Tag Archives: philosophy

The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Hermetic quote Huxley Brave sadism

Homage to Pythagoras

Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering Sacred Science, edited by Christopher Bamford, with essays by Christopher Bamford, Keith Critchlow, Robert Lawlor, Anne Macauly, Kathleen Raine, and Arthur G Zajonc, a 1994 paperback from Lindisfarne Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Christopher Bamford Homage to Pythagoras from Lindisfarne Press

“These articles, both scholarly and sympathetic to the Pythagorean perspective, are proof of the contemporary interest in Pythagoras’ philosophy as a living reality. Homage to Pythagoras is a major addition to the field of Pythagorean studies and traditional mathematics.

Here is a collection of essential documents by people at the leading edge of the sacred sciences in our time.” [via]

Essays include:
· Christopher Bamford, Introduction: Homage to Pythagoras
· Robert Lawlor, Ancient Temple Architecture
· Keith Critchlow, The Platonic Tradition on the Nature of Proportion
· Keith Critchlow, What is Sacred in Architecture?
· Keith Critchlow, Twelve Criteria for Sacred Architecture
· Robert Lawlor, Pythagorean Number as Form, Color, and Light
· Arthur Zajonc, The Two Lights
· Anne Macauley, Apollo: The Pythagorean Definition of God
· Kathleen Raine, Blake, Yeats and Pythagoras


The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library

The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings Which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy, compiled and translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, edited and introduced by David Fideler, a 1987 paperback from Phanes Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie David Fideler The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library from Phanes Press

“Pythagoras (fl. 500 B.C.E.), the first man to call himself a philosopher, was both a brilliant mathematician and spiritual teacher. This anthology is the largest collection of Pythagorean writings ever to appear in the English language. It contains the four ancient biographies of Pythagoras and over twenty-five Pythagorean and Neopythagorean writings from the classical and Hellenistic periods. The Pythagorean ethical and political tractates are especially interesting, for they are based on the premise that the universal principles of Harmony, Proportion, and and Justice govern the physical cosmos, and these writings show how individuals and societies alike attain their peak of excellence when informed by these same principles. Indexed, illustrated, with appendices and an extensive bibliography, this work also contains an introductory essay by David Fideler.” — back cover


The Darkness of God

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism by Denys Turner.

Denys Turner The Darkness of God

This 1995 monograph is by Denys Turner, then on the faculty of the University of Bristol, now holding an endowed chair for Historical Theology at Yale. He characterizes it as “An essay in the philosophical history of some theological metaphors … of ‘interiority’, of ‘ascent’, of ‘light and darkness’ and of ‘oneness with God,’” and his primary materials range from Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius to Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross.

Turner proposes an understanding of mysticism at odds with 20th-century formulations, and founded in the etic sense of late antique and medieval Christian usage, in which (he maintains) the mystical per se was directly opposed to the reduction of God to “experiences.” He designates as “experientialism” the positivist, psychologizing approach to religious experience characteristic of (and limited to) modern thought, that results from (or corresponds to) the fragmentation of religious knowledge in the later middle ages. The Darkness of God suggests a greater kinship between the old mystical theology and deconstructivist philosophy, than between the former and its experientialist—and all too often anti-intellectual—progeny in modern “mysticism.”

I really enjoyed the book because of Turner’s challenge to commonplace formulations in the field of the history of mysticism, and because of his impressive job in making sense out of some extremely challenging primary materials. However, I’m not entirely sold on his meta-narrative of the ruination of mystical philosophy. His desire to make “experientialism” into a (relatively) late development leads him to neglect the medieval affective tradition that is exemplified in the work of Bernard of Clairvaux. It may be that Turner could argue that such works are not really “mystical,” but he doesn’t even make the effort, and leaves a wide and important hole in his historical treatment.

