Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics by JRR Tolkien (1936)

This isn’t really philosophy but Tolkien fans will know that his translation of Beowulf has been published. Here is a great post on his essay The Monsters and The Critics, about Beowulf.

Books & Boots

Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford from 1925 to 1945. In 1936 he delivered this lecture about Beowulf to the British Academy. It is often cited as a turning point in studies of the poem because it completely changed the focus of study from seeing Beowulf as a primarily historical document which frustratingly fails to explain the many legends it refers to and wastes all its energy on childish monsters – to viewing it as a sophisticated work of art which uses its fairy-tale monsters to convey a surprisingly modern and relevant worldview about the ubiquity of Evil and the need to confront it, no matter what the cost.

Beowulf misused as history Tolkien claims that up to his time Beowulf has been recognised as important by critics and historians but consistently misinterpreted. By historians, philologists, archaeologists etc it has been mined for information about…

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Life In Extremis…

Unbelievably moving…

Life In Extremis

IMAG2364

My name is Veryan, I am 34 years old and since May 2013 my whole life has been dramatically turned upside down and I am living with the consequences.

Last May when I was 32 weeks pregnant with my first child I was diagnosed with Stage 2b cervical cancer. My partner, Matt and I were devastated and in total shock. We had been happily preparing for our new family despite having a very difficult pregnancy when suddenly everything was thrown into peril on a scale we had not imagined we would be facing.  One week later our son, Arthur was born 7 weeks premature by caesarean in order that I could start my treatment as soon as possible. Arthur was in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for the first two weeks of his life and we came home from hospital when he was 19 days old, just after I had…

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The Avengers (and More) Assemble for Cancer: See Their Selfies

Amazing story

TIME

Sofie Caldecott’s father Stratford is a huge comic book fan and loves Marvel films — but unfortunately, due to his advanced prostate cancer, he was too ill to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier in theaters.

With the DVD release set for August probably too late for the lifelong comic book fan, Sofie is not only trying to fulfill her father’s dying wish to see the movie by getting an early copy of the movie, but she’s going the extra distance by asking the Avengers actors to take selfies with the hashtag #CapForStrat to show her ailing father their messages of support.

So far Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Chris Evans (Captain America), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and several non-Avengers have answered her call to assemble, but she’s still missing Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) to complete the entire set of theatrical Avengers for her…

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Hume’s criticisms and criticisms of Hume

Hey there AS revisers welcome to my third post of the day! I’ve noticed a lot of traffic to two of my essays on Hume’s criticisms of the cosmological argument. I also have other posts on this topic which aren’t being viewed so much, so I thought I’d link to them here.

First here is a powerpoint on Hume, Mackie and Anscombe’s criticisms of the argument.

And here is a link to a page on the fallacy of composition from a Thomistic viewpoint.

Ok, good luck revising!

Student Essay – Explain the main principles of the Natural Law approach to ethics. (Full Essay)

Natural Law is an absolutist theory because it doesn’t vary its primary precepts with circumstances. Natural law is a mixture of teleological and deontological because it has primary precepts which are to do with duty, and secondary which apply to circumstances.

Thomas Aquinas based Natural Law on Aristotle’s teaching about causality. In Aristotle Final cause and purpose are important when trying to give an explanation of a thing. Eg. the final cause of a knife is to cut. Aristotle thought this is what made a good knife. Something is good inasmuch as it fulfills its purpose. (The most important cause is the final cause which when achieved by an object it reaches perfection – because it has moved from potentiality to actuality eg. a potential A grade student becomes an actual one through application of hard work. )

The contrast with other senses of the word good can be brought out if we consider that a good knife can be used to perform a bad deed – ie. to stab a person. However, if it cut cleanly it would be good in the sense of doing what it was made for. This use of the word good is taken up in Aquinas and used in his theory.

What is clear for a knife is not so clear for humans – what is our purpose? Ultimately, God Himself is the final purpose of human beings – our goals are not merely temporal, but eternal, because we have an immortal soul. However, we also have temporal purposes, which could be summarised as to live and flourish in certain ways discoverable by reason.

Thomas Aquinas believed that Natural Law was part of a hierarchy of laws that are part of the cosmos created by God. God created everything via the Eternal Law. As God is the ultimate cause of all being, he has the highest qualities in respect of his creation, therefore it follows that he is the ultimate lawgiver. Through the Eternal Law God creatively directs all beings to a common end by endowing them with spontaneous natural inclinations to move toward their own perfection.

Aquinas thought that humans have an essential rational nature established by God. We are to apply reason to know our purpose and that allows us to choose to follow our final goal. Thus, unlike non-rational animals who just follow natural inclination unknowingly towards their good, humans can freely and knowingly co-operate with the eternal law through the use of reason. These laws are discoverable by humans to give the goods appropriate to humans such as food, shelter, knowledge, friendship etc. This discovering ‘from within’ of the eternal law by reason is called natural law – not something extra to the eternal law. Aquinas says: “the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law”. 

Aristotle’s idea of eudaimonia is useful here. Seeking happiness and all-round well-being – all aim to find this in life and it enables us to thrive. Aquinas thought however, that there was a difference between apparent goods and actual goods. Apparent goods are things which we desire and think will be good, but which actually take us away from our final purpose – eg. drink, drugs, gambling and so on.

Aquinas makes the presumption that people will choose good and avoid evil. This inclination is called synderesis, which actually has the sense of an intuitive grasp of first principles. What this means is that, to Aquinas, certain basic precepts are self-evident to anyone with a functioning reason and some experience of the world. For instance, ‘bodily health is a good to be sought after, and bodily illness to be avoided’.

(Then explain the five primary precepts and the secondary precepts and you’re done)

 

 

Last minute exam tips

Over at Philosophical Investigations they have some very useful tips on answering specific questions, including some useful tips on Natural Law, about which I have a student answer on here .

I would be surprised if a question about either the Cosmological argument, the Teleological argument from Aquinas and Hume’s criticisms of them didn’t come up this year. Then again, I’ve been wrong before, so we shall see! Just remember, never skip revision on any area – you must be prepared for any question on any individual point of the spec. Eg. a question such as ‘Explain the relationship between the Forms and the Form of the Good (25)’ , or ‘Explain the relationship between concepts and phenomena (25)’. If that kind of question came up how much could you write? Equally in Ethics, if a question such as ‘Explain the concept of moral relativism (25)’ came up, you would need to know about these fairly abstract areas of the course. Don’t just go “Oh Plato, yeah I know the Cave; I’m fine.”!

Finally, good luck for tomorrow AS students! I will try and post some more last-minute revision stuff on here today.

St Isaac the Syrian: The Triumph of the Kingdom over Gehenna

A2 Students – God’s foreknowledge and reward/punishment in the afterlife

Eclectic Orthodoxy

“Those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love”—these words of St Isaac the Syrian have profoundly influenced the Orthodox understanding of hell and damnation. I suspect that most readers of St Isaac’s writings have long assumed that this mystical insight represents the apex of his reflections on hell. But in 1983 Sebastian Brock discovered in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the complete text of a group of discourses that were virtually unknown in the Byzantine and Latin Churches. Unlike the well known homilies belonging to the First Part, translated into English under the title The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, these other discourses had never been translated into Greek nor into any other language (except perhaps Arabic). That they existed was known to scholars, but the one extant text in Iran was lost in 1918. And then Brock made his remarkable discovery, and…

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Student Essay – Explain the main principles of the Natural Law approach to ethics. (25)

Natural Law is an absolutist theory because it doesn’t vary its primary precepts with circumstances. Natural law is a mixture of teleological and deontological because it has primary precepts which are to do with duty, and secondary which apply to circumstances.

Thomas Aquinas based Natural Law on Aristotle’s teaching about causality. In Aristotle Final cause and purpose are important when trying to give an explanation of a thing. Eg. the final cause of a knife is to cut. Aristotle thought this is what made a good knife. Something is good inasmuch as it fulfills its purpose. (The most important cause is the final cause which when achieved by an object it reaches perfection – because it has moved from potentiality to actuality eg. a potential A grade student becomes an actual one through application of hard work. )

The contrast with other senses of the word good can be brought out if we consider that a good knife can be used to perform a bad deed – ie. to stab a person. However, if it cut cleanly it would be good in the sense of doing what it was made for. This use of the word good is taken up in Aquinas and used in his theory.

What is clear for a knife is not so clear for humans – what is our purpose? Ultimately, God Himself is the final purpose of human beings – our goals are not merely temporal, but eternal, because we have an immortal soul. However, we also have temporal purposes, which could be summarised as to live and flourish in certain ways discoverable by reason.

Thomas Aquinas believed that Natural Law was part of a hierarchy of laws that are part of the cosmos created by God. God created everything via the Eternal Law. As God is the ultimate cause of all being, he has the highest qualities in respect of his creation, therefore it follows that he is the ultimate lawgiver. Through the Eternal Law God creatively directs all beings to a common end by endowing them with spontaneous natural inclinations to move toward their own perfection.

Aquinas thought that humans have an essential rational nature established by God. We are to apply reason to know our purpose and that allows us to choose to follow our final goal. Thus, unlike non-rational animals who just follow natural inclination unknowingly towards their good, humans can freely and knowingly co-operate with the eternal law through the use of reason. These laws are discoverable by humans to give the goods appropriate to humans such as food, shelter, knowledge, friendship etc. This discovering ‘from within’ of the eternal law by reason is called natural law – not something extra to the eternal law. Aquinas says: “the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law”. 

Aristotle’s idea of eudaimonia is useful here. Seeking happiness and all-round well-being – all aim to find this in life and it enables us to thrive. Aquinas thought however, that there was a difference between apparent goods and actual goods. Apparent goods are things which we desire and think will be good, but which actually take us away from our final purpose – eg. drink, drugs, gambling and so on.

To be continued…..

 

 

What is a self-authenticating religious experience?

Looking at the 2014 examination predictions over on Philosophical Investigations I was interested to see the question ‘”Religious experiences are self-authenticating.” Discuss’. The word ‘self-authenticating’ doesn’t occur in the spec itself, nor is it an obvious element of James’ argument, so what does it mean?

The classical arguments for God’s existence have all faced major challenges from what might be called evidentialism. This is the position that a belief can only be justified in proportion to the available evidence for it. Contemporary debates about whether it is possible to know God revolve around the question of whether evidentialism should apply to religious beliefs.

The usual form the evidentialist argument takes when it comes to religious experience is that because of the private, subjective nature of religious experience combined with lack of publicly agreed evidence for a God, no experience of God is sufficient to establish proof of God, and indeed the experience is more likely to be a delusion.

Various solutions have been proposed to get around this challenge. Philosophers such as Swinburne, Alston and Plantinga have developed variations on what might be called a ‘self-authentication’ account of religious experience, whereby a purported experience of God is itself enough to justify believing in God on the basis of it. For instance, Plantinga calls religious beliefs ‘properly basic’. In other words they can act as the axioms of a belief system (they can be foundational to that belief system).

So to claim that an experience is self-authenticating is to deny that there is any point to external tests of its veridicality. Does this work? Alston has pointed out that religious believers themselves do not do this – they have actually consistently sought out external tests to verify them. For instance, within the Catholic tradition, a highly developed system of tests to distinguish between real experiences of God and false or delusional experiences (coming from the Devil) can be found.

Nonetheless, within religious traditions, Alston claims a certain degree of self-authentication occurs. This can be compared to the wine-tasting community. Once you learn the rules of wine-tasting you can begin to know what is being talked about, but before this you would not be able to fully enter into the experience and might criticise the language of the wine tasters as fanciful. Equally, a mystical tradition has its own set of ‘doxastic practices’ (Alston’s phrase), which authenticate the experiences which happen within it.

This sounds to me a bit like Wittgenstein’s language games, that you can’t criticise the mystical language game from outside of it. Is this just another form of fideism then?

Don’t forget to check out my posts on Rudolf Otto here and here , for more discussion on the nature of a self-authenticating experience. Otto and James to some extent based their arguments on this concept, which goes back to Schleiermacher.