Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Well Disney-Pixar managed a modern-day classic with 2003’s Finding Nemo.  Normally I would say: “Quit while you’re ahead” (that’s why I’m apprehensive, to say the least, about the proposed sequel to Frozen).

But co-writer/director Andrew Stanton appears to have put the last 13 years to good use in further honing his talent.  Finding Dory retains much of Nemo‘s charm, while taking the story in some humorous and surprising new directions. (more…)

Read Full Post »

TrueDetectiveDVDCover

NOTE: This is the third in a series of commentaries on HBO’s True Detective, season one; for the other two, click here.

You may skip the first post if you wish.  I would, however, read the second (the one focused on Marty Hart), only because I am following a pattern set by the series itself: Marty (Woody Harrelson) is the initial primary focus, and next it will shift to his partner, Rustin “Rust” Cohle (Matthew McConaughey); this current post will function as a transition of sorts.

So here goes… (more…)

Read Full Post »

I really have been trying not to over-rely on Youtube videos recently.  But in his commentary on Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, Bishop Robert Barron offers a beautifully succinct presentation of the cardinal human virtues.

Read Full Post »

French-born anthropologist, philosopher, historian, literary critic, and social scientist René Girard, arguably one of the pivotal figures in Christianity during the last half-century, passed away yesterday at age 91.

Some of my more faithful readers may remember me referencing Girard in my commentary on Frozen.  One of his major contributions was his exploration of Christianity in light of the ages-old scapegoat mechanism, which he discusses in the following video.  It’s just a few minutes long, and is worth a look:

NOTE: This video was posted by a Youtube user who is from all available evidence a devout Catholic of good conscience.  Hence, I am assuming fair use here.  But if anyone knows or suspects otherwise, please let me know, and I will promptly delete this post.

Read Full Post »

animal rightsLinks to previous posts:

Part 1
Part 2

Please read these if you haven’t already.  This post won’t make much sense otherwise.

We have amply covered the privilege given to autonomy in the world today, as well as its extension from humanity to the animal kingdom and the accompanying exclusion of human beings in utero.  We might also add usefulness as a core modern value, as the prioritization of autonomy will compel us to look for what is useful to that end (both generally and in each instance).

If we are serious about this worldview, it follows that we must do what we can to ensure the autonomy of each and every creature.

Herein lies the problem: It’s impossible.

There are far too many variables, too many uncertainties, too many “moving pieces” for every creature’s autonomy to be able to flourish without restraint.

In fact, this “ethos,” in its various forms and degrees, is what pits one vs. another — both on the individual and collective levels.  The privilege of autonomy, rather than being progressive, takes us back to the old law of “survival of the fittest,” and in this case the “fittest” are those able to exercise what we understand as autonomy (however widely its degrees vary).

One might argue: “Yes, but the kind of ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality you’re worried about belongs to a more primitive state of mind.  Our model is based on reason and science.”

fighter aircraftThat’s fine, except that the danger in question is not something to which the modern worldview is immune.  It simply works its way into the newer framework in subtler ways, and is perhaps the more dangerous for it (consider, for example, ancient warfare where enemies in arms and pillagers alike would face their opponents and victims, versus a modern warfare that is less bloody, but which allows for the decimation of entire populations without knowing the targets as anything other than coordinates on a grid).

Let’s be clear: We all agree on the importance of preserving and protecting the proper dignity of each creature.  But contrary to what some claim, we cannot rely upon arguments about what is “conducive to progress” (and not to be redundant, but I will remind the reader that our society sees the growth of autonomy as an indispensable feature of progress) to ensure that this happens.  In his book Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud opined that the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is actually counter-evolutionary, as the good of one’s neighbor will often detract from the (immediate) good of oneself.

If it’s dignity we want, we must appeal to a system of values.  And of this I make three basic observations:

  1. When we do this, we go well beyond questions of autonomy and its attendant bedfellow, usefulness.  If you don’t get how this could be the case, consider the Freud allusion above.
  2. A system of values places strictures on our urge to do whatever we please, whether according to the whims of pleasure or some higher motive.
  3. Finally, it affords us certain basic rights that have no connection whatsoever with the “usefulness” or “autonomy” or our existence.  It confers on every human being the privilege and responsibility of personhood, as well as conferring on animals the dignity proper to them.

Ok — in the fourth and final post, we will bring these reflections back full-circle to the topics we looked at in part one.  Thanks for reading.

