Three Tuesday Quotations

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.’

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Full paper here.

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy is the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

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‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial.  Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony.  In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral ideas.’

Minogue, Kenneth.  Politics.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).

Wandering the Sea Of Fog Above Your Hotel Bed-Diminished Things: Theodore Dalrymple On Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag couldn’t mean such nonsense, could she?

‘The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilisation has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions.’

Yes and no, probably.

Traversing the rocky outcrops of the postmodern landscape can lead to occasional outbursts of moral grandeur.  Beneath the fog, hilltops can present themselves as though all of ‘(H)istory’ is coming into view.

Bathing in the thermal pools of group identity, deep inside of this ritual or that, perhaps chanting ‘power-theories’ to feel some warmth and comfort; all may quiet the conscience for a time.

Sooner or later, though, action is required. The injustice becomes unbearable.  The Self lies suspended atop ‘(H)istory’ and the utopias to come under its oppressions.

What were once Romantic visions of grandeur high above the clouds (is that an old German castle?) were still available to some Modernists, but maybe even fewer postmodernists, yet.

Where are these things headed?

Addition: It would seem I can state the radical case well enough that actual radicals are mistaking this post for one of sympathy.

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Be careful where you put your Self, dear reader, as your moral sentiments, hope and despair will follow.

If I’m going to make an appeal to your Self, then at least let me do it in more pragmatic fashion, away from these many post-Enlightenment dead-ends and radical discontents.

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Via Triggernometry-Free Speech & Greg Lukianoff

Whenever I’m approached by fundraisers out in the streets for the ACLU, I tell them I no longer support their mission, as I don’t think many of their recent decisions are good for speech. Three canvassers have politely said ‘Thank you for your input‘ and walked away. I assume this is part of the training.

The new ACLU [sorry, by which I mean The FIRE…the actual ACLU now places further Left goals above speech] defenders of civil liberties must stand against the postmodern and Left authoritarian drift.

Via Isegoria are Conquest’s Laws of Politics:

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best. 
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. 
  3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.

This one’s stuck with me over the last few months:

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

As for politics on the other side, it’s a mess of anarcho-libertarians, non-anarchic libertarians, the New Right, the Old Right, the never-Trumpers, religious believers, traditionalists and a lot of pro- and anti-establishment vitriol.

Related On This Site:  Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’From Edge: ‘Re: What Makes People Republican? By Jonathan Haidt’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Ross Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Slight Update & Repost-Postmodern Romanticism Or Just Walking Around, Learning & Looking At Stuff?

Photos here.

Is ‘urban exploration’ a bit ruin-pornish?  

It can be pretty interesting and make for good content.

The individual travels alone or with small groups (usually with a camera), trespassing through city-scapes and abandoned buildings as though they were archeological ruins. Breaking the law or possibly breaking the law is part of the appeal.

Perhaps such folks are traveling as well through their own imaginations, romanticizing themselves as transgressive outsiders; inviting viewers on a mythic, imaginative quest, where some camaraderie, historical meaning and beauty are to be found.

It certainly comes with the risk and rewards newer platforms can offer.

Maybe they could just be figuring out how things work and how infrastructure is built, too.  And where the margins are.

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Naturally, one impulse expressed here is the desire for group membership and meaning. Like kids who’ve found something new and cool to do, some recognition is desired from others or from society at large, even if it’s tinged with the negative.

Along with many other genres (documentaries are a glaring example), I tend to believe that if a group gathers behind a cause (ideological/political) and seeks to confirm a pre-existing belief, this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone gets along, nor is persuaded, nor agrees on matters of deeper principle.

It can lead to fracture, art and politics mixing in unholy union, and a public square where moralizing abounds (Dear Reader, have you heard about ‘The Message‘).

Readers will know I tend to think some of this is a sign of a newer, more anarchic/nihilistic individualism manifesting within our culture. The failures of many older relationships and institutional arrangements have created a lot of space.

Welcome to it.

Don’t you want to live in Austin, or Boulder, or Portland, or Williamsburg, Brooklyn?

Don’t you want to live and compete with the best in an outward facing American city like San Francisco or New York, or maybe even an international city if you can manage it?

What about the downsides (political leadership/corruption/crime/high and low)?

Don’t you want to live in Salt Lake City, or some small town with a church and organized civic life? Don’t you just want order, relative peace, obligations and decency?

Are you still looking for America?

James Fallows at the Atlantic, former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, explored the wonders of post-hippie settlers in Vermont to stay relevant to a new generation of readers: Vermont Report: Shaping The Soul Of A School.

Good luck not getting the co-op co-opted by radicals. I also didn’t know schools had souls.

Tim Carney says towns and cities (both religious and not) with strong civic institutions voted in much smaller numbers for civic nationalism and Trumpian populism.