To be fair, Turner is more of a philosopher than an historian. Contemporary mystics and magicians willing to give serious intellectual consideration to the limits of rationality, the nature of experience, and the ultimate goals of mystical understanding should be able to benefit from this difficult but engaging book. [via]


Archetypal Imagination

Archetypal Imagination: Glimpses of the Gods in Life and Art by Noel Cobb, introduced by Thomas Moore, part of the Studies in Imagination edited in collaboration with the Institute for the Study of Imagination, a 1992 paperback from Lindisfarne Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Noel Cobb Thomas Moore Archetypal Imagination from Lindisfarne Press

“This unique book is about freeing psychology’s poetic imagination from the dead weight of unconscious assumptions about the soul. Whether we think of the soul scientifically or medically, behaviorally or in terms of inner development, all of us are used to thinking of it in an individual context, as something personal. In this book, however, we are asked to consider psychology from a truly transpersonal perspective as a cultural, universal-human phenomenon.

Reading these essays we are taught to look at the world as the record of the soul’s struggles to awaken, as the soul’s poetry. From this point of view, the true basis of the mind is poetic. Beauty, love, and creativity are as much instincts of the soul as sexuality or hunger. Thus these essays praise the value and nobility of the imagination, and instead of the usual masters of psychology the exemplars here are the artists and mystics of the Western tradition, Dante, Rumi, Rilke, Munch, Lorca, Schumann, Tarkovsky.” — back cover


Omnium Gatherum: March 19th, 2014

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for March 19th, 2014

Thelema with Shane Gillen
Thelema with Shane Gillen [also], a magic show set in a secret location in central Dublin

 

  • Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600; from the distorted-world-view dept.

    “Equipped with ‘VI technology’ which combines a deep depth of field lens, CCD linear image sensor and high directivity LED lamp, SV600 is able to minimize unevenness in image quality and generate a smooth image even when scanning from a distance.”

    Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600

     

  • do-it yourself repro v-cradle for paper books — ereszet; from the v-for-victory dept.

    “Why a v-cradle and not a flat bed.
    For two reasons: First, you cannot spread the books flat and if you do, the quality of reproduced pages will be compromised. It is especially important if you plan to OCR the book. Second, you avoid light reflections. You need only one lamp with a diffuser just over the v-cradle (picture attached). Lighting is the most difficult part of reproduction. Over the years, I have tried various setups with my semi-professional Manfrotto repro stand and four lamps at 45 degree angle. It doesn’t come close to an overhead lamp and v-cradle. Avoid any other light in the room or take everything to your terrace and shoot at the sunlight with no artificial light.”

    ereszet DIY book cradle

     

  • Release 2.0 of the Standard Spiritualist and Occult Corpus (SSOC) Available” — Marc Demarest, Chasing Down Emma; from the knock-twice-for-yes dept.

    “The SSOC now clocks in at 2700+ titles: more than 1.3 million pages of indexed Spiritualist and occult non-fiction from the 1790s until 1940.

    Release 2.0 provides more than 500 new and updated titles, and marks the beginning of the re-indexing of the SSOC using a third-party embedded indexing engine superior to the Adobe Acrobat in-built OCR facility, for higher-fidelity searches.”

  • Ancient ‘Ritual Wand’ Etched with Human Faces Discovered in Syria” — Tia Ghose, livescience [Scarlet Imprint]; from the weirwood dept.

    “Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient staff carved with two realistic human faces in southern Syria.

    The roughly 9,000-year-old artifact was discovered near a graveyard where about 30 people were buried without their heads — which were found in a nearby living space.”

    Ancient ritual wand in Syria from Ibanez et al
    Photo: Ibanez et al, Antiquity, 2014

     

  • 800-year-old monk found poking out of cliff face” — Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph [via]; from the i-know-what-happened-to-jimmy-hoffa dept.

    “[Karl-James] Langford said a monastic community lived close to the area and the bones appeared to be from a man in his late 20s, in good health.

    ‘I would say they belong to a monk from the 1200s — due to previous archaeological digs in the past, the depth of the bones in the cliff and the history of the area.

    He would likely be buried with nothing except two shroud rings which would have held his burial shroud in place at the head and feet.'”

  • Nasir al-Mulk ‘Pink Mosque’ Of Iran Is Like Stepping Into A Kaleidoscope” — Yasmine Hafiz, The Huffington Post; from the whoa-that’s-a-full-rainbow-all-the-way dept.

    “From the outside, the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran, seems like a fairly traditional house of worship — but it’s hiding a gorgeously colorful secret.”

