Notes From Sources Of The Self

One of Charles Taylor’s most important works is Sources of the Self, wherein he narrates the origins of the modern conception of identity. I’ve begun the probably long process of reading through this tome. The following are a few selections that jumped out at me on first glance. The first section presents Taylor’s nuanced opinion of modernity.

But I find myself dissatisfied with the views on this subject which are now current. Some are upbeat, and see us as having climbed to a higher plateau; others show a picture of decline, of loss, of forgetfulness. Neither sort seems to me right; both ignore massively important features of our situation. We have yet to capture, I think, the unique combination of greatness and danger, of grandeur et misèrewhich characterizes the modern age. …

But I try to set out in the concluding chapter what flows from this story of the emerging modern identity. Briefly, it is that this identity is much richer in moral sources than its condemners allow, but that this richness is rendered invisible by the impoverished philosophical language of its most zealous defenders. Modernity urgently needs to be saved from its most unconditional supporters–a predicament perhaps not without precedent in the history of culture. [ix-xi]

In the following selection, Taylor explains that our moral sense is not reducible to matters of taste:

We feel the demand to be consistent in our moral reactions. And even those philosophers who propose to ignore ontological accounts nevertheless scrutinize and criticize our moral intuitions for their consistency or lack of it. But the issue of consistency presupposes intrinsic description. How could anyone be accused of being inconsistently nauseated? Some description could always be found covering all the objects he reacts to that way, if only the relative one that they all awake his disgust. The issue of consistency can only arise when the reaction is related to some independent property as its fit object.

The whole way in which we think, reason, argue, and question ourselves about morality supposes that our moral reactions have these two sides: that they are not only ‘gut’ feelings but also implicit acknowledgements of claims concerning their subjects. The various ontological accounts try to articulate these claims. The temptations to deny this, which arise from modern epistemology, are strengthened by the widespread acceptance of a deeply wrong model of practical reasoning, one based on an illegitimate extrapolation form reasoning in natural science. [7]

And in this final section Taylor explains how our moral sense is irreducible. This point is somewhat similar to one that C.S. Lewis makes in The Abolition of Man, namely that practical reason takes for granted the first principles of morality, and that if someone stands outside of these reasons, the science of ethics will be nonsensical to him.

Moral argument and exploration go on only within a world shaped by our deepest moral responses, like the ones I have been talking about here; just as natural science supposes that we focus on a world where all our responses have been neutralized. If you want to discriminate more finely what it is about human beings that makes them worthy of respect, you have to call to mind what it is to feel the claim of human suffering, or what is repugnant about injustice, or the awe you feel at the fact of human life. No argument can take someone from a neutral stance towards the world, either adopted from the demands of ‘science’ or fallen into as a consequence of pathology, to insight into moral ontology. But it doesn’t follow from this that moral ontology is a pure fiction, as naturalists often assume. Rather we should treat our deepest moral instincts, our ineradicable sense that human life is to be respected, as our mode of access to the world in which ontological claims are discernible and can be rationally argued about and sifted. [8]

Mr. Fulford Goes to McGill

Well, we City of God bloggers gave Fulford a proper send off at Stout tonight. We had the best waiter you could ask for in Johnny Blonde, an Aussie who now works in Ft. Lauderdale. He knocked the Brooks down to size. Fulford ate what must be one of the most deadly burgers in Toronto called “Death by Cheeseburger.” Fully put it down like a man—which is more than Brooks can say. Here’s a before, and yes, the buns on this burger are actually grilled cheese sandwiches:

photo (7)

Fully downed that beast like a boss. Look how nonchalant he is too:

photo (8)

Bon soir Andrew!

Happy Birthday Dan!

Dan Gouge

Happy birthday to our own Mr. Beautiful. Have a great one Danny boy!

Andrew Coyne Debates Tyler Cowen On The Great Stagnation

I don’t know how I missed this. Tyler Cowen presents the thesis of The Great Stagnation, with Maclean’s editor, Andrew Coyne, providing the rebuttal. I haven’t watched all of it yet, but I know that it’s something that some of our readers might enjoy. Especially noteworthy are the comments that Tyler Cowen has about Canada starting around 23:00.


Fuller Center Conference

On September 27-28, 2013 the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies will be holding its annual conference on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. This year the Center will address the theme of Andrew Fuller (1754-1815)—one of the most important Baptist theologians—and the controversies that he engaged in his lifetime, including Arminianism, High Calvinism, Socinianism, Deism, and Sandemanianism. Speakers include Paul Helm, Crawford Gribben, Tom Nettles, Nathan Finn, Mark Jones, and others. I am happy to say that I have also found my way onto the list of plenary speakers—I will be addressing Fuller’s role in the intramural Baptist debate over open and closed communion.

