Friday 29 December 2017

2017 In Review

Fresh Air (1878)
Winslow Homer
source Wikiart

2017 Reading Stats:

Number Of Books You Read: 23 (wailing and tearing my hair ~ well, no, not really)

Number of Re-Reads: 5 

Genre You Read The Most From: Classics

Best in Books

Best book you read in 2017: The Histories by Herodotus.  Yes, honestly.  It was a meagre year for reading.  No offense to Herodotus though .... it WAS good.

Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn'tThe Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope.  Perhaps it wasn't much of a surprise. However, while I'm used to this series being light, Trollope also manages to weaves some depth into these books.  With this one, it was all about love affairs and a very silly woman.  It was somewhat annoying.

Most surprising (in a good or bad way) book you read in 2017: In a good way, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.  It was recommended to me.  Fromm is very counter-cultural, but his assessment of people's ability to love, or more the lack of it, made so much sense!  Our society does NOT practice any disciplines that will help us love better, and in fact, practices disciplines that hurt our ability to love.  We need to be aware this in order to be present in our relationships with not only those closest to use but humanity in general.  This is definitely a book that everyone should read!

Book you "pushed" the most people to read (and they did) in 2017:   I haven't even finished it myself yet, but it was Plato's Republic.  I really think this is a beneficial book to read and we should push ourselves, not only to get through it, but open our minds to it!  It can also be taken too seriously, but experienced in balance, I believe it may change us in ways that we can't even imagine.

Best series you started in 2017? Best Sequel? Best Series Ender:  Hmmm ...... I didn't intend to read the WHOLE series, but I, of course, thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson  It's probably one of my favourite books of all time!

Favorite new author you discovered in 2017:   M.M. Kaye is technically not new, but it's been sooo long since I read anything by her, I'm going to call her new (and for lack of anyone else to choose from).  I love her writing, and how she is able to craft a story that draws you right in!

Best book from a genre you don't typically read/ out of your comfort zone:  High Fidelity by Nick Hornsby.  It was on my Guardian's 1000 books list and in the library so I thought, why not.  Meh!  It was another one of those irresponsible coming-of-age books that are so annoying, where the writer can't understand why his life is so unfulfilling even though, by his behaviour, it should be patently obvious.  

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year:  I really don't have a candidate for this category, so I'll say The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.  But it perhaps wasn't action-packed and unputdownable in the conventional way, lol!

Book you read in 2017 that you are most likley to reread next year: None, but if I had to pick one, probably The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton, only because I listened to it as an audiobook and I'd like to eventually read it.

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017: The Moomins and the Great Flood had kind of a fun cover.

Most memorable characters of 2017:  Mr. Pickwick (The Pickwick Papers) and Horne Fisher (The Man Who Knew Too Much)

Most beautifully written book read in 2017:  Hmmm ...... well, probably  Shadow of the Moon by M.M. Kaye fits this category best.  Again, her writing craft draws you right into the story!

Most-thought provoking/ life-changing book of 2017: The Art of Loving.  According to Erich Fromm, there are few people who know how to love well.  But in order to love well, like anything else worthwhile, it takes dedication and consistent hard work.  Again, definitely a must-read!

Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read: The Histories

Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2017: There were so many good quotes in  The Art of Loving but I'm going to go with this one:  ".... Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not towards one "object" of love.  If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbolic attachment, or an enlarged egotism.  Yet, most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty."  ~~ Erich Fromm

Shortest/longest book you read in 2017: The Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson (52 pgs.) & The Histories by Herodotus (953 pgs.) 

Book that shocked you the most: High Fidelity probably because it's puzzling how someone can be so self-destructive and so blind to one's own behaviour at the same time.  Also rather depressing because I think we can all be blind in this way.  Some to a larger extent than others.

OTP of the year: Alex and Winter from Shadow of the Moon!  I thought, however, that their relationship would be rather rocky.

Favorite non-romantic relationship: Pickwick and Sam Weller from The Pickwick Papers.

Favorite book you read in 2017 from an author you've read previously:  The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton.  And I finally did enough research to "get" what Chesterton was trying to communicate.  Yippeee!

Best book you read in 2017 that you read based solely on a recommendation from someone else: The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, recommended by my aunt.

Best world-building/most vivid setting you read this year:  Shadow of the Moon.  But Herodotus did a good job with his narrative and Dickens is always a good romp!

Book that put a smile on your face/was the most fun to read: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.  His writing is fabulous and I laughed so hard much of the book!

Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2017: None this year.

Hidden gem of the year:  The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.    

