.

Sponsored by the Metro State Philosophy Club, Institute for Women's Studies and Services, Iota Iota Iota Alpha Chapter and Feminist Alliance

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pro-life Leader, Dr. Bernard Nathanson is Dead


The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) joins its state affiliates all across America in mourning the loss today of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the former abortionist whose conversion to the pro-life cause was major news at the time and whose impact reverberates to this day. Dr. Nathanson, 84, died earlier this morning after a long battle with cancer.In the early 1970s Dr. Nathanson was director of the largest abortion facility in the world, New York City's Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health. He wrote that he was “personally responsible” for 75,000 abortions, and performed about 5,000 abortions.

In his 1979 book, “Aborting America,” Dr. Nathanson gave an insider’s account of the creation of what was then called the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), since rebranded as Naral Pro-Choice America. In that classic Dr. Nathanson explained how he and others cynically fabricated and exaggerated statistics about the number of abortions and the number of deaths from illegal abortions at the same time they consciously adopted a strategy of systematically vilifying the Catholic Church hierarchy.

As a fellow New Yorker, Jeanne Head, NRLC Vice President for International Affairs and United Nations Representative, knew Dr. Nathanson first as a foe and then as a friend. “Dr. Nathanson was probably one of the individuals most responsible for Roe v. Wade and, once he realized his error, he dedicated the rest of his life to reversing it,”Head said. She explained that she heard about “Aborting America" when it was in galley form and may have been the first pro-lifer to speak to him after he had finished co-writing the book with Richard Ostling.

In 1984 Dr. Nathanson unveiled “The Silent Scream,” a mesmerizingly powerful video which shows sonogram images of an unborn child frantically trying to avoid the abortionist’s instruments. Former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey, told Time Magazine at the time that the film represented “A high technology Uncle Tom's Cabin, arousing public opinion just as Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 antislavery novel ignited the abolitionist movement.”

Head added, “It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of his book, “The Silent Scream,” and his later video, “Eclipse of Reason” in driving home the sheer horror and brutality of abortion.”

For many years Dr. Nathanson described himself as a Jewish atheist, but in 1996 Nathanson was baptized a Catholic by Cardinal John O’Connor.

The Case for Christianity with Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg.

Methodological Naturalism

Bradley Monton an methodological naturalism.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fax to the White House

FAX: 202-456-2461

February 19, 2011

Dear President Obama:

The Afghan government is planning to soon execute Mr. Sayed Musa for converting to Christianity. Please do all you can to persuade the president of the country that this is morally wrong and not worthy of a fledgling democracy—or of any country.


Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.,

Professor of Philosophy

Denver Seminary

Kelly O'Connell: Political Commentator

Click Here

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dr. Nadler Against Theistic Ethics

Dr. Steven Nadler lectures on Spinoza and take some pot shots at a theistic view of morality. Please notice that he alludes to the Euthyphro's definitive refutation of this idea, but he does not even bother to give the argument. Then, near the end of the section, he simply affirms without argument that God's commands would be morally irrelevant.

Given the secularity of the university, professors can often get away with this kind of behavior. I'm sure Nadler could give more of an argument, but he sees no need to do so. We are to take it on his authority that no theistic morality is sound. Further, he thinks that by articulating Spinoza's view of God (as nature), he has rejected "moral fundamentalism." No, he has articulated a view incompatible with God being the basis of morality. He has not shown that a theistic account of ethics is false or irrational.

There are many significant responses to the Euthyphro objection; moreover, Spinoza's view of God is insupportable given the successes of the ontological, cosmological, design, and moral arguments--not to mention others. I make this case in my forthcoming book, Christian Apologetics. But one need not wait, since William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland have given power theistic arguments in their works. For now, here is my response to the Euthyphro problem from the book.

The Euthyphro Problem

First, many argue that making God the source of objective value solves nothing because it creates a dilemma fatal to theism. First raised by Plato in The Euthyphro, this argument claims that (1) If something is good because God wills it good, God could will anything (even murder) and it would be, ipso facto, good. But this is absurd. (2) If God’s will is not the source of the good, goodness lies outside of God’s being and this robs him of his moral supremacy (an essential attribute of deity).

