The Personalist Project

Comments (29)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Nov 30, 2011 10:44am

How about the much more radical and extensive changes to the liturgy brought about by Vatican II?  Would she have been "distraught" over those too, I wonder?  What do you want to bet she would have been among those celebrating the much more dramatic changes?

Meanwhile, it is awful that any Catholic can be so cavalier about words, considering the impassioned battles in ecclesial history over the wording of the creeds, not to mention the fact that "in the beginning was the Word."

There are very deep and intimate links between word and person.  And not every language issue boils down to semantics.  

Her theological blunder is hilarious.

Thomas Leith

#2, Dec 6, 2011 10:59pm

Wait a minute. What do you mean "not every language issue boils down to semantics?" Without semantics, words are just sounds. Sometimes I think that language is semantics -- that we have language independent of our "native tounge", that we have a native tounge even more native to us than the sounds we make to express ourselves.

My personal(!) guess concerning Ms. Lynch is that she wants words devoid of meaning so that she can ascribe her own meaning to them and call herself a Catholic nevertheless. Perhaps a Newspeak Catholic, or a Humpty-Dumpty Catholic. Wait! She wants to make her Catholicism Personal Catholicism -- unique and unrepeatable in history ;-)

Jules van Schaijik

#3, Dec 7, 2011 4:52am

Interesting point, Thomas. You made me it look up:

Semantics: "the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning" & "the meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text."

Semantics seem pretty important. Why then is the word almost always used in a pejorative sense?

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Dec 7, 2011 10:47am

When someone says, "That's just semantics," I don't take him to be using a pejorative.  I take him to be saying, "Our disagreement is on the level of word choice, not basic meaning."

But maybe I misunderstand the term.

I take Ms. Lynch in the quote above to be claiming essentially that the words the Church chooses to express the meaning of the Mass are unimportant—a claim belied by the fact that those changes make her feel "distraught." 

I suspect that she really doesn't like two things:

1) The idea that the theology involved is very precise and objective.

2) That the Church is using its authority to reform the reform, viz., to "turn back" toward the more traditional.

Thomas Leith

#5, Dec 7, 2011 11:04am

I think "semantics" is used pejoratively because reminds moderns of the problem of meaning for their philosophy. Modern philosophers think they've done away with meaning as an objective thing. But if existence itself has meaning then there must be some person to have meant it. But what sort of person could give meaning to existence? Arrrrrghhhhhh! Could the Catholics be right after all? They can't have a philosophy so backwards as that, so they deny that existence has meaning.

Once you buy into this, you make the meaning behind the public, shared utterances private and unshared and your only concern is an absence of conflict* over the (objectively meaningless) public utterances. And of course, it is one big ball of contradictions. But that's OK, because there isn't really meaning so there aren't really contradictions. Really. Which reminds me:

The most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men. - GK Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (a nightmare), 1908

*Orwell begged to differ on this point -- some people might wish to postpone conflict until they're sure they'll win

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Dec 7, 2011 11:16am

Tom, I hope you'll start your own posts.  We  have a lot to learn from you!

Thomas Leith

#7, Dec 7, 2011 11:46am

You'll be much better off reading Chesterton than reading me. He's funnier than I am. Much funnier. And much better educated. Smarter too.

I got some of my original ideas about language from Orwell. Check his Politics and the English Language essay. Others came from Robert Pirsig. I have very few original ideas and fewer still good ideas.

How were you guys educated? I am surprised that a philosopher would have to "look up" semantics. The Philosophy of Language is a pretty big deal...

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Dec 7, 2011 12:10pm

Thomas Leith, Dec. 7 at 11:46am

You'll be much better off reading Chesterton than reading me. 

We can (and do) read Chesterton, but we can't converse with him.  Thanks for the Orwell link.  I look forward to reading it.  

How were you guys educated? I am surprised that a philosopher would have to "look up" semantics. The Philosophy of Language is a pretty big deal...

You know how Augustine says (paraphrasing) "I know what time is, but when I'm asked what it is, I realize I don't know at all."  Like Jules, your comment made me look up the term semantics, even though I thought I knew what it meant.  I'm still sure I get your sense of it, but I'm interested. 

Our education was at the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein.  The focus was on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. 

I am always shocking people by what I don't know.

Jules van Schaijik

#9, Dec 7, 2011 12:20pm

I am surprised that a philosopher would have to "look up" semantics.

Do you never go to the dictionary for the precise definition of a word you already know and use? I do it rather frequently. In this case, I was struck by the fact that saying "it's just about semantics" comes close to saying "it's a lot of fuss about nothing" even though, as you pointed out, almost the opposite is true.

Perhaps it has something to do with not being a native english speaker, but I don't really think so.

Jules van Schaijik

#10, Dec 7, 2011 12:22pm

The focus was on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. 

Episte what?

Teresa Manidis

#11, Dec 7, 2011 12:37pm

Jules van Schaijik, Dec. 7 at 12:22pm

The focus was on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. 

Episte what?

