Saturday, August 08, 2009

License Plate + Car Make Wit

My witty cousin used to drive a LIFEZA Cabriolet.

I am staying with her and just saw her new license-plate-plus-car-make: MINDOVR Miata.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Secular Age 10

From the Theory Camp discussion of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

Taylor ends the book with "Conversions." This was a little disconcerting, as we expected him to offer a more programmatic statement of how to deal with the dilemmas of transcendence and immanence in modernity. Instead he took a few "itineraries" of changed lives as models. In particular, he takes Charles PĆ©guy and Gerard Manley Hopkins as cases. These were not familiar cases to the students, so they did not leap out as helpful models. Nonetheless, Taylor drew a useful story from their lives.

I came to see why he ended with the lives of converts. He made a crucial point at the outset of the book that most people choose their position on the transcendence/immanence (or supernatural/natural) spectrum not because they were convinced by a rational argument, but because they were impressed with some one's or some group's way of living out their convictions. In the end, then, what he needs to show us are the narratives of exemplary people, rather than a philosophical program. And the great advantage of converts' narratives is that they choose one way versus another for a reason. And intellectual converts are most useful of all as examples because they choose one path versus another for a reason that they can articulate, write down, and pass on to others.

Taylor's position - a high-brow orthodox Catholicism - is a sophisticated one, making its way between the horns of several hoary dilemmas. The pool of sophisticated, high-brow, orthodox Catholic converts who left helpful written records of their personal itinerary is rather select. Taylor gives us the best-known people he could find, even if few students know who they are.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Secular Age 9

From the Theory Camp discussion of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

Taylor offers a succinct critique of Unitarianism, as it was originally developed (it is a little different now):

We take the crucifixion out of Christ’s story, turning him into a teacher.
BUT then his sacrifice is meaningless, which is worse.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Secular Age 8

From the Theory Camp discussion of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

Charles Taylor spends much of the book considering the opposition between transcendental and immanent worldviews, which mostly boils down to Christianity vs. secular humanism. One of the most interesting points he makes is that we tend to choose these worldviews not because we are convinced by arguments for one side or the other. Instead, we are drawn to these positions for ethical reasons - what kind of life would I lead if I adopted one view or the other? What kind of life do people live who have already adopted one view or the other? We look at the narrative that each position would make in our lives. Then we consider arguments. And often we convince ourselves that the arguments were the reason we adopted the worldview in the first place.

One major story that atheists tell for being atheists is that "science disproves God." Really, though, Taylor argues, it is the moral authority of exclusive (atheistic) humanism that makes people think that they were made atheists by science. Science, by its very premises, could neither prove nor disprove God. The appealing atheist story is a narrative of coming of age, becoming mature.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A Secular Age 7

From the Theory Camp discussion of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

Taylor says that the early modern era created several spheres for popular action separate from the state: the economy, the public sphere, and the sovereign people. The more recent turn of events since the 1960s, which some call post-modern, has introduced a "fourth structure of simultaneity": the space of fashion. He describes this space as an example of the fourth structure, but he does not give any other examples, so I am not sure what else goes in this category.

In any case, he says the the space of fashion is "a horizontal, simultaneous mutual presence, which is not that of common action, but rather of mutual display. It matters to each one of us as we act that the others are there, as witness of what we are doing, and thus co-determiners of the meaning of our action.” (481)

All four of these structure are arenas for determining the popular will. They are also powerful forces in shaping the popular will. The sovereign people vote with their votes; the public sphere votes in opinion polls; the people in the market vote with their wallets. In the space of fashion the many individual acts of mutual regard and influence, of making and reading and reacting to personal style, vote in what is fashionable.

What makes this new arena of the social imaginary different is that style and expression are made at a very low level, at the level of individuals or close to it. Taylor thinks that the economy, public sphere, and popular sovereignty were products of the era of mass mobilization. The space of fashion, on the other hand, is a product of the current era of personal authenticity.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Secular Age 6

From the Theory Camp discussion of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

Charles Taylor has a fine discussion of the incoherence of materialist ethics.

“There seems to be a strange inference here, caricatured by Solovyov: ‘Man descends from the apes, therefore we must love each other.’” (596)