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Aztec Philosophy

Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in MotionAztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion by James Maffie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Life on earth is slippery because order and being are always sliding into disorder and nonbeing. The existence and well-orderedness of the things upon which humans depend slip away from under their feet, causing them to lose their balance and suffer pain, hunger, thirst, sorrow, disease, and death."

An at time dense and other time exciting (for example, the philosophical importance of sweeping with a broom) survey of Aztec metaphysics. Since reading an article by Maffie some years ago, I've wanted to understand Aztec thought better, because of this core idea that the world is constantly changing and that to live well is to develop balance. That seems more useful than the centrality of certain foundations and unchanging ideas in much Western thought.

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How to Be Perfect

How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral QuestionHow to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Schur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My former nextdoor neighbor sent this to me thinking I would like it. And I did. Which isn't always the case when a professional read a book by an amateur writing for a general audience. But Schur is a wonderful writer who grasps this subject matter well and arranges it in a way that I don't think an academic philosopher would have been able to do. This, then, is a most helpful book for introducing philosophical moral reasoning. I heartily recommend it.

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Initial thoughts on Bentham

I've begun reading Jeremy Bentham's An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation for the first time.  What an opening paragraph!

A few chapters in, my pre-existing opinions of Bentham are being affirmed.  

The theory has deep flaws because of a na├»ve understanding of human psychology and a complete obtuseness to some topics (he actually writes that no society ever created a plan to oppress and plunder).  But . . .

What he was trying to do in his time was so liberative and so ahead of its time.  When teaching him I often write on the board a list of views he held and how they'd locate him on the progressive left in 21st century America, much less 18th century Britain.

His basic intention was spot on--let's clear away all the clutter and free people up to live happy lives.  Can we all leaves such a legacy?

One more thing.  As far as a principle of legislation, as opposed to an ethical theory, it's difficult to argue for any better approach than the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest period of time.

The New Negro

The New Negro: The Life of Alain LockeThe New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"A spirit lurks in the shadows of America that, if summoned, can launch a renaissance of our shared humanity. That is his most profound gift to us."

So glad to finally read this major, award-winning book. I spent most of my sabbatical summer, and then some, getting through it.

While there is much to commend this biography, it really feels too long, going too in depth into minutiae at times. And was at times repetitive, I think because of the challenge of a text so long. It needed serious editing.

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Values, Virtues, & Humanity

"Values are the culturally shaped accounts of the human good that are tenacious but also always in process."  

In the second section of Timothy Gorringe's The World Made Otherwise, he explores the core human values we will need in this period of climate change resilience.

First, he dispenses with some other approaches to ethics (both relativism and absolutism)--"There is not, as Kant seems to have thought, a universal standpoint free of narrative, though this does not mean that there are not values that we rightly argue apply to all humans whatsoever and to that extent are universal."

In response to the objection that there is no universal human nature, Gorringe has a ready response--"The common characteristics all humans share, which include not simply rationality and language, symbolic inventiveness and individuality, but also--and here crucially--a capacity for affection and for humiliation."  From these shared experiences he thinks our common values arise. 

Gorringe points out that "the struggle to establish how value is to be defined is the heart of politics."  Theology is important in helping us see how values transcend politics.  And theology teaches--"The living God is known in giving life: death is the hallmark of idolatry."  So, our core values are what contributes to life.  And what advances death is idolatry.  Our politics, then, should be so oriented.  We cannot build a functioning society around the vices.

The virtues are the "embodiment of values" and both are concerned with "what it means to be human."  The virtues are how we learn to be fully human.

Our goal, or end, then, is human flourishing--"the exercise by all of the creative potentials latent in human beings."


Leave Only Footprints

Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National ParkLeave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bought this book in one of the National Parks in Wyoming and took it along this last weekend to read while in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. An enjoyable read. My camping mate said she needed to record my sudden bursts of laughter or giggles while we'd be quietly reading. Not just an overview of the parks, but a memoir of healing from a broken heart (which was also a good thing for me to read at this season in my life). The ending sentence feels quite true, as I'm home in Omaha today, "I always want the moment of nature to last just a little bit longer."

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A Coming Dark Age?

The World Made Otherwise: Sustaining Humanity in a Threatened World:  Gorringe, Timothy J.: 9781532648670: Books

That's the question Timothy Gorringe begins with in his book The World Made Otherwise.  He reviews various predictions that there is a coming collapse of human civilization and determines that it is likelier than not.  But he doesn't believe it is yet inevitable and hopes that a new humanism--which he presents in this book--could avert the catastrophe.  Or, at least, help us to live better through it.

One question he asks in this chapter, originally asked by David Orr, is "Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually?"

The answer he seems to find most satisfactory is Stupidity.  He quotes Karl Barth:

As one of the most remarkable forms of the demonic, stupidity has an astonishingly autonomous life against whose expansions and evolutions there is no adequate safeguard.  It has rightly been said that even the gods are powerless in the face of it.

What Gorringe seems to be aiming for are the sorts of Benedictine communities that Alasdair MacIntyre proposed at the end of After Virtue--small communities, living out the humane, life-affirming values, in order to keep "the lamps of civilization alive in the new dark ages."