I've been following this thread of conversation, and just when I start to think, exasperated, 'Good heavens, when are these philosophers actually going to start debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,' Jules makes me laugh out loud.  And we're all humans again.

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Dec 7, 2011 12:43pm

Say, Teresa, since you appreciated our "personalist manifesto" so much, I think you're going to love the Crosby series we've begun republishing at the home feed today.

Thomas Leith

#13, Dec 7, 2011 12:57pm

> I am always shocking people by what I don't know.
Yeah, me too. But as a student of philosophy I do not rise to the level of dilettante. I can help you with software engineering and other business issues though ;-)

> Do you never go to the dictionary for the precise
> definition of a word you already know and use?

I do, generally when I (as you evidently did) suspect I've been using it incorrectly. This is a bad medium for a conversation like this though. I think I've already insulted you but I have no intent to do so.

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Dec 7, 2011 1:06pm

Thomas Leith, Dec. 7 at 12:57pm

> I am always shocking people by what I don't know.
Yeah, me too. But as a student of philosophy I do not rise to the level of dilettante

Well, I am always shocking people by what I don't know about philosophy, which, though I never did get my degree, is, at least in a way, "my field." It's largely down to character flaws, but it has to do, too, with the fact that I am more interested in "things themselves" than in the history of thought.

Part of our reason for establishing the Personalist Project is dismay over the excessive professionalization of philosophy.  It's gotten too esoteric, wouldn't you agree? We want to "bring it back to life."

Jules van Schaijik

#15, Dec 7, 2011 1:35pm

I think I've already insulted you but I have no intent to do so.

Not at all. Really. I've been enjoying the conversation you started, and learned something interesting about the semantics of "semantics". I sure hope you will continue to participate.

I'm also wondering, if you don't mind my asking, if you happen to know our friends Jill Burkemper and Jim Dubois? Both of them work for LSU.

I have to sign out for a while now. I'm teaching two classes in an hour or so. Today's class is about lying. Should be interesting.

Thomas Leith

#16, Dec 7, 2011 1:38pm

professionalization == obfuscation?

I'm right there with you. I have thought for a long time that a very basic understanding of Aristotle and Aquinas, coupled with a habit of starting a line of (especially moral) reasoning with "the manifest purpose of _________ is __________" that very nearly everyone on earth will get through life just fine without making any major mistakes. So at last I'm much more interested in people reasoning philosophically than I am in their being mere historians, not that we have nothing to learn by studying the history of thought.

The personalism of Wojtyla caught my interest because it seemed to me a way to appeal directly to experience, but I admit I didn't understand him very well. He also caught my eye because I'd read Ludwig von Mises' Human Action. I've since rejected von Mises -- he has a false anthropology. Having recently read the Zwick's book on the intellectual roots of the Catholic Worker Movement, and especially Peter Maurin (who owed a great deal to Mournier evidently), I'm doing better now. I think. I haven't read much at all of Newmann.

Katie van Schaijik

#17, Dec 7, 2011 1:45pm

Thomas, I'd love to hear what you think, too, of the Crosby series on JP II's personalism we're republishing on the home page starting today.  

Dr. Crosby has promised to give a talk on Newman for us soon.  And we hope a mini-course someday in the not-too-distant future.  It was his IAP course on Newman that launched our devotion to Newman's thought.

Jules' MA thesis compared Newman and Rudolf Otto on the relation between religious experience and rational knowledge in religion.  My never-completed thesis was to have compared Newman and William James on the role of the will in religious belief.

Thomas Leith

#18, Dec 8, 2011 9:52am

Jules van Schaijik, Dec. 7 at 1:35pm

I'm also wondering, if you don't mind my asking, if you happen to know our friends Jill Burkemper and Jim Dubois?

Sorry, no.

There was a great debate last year over lying in the context of "muckraking journalism" or "gonzo journalism". Specifically, is it all right to dress in costumes and play a part so to speak when your counterparty hasn't got the script?  Do a web search on live action lying. It might make a good assignment for the kids.

Jules van Schaijik

#19, Dec 8, 2011 10:45pm

That's exactly the assignment I gave them: the live action debate started by Tollefsen. Unfortunately it was difficult to get the students involved. It's the season of all-nighters, and I'm lucky if they don't fall asleep.

Fascinating debate though, and on exactly the right level for my students.

I've since rejected von Mises -- he has a false anthropology.

I've never read von Mises. What's wrong with his anthropology? My daughter, who is interested in economics mentioned something similar a week or two ago.

Thomas Leith

#20, Dec 9, 2011 1:52am

Jules van Schaijik, Dec. 8 at 10:45pm

That's exactly the assignment I gave them: the live action debate started by Tollefsen.

I wonder what they'll come up with.

I've never read von Mises. What's wrong with his anthropology? My daughter, who is interested in economics mentioned something similar a week or two ago.

He's an individualist: nobody owes anything to anybody else and there really is no "society". This is not to say he hasn't got some great insights but he should be read critically.

