Suggested readings, #135

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Eve, Pandora and Plato: how Greek myth shaped the first Christian woman. More than any other biblical text, the book of Genesis has had a fundamental influence on ideas concerning gender roles in Western Christianity. Social attitudes regarding how men and women should relate to each other have stemmed from interpretations of Genesis 2-3. The story of how Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden has been a lens through which debates on gender have been filtered. The subordinate position of women throughout western history has thus been viewed as emanating from these chapters — influencing perspectives on women’s inferiority, the nature of woman’s creation, and the alleged ‘curse’ of Genesis 3:16. … (The Collector)

How do you know? You can’t be wrong on purpose. To see this, try one of my favourite philosophical parlour tricks. Right now, believe something you think is false: that the Sun is just a big lightbulb, for instance. Don’t imagine you believe it – really believe it. Become so confident in it that you’d bet good money that it’s true. When I try this, I feel a funny cognitive block, as if there’s a built-in aversion to believing on command, especially anything I already think is wrong. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to believe only truths. If learning and thinking were as easy as deciding to let nothing but the facts in, we would never make mistakes. And yet we stumble into falsehood all the time. We can all think of times we were convinced of something that turned out to be wrong, and we all have our favourite perceptual illusions, ambiguous images and pictures of impossible scenes, which drive it home that things aren’t always how they seem. … (Aeon)

Libertarianism as a programmatically incoherent social philosophy. The status of libertarianism is perhaps best captured by philosopher Jonathan Wolff, who noted its dichotomous appreciation in the academy and amongst the public. In commenting on the classic philosophical rivalry between Harvard University colleagues John Rawls, a social liberal, and Robert Nozick, a libertarian, Wolff writes “unlike Rawls, Nozick has won few followers among academic political philosophers. Nevertheless, in practical political terms we have… seen a [societal] move away from left-wing welfarism defended by Rawls. It is Nozick who seems closer to the political spirit of the present age.” To be sure, recent national elections in the United States support this depiction, with the Libertarian Party consistently growing and standing as the most successful third party outside the Republican and Democratic Party duopoly. The academy’s general neglect of libertarianism is perhaps socially irresponsible given the growth of this social philosophy amongst the citizenry. … (Epoche Magazine)

Making meaning without a maker: secular consciousness through narrative and cultural practice. Drawing on fieldwork and in-depth interviews, this study examines the ways affirmatively secular individuals construct moral frameworks, navigate hardship, and create meaningful selves. Based on an inductive, thematic analysis of the data, we show that secular individuals’ identities and interpretations of everyday experience and important life events are made meaningful through personal narratives and shared social spaces where cultural values are practiced, imbuing secular worldviews with a sense of legitimacy. Through participants’ responses to questions of “ultimate concern” including life’s purpose, and the meaning of happiness, hardship, and death, we argue that a sense of otherness, appeals to normative values, and the reframing of existential questions in secular terms plays an essential role in the lives of a segment of the growing, increasingly diverse nonreligious community. Our findings have implications for scholars of secularity, including the role of ambiguity in secular beliefs and the impor- tance of narrative in worldview formation. … (Sociology of Religion)

Who else besides Hadot? One area I work in as a professional philosopher is Stoic philosophy. Up to this point, I’ve published relatively little in traditional academic formats about Stoicism, but I regularly write, speak, and produce content about Stoicism in more popular and public settings. I also edit an important forum for modern interpretations, discussion, and application of Stoic philosophy, Stoicism Today. Though I’m not an orthodox Stoic, but rather an avowed eclectic, I draw upon and apply Stoic insights, practices, and techniques, not only in my own life, but also with clients in my philosophical counseling practice. … (Medium)

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Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at platofootnote.org and howtobeastoic.org. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

8 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #135”

  1. 100% of us are libertarians 50% of the time.

    If you are a conservative, then when the progressives are in power you want their power to be limited. You don’t want them to be able to open the border, raise taxes on specific groups, pass authority to global institutions, use the vast national bureaucracies (e.g., Department of Education) to mandate local and household behavior (e.g., instructional curricula), start or continue (or end!) wars, enforce or not enforce law as they see fit, etc. Any progressive need only look back at the Trump years and think about how you felt when he DID something, particularly by executive order. That is your inner libertarian.

    If you are a progressive, then when the conservatives are in power you want their power to be limited. You don’t want them to be able to put up a wall, reduce taxes on preferred groups, defend state’s rights or local control, use the vast national bureaucracies (e.g., Department of Education) to mandate local and household behavior (e.g., instructional curricula), start or continue (or end!) wars, enforce or not enforce laws as they see fit, etc. Any conservatives need only to look at the current administration and think about how you feel when Biden DOES something, particularly by executive order. That is your inner libertarian.

