Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Problem of Meta-ethics

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 my recent interview with Dr. Phillip Cary, we learn 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.

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?

View all Episodes of The Robin & Boom Show

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?

View all Episodes of The Robin & Boom Show

The Robin & Boom Show #14 – Interview with William Kabasenche on Virtue Ethics

Robin interviews Dr. William Kabasenche, professor of philosophy at Washington State University. They discussed virtue ethics, and how this differs from other common approaches to ethical decision-making. In this podcast you will learn why the ethical life should not start with questions like, “What should you do?”, but instead should seek to ask questions such as “what type of person do I want to become?” Dr. Kabasenche explained how this approach lends insight into questions of genetic screening and end of life issues.

 

View all Episodes of The Robin & Boom Show

The Robin & Boom Show #03 – Discussion with Keith Pimental on Transmitting Values to Next Generation

What happens when parents and politicians settle for intermediate goals without giving attention to the long-term end of human flourishing? What is the culture-wide impact of relativism? What happens when we neglect the importance of history and eternity? And what is “methodological Machiavellianism”? These are just some of the questions that Robin and Jason discuss in this episode with their guest from Portugal, Keith Pimental. 

View all Episodes of The Robin & Boom Show

The Robin & Boom Show #02 – Politics in America and Europe

Jason Van Boom and Robin Phillips discuss the political climate in America and Europe, including areas of difference and cross-fertilization. During this conversation they explore the importance of symbols, metanarratives, tribalism, and operational philosophical assumptions that animate contemporary public discourse.

View all Episodes of The Robin & Boom Show

The Robin & Boom Show #00 – Test Episode

Robin Phillips and Jason Van Boom have some fun while discussing their plans to launch a podcast. They also discuss the continued relevance of philosophical debates that occurred during the Middle Age. 

View all Episodes of The Robin & Boom Show

James Matthew Wilson in the Mars Hill Audio Journal

Last year someone asked me what were my favorite podcasts. Without a second thought I referred my friend to the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Since 1993, Ken Myers has been using this audio journal to encourage conversations about faith, faithfulness, and culture, exploring the various factors that have given modern Western culture its distinctive character. Over the years this has involved Myers conducting interviews with a wide-variety of scholars on subjects that include art, technology, history, music, theology, philosophy, politics, film, poetry and almost anything else you could imagine.

I was struck with my debt of gratitude to the Mars Hill Audio Journal today when listening to an interview from the most recent issue, Volume 141, in which Ken Myers has a conversation with James Matthew Wilson on the role of beauty, truth and goodness in cultivating “intellectual vision.” Here’s a few nuggets from this interview:

“that desire, however deformed, to perceive, to encounter being, is the very foundation of the possibility of falling in love with wisdom.

…to remind ourselves that the world is beautiful tells us something about ourselves, that we can stand in contemplation before the world and not have to think ‘what are we learning this for?’ We’re learning it for the joy of it’s being beautiful. And also it tells us something about the world: that the world is itself, even in its most minute particulars, a kind of mystery, where even the crudest material thing conceals depths within itself….

The way Aristotle begins the Metaphysics…has always seemed to me one of the most beautiful few lines in our tradition. It, of course, begins, ‘all philosophy begins in wonder because human beings would practically rather see than do anything else.’ And what he’s proposing to us is that the world itself is wonderful; that is to say, the world itself is a mystery whose existence stirs us to wonder about it. And to wonder about it means both to desire and to know–to desire to know the truth. And so the world, just by its fact of its existence, inspires us to enter into that world with both our active will and our capacity to love and our capacity to know, our reason. So the world is a mystery that seems as if it was put there just to make us start thinking about it and contemplate it.

Ongoing Series on Nominalism vs. Realism

I’ve been publishing some articles with the Colson Centre dealing with the debates between the medieval nominalists and realists, looking at the relevance these debates have for issues in contemporary culture.

Throughout this series I hope to show that these seemingly archaic philosophical distinctions are actually of profound practical significance for how we understand our world today, in everything from sex to food. To read these articles, click on the following links:

Also see my series on Nominalism and John Calvin:

And finally, here are some misc articles on other subjects that address issues of Nominalism vs. Realism: