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kottke.org posts about philosophy

Ask Dr. Time: In Praise of Hope

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 30, 2018

DOCTOR TIME.png

This week’s edition of Noticing, the Kottke.org newsletter, features the return of Doctor Time, the world’s only metaphysical advice columnist. In this case, the good doctor tries to explain the difference between faith and hope, and tries to understand what hope might mean in the absence of God. Here’s the section in full. For more thoughtful goodness, subscribe to the newsletter! I write it just about every week; if you like my posts or Jason’s posts at all, I think you’ll like it.

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What’s the difference between faith and hope?



Okay, to be fair, nobody actually asked this question in this way, but the distinction came in conversation more than once this week, and for lots of reasons, it’s worth talking about right now. For the answer, we’re going to start with an excellent podcast episode from the BBC’s In Our Time, all about the philosophy of hope.

The episode starts its genealogy with Hesiod, who right away poses the problem of Pandora’s Box and/or Jar: Hope is sealed up in the jar of all the evils in the world, but does that make it one of the evils Zeus sent to punish humanity with, or is it a good in our pantry that helps us deal with all the other evils? Even the Greeks seem split on this: Hesiod’s original story is decidedly pessimistic, and Plato and Aristotle didn’t set much store by hope, but one Greek-speaker, St. Paul, thought enough of hope that he put it with faith and love as part of a second Holy Trinity of Christian virtues. (I guess if faith is God the father, and love is Christ, hope is the holy spirit? Probably not worth mapping them onto each other too closely.)

Anyways, the really great thinker on hope is St. Augustine, who is MY MAN for many, many reasons. (I’m not Catholic or Christian any more, but I love the way the great theologians think about the universe and its problems, and Augustine is the very best one.) For Augustine, hope is first and foremost about the second coming, and the ultimate fulfillment of human beings and their potential. So you have faith, a belief that God is real and salvation is possible, which is given to you by God, you can’t manufacture it. You have love — also caritas, or charity — a kind of selfless outpouring of affection and righteous deeds towards God and all His works, especially other human beings. And then you have hope, which is this imaginative representation of being fulfilled and made whole at the end of time.

Time is important for Augustine, and hope becomes a kind of ontological structure for understanding time. Augustine thinks of temporality as a kind of eternal stretching of the now, from the beginning of time in the creation through the end of time in the resurrection, and hope is also imagined as a kind of stretching. This is how he puts it in his tractates on the first letter of John:

The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes you may see and be utterly satisfied.

Suppose you are going to fill some holder or container, and you know you will be given a large amount. Then you set about stretching your sack or wineskin or whatever it is. Why? Because you know the quantity you will have to put in it and your eyes tell you there is not enough room. By stretching it, therefore, you increase the capacity of the sack, and this is how God deals with us. Simply by making us wait he increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us.

So, my brethren, let us continue to desire, for we shall be filled. Take note of Saint Paul stretching as it were his ability to receive what is to come: Not that I have already obtained this, he said, or am made perfect. Brethren, I do not consider that I have already obtained it.

It’s kind of sexy, isn’t it? Holy desire! Stretching ourselves to be filled up! Utter satisfaction! It’s a kind of religious tantra. And every kind of hope or desire, no matter how base, is a prefiguration of (and ideally, subordinate to) that ultimate desire: to be reconciled with the universe in the godhead. We imagine, i.e., represent to ourselves, the satisfaction of our desire by stretching ourselves across time to the endpoint of our fulfillment.

And hope, like faith, is a thing that happens to us. We don’t will it; it’s inflicted on us and we receive it, make it manifest, and figure out what to do with it. This bothered the classical Greeks tremendously, because their virtues were virtues of control and mastery. But for Greek-speaking Jews and the Christians that followed them, the passive nature of hope was itself a virtue. It left room for the Messiah to walk through the door.