Most unique book you read in 2017: The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton.  Chesterton has the most unique style of writing that I've experienced.  His books take work, but boy, they're worth it!

Book that made you the most mad: High Fidelity by Nick Hornsby.  Again, don't act stupidly, with little regard for others and expect your life to turn out well.  Don't be surprised when you're alone and isolated.  Don't be delusional ......  

Your Blogging/Bookish Life

New favorite book blog you discovered in 2017:  The award goes to Mudpuddle's Mudpuddle Soup blog.  For a long time he's been populating our blogs with insightful and amusing comments.  Now he's launched his own blog.  Check it out.

Favorite review that you wrote in 2017: The Great Ideas ~ Opinion and Majority Rule by Mortimer J. Adler, only because it spurred some excellent conversation.

Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog: see above.

Best event that you participated in:  The Shadow of the Moon Read-Along hosted by Cirtnecce at Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices ...... and the finish of the very long read-along of The Pickwick Papers hosted by O at On Bookes.  I really would love to be part of more read-alongs.

Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2017:  I must say, I was very pleased that I posted by book/chapter of both The Histories and The History of the Peloponnesian War.  It was an arduous job but very satisfying.  It's made me more consoled at my terrible book total for the year.

Most popular post this year on your blog: My Hamlet, the Prince or the Poem? an essay by C.S. Lewis was again a leader this year, followed by The World of Tomorrow by E.B. White

Post you wished got a little more love:  None.

Best bookish discovery:  I will sound like a broken record but, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year: I can hardly talk about this.  I didn't complete the Back to the Classics, or my Deal Me in, nor have I progress well through either my Well-Educated Mind Project or My Great Ideas Project, although the last I was most happy with.  

Looking Ahead

One book you didn't get to in 2017 but will be your number 1 priority in 2018: The Republic by Plato.  I need to finish this.  I also want to get to The Last Chronicle of Barset to finish The Barsetshire Chronicles.

Book you are most anticipating for 2018 (non-debut): A hard one because I don't want to commit to anything but possibly The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake.

Series ending/a sequel you are most anticipating in 2018: The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope.  This answer is the same as last year.  How depressing .... ;-)

One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2018:  I've started a food blog called Journey to the Garden, which is taking up much of my time.  The start-up and promotion takes a big chunk, so I envision, as we get more well-known, that I will have more time to get back to reading.  When this will happen is not known but hopefully sometime in 2018.  And if I'm honest, with better time-management, I should have more time for reading.  Wish me luck.

A long and prosperous reading year for everyone in 2018!!

The Magdalene Reading (1445)
Rogier van der Weyden
source Wikiart

Thanks again to Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner for hosting this survey!

Tuesday 12 December 2017

The Pickwick Papers or The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens

"The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brillancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted."

It's hardly believable but O's 2 year read-along of the Pickwick Papers has finally come to a close and I have her to thank for finally being able to finish this 800-page marvel.  We read it in installments mirroring its original release which was an enlightening experience in itself. Looking back, I enjoyed reading only 2 to 3 chapters at a time, but the space between them, for me, was too long.  It's not that I necessarily forgot what had happened, but I found that when I picked it up again, I was somewhat disengaged with the characters.  It was almost like starting a book over and over again and never really getting traction.  If I was to do it over, I'd read a chapter per week instead of three at once and that way hopefully remain more present in the story.

Mr. Pickwick slides on the ice
source Wikimedia Commons
And the book itself ..... ?  I quite enjoyed Mr. Pickwick and his marvellous, and at times unbelievable, adventures.  At the beginning of the book, Mr. Pickwick, founder and president of the Pickwick Club, decides that he and fellow members, Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass, and Tracy Tupman, will leave London and travel the countryside to discover the wonderful qualities of life, each reporting to the others what they find. Their adventures lead them to saving ladies in distress, getting embroiled in circumstances they only want to avoid, courting offers of marriage, unwanted offers of marriage, interaction with criminals, jail and even love itself. Dickens imbues this novel with his own brand of humour by having an old confirmed bachelor find himself in all sorts of uncomfortable circumstances.  From finding himself unexpectedly sleeping in a lady's bed, to being sued for breach of promise of marriage, poor Pickwick finds his dignified sensibilities tried by unexpected challenges yet he always manages to respond in a measured and honourable manner that increased our respect for this lovable character.

