Category Archives: philosophy

Quote for the Week

A person of high virtue is not conscious of virtue and therefore possesses Virtue.A person of little virtue tries to be virtuous and therefore lacks Virtue.A person of high virtue does not make a fuss and is not seen.A person of little virtue always makes a fuss and is always seen.A truly good person functions without ulterior motive.A moralist acts out of private desires.A ritualist acts and, when no one responds, rolls up a sleeve and marches.When we lose the Tao, we turn to Virtue.When we lose Virtue, we turn to kindness.When we lose kindness, we turn to morality.  When we lose morality, we turn to ritual.Ritual is the mere husk of good faith and loyalty and the beginning of disorder.Knowledge of what is to come may be a flower of the Tao, but it is the beginning of folly.Hence, the well-formed person relies on what is solid and not on what is flimsy,on the fruit and not the flower.Therefore, such a person lets go of that without and is content with this within.

–Laozi, Dao De Qing (Tao Te Ching), chapter 38; courtesy of here.

Quote for the Week

Everything abstract is ultimately part of the concrete. Everything inanimate finally serves the living. That is why every activity dealing in abstraction stands in ultimate service to a living whole.

–Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), Essays on Women; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Quote for the Week (Slightly Belated)

That time either has no being at all, or is only scarcely and faintly, one might suspect from this: part of it has happened and is not, while the other part is going to be but is not yet, and it is out of these that the infinite, or any given, time is composed. But it would seem impossible for a thing composed of non-beings to have any share in being.

–Aristotle, Physics, as translated by Joe Sachs (Rutgers University Press: 2011), 217b30; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Pratītyasamutpāda

One of the most important concepts in all schools of Buddhism is pratītyasamutpāda (in Sanskrit–the Pali form is paṭiccasamuppāda).  The word is a very long one in either of the classical languages of Buddhism, but it is not only a key philosophical notion in Buddhist thought, it has a much wider applicability, particularly in the modern, industrial, interconnected world in which we live.  I have referenced it here and there in different places on this blog, and in various comments I’ve made on other blogs I frequent.  Despite this, I’ve not spoken about the term in and of itself at any length.  That’s an omission that needs to be rectified, since pratītyasamutpāda easily deserves a post of its own, particularly as a resource for future reference in discussion in which it turns up.

The first step in discussing pratītyasamutpāda is to translate it–what the heck does it mean?  Edward Conze, one of the most important Western scholars of Buddhism in the mid-20th Century, delightfully translates the Sanskrit mouthful as an English mouthful:  “conditioned co-production”.  This is actually a petty good root-by-root rendering of the Sanskrit, but it is, as noted, quite a mouthful and perhaps not so delightful to the general reader.  Other renderings include “conditioned arising” and “dependent arising”.  The most common rendering I’ve seen is “dependent origination”, so this is what I’m going to use for now.  So, we have a translation; but still, what does it mean?

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The Best Laid Plans (Do Not Require a Plan B)

The-Best-Laid-Plans-Of-Mice-And-Men-Often-Go-Awry

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

–Robert Burns, “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough”

This is famously misquoted in standard English (as opposed to Burns’s Scots dialect) as “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.”  In any case, the sentiment is true enough.  How often do we plan something only to have events seemingly conspire to screw it all up?  How often does the most meticulous planning crash and burn before our eyes?  It’s not for no reason that we have the American idiom “Plan B”.  This is, of course, what you do–or attempt to do–when your original idea, Plan A, fails.  Sometimes we seem to run through the whole alphabet of plans and still things “gang agley”.  Then again, we’re not God.

The point I’m getting at here is something I’ve alluded to numerous time over the course of this and other series of posts at this blog.  In this post, I want to address the matter in a more direct and explicit manner.  The matter at hand relates to the interpretation of the Fall of Man, as described in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis.  My main purpose in “Legends of the Fall” has been to try to find a way to understand the aforementioned Fall given our current understanding of human origins and the impossibility of reconciling that understanding with the Genesis account.  I’m still pretty far out from coming to such an understanding, admittedly.  Nevertheless, I think it is useful to look at issues which, while partially tangential, nevertheless have implications for the course of the main argument.

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Theism Revisited: God, Gods, and Íñigo Montoya

Eight years ago, I looked at the various forms of theism and considered what they meant for us moderns, particularly my fellow Catholics.  For various reasons, I want to return to that topic and look at it from a different perspective.

I’ll start with a common atheist slogan often used in discussion with monotheists (usually Christians).  I should make clear upfront that I am not deriding or criticizing atheists as such.  I put in that disclaimer because a commenter on one of my posts a year or so ago took considerable umbrage at my noting that he was, in fact, an atheist in linking to his blog.  I thought that by doing so I was indicating that people who disagree on substantial matters can actually agree on other things.  He seemed to think I was somehow calling him a horrible, awful, evil person because he was an atheist.  That was a complete and total mischaracterization of what I said, and bore no resemblance to it, in fact, and we ended up having a fairly long (and, alas, pointless) argument in the comments.

Thus, I want to note here that while I’m going to discuss a view that many atheists hold that I think is mistaken, this is in no way meant to disparage atheists as such, or paint them as evil people.  In fact, plenty of theists consistently make the very same mistake.  It is a somewhat subtle mistake that is very widely held; and thus I think it to be worth discussing, from either a theistic or atheistic perspective.  Onward, then!

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Quote for the Week

Ἀλλήλοις θ᾽ ὁμιλεῖν, ὡς τοὺς μὲν φίλους ἐχθροὺς μὴ ποιῆσαι, τοὺς δ᾽ ἐχθροὺς φίλους ἐργάσασθαι. ἴδιόν τε μηδὲν ἡγεῖσθαι.

We ought so to behave to one another as to avoid making enemies of our friends, and at the same time to make friends of our enemies.

–As quoted in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, “Pythagoras”, Sect. 23, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p. 320; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Interpenetration is an important teaching, but it still suggests that things outside of one another penetrate into each other. Interbeing is a step forward. We are already inside, so we don’t have to enter. In contemporary nuclear physics, people talk about implicit order and explicit order. In the explicit order, things exist outside of each other — the table outside of the flower, the sunshine outside of the cypress tree. In the implicit order, we see that they are inside each other — the sunshine inside the cypress tree. Interbeing is the implicit order. To practice mindfulness and to look deeply into the nature of things is to discover the true nature of interbeing. There we find peace and develop the strength to be in touch with everything. With this understanding, we can easily sustain the work of loving and caring for the Earth and for each other for a long time.

–Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Quote for the Week

知之者不如好之者,好之者不如樂之者。

They who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and they who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.

–Confucius, The Analects, Chapter VI; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Quote for the Week

But if any excursive brain rove over the images of forepassed times, and wonder that Thou the God Almighty and All-creating and All-supporting, Maker of heaven and earth, didst for innumerable ages forbear from so great a work, before Thou Wouldest make it; let him awake and consider, that he wonders at false conceits. For whence could innumerable ages pass by, which Thou madest not, Thou the Author and Creator of all ages? or what times should there be, which were not made by Thee? or how should they pass by, if they never were? Seeing then Thou art the Creator of all times, if any time was before Thou madest heaven and earth, why say they that Thou didst forego working? For that very time didst Thou make, nor could times pass by, before Thou madest those times. But if before heaven and earth there was no time, why is it demanded, what Thou then didst? For there was no “then,” when there was no time.

–Augustine of Hippo, Confessions Eleventh Book, XIII (370-400 AD) The Confessions of S. Augustine (1840) Tr. Edward Bouverie Pusey, pp. 233-234.  courtesy of Wikiquote