This dilemma is in fact a chimera, since the theist can escape between the horns uninjured. The Euthyphro argument trades on a straw man (or straw god) that creates a false dilemma. Biblical theism—Islam is another matter that we will address later[1]—claims God as the source of all goodness on the basis of both God’s character and God’s will. God’s moral will is based on God’s changeless nature. The triune God, who has existed from eternity in a relationship of threefold love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit, cannot, for example, morally mandate rape. God’s disposition forbids it. God’s integrity abhors it. Objective moral values, according to the Bible, are not created in the sense that the contingent universe was created out of nothing (Genesis 1:1 John 1:1). Objective moral values have their source in the eternal character, nature and substance of a loving, just, and self-sufficient God. Just as God does not create himself, so he does not create moral values, which are eternally constituent of his being. For that reason, when God creates humans in his own image and likeness, they need to know objective moral value and they must treat each other accordingly.

To hark back to Arthur Leff, to say that God’s moral utterances are “performative” does not mean that God brings something into being at a particular time that did not exist previously—as when a minister declares a couple now married as “husband and wife.” Rather, God’s character is eternally, changelessly good, so when God performs a moral utterance—as in the Ten Commandments or through the life and teachings of Jesus—he is speaking according to the eternal nature of his being. Herein is the warrant to declare the divine utterance unchallengeable and final. God’s commands are not arbitrary, either in their relation to the divine character or in their relation to the divine creation, since the creation bears the mark of the Creator. Therefore, it is impossible for God to sanction adultery, steeling, murder, false witness, and so on.[2]

[1] See chapter 26.

[2] For a very illuminating treatment of this issue, see James Hanink and Gary R. Marr, “What Euthyphro Couldn’t Have Said,” Faith and Philosophy, vol. 4, no. 3. (July 1987): 241-261. This also addresses the objection that God demanded murder when he commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. See also William Alston, “What Euthryphro Should Have Said,” William Lane Craig, ed., Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002), pp. 283-298.

Against Background Music

Why is there background music? Music should be serious. It can stir the soul, sharpen the mind, provoke the imagination, engage the will. Or: it can sicken the soul, dull the mind, or impede or pollute the imagination. It brings joy, pain--and boredom.

Music is nothing to play with, then; but play with it we do--all the time; it is inescapable, or nearly so. In days or yore, background music in public was limited to elevators; hence, the phrase "elevator music." This mean bland, colorless sounds to perhaps sooth the catastrophic or impatient. One could tolerate this, especially if one was infrequently in elevators.

Now, however, music--uninvited and often quite blaring--is everywhere. This ought not be for at least two reasons.

First, silence helps us recompose our souls and focus our thoughts on some one thing. Music always take up part of our precious--and very limited--consciousness, thus taking something away from other concerns: reading, praying, conversing. If I am trying to curb my fears and rehearse my speech in a doctor's office, I need silence, not distraction or irritation. Yes, I have heard Kenny G these environs.

Second, with the expansion of musical styles available for public broadcast, the odds of one enjoying the invited music are quite low--in my case, the chances of this eventually occurred are vanishingly small, given my esoteric (jazz, of course) tastes. If one has worked to develop one's musically sensibilities, bad music can be acutely painful. It becomes a rude intrusion into one's sensorium.

Of course, many people compensate by engaging in sonic warfare. You isolate and insulate yourself by your own music system: noise-cancelling headphone or ear buds. This will fend off the musical intruders, but it will also make you an island amidst the living. Common space and conversation is attenuated, if not obliterated.

On a recent flight from Atlanta to Denver, I suffered through horrible background music, and insufferably comedic flight attendant, and cramped seating. I turned to talk to the women next to me only to find that the ear buds were in, so the conversation was out.

What can we do about this plague? Not much, I suppose. However, in environments that we control, we can prize silence and good music. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard can be our guides. Nietzsche wrote that life without music would be a mistake; and the melancholic great Dane said ..."create silence."


