If Jews had met Budhists

· dKo journal, Edgewise, Paleoblogs

Great religious coincidence. Last week I wrote to a friend:
“But mainly the sense of Jewish superiority was in relation…to the idol worshipers. It would have been interesting if there were strong contact between Jews and Buddhists, but it didn’t happen. So there were not other high religions [in their world] to [give] respect [to], except in certain ways the mystery religions, but they were in a slightly different line of business.”
Today, a quote from the Talmud unlike any I’ve ever seen:
“Whoever repudiates idolatry is called a Jew.”
– Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 13a

New from Aristotle

· dKo journal, Edgewise, Paleoblogs

This came in this morning’s Aristotle message:
“To be conscious that we are perceiving or thinking is to be conscious of our own existence.”
It came as news to me that he had said this. He never mentioned to me before. And if I am remembering the dates right, it must have come before Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.”
(In a more serious vein, I do realize that Descartes’ point on this score was much more fundamental, that it was the starting point, and the only possible starting point, for any other knowledge whatsoever.
Which in turn electrified the challenge raised by the late Paul Feyerabend, our cantankerous and really beloved Philosophy of Science prof at UCB, who argued persuasively that it was not possible to come to know something without already knowing something.)
–David

Sitting next to my father

· dKo journal, Edgewise, Paleoblogs

It could be a very curious experience sitting next to my father watching a bad movie. He thoroughly enjoyed anticipating the next line of a predictable dialog.
This involved more than just getting the words right. There was also the timing. It had to be quick, and had to hit on the half-beat in the movie’s pacing, exactly midway between two lines spoken on the screen. So I’d hear my father first, courteously sotto voce, and then hear the actor on the screen repeating him! As in…
“Have you completely lost your senses?”
No, I’ve just come to them.
No, I’ve just come to them!”
Or this one:
“What’s stopping you? Nobody will know.”
I’ll know.

“I’ll
know!”
In remembrance,
David

Sort of about Chanukah and Christmas

· dKo journal, Edgewise, Paleoblogs

Got this in the email today:
The lasting achievement of the Maccabees was not that they won a war but that they rekindled the light of hope in Jewish hearts and saved the faith of monotheism from defeat. – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, 1997
[Background: Chanukah celebrates the victory in the 160s BCE of a Jewish People’s War/guerrilla war (possibly the first of its kind) against the gigantic armies sent from Persia to impose Greek culture and religion on them. The Jews were the last hold-outs who insisted on retaining a religion and culture of their own. The Maccabees were the leaders in the war.]
Rabbi Sachs is surely wrong about monotheism; it has enough juice in it to have emerged somewhere besides Palestine (and indeed it did, including, in a different way, the Mysteries). But Christianity? That’s different. That might really be so: No Judaism in Palestine, no Jesus and Christianity.
Besides its origins, the Jewish legacy was an indispensable impetus to the growth of Christianity, not just because of monotheism, but also the deep ethical dimension so weirdly absent from the culture of the Greeks. Communities who cared for the widow and orphan, for all of the needy, and who affirmed a fundamental equality before God for all, were an immense part of the attraction that drew to Christianity such vast numbers in Rome and the Roman Empire.
There would still be some kind of tree complementing the Menorah at the Winter solstice, but it might have been a different kind of tree.

Philosophical Courage

· dKo journal, Edgewise, Paleoblogs

I’ve been getting an Aristotle Quote of the Day on my (Google) home page. Today it was,
“Character is habitual action.”
And–totally apart from the content–I am thinking, “What guts! To say something so flat out straightforward, so intellectually committed as those four words.” And there is nothing obviously true about these words.
Where are the self-protective qualifications? Where are the noncommittal “Cover Your Ass” phrases and clauses? After all, Character is elusive and complex. Less obviously, so is Habit. So, complicate it! Sophisticate it up! Who could blame you? They say there is safety in numbers; in philosophy there is safety in supererogation.
I understand this sentence didn’t earn its living in the stark isolation I see on my computer. There is context par excellance in the celebrated chapter where it makes its home.
Nevertheless, if you were a philosopher who wanted to draw a connection between Character and Habit, there would a thousand insightful, subtle, and suggestive points that you could make, cautious, but still estimable points.
But this is Aristotle. He says what he thinks, and a philosophical view doesn’t get any more lucidly blunt than this. It rushes back to me why I revere him.
(By the way, he also says that you can change your character, not by a single act of will, but by a long succession of right choices, each one moving your character just a little bit in a better direction.)