Sound Thinking

28 Dec

Happiness Has a History

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 12/28/06

On Volume 82 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, professor Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn discusses the work of the late Philip Rieff and how people become increasingly dissatisfied the more obsessively they pursue satisfaction and fulfillment. In a recent publication of The Trinity Forum, professor Wilfred McClay—also a guest on Volume 82—says much the same thing about happiness: when pursued as an end in itself, happiness is elusive. In "A Short History of Happiness," McClay writes that the way the current age thinks of happiness—as something everyone can and should achieve by themselves at any time—is not the way previous ages have understood it, nor is it the way Christianity understands it. He gives a brief history of various ideas about happiness and notes the role the Enlightenment played in the development of those ideas. He asserts that happiness might be best found along the way, as a byproduct while one is seeking something else, and that oftentimes it is fleeting. He explains how the Christian faith is suited particularly well for accounting for happiness and for grieving its loss.

"A Short History of Happiness" is published in the online journal of The Trinity Forum, Implications: Reflections & Provocations on Faith and Life. For an adaptation of it, see "The Paradox of the Pursuit of Happiness." The Trinity Forum is, according to its web site, "a leadership academy that works to cultivate networks of leaders whose integrity and vision will help renew culture and promote human freedom and flourishing. Our programs and publications offer contexts for leaders to consider together the big ideas that have shaped Western civilization and the faith that has animated its highest achievements." To find out more about it and Implications, click here. [Posted December 2006, ALG]

14 Nov

Alasdair MacIntyre and Education

Category: Sound Thinking
Published: 11/14/06

Alasdair MacIntyre of Notre Dame joins the chorus of observers who decry the fragmentation and bankruptcy of the modern university education system, in "The End of Education: The Fragmentation of the American University" in Commonweal; and asks if Catholic universities should do better. According to MacIntyre, the specialization and compartmentalization of faculties and academic disciplines, accompanied by the resulting marketplace mechanism of "individual student choice" as the form of curriculum structure, yields an incompletely, inadequately and superficially educated public—whether graduates from secular or Catholic universities. This "should matter to anyone who thinks it important what conceptions of human nature and the human condition students have arrived at by the time they enter the adult workplace—and therefore to any Catholic. For each of the academic disciplines teaches us something significant about some aspect of human nature and the human condition," and should interact and integrate. MacIntyre then proposes a solution in the time-honored manner of indicating there "are questions that need to be answered if we are to understand who we are here and now." From three sets of great questions—who are we materially? who are we historically and culturally? and, who are we to other cultures?—MacIntyre indicates that a "tripartite curriculum emerges" which emphasizes scientific, historical and linguistic studies. Yet these distinct strands must interact and integrate, not stray into specialized cubbyholes. To avoid such superficiality, MacIntyre notes Cardinal Newman's view that "it is theology that is the integrative and unifying discipline needed by any university, secular, Protestant, or Catholic. And it is in the light afforded by the Catholic faith and more especially by Catholic doctrines concerning human nature and the human condition" that "[t]heology can become an education in how to ask such questions" as are at the foundation of liberal education. The resources exist, only the will to reform is lacking. MacIntyre ends by addressing the expected question of economic and technological demand for professional specialization as a goal for education, by suggesting a 4-year program, the first 3 of which engages in a rigorous, liberal, tripartite, question-asking curriculum, with the fourth year reserved for a professional apprenticeship in preparation for the workplace. "We do not have to sacrifice training in research in order to provide our students with a liberal education, just as we do not have to fragment and deform so much of our students' education, as we do now." [Posted November 2006, LEA]

1 Oct

The Pope's Regensburg Address

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 10/01/06

Pope Benedict XVI's lecture at the University of Regensburg, which has incited wide-spread outrage among Muslims, addresses a subject to which much attention has been paid on back issues of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal: the relationship between faith and reason in the modern world. The work is titled Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections and is being touted as the second most important work to come from former Cardinal Ratzinger since he became Pope (the first being the encyclical Deus Caritas Est). Faith, Reason and the University attends to the question: Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? Pope Benedict writes about the origins of the idea that acting unreasonably is contrary to God's nature, and how different generations have tried to sunder the connection between faith and reason. Finally, he discusses the importance of and necessity for rejoining the two in a new way. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

The text of Faith, Reason and the University is available on-line. An article that resonates with the Pope's lecture is R. R. Reno's essay Theology's Continental Captivity, which was published in the April 2006 issue of First Things. Reno was a guest on Volume 67 of the Journal. For another Pontiff's studied and wise words on the connection between faith and reason, see the late Pope John Paul II's letter Fides et Ratio. When the letter was first delivered, the journal First Things dedicated to it many pages of discussion. The commentary is available on-line. [Posted October 2006, ALG]

Guests on various editions of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal have considered the state of education at the university level. Most recently, on Volume 78, professor Mark Bauerlein notes that colleges and universities enable students to pursue nearly everything but an education rich in the humanities. In an article in the September 18, 2006, issue of The Weekly Standard, Bauerlein attends to those schools which do offer a robust, liberal arts, core curriculum. The schools are not the usual elite suspects; they are, rather, military academies. In "Saluting the Canon: The liberal arts are alive and well—at military academies," Bauerlein describes his visits to English literature classes at West Point and The Citadel, and the dialogues in which students and professors engage. He mentions why the academies are keen to demand from their students extensive engagement in literature, philosophy, and art. He writes: "If anything, military schools are more serious about humanistic knowledge and skills than are the best civilian schools. They require more courses of all their students, and they engage them with the materials just as intensely."

"Saluting the Canon" is available on-line. [Posted September 2006, ALG]

15 Aug

Food and the Modern World

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 08/15/06

On Volume 62 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, Corby Kummer discusses his book The Pleasures of Slow Food: Celebrating Authentic Traditions, Flavors, and Recipes and the movement that encourages the preservation of local varieties of foods and the crafts used for preparing them. In a recent article in the London Review of Books, Steven Shapin reviews a book written by a man who spent time learning some of those arts. In "When Men Started Doing It," Shapin describes how the book, Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford, is different from other recent books about chefs and cooking. He also accounts for the wanderlust that drove Buford to quit his job at The New Yorker in order to become an apprentice to various chefs and "food artisans" in Manhattan and Italy. Shapin writes: "Buford is a romantic, and what's gone wrong with the modern world—as he sees it—is the commodification of food and the loss of skill in making and preparing it: not knowing what's at the end of your fork but especially not knowing how to make it, not knowing how to use your hands and your senses. Having spent his working life making intellectual artistic judgments, Buford wanted to be able to make sensory artisanal judgments: how much pressure to apply to the point of a very sharp knife when separating the muscles of a cow's thigh, and to the ends of a matterello when rolling out pasta for ravioli, how to gauge the proper resilience of dough, how to touch grilled meat to tell its degree of doneness, how to hear when the risotto needs more broth, how to smell when the fish is cooked, how to tell by sight alone whether the meat is good, how to taste on the roof of your mouth the difference between grass-fed and grain-finished beef, how the polenta looks when it's ready and how to judge when it doesn't need stirring. . . . What he wanted was to be a very good cook, a cook who was the steward of vanishing artisanal traditions: 'I didn't want this knowledge in order to be a professional; just to be more human'—where more human is understood to mean less modern."

"When Men Started Doing It" is available on-line. Devoted proponents of Gnosticism should read this. [Posted August 2006, ALG]