    The defining characteristic of actual libertarians is, therefore, that they wear a veil of ignorance, and want governmental power to be limited regardless of whether we happen to like or dislike the policies of those currently in power. Given that, it is hard to make the case that it is libertarianism (rather than progressivism or conservatism) that is the incoherent philosophy of governance.

    In the end, libertarianism (left or right) is effectively the opposite to authoritarianism (left or right), which could shed light on the political orientation of those who attack it.

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    1. Montana, hmm, no. What you are describing are straightforward political disagreement. Just because I don’t want the Republicans to do x or y it doesn’t make me a libertarian. And to pit libertarianism as opposed to authoritarianism is a flagrant case of false dichotomy. Both conservatism and progressivism are opposed to authoritarianism as well.

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  2. On the first? Not so fast. Augustine’s take on free will vs bound will, etc., was much more a product of Manichaeanism than of a late version of classical Platonism, let alone the neo-Platonism that he had followed himself for a while. Besides, the one version of Greek creation myth, the one that Plato himself records Socrates as telling in the Symposium, is not anti-female. https://greeksisters.com/lifestyle/according-to-greek-mythology-humans-were-double-beings/

    It IS true, as the piece hints, that Orthdoxy has a different take on this than either Catholicism or Protestantism. Arguably, that TOO undercuts the story’s claim as the Eastern Church remained more steeped in Greek thought than the West.

    Pandora a Greek Eve, and that this was “common” in early Christianity? Uhh, links, please, and the article has none. As we all know, Pandora was actually sent to Epimetheus as punishment for Prometheus, and thus was not central to Greek creation myth. To the degree she was appropriated for that by Christians, in turn that has nothing to do with Platonism.

    Beyond that, per the “androgynoi” myth above, this illustrates, of course, that Greek myth did not have a “scriptures,” and ergo there was no one single creation myth or legend.

    As for Eve not being discussed much before Second Temple times? Er, that starts with the completed Torah not being knocked up by Ezra until … Second Temple times! Second reason is probably related … Exilic Jews coming in more contact with Babylonian myth. Expanding Hellenistic contact is only No. 3.

    Finally, technically, Eve is NOT created in the image of Yahweh, unless indirectly, by Adam having been so created.

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  3. As for the rest?

    SHOCK ME that Montana already weighed in (AND just as he did) on No. 3.

    On No. 4, I doubt I’m going to get the full text sent to me on a US holiday extended weekend, but it sounds interesting. Massimo, any more to offer? As an existentialist, even Camusist quasi-absurdist, the idea of “meaning without a meaner,” or even, how much we should place an emphasis on “finding meaning in life” vs that being religious baggage too is a major one.

    On No. 5

    Finally, one more note on 3: Just as with Augustine, it’s highly doubtful that Platonism — or Greek philosophy in general, or Greek mythos — was the leading influence on his misogyny. Rather, it was likely a mix of a general puritanism plus the rise in thoughts that led to his Montanism and related issues, that was the fuel.

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    1. Socratic,

      “I doubt I’m going to get the full text sent to me on a US holiday extended weekend, but it sounds interesting. Massimo, any more to offer?”

      It’s worth reading the full paper, though it is a qualitative, not quantitative study. If you’d like, drop me an email and I’ll send you the pdf.

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  4. OK, NOW one last thought on No. 3 for now, and I’ll let Massimo go back to Black Friday shopping for autographed editions of Sextus Empiricus. ;)

    Tertullian is generally considered a “traducionist” on the origin of the soul. That is, rather than the creation of individual souls (or PRE-creation, if you’re a good Mormon) being solely an act of God, human conception is believed to be part of the process. Since in antiquity, sperm was generally believed to be nothing more than a “stimulant,” faulting women for bringing babies into the world would follow. This includes in some way Augustine, with the inheriting of body-spirit type dualities from Manicheanism. Tis true that Mani himself was likely partially influenced by the old Greek Soma-Sema pun, but that was by no means limited to Platonism.

    Otherwise, this is right up my alley as ex-Lutheran, graduate divinity degree and undergraduate classical languages. One of the Latin things I read was Augustine’s entire tractate, “De libero arbitrio.” That was long ago, but I certainly don’t recall him making any Platonism-related appeals, and, if he had, that might have had both Luther and Calvin not so reliant on him.

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  5. On (1); “The Hebrew account teaches that humans must strive to seek knowledge regardless of the consequences and for its earliest interpreters, this was an essential aspect of Genesis 2-3.” What is this extraordinary claim based on? There is no reference given, and the text states clearly that eating the fruit was disobeying divine orders and led directly to the expulsion from Eden. The late 2nd Temple period rabbis were certainly committed to seeking knowledge, but why should we imagine that this commitment included approval of Eve’s (and Adam’s) behaviour?

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    1. Also, Adam and Eve, contra the author, WERE cursed, namely by expulsion from Eden etc, as the text of Genesis 3 notes: ““Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. …By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.” Thanks for prompting me to look again, Paul, at a piece that looks ever more inane.

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