Finished Rebecca Goldstein’s “Betraying Spinoza” the other day, and found it an excellent piece of work. Having been very busy for a couple of days, I’ve not really had a chance to compose a detailed review. For now …
Radical objectivism. Ultimately the self-other dualism is dissolved by expanding the scope of self. I am we. We are the cosmos. Enlightened self-interest is not a matter of calculating individual benefit of deferred gratification in a tangle of quid-pro-quo transactions with “others”, but by “identifying” with the whole. What is good for we is good (for including me).
The question is who is we ? In Spinoza’s case, clearly this started with his Jewish identity, and expanded from there to the cosmos itself. Anyway, no time for a more thorough review, but Betraying Spinoza is an excellent resource on Jewish history as well as the life of Spinoza.
I then read in just a couple of sittings, Andy Martin’s “Beware Invisible Cows“. The title is a warning concerning altitude sickness at the Keck observatory on 14,000 foot Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the book and its publicity quotes point to it being a popular science writing on the astronomical and cosmological theory on the origins of the cosmos. In fact that is very much secondary to a beautifully written piece – almost had me in tears – on the limits of physics and metaphysics anchored in family / filial love. What was the question, again – who is we ?
Charles Freeman’s “The Closing of the Western Mind” is already legendary so I recognized it instantly and picked up a copy at Border’s in Brisbane. Obviously I was expecting philosophy, and it does have a potted history of the original Greek schools, but what I hadn’t realized was that it focusses on the history of Christianity aided and abetted by the Romans. That closing of the western mind. In fact only a few pages in I was thinking this is like a modern version of Gibbon’s (Divine) Decline and Fall. Gibbon is eventually mentioned briefly, but historical inaccuracy means it is not a source of scholarly references, more a source of sardonic wit. Also a great deal of history of the bible itself and related Jewish texts, so it follows surprising well on the heels of Betraying Spinoza.
Man, I need to stop reading. And I still have Steven J Gould’s 2000 reflections on natural history “The Lying Stones of Marrakech” beside me when I’ve finished the closing mind.
Filippino Lippi’s Triumph of Faith / (Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas over the Heretics) is symbolic in Freeman’s book of Christian faith stamping out wiser philosophies. Ironic given Aquinas later influences. Some say that is Averroes (Ibn Rushd) under his foot.
Oh, and before I forget, the I / we thing. The Ptolemeic / Copernican revolutions ? Nah, what’s the difference, not really revolutions. Just refinements of seeing “we” at the centre. Earth / Sun, what’s the difference in cosmic terms – still me-we-centric. Why is it that the whole universe appears to be expanding uniformly away from “our” galaxy ? Was reminded again by the Hubble and Cosmic Microwave Background pieces in Andy Martin’s book. Anthropocentrism is natural.
And finally, talking of reading:
Thanks to Jorn Barger for this one. From Rosie Siman.
[Post Note : an alternative view on the Pinker-Goldstein coupling
- one for the “What’s so funny ’bout …” collection.]