Thursday, May 20, 2004

Another Letter with a Reply

Dear Dr. Vallicella,
Thanks for your reply. No, I would not at all mind if you posted my letter. As to how I found your site, I believe it was from a link to your "mother site" from Keith Burgess-Jackson. As for how I became interested in philosophy, that requires a longer answer, I suppose. At some point around my first year of college (30 years ago), I discovered Bertrand Russell, and read everything of his which I could lay my hands on. As I had been raised a strict Catholic, though by then lapsed, I was much interested in questions of theism and atheism ( eventually coming down on the side of the latter). My interest in philosophy grew from there, and I have been at it ever since. Reading Schopenhauer's "World as Will and Representation" felt like a milestone. As did Copleston's 12-volume "History of Philosophy". I will look forward to reading your blog. Reading it as well as Dr. Burgess-Jackson's and a few others alleviates some of the social and intellectual isolation that I feel, as I have no one with whom to discuss philosophy, or for that matter anything intellectual, whether science, history, etc. (A large topic for another letter, or perhaps you might post your thoughts on this on your blog: the general crassness and superficiality and in general dumbing down of social intercourse today.)

Best regards,
Dennis Mangan

Dear Mr. Mangan,

Thanks for your interesting letter. Whatever the ultimate value of organized religion, one value it has for some is that it functions as a portal to philosophy. By providing answers to the big questions, it inspires some people to think about the answers, and then the questions, and finally the possibility of alternative answers. It seems to have functioned that way in your case. Movement in the opposite direction also occurs. I know people who, starting from philosophy, embrace a religion in order to get definite answers to questions that philosophy raises but cannot answer. We mortals are in a curious predicament: we inquire not just to inquire, but to get answers; but it is very difficult to arrive at answers that stand up to close scrutiny. For some people, coming to rest in a dogmatic position is more important than continuing the quest. For others, vice versa.

As for "social and intellectual isolation," this is simply par for the course if one is any kind of thinker, and must be accepted with equanimity. A good part of the cure is the World Wide Web if one is well-educated enough and critically-minded enough to separate the wheat from the chaff.

As for "general crassness and superficiality," you are right: our society is becoming cruder and cruder, dumber and dumber. This is a huge topic. I'll be attacking it from different angles as I 'blog on' in the coming months. But part of the problem is the abdication of authority on the part of parents, teachers, and clergy. Major institutions are becoming more and more corrupt, the Catholic Church being a prime example. The refusal of a worthless fellow like Cardinal Law of Boston to step down once he was exposed displays a shamelessness positively Clintonian in its audacity. The Church doesn't attract many good men any more. It recruits effeminate milque-toasts and intellectual lightweights who couldn't argue their way out of a theological paper bag if their life depended on it. It may have been last night on O'Reilly that I heard an idiot priest say that the Church is opposed to war. That is nonsense: Just War Theory is part of offical Catholic doctrine and always has been since the days of St. Augustine. During Vatican II (1962-1965) the Church played along with the 1960's obsession with 'relevance.' In so doing, it became irrelevant. Religion may or may not be pure buncomb; but people look to religion for Transcendence. Once that is disposed of (by the elimination of Latin, great music, high liturgy, and everything beautiful and mysterious) what is left over is purely immanent crap that could appeal only to a nincompoop. A quick example: Confession, I understand, is now called Reconciliation. This is typical liberal, namby-pamby idiocy. It doesn't take the intellect of the doctor angelicus to see that confession is a logical precondition of reconciliation, and so cannot be identified with it. To strip away everything from a religion that makes it demanding is to transmogrify it into pabulum for milque-toasts.

Then there is the decline of the universities. And let's not leave out the irresponsible behavior of large corporations like PepsiCo who use (or used) thug rappers like Ludacris to shill for them. One thing I like about Bill O'Reilly is that he regularly exposes this sort of thing. He gives the lie to the leftist slander that conservatives are 'corporate Republicans' who support any kind of money-grubbing hustle.

End of rant. Please write again.


Bill Vallicella