Mr. Pickwick's first interview
with Sergeant Snubbin
source Wikimedia Commons

In Chapter XVI, Pickwick attempts to catch a swindler, Jingle, who is slipperier than an eel.  Jingle plans to run away with an heires and by hiding in the bushes outside the girls' boarding school, Pickwick attempts to subvert the scheme and expose the criminal.  But through various misadventures and bumbles, he manages to find himself locked in a cupboard by the headmistress and the ladies of the establishment. Rescued by Sam Weller, his valet, and his friend, Mr. Wardle, Pickwick rains imprecations upon the head of the absent Jingle.

Even more amusing, was the incident of the mistaken beds.  Late at night at an inn, Pickwick returns downstairs to retrieve his watch and upon returning, enters the wrong room!  He is just settled into bed when a lady enters and begins her own toilette. Horrified, Pickwick reveals his presence and attempts to assure her of his mistake and innocence, but the woman is frightened senseless, and Pickwick makes a quick exit. Not wanting another repeat of the disturbing and undignified experience, Pickwick plans to sleep in the hall, but is once again rescued by Sam.  The novel has so many amusing anecdotes, that is has to be read to enjoy them all.  And I finally managed it!

Mr. Pickwick, picnics
source Wikimedia Commons
At the time of the writing of this first novel, Dickens was working as a roving journalist and a reporter of Parlimentary news.  After his successful Sketches by Boz, Dickens was called in to write copy for certain illustrated sporting plates created by illustrator Robert Seymour.  Dickens soon began to write the instalments before the plates were produced, therefore changing the illustrative focus of the project to storytelling and he never looked back.  We all know of his illustrious writing career following The Pickwick Papers and I still have to read quite a few Dickens' novels yet, as I've only completed The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities, Dombey and Son, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, and, a long time ago, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  So many great novels of his still to go.  Perhaps a project for 2018 ......???

Saturday 9 December 2017

December ~ It's Gotta Get Better

Actually life isn't too bad at the moment, although I'm still having a challenge getting traction on most things in my life.  One thing comes together and another goes sideways and I'm having a hard time keeping up ...... as you can tell, as my post for December is rather late.  Not to mention most of my photos have food as a theme, so right away you can tell where the majority of my time has been spent.


Thankfully, I'm healing up well from my biking accident.  My cast is off and although my thumb has very little strength in it, I do feel it improving.  Otherwise, my sprained wrist is feeling nearly back to normal in the last few days, my terribly bruised elbow almost has no pain, and although my head still hurts a little where I hit it, it's improving as well.  Another month and hopefully I'll be 100%.

And with my return to health, I've started to do some yoga at home again, and have begun nightly walks to get some much needed exercise.  The weather here has been atrocious though ..... we apparently had the wettest November since 1954; not a pleasing statistic.  I saw blue sky in a photo today and got so excited, but also realized what a foreign sight it was. Very sad, my reaction, wasn't it?


On a sad note, my grandmother is not doing very well and we will honestly be surprised if she makes it until Christmas.  She's 96 which perhaps you think it wouldn't be such a shock, but nevertheless it is.  She has been completely healthy and vibrant up until just 2 months ago.  She's the type of grandmother who went on trips to New York shopping and went white water rafting when she was 84.  She was on no medication until last month when her heart began to give her trouble.  And while death is part of life, there is a feeling of loss when someone who has been with you for so long, suddenly isn't anymore.

As you have probably noticed, my book blogging is still lagging behind.  I did manage the one post of Adler's How Different Are Humans?, but I just couldn't manage more than that.  Again, I've been spending an inordinate amount of time on Journey to the Garden, our food blog.  I do finally feel like I'm getting on top of the learning curve in that aspect, so I hope to have more time to read and blog as I get more proficient with my time management there.  I hired a photographer come to my home and do a food shoot with me and then give me some tips on using Lightroom.  It was such fun!  I learned that I do have a natural instinct for taking photos (I would have never guessed), but I need to work on my composition and lighting.  Our blog traffic is really humming along with a 83% increase over the month before.  It's rather exciting to watch.

I'm trying to concentrate on reading Crime and Punishment and am about ⅓ of the way through.  I'm finding it much easier than The Brothers Karamazov but still psychologically very interesting.  I also ordered the book The Art of Loving on a recommendation from my aunt, and am quite intrigued by it so I will probably start that as well.  Otherwise, it will be a "see how much time I have, see what I feel like picking up" reading month.  I do feel like I'm getting some more time to devote to it though --- I don't want to get too excited yet, but it would be nice to get a reading/blogging balance back into life again.

I hope you've all had a wonderful start to the month and that December turns out to be cheerful, relaxing and merry!


Sunday 26 November 2017

The Great Ideas ~ How Different Are Humans?

