Michel De Montaigne

‘I study myself more than any other subject. That is my metaphysics; that is my physics.’

Free books can be the best books. This morning my train station stop provided “Michel De Montaigne | The Essays: A collection”. I knew his name once, in undergrad, most likely in a creative writing course or possibly a history course.

Now I’ll move beyond knowing nothing but his name!

Naturally I skipped to his section titled “To philosophize is to learn how to die”. My attraction to philosophy is undying, pun intended, so there I was, my melancholy self attracted to another melancholy self.

“Cicero says that philosophizing is nothing other than getting ready to die. That is because study and contemplation draw our souls somewhat outside ourselves, keeping them occupied away from the body, a state which both resembles death and which forms a kind of apprenticeship for it; or perhaps it is because all the wisdom and argument in the world eventually come down to one conclusion; which is to teach us not to be afraid of dying.”

I can’t say I agree with his conclusion, but his initial thoughts are brand new to my mind. Abstract thought is a form of death. Tell that to your professors! I love it. I really love it. There is truth to this thought. I’ve viewed abstract thought for a while as quite problematic. Aren’t there other kinds of truth? A friend of mine, a philosophy professor, tells me that rationality is only one way of knowing the world. I appreciate that thought. It helps right the ship of my own thoughts which tends to lean heavily towards abstract thought, analysis, “charting”, basically the form in which modern western man thinks. Data, graphs, that which can be empirically verified, ultimately that which is simple, reducible, because that’s all our minds can handle.

If/when I read more of Montaigne, I will post it here.

I found a thought on politics, which I’ll record, since that’s taken much of my thought recently: “The most desirable laws are those which are fewest, simplest and most general.” Perhaps why I’ll be voting for Gary Johnson? But that’s a post for another day.

Experience and Navigating the Abstract

If experience is the only true knowledge, then of course we have extreme difficulty and ultimately failure in the world of the abstract, because “abstract” by definition is not experience.

So if the only things we know are sensory, and these slowly get translated into knowledge and later words, but we feel like all the answers are in the abstract (i.e. philosophy and theology) then failure should feel natural. I literally don’t have the tools. Or we could say that of course a great/grand explanation of the universe will come to me only through a veil and, I must safely conclude, will be wrong along a great many points.

Ethics, Bonhoeffer, and Bifurcation

I’ve always found ethics to be the least interesting part of philosophy. Metaphysics – seems to be pretty foundational so it’s eternally interesting. Epistemology – how you know what you know – you just don’t get more foundational than that, so again, inherently interesting. (If something foundational changes, your entire world changes. Hence, the interesting bit.) But ethics. Ethics? I’m bored to tears. Maybe I’m just not very moral.

But real quick, let me define terms. I use “ethics” and “morality” interchangeably and the meaning is “a standard of behavior”. Now it gets interesting. Before recently, my view of these concepts was very fuzzy since no one around me ever seemed to take the time to define them, and I apparently didn’t either.

So what is my standard of behavior? My behavior has always been determined by what I feel at the moment (digestion/whimsy/a stream of consciousness which I can’t fully divine), fear (social repercussion, physical repercussion, or really repercussion of any sort), pleasure (does this need defined?), and my faith (Christian). And, until recently, I never paid a speck of attention to my own morality. I have simplistically thought of it as something shared by all humans, at a base level. Thanks C.S. Lewis. And I have been satisfied to allow many of my behaviors to be driven by my faith. After all, most faith systems are all-encompassing and all-demanding. The Christian faith certainly is. So, I’ve felt right before God by following the injunctions of the Bible and, to some extent, of Christian tradition. Beyond that my need to please my parents and other important folk of my life has been entirely motivating. My need for people to like me is probably equally motivating. And last, sometimes that second half the of the Nutella jar is simply shrieking my name through the closet door. That’s always a voice I can hear. And heed.

Bonhoeffer is a book I’ve been reading, and he has been challenging my thought. It’s been perfect taking an Ethics class at the same time as reading this. Bonhoeffer was a German scholar/pastor, born into the highest and most powerful level of society, during the rise and dominance of Hitler. He ultimately chose to actively try to kill Hitler, by joining a movement which nearly succeeded. Right before the war ended, he was killed by the Nazis for this choice. Bonhoeffer wrote a work entitled “Ethics” and he is nearly painfully thought out, superbly German and demanding, like Kant, so when he both writes “Ethics” and chooses to try to kill his own head of state, you have to take this seriously.  Bonhoeffer is very good at making controversial statements. In fact, he states at least once, that he does this intentionally. Sometimes I find it too much and ridiculous. But here is one quote I will end on.

“Those who wish even to focus on the problem of a Christian ethic are faced with an outrageous demand-from the outset they must give up, as inappropriate to this topic, the very two questions that led them to deal with the ethical problem: ‘How can I be good?’ and ‘How can I do something good?’ Instead they must ask the wholly other, completely different question: ‘What is the will of God?”

I hope to read “Ethics”, or at least a summary. In the meantime, I have been very piqued/disturbed by Bonhoeffer’s bifurcation between God and good. Not the newest problem in the world, but it’s not one I’m convinced I can accept. Does this not facilitate extreme/dangerous and completely unpredictable religious behavior?

Ethical, Moral

I started an “Ethics and Education” class the other day. It is pretty philosophical. My problem so far is what is “ethics” and what is “moral” or “morality”? I spent a decent part of the class just looking up these terms in my Merriam Webster app. It appears that these two terms are, at a high level, interchangeable and mean nothing more than a preferred standard of behavior. This immediately begs a few questions. Who is doing the preferring? Presumably this is the largest part of society which may mean nothing more than the noisiest part of society. And then we have to ask what is the source of their standard of behavior? I believe it’s in answering the second question that the can of worms opens. One obvious difficulty could be that your source is your religion and it is simply not a religion that your neighbor shares with you so your morality is different. Then there’s C.S. Lewis’ idea that, at base, all morality’s are the same. That’s a really nice, neat, and tidy idea. I like it, and I do actually agree with it. Of course, there is more than “the base” and it’s when you progress further in your thought, or attempt to apply your theory that things get messy.

More to come. I hope to explore ethics/morality more.