What is property? What is wealth? Who has a right to ownership? What moral quandaries are to be found in the concentration of wealth? Over the past several decades, wealth has become, in many ways, largely dissociated from real things, from tangible beings. This dissociation stems not only from the movement to a fiat currency, but also becomes intensified through the increased embedding of our lives in a digital environment. The intangibility of information and services rendered through networked devices defy a lot of previously-established paradigms for the understanding of wealth.
But the problems of economic structure extend beyond these obvious pains today.
(Re-)Distribution of Goods and Means?
A common complaint against capitalism, particularly in later years, concerns the concentration not only of static wealth (i.e., many dollars), but with that often control over the means of production and those causes from which further wealth is generated. Or, to put this in the words of Ray Charles: them that got is them that gets.
When this centralization becomes excessive, it can have profound negative effects beyond mere dollars and cents. Many young persons today, for instance, believe their paths to financial security and independence are dangerous, narrow, and disappearing. Such frustrations, historically, have proven dangerous for societies. Efforts at resolving the conflict, however, often receive poor formulation. Simple solutions proposed for complex problems lead to chaos or even bloodshed.
Yet bringing change to how we think of our relationship to goods and their production, how we value work and the activity of human beings in the world… these are questions that we cannot safely ignore.
What can we do today?
Immediately and directly, if we are honest? Very little. But economics must put people back at the center of its considerations (and with that, a deep understanding of human nature), and such thinking typifies the endeavors of the Lyceum Institute. So join us this Wednesday (11 October 2023 from 5:45–7:15pm ET) and discuss the issues of property, ownership, the concentration of wealth, the constitution of economies, and more! The potential questions are endless: usury, credit cards, just wages, labor and work, and so on and on. Learn more about our Philosophical Happy Hour.
Philosophical Happy Hour
Come join us for drinks (adult or otherwise) and a meaningful conversation. Open to the public! Held every Wednesday from 5:45–7:15pm ET.
What is a fact? The English word, used so commonly throughout the modern world, comes from its Latin cognate, factum: an event, occurrence, a deed, an achievement. But since the mid-17th century, under the auspices of the Enlightenment’s so-called “empiricism”, the word has been taken to be a “reality” known as independent of observation. The fact is Absolute. Facts, therefore, are discovered by and studied within “science”. They are “objective”. They are “verifiable”. That water at sea level boils at 212° Fahrenheit; that Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492; that Chicago is west of New York: most people regard these as facts.
Other claims may be disputed, such as that Jesus Christ rose from the dead; or that Domingo de Soto was the first to introduce the distinction between formal and instrumental signs. These disputes hinge upon the evidence: given the right data, it is thought, we could decide definitively one way or another. Other claims are not disputed as to their factuality, but regarded as irresoluble to facts. For instance, the claim that socialism is evil, or that capitalism drives moral flaw; that Aquinas was a better philosopher than Wittgenstein, or that a particular pope has undermined the Catholic faith.
This bifurcation into what is or is not a fact, however, presupposes much. Arguments often appeal to facts (or “evidence”). Arguments structured through or upon factual bases typically appear stronger. Contrariwise, if someone lacks a factual basis for his argument, others will regard that argument as “subjective”, a matter of opinion, and therefore as weak. To give an example, consider the claim that socialism is evil. The commonest way to defend this claim consists in examining facts about the Soviet Union. We advance the argument by pointing to the number of people killed, or the churches destroyed. We look at the facts of the Gulag. The Soviets themselves did all they could to hide these facts from much of the world.
Curiously enough, however, the Soviets (at least those making the decisions), despite their efforts to hide the facts did not seem overly troubled by them. Indeed: commonly, “facts” seem themselves always embedded in social contexts of interpretation. Bruno Latour has argued that what we regard as “facts” are not mind-independent truths discovered through science but socially-constructed fictions premised upon some observation. That is: circumstances and instruments, as well as often-tacit social agreements, contextualize every purported discovery of “fact”.
But, we have to ask—we ought to ask—is there even really such a thing as a “fact”? What makes something to be a fact? How do we discover them, share them, interpret them? Can we gain “factual knowledge” without interpretation?
Join us this evening to discuss facts—and philosophy!
Philosophical Happy Hour
Come join us for drinks (adult or otherwise) and a meaningful conversation. Open to the public! Held every Wednesday from 5:45–7:15pm ET.
