Andrea Wulf | Friedrich Schelling’s Philosophy Can Help Us Through the Climate Crisis – The New York Times

Ms. Wulf is the author of “Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self.”

“As darkness settled over the small German town of Jena in the late winter of 1798, large groups of young men rushed to the town university’s biggest auditorium to listen to their new philosophy professor. They jostled for seats, took out ink and quills and waited. At the lectern, a young man lit two candles and the students saw him bathed in light.

There is a “secret bond connecting our mind with nature,” the professor, Friedrich Schelling, told the students. His idea, that the self and nature are in fact identical, was as simple as it was radical. He explained this by pointing to the moment when the self becomes aware of the world around it.

“At the first moment, when I am conscious of the external world, the consciousness of my self is there as well,” he said, “and vice versa — at my first moment of self-awareness, the real world rises up before me.” Instead of dividing the world into mind and matter, as many philosophers had done for centuries, the young professor told his students that everything was one. It was an idea that would change the way humans think about themselves and nature.

To me it seems that we sometimes forget that we’re part of nature — physically of course, but also emotionally and psychologically — and this insight is missing from our current climate debates. As a historian, I have looked at the relationship between humankind and nature, and I believe that Schelling’s philosophy of oneness might provide a foundation on which to anchor the fight for our climate and our survival.”

David Lindsay: Great essay, and comments. Here are two of many:

K. Kong
Washington7h ago

Indigenous populations understood our relationship with nature, but Western societies took the Bible’s call for man to have “dominion” over nature literally. We didn’t respect it. But the so-called primitive cultures saw a spirit in life in all things, and themselves as part of it. It took philosophy too long to figure out these pre-Christians, as well as the Native American populations today, had it right.

4 Replies73 Recommended
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Che Beauchard
Lower East Side 4h ago

Many of the comments to this article voice complaints that Mr. Wulf did not mention an appropriate Bible passage, or Buddhist or Hindu scripts, or indigenous practices, or earlier philosophers like Spinoza when speaking of Schelling’s proposal concerning the unity of each of us in nature. But Mr. Wulf wasn’t writing about all of history and all religious and cultural ideas. He wrote about how Schelling provided a contrast with the predominant ideas of the the of the Enlightenment and the early science that was developed at that time. He was concerned with the foundations of modern attitudes and Schelling’s response against that. The modern era began with the proposal that nature is inert and mechanical, and Schelling was responding to that modern attitude. Ancient religions clearly were not responses to modernity, and thus were unmentioned. Ideas have to be invented over and over. Many, if not most, of them are invented again and again in the day dreams of children, who later forget them when the adult world seems uninterested. For Mr. Wulf to write about how this one German philosopher stood in opposition to the modern attitude that separates us from the rest of nature did not require him to write about every antecedent to modern thought. Many comments seem to be offended by Mr. Wulf writing what they already believe in, which is that we are not separate from nature. Chill. No need to fight with someone with whom you agree.

5 Replies52 Recommended

David Brooks | How Democrats Can Win the Morality Wars – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“I’m a fan of FiveThirtyEight, a website that looks at policy issues from a data-heavy perspective, but everyone publishes a clunker once in a while. In February, FiveThirtyEight ran a piece called “Why Democrats Keep Losing Culture Wars.” The core assertion was that Republicans prevail because a lot of Americans are ignorant about issues like abortion and school curriculum, and they believe the lies the right feeds them. The essay had a very heavy “deplorables are idiots” vibe.

Nate Hochman, writing in the conservative National Review, recognized a hanging curve when he saw one and he walloped the piece. He noted that “all the ‘experts’ that the FiveThirtyEight writers cite in their piece are invested in believing that the progressive worldview is the objective one, and that any deviations from it are the result of irrational or insidious impulses in the electorate.”

He added: “All this is a perfect example of why the left’s cultural aggression is alienating to so many voters. Progressive elites are plagued by an inability to understand the nature and function of social issues in American life as anything other than a battle between the forces of truth and justice on one side and those of ignorance and bigotry on the other.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. The essence of good citizenship in a democratic society is to spend time with those who disagree with you so you can understand their best arguments.”