*********************************************************************************************************************

Acknowledgements

  1. “Shanghai-monkey” by F3rn4nd0 – File:Shanghai man with monkey.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shanghai-monkey.jpg#/media/File:Shanghai-monkey.jpg
  2. “Northrop P-61 green airborne”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Northrop_P-61_green_airborne.jpg#/media/File:Northrop_P-61_green_airborne.jpg

Read Full Post »

If you have not read part 1 already, I would highly recommend doing so.  This post will not make much sense otherwise.

That said, I’ll start by citing the reflection with which I said I would pick up:

If [a] lion injures or kills a human being, what guilt does it incur?

None.  It is a non-rational animal, without the necessary resources to make free-will judgements and decisions.  It is driven by in-built instinct and cannot be held responsible for its actions.

Now let’s reverse the situation.  If a human being exercises cruelty toward another human being, s/he incurs graver guilt than if s/he were to exercise cruelty toward an animal; but s/he incurs guilt in both cases.  In fact, to behave in this way does more harm to the acting subject than to the victim, because the nature of a rational being is such that it degrades itself by bending its will toward such actions.

I realize that this would be poo-pooed by many psychologists and philosophers of the last couple centuries.  What is more, I must acknowledge this attitude to be by no means limited to intellectual elites.  If it started with them, it has “trickled down” quite a bit.  This is probably why we, as a society, are so reluctant to affirm the inherent dignity of the human person as such — an affirmation that would require both opposition to abortion and the recognition that humans have greater dignity than animals.

With that dignity, after all, comes responsibilities that are decidedly inconvenient.  It is more convenient and more comfortable to reduce morality, and even choice itself, to animal instincts and determinism.  Under that rubric, dignity becomes synonymous with autonomy, or the ability to exercise personal freedom and choice independently of constraints — an ability that many people defend with the oft-repeated battle cry: “Just let me be who I am!”

And that, I suspect, explains why the one rule our society accepts is this: “Do what you want, just don’t hurt anybody.”  If you are hurting people, you are infringing on their autonomy, after all.  Traditional morality becomes a problem according to this new “unum necessarium,” as it undoubtedly poses a threat to autonomy as we understand it.

abortionOkay — assuming that this worldview is true, abortion becomes doubly “sacred.”  The attendant notion of the mother’s autonomy takes from the human person the responsibility of being a subject while also assigning priority of life and prerogative to those able to exercise autonomy — namely, those already outside the womb, and able to survive independently.

CecilThe preference we give to animals over human fetuses is also explained.  When it comes to autonomy, we see a difference in degree rather than in kind between man and beast.  Beasts, after all, act according to that very thing to which morality and choice have been reduced in human beings: Instinct.

A lion has the wide open savannah to traverse, and in which to do whatever instinct bids.  The buffalo has the wide open prairie, and is not naturally constrained by anything against acting according to its inner drives.  The trout in the stream, the buck in the forest, the whale in the ocean, the goat on the mountain slopes, and every other animal you can imagine is likewise able to exercise “autonomy.”

FetusNot so the fetus (human or otherwise).  The fetus cannot possibly survive apart from its “host,” from the maternal microcosm it inhabits; much less can it exercise autonomy as we understand it.

I say all this by way of mere observation.  In part 3, I’ll go into the moral implications of this worldview.  Hope you’ll stay with me!

*********************************************************************************************************************

Acknowledgements

  1. “RussianAbortionPoster”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg#/media/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg
  2. “Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park (4516560206)” by Daughter#3 – Cecil. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg#/media/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg
  3. “3dultrasound 20 weeks” by Staecker – My baby, my picture.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg#/media/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg

Read Full Post »

Episode 6 scene 15

Episode 6 scene 15

For parts one and two, click here

If you love Game of Thrones, chances are you love Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage).  But let’s face it: His popularity doesn’t do much to foster a healthy sense of morality in our society.

Take Tyrion, a whoring, cussing, imbibing, lustful dwarf who is at the same time charming and compassionate, and put him against the background of a bunch of  lying, scheming, murdering, brutal scoundrels (his own father, Tywin Lannister, among them), and people will naturally prefer Tyrion.  Not only that, his sins will seem excusable, minor, or even non-existent by comparison.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage  Mandatory Credit: Photo by HBO/Everett/REX_Shutterstock (4705667g)  Peter Dinklage, 'The Wars To Come', (Season 5, ep. 01)  Game of Thrones - 2015

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage
Mandatory Credit: Photo by HBO/Everett/REX_Shutterstock (4705667g)
Peter Dinklage, ‘The Wars To Come’, (Season 5, ep. 01)
Game of Thrones – 2015

Okay…there’s a lot we can say about Tyrion.  He is witty.  He is charming.  He has a gentler heart by far than 99% of the show’s many characters.  But he is, for a good portion of the show, a man of lust.

