Category Archives: Religion

RE: "Does religion answer factual questions?"

Here’s an interesting piece from the Talking Philosophy blog.

Does religion answer factual questions?
BY RUSSELL BLACKFORD ⋅ NOVEMBER 11, 2011 ⋅  In a recent article in The Guardian ’s “Comment is free” opinion section, Keith Ward defends religion as a source of factual knowledge that eludes science. Thus, Ward rejects (as do I) the principle of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) advocated by Stephen Jay Gould – according to which, religion and science, properly construed, have separate epistemic territories or areas of authority. According to this view, religion and science investigate different sorts of questions and so can never give conflicting answers unless they stray from their legitimate roles.
Instead, Ward argues that, “Many religious statements are naturally construed as statements of fact – Jesus healed the sick, and rose from death, and these are factual claims.” I agree with this – various religions do make factual claims that could be just plain false: false in an empirical sense.
It could be – I think it most likely is – just plain empirically false that someone approximately meeting the traditional description of Jesus of Nazareth was executed by crucifixion, then rose from the dead, approximately 1980 years ago. However, it does seem like a factual issue, and one about which Christians have traditionally made claims. To that extent, Ward and I are in agreement. The claims made by religion, or at least some of them, can be seen as answers to factual questions.

Read the whole article here.

Also posted in Philosophy

RE: "How to Live" by Simon Glendinning

Here’s an interesting article by Simon Glendinning on the topic of post WWII philosophy.

You can find full texts of part I and part II.

A Life Worth Living: Part I

Simon Glendinning

In post-war Britain academic philosophers did not talk about the meaning of life. Analytic philosophy dominated British philosophy, and this kind of philosophy was dominated in turn by philosophy of language and by epistemology. Moral philosophy, along with aesthetics, mostly hid in a corner.
But in 1976 a distinguished analytic philosopher, David Wiggins, delivered a paper called “Truth, Invention and the Meaning of Life”:
Even now, in an age not given much to mysticism, there are people who ask “What is the meaning of life?” Not a few of them make the simple “un-philosophical” assumption that there is something to be known here. (One might say they are “cognitivists” with regard to this sort of question.) And most of these same people make the equally unguarded assumption that the whole issue of life’s meaning presupposes some positive answer to the question whether it can be plainly and straightforwardly true that this or that thing or activity or pursuit is good, or has value, or is worth something. Finally, something even harder, they suppose that questions like that of life’s meaning must be among the central questions of moral philosophy.
The question of life’s having a meaning and the question of truth are not at the centre of moral philosophy as we now have it.
Not at the centre of moral philosophy – and nowhere near the centre of philosophy in general. Not in 1976. Not in Britain. And while it is true that in Continental Europe philosophy was being done in ways that were at least more congenial to raising the question, still, there too, generally speaking, such ambitious efforts were rare.
They are still rare, but not so rare today and I know of a number of professional philosophers who are grateful that they can now write about the deepest questions of human life without embarrassment. Why has this happened at this time? Why has it become possible to discuss this kind of theme again?
Let us begin by asking why it might be that discussion about the meaning of life went off the radar in philosophy during the twentieth century – and also off the radar beyond academia too, off the radar in the West during the last hundred years or so.
At the risk of gross simplification, I want to suggest that the background to this state of affairs can be framed in terms of the acceptance by European intellectuals of what has been called “the secularisation thesis”. This thesis was developed by different thinkers in different ways, but social theorists like Weber, Durkheim and, in his own fashion, Marx, led the way in thinking we could describe the historical movement of modernity in Europe in terms of a transition from a society dominated by magic, myth, superstition and religion, into one with a cognitively superior outlook in which these things are disclosed as illusions and delusions which we shed in the name of reason, criticism and science.
This story belonged with an even more long-run picture: one which conceived the movement of the whole history of the world in terms of a transition from an origin that was primitive, barbarian, savage – and basically animal – moving slowly and in stages through developments in human society towards a modern, rational and scientific end. There is here the idea of History as Progress towards an ideal End of Man and towards an ideally civilised form of social life. The secularisation thesis dovetails with that wider discourse of modernity: it is the idea that the movement into a rational and scientific age is one which is likely to see primitive and traditional conceptions not only of the world but also of the significance of our lives increasingly give way to rational and scientific ones. The old illusions will, in all likelihood, wither away, and in the future, soon, we will have finally emancipated ourselves from myth, superstition and religion. We will have finally learned how to live.
The secularisation thesis became increasingly matter of course for European intellectuals in the late 19th and 20th centuries. So when people were writing at that time – in philosophy, in history, in politics and in sociology – there was this unquestioned background that, while there were still some foolish believers around, the proper methods were finally making their way; and the methods with a future were rational and scientific, and would have nothing to do with religion at all.
Before I explore this thesis – a thesis which concerns nothing less than the becoming-secular of the world – we should pause to acknowledge that for many people the claimed changeover in our thinking and believing that the secularisation thesis presents was a cause for considerable anxiety. For many, though they may have kept quiet about it, the sense of loss of a religiously articulated understanding of the significance of our lives was not the loss of an illusion or delusion at all, but rather the loss of a way, perhaps finally the only intelligible way, through which we could make sense of the idea that there is something to be known in this most important of domains. What seemed to be disappearing was the most profound, rich and satisfying (“cognitivist”) discourse through which we might hope to come to know what is to be known about the meaning of life. And when religion falls away or is eclipsed then all you are left with is an utterly mundane life in which it is totally unclear why, ultimately, we should think that there is anything more to life than shopping.
 You can find full texts of part I and part II.
Also posted in Critical Theory, Philosophy, Pop Culture Issues