David Lindsay: In this column, Brooks hits a home run with the bases loaded.

Ezra Klein | The Enemies of Liberalism Are Showing Us What It Really Means – The New York Times

   Opinion Columnist

“After three decades of dominance, liberalism is losing its hold on Western minds,” Matthew Rose writes in his powerful new book, “A World After Liberalism.

Rose does not mean liberalism in the way we typically use the word. This is not about supporting universal health care or disagreeing with Justice Samuel Alito. Rose means liberalism as in the shared assumptions of the West: a belief in human dignity, universal rights, individual flourishing and the consent of the governed.

That liberalism has been battered by financial crises, the climate crisis, checkered pandemic responses, right-wing populists and a rising China. It seems exhausted, ground down, defined by the contradictions and broken promises that follow victory rather than the creativity and aspiration that attend struggle.

At least, it did. Ukraine’s refusal to bend the knee to Vladimir Putin has reminded the West that, for those who have not yet learned to take it for granted, life under liberalism is worth fighting for. But true renewal will require more than horror at Russia’s invasion or paeans to Ukraine’s courage. It will mean grappling with liberalism’s deficiencies and rediscovering its core radicalism.”

Moral Relativism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Moral Relativism

“Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.  It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values; the denial that there are universal moral values shared by every human society; and the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own.

Relativistic views of morality first found expression in 5th century B.C.E. Greece, but they remained largely dormant until the 19th and 20th centuries.  During this time, a  number of factors converged to make moral relativism appear plausible.  These included a new appreciation of cultural diversity prompted by anthropological discoveries; the declining importance of religion in modernized societies; an increasingly critical attitude toward colonialism and its assumption of moral superiority over the colonized societies; and growing skepticism toward any form of moral objectivism, given the difficulty of proving value judgments the way one proves factual claims.

For some, moral relativism, which relativizes the truth of moral claims, follows logically from a broader cognitive relativism that relativizes truth in general.  Many moral relativists, however, take the fact-value distinction to be fundamental.  A common, albeit negative, reason for embracing moral relativism is simply the perceived untenability of moral objectivism: every attempt to establish a single, objectively valid and universally binding set of moral principles runs up against formidable objections.  A more positive argument sometimes advanced in defense of moral relativism is that it promotes tolerance since it encourages us to understand other cultures on their own terms.”

Source: Moral Relativism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Yuval Noah Harari Believes This Simple Story Can Save the Planet – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/11/08/magazine/yuval-noah-harari-interview.html

“With the publication in the United States of his best-selling “Sapiens” in 2015, the Israeli historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari arrived at the top rank of public intellectuals, a position he consolidated with “Homo Deus” (2017) and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” (2018). Harari’s key theme is the idea that human society has largely been driven by our species’s capacity to believe in what he calls fictions: those things whose power is derived from their existence in our collective imaginations, whether they be gods or nations; our belief in them allows us to cooperate on a societal scale. The broad sweep of Harari’s writing, which encompasses the prehistoric past and a dark far-off future, has turned him into a bit of a walking inkblot test. “The general misunderstandings of me,” says Harari, 45, co-author of the recently published “Sapiens: A Graphic History, Volume 2” (the latest in a series of graphic-novel adaptations of his work), “are that I’m the prophet of doom and then there’s this opposite view that I think everything is wonderful.” Both, of course, might be true. “Once the books are out, the ideas are out of your hands,” he says.”