    Omid Jafarnezhad Nasir al-Mulk pink mosque
    Photo: Omid Jafarnezhad

     

  • Bagging a Witch in Ohio” — Chris, Woodyard, Haunted Ohio — [HT Richard Shepard]; from the so-logically-if-she-weighs-the-same-as-a-duck-she’s-made-of-wood dept.

    “Today’s post returns to a similar theme: Anti-witch remedies and witch-tests in early 19th-century Ohio. This story–half dire description of lunacy and half Monty Python sketch–comes from the village of Bethel in Clermont County.”

  • Siberian Police Stop Witch Burning” &mdash RIA Novosti, The Moscow Times [HT Judika Illes]; in the titus-andronicus dept.

    “In an unexpected incident worthy of the Spanish inquisition, a couple in eastern Siberia decided their acquaintance was a witch and attempted to burn her alive, though police stopped the impromptu auto-da-fe.

    The rescue came not a moment too soon, as the couple were at that moment forcing the alleged witch headfirst into a burning stove in an abandoned building, Zabaikalsky region police said Thursday.”

  • Wellcome MS373, f.87r — Sienna Lathan, via tweet; from the and-shoot-forth-venom dept.

    “Whosoeuer first in the morning drinketh garlicke and Cockes blood hee need not fear venome.”

  • Discordian Events List — Chasing Eris; what’s-up-chuck dept.

    “What Discordian events are near you?”

  • Embracing Questions” — Thomas Zwollo, Spiral Nature; from the soldier-and-the-hunchback dept.

    “Throughout his life, Crowley was asking himself questions, and he encouraged his students and readers to ask questions. This included questions about the things they read, the rituals they performed, the conditions of their magical work, and even to interrogate the entities they invoked. He embraced the method of science, and thus he embraced questions more than answers. I often challenge myself to remember this in my own work.”

  • What The Gnostic Pentagram Ritual Sounds Like” — The Blog of Baphomet [HT Spiral Nature]; from the and-sometimes-y dept.

    “Another group of occultists that we’re associated with had asked for some help with a demonstration of the vowel sounds (I, E, A, O, U) that Pete Carroll uses to build the various banishing rituals in his writing. As with many things in life it’s one thing to read a ritual text and another to see, hear and participate in it for oneself.”

  • Sock Magic” — Fire Lyte, Inciting A Riot [HT Sarah Anne Lawless]; from the sock-it-to-me dept.

    “Magical tools can be found in all sorts of strange places these days. From conversations about turning your potpourri warmer into a slow-burning witchy cauldron, to using your iPod as a divinatory device, people are getting witchy where they can these days. In bygone eras our witchy ancestry, so we’re led to believe, used what they had on handle — the broom, the cauldron, the sickle — because it’s what they had. Not because a broom is more magical or special than any other household object.

    And so, with all that very serious background, let’s make magic with socks!”

  • A Mystic, Magician and Theologian Talk to an Angel” — K Herschel, Star And System; from the july-like-a-dog dept.

    “The best way to get a feel for the Enochian entities is to look at Dee’s journals. What you see there are years of promises unkept. The angels promised power, the power that makes empires and tears down thrones. They also promised a complete system. They never delivered on any of it to Dee. After you have feasted on Dee’s disappointments, move on to Crowley’s The Vision and the Voice and the collected work of Benjamin Rowe. All else aside, what you will see is what Rowe realized very early on. The Enochian entities are very good at playing up to your expectations and saying precisely what you need to hear to keep you interested even when it’s not what you expect. This is a danger in magic in general, but the Enochian entities are masters of the genre.”

  • Null-A Mind Software” — seth, An American Mystagogue; from the possibly-maybe dept.

    “Two value logic (Ie, True or False) while a highly useful way of thinking manages to darken one’s view of possible alternate ways of thinking and perceiving the world around them. When we become habitually addicted to the categorization of all information as either Totally Existing or Totally Not-Existing we become sloppy, lazy thinkers who are prone to building a self-gratifying personal cosmology. When the two-value system is used in its right way it is simply a systematic approach to what I call ‘the cosmic binary’.”