With discussion sessions beginning this coming Saturday (9/23), I would be remiss if I did not put out a final call for registration in our Fall seminars. We have three provocative offerings, each of which promises to confront the errors of modernity in radically differing ways.
Rosenstock’s insights have to do above all with speech, time and history – topics infamous for their unpredictability, and fractious in their irreducibility to mere ratiocination or univocal definition. Aristotle, after all, reminds us that, due to the very nature of human events, there will never be a science of history. And yet, with all the ambiguities and surprises, it is in time and history that we live and move and have our being. We use propositions and syllogisms, but they do not provide us with a human dwelling, nor can they console us in our trials.
The term “phenomenology” has received a multitude of meanings over the past several centuries but today refers primarily to the loose collection of approaches initiated by Edmund Husserl with his 1900 (and revised in 1913) Logichse Untersuchungen, or Logical Investigations. Yet these approaches, while all see in phenomenology something foundational about how it is that human beings know, vary widely in their conduct. Prominent among them, and very frequently misunderstood, is the phenomenological approach advocated by Martin Heidegger—who, although perhaps the best-known of Husserl’s students, also perhaps departs the most radically among all the phenomenologists from his one-time teacher.
The importance of habit’s influence on action has been well noted by Saint Thomas and his followers (as, indeed, by all thoughtful followers of Aristotle) with respect to virtue and vice. This influence will be only as it were, however, an incidental object of our study. For, of particular importance in this seminar will be not only a consideration of habits as developing the individual, but as constituting the intersubjective reality of environment, community, and culture: of habits not only as they cause a coalescence of actuality in the human being (secundum se) but between human beings and the world (ad aliud).
Put otherwise, if we are to understand the full importance of habit, we cannot see it merely as something within ourselves as individuals but must recognize its influence on how we relate amongst ourselves.
The term kulturkampf, literally “culture struggle”, has long-since been translated into English as “culture war”. I have no desire to participate in a “culture war”. Indeed, as I will argue here, the very notion of the “culture war” is not only misguided but harmful. But as someone living within a culture, however, I do believe it is inevitable that I and everyone else—willingly or not, consciously or not—everyone does participate in the struggle over culture.
Semantics of War and Struggle
Why this “quibbling over semantics”? Before I get to the semantics themselves, I have to say that I have never accepted as legitimate the objection that one is quibbling over semantics. Words are important. They signify concepts, and concepts are that on the basis of which all human history (all that is truly human, that is) has unfolded. If you do not believe words are important, there seems to be no reason for you to read this—or anything. In fact, the objection of “quibbling over semantics” presumes a nominalist or at least idealist divorce between cognitive activity and things independent of cognitive activity; but pursuing that question would take us far off track.
Returning therefore to the semantics of “struggle” and “war”: I protest the latter term because it suggests an entirely inapt metaphor. War, to be waged justly, must have a reasonable expectation of victory. One adopts violent means out of necessity: the need, namely, to produce or restore an orderly way of life that allows human beings to pursue their natural and fitting goods. War should be irregular. And before anyone thinks about bringing it up, let me say that there is an entirely different way in which the concept of “spiritual warfare” or “spiritual combat” must be understood, which would take us into a discussion well outside the boundaries of what I am here to discuss today; but which, succinctly, may be presented by saying that there are conditions for decisive victory in matters of the spiritual soul of the human being. Not so in matters of culture, which is, by nature, an intrinsically temporally-unfolding suprasubjective reality constituted through a pattern of relations which attains a new foundation in every human being who is born and reared within a society of other human beings. Or to put this in other, simpler words, culture is an ever-present and ever-developing reality which can only exist through the exchanges human beings have with and towards one another. It is never final, because we human beings, as existing on earth, are not final; we, by nature, are creatures that change both over the course of our individual lives and over the course of generations. So long as humans have freedom of thought and will, culture may change.
What’s Wrong with the World?
Allow me an anecdote. When I taught ethics at the Wentworth Institute of Technology, a secular school in Boston, Massachusetts, I started each semester by giving the students a notecard on which to write their names, email addresses, a hobby or interest, and—in a single sentence or less—something they believe to be wrong with the world today, with the promise that I’d give my own answer later in the semester. Their answers ranged from the very thoughtful to the kind one might expect in a caricature of a beauty pageant. Most were focused on what could be called systematic societal issues: poverty, inequality, abuse of power, ideologies, a lack of charity or honesty among people as a whole, and so on and so forth. Throughout the semester, we read a variety of thinkers influential in ethics: David Hume, J.L. Mackie, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Philippa Foot, Marilyn Frye, and so on. Each, in some way, provides a “system” for ethics either as a whole or with regard to some specific problems: rules or sets of principles which, if followed, are promised to improve society. They might be rather loose rules or principles, or rather strict ones—but all had in mind the same goal, despite the significant differences in their means. Mind you, I was required to provide a survey course covering a broad range of thinkers and theories—ideally, I would have focused the course more intently on better thinkers, but the conditions of my employment were non-negotiable. Regardless, being required to teach a wide range of theories and thinkers, I spent most of the semester showing how these proposed systems have intrinsic and unavoidable flaws, no matter how strictly observed; how they fail in other words, how they do not provide us a secure and ethical society, and how they may be overcome or abused. Towards the end of the semester, we would read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics—after the first book of which, I would read their answers as to what’s wrong with the world back to them. They would remember my promise, and that it was my turn.
“What’s wrong with the world?” I asked myself, out loud, before them. “Me,” I would answer; “I am.”
You might recognize this answer from a legend about Chesterton—I freely admit that I lifted it. But it is, I believe, a good teaching tool: yes, there are many systematic problems with our country, our world, our politics, and our culture. I cannot control any of those problems. I can try to change them, but I cannot control them; for all are dependent upon millions of wills not my own. I am, by nature, in control only of myself and even that only to a limited degree (i.e., I cannot will myself to be something I naturally am not—as I cannot will myself to be a top-tier athlete—maybe a decent one, but genetically that has always been out of my grasp—nor can someone born a man will himself to become a female, and so on). The circumstances into which we all are born are beyond our control. What is in our control is our capacity for virtue, the decisions and choices that we as individuals make. Naturally, this extends into those with whom we have close relations: our individuality is only relative, and we are ourselves constituted largely through the relations we have with others. But the faculty of the will extends efficaciously only to the self. We may influence others through a kind of formal causality—objective or specifying causality, to be precise, which is just what I was attempting to do with those students, showing them the truth through a careful, painful, difficult process, one class session, one reading, one assignment, one Socratic hour at a time—but we cannot control their wills. We can only attempt to specify objects for their thinking, propose to them what we believe is true, and strive to show them—most especially through how we live ourselves—the truth of the good, and thus that it is desirable.
Struggle and Habit
It in this inability to control others and the difficulty of showing the truth in which the struggle over culture consists. It is perennial; it occurs again and anew with each individual human being who grows up in this or any other society. Believing that ever there could occur a society where the demonstration of what is true is not difficult, where the struggle for it does not recur on a daily basis, is a fantasy which obscures the truth of the matter. There are no shortcuts: the effect of specifying formal causality does not and cannot occur on a cultural scale through the impositions of force. It is a gradual process of developing habits and requires careful and constant attention. I had relatively decent success, teaching my ethics course, in persuading students to think that Aristotle was a very good starting point, to recognize that claim as true, in other words: but only because they were small classes of no more than 22 students. (I doubt the effects were lasting, unfortunately—a single isolated course with students exposed to little else of similar thinking. But I may hope that their thinking has remained on the track set down by the course, given the intensity of our discussions.) That is not to say a larger class could not have been likewise incipiently persuaded; but affecting such a first step towards persuasion among most of a large crowd would likely have been only superficial, a fleeting adherence born not of intellectual conviction but birthed merely through winning the moment—through presenting them a fictionalized, fantastic version of Aristotle: the bold, counter-cultural Stagirite who stands athwart modernity, etc., etc.
In the age of mass media, and especially the internet, where any message has the potential to reach masses of people, such reductive approaches possess a seductive allure—especially if we conceive of the cultural struggle as being a war. We see this video, or that trend, or this or that celebrity spreading a false message; we see their YouTube hit counters ticking over into hundreds of thousands, millions, hundreds of millions of views; this odious Tweet (Twixt?) garnering countless likes and retweets, that Facebook post being shared over and over again; misinformation being spread far and wide; and we feel that we must combat these numbers with our own. Alarms blare in our mind and we hear the shouts of: “They are beating us! They are winning! We are losing!” They are gashing us; so we must, we think, respond in kind. We fashion exaggerated narratives, pseudo-historical accounts—we put on airs of gnosticism, of being the elect, being “those who know”.
Pyrrhic Wars of Formal Causality
But the battlefield of those who wage war on the truth is fantasy. To engage them in combat is to step on to that battlefield; to have to use their weapons, weapons which rely upon a kind of seduction into a way of living rather than understanding the truth about the good—weapons which aim at the lower rather than higher faculties of the human being. This would be to abuse the influence of objective causality.
I do not mean to suggest that fiction and fantasy cannot be put to good use. They can be powerful means for telling stories which elucidate truths better than can be done by any philosophy. But with the degradation of good philosophical thinking the fantastic loses its proper context of significance. For a right formation of the moral imagination there must also be the claritas of good intellectual judgment: not only that there may be produced good works of creative fiction but that their interpretation might be guided correctly. To gain these two goods of intellectual correctness and imaginative rectitude proves not a matter of battle, but of struggle. It is lived by each of us individually and realized culturally in our being with one another. Approached as a war, you may “win” a battle here or there—changing a school curriculum, passing a law, discrediting a movie or television show or speaker—but fought as battles, they are inevitable pyrrhic, costing us more than they gain.
An older version of this is available in audio form here:
Among the diverse ways in which people today live unreflectively, prominent is the attachment to kindness. Frequent are the admonitions to be kind—and, indeed, often it is used as a defense for one’s moral righteousness when caught out in immoral actions: “I’m not a bad person, I am kind…” (as though being kind covered up all other blemishes of character!). Thus, as one of our members asks:
What is kindness? What is the relation between kindness and the Good? It seems today that a lot of people speak of kindness as a replacement for being good. Kindness seems to be a way of affirming someone in what choices they make (regardless of the choice). I would interested to hear what people think about this.
Good questions! We will therefore be discussing the nature of kindness this evening during our Philosophical Happy Hour (request an invite below).
In correspondence with this, and in preparation for this conversation, I would suggest reading some selections from St. Thomas’ treatise on charity, including that on the principal act and that on fraternal correction. One particular passage I think most relevant:
q.27, a.2, “whether to love, considered as an act of charity is the same as goodwill?” Goodwill properly speaking is that act of the will whereby we wish we well to another. Now this act of the will differs from actual love, considered not only as being in the sensitive appetite but also as being in the intellective appetite or will. For the love which is in the sensitive appetite is a passion. Now every passion seeks it object with a certain eagerness. And the passion of love is not aroused suddenly, but is born of an earnest consideration of the object love; wherefore the Philosopher, showing the difference between goodwill and the love which is a passion, says (Ethic. ix.5) that goodwill does not imply impetuosity or desire, that is to say, has not an eager inclination, because it is by the sole judgment of his reason that one man wishes another well. Again such like love arises from previous acquaintance, whereas goodwill sometimes arises suddenly, as happens to us if we look on at a boxing-match, and we wish one of the boxers to win. But the love, which is in the intellective appetite, also differs from goodwill, because it denotes a certain union of affections between the lover and the beloved, inasmuch as the lover deems the beloved as somewhat united to him, or belonging to him, and so tends towards him. On the other hand, goodwill is a simple act of the will, whereby we wish a person well, even without presupposing the aforesaid union of the affections with him. Accordingly, to love, considered as an act of charity, includes goodwill, but such dilection or love adds union of affections, wherefore the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix.5) that goodwill is a beginning of friendship.
Philosophical Happy Hour
Come join us for drinks (adult or otherwise) and a meaningful conversation. Open to the public! Held every Wednesday from 5:45–7:15pm ET.
An excerpt from the concluding pages of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, Part II, recollecting time spent in the Butyrki transit prison of central Moscow. In particular, he here notes a contrast with the prisoners of his own generation—most of whom fought in the Second World War with some pride in their service for the Motherland—and the younger prisoners. This younger generation, while their peers were busy “falling in love with an easy life”, saw through the falsehoods of socialism.
Dawn of the Great Truth
Was it not here, in these prison cells, that the great truth dawned? The cell was constricted, but wasn’t freedom even more constricted? Was it not our own people, tormented and deceived, that law beside us there under the bunks and in the aisles?
Not to arise with my whole land Would have been harder still, And for the path that I have trod I have no qualms at all.
The young people imprisoned in these cells under the political articles of the Code were never the average young people of the nation, but were always separated from them by a wide gap. In those years most of our young people still faced a future of “disintegrating,” of becoming disillusioned, indifferent, falling in love with an easy life—and then, perhaps, beginning all over again the bitter climb from that cozy little valley up to a new peak—possible after another twenty years? But the young prisoners of 1945, sentenced under 58-10, had leaped that whole future chasm of indifference in one jump—and bore their heads boldly erect under the ax.