Re: Carnival, Carnivalesque, Carnivalisation

I’ve got a couple of posts I’m working on that deal with this subject, so I feel it’s probably a good idea to provide a reference point from which to begin the discussion of Bakhtin’s theory of carnival.

Carnival, Carnivalesque, Carnivalisation
Article contributed by
Simon Dentith, University of Reading
(307 words)
The term carnival came to have particular prominence for literary criticism after the publication of Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and his World (1965; translated by Helene Iswolsky [Indiana University Press, 1984]). In this book, Rabelais’ writing is seen as drawing its energies from the historic practices of carnival which preceded and surrounded it in Renaissance Europe. Bakhtin gives an especially benign account of carnival rituals, in which the time of carnival features as an utopian irruption into the workaday world, a time of feasting when normally dominant constraints and hierarchies are temporarily lifted. The subversive and anti-authoritarian aspects of carnival are here emphasised – authority figures are mocked, the joyless routines of everyday life are abrogated, the lower bodily strata are allowed both to degrade and to regenerate those conceptions of the world which seek to exclude them. Rabelais’ writings, and those of his near contemporaries Cervantes and Shakespeare, are seen as drawing their energies from these carnival practices, and from the epochally established view of the world which they embody. In this specific sense, in which there is a direct connection between historically-existing carnival practices and artistic forms which reproduce them, their writing can be described as “carnivalesque”.
Bakhtin extends the idea very significantly, however, in the notion of “carnivalised” writing which succeeds these Renaissance models and thus long outlives the actual historical location of the practices from which such writing takes it name. Carnivalised writing is that writing which mobilises one form of discourse against another, especially popular against elite forms. In this usage, “carnival” tends to lose its historical specificity and comes to resemble a transhistorical generic principle which can be actualised in widely differing periods; it is present in the Menippean satires of the ancient world and also in the novels of Dostoevsky, written in a society having little contact with historic Renaissance carnivals.
Published 18 July 2001
Citation: Dentith, Simon. “Carnival, Carnivalesque, Carnivalisation”. The Literary Encyclopedia. 18 July 2001.
[, accessed 24 February 2009.]
Also posted in Bakhtin, Carnival, Critical Theory, Essay, Literature, Politics

Zeitgeist: ADDENDUM

Zeitgeist: ADDENDUM, released 10/02/08, is part two of the film I posted yesterday. It focuses more on providing solutions to the problems that Zeitgeist brings up. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of conspiracy theory stuff in there.

Also posted in Film, Politics, Pop Culture Issues

Zeitgiest: The Movie

I you haven’t seen “Zeitgeist; The Movie,” released 10/02/08, already, you really should now.

It’s equal parts new age manifesto, conspiracy theory, environmental/ecological awareness. The movie makes a lot of connections, but also seems to be a bit solipsistic in its overarching view, but it’s definitely worth a watch.

The movie calls for world citizens to take responsibility for their existence on earth, including their political and social awareness in their broadest sense, and most importantly the movie calls for people to help make a better world.

Also posted in Film, Politics, Pop Culture Issues