Smart daughter -- it took me more than ten years to figure out that Libertarianism is completely incompatible with Catholic Social Teaching (or common sense, for that matter). Well, that isn't quite fair, but...

Katie van Schaijik

#21, Dec 9, 2011 9:18am

Thomas Leith, Dec. 9 at 1:52am

Libertarianism is completely incompatible with Catholic Social Teaching (or common sense, for that matter). Well, that isn't quite fair, but...

Have you come across the work of Jennifer Roback Morse?  She is a libertarian economist who reverted to the Catholic faith of her youth in the wake of a fertility crisis.  I've only read her book Love and Economics and a few articles, and my ignorance of economics is boundless, but I find her melding of Catholic social teaching and libertarianism pretty convincing.

Thomas Leith

#22, Dec 9, 2011 10:12am

I have not heard of Jennifer Roback Morse. The Libertarianism that says there is no role for government beyond suppressing force & fraud, and enforcing contracts contradicts the popes. And the Libertarianism that relies on any version of Social Contract Theory contradicts the whole Christian / Western / (Human?) Tradition.

Libertarian thought looks attractive because a big powerful corrupt thing is more dangerous than a weak little corrupt thing and it makes sense to avoid having big powerfully dangerous things. It looks at first like an application of the idea of Subsidiarity, but it isn't because it denies that there exists Civil Authority as a higher-order thing versus individual authority. The online Catholic Encyclopedia has a great article on Civil Authority that makes a great starting point. As soon as you accept that Civil Authority arises directly from human nature, the Libertarian argument (indeed all "Enlightenment" theories of government) fail. Which leaves us where? On the high-wire and without a net where it is "only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing."

Katie van Schaijik

#23, Dec 9, 2011 10:24am

Ack!  Thomas, I meant to respond to your latest comment and it appears that instead I deleted it.  So sorry.  I don't know how that happened.  Might you reconstruct it?  Maybe Jules can recover it, but he's not home at the moment.

Drat.

Katie van Schaijik

#24, Dec 9, 2011 10:29am

Okay, fixed.  Phew.  Jules came home.

Katie van Schaijik

#25, Dec 9, 2011 10:33am

Thomas Leith, Dec. 9 at 10:12am

 ...but an inch is everything when you are balancing." 

Reminds me of Chesteron speaking about orthodoxy (paraphrasing from memory): "There are an infinite number of angles at which a thing can fall.  Only one at which it can stand."

Robuck's basic thesis is that libertarians don't realize how much a free society relies on the gratutious love at the center of marriage, because the kind of self-standing individuals who are capable of entering into contracts and abiding by them come from families that live not by contracts, but by love.

Thomas Leith

#26, Dec 9, 2011 10:56am

So is Robuck's thesis an attempt to harmonize Libertarianism with Christianity or a criticism of Libertarianism as an -ism? No Libertarian denies that most of the time things work out just fine because people generally want to get along. If she's trying to correct Libertarians by saying "people are less selfish than you think they are", well so what?

Anyway, no society lives by contracts: societies live by conventions and habits. I had a law professor who told us that the very best thing we can do is always deal with honorable, honest people. All a (written) contract and a lawsuit can really do is mitigate the worst effects of a train-wreck in a business relationship.

Katie van Schaijik

#27, Dec 9, 2011 11:15am

Thomas Leith, Dec. 9 at 10:56am

 If she's trying to correct Libertarians by saying "people are less selfish than you think they are", well so what?

No that's not it at all.  She is telling libertarians that their ideal of a society composed of rational individuals entering into contracts is illusory without underlying goods and values that libertarians typically dismiss as inessential, such as marriage.  

People don't come into the world as the kind of self-standing adults who can make contracts.  It is the communion of love in marriage that civilizes children, makes them able to trust, to act honestly and responsibily, etc.

If we abandon moral goods and traditions, the civil society, and free markets with it, unravels.

Thomas Leith

#28, Dec 9, 2011 12:38pm

Libertarians do know they rely on natural marraige. What Libertarians (usually) say when you bring up the problem of children is that children aren't a problem because their parents love them. But they don't think anyone has a right to anything from anyone, except to be left alone, and that includes children. If you get to a sick case where parents do not love their children and further the parents have not voluntarily entered into a society that will voluntarily take on the children they do not love, that is tragic for those very few children but their plight does not justify coercing the parents to provide for the child. I have personally heard Libertarians say with a perfectly straight face that a child has no right to occupy his mother's womb against her wishes, and this is no fringe position in that fringe. What Libertarians do is presume radical Individualism and limit their vision of public morality to non-initiation of violence and non-fraudlent dealings. After that, they expect Adam Smith's Invisible Hand to produce the Common Good from the sum of Individual Goods. Except it isn't really Common, there is no "Common". This can't be baptised.

Thomas Leith

#29, Dec 9, 2011 12:40pm

See how integrated philosophy is? We go from translation styles to politics through a short chain of ideas...

Sign in to add a comment, or register first.

{login_form} Forgot your password?
{forgot_password_form}