The discussion continues from How To Think About Man, with the examination of the two questions, the nature of man and the origin of man.  In the last talk/essay, both opposing views were presented: before Darwin man was seen as having a special, distinct nature, but after Darwin he is see only differing in degree from other animals but is otherwise the same.

Adler wishes to approach this issue logically as it is important to see the issue clearly in order to access both arguments.  Luckman says that they have received letters criticizing Adler for taking the side of Darwin and Adler expresses his delight.  He implies his view is the exact opposite and is pleased with the error as it proves he is so far presenting the argument without any personal bias.  He does not plan to argue either for or against any one side, merely to present the issues logically and fairly.

Young Man (The impassioned singer)
Giovane uomo (Il cantore appassionato)
source Wikiart

Differences in Kind and Differences in Degree

Adler begins with the definition of man.  There have been many definitions, but defining him as a "rational animal" is the most accurate, as it underlies all the other definitions. However it is not the definition but the interpretation of it that is the issue as it implies humans alone are rational.

Adler moves to the distinction between "kind" and "degree" which is important to understand to move ahead in the examination of the issues.  He gives an analogy of two lines of different lengths.  They have the same traits, only one is longer and one is shorter.  They differ in degree.  However, a circle and a square do not have common traits --- one has angles and one does not --- their differences are differences in kind.

Luckman says many scientists believe that the difference between kind and degree, is itself a difference of kind or degree; he gives the example of a many-many-sided polygon which eventually approaches and appears like a circle. Adler does not agree with this statement.  No matter how closely the polygon will appear like a circle, it will never be a circle; "difference in degree is never difference in kind and vice versa." When two things differ in degree, there always can be intermediates, such as an intermediate line between the two in his above example, but there is no intermediates between differences in kind.  They can have things in common, but there will always be a property or charcteristic that the other completely lacks.  The one with the additional property will be hierachically above the other.

Luckman interjects, saying that it seems that Adler's definition of difference in kind is accepted by evolutionists and he wants to know how Adler thinks they differ.  After all, apes are different from horses and therefore so must man be different.  He does not see the issue.  Adler says there is one, and he intends to make it clear.

Man and Ape
Stanley Pinker
source Wikiart

Differences in Kind Exclude Intermediate Forms

Adler claims Luckman made a misstatement and although the evolutionists do see some forms of life as lower and some higher, they believe they differ only in degree.  How does Adler know this?  Because evolutionists believe in the continuity of nature.  There would be "no underlying continuity in nature .... unless intermediate varieties were possible as between different species in the scale of thing or the greater things".  These intermediate varieties must be possible, even if they are only missing links.  Those species which the biologist classifies as kinds are only apparent kinds, yet with the definition of man, they are real kinds.

Adler offers two conceptions:
  1. a conception of species with missing links between them, with intermediate varieties
  2. a conception of species without any missing links or without any intermediate varieties
The present biological understanding is that species are only apparent kinds, separated by the possibility of intermediate varieties and therefore can be a difference in degrees.

One more fact, modern science has hypothesized that if all possible forms of life or every species ever know existed on earth at the same time, there would be no species, just individual differences in degree.    The philosophical conception is species are real kinds with no intermediate varieties; modern biology sees the kinds with a possibility of intermediate varieties.

We get back to the question of how man differs from other animals: if in kind there is no intermediate varieties possible, but if in degree there are possibilities of intermediate varieties.

Adler emphasizes that so far he has only presented the facts without prejudice to one side or the other.    Next time, he is going to present the evidence and arguments from the evolutionist's point of view, that man only differs in degree which sets the stage for natural evolution.  He will then produce arguments and evidence for the opposing side, that man differs essentially in kind which would make a natural evolutionary process impossible.

Phew!  This talk became hard to follow about halfway through but I do believe I get Adler's point.  His next essay/talk is The Darwinian Theory of Man's Origin.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

November ~ Ooops!

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

How October went from an eventful month to a very uneventful month is a painful story to tell in more ways than one.  Again, for the first part of the month, I was concentrating on getting my partner and my food blog, Journey to the Garden, going and the learning curve was an extreme headache in itself.  From building the website, to adding plug-ins, to hack attempts, to learning to navigate the unique venue of social media, it was rather exhausting and overwhelming.  It was only knowing that I was going to the island on the 14th, where I could relax and read, read, read, that keep me plugging away.  A positive attitude always helps, but then I had my visa number stolen and so my card had to be cancelled, AND my computer hard drive started to die just before I left so it was a rush to get it replaced. Thankfully I didn't lose any information and I headed out grateful to get these two problems sorted; I had forgotten the saying that trouble often comes in threes ......