Steven Pinker Thinks Your Sense of Imminent Doom Is Wrong – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/09/06/magazine/steven-pinker-interview.html?action=click&algo=lda_unique&block=editors_picks_recirc&fellback=false&imp_id=114485650&impression_id=34eee837-1179-11ec-8bf9-11a4c5ca1b69&index=1&pgtype=Article&pool=pool%2Fe76d7165-92f7-4bd2-bc6e-298322d3680a&region=footer&req_id=367884245&surface=eos-home-featured&variant=1_lda_unique

“. . . I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that rising authoritarianism, the pandemic and the climate crisis, among other things, are signs that we’re going to hell in a handbasket. Is that irrational of me? It’s not irrational to identify genuine threats to our well-being. It is irrational to interpret a number of crises occurring at the same time as signs that we’re doomed. It’s a statistical phenomenon that when events are randomly sprinkled in time they cluster. That sounds paradoxical, but unless you have a nonrandom process that spaced them apart — We’re going to have a crisis every six months but we’re never going to have two crises in a month — events cluster. That’s what random events will always do. ”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
This piece lost me. Climate change, the pandemic, and the rise of authoritarianism are not equals. Bad questions lead to bad answers. Why exactly is this professor not deeply concerned about the existential threat of climate change and the sixth extinction? Perhaps there should be a follow up interview by an environmentalist. Does he know what the sixth extinction is? Does he know that in the last 50 years, human population doubled, while the populations of most species were cut in half, and thousands were eliminated. Some studies show insects and birds are down 70% Half the great barrier reef is bleached or dead. How is Mr. Pinker optimistic, when we went from 2 billion humans to almost 8 billion humans, 7.8 billion human beings, in just under 100 year– probably since 1930 to the present. Edward O Wilson, also of Harvard, but a naturalist, has written that if we lose half the world’s species, the human species will probably not survive.

The Constitution of Knowledge | Jonathan Rauch – National Affairs

Jonathan Rauch

Fall 2018

“Long before Donald Trump began his political career, he explained his attitude toward truth with characteristic brazenness. In a 2004 television interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, he marveled at the Republicans’ successful attacks on the wartime heroism of Senator John Kerry, the Democrats’ presidential candidate. “[I]t’s almost coming out that [George W.] Bush is a war hero and Kerry isn’t,” Trump said, admiringly. “I think that could be the greatest spin I’ve ever seen.” Matthews then asked about Vice President Dick Cheney’s insinuations that Kerry’s election would lead to a devastating attack on the United States. “Well,” replied Trump, “it’s a terrible statement unless he gets away with it.” With that extraordinary declaration, Trump showed himself to be an attentive student of disinformation and its operative principle: Reality is what you can get away with.

Trump’s command of the basic concept of disinformation offers some insight into how he approaches the truth as president. The fact is that President Trump lies not only prolifically and shamelessly, but in a different way than previous presidents and national politicians. They may spin the truth, bend it, or break it, but they pay homage to it and regard it as a boundary. Trump’s approach is entirely different. It was no coincidence that one of his first actions after taking the oath of office was to force his press secretary to tell a preposterous lie about the size of the inaugural crowd. The intention was not to deceive anyone on the particular question of crowd size. The president sought to put the press and public on notice that he intended to bully his staff, bully the media, and bully the truth.

In case anyone missed the point, Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, made it clear a few weeks later when he announced favorable employment statistics. In the Obama years, Trump had been fond of describing monthly jobs reports as “phony” and “totally fiction.” But now? “I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly,” Spicer said. “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.” The president was not saying that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had improved its methodology. He was asserting that truth and falsehood were subject to his will.

Since then, such lies have only multiplied. Fact checkers say that, if anything, the rate has increased. For the president and his enablers, the lying reflects a strategy, not merely a character flaw or pathology.

America has faced many challenges to its political culture, but this is the first time we have seen a national-level epistemic attack: a systematic attack, emanating from the very highest reaches of power, on our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. “These are truly uncharted waters for the country,” wrote Michael Hayden, former CIA director, in the Washington Post in April. “We have in the past argued over the values to be applied to objective reality, or occasionally over what constituted objective reality, but never the existence or relevance of objective reality itself.” To make the point another way: Trump and his troll armies seek to undermine the constitution of knowledge.”    . . . .

