We Like Sheep?

I’ve been playing Handel’s Messiah a lot lately. My two 10-year-olds have been suffering terribly over this. It's not just bad music, in their ears, it’s hideous.

Which brings to mind an interesting question. What is an “acquired taste”? It seems odd that something as seemingly thought-free as what something tastes like or sounds like can evolve over time.

The Messiah really sounds awful to my kids, but someday I bet they’ll like it. Wine is an unfathomable thing to them. Is it actually going to taste different to them in 10 years? Coffee is another example. What—does it actually taste different in older mouths?

Then again, some people never come to like wine or coffee or vocal music. Are they immature?

Oh, about the sheep. Another acquired taste? Happy Holidays!


What Becomes a Monday Most?

Answer: A nice book review in the Waikato Times (New Zealand)--

Deep thinking, yet not too weighty

The Weight Of Things: Philosophy and the Good Life, by Jean Kazez (Blackwell Publishing $32.99). Reviewed by Peter Dornauf.

From Aristotle's plea for rational moderation to Tolstoy seeking solace in religion and Nietzsche's scorn of the same, Jean Kazez (a PhD in philosophy) tracks an erudite pathway through and around the question of what it means to live the good life.

The Weight of Things is no flabby self-help manual with pat paperback answers, but nor is it an impenetrable, high-minded, dry philosophical discourse. Here's a book that confronts the perennial questions in an engaging manner that does not disrespect our intelligence.

Kazez manages, with apposite anecdotes and critical analysis, to speak to the general reading public without pomposity, yet several steps above those "how to" and "inspirational" reads.

She can, for example, sum up a philosophical position in a few apt words.

What, for instance, was the essential contribution of 20th-century existentialism in addressing the question of how to live? Kazez' astute reply is helping us to get by with a more honest acceptance of the human condition.

The human condition gives us the problem of mortality, and Kazez then examines the quandary of transience via Tolstoy and Plato. The latter, she points out, would have made a lousy grief counsellor (his theories were too abstract) while Tolstoy, for her part, put too great a store on transcendence in providing meaning and comfort. She would prefer the deluxe model of the world, but knows that it's plain, yet "plainly marvellous".

Her brief for the good life covers various qualities like happiness, autonomy, self expression and morality, but she's quick to point out the complexities associated with these elements. Ethics itself can be a tricky business. The Bible, for one, says nothing against slavery. Stoical detachment can be useful, but can only take us so far. Hedonism goes head to head with Epicureanism, but suffering can also be a valuable ingredient.

This is readable philosophy and an intelligent book that provides a wealth of insight without avoiding the conundrums and ambiguities associated with the questions it raises.

Peter Dornauf is a Hamilton artist, writer and teacher.

My only question is, when can I go...to the area where the paper is published? This is what a website says about it:
The Waikato region, located on the western side of New Zealand’s North Island, is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations, with its unspoilt beaches, lush forests, hot springs and ancient underground glow-worm caves providing a unique and beautiful adventure experience.
I read about those glow-worm caves in a wonderful discussion of the meaning of life by Richard Taylor. I thought it was a completely obscure reference. Shows what I know. How are we like the glow worms? You'll have to read Taylor if you want to find out (the essay is in the excellent anthology The Meaning of Life, edited by Klemke and Cahn).

The picture at the top of this post. Glow worms on the walls of Waitomo Cave.


Hitchens on Hanukah

It's the last night of Hanukah. The nine candles on the menorah are burning brightly. We've had multiple celebrations over the last 8 days, with latkes, parties, gelt, presents. And then I discover this. Christopher Hitchens calls Hanukah an "explicit celebration of the original victory of bloody-minded faith over enlightenment and reason."

I had thought Hanukah was about the Jews of the 2nd century bc holding their own against their persecutors, but according to Hitchens, they weren't just holding their own, but quashing a sect of Hellenized Jews. And what, asks Hitchens, was so bad about being Hellenized? The Greeks were the "culture that celebrated beauty both in art and in the human body, presented the world with the triumph of rational thought in the works of Plato and Aristotle, and rejoiced in the complexities of life presented in the theater of Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes." This was naturally appealing, by contrast with "the grim old routines of the Torah."

As far as I'm concerned, Hanukah is about...well, it's really about holding your own in a "Christian country" (as some call it). It's the un-Christmas. And it's, well, lots of fun. I could swear I read somewhere that Hitchens has a Jewish wife and they sort of slightly celebrate Jewish holidays with their kids. Would it really be so bad??!

Dec. 12

I was going to say more about this, but now I don't have to because Daniel Radosh says it all so perfectly here.


In Living Color

After six months, why not a name for this blog, aside from my own? Remember when color TV was a novelty? Every show (just on NBC?) was "brought to you in living color" by the sponsor. My blog (and my book) are about philosophical questions that can seem dry and abstract. But they're questions about the way we live and I try to discuss them with color. Thus...the blog is..."In Living Color." Hey, I kind of like it.

The Golden Compass

I keep reading that the movie The Golden Compass suppresses the anti-religious message in Phillip Pullman's books, but the movie has plenty of punch, besides being full of stunning imagery and good acting. I thought it was great (and now I need to read the books).

Free-thinking Lord Asrial is trying to discover the truth about dust, a mysterious substance that travels to other universes. The church, or magisterium, tries to use its authority to suppress his research. It turns out they're got a scheme to separate children from their daemons, the animals that accompany them everywhere as their souls. That way, the children won't be affected by the dust, which can make them question authority. Lyra, Lord Asrial's niece, joins the side of the truth seekers, with the help of an alethiometer, a device that measures the truth. There are children to be saved at the North Pole...

A moviegoer could come away thinking Pullman is for witches and demons and multipe universes, talking polar bears and mysterious dust. The movie's real theme, though, is truth.

More today at Talking Philosophy


Small Earth

Let’s have some more philosophy for kids. The last installment of this occasional series was for age 3 and up. This is for age 8 and up. Here goes:

A while back we read the Borrowers books as a family, and I got to thinking about the little people who live under the floorboards. They seem to be exactly like us, but just very very small. Here’s the question–What if there really were such tiny people? Would we treat them as equals? Would we make friends with them, let them vote, allow them into our schools? Would we accomodate them with special little chairs and desks and tiny pencils?

More today at Talking Philosophy.