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

Fortunately, the first day there I decided to photograph my Apple Harvest post for the food blog and all the photos were taken.  Why fortunately?  Because on the second day, I decided to take my dog, Finn, for a bike ride, not wearing a helmet which I couldn't find when I left, and somehow I managed to crash going very fast.  I still don't remember what happened exactly; I have a slight recollection of picking myself up and looking for Finn and then my memory starts at the front door of the house next door.  I knew I had a bump on my head, but they took one look at me and made me come in and sit down. The long and the short of it is that I was water-ambulanced off to Vancouver Island, ended up with a bad concussion, a badly broken thumb and various deep scrapes and bruises.  For the first week, I looked like a prize-fighter and wasn't easily able to move without pain.  Because I broke through my metacarpal and it shifted slightly, they were at first talking surgery but apparently even with the shift it's not as bad as they thought; they've casted it, however they're watching it in case it shifts more.  Otherwise I'm healing up but the consequences are that I can't watch T.V., be on the computer (uh ... yikes!) or read.  How long is really up in the air.  I often feel fine in the morning but it doesn't take long for me to overdo it and I know I need to rest more.  I HATE resting, so you can imagine how difficult it is.  So this explains my long book-blogging silence.

© Libby McClelland

As I ease back in, I'm going to try to perhaps read some short stories and essays (which actually turn out to be pretty popular posts), so I hope to be back before not too long. The food blog, however, is getting some attention and I have new posts up for Pumpkin Kidney Bean Curry, Cheese 101 highlight post on P'tit Sainte Maure, and in another few days a Pomegranate Quinoa Festive Salad will posted, so check them out if you're looking for some easy recipes, food history, and fun photos.  Otherwise I hope to meet you back here VERY SOON!

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

Sunday 1 October 2017

October ~ Pulled in All Directions

Dreamer at the Fountain (c.1860-70)
Camille Corot
source Wikiart

Well, perhaps the title of the post seems more dire than it actually is.  September saw many changes in my routine and to be honest, it's been difficult to get a handle on everything and find a smooth working routine that functions well.  I'll get there ...... it will just take some time, some thought and a little organization on my part.

Celebration Cake @
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel
First of all, with the start of our new food blog, Journey to the Garden, there has been a change of focus.  I feel that much of my time has been taken up with it, but if I'm honest, I usually cook and I enjoy it, I had already been working on the blog previously to be able to get it to a point to launch it, so realistically I'm not adding much more time to keep it running. So perhaps time isn't the issue but organization.  Taking photos, especially in my part of the world where it tends to rain alot, can be challenging.  At this time of the year, I have to take them earlier in the day and on days when it's sunny or at least hopefully bright.  So much mental energy has been devoted to figuring this all out, it makes it FEEL like lots of extra practical work when it actually isn't.  Otherwise, I've been making my way through a copious number of videos on how to make a food blog successful which, while so informative, is very time-consuming.  And then the "blog-inadequacy" slips in.  When I started this book blog I remember feeling a little trepidation, but I had started the blog for myself -- for my own enjoyment -- so I wasn't worried about prompting it.  With the food blog, I have a partner who is expecting certain things of me (although he's very easy to get along with and we think very much alike, so don't get me wrong, he's great!), and the purpose is different .... for enjoyment, yes, but the focus in on growth.  However, I need to keep reminding myself of this book blog where, when I first started, I could have no viewers at all during a day, to now where someone is looking at it at any moment of the day and I'm approaching a quarter of a million viewers overall.  Growth takes time and I have to keep reminding myself of that. So once I have more knowledge and figure out some of the challenges, I'm sure it will run more smoothly but so far I feel rather overworked and scattered.

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel
I am absolutely thrilled with my Greek class and am challenged and excited about it but it's so much work.  Without daily review, it's hard to keep up, so again I'm starting to feel like I'm running to catch up.

I did have a number of little side trips that took up time, as I travelled through B.C. and Alberta to Saskatchewan and back again, then I travelled to Calgary, Alberta and had a couple of trips to the island.

And lately I'm having a block with reading that I rarely have.  I WANT to read and I'm interested in the books I'm making my way through but when I sit down to do it, I end up doing something else much less rewarding, like watching DVDs (which I normally only do occasionally) or cleaning or daydreaming.  Not good, but perhaps a sign of an overloaded brain.