In the Butyrki church, the Moscow students, already sentenced, cut off and estranged from everything, wrote a song, and before twilight sang it in their uncertain voices:
Three times a day we go for gruel, The evenings we pass in song, With a contraband prison needle We sew ourselves bags for the road.
We don’t care about ourselves any more, We signed—just to be quicker! And when will we ever return here again From the distant Siberian camps?
Good Lord, how could we have missed the main point of the whole thing? While we had been plowing through the mud out there on the bridgeheads, while we had been covering in shell holes and pushing binocular periscopes above the bushes, back home a new generation had grown up and gotten moving. But hadn’t it started moving in another direction? In a direction we wouldn’t have been able and wouldn’t have dared to move in? They weren’t brought up the way we were.
Our generation would return—having turned in its weapons, jingling its heroes’ medals, proudly telling its combat stories. And our younger brothers would only look at us contemptuously: Oh, you stupid dolts!
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Vol.I, Part II.
Knowledge and History
We must remind ourselves, often, that ignorance of the past condemns us to its repetition. This past need not have disappeared into the mist of ancient history. Ignorance grasps us by default. We repulse it by constant effort. Today, we see many, indeed, “falling in love with an easy life”—unthinking consumption of the lotus flower. It comes today in many forms. Drugs. Pornography. Endless streaming entertainment. The promise of a universal basic income. The hope of automation. Simultaneously, others are realizing the inhumane consequences of taking a daily soporific. Meaningless distractions. Life without purpose. The sickness of pleasure for its own sake. “Good Lord, how could we have missed the main point of the whole thing?” You will find no freedom in such a love; only slavery.
I have, relative to my own age and experience, long been a critic of academia. Just the other week, a friend reminded me of a late-night frustrated rant delivered in graduate school about the seeming hopeless prospects laid before us. Not only our chances to find meaningful employment, I claimed, but the whole structure is crumbling. The problems are entrenched in its very structure: it has become irredeemably ordered toward expedience, technical training, empty credentialing, pseudo-professionalism, consumerism, and disdainful of the methods through which true intellectual habits are formed, for these all are inconvenient to its model.
But worst of all, the gears of academia’s modern mechanism grind down those who most love its true (if largely abandoned) purpose: the pursuit and teaching of the truth. Many good professors stay in their positions despite academia: they love teaching and seeing their students get it; discovering truths new to themselves; being in a community of the like-minded. But to see these goods realized often requires a Herculean effort. Burdened with apathetic students and bureaucratic headaches, they are left with too little time. Job security eludes many, and most attain it only by sacrificing even more time to tasks even more tedious.
What are we to do? Give up and allow ourselves finally to become naught but ground-down dust—or abandon the academic intent altogether? Or… might we do something else? I believe in the third alternative. Allow me to explain; and allow me to be so audacious as to use poetry in offering an explanation of re-thinking education.
The Purpose of Education
Controversy over the topic of academic freedom seems to arise every so often. In recent years, the controversy has mostly concerned the policing of language and adherence to ideologies concerning individual identities. Popular figures—mostly those who have suffered somehow at the hands of relevant censorship—have made names for themselves by railing against this restriction of intellectual freedom. But the proponents of academic freedom often champion it as a kind of absolute principle. Behind their advocation stands a belief that, on a level playing field, truth will win out over falsity, and, therefore, academia should be a place where any idea can be stated.
But the “level playing field” does not ever exist. Culture shapes students long before they enter the university and tends to maintain a hold on their thought throughout as well. Moreover, even in the university, we live not by intellect alone. A professor may have weak arguments, but a cool, commanding air about him; and he may be handsome. The other, meanwhile, might have the best reasoning, but be physically ailing, old, unrelatable. To which will the typical eighteen-year-old be more drawn?
Many academics accepted (contrary to the spirit of intellectual inquiry) that the academy was a place in which they could freely pursue whatever theory they wished. To be sure, intellectual inquiry demands a looseness with respect to restraint. But it does not merit total absence of any restraint. It requires an antecedent purposiveness: that of being-towards-truth. Put otherwise, freedom without purpose is not really freedom; and academic freedom not ordered towards the pursuit of truth (and the willingness to admit fault or uncertainty) is not a freedom anyone should possess.