Source: The Constitution of Knowledge | National Affairs

Opinion | The Rotting of the Republican Mind – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Dan Anderson/EPA, via Shutterstock

“In a recent Monmouth University survey, 77 percent of Trump backers said Joe Biden had won the presidential election because of fraud. Many of these same people think climate change is not real. Many of these same people believe they don’t need to listen to scientific experts on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

We live in a country in epistemological crisis, in which much of the Republican Party has become detached from reality. Moreover, this is not just an American problem. All around the world, rising right-wing populist parties are floating on oceans of misinformation and falsehood. What is going on?

Many people point to the internet — the way it funnels people into information silos, the way it abets the spread of misinformation. I mostly reject this view. Why would the internet have corrupted Republicans so much more than Democrats, the global right more than the global left?

My analysis begins with a remarkable essay that Jonathan Rauch wrote for National Affairs in 2018 called “The Constitution of Knowledge.” Rauch pointed out that every society has an epistemic regime, a marketplace of ideas where people collectively hammer out what’s real. In democratic, nontheocratic societies, this regime is a decentralized ecosystem of academics, clergy members, teachers, journalists and others who disagree about a lot but agree on a shared system of rules for weighing evidence and building knowledge.

This ecosystem, Rauch wrote, operates as a funnel. It allows a wide volume of ideas to get floated, but only a narrow group of ideas survive collective scrutiny. “We let alt-truth talk,” Rauch said, “but we don’t let it write textbooks, receive tenure, bypass peer review, set the research agenda, dominate the front pages, give expert testimony or dictate the flow of public dollars.”

Over the past decades the information age has created a lot more people who make their living working with ideas, who are professional members of this epistemic process. The information economy has increasingly rewarded them with money and status. It has increasingly concentrated them in ever more prosperous metro areas.

While these cities have been prospering, places where fewer people have college degrees have been spiraling down: flatter incomes, decimated families, dissolved communities. In 1972, people without college degrees were nearly as happy as those with college degrees. Now those without a degree are far more unhappy about their lives.

People need a secure order to feel safe. Deprived of that, people legitimately feel cynicism and distrust, alienation and anomie. This precarity has created, in nation after nation, intense populist backlashes against the highly educated folks who have migrated to the cities and accrued significant economic, cultural and political power. Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center calls this the “Density Divide.” It is a bitter cultural and political cold war.

In the fervor of this enmity, millions of people have come to detest those who populate the epistemic regime, who are so distant, who appear to have it so easy, who have such different values, who can be so condescending. Millions not only distrust everything the “fake news” people say, but also the so-called rules they use to say them.”

. . . .

Opinion | What Pelosi Versus the Squad Really Means – by David Brooks – The New York Times

“What’s at stake in the struggle between Nancy Pelosi and the four progressive House members known as the squad? Partly it’s just the perpetual conflict between younger members who want change fast and older members who say you have to deal with political reality.

But deep down it’s a conflict of worldviews. No matter how moderate or left, Democrats of a certain age were raised in an atmosphere of liberalism. I don’t mean the political liberalism of George McGovern. I mean the philosophic liberalism of people like Montaigne, John Stuart Mill, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass — people who witnessed religious and civil wars and built structures to restrain fanaticism.

Philosophic liberalism, Adam Gopnik explains in his essential book, “A Thousand Small Sanities,” begins with intellectual humility. There’s more we don’t know than we do know, so public life is a constant conversation that has no end. In the liberal view, each person contains opposites and contradictions. You flatten and dehumanize complex individuals when you see people according to crude dichotomies and assign them to tribal teams.

Liberals prefer constant incremental reform to sudden revolution. “Liberal reform, like evolutionary change, being incremental, is open to the evidence of experience,” Gopnik writes. Liberals place great emphasis on context. The question is not: What do I want? It’s: What good can I do in this specific circumstance?”

David Lindsay: I love this piece by David Brooks, because it puts the local fracas into a larger, historical framework that makes sense, and is ellegant. Not everyone agrees. Here is a comment I admired, that also counters the basic premis of Brooks’ slap on the wrist of the four young women of color.