For more information about this conference, see the Fuller Center website here.

Savage Vs. Brown On Gay Marriage

I had read this dining room debate was going to happen, but then I didn’t hear anything about it for a long time, and then this footage of the whole thing came up on some random YouTube feed and I thought it might be worth posting (since we did discuss the Hitchens v. Wilson debate on here as well).

Would be interested to hear our readership’s thoughts. I think that Brian Brown gropes for some kind of natural law argument but it comes off as a dictionary definition sort of tautology – marriage is one man and one woman because that’s what marriage is. Savage’s exegesis is sloppy, particularly around slavery. I don’t think Brown makes the case that Savage’s (re)definition of marriage to include himself and his partner threatens Brown’s own marriage other than that Brown will feel somehow cheapened.

Jesus Of The Scars

A poem by Edward Shillito, written during World War I:

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.


Here is some unique footage of Niagara Falls courtesy of a quadcopter and a GoPro video camera:

(Via Huffpost)

James Burns Inferno

Clive James reviews Dan Brown’s Inferno at Prospect Magazine. Or should I say razes it to the ground? Man alive this review is funny. It almost makes me want to read the book—but my mother always told me to look away from car accidents on the side of the road. I’ll adopt the same principle here.

I liked this quote from near the beginning of the review: “Once again, that is, he makes you want to turn the pages even though every page you turn demonstrates abundantly his complete lack of talent as a writer.” And this one: “On top of the shaky language are piled the solecisms. ‘Pandora is out of her box.'” (Dan, she was never in it.)” Poor Dan Brown.

Calvinism Is As Calvinism Does

Calvin Statue

There is an argument making the rounds (though not necessarily a new one) that Calvinism shouldn’t really be considered an “ism” since all that Jean Cauvin did was teach historically orthodox Christianity. Of course the first thing to consider in this regard is that it is suddenly and painfully obvious that those who make this claim are typically, err, Calvinists, and therefore the most immediate response is to suggest a mere blindness to their own frame of reference. Nonetheless, here are some of the key points of the argument as made by Donald Macleod:

“Calvin never saw himself as the founder of an -ism.  In his own lifetime, there is only one single instance of the word ‘Calvinism’ being used, and that was as an insult, as if we today were to call someone a Nazi.  In this respect things aren’t much better in 2013.”

This is true of pretty much everyone who isn’t a completely delusional megolomaniac. I mean did Thomas Aquinas ever respond to any queries about the content of his writings by saying “oh I’m writing about this thing called Thomism, yeah, I called it that. After me. Thomas. Get it?” The very term “Christian” was considered something of an insult in the first century, so Macleod’s assertions here strike me as particularly weak.

“The result is that it is hard to find in Calvin a single idea that had not been part of Christian tradition from time immemorial.  He shunned originality, and if his -ism has any one distinctive it is that it has no distinctives at all.  It is simply, as one great 19th century scholar put it, ‘Christianity come into its own.'”

Really? Usury. Done. Next:

“Nor did Calvin ever demand personal loyalty.  It never occurred to him, for example, that his ‘Institutes’ should become the creed of a church in the way that Wesley’s Sermons became the creed of Methodism, or a papal encyclical commands the loyalty of all the Catholic faithful.”

This is an awful lot of modesty being attributed to the man. I have to ask then, why go to the trouble of writing the Institutes and publishing if not to set up a way of organizing the church?

“But what bugs me even more is that whatever ‘Calvinism’ was, it wasn’t narrow.  The lazy modern mind, of course, reduces it to one thing: predestination, and I’m certainly  not going to disown that doctrine.  It affords gives us a magnificent view of a world which was carefully and lovingly planned, and which runs on schedule despite the fact that every sub-atomic particle behaves randomly and every human being makes her own free decisions; and it helps us understand why some people accept the Christian message even though it cuts across every prejudice with which they were born.

But in Calvin’s own teaching, predestination is but one subject among many, the sixty-seven pages he devotes to it in his ‘Institutes’ dwarfed by the five-hundred devoted to the doctrine of the church and by the many others devoted to the foundations of knowledge, the value of pagan writings, the humanity of Christ, self-denial, and the freedom of the individual Christian conscience.”

In this respect those who claim the name “Calvinist” or “Reformed” have been their own worst enemies. In addition to your garden-variety Presbyterians, there can be Anglican Calvinists, Baptist Calvinists, even Charismatic Calvinists. There can be episcopal government, eldership, congregational government, none of it seems to matter except one common theme: People claim Calvin’s name almost solely on their view of soteriology.