Monday, February 14, 2011

Doug Groothuis at Auraria Campus

I will be speaking on "Whole-hearted Christianity" at Auraria Master Plan Ministries, Tuesday, February 15, at 7:00 in The Tivioli in room 140 (basement). Here is my outline:

Doug Groothuis, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary

Auraria Master Plan, February 15, 2011

Whole-Hearted Christianity

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.—Jesus Christ (Revelation 3:16)

I. What is Christianity?

A. Christian theism: worldview

1. Creation (Genesis 1-2; Romans 1)

2. Fall (Genesis 3; Romans 2-3)

3. Redemption, salvation (Romans 4-8)

II. On Being a Christian

A. The gospel (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-7; Ephesians 2:8-9)

B. Justification (Romans 5:1-8)

C. Discipleship, sanctification

1. The Cross (Luke 9:23-26; 1 John 2:15-17)

2. Faith: moment-by-moment trust in God (John 14-16)

D. Calling

1. Universal call

a. Love God with all your being; and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40; 1 Corinthians 13)

b. Glorify God and seek his Kingdom (1 Corinthians 10:31; Matthew 6:33; Psalm 63)

2. Particular call

Use your gifts according to the needs of the world for the glory of God. See Os Guinness, The Call.

III. Zeal According to Knowledge: Apostle Paul

A. Saul’s conversion (Acts 9)

B. Apostle Paul’s attitude (Acts 22:24)

C. Apostle Paul in action

1. Spiritual warfare (Acts 13:1-12; see also Ephesians 6:10-19)

2. Among the intellectuals: apologetics (Acts 17:16-34; Romans 12:1-2)

3. Paul’s secret power (Galatians 2:20; 6:14)

IV. Your Whole-Hearted Christianity

A. Make sure you are a Christian, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ: You must be born again (John 3)

B. Repent of anything that keeps you from putting Christ and this Kingdom first (Matthew 4:17; Luke 24:46-49)

C. Seek God for direction, strength, and fruitfulness (Psalm 62-63; Matthew 6:33; 7:7-8)

Further Book Resources:

1. Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind.

2. Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life

3. J.P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit's Power.

4. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From its Cultural Captivity.

5. John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God .

6. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life.

7. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There. I have read this book ten times, starting in 1976.

8. Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality. A modern classic.

9. Mark Sayers, The Trouble With Paris: Following Jesus in a World of Plastic Promises.

10. John Stott, Basic Christianity. A modern classic.

11. Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway, The Heavenly Man. The compelling story of a Chinese convert and his amazing exploits for the Lord.

Abortion Debate in Denver

My student, John Bryne, will be debating an atheist on abortion at the Auraria campus this Friday.

Wiki Leaks and Judgment

The following is a guest essay by Ajith Fernando, author and minister in Sri Lanka.
I feel that many of the disclosures that we have been receiving through Wikileaks were better left unearthed. Diplomats should have the freedom to air their opinions and express their hunches, before crucial decisions are made, without these going public. However, this is an instructive foretaste of a terrifying disclosure which will take place some day! Whoever thought that money stashed in secret accounts Swiss banks would be made public? The Bible says, "For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccl. 12:1).

As we see rampant corruption and injustice in society, with some suffering because of it and others thriving, we should be angry. Yesterday my wife and I visited a friend and had to park our car in a lonely spot. When we came back the side mirrors and small lights had been stolen. I was angry. But I realised that this was probably done by a person addicted to drugs, with almost no control over his behaviour. I knew that I should be much more angry about responsible, influential people who were destroying the moral fabric of nations through their corruption and abuse of power. But we do not need to be bitter. Actually we should pity these unjust and corrupt people--for they face the terrifying prospect of God's righteous judgement.

In the Bible judgement remains one of the major motivations for a life of honesty and integrity. It is amazing how often the Bible presents it as a motivation for our decisions. The price of integrity is worth paying. The shame of disclosure at the judgement is greater than any shame known to humans. Let us encourage each other with those thoughts so that we will not bow down to contemporary trends. Let us also seek creative ways to confront our nations with the reality of judgement.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Refuse It

Several times in recent years, I have attempted to watch documentaries. This is rare, since I seldom watch video of any length. But occasionally, something catches my eye. Recently, I checked out a DVD on the New York art scene in the 1960s, since I've become quite fascinated by the history of painting.

After puzzling over the seldom-used DVD, I lasted lest than ten minutes before I had to turn it off. It wasn't obscene, or boring, or even dead wrong. Rather, it was impossible for me to watch, given its production values. There was no coherent development of ideas or even images. The scenes jumped jerkily from one talking head to another, to one film clip to another, from one sonic background to another. It nearly nauseated me while inducing vertigo.