  • Cultural production of ignorance provides rich field for study” — Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times [HT Wythe Marschall]; from the i-read-it-on-the-internet dept.

    “Robert Proctor doesn’t think ignorance is bliss. He thinks that what you don’t know can hurt you. And that there’s more ignorance around than there used to be, and that its purveyors have gotten much better at filling our heads with nonsense.”

  • Rethinking Gnostic Intellectuals? Categories as Weapons and History as Construct” — Philip L Tite, Bulletin for the Study of Religion; from the interprefacts dept.

    “As a social historian, I still like to think that we can know something about past cultures. However, if I’ve learned anything from my method & theory exemplars over the years, it is to appreciate the value of stepping back and ‘studying the study of.’ Indeed, this theoretical standpoint is a subtext in nearly all my teaching and much of my scholarship. How the past is shaped, directed, juxtaposed, and selectively presented is perhaps far more insightful to the student in religious studies than the actual ‘facts’ (events, persons, things, etc) – even if those ‘facts’ are not in dispute per se.”

  • The Gnostics Were Intellectuals” — April DeConick, The Forbidden Gospels; from the path-less-traveled dept.

    “So I have been working upstream most of my career, swimming against a current that is much stronger than I am. I guess I like the challenge, or I wouldn’t keep doing it. I have spent a lot of time within the Nag Hammadi texts, reconstructing the worlds of the authors, which are not crazy once you learn their references and points of view. The Gnostics from antiquity were anything but crazy, inconsequential or irrational. But they were different. And difference often leads to misunderstanding.”

  • Uncovered in Jerusalem, 9 tiny unopened Dead Sea Scrolls” — Ilan Ben Zion, The Times of Israel [HT Disinformation]; from the right-under-your-nous dept.

    “An Israeli scholar turned up the previously unexamined parchments, which had escaped the notice of academics and archaeologists as they focused on their other extraordinary finds in the 1950s. Once opened, the minuscule phylactery parchments from Qumran, while unlikely to yield any shattering historic, linguistic or religious breakthroughs, could shed new light on the religious practices of Second Temple Judaism.”

  • The Warlock and Truth-Breaking” — K Herschel, Star and System [HT Storm Faerywolf]; from the curses-foiled-again dept.

    “We might find, as well, echoes of the Warlock and Truth-Breaker in Aleister Crowley’s concept of the curse of the Magus. The curse of the Magus is that she must always lie. Having achieved a level of transcendence beyond the dualistic structure of the phenomenal universe, all things are both truth and false for the Magus. As such, language itself is inadequate to capture the understanding (Binah) and wisdom (Chokmah) that the Magus has achieved and so all linguistic statements and teachings are a lie. We are clearly dealing here with a discussion of the nature of the Magus on the mystical register. The experience to which she is privy is beyond the grasp of word or image, as is the case with most mystical experience.”

  • The Secret Chiefs and Academia, Ep 1 of The Lost Word, hosted by Greg Kaminsky, with Tony Silvia, from Gnostic NYC; from the master-chief-mischief dept.

     

  • Neuroanatomical Correlates of Religiosity and Spirituality” — Lisa Miller, et al., JAMA Psychiatry; from the gonna-set-me-up-with-the-spirit-in-the-sky dept.

    “A thicker cortex associated with a high importance of religion or spirituality may confer resilience to the development of depressive illness in individuals at high familial risk for major depression, possibly by expanding a cortical reserve that counters to some extent the vulnerability that cortical thinning poses for developing familial depressive illness.”

  • Majid Fotuhi quoted at “Is Religion Good for Your Brain?” — Sheila M Eldred, Discovery News; from the hippo-on-campus-would-stress-me-out-too dept.

    “One of the worst killers of brain cells is stress […] Stress causes high levels of cortisol, and cortisol is toxic to the hippocampus. One way to reduce stress is through prayer. When you’re praying and in the zone you feel a peace of mind and tranquility.”

  • Death Grips, with videos featured on this blog on occassion, will be on tour with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden.

     

  • On the occult, books, and the senses” — Brigit Katz, Bibliopaths; from the medium-is-the-message dept.