Until then, you can catch me at the next radical Quaker flower protest:

Related On This Site:What about the victims of crime, not all this romanticization of criminals?: Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘Radical Graffiti Chic’.

Two ways around postmodernism, nihilism?: One is Allan Bloom Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’… Here’s a suggestion to keep aesthetic and political judgements apart-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Institutionalized Leftism in the Arts has a longer, deeper history in the U.S.: From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’Repost-From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?

Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’

The Public Square (Meet The New Authority), COVID Origins & Safetyism-Some Links

Carlo Lancellotti put up this quotation by Augusto Del Noce:

‘Its historical perspective is, essentially, the following: in history there has been a permanent break coinciding with the Second World War; what was defeated was not just Fascism and Nazism, but the whole old European tradition; and Fascism and Nazism must be interpreted as phenomena caused by fear of historical progress … As a consequence of this judgment, those who draw inspiration from tradition are always “reactionaries” or “Fascists” (two terms that are stupidly equated), whether they know it or not.

Out?: The old town square, where patriotism, freedom of thought and expression, and statues, were more secure (and more religiously influenced, Catholics included)

In?: ‘History’ has a right side, and you’d better get on it. Pick a team…for now. If you have more resources, pick a cause (or fund them). Squares are oppressive.

I’m glad some people are dedicated to discovering the truth. How many other research labs are taking big risks? Who runs them? What about downstream technology in the hands of anyone/any group/any autocrat/any guerilla with a grievance?

Which benefits have already come?

More two cents: Impulses to consolidate power, tighten laws and restrict freedoms come during times of crisis and consequence (people are gonna die immediately). Wars, among other things, can mobilize people society-wide towards victory (also survival).

What if the crisis is a virus? The folks in more amenable to counter-culture liberal idealism are now running many of our institutions during this particular crisis. Their highest goods are often ideals like ‘democracy’, ‘safety’ and ‘communal-health-in-a-modern-society-by-inclusion-of-the-most-marginalized’. (these are the ideas they run on and the statements they tend to issue, anyways).

Behind the scenes, it’s usually the same mixture of principle, self-interest, favor-repayment, coalitions strategy, paybacks, ambition, fear, vanity, personal relationships etc.

This often affects how they wield authority.

It also probably affects how a lot of people are viewing their (S)elves, Nature, and giving the central dramatic meaning to their lives (this virus reaffirms a belief in the ideals).

At least with Christians, violence is limited in principle.

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

Russian and Chinese interests and leadership, as well localism within interconnected networks, might be evidence working against many Western Universalist claims. Distance-shortening technologies won’t simply manifest a world any one of us, alone, or in groups, might be working towards.

It looks to me more like liberalism in the U.S. has been heading towards rule with technocratic elements, bureaucratic elements, liberation elements, and a rather authoritarian hand.

Freedom is next!

Now, what about Safetyism? Might it be a sub-category of above described liberal thinking?

Wear a mask! Don’t go outside! Cars are dangerous! Put that helmet on, mister.

No, really, put it on.

Matthew Crawford discusses:

Stephen Hicks At Triggernometry-‘Hitler Year-Zero’

It’s identities-all-the-way-down:

I’d been charting the return to ‘Hitler Year-Zero‘ as a product of the Frankfurt School and the radical Left’s infiltration of the American academy. ‘Anti-fascism’ was, after all, driving many socialists, communists, and various other collectivist utopians into war with the fascist right (see Orwell in Spain). Through the Straussian lens, at least, both these manifestations of Left/Right are two sides of the same coin. Their highest goods are totalizing, collectivizing ideologies, coalescing into warring political factions.

Left-leaners dislike the suggestion that supporting radical activists while supporting ‘classical liberalism’ (free-speech, free-markets, individual liberties as many do in their personal lives) might be conflicting goals, requiring of hard choices.

The drive towards ‘democracy’ and ‘equity’, mobilizing every injustice in activists’ lives, often falls apart in the face of definitional scrutiny. So, only you support ‘democracy’ and your political adversaries don’t? What do mean by democracy, exactly? Rule by the demos? Which problems arise from rule by the demos?

As I see the world: Such ideologues, within coalitions, drive against enemies as much as towards such shared conceptions of the moral good. Thus, not all things religious, traditional, and conservative are ‘evil,’ nor are people who defend some tradition or religious belief ‘fascist,’ unless your own ideas are….totalizing and fascist.

The lesson: Basically, if all you’ve got are are socialists, communists and ‘anti-fascists’ claiming to stand for liberty, you’re f**ked.

A harder task: Convincing many liberal idealists, soft collectivists, secular humanists and ‘one-worlder’ types that harder choices are on the horizon between their ‘freedom-is-next-I’m-a-good-person’ mindset and the radicals.

