A Genealogy of Redemption

I was honored to be interviewed recently by Charlie Taben of the American Philosophical Association about my forthcoming book with Harvard University Press, The Proper Dignity of Human Being. My contribution to the interview ended up being a kind of extended essay, which the APA published in two parts. Part I went up last week and Part II went up just this afternoon. They gave the whole thing a cool title: “A Genealogy of Redemption in the Western Tradition.” I’d love to know what you think! Please leave comments either here or at the APA site itself; or even both!

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Lex Fridman Interview

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down to be interviewed by Lex Fridman, a former MIT roboticist and current podcaster. The interview went on for almost three hours without a break, and it is a testament to Lex’s skills as an interviewer that I never once wanted to stop. The conversation was primarily about Existentialism, Nihilism, and the Search for Meaning, although we did talk a little bit about AI at the end. If you haven’t seen it already, you can find the interview on Youtube here.

I found the interview/discussion format to be both fun and rewarding, and I am considering looking for other ways to have more public events of that sort. I am spending a lot of time writing nowadays, and I’m really looking forward to sharing some of that. But there’s something about the way that philosophy thrives in conversation. Anyhow, if you have ideas about whether that’s a good idea, and if so what way to pursue it, let me know!

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The Comfort College?

I’m not a fan of certain narrow interpretations of the claim that human beings are the rational animal. In at least one form that I find objectionable, the claim builds too closely upon a scholastic account of God’s perfection that takes it to lie primarily in his activity. Insofar as our own rationality is intended to be a reflection (albeit finite and imperfect) of this aspect of God’s infinite goodness, it seems to me to highlight too much the idea that our activity makes us who we are. This is at best an incomplete account. Furthermore, if taken in its intended sense, it leads too easily to the idea that our proper aim is actively to manage and control the world. Both Heidegger and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School like Horkheimer and Adorno, for all their differences, agree that this is a dangerous aspect of our Enlightenment heritage.

That said, it is one thing to criticize the rational animal account of human beings, and another thing entirely to criticize the practice of rational discourse itself. Continue reading

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Being One’s Own: Heidegger and the Enlightenment

The notion of authenticity, of being one’s own, is central to Heidegger’s early work. Division II of Being and Time, for instance, is devoted primarily to spelling out what it would be for Dasein to be authentic. Whatever the details of this notion in Heidegger, it seems to have roots in, or at least to bear some similarity with, Judeo-Christian notions of the self. The verbal similarities, at any rate, are clear. Continue reading

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Politics and Philosophy

I want to talk about another aspect of the project I’m working on, one that makes it particularly difficult. Martin Heidegger was a schmuck. I use this term in a non-technical sense, but I hope it gives the appropriate impression. I am referring, of course, perhaps among other defects, to Heidegger’s commitment to Nazism. It is a natural question – one that has been pressed upon me a number of times recently by a number of people I respect – whether someone of such evidently poor judgment, or worse, can be relied upon to say anything worthwhile about the proper dignity of human being. Why write a book on that topic in particular, one might wonder, through the lens of Martin Heidegger’s work? Continue reading

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Ontological gratitude (and disjunctivism too)

There continues to be an incredibly interesting conversation happening in the comment section of my last post. I want to highlight one aspect of it here. Commenter dmf has identified a tricky and complicated issue about the circumstances under which it is appropriate to feel grateful for having been given a decision. Dmf has also pointed out that this issue is tied to a similar concern that was raised before about ATS. The issues here are subtle and important. Let me see if I can say something about what’s going on. Continue reading

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How do you make a decision?

There’s a discussion that Terence Blake and I are having in the comments section for this post that I find fascinating. Terence is an Australian philosopher, living in France, who knows tons about contemporary European philosophy. I’m always grateful to him for putting my project, and Bert’s project, in the context of the work that high profile French philosophers are now pursuing. But one downside of this conversation between two philosophers is that it may seem to some non-philosophers as though it is happening in code. I fully believe that the things we are talking about are rooted in everyday phenomena that anyone should be able to recognize if they think about their own experiences carefully enough. It’s one of my firmest beliefs about philosophy that at its core it ought not only to be accessible to everyone, but it ought to enrich and enliven your understanding of yourself and your own existence. So let me try to talk about the phenomena Terence and I are discussing in a different, more colloquial context. One way to approach these issues is to ask a basic question: How do you make a decision? Continue reading

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Gratitude for what has been

You are probably wondering where I have been for the last eight years. Let me try to fill in the gaps a bit, and to say why I am so grateful for what has been. Continue reading

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Rising from the Ashes?

It has been almost eight years since I last posted to this blog. To be honest I had nearly forgotten that it exists. Life has been, well, sort of busy in the interim. Even in my absence, however, there has been a steady stream of interest in the contents of the site. I’m kind of shocked to discover that. To be sure, people are no longer commenting on the posts (the last comment was over a year and a half ago). But there are still hundreds of views per month. That is a testament to the importance of the issues we were discussing here, and to the health and intelligence of the community involved in that discussion. Thank you!

I believe that today, more than ever, we need better opportunities for this kind of healthy, serious, respectful, and significant conversation. That is why I am considering trying to post things here again. But I need your help. If you are in favor of a rebirth of All Things Shining, please submit a comment to this post. I would love to hear what you liked about the blog as it used to exist, and how you think it could be better now. Let me say a word or two about what I’m thinking myself. Continue reading

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Logos in Plato and John

I really appreciate that you all have been continuing the discussion in my absence. I’ll have links soon to several interviews that I’ve done recently, including one for the Immanent Frame website that should be up within a week or so. But my time lately has been taken up with two exciting courses I’m teaching – one a graduate seminar on Heidegger’s Kant and the other a General Education course that is related to the themes of ATS. I’ll slowly be putting up the recordings of those two classes on the relevant course websites, so if anyone wants access to them please let me know. In the meantime, though, I wonder if I could get your help.

In the Gen Ed course we’ve finished our reading of Homer and Aeschylus, and I’ve given a brief account of the difference in temperament and focus between the Classical Greek account of the universe as found in Plato (for example) and the Hebraic account as found in the Old Testament. I won’t belabor the distinction here, though I will say that my strategy has been to emphasize a difference along three axes: 1) the role of history in an account of the being we are, 2) the kind of access we have to ultimate truths, and 3) the importance or unimportance of embodiment. I’m hoping this discussion will set up a reading of the Gospel of John.

At the moment I’m struggling with the famous opening lines of John, which seem to identify Jesus with the logos and the logos with God. But I’d like to give a good, clear account of the distinction between “logos” as it figures in Plato and John. I understand that it is possible to highlight similarities. One might think, for example, that the term “logos” is tied in Plato in some way or another with reason or rationality, and connections between this idea and some of John’s influences could easily be made. For example, John is typically thought to have been influenced by the Stoics, and their account of the logos as the active, rational force that pervades the universe is one of the classic references. Or perhaps one could draw on Philo’s account of the logos as divine reason, which may be in the background of John’s text. But ultimately I think it is misleading to emphasize the rational aspect of logos as John uses it, and I have lots of details from the text to support this reading. What I’m looking for at the moment is a good reference from Plato to make it clear how he understands the term. I remember that in the Thaeatetus there is discussion of knowledge as true belief with logos, and a natural account here might count logos as something like rational justification or explanation. And perhaps Glaukon’s request in the Republic for an explanation or account (logos) of the claim that Justice is a good in itself is a clue. But there must be other places where the term appears in Plato. Does anyone have them?

In general, how do you understand the relation between logos in the Christian and the Classical Greek senses?

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