In the absence of this unifying pursuit (behind which absence there lies another story too long to tell here), the “university” (to which name it no longer merits a claim) turns to purposes inhuman and inhumane: primarily, the diversion of its resources into the training of functionaries. This perversion of aim runs deep. It infects university presidents and deans, board members and trustees, hiring and curriculum committees, and branches out systemically through every vein of the increasingly-bureaucratic institution.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
W.B. Yeats 1919: ”The Second Coming”
W.B. Yeats’ poem—perhaps his most famous—“The Second Coming” expresses this reality, most especially in its first stanza. The university has lost its center and all culture falls apart. If governments and corporations seem increasingly totalitarian, this comes as a response (a poor one) to an anarchy in the human soul: a loss of principle and a corresponding loss of order. The world seems bleak… and we lack the education to make it right again. Many, I think, anticipate the “rough beast”—war, plague, famine, destruction of all civil order; a purging fire—with trepidation, anxiety, but also a sense of relief. Let it all be over.
Slow Build of a New Approach
Like many, I do not find myself often brimming with optimism about the world. Things do, indeed, appear bleak. But it is historically myopic to believe this bleakness an abnormality. If we find the world seeming dark today, perhaps this is because we have never been able to see so much of it in so short a time. All the worst news rains down upon us in a constant barrage. Tragedy, strife, and suffering can be delivered instantaneously around the globe.
Good things, on the other hand—truly good things—take time for their fruits to ripen. As such, we can seldom see them at an instant. We must observe them closely and across months, years; perhaps even decades or centuries. The immediacy of the bad and the long, slow unfolding of the good, no doubt, frustrates our contemporary minds. Habits of immediate gratification have seized us all. We lack the patience to wait and watch, to see the good through from seed to fruit. But our impatience is unbecoming. The realization of the good is and ought to be slow.
Why “ought”? Perhaps that assertion evokes a knee-jerk reaction, an objection. But from where? What within us objects to the notion that the good ought to be slow? Most likely, it arises from that aforementioned habit of immediate gratification. Yet do we truly see the good of things gained immediately? Or do we not, and rightly so, appreciate more the things hard-won? Deep and abstruse philosophical questions emerge here: questions concerning act and potency, virtue and human habits. We’ll not tackle them at the moment (for, indeed, they cannot be tackled at a moment—for understanding them is a true good). Succinctly stated, however, the world which we inhabit requires toil by its nature. It is fitting that we toil to bring forth the good. We may not like this truth; but we will be much more at peace with the world if we recognize and accept it.
Doubtless, we find ourselves frustrated with the state today of academia. We want a quick solution—just as we might wish to become healthy or virtuous or more learned ourselves tomorrow. Perhaps it seems the most expedient path to recovery lies with the already-extant institutions. Universities have buildings, of course, and funding, and faculty; accreditation and curricula, degrees and name-recognition. But they no longer have credibility because they no longer have purpose.
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas 1947: “Do not go gentle into that good night”
And purpose, of course, is also a true good. We cannot “hand it back” to the university, held as it is by the perverse order entrenched in every level of its existence. Purpose in education must be grown again, slowly, painstakingly, day by day, month by month, year by year.
Put otherwise, the answer is not, as Dylan Thomas would have it, to “rage against the dying of the light”; but neither is it to “go gentle into that good night”. The sun is setting on the university, and it may be a long darkness to follow. But there will be a dawn, and we, in the meantime, may hold a candle. One flame may beget another, and that second beget a third, and so on—but we should not try burning down the house just to make a briefer, brighter light. An educational institution cannot be created in a single day. We have our purpose. But we will build that fire slowly.
Help Keep the Flame
Alright—just as I am not often brimming with optimism, neither am I often this melodramatic. The flame is a metaphor, of course, for what I hope the Lyceum Institute is, and will be. And, of course, I hope that you will help keep it going: either by donating or, even better, by supporting us through enrollment (or purchasing our “manifesto”). Re-thinking education requires a slow building of habit. We are planting the seeds. We hope you will help us bear the fruits: this year and next, this decade and the following, throughout this century and beyond.
As the world grew into and through modernity, and technology shrank the distances between centers of civilization, the very nature of culture itself became an explicit philosophical question: most especially when technology produced in the wider reaches of communication something akin to a “global consciousness”: an awareness of people and their cultures all across the world. But all too often, this awareness of culture has not resulted in an understanding of culture—and thus, this has extended into a mistreatment of cultural goods.