    “Occult revivals that are bubbling up in Brooklyn and in other pockets across the country have ushered in something of a Golden Age for small-press, metaphysical publishing houses. ‘That’s sort of the new wave of occult books: a re-evaluation of occult book as tome, and as talisman.’ [Phillip] English tells me. ‘Occultists or magicians, they tend to be collectors … They can appreciate the sort of art and magic that went into the work itself.’ Which isn’t to say that all members of the occult community buy into the idea of book-as-talisman. Phil Hine, a British occultist who has written several books on a practice called Chaos Magic, is among the witches and magicians who have questioned the value of ornately bound hard covers to magical rites. ‘Generally, I buy books because of the content,’ he writes on his blog. ‘Presentation is a secondary consideration.'”

  • Book Review: ‘Plato at the Googleplex’ by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein” — Colin McGinn, The Wall Street Journal; from the drown-me-in-the-shallow-water dept.

    “Rebecca Goldstein has written a timely book about our own age by taking us back to an earlier age—that of the ancient Greeks. She wants to know what the works of Plato can teach us about the life worth living, about politics, child rearing, love and sex, about knowledge and reality, brain and mind, truth, goodness, and beauty. Ms. Goldstein’s book is felicitously written, impressively researched, insightful, important, entertaining and glowing with intelligence. Plato is brought marvelously to life, and, as a welcome corollary, philosophy is vindicated against what Ms. Goldstein aptly labels the ‘philosophy-jeerers’—those who rashly claim that philosophy has no intellectual substance or future in this scientific era.”

  • ‘Son Of God’ Veers Toward Gnostic Heresy” — Joel Gehrke, The Federalist; from the heresy-gone-tomorrow dept.

    Son of God gives oxygen to a claim that early church leaders denounced as historically and theologically false because it contradicts the earliest accounts of Jesus’ life. The movie’s portrayal of Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples creates the impression that Jesus ordered Judas to betray him.

    They aren’t the first to do that. An ancient Gnostic sect known as the Cainites honored traditional villains such as Cain and Judas, praising the latter as the closest confidant of Jesus, according to the second-century church father Irenaeus of Lyons.”

  • Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?” — Nafeez Ahmed, The Guardian’s Earth Insight; from the IDM dept.

    “A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

    Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that ‘the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.’ Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to ‘precipitous collapse — often lasting centuries — have been quite common.'”

  • Detection of primordial gravitational waves announced” — Matthew Francis, Ars Technica; from the bang-bang-that-awful-sound dept.

    “When the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced a press conference for a “Major Discovery” (capital letters in the original e-mail) involving an unspecified experiment, rumors began to fly immediately. By Friday afternoon, the rumors had coalesced around one particular observatory: the BICEP microwave telescope located at the South Pole. Over the weekend, the chatter focused on a specific issue: polarization in the Cosmic Microwave Background left over from the Big Bang. With the start of the press conference, it’s now clear that we’ve detected the first direct evidence of the inflationary phase of the Big Bang, in which the Universe expanded rapidly in size.”

  • Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun” — Dennis Overbye, The New York Times; from the bang-bang-my-baby-shot-me-down dept.

    “One night late in 1979, an itinerant young physicist named Alan Guth, with a new son and a year’s appointment at Stanford, stayed up late with his notebook and equations, venturing far beyond the world of known physics.

    He was trying to understand why there was no trace of some exotic particles that should have been created in the Big Bang. Instead he discovered what might have made the universe bang to begin with.”

  • The Remnants of Prehistoric Plant Pollen Reveal that Humans Shaped Forests 11,000 Years Ago” — Josie Garthwaite, Smithsonian Magazine; from the ancient-anthropocene dept.

    “A new study of pollen samples extracted from tropical forests in southeast Asia suggests humans have shaped these landscapes for thousands of years. Although scientists previously believed the forests were virtually untouched by people, researchers are now pointing to signs of imported seeds, plants cultivated for food, and land clearing as early as 11,000 years ago—around the end of the last Ice Age.

    The study, to be published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Archaeological Science comes from researchers led by paleoecologist Chris Hunt, of Queen’s University, Belfast, who analyzed existing data and examined samples from Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam.”

