MARS HILL AUDIO Journal
Guests on Volume 106: Adam Briggle, on how Leon Kass’s leadership of the President’s Council on Bioethics attempted to reframe public thinking about ethical matters; John C. Médaille, on why economics should be concerned with ethical matters from the bottom up; Christopher Page, on how the presence of choral music in the Church shaped the rise of the West; Christian Smith, on why sociologists need a richer understanding of human nature and human personhood and should recognize love as an essential human attribute; Herman Daly, on why he and Wendell Berry are disturbed by the lack of attention paid by classical economics to the realities of the material world; and Thomas Hibbs, on the dark nihilism in the films of Woody Allen.
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Adam Briggle on how Leon Kass's leadership of the President's Council on Bioethics attempted to reframe public thinking about ethical matters
“The story of public bioethics up until the Kass council has been . . . to land on what they hope is a neutral dialogue. . . . Now this moral discourse which is supposedly neutral would have given rise to a material culture that is far from neutral in its effects on the way we live.” —Adam Briggle
Adam Briggle discusses the prevailing approach to bioethics characterizing our pluralistic society. He describes it as following John Rawls in achieving an “overlapping consensus” based on three principles believed to be shared no matter what the particular background of the citizen. Bioethics policy would be based upon those shared principles and would in theory achieve a neutrality with respect to ultimate principles. Yet Briggle demonstrates how such an approach actually results in a complicity regarding new forms of technology that is not neutral regarding ultimate principles concerning what the good life looks like. Contrasting with this ultimately flawed set of theories was the healthier approach of Leon Kass and his Presidential Council on Bioethics.
John C. Médaille on why economics should be concerned with ethical matters from the bottom up
“Every economy makes a decision about what constitutes equity. And that decision will determine the results of the economy. In a sense, the theological question preceeds and predetermines the economic question.” —John C. Médaille
Should economics be considered a science free of moral judgments regarding the meaning of human life? John C. Médaille argues that the compartmentalization of political economy into politics and economics took all the moral questions out of economics, to the detriment of any sense of justice. The government, then, is expected to provide solutions to the problems that the supposedly neutral field of economics is not expected to address. Médaille describes the capitalist concentration of property in the hands of a few versus the Socialist concentration of property in the hands of the government, and describes what he believes is a healthier way: the distribution of property among many. Médaille and MARS HILL AUDIO host Ken Myers discuss the difference between defending freedom and defending license, and Médaille concludes by raising questions regarding the extent to which capitalism depends on disordered desires.
Christopher Page on how the presence of choral music in the Church shaped the rise of the West
“That way music unifies people, that takes them together to a place where their minds, as it were, almost as if a thousand minds together are like a thousand hairs on the head, first thing in the morning, all over the place; and then somehow music combs them and they all start to lie in the same direction. And that is one of the things I think music brings to worship.” —Christopher Page
The metaphysical and theological convictions of Christians have led them to create a narrative flow in harmony and melody that reflects belief in a God who ordered the universe rationally. Conductor and Cambridge professor Christopher Page talks about his book The Christian West and Its Singers: The First Thousand Years. Gregorian chant and other early Christian repertories have been a continuous tradition haunting western music, and Page points to specific elements of melodic use such as shape, timing, length of phrase, and the creation and release of tension that he believes this haunting directly caused. Music existing in the same place for thousands of years can act as a kind of ritualistic formalization of the beliefs of its inhabitants. Page discusses the psychological mystery of human minds locking into each other during communal singing, as well as the way in which music can powerfully shape their general state of responsiveness.
Christian Smith on why sociologists need a richer understanding of human nature and human personhood and should recognize "love" as an essential human attribute
“If we can’t, in our lives, live without the concept of love, then why should sociology expunge it from its toolkit?. . . Love is presupposed in the care, the upbringing, the relationships, any kind of health of any human being.” —Christian Smith
Sociologist Christian Smith explores how sociology studies the underlying structure of human personhood that orders human culture, history, and narration. He explains that many of the ideas that are most vital for good sociology are unfortunately unfashionable to both the academy and the broader culture. Smith describes what he believes are missing theoretical tools in sociology, which sociologists therefore fail to understand the fullness of reality and the implications of human dignity. In understanding how social orders ought to be set up for that good, Smith points to two neglected ideas: embodiment and love. More recently, he says, embodiment as a concept has been paid more attention to. However, the concept of love is still ignored. Smith articulates the importance of recovering this concept as innate to personhood and any kind of hierarchy of human nature. He concludes by encouraging us not to oversimplify the subject of our study: ourselves.
Herman Daly on why he and Wendell Berry are disturbed by the lack of attention paid by classical economics to the realities of the material world
“Unfortunately, neoclassical economics is still operating basically on the assumption that we live in an empty world, and that these scarcities are just not real, and to the extent that they are inconvenient sometimes, technology will deal with them.” —Herman Daly
Herman Daly discusses the gnostic inclinations of modern culture and the affect they have had on economics. He sees this primarily in a sense of disconnection with the physical environment and the assumption that there is no problem which cannot be dealt with by technology’s powers. Daly reveals these deeply flawed gnostic assumptions, while at the same time pointing out paradoxically how materialistic these same assumptions are. Along with Berry, Daly believes economics should not be so narrowly confined, but should take into account the whole of created reality. In a right ordering of the economy, Daly stresses the importance of person in community. Daly concludes that economists need the “kick” that Wendell Berry is giving them, and hopes they will take him seriously.
Thomas Hibbs on the dark nihilism in the films of Woody Allen
“It’s not a tale of sound and fury; it’s just a tale signifying nothing.” —Thomas Hibbs
Woody Allen has always had a nihilistic strain to his filmmaking, but recently that element has increased. Thomas Hibbs praises elements in his earlier films, comparing them to his more recent output and finding the later films wanting. Without the gentle, romantic elements present in those earlier films, they become no more than a depressingly dull meditation on nothing; a fight against reality. Allen’s view of reality is defined by a sense of raw, irrational chance, of crime and a lack of punishment. Hibbs explains how Allen portrays a sense of moral struggle in his films — yet characters discover there is no grounding in reason, and the illusion is forced upon us as an illusion rather than an escape. This, argues Hibbs, reveals both a philosophical contradiction and an artistic failure on Allen’s part.