The Robin & Boom Show #16 – Modernism, Postmodernism, and Virtue, with Dr. Phillip Cary

Is it possible to infer values about what we ought to do from facts about how the world is? This question introduces a major problem within meta-ethics, which is how to philosophically justify ethical obligations. In this interview, Dr. Phillip Cary explains how these difficulties in meta-ethics arose out of the political, philosophical, and scientific context of the 17th and 18th centuries. Building on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, Cary suggests that we have been left with the fragments of a once coherent tradition. The rise of Postmodernism offers a unique opportunity to return to this earlier tradition, and to recover a context in which discussion of virtues make sense. Questions covered in this podcast include:

  • Is it possible to philosophically justify ethical obligations?
  • What is the central Postmodern insight?
  • Is the anti-traditional bias in Modernism itself a type of tradition?
  • What is the good for which human beings were created?
  • How is training in virtue tried to the pursuit of wisdom?
  • In what way do traditions create a context for virtue and rationality?
  • Does Hume’s famous is-ought gap show forth the failure of the Enlightenment project?
  • Can competing traditions speak to each other?
  • How does a recovery of teleology or final causation help us affirm a truth about the good?

The Robin & Boom Show #15 – Everything Plato, with Dr. Phillip Cary

Dr. Phillip Cary sheds light on Plato’s philosophy in this latest edition of The Robin & Boom Show. In this podcast you will learn why the ideas of a thinker from the 5th century BC are more relevant today than ever before. Plato offers a valuable antidote to a culture in which goodness, truth, and beauty are so often perceived to be located in the purely immanent. Questions addressed in this podcast include:

  • Was Plato a proto-Gnostic?
  • Did Plato hate the material body?
  • What is the relation between body and soul within Plato’s thought?
  • How did Plato’s spiritual psychology become more complex as he matured?
  • Does Plato’s spiritual psychology shed light on issues we face in the modern world?
  • How do human bodies reflect the forms of ultimate things?
  • How did Socrates influence Plato at the beginning of his career, and Aristotle towards the end of his career?
  • Does erotic love have spiritual value?
  • What is the role of desire in truth-seeking?
  • What role did neoplatonism play in in Eastern Orthodox theology?
  • How did St. Augustine appropriate Plato’s philosophy for the West?
  • Can a contemporary appropriation of neoplatonism shed light on modern issues like malls and movies?

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Good Habits and Emotion

In his book Good News For Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do, the Christian philosopher Phillip Cary gives some examples of how our choices and habits affect our emotions.

“There is indeed a sense in which we are responsible for our emotions, though in a different way from our choices, because of course we don’t control our feelings in the direct way we control our choices. You can’t just choose not to be angry the way you choose not to raise your hand. Yet we are responsible for the virtues and vices we develop, which are what tend to produce various kinds of feelings. If we make a habit of gossiping, for instance, we will feed our resentment of other people, which will bear fruit in anger and ill will and eventually cruelty. Whereas if we practice moral disciplines like speaking courteously with people we dislike or being kind to people who annoy us, the emotional shape of our hearts will also change for the better. It takes time, but we can train our hearts to leave their resentments behind, to starve the poisonous feelings in them, while practicing and nurturing the better feelings–even if that practice begins with outward actions like speaking a kind word when we don’t really feel like it.”

Elsewhere he explains how good habits are a composite of emotions, perceptions, choices and thoughts.

“A virtue is a habit that includes all of these things: actions (you take care of your child even when you don’t feel like it), emotions (you are often overtaken by feelings of tenderness and delight), perceptions (you understand your little children better than they understand themselves), choices (you choose to get out of bed and go to the children’s room even when you’d much rather not), and thoughts (you think differently, more thoroughly and carefully, about your children than about anyone else in the world).”

Further Reading

Alexa and Siri Are Not Your Friends

A 2018 report from National Public Radio and Edison Research reported that 8 million Americans own three or more smart speakers. By 2021, there will be almost as many personal-assistant bots on the planet as people.  Amazon has sold tens of millions of their Echo devices.

Should we be concerned about machines that hang on our every word, eager to help? Judish Schelevitz thinks we should be concerned. Writing for The Atlantic last November, Schelevitz makes the following observations:

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Moral Order

From my Colson Center article, “Moral Order, and Wisdom (Nominalism 6)

“One of the benefits of prayerfully meditating on God’s commands within the context of a life of obedience, is that we begin to see the fittingness of His laws instead of viewing them as arbitrary impositions on a neutral world understood separately from the Trinitarian God revealed in Jesus Christ. We begin to appreciate how God’s laws are the natural correlates to the is-ness of Christian. As a consequence, we are better able to take what the Bible says in one area, and apply the principles to other areas not directly addressed in scripture. This is because we are no longer simply looking at raw commands, but appreciating the moral order reflected in God’s commandments. This is essentially the task of wisdom as it has been practiced by saints and Christian mystics throughout history.”

Don’t Let the iPhone Destroy Your EQ

I re-listened to our 13th podcast this morning after a conversation with a parent on limiting children’s screen time. I’m reposting it here in case the tips are helpful for other parents. We looked at best practices for how to use technology strategically, in a way that does not invade our relationships or our EQ.

New Creation and its Discontents

In December 1945, as Allied forces were making their way through Germany arresting war criminals, two Egyptian brothers were going about their farm work near the upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi.

The day started out like any other day for twenty-six year-old, Muhammad ‘Ali al-Samman, and his fifteen-year-old brother, Abu al-Majd. On that particular day the brothers were riding on camels in search of a special soft soil that served as a fertilizer for crops.

Coming to a large boulder, they decided this looked like a good place to dig for the nitrogenous fertilizer. No sooner had the brothers begun digging when they hit the top of a red earthenware jar. This jar, which turned out to be almost a meter high, was sealed on the top with a bowl.

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Moral Formation Over Time

From my recent interview with Bill Kabasenche:

“You can’t just decide to become a good person – it’s going to be a process. You’re going to have to engage in a moral formation over time. So Aristotle talks about the sorts of practices you need to engage in in order to embody or acquire virtues. To a certain extent, it’s not as if you perfectly acquire the virtue of courage or humility, but you engage in a process of slowly over time becoming more the sort of person you are aiming to be.”

This comment was made within the context of Bill explaining why a virtue-based approach to ethics (which situates moral duties within the larger context of human flourishing) is superior to more legalistic approaches which simply want to ask “What should I do?” Although we need to ask what-should-I-do types of questions, there will never be a context for adequately addressing such questions unless we’ve first identified what virtues are central to flourishing as human beings.

I’d like to add to Bill’s observations that the Scriptures constantly assume that virtue includes dispositions and not merely behaviors. Virtuous dispositions like peace, gratitude, contrition, joy, compassion, all include an emotional as well behavioral components. Virtuous disposition also includes such things as proper perception, right motivation, and an attraction to goodness and truth. All of this is the fruit of time and good habits, which is why a person cannot suddenly become good overnight, despite the best intentions.

Listen to the entire conversation here.