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel
And thus, my reading for the month has been rather pitiful. I've been slowing dragging through Augustine's, City of God (trying to like it), reading a few sentences of Plato's Republic (loving it; why don't I read it more often?), occasionally picking up The Iliad (this is one of my favourite books of all-time; why don't I pick it up more?), thinking about The Last Chronicle of Barset, and re-reading (ah! Finally!) The Man Who Was Thursday because a group on Goodreads is reading it and I thought it might get me motivated. One thing I believe is lacking lately in the Bookworld is read-alongs.  Either I'm not seeing them, or there are less of them than there used to be.  They focused you on detail, you had a responsibility to read (at least I approached them that way) and they seemed to give momentum for other reads.  I wonder if some of the fall-off is due to the inactivity of The Classics Club, which I found used to give inspiration to readers but now seems to be limping along.  I'm not sure ..... what do the rest of you think?

Mystery Squash
I did not plant this!
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel
As for October, what are my goals?  My hopes?  My dreams?  To keep plugging away on the food blog videos; they're interesting so at least I don't have to force myself to watch them.  To keep searching for a job that fits in with my life instead of picking the first thing that comes up.  To keep up with this blog and lastly, which I should have put first, READ!

I was happy with my most recent post, The Great Ideas ~ Opinion and Majority Rule, as it spurred wonderful conversation, so I hope to compile more posts like this one.  Plato has been too neglected, so I must push on with The Republic.  I've decided I'm going to read Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveller and get through it this time, no matter how weird it is.  And I desperately need to finish at least a couple of the books I'm reading, perhaps Dead Souls or The Last Chronicle of Barset. Do I sound really uncertain and unfocused?  That's because I am.  So hopefully October will bring a renewed sense of focus along with a reading extravaganza!  Happy October everyone!

Wednesday 27 September 2017

The Great Ideas ~ How To Think About Man

As I start my sixth lecture/essay of Adler’s, we are moving from the examination of knowledge and opinion to the nature of Man.  Adler is appearing to take one idea and have five lectures that focus on it, and so far I’m really impressed by the way he logically and reasonably develops his arguments.

In dealing with the Great Idea of Man, Adler states that the problem can be posed in two questions:
  1. With regard to man’s nature, is man different or different in some degree from animals?
  2. With regard to man’s origin in that, is he a created or an evolved being?
Adler says that if he presented a thesis to you that “there is a discontinuity between man and the rest of nature,” you would disagree or feel very uncomfortable with his claim.  Why?  Because of the instilled beliefs prevalent in the 20th century.

Luckman, his co-host, here interjects, challenging Adler.  Is Adler only allowing for the Darwinian view of man, because there are certainly a number Christians who hold a very different view from that of Darwin.

Adler agrees that there is a lively division between science and religion with regard to the views of man’s nature and origin, but he wishes to speak outside of the religious scope and simply wants to address that the traditional view of man has had very little defense.   Apart from faith, there has been very few who have stood against Darwin’s theory “on the grounds of reason or in terms of the facts and the interpretation of the facts.”

The Three Ages of Man (1500-1501)
source Wikiart

Before and After Darwin

Adler means that in the 20th century, the main secular worldview would reject his thesis that there is discontinuity between man and the rest of nature.  Looking back historically, there is a traditional view of man before Darwin and a completely different view after Darwin.  He will explain the history.

The predominant traditional view of man began with the Greeks and continued into the 19th century.  They believed man was the only rational animal and therefore distinct from the other animals.  While many great thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle, the Roman Stoics and the Roman Epicureans disagreed on many things, they all held that man had a “special character” and was the “only thing on earth descended from the gods.”  This is also true of the Middle Ages, as well as Mohammadan and Jewish culture and beliefs; although they disagreed on much, they agreed on this point, as “theologians, but as philosophers as well, in terms of reason.”  One can say the same of Decartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Kant and Hegel.  He supplies some quotes but claims Hamlet says it best:
“What a piece of work is a man!  How noble in reason!  How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”
Or Milton, who is less poetic but perhaps more clear:
“A creature whom not prone and brute as other creatures, but embued with sanctity of reason might erect his stature and upright with front serene govern the rest, self-knowing and from thence magnanimous to correspond with heaven.”
The opposite point of view did not become popular until the end of the nineteenth century, although as early as the sixteenth century people such as Machiavelli and Montaigne introduced the idea that man was no better than beasts.  It is the biology, psychology and science of modern times that have entirely altered society's perception of man.  Sigmund Freud points to three men who have fatally injured man's traditional view: Copernicus who displaced man from the centre of the universe; Darwin with his research stole man's special privilege of a created being; and himself, who said, "Humanity has in the course of time had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages upon its naïve self-love ..... But man's craving for grandiosity is now suffering the third and most bitter blow from present-day psychological research, which is endeavoring to prove to the ego of each one of us that he is not even master in his own house, but that he must remain content with the various scraps of information about what is going on unconsciously."