You see, my sensibilities are set by books and older films. Flashing lights were used at rock concerts when I was growing up, but they had no intellectual content; they were special effects. Now everything, every form of media it seems (excepting Ken Burns's films), are overloaded, thickly larded with rancid special effects that are supposed to carry meaning and even truth. It cannot be done, but most are too hypnotized to even notice.

Interruption will not be a way of life for me. I refuse it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Duke Meets the Queen

I read in Harvey Cohen's meticulously-researched volume, Duke Ellington's America, that the American Duke met the English Queen in 1958 while he was on tour in the United Kingdom. As was his wont with women, Mr. Ellington was quite captivated by her elegance and regal charms. The queen, however, could not attend any of the band's performances.

Instead of being bitter, angry, or merely disappointed, Ellington wrote a suite for her, "The Queen's Suite," and recorded it with his legendary ensemble. But something was quite different from other compositions and recordings. Duke made but one pressing of the piece and had it sent to Her Majesty. Ellington performed an achingly-beautiful solo piano section of the suite, "The Single Petal of a Rose," on occasion (as he did in London in mid 1960s), but nothing else. The full suite was only released after his death. Then the gift was made available for all to experience.

This event helps mark a remarkable, although very flawed, man, whose sentiments could themselves be quite regal.

What moral or lesson might you draw from this touching vignette

Doug Groothuis on Social Media

My interview on social media will air on Tues., Feb. 15 and Wed., Feb. 16 at 1:30pm and 10:30pm MST each day on "His People" over the Pilgrim Radio Network and at


Here's another one, by NT Wright. I don't have the page numbers: Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem.” Sewanee Theological Review. 41, no. 2 (1998):

Friday, February 11, 2011

Philosophical Autobiography in Discourse on Method by Descartes

[Rene Descartes was a pivotal figure in the history of Western Philosophy, in some ways "the father of modern philosophy," or at least (by Anthony Kenny's lights) the center of the hourglass from which the West moved from ancient and medieval philosophy to modern philosophy. I wrote this essay many years ago. Perhaps some will benefit from it.]


In Discourse on Method (DOM), Descartes wrote a history of his own philosophical pilgrimage and a program for his philosophical and scientific system. The DOM serves as a programmatic summary of what Descartes considered a revolutionary new method of knowledge; it is a kind of philosophical confession of faith which serves as an apology.

It is important to remember that DOM was the preface to three works of science—the Geometry, the Dioptrics, and the Meteorics—which followed it in the original text published in 1637. These served as proof of the success of the method.

Descartes presents himself as an earnest and humble seeker of truth. He delights in all manner of learning, but is unsatisfied with its uncertain status. Though well-schooled and well-traveled as a young man, his heart finds no rest in authority and tradition. He finds clarity and certainty in mathematics but sees little of philosophical value built upon its foundations. So he is discontent.

It is paramount for Descartes to convince the reader that he failed to find certainty in the conventional places. This helps to convince the reader that a new and revolution method is needed. Descartes now resolves to make himself alone the object of study.

In Germany, Descartes repairs to a secluded room heated by a stove to occupy his attention with his own thoughts. Here he begins to discover his method.

When Descartes begins to philosophize he discovers four “precepts of logic” which he resolves never to violate: (1) to believe nothing except what is clear and distinct, (2) to divide up problems into appropriate parts, (3) to proceed from the simple to the complex, and (4) to make sure nothing is left out. This method can, Descartes thinks, deliver a kind of mathematical certitude. Yet he deems himself too young and inexperienced to commence the project. He waits until he is more mature.

Descartes then sets out to doubt all that can be doubted (while keeping religion provisionally intact), not in order to be a skeptic but to find indubitable certainty. He then gives a brief treatment of issues more thoroughly addressed in (also autobiographical) The Meditations (published later). Everything can be doubted except himself as a doubter: “I think, therefore I am” becomes the indubitable and foundational principle of certitude upon which the structure of knowledge and science can be safely built.

He goes on to report his conclusions concerning the existence of God, the distinction of mind and body and the immortality of the soul. These conclusions are reached by rebuilding philosophy from himself as an autonomous knower. Thus, according to Hirom Caton, is “the origin of [modern] subjectivity” and the animus of his autobiographical stance. (I owe several of the following observations to Caton’s book, The Origins of Subjectivity.)

