Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Philosophers without gods

Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular LifePhilosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great book of essays, each running from around 10 to 20 pages in length, about issues of "deconversion" to non-theism, all by people who are now professional philosophers.

Only one, Dan Dennett, is an outright Gnu Atheist. Only a few others might be called "evangelizing atheists." But none is a shirking violet as to how they address these issues.

Some spend more time on their actual deconversion and how that appears from a philosophic angle. Others, whether evangelizers or not, focus on their current relations with religion in general, or conservative apologists for the religion of their childhood, either Christianity or Judaism. (The one small down point: no ex-Muslim atheist philosopher seems to be in this book.) On this issue, the different philosophers vary within themselves on issues such as "respect" for Christianity in general (I'm taking this as the "default" in America and Britain alike), or how much respect, or whatever, more liberal versions of Christianity deserve.

Others focus more on their post-deconversion lives, including with bits of wistfulness, though not full regret, for some parts of their past.  One, Paul Farrell, whom has promised me some materials via snail mail, talks about second-order values and applying those in a secular way after having learned to in a Catholic way when younger. (I found this triggered thoughts of Catholic, and Lutheran in my case, "vocation," and also got me to thinking about Aristotelian flourishing, among other things.)

Anyway, per that last comment, you'll probably gather, if you're someone who follows my reviews, that this is a book to read. There's no formal logic or anything else even very close to being technical or jargonistic.

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Friday, November 08, 2013

Happy 100th to Albert Camus

Albert Camus/From Wikipedia
I missed the centennial birthday anniversary of Albert Camus yesterday, somehow.

But, it's never too late to commemorate a great philosopher and a great human being.

To talk about that latter part, while at the same time refuting recent rumors I've seen online that he was Jewish, please read this excellent piece, which talks about his Jewish friendships, his work in the French Resistance during WWII, and his support for the formation of the state of Israel.

Camus didn't always walk a perfect line between support for Israel and anti-Arab occasional sentiments. Even before the start of the Algerian civil war, his stance toward Arabs was surely part of his pied-noir Algerian native heritage.

But, in general? Per  Wikipedia's comment on his Nobel Prize award, his literature:
(W)ith clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times."
Can't say it better myself.

And, speaking of:

The video is in French, but has English subtitles if you turn on the captions. It's from this tribute, which has selected quotes:
 For myself, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed it above everything. If, on the other hand, I need it, it is because it cannot be separated from my fellow men, and it allows me to live, such as I am, on one level with them. It is a means of stirring the greatest number of people by offering them a privileged picture of common joys and sufferings. It obliges the artist not to keep himself apart; it subjects him to the most humble and the most universal truth.
The full speech, translated, is here. Camus' justification for why he wrote, and more, still speaks to us today:
Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself. Heir to a corrupt history, in which are mingled fallen revolutions, technology gone mad, dead gods, and worn-out ideologies, where mediocre powers can destroy all yet no longer know how to convince, where intelligence has debased itself to become the servant of hatred and oppression, this generation starting from its own negations has had to re-establish, both within and without, a little of that which constitutes the dignity of life and death.
That said, he and Sartre, who met during Resistance work, eventually became alienated when they didn't see eye to eye on how to address these issues. Why?

Camus "saw through" the reality of the Soviet Union early on, while Sartre remained, essentially, a "fellow traveler" all of his life. Sartre's blank-check support for the Munich Olympics kidnappers and Che Guevara only  further illustrate that.

That said, again per  Wiki, on Camus:
In the 1950s, Camus devoted his efforts to human rights. In 1952, he resigned from his work for UNESCO when the UN accepted Spain as a member under the leadership of General Franco. In 1953, he criticized Soviet methods to crush a workers' strike in East Berlin. In 1956, he protested against similar methods in Poland (protests in Poznań) and the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution in October.

Camus maintained his pacifism and resisted capital punishment anywhere in the world. He wrote an essay against capital punishment in collaboration with Arthur Koestler, the writer, intellectual and founder of the League Against Capital Punishment. He was consistent in his call for non-aggression in Algeria.
And, even if his birth might have left him a bit indisposed toward Arabs at times, it didn't do that much:
Although favouring greater Algerian autonomy or even federation, though not full-scale independence, he believed that the pied-noirs and Arabs could co-exist. During the war he advocated a civil truce that would spare the civilians, which was rejected by both sides, who regarded it as foolish. Behind the scenes, he began to work for imprisoned Algerians who faced the death penalty.
So, happy birthday, Mr. Absurdist. Speaking of that, here's some earlier blogging of mine about his absurdism, what he saw as philosophically separating him as an absurdist from existentialism and why, and more. (It's somewhat similar to why Stravinsky, and rightly, rejected the label of "neoclassicist" because that lumped him with Prokofiev. And, for more of my thoughts on THAT issue, and a level of a mix of jealousy and outright contempt that goes beyond Sartre on Camus, go here.)

I see in Camus, beyond philosopher and litterateur, a humanist, a man of and  for humanity.Add

Add to that this great piece from Columbia Journalism Review about how Albert Camus' career as a journalist, and his writing on real-life events, ties in with his work as a philosopher, especially on ethics and related issues.

As part of that, I see a person of integrity. By that, I mean far more than honesty, but someone "integrated" within himself. If we think about the idea of Aristotelian flourishing, Camus seemed to have exemplified this in many ways, and to have done so without being anywhere the rich slave-owning upper-class Athenian of Aristotle's day, to whom he limited the idea and possibility of such flourishing.

This idea of integrity, and an updated version of Aristotelian flourishing, is something I understand more, and aspire to more, as I get older. 

And, on Google Plus, a friend of mine talked about the desired Venn diagram overlap of atheism (in a non-Gnu Atheist way), true liberalism (with a humanist bent) and skepticism. I don't know how much of a science-type skeptic Camus was, but he certainly punched the ticket on the first and second.

American philosophy has certainly produced nothing exactly like Camus, in part because the true non-Communist leftist class in America generally has not produced such intellectuals, in part because it's so thin, and some have veered beyond that "non-Communist" part, or at least to a semi-reflex anti-American part. And,  even more, America hasn't produced a Camus because of the broader anti-intellectualism of much of America, per Richard Hofstadter.

That said, per his falling out with Sartre, Europe in some ways really hasn't produced anyone exactly like him.