Luckman interjects asking if Adler is going to deal with Copernicus and Freud instead of Darwin, but Adler confirms that his focus will be on Darwin for he feels he has made the only serious attack on the traditional view of man.

Study for 'Man and Nature' (1987)
Stephen Conroy
source ArtUK

How Are Human's Different From Other Animals?

Copernicus does not essentially attack the view that "man differs in kind essentially and radically from other animals," and Freud does so only from the perspective that he is a follower of Darwin, so Darwin is the true obstacle.

Bear with me here because he gives a quote of Darwin's:

"The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, is certainly one of degree (Adler directs us to notice the word 'degree,' and not of 'kind'.) ....... We have seen that the senses and the intuitions, the various emotions and faculties such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, of which man boasts, may be found in incipient or even sometimes in a well-developed condition in the lower animals.  They are also capable of inherited improvements ...... If it could be proved that certain high mental powers, such as the formation of general conceptions, were absolutely peculiar to man ...... "  which Darwin doubts, and claims that man merely has a higher language than other animals.

Now Adler say that, apart from the question of God's existence, this question about the nature and origins of man is the most serious question that can be considered as it involves all of religion and science and philosophy.

He reminds us that by arguing his points, he is going to make no appeal to faith whatsoever and approach them merely on the terms of science, philosophy and in interpretation of the facts.  The facts that will be dealt with have crucial consequences for religion, morals and politics, that are even more serious than the division of culture between the West and the East and the way each views man and animal.  He gives examples of the customs of India with regard to monkeys and cattle, then goes on to present a description of a novel by Vercors, You Shall Know Them, where the line between man and animal is blurred and by this uncertain distinction, so is the moral code against killing a human being.

Origin of Species IV (1959)
Coqué Martinez
source ArtUK

Man's Nature and Origin Are Inseparable

Luckman asks is there not two questions: the origin of man, which Adler is discussing, and the nature of man? Are they inseparable, and Adler states they are indeed, although be believes the question of man's nature is more important than the question of man's origin.

The contemporary view starts with "an hypothesis about man's nature, about man's origin, his evolutionary origin," which moves to "a conclusion about man's nature."  The traditional view begins with a conclusion about man's nature which moves to "some hypothesis about his origin."  Adler believes it's best to start with man's nature and then move to his origin.  Why?  Because we have more observable facts about man's nature yet more conjectural facts about man's origin.  To start in the reverse order would be "beg(ging) the whole question, scientifically speaking."  Where one begins is of paramount importance.

In the next lecture/essay he wants to devote a good amount of time to the logic of the issue.  We need to be distinct when we are referring to "degree" and "kind".  Then he will present Darwin's point of view, followed by the opposite point of view.  Finally he will emphasize the significance of this issue and reveal why everyone must take sides.  And even though he has taken a side (which I won't reveal yet) he is going to attempt to argue the question as fairly and equitably as he is able and he welcomes any objections, happy to include other viewpoints in the argument as well as his own.

Adler's next essay is entitled, How Different Are Humans?, where he continues his discussion on the nature and origin of man.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

The Great Ideas ~ Opinion and Majority Rule

Opinion and Majority Rule

Adler states that he is going to discuss the problem of majority rule, how the opinions of the majority clash with that of the minority and the controversy about basic social issues. Before he proceeds, he reminds the reader about the issues already considered: that central to opinions we have the freedom with regard to how we act; we also have a right to disagree reasonably about policies, actions, etc., however to live in a peaceful society it is imperative to have means to resolve disagreement, to allow that society to work toward a common goal.

Luckman queries of Adler, why political differences cannot be solved in the same way as disputes in science or philosophy?  Adler says it entirely depends on whether one sees science and philosophy as knowledge or opinion; as far as science and philosophy are seen as knowledge, problems can be solved by investigating facts, but because political controversy is seen as opinion, it must be solved in a different manner.

The Attributes of Science (1731)
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
source Wikiart

Offering a fabricated and implausible example of a Supreme court judge claiming that he can scientifically prove his independent decision, Adler shows that if this were possible, we would not have contradictory opinions, nor the need to vote to determine how the majority stood on issues.  It would be equally ridiculous for a mathematician to determine the answer to a problem by taking a vote.  However since politics (and judicial matters) are a matter of opinion, voting is the only reasonable way to proceed.  Luckman wants to know if there is no other way to settle political differences.