To this point, Descartes uses philosophical autobiography quite skillfully. The telling of a story draws in readers who might not be normally attracted to philosophy. He conveys a sense of intellectual adventure and he personalizes the positions as his positions, grounded on his perspective, not merely as abstract speculations of no one in particular.

The autobiographical form is not incidental to the philosophy proposed. Descartes’ autobiographical form is intrinsically connected to his philosophical program. Because of his distrust of tradition, he must, as it were, begin philosophy all over again from himself as an autonomous being. The starting point for Descartes’ positive philosophy is not an abstract proposition but an existential statement, “I think, therefore, I am.” By making himself the central object of study, he demonstrates that philosophy and autobiography are intimately and necessarily related. A statement of his philosophy requires a history of the study of himself.

Descartes used autobiography to avoid an overtly didactic or dogmatic manner by saying that the book is merely a record of how he himself conducts his reason. Using the autobiographic form, Descartes can avoid the authoritarianism of the schools while still making broad sweeping claims as to the veracity and utility of his method. He believes his method is sound, but he asks his readers to test what he says against their own reason. He thus decided to write the work in the “vulgar” French instead of the traditional—and scholastic—Latin.

The rest of DOM consists of portions of an unpublished work on physical science and Descartes’ comments on why he has not published it. In these later sections Descartes launches into a kind of campaign speech for his own greatness and the indispensability of his scientific method.

He laments that he could not publish his work—The World—because of the prevailing authority’s disagreements with his conclusions. Descartes fears that publication would threaten the equanimity he needs to be a successful seeker of truth; but his dedication to human betterment demands that he arrange for its posthumous publication.

Descartes is particularly shrewd at this point. He seems to be enlisting public support for the publication of a work he is afraid to publish. He tantalizes the reader by saying that his findings have tremendous practical value for the alleviation of human suffering and betterment of human health. Descartes ends the DOM with a restatement of his mission as a seeker of truth and benefactor of humanity.

All in all, Descartes uses philosophical autobiography quite successfully. The form fits the philosophy throughout most of the DOM in that Descartes is challenging the inherited wisdom of the schools by urging a personal discovery of truth through a radical method of rethinking philosophy with self-awareness at the center. His self-awareness is the foundation of his method.

Descartes presents himself as a kind of philosophical hero of almost mythical dimensions who is on a quest for the holy Grail of certainty. He claims to have captured the Grail which blesses him with the ability to envision an entirely new philosophy and science of nature. He gives the Geometry, the Dioptrics, and the Meteorics (which follow the DOM) as positive evidence of the fruitfulness of his method. They are, he claims, harbingers of even greater discoveries.

Nevertheless, Descartes sustained self-promotion at the end of the work seems intrusive at times and does little actual philosophical work. He is fighting for the chance to be heard by showing us his good intentions and intellectual genius. But the philosophical hero succumbs to hubris and the semblance of humility is betrayed by a kind of egotism which spills over the bounds of propriety and actually gets in the way of concrete philosophizing.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Friends, Machines, Myself

His friends have become his machines.
His machines have become his friends.

What is left to him,
of him,
of them:
the machines and the mortals?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Rediscovering Dave Brubeck, 2001

The DVD, "Rediscovering Dave Brubeck," was produced by PBS in 2001 and is a fine overview of this geniuses long and productive life in jazz. Brubeck fought for his own style, blending classical and jazz with a unique sense of swing and time. He once said his secret was playing music that that no one else could play.

You learn of Brubeck's upbringing on a California ranch (taught piano by his cultured mother; taught ranching by his uncultured father), his education, and his matchless career as a jazz innovator. Mr. Brubeck was about 80 at the time of the interviews for this program, and he provides sanguine reflections on his storied and satisfying career. Jazz critics Ted Gioia and Stanley Crouch also provide astute commentary on Brubeck, as do other friends, producers, and collaborators.

The DVD lacks any complete performances of any of Brubeck's pieces, which is a loss. Nevertheless, one gets a good sense of the drive and genius of Dave Brubeck, who recently turned 90 and who is still writing and performing.

Comparisons Three

Kenny G is to jazz
What Thomas Kinkade is to painting and
What Barack Obama is to governance.