Hart on philosophy and progress

I’ve been on a David Bentley Hart kick these past few weeks. Here’s another quote.

This passage concludes a criticism of the state of philosophy (as a discipline). I think it’s equally applicable to general social dialogue (inasmuch as that concept might be said to exist) about contentious, and indeed perennial, problems.

…one should never be too naive regarding the quality of the current philosophical culture, or imagine that the most recent thinking is in any meaningful sense more advanced or more authoritative than that of a century or a millennium or two millennia ago. There are certain perennial problems to which all interesting philosophy returns again and again; but there are no such things as logical discoveries that consign any of the older answers to obsolescence. Certain classical answers to those problems endure and recur, sometimes because they remain far more powerful than the answers (or evasions) produced by later schools of thought. And, conversely, weaker answers often enjoy greater favor than their rivals simply because they are in keeping with the prejudices of the age.

I particularly like his implicit critique of the religion of the present—an unshakeable belief that’s the present is better than the past, and that what the future has in store will be, by definition, “progress.”

That’s simply not the case. It is an assumption that we need to examine.

All of this reminds me of my high school headmaster’s parting message to my class when we graduated. He exhorted us to consider that we don’t leave the past behind when we move forward in time (referring as much to world history as to our parents and schooling). Rather, we follow in the footsteps of those who’ve come before—we trail behind history, and our most important job is not to build and create, but to remember and preserve.

From the perspective of an all-powerful being, who stands outside of time, we are not “progressed.” If anything, we’re recessed—the furthest removed from the foundations of the earth.

Materialism is not a fact of experience

From David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions:

There is after all nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes without any transcendent source or end. Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other … Richard Dawkins does not hesitate, for instance, to claim that “natural selection is the ultimate explanation of our existence”. But this is a silly assertion and merely reveals that Dawkins does not understand the words he is using. The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any cause) can exist at all. This question Darwin and Wallace never addressed, nor were they so hopelessly confused as to think they had … Even the simplest of things, and even the most basic of principles must first of all be, and nothing within the universe of contingent things (not even the universe itself, even if it were somehow “eternal”) can be intelligibly conceived as the source or explanation of its own being.

A story to make you think

The owner of a barber shop is cutting his client’s hair when he tells him about a young boy who comes in every day to visit.

The owner tells his client how stupid the boy is and says he can prove how stupid he is if he comes into the barber shop with a simple game.

The boy comes in during the haircut and the owner tells his client to pay attention to their game.

The owner shows the boy a $1 bill in his left hand and a $5 bill in his right hand. No tricks or strings attached.

Without being discrete, the owner puts both hands behind his back and doesn’t give any clues that he is switching the bills in his hands.

Just like he does every day, the owner asks the boy to choose a hand and that he can keep the money.

Knowing what is in each hand, the boy chooses the left hand with the $1 bill and leaves the store without an explanation.

“See how stupid he is. I told you!” Said the owner to his client.

Now, the client agrees with the owner and doesn’t seem to understand why the boy didn’t choose the hand with more money.

After finishing up his haircut, the client sees the boy outside eating an ice cream cone.

The client went up to the boy and asked, “why did you choose the hand with $1 when you knew you could have had $5?”

The boy responded, “the day I choose the $5 bill is the day the game stops.”


I am not the author of this story. I found it on Reddit.