Tad Ellsworth
Bolivar, Ohio
Times Pick

I have also read Gopnik’s treatise on Liberalism and I come away with a somewhat different take than Brooks. The so-called radicals of “the Squad” are working within the system to change it. They are elected members of Congress, and the last time I checked, they were not calling for a revolutionary overthrow of our liberal institutions, but reform of them through legislative action. While some may disdain AOC’s use of Twitter, she is communicating with both admirers and critics alike in the medium of her generation, and the debate over her policy ideas is vigorous. The left-wing critics of liberalism that Gopnik describes do not believe that liberal institutions are capable of affecting the kinds of changes, and certainly would not disdain to become duly elected members of Congress and to work within the system to change it for the better. While they may wish to move our liberal institutions toward greater egalitarianism than some may like, they are not looking to do away with those institutions. I see current progressives in Congress as being of the same vein of Thaddeus Stevens or Frederick Douglass or Susan B. Anthony, who may have been seen as radical in their time, but were believers in the reform of American liberal institutions, but doing so through Constitutional means. While “the Squad” may not be fighting for so noble a cause as the abolition of slavery or the enfranchisement of women, they are fighting to improve American liberal institutions, not to diminish them.

20 Replies861 Recommended

Opinion | How to Serve a Deranged Tyrant-Stoically – by Ryan Holiday – NYT

“In the ancient world, as is true today, navigating political chaos was a pressing dilemma. Philosophers were forced to decide whether to participate in, resist or simply endure the political rulers of their time. Socrates, the incorrigible free spirit, was a soldier in the Peloponnesian War and a citizen who lived through Athens of the Thirty Tyrants. Aristotle, who wrote brilliant works on justice, happiness and government, worked for Alexander the Great, a murderous warmonger.

Or consider the case of Seneca, a man whose political life mirrors much of the chaos of the Trump administration. In A.D. 49, the well-known writer and Stoic philosopher was recalled from exile to tutor the successor of the emperor Claudius, a promising teenager named Nero. Like many people today, Seneca entered public service with ideals mitigated by a pragmatic understanding of the reality of the politics of his time.

Although just a few generations earlier, the Stoics had been ardent defenders of the republican ideals (Cato, Seneca’s hero, famously disemboweled himself rather than live under Julius Caesar), by Seneca’s time most of these objections had become futile. As Emily Wilson, a translator and biographer of Seneca, writes: “Cicero hoped that he really could bring down Caesar and Mark Antony. Seneca, by contrast, had no hope that he could achieve anything by direct opposition to any of the emperors under whom he lived. His best hope was to moderate some of Nero’s worst tendencies and to maximize his own sense of autonomy.”We can imagine, too, that he saw the inexperienced Nero as an opportunity to advance his own interests and influence. Only time would reveal that fusing his fate to Nero was a Faustian bargain.”

Fascinating. Here are two of many good comments, I particularly valued.

Stephen Hoffman
Harlem

Roman Stoics like Seneca gave a characteristically Roman public spin to the academic writings of their Greek masters like Epictetus. Seneca had a writer’s vanity and high literary ambitions with which he inspired his star pupil, Nero. He made himself monstrously rich by profiteering in military contracts in the Roman colony of Britain. When the political entanglements in which he had ensnared himself finally exacted their fatal dues, he died in the messy, non-Stoic way all people die (read Tacitus’ gruesome account) ) but not without preparing his own “dignified” version of his death to leave to posterity as a literary testament.

B
BobMeinetz
Los Angeles

Unmentioned here is Marcus Aurelius’s classic Meditations, the Roman emperor’s treatise on Stoicism considered by many one of the finest works of philosophy.

When my teenage daughter was undergoing teenage-daughter-type problems I recommended Meditations to her, thinking it might provide some non-religious insight on personal values. Years later she admitted she had read it three times, and it’s since become somewhat of a secular Bible in our family.

Highly recommended to Times readers unfamiliar with Stoicism and unaccepting of theistic religion.