In some ways Walton really captures the sense in which the point of philosophy is to engage in a life of questioning and examining and dialectically following the conversation where it leads. There are insights into Plato and into philosophy to be found here. It isn't a substitute for reading Plato's Republic, but perhaps the novel--like good public philosophy--could be an on-ramp.
In the wake of the election in the fall there was a spike in anti-Semitic attacks. A spate of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers at the end of January suggest that the threat of violence has not let up. Until last year with the rise of the white supremacist “alt-right,” I thought of anti-Semitism as something that was largely over. I realize the naiveté of that position now. Reading Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of this World, I’m struck by his case for how prevalent a low-level (sometimes not even very low-level) anti-Semitism is in Protestant Christianity. Read more
There’s a debate swirling in the PCA circles I grew up in about how one should respond to doubt in Christianity. It started with Nicholas Kristof’s interview with Tim Keller in the New York Times that led to this response from Pete Enns, a dispute that was written up here. Enns is concerned that Keller does not take seriously the questions sympathetic sorts have for Christianity about things like the virgin birth and the resurrection. As Enns argues, these aren’t just questions about the compatibility of such claims with science but more the inconsistency of the Biblical texts themselves on these points. The problem for me was never these particular points but with the account of the specific workings of a substitutional atonement understanding of Christianity. Why was God restrained by a formula that demanded the death of God in order for things to be right with human beings? How could a cosmic formula or justice or call it what you will constrain an all-powerful God? How did believing or failing to believe certain things about what happened two thousand years ago have a metaphysical effect on the destiny of my soul? Read more
About twelve different things converged this week to make me excited about thinking about the Arabic and Islamic contribution to Greek translation history. Obama gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast referencing “terrible deeds in the name of Christ” to which critics responded that that wasn’t representative of Christianity and that it ignores how the Crusades were provoked by Muslims, never mind that claims that violence done in the name of Allah is not representative of Islam are roundly dismissed or that it isn’t so obvious that Christianity created liberalism. Chris Kyle, the hero of American Sniper, regularly refers to the Iraqis he is killing at a sniper’s distance as savages in that film that has spawned a whole new round of people eager to do violence to Muslims. The standoff between Europe and Greece over debt is currently being negotiated raising questions of what Greece’s relationship to Europe is. I just wrote the course description for my medieval philosophy course next semester that will take up Christian, Jewish and Islamic commentators of Aristotle. I’ve been re-reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X for a reading group I’m doing on campus for Black History Month with some other faculty and students and I was just yesterday reading the middle chapters about the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X’s efforts to recast the history of race relations and religion. I’ve been teaching about how social context affects perception in my philosophy of race course. Into this constellation of thoughts and events landed an essay by Azzedine Haddour from the 2008 edited collection Translation and the Classic: Identity as Change in the History of Culture. Haddour’s essay, “Tradition, Translation and Colonization: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement and Deconstructing the Classics,” returned my attention to some themes I was thinking of last summer in terms of the question of ‘ownership’ of the Greeks (which I blogged about here and here). Haddour argues that the Arabic role in the transmission of Greek texts to us, and through Greek texts, Western culture, is effaced when it is considered merely passive, as a conduit that moves what is “ours” through “them” to get it safely back to” us.” Not only was it not passive, Haddour argues, but Arabic culture brought us many of the knowledge practices that we today think of as quintessentially “Western” and Christian: the inquisitive spirit and the primacy of the text. If he’s right, we have Arabic Islam to thank for the tradition of textual criticism.