Functional Nominalism and Contemporary Political Discourse

I wanted to expand on some themes that Jason and I talked explored (albeit tangentially) back in the second episode of our podcast.

In this show I observed that in America today we are involved in the futile act of attempting to construct various political philosophies without reference to more foundational philosophical and anthropological questions.

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Cholesterol and Patient Autonomy

Within contemporary medical discourse, the two most important ethical axioms are “choice” and “patient autonomy.” Even with issues that we might expect to be animated by broader ethical considerations–for example, life and death issues like abortion and euthanasia–there is a large body of thought which truncates discourse on these questions to “choice” and “patient autonomy.”

This being the case, I want to know why the principles of choice and patient autonomy are thrown out the window when it comes to needing to take statin drugs to lower cholesterol. In particular, when doctors tell their patients that they need to take statins to lower cholesterol, are they also letting their patients know that there is a vibrant medical debate about the health and efficacy of statins? Are doctors letting their patients know that not all practitioners consider high cholesterol to be bad, and that many consider cholesterol to be correlated with heart disease rather than causative of it? Do doctors give high-cholesterol patients all the information (both sides of the argument) so they can make informed decisions for themselves? We all know that the answer is no. When it comes to high cholesterol most doctors prefer to keep their patients in ignorance that there even is a vibrant debate within the medical community.

Further Reading

 

The Robin & Boom Show #08 – Conversation with Thomas Craffey Comparing Russian and America

Jason Van Boom broadcasted this podcast from an expedition in Siberia, where he has been studying the similarities between Russia and America. He was joined (in the podcast but not the expedition) by Robin Phillips and Thomas Craffey. The three gentlemen discuss how there are striking similarities between the two nations that can easily be overlooked amidst the political tensions. By comparing Russia and America we can learn much about history, travel, human nature, and cultural anthropology.

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Don’t Take Short-Cuts With Your Teenagers

From “The Robin & Boom Show Episode 3

“…a lot of parents with traditional Christian values are increasingly unhopeful about being able to pass those values on to the next generation… And one of the things we’ve noticed is that when parents feel pessimistic about their chances of success, the temptation can be to take short-cuts and to settle for getting our children to assent to the beliefs and lifestyle choices that reflect our values without actually helping them to develop the type of critical thinking and thoughtful disposition that’s necessary for them to really make those values their own. It’s a lot easier to settle for the intermediate goal of just getting our children to tick the right box, to parrot back our traditional values, instead of actually inculcating within them the type of attentive and thoughtful and engaged and reflective disposition that’s necessary if those values are going to become part of who they are. And so essentially, we develop a kind of tribalism where we make the children feel that it’s not okay to question the tribe, or we may use control and manipulation to shut down critical discussion. And of course, then what happens is that the children go away to college and become exposed to another tribe – say, something like social Marxism – and because they haven’t been taught to ask questions, they just become like sheep to the slaughter.”

Further Reading

The Beauty of Critical Thinking Skills

In Episode 4 of “The Robin and Boom Show,” I observed that our goal as parents is not just to help our children develop critical thinking skills, but to help them grasp the beauty of critical thinking. Here’s what I said.

“…we can show the beauty of critical thinking to our children if critical thinking is seen and taught and lived out as a subset of wisdom. It’s very possible to, and indeed necessary, to show our children that wisdom is beautiful. This comes across in the wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures where wisdom is portrayed as a beautiful woman and with metaphors that show that wisdom is not just the right thing to do – it’s not just the right thing to do to go and get wisdom – but this is what a beautiful flourishing life looks like. If as parents we raise our children with a holistic lifestyle where we’re living out what we’re teaching them, where we’re showing them that wisdom and critical thinking are part of the good life, part of what human flourishing looks like, then critical thinking can be situated within this larger context where they see it as beautiful.”

Humility in the Wrong Place

“…what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether. At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern skeptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.” G.K. Chesterton

The Robin & Boom Show #07 – Interview with Dr. David Wang on Notre-Dame Cathedral (Part 2)

In this second interview with Dr. David Wang, we continue to learn about Notre-Dame Cathedral and the significance of the recent fire. Dr. Wang explains how Notre-Dame cathedral is an incarnation of a sacramental ordering of the world, a way of looking at creation in which “the small human being is in the embrace of an immensely larger immaterial reality, such that the small human being receives benefit.” Drawing on his experience as former head of the architectural department at Washington State, Dr. Wang contrasts this ancient sacramental understanding of buildings with postmodern architecture. The conversation steered into the implications of living in an increasingly machine-driven culture, in which our reliance on cyberspace and “disembodied communities” (i,e., communities bereft of any organic relationship to the immediate vicinity around where we live) are orienting human beings to new ways of negotiating embodiment.

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The Meaning of “Fallen Nature”

From my article “Was Calvin a Nominalist? Part 1: Historical and Theological Background

…to say that human beings have “a fallen nature” refers to more than simply each individual’s inability to stop sinning; rather, it refers to the way human beings are oriented towards disordered affections that present substitute notions of what it means to flourish. These substitute notions of human flourishing compete with the God-given vocation originally bestowed upon mankind by the Creator God. Thus, the curse of Adam and Eve after they disobeyed God was not a purely juridical act that might have been otherwise – rather, being cursed with death was a natural and organic correlate to cutting oneself off from the ultimate Source of life. To use an analogy from Wright’s book The Day the Revolution Happened, the death and judgment that follows sin is like having an accident from driving around a corner too quickly rather than getting a speeding ticket (the latter is arbitrary, whereas the former is organically related to the offense itself). As human beings pursue substitute notions of human flourishing that are separate from the Source of life, human beings move away from everything that gives health to our souls. The result is that we become progressively subhuman….

