By outsourcing I mean taking a class where the professor assigns pages x through y by Monday, and where, if I don't do it, I must suffer the pangs of conscience (college courses are not getting any cheaper) and, worse, lose the opportunity to outshine my peers.
My serious reading these days is taking shape around an upcoming course on two postmodern thinkers, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Luc Nancy. I had previously eyed Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition but now I have to read it, and read it well. And what's more, I've decided to base a term-paper on it, seeing how relevant it is for the ongoing debate on scientism. Part of my work will involve characterizing scientism by considering how the term is used by those who bandy it about: F.A.Hayek, Erich Voegelin, Roger Scruton, Harvey Mansfield, Edward Feser... And Stephen Pinker, as one who has felt the need to defend himself from the accusation of scientism from time to time. Etienne Gilson, too, figures in to the critique of scientism, although he seldom calls it by that name.
Looking at this role call of thinkers, it is striking to note what different traditions they represent. Scientism is catching flak from many different sides. I think it would be highly interesting to line up a few of these critiques and test them against each other, say Lyotard's vs. Gilson's, and see what they might say about each other. In Gilson's eyes, I expect Lyotard to be more in league with modernism than we tend to think. And similarly I expect Lyotard's approach to expose the likeness of Gilson to modernists, insofar as Gilson qua Thomist deals in the very things the postmodernist target: totalities, foundations and grand narratives. But more than this I expect to be surprised. The sparks veritably go shooting when I rub these two thinkers together, and why that is shall constitute the marrow of my work.
To generalize on that, a genuine, non-dismissive confrontation between pre- and post-modernism is rare, and I think that the pre-moderns stand to gain a lot from the post-moderns, even without budging an inch from their Aristotelian commitments. And perhaps "rare" is an overstatement. To say I'd ever seen such an encounter would be to sweep Charles Taylor into the pre-modernist camp, which would not be right. I'm thinking specifically of his adoption of Foucault (though he seems loathe to admit it) in his analysis of the disciplinary societies (such as Milan under Borromeo and Geneva under Calvin) that displaced the more diverse medieval cultures at the beginning of the modern era. That analysis, by the way, can be found in A Secular Age.
Lest I sell my ambitions short, I should mention the other class I am taking on Analytic Philosophy. Roughly Wittgenstein through Wittgenstein, with Russell and Moore serving as an introduction. So the Philosophical Investigations are on my night stand, too, these days.
In any event a modest reading list of heavy works is taking shape, works I must read if I want to avoid waste and shame. I am officially on the hook. Down the maelstrom I go.
Speaking of rare works of higher merit...
Speaking of Steven Pinker...
At this point I could idly speculate at all the possible machinations behind the appearance of his, and specifically his, ideas on a Chipotle bag. But I'll spare the reader and limit myself to one observation. As you can see above, when you boil down all 832 pages of The Better Angels to fit on a carry-out bag, and boil it down again to extract a "take away point", you get the picture on the left:
We will never have a perfect world, but it's not romantic or naive to work toward a better one.
The only way to appreciate [the] state of the world is to count.
In the car...
- The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas, by Lawrence Cahoone for The Great Courses. Gets really exciting once you get to the lectures on Schmitt, Strauss, Arendt, Marcuse...
- Philosophy of Science, by Jeffrey Kasser for The Great Courses. I just started these ones, listening Kasser blow apart the seeming sturdiness of falsificationism and with it the entire problem of demarcation. Beautiful. Topical to my paper project.
- The Red and the Black, by Stendahl. I had to stop for a breather after Part One, because Julien Sorel is too big an idiot to take in all at once.
- Not to forget what I'm listening to with the kids: Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit. We're all hooked. It's one I always wanted to read as a kid, but never did because I wasn't a reader... Also, Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Raold Dahl, and Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis. Between Dahl and Lewis I expect we won't be running out of titles soon. Next up: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.