I’m expecting most to slip into the blame, resentment and anger at anything conservative, traditional and religious. Most of us, most of the time, play the political games of the day even as the Overton Window shifts. This is much easier to do if people like Donald Trump arise to stand up for conservative ideas (I suppose I’m Trump-skeptical, but next time ’round I’ve got one vote and two choices like you). Most media and most of the academies will be teaching such ideas from young ages, and in high-places.

It will be harder to convince many people who might be conservative, traditional and religious that not everything ‘liberal’ is far-Left, radical and activist, even though we’re all arguably running aground in the postmodern muck. Here, too, the political games of the day will usually triumph. The once-conservative, patriotic, traditional American cultural majority is now more of a minority, needing more legal protections and possessing more good reasons for truth and reflection now that the liberal types are arguably a majority.

I’m just trying to keep one-foot-in and one-foot-out, moving all about.

I’m not sure it’s working…

Roger Scruton & The New Witchcraft, Universal Geometry In Rocks & Werner Herzog-Some Links

Roger Scruton (R.I.P.) discussed being misrepresented in the pages of a major publication, effectively purging him from an unpaid government architectural committee job.

So it was, and so it is:

Tim Hunt was a witch. Larry Summers, briefly became a witch.

Via Quanta magazine: ‘Scientists Uncover the Universal Geometry of Geology

“The math is telling us that when we begin to fracture rocks, however we do it, whether we do it randomly or deterministically, there is only a certain set of possibilities,” said Furbish. “How clever is that?”

Our author uses a bit of Plato to tie the piece together; a discussion of ideal forms:

As for Jerolmack, after first feeling uncomfortable over a possibly coincidental connection to Plato, he has come to embrace it. After all, the Greek philosopher proposed that ideal geometric forms are central to understanding the universe but always out of sight, visible only as distorted shadows.

“This is literally the most direct example we can think of. The statistical average of all these observations is the cube,” Jerolmack said.

“But the cube never exists.”

‘Universal’ is saying a lot.

In the meantime, enjoy walking through an abandoned mine. From engineers and geologists to wise men, fools and crazy old coots, it’s dangerous, dirty work.

Travel inside the Earth:

Maybe out of the depths of post-war guilt and nihilism, some Germans are still trying to thread the needle of all experience through the new fields of knowledge.

There’s something about the earnest piety of ‘We Germans’ and the Natural World which unsettles. The triumphs and failures of German Idealism have convulsed to some terrible extremes.

Nevertheless, join Wener Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer as they use documentary filmmaking to discover something true about that Natural World and deep within ourselves and our origins.

Here’s an interview with both men here:

You Can’t Step In The Same River Twice, I Suppose

If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.

Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on.  After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.

While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida.  He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan.  Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling.  There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room.  Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.

I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.

In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried.  When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).

It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.

I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.

It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.

It may be meritocrats all the way down, lightly tapping upon the heads of radicals.

It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.

Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow.

Repost-Are You There, God? It’s Me, So-And-So

Simon Blackburn reviews Edward Feser’s ‘Five Proofs of The Existence of God

From The Ignatius Press description of the book:

‘This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.’

Blackburn, here in the Times Literary Supplement (link may not last):

‘Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher, disagrees. His book is an exercise in the drive to go where Hobbes, Hume and Kant said we could not go, finding something lying behind the world as we know it, something necessary and unchanging that sustains and in some sense explains the contingent, shifting, natural world and our capacity to think about it.’

and:

‘Edward Feser himself is not at all drawn to silent contemplation inside the monastery walls. He is a vigorous proponent of a morality of natural law, holding, for instance, that abortion is as bad as murder. His ancient exercises in logic are more than just intellectual amusements. They are preludes to the will to power, and if it were not for the Enlightenment, so little admired by John Gray, they would doubtless have continued to be preludes to persecutions and the auto-da-fé.’

Feser responds, here:

‘On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature. For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation...

…On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.’

On that note, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism

Blackburn on the book:

‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’

If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:

Thomas Nagel review of John Gray’s previous book, ‘The Silence Of Animals,’ here.

Simon Critchley reviewed the book at the L.A. Times.

Nagel starts with:

‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’

and:

‘The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’

Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.

Nagel finishes with:

‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’

Gray discusses the book here:

While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.

Are we rational beings? Rational animals?

What about a Church Of England, somewhat Hegelian, defense of conservatism as a defense of that which one loves?:

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Ross Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’…: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems.

Don’t immanentize the eschaton!: From The NY Times: ‘Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum’

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn…Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

Robert Bork had his own view of the 1960’s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

Full interview here.

“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?

Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”

It looks like we’ve been dealing with such a problem for a long time, in one form or another.

See Also On This Site:  Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes:  From The Philosopher’s Magazine Via The A & L Daily: ‘My Philosophy: Alan Sokal’