It would be useful, however, to ask why he seeks happiness in sex with sundry women.  Is it simply shameless self-indulgence, or is there something else going on here?

Tyrion-Bronn-ShaeThink back to season one, episode nine — specifically, the scene in which Tyrion drinks and swaps stories with the sellsword Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and the prostitute Shae (Sibel Kikilli).  In the course of their interactions, Tyrion reveals that he was married at age 16 to a woman with whom, in the naivete of youth, he had fallen in love (or so he thought).  But not long after, he learned that it was all a setup.  The woman was a hired prostitute. Tyrion’s father even forced him to watch as Lannister guardsmen had sex with her.

LannistersAnd this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Eventually, we learn that Tyrion’s mother died giving birth to him; for that reason, and because he was a stunted dwarf from birth, he has incurred the lifelong ire of his family (with the exception of his brother, Jaime).  His own father flatly tells him that he wanted to throw him into the sea as a baby, but spared his life only…

(. . .) because you’re a Lannister.

Evil does not subsist in itself.  Evil is to good what the cavity is to the tooth.  It’s existence is entirely parasitic.  Therefore, every form of evil depends on a particular form of good, and every sin  is a misdirected desire for something good.

Tyrion_ShaeSo what good is Tyrion looking for, consciously or unconsciously?  I think it’s safe to say he is looking for love.  Except he’s not going about it the right way, because no one has ever shown him how.

He finally finds love during a brief and secret romance with Shae, which he is forced to end in order to protect the latter’s life.  Unaware of Tyrion’s motives and deeply hurt, Shae turns against him.  During a trial (presided over by none other than Tywin Lannister) in which Tyrion is charged with a crime he didn’t commit, she stands witness against him.  Later, when Tyrion breaks out of his prison cell on the eve of his scheduled execution, he discovers that she is sleeping with his father.

And he kills her.  Hardly the act of a genuine lover, but no doubt he had experienced something with her that, of all of his experiences, most closely approximated the “real thing.”

Tyrion in VolantisOkay — fast forward a bit: Tyrion has fled to the vast eastern continent of Essos and ended up at a brothel in the city of Volantis.  He approaches an attractive young prostitute, strikes up a conversation, gains her interest, and is about to go with her to a secluded room.

But at just that moment, he is surprised to discover that he can’t do it.  He does not appear to be upset about it — it is simply a new fact of life for him.

What can we make of this, precisely?  In order to explore the possibilities suggested by this question, I turn once more to Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”

John_Paul_II_1980_cropped

In the address titled “Dominion over the Other in the Interpersonal Relation,” the late Holy Father expressed a profound insight that I will try my best to summarize.

In forfeiting their relationship with God, our first parents also seriously compromised their relationship with one another.  No longer could they enjoy that same deep, intense, personal, self-giving union that they enjoyed in Eden, because sin has introduced the element of selfishness into their relations.  Hence we have the phenomenon of lust, which is “insatiable” because the genuine goal of human sexuality by nature eludes it.  Seeking pleasure in the indulgence of sexual appetite for its own sake, as Tyrion does for most of his adult life, is much like seeking relief from an itch by constantly scratching at it: It provides momentary relief from — one might even substitute the word “forgetfulness of” — the problem, but does nothing to solve it; in fact, it only makes the problem worse.

Tyrion on trial I think it’s safe to say that Tyrion has finally realized this.  The experience of true love has shed light on a void within him that he now realizes cannot possibly be filled by random sex.

Sorry, but I was wrong again.  I’ll need four posts rather than three.  We’ll cover Dany next time.

**************************************************************

Top image of Tyrion and image of Pope John Paul II from wikipedia — full citations:

1. “Tyrion Lannister-Peter Dinklage” by Uploaded by TAnthony. Via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tyrion_Lannister-Peter_Dinklage.jpg#/media/File:Tyrion_Lannister-Peter_Dinklage.jpg

2. “John Paul II 1980 cropped” by Fels_Papst.JPG: Nikolaus von Nathusiusderivative work: JJ Georges – This file was derived from: Fels Papst.JPG:. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG#/media/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG

Remaining images obtained through a Google image search

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »