“What [science alone] lacks is the larger existential ‘why,’…”

from “An Open Letter to Atheists” by PSV Lupus

And, I think this is one area in which a greater number of people–religious or not–are coming to a better and more useful understanding in accord with much of what I’ve written above. Science and religion can be understood as “non-overlapping magisteria,” which is to say, they need not be considered to be in conflict with one another, and their best applications might be in entirely different areas of life and our understandings of the universe. Science is an excellent method via which to understand the facts of the universe, what makes it up, and how it functions, and the modern findings of biology, chemistry (which is at the basis of biology), and physics (which is at the basis of chemistry) all provide a very good working model of the “how” of existence as we experience it. What it lacks is a larger existential “why,” which is much more appropriate to human endeavors involving the imagination and the boundless possibilities in creativity, including art, religion, and philosophy. Likewise, religion is an excellent system for giving options to humans in terms of what ultimate values are and where these are located, what narratives are the most appealing explanations for the great unknowns of human experience, and how one relates to others, to oneself, and to the wider cosmos–in essence, any and all things which might be considered concerns regarding the meaning(s) of life, which can never be answered objectively and once-and-for-all. This is the realm not of facts, but of truths, which are always contextual and limited in their application, though profound and powerful for those who perceive them in particular manners appropriate to their positions. As long as religion does not suggest that it is a superior source of facts about existence (e.g. creation myths, etiologies for certain phenomena, etc.), then there is no conflict between science and religion. And, indeed, I suspect you’ll find that most of the conflicts between science and religion that have occurred in the last 1600 years, as well as more recently (and which still rage in some regions of the U.S. and elsewhere!) are situations in which certain individuals have not understood that their religious truths are not scientific facts.

As I’ve noted here and elsewhere, like many within the Modern Jazz set, I take a bit from Existentialism, even Absurdism, but where I’m at odds with many 20th and 21st Century Existentialists is I am not an Atheist. Which is why I’m more likely to cull quotes from Kierkegaard than from Sartre, even though I’m also (very clearly) not a Christian. PSVL, an acquaintence (maybe friend?) of mine from the polytheistic pagan community pretty much does a great job with this letter of not only addressing eir1 own concerns to whatever self-identified Atheists may pass it by, but also manages to overlap greatly with many of my own thoughts, to the extent that it is indeed hard for me to say where eir own thoughts on the subject end and my own begin.


1: Not a typo, please read eir “Note On Pronouns

Existentialism Wednesday

Note: This has always been a fortnightly feature, and if i were to resume the normal schedule after the massive hiatus (last such post from July), then it would coincide with the fortnightly Etsy Shop and project newsletter [which is actually completely different from the e-mail blog subscription, in case you were unaware], and I don’t want to do that. So I’m basically rebooting it, starting this week, and fortnightly from here.

What is the Absurd? It is, as may quite easily be seen, that I, a rational being, must act in a case where my reason, my powers of reflection, tell me: you can just as well do the one thing as the other, that is to say where my reason and reflection say: you cannot act and yet here is where I have to act… The Absurd, or to act by virtue of the absurd, is to act upon faith … I must act, but reflection has closed the road so I take one of the possibilities and say: This is what I do, I cannot do otherwise because I am brought to a standstill by my powers of reflection.[9]

— Søren Kierkegaard, Journals, 1849

What, then, is the absurd? The absurd is that the eternal truth has come into existence in time, that God has come into existence, has been born, has grown up. etc., has come into existence exactly as an individual human being, indistinguishable from any other human being, inasmuch as all immediate recognizability is pre-Socratic paganism and from the Jewish point of view is idolatry.

— Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 1846

Existentialism Wednesday

:Aristotle’s view that philosophy begins with wonder, not as in our day with doubt, is a positive point of departure for philosophy. Indeed, the world will no doubt learn that it does not do to begin with the negative, and the reason for success up to the present is that philosophers have never quite surrendered to the negative and thus have never earnestly done what they have said. They merely flirt with doubt.” —Søren Kierkegaard

Existentialism Wednesday

Today, I’m feeling more industrious and thinky, so here’s something to ponder.

Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: The Cyreniacs
The Cyrenaics are one of the minor Socratic schools. The school was founded by Aristippus, a follower of Socrates. The Cyrenaics are notable mainly for their empiricist and skeptical epistemology and their sensualist hedonism. They believe that we can have certain knowledge of our immediate states of perceptual awareness, e.g., that I am seeing white now. However, we cannot go beyond these experiences to gain any knowledge about the objects themselves that cause these experiences or about the external world in general. Some of their arguments prefigure the positions of later Greek skeptics, and their distinction between the incorrigibility of immediate perceptual states versus the uncertainty of belief about the external world became key to the epistemological problems confronting philosophers of the ‘modern’ period, such as Descartes and Hume. In ethics, they advocate pleasure as the highest good. Furthermore, bodily pleasures are preferable to mental pleasures, and we should pursue whatever will bring us pleasure now, rather than deferring present pleasures for the sake of achieving better long-term consequences. In all these respects, their iconoclastic and ‘crude’ hedonism stands well outside the mainstream of Greek ethical thought, and their theories were often contrasted with Epicurus’ more moderate hedonism.

[more at the site]

In the Cyreniacs, I see a lot of compatibility with certain schools of Existentialism, including the thinking of Sartre and Camus (though, of course, the latter being technically not an existentialist by self-identification). I’d also argue that Epicurianism is a paradoxically Ascetic Hedonism, rather than moderate, as the IEP describes it, but then again, I also find considerably much to argue against in the surviving writings of Epicurus, in spite of his clear influences on Marx.

Existentialism Wednesday