Within this context, to say Jesus “saves” mankind refers to much more than simply that Jesus made it possible for believers to go to heaven when they die. Rather, Jesus saves humanity in the sense that He reunites human nature to the life of God. Instead of mankind being defined by death, man can now be defined by life. As such, death ceases to be the enemy because, even in the midst of death, it is the life of God that defines those who are united to Christ. Thus, as an instrument of death the cross also becomes a powerful symbol of life. In the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, the uniting of man with God that began at the incarnation continues as the life of God is mediated to mankind through the sacramental life of the Church. The ministry of the Church thus becomes the means for men and women to experience salvation, in the aforementioned sense of being reunited with the divine life. As such, salvation is as much medicinal as it is juridical. The incarnation of Christ—made present to men and women through the sacramental life of the Church—is the medicine of immortality through which the human soul is healed and able to move towards flourishing.

Snowden on Double Standard at DOJ

Edward Snowden makes some insightful observations about the double standard of justice that is occurring with the indictment against Julian Assange vs. the DOJ’s decision not to charge President Trump. Read carefully what Snowden says and reflect on the implications.
 
“The special counsel says they find 10 separate instances, I think, where it appears that Trump or people in his administration are basically conspiring to obstruct justice. But the special counsel does not conclude, again, to pin this to Trump as breaking the law, in a very interesting way, given the context of what we’re talking about. They go, ‘Look, Trump absolutely ordered all these people in his periphery to shut it down. He tried to fire Mueller, he tried to get rid of, and all these other people, I can’t remember if it was Sessions or whatever. But he tried and he told his White House counsel, he told all these guys, ‘Stop this. Get it done. Protect me. Shut this thing down.’ Which is obvious obstruction, right? Or at least, a conspiracy to commit obstruction.
 
But Mueller says, it didn’t actually result in obstruction, because the people that Trump ordered to do this simply ignored him. They went off and told their buddies, ‘Trump is telling me to do crazy things, I’m preparing my resignation letter, all of these other things,’ and so, they say, ‘Donald Trump didn’t actually commit obstruction. And so we’re not going to charge him. Maybe there’s something in here that congress wants to bring or whatever, but we’re not going to bring it.’
 
And the Attorney General, immediately when he saw this, who’s really carrying water for Trump all day long on this issue … he’s spinning the reports, doing all these things, says, ‘We see this and you know Mueller didn’t charges this, we’re not going to charge this, no obstruction, no collusion, whatever. Let’s move on.’
 
But so, isn’t that interesting? The DOJ’s defense of not charging Trump in this case is they say he tried to commit a crime [obstruction] but he was too hapless and he failed to actually do this. And we’re not going to charge him with conspiracy for doing it. And at the same time, they’re charging Julian Assange under precisely the opposite theory. They go, ‘Look, Julian may not have actually cracked a password, we don’t have any evidence that he did, we’re not going to try to prove that he did, we’re going to simply say the agreement to try was enough.’
 
“So this is a real question of a two-tiered system of justice. Why do we have this double standard here, where if you’re the president and try to commit a crime, you can skate, but if you’re a journalist, if you’re a publisher, particularly who’s vulnerable because you’ve gone too far out on a limb and now you’ve lost public support and popularity, everybody’s against you… but no one, no one can argue that the work you’ve done in the past hasn’t been of real public interest – it may not have been — to the party’s benefit, it’s very controversial, no doubt about that. But the newspapers are all running these stories, saying these are important stories, these are about real centers of power in the world.
 
Why is it that journalists are being held to a higher standard of behavior than the President of the United States?”

Misfiring of the Longing for Goodness

From my earlier post ‘Virtue and Classical Education: A Commencement Address to a Graduating Class’:

“We all long for Christ’s presence, for the beatific vision. We long for Him like flowers stretching forth towards the light of the sun, for it is in our nature as human beings to aim towards what is good, true and beautiful, and all goodness, truth and beauty is but a dim reflection of the Creator. But the impulse towards the good can misfire, as we follow after merely transitory and temporal goods rather than the Eternal Good, or as we pursue the fleeting ephemeral beauty of this world that cannot satisfy the soul. The power transitory goods have for enticing us away from the Ultimate Good lies precisely in the fact that they are genuine goods. Because of our fallen state, we do not approach God directly, but through the good things of creation. For example, the sense of wonder and awe we feel when contemplating objects of beauty prepares our hearts for the beauty of Christ; the sense of completion we feel when we love and are loved by another prepares our hearts for unity with God; when we experience human forgiveness, understanding compassion and encouragement, these qualities become icons of God’s love for us. The temptation, however, is to treat these things of creation (which, though good, are still transient goods) as if they are ultimate ends themselves rather than means towards the One who is Ultimate Good.”