There are two possible ways:

  1. Force:  However force only silences differences of opinion, it does not resolve or eradicate them.  It is not a way for reasonable men to behave, as opinions should be heard and settled by debate.
  2. Autocracy:  a majority of society agreeing to give one man the authority to make all the decisions for the society to accept and act on.  Adler does not think this way is as reasonable as letting the majority directly make the decisions, which is more conducive to human freedom.

In political freedom there are two integral factors: 1) that the citizens are "governed for their own good for the common welfare of the State," making men free when they are governed for the good of all and not for private interests; 2) men have a voice in the government who makes the decisions.  Citizens of even the wisest monarchy or a judicious despot are never completely free and therefore majority rule, where each citizen has a voice in the decisions, imparts the fullest form of political liberty, which should be a right for all.

Wisdom (1560)
Ticiano Vecellio
source Wikiart

Luckman counters with examples from Plato and Hegel who thought it was better for men to be ruled by a wise ruler for their own good, as the majority were often misguided and did not make decisions in the best interests of all society.  Adler agrees that some of the greatest political theorists have disagreed with majority rule and since it is a matter of opinion, he can only defend his case by producing opinions from some of the most respected minds in history:

"Ordinary men usually manage public affairs better than their more gifted fellows for on public matters no one can hear and decide so well as the many." ~ Thucydides
"The many of whom each individual is but an ordinary person when they meet together are likely to reach a better decision than the few best men.  For each individual among them has a share of virtue and prudence.  And when they meet together they become in a manner one man who has many feet and hands and senses and minds.  Hence the many are better judges than a single man; for some understand one part, and some another, and together they understand the whole." ~ Aristotle
"The people of any country, if like Americans they are intelligent and well-informed, seldom adopt and steadily persevere for many years in an erroneous opinion, respecting their interests." ~ John Jay
"The people commonly and usually intend the public good.  They sometimes do make errors, but the wonder is that they seldom do." ~ Alexander Hamilton

Luckman mentions John Stuart Mill who greatly feared the majority but Adler bring in two quotes of his that appear to prove he accepted the principle of it.  Because Luckman brings up Mill's idea of protecting the minority, Adler then begins to speak about the majority's responsibility for the opinions of dissenting minorities, implying that we have a problem in how we approach this responsibility in modern times.

Endless Debate
Norman Rockwell
source Wikiart

First, there are three ingredients for making the majority responsible to the minority:

  1. We should never fear controversy but embrace it.  We have a moral obligation to seek out controversy, engage in it, and see it as good.
  2. We should safeguard public debates on public issues and ensure that they never become farcical.  When one uses propoganda and dishonest pressure and does not employ rational discussion, it is as bad as using guns and bombs.  He says this about the Lincoln-Douglas debates on the hot issue of slavery: "neither side in those debates was intimidated by sinister pressures or counteracted by insidious propaganda."
  3. Public debate on public issues should be maintained as long as possible until all sides have been heard and all issues presented.  Even when a decision is made there should still be avenues for discussion for those who do not agree with it.  

Only when these three elements are employed does majority rule have its fullest positive effect on decision-making.  Adler adds a quote from Mill which he believes should be engraved on the heart of every American:
"First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may for ought we can certainly know, be true.  To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. Second, though the silenced opinion be in error, it may and very commonly does contain a portion of the truth.  And since the general or prevailing truth on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only be the collision of adverse opinion that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.  And third, even if the received opinion be not only truth, but whole truth, unless it is suffered to be and actually is vigorously and earnestly contested, it will by most of those who receive it be held in a manner of prejudice with little comprehension or feeling of its rational ground."
Finally Adler brings up a collision of opinion that he grieves will never be resolved: the difference of opinion between generations.  In this "irresolvable dispute", the older generation because of their life experience and maturity should be wiser than their children but the problem is that the children have not had that experience to be able to find common ground with their parents' generation, and often irreversible mistakes are made.  His final words are compelling: "I regard this as one of the saddest facts about the human race.  If we could only do something about this, if we could only find a way of having children profit somehow by the experience of their parents, of accepting somehow the wisdom that is in their parents' opinions as a result of that experience, I think we could change the course of human history overnight.  Progress could be made to move with much greater speed than it ever has in the whole course of human history."

The next essay is titled How to Think About Man.

Opinion and Human Freedom                             How To ThinkAbout Man ⇒