A new civilisation is always being made: the state of affairs that we enjoy today illustrates what happens to the aspirations of each age for a better one. The most important question that we can ask, is whether there is any permanent standard, by which we can compare one civilisation with another, and by which we can make some guess at the improvement or decline of our own. We have to admit, in comparing one civilisation with another, and in comparing the different stages of our own, that no one society and no one age of it realises all the values of civilisation. Not all of these values may be compatible with each other: what is at least as certain is that in realising some we lose the appreciation of others. Nevertheless, we can distinguish between higher and lower cultures; we can distinguish between advance and retrogression. We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline; that the standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity. I see no reason why the decay of culture should not proceed much further, and why we may not even anticipate a period, of some duration, of which it is possible to say that it will have no culture.
T.S. Eliot 1948: Notes Toward a Definition of Culture.
In this seminar, we shall introduce the philosophy of culture, defining what culture is and where the study of culture fits into philosophy. We will then explore how there exists a speculative dimension to the philosophy of culture (i.e., explaining how culture exists in reality through human subjectivity and how it is determined by human nature), as well as a practical dimension (i.e., cultural values). After establishing the principles of this study, we will then look to its application to Western culture, in particular, the transition between the three major epochs of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modernity. We will then analyze modern culture in particular with an eye toward its trajectory into the next age. Finally, we shall conclude with a practical examination of what the philosophy of culture (as we have studied throughout the course) tells us about the present age and our expectations in this life.
DISCUSSIONS: June 4—30 July Saturdays, 2:00-3:00pm ET / 6:00-7:00pm UTC
WHERE: Lyceum Institute digital platform run on Microsoft Teams
In this seminar, lasting 8 weeks (with a break at the halfway point—see here for more information on all Lyceum Institute seminars), we will engage a broad range of literature discussing the nature, praxis, and historical epochs of culture in the Western world as well as cast an eye toward its future. The instructor for this seminar is Francisco Plaza, PhD, Faculty Fellow of the Lyceum Institute. You can read more about Dr. Plaza here.
Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).
One payment covers all 8 weeks.
[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Participant
Recommended for those who are currently students or with part-time employment.
[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Patron
Recommended for those in professions that do not pay as well as they ought and for whom continued education is especially important (including professors and clergy).
[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Benefactor
Recommended for those with fulltime employment in well-paying professions and sufficient resources to provide a little more.
On 2 April 2022, Olga Lavrenova presented on “Marginal Spaces of the City: Structures and Images”. Olga Lavrenova (1969), is a Russian geographer, philosopher, historian. She is a leading researcher of the Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences (INION RAN, in Russian), professor at the National University of Science and Technology (MISiS) and at the GITR Film and Television School. She is also Deputy Director for Science at the Nicholas Roerich Museum of the International Centre of the Roerichs, President of the International Association for Semiotics of Space and Time (IASSp+T, Switzerland), and Honorary Member of the Russian Academy of Arts. Recipient of a Fulbright (2021) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin. Author of over 180 publications, including the monograph: Spaces and Meanings: Semantics of the Cultural Landscape (Springer, 2019). She is the author of the long-term interdisciplinary scientific project “The Geography of Art” (since 1992, 10 collections published and 7 conferences held). The project considers the territorial problems of culture and art, reflected in the art of the geographical space, the role of regional factors in the formation of art schools and artworks. Particular attention is given to topics such as artistic perception of the cultural landscape, the place of art in shaping the cultural landscape and the image of the territory, as well as the concepts of space in works of art. She is also the author of the long-term interdisciplinary scientific project “Russia and the East: the interaction in art” (since 2018, 2 conferences held and 1 collection published).
Commentary is provided by Tiit Remm, researcher in semiotics and director of curricula in semiotics at the University of Tartu.
2022 International Open Seminar on Semiotics (IO2S) | Website
This collaborative international open scientific initiative and celebration is jointly organized by the Institute for Philosophical Studies of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Coimbra, the Lyceum Institute, the Deely Project, Saint Vincent College, the Iranian Society for Phenomenology at the Iranian Political Science Association, the International Association for Semiotics of Space and Time, the Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Semiotic Society of America, the American Maritain Association, the International Association for Semiotic Studies, the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies and the Mansarda Acesa with the support of the FCT – Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P., of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education of the Government of Portugal under the UID/FIL/00010/2020 project.