It also means that hope has a secular dimension that faith just doesn’t. Any object can be an object of hope. Hoping for ordinary fulfillment trains us to hope for spiritual fulfillment. It stretches us out. It makes our hearts bigger. It makes time intelligible for human beings. For all these reasons, hope, more so than faith and even love, is my favorite theological virtue. It’s the most powerful. It’s the easiest one to lose. And we are at our best and most human when we find room to hold holy our deepest hopes.

A short animated explanation of Stoicism

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2018

From TED-Ed, Massimo Pigliucci, and Compote Collective, a short animated introduction to the philosophy of Stoicism.

What is the best life we can live? How can we cope with whatever the universe throws at us and keep thriving nonetheless? The ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism explains that while we may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things.

Pigliucci recorded a 50-minute presentation about Stoicism if you’d like to learn more. (via open culture)

Snakisms

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2017

Snakisms

From Pippin Barr, Snakisms is a collection of 21 different variations on the old school cellphone game Snake. Each variation is based on a philosophical -ism like stoicism, capitalism, and determinism. For example, in the asceticism game, you lose as soon as you consume a dot. Clever and funny…I laughed pretty hard at narcissism.

Karaoke songs for philosophy students

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2014

This list of philosophy student karaoke standards by Jarry Lee for McSweeney’s contain some top-shelf philosophy puns.

My Milkshake Brings All the Baudrillard
Psycho Schiller
Hit Me Baby Wittgenstein
Total Eclipse of Descartes

(via @tcarmody)

Do we live in a computer simulation?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2012

In 2003, British philosopher Nick Bostrom suggested that we might live in a computer simulation. From the abstract of Bostrom’s paper:

This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

The gist appears to be that if The Matrix is possible, someone has probably already invented it and we’re in it. Which, you know, whoa.

But researchers believe they have devised a test to check if we’re living in a computer simulation.

However, Savage said, there are signatures of resource constraints in present-day simulations that are likely to exist as well in simulations in the distant future, including the imprint of an underlying lattice if one is used to model the space-time continuum.

The supercomputers performing lattice quantum chromodynamics calculations essentially divide space-time into a four-dimensional grid. That allows researchers to examine what is called the strong force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature and the one that binds subatomic particles called quarks and gluons together into neutrons and protons at the core of atoms.

“If you make the simulations big enough, something like our universe should emerge,” Savage said. Then it would be a matter of looking for a “signature” in our universe that has an analog in the current small-scale simulations.

If it turns out we’re all really living in an episode of St. Elsewhere, I’m going to be really bummed. (via @CharlesCMann)

Three minute philosophy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2010

YouTube user CollegeBinary does a video series called Three Minute Philosophy. Each episode describes the views and beliefs of a noted philosopher: Galileo, Kant, Descartes, Locke, and more.

David Foster Wallace, philosopher

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2008

A short piece on David Foster Wallace’s college philosophy thesis.

Even after he began writing fiction in college — he simultaneously completed a second undergraduate thesis, in English, that ultimately became his 1987 novel, “The Broom of the System” — it was still philosophy that defined him academically. “I knew him as a philosopher with a fiction hobby,” Jay Garfield, an adviser on Wallace’s thesis and now a professor at Smith College, told me recently. “I didn’t realize he was one of the great fiction writers of his generation with a philosophy hobby.”

On Richard Dawkins, relativism, and truth.

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2005

On Richard Dawkins, relativism, and truth.

More philosopher ratings, this time from Crispin Sartwell

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2005

More philosopher ratings, this time from Crispin Sartwell. “jacques derrida: there’s something to be said for the deconstructuive method, a tool which i’ve been known to throw around myself. otherwise, this is so, so, so full of shit. obviously, it’s intentionally obscurantist, which is i guess supposed to be part of the profound game of defamiliarizing language etc. fuck you.’

BBC Radio 4 poll results for Greatest Philosopher Ever!!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2005

BBC Radio 4 poll results for Greatest Philosopher Ever!!. 1. Karl “Boom Boom” Marx; 2. David “The Kid” Hume; 3. Ludwig “Van” Wittgenstein; 4. Friedrich “Freddie” Nietzsche; 5. Plato “Johnson”