  • The Famished Road by Ben Okri [HT Literary Interest]; from the bring-me-a-dream dept.

    “We can redream this world and make the dream come real. Human beings are gods hidden from themselves.”

  • Hodges’ Constellation cards” — The World of Playing Cards; from the he-saw-stars-in-his-eyes dept.

    “The Ram, the Bull, the Heavenly Twins,
    And next the Crab, the Lion shines —
    The Virgin and the Scales,
    The Scorpion, Archer, and the Goat,
    The Man that Bears the Watering Pot,
    And Fish with glittering tails.”

    Charles Hodges Constellation cards at World of Playing Cards

     

  • Masonic Playing Cards” — The World of Playing Cards; from the know-when-to-hold-em dept.

    “This attractive pack commemorating the history of freemasonry has the Kings as masters of the lodge, the Queens and Jacks are other masonic officers while the Jokers are two operative masons. The deck contains two interpretation cards explaining the meaning of the Masonic symbolism.”

    Masonic Playing Cards at World of Playing Cards

     

  • Hermetic Library anthology artist Doleful Lions has a new release, Annotated Gilgamesh b/w Tearstreaked Monster.

     

  • Child’s illustrated garden of Satanic ritual abuse” — Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing; from the is-that-a-euphemism-in-your-pocket dept.

    “I want to go home. I already HAD the ‘magic surgery.’ They put a monster in me.”

    Child's illustrated garden of Satanic ritual abuse via Boing Boing

     

  • Ancient Egyptian Kitten Skeletons Hint at Cat Domestication” [HT Boing Boing]; from the curious-what’s-in-that-bag dept.

    “The skeletons of six cats, including four kittens, found in an Egyptian cemetery may push back the date of cat domestication in Egypt by nearly 2,000 years.

The Metaphysical Club

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America by Louis Menand.

Louis Menand The Metaphysical Club

The Metaphysical Club of Menand’s title was a small, fairly short-lived conversation society organized by Chauncey Wright in 1872 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with members including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., William James, and Charles Pierce, among others. Menand represents this coterie as the seedbed of the American philosophical school of pragmatism, and uses it for a point of orientation in tracing the intellectual formation and accomplishments of pragmatists James, Pierce, and John Dewey. Along with Holmes, who despite his distaste for the label “pragmatism,” shared in much of the intellectual innovation of his erstwhile club colleagues, these men were “the first modern thinkers in the United States,” according to Menand’s account. (pp. xi, 432-3) This phase of American thinking germinated during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, flowered in the first decade of the twentieth, and persisted until the middle of the twentieth century—a span punctuated by the Civil War at one end and the Cold War at the other.

The Metaphysical Club offers an imposing tangle of vivid biographies, in order to repeatedly demonstrate how the “modern” perspectives of the pragmatists and their peers differed from their immediate predecessors: the “modernizing” generation of their parents and teachers. Intellectual biographies of the pragmatists’ fathers serve as points of comparison and contrast, rather than contributing causes of their sons’ careers. The Cambridge-based Saturday Club of Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Agassiz and their associates (including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.) helps to make this comparison concrete. The signal event that divided these two generations was the Civil War. And Menand suggests that a driving principle of their thought was “fear of violence,” a fear instilled by the Civil War and activated by economic and social conflict in the 1890s (p. 373).

Menand’s description of the intellectual mode of the pragmatists emphasizes their attention to liberty and tolerance, unity of thought and action, contextualism, and a refutation of natural essences. At the same time, he remarks the extent to which thinkers like Holmes and Dewey were actually quite alien to the standards usually at issue in characterizing “liberal” thought. They were hostile to individualism, scientific instrumentalism, and laissez-faire economics. Their typical tendency was to discuss complex phenomena as differentiated wholes, rather than combinations of reified elements. Menand also shows how the philosophical “pluralism” coined by William James was significantly different than its later mutation as cultural pluralism.

With his chosen cast of characters, Menand is able to explore the expression of the pragmatist viewpoint in the diverse fields of law, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, statistics, and education. At the same time, he provides an account of a key phase in the professionalization of the academy. He details the beginnings of graduate education in the US, the founding of several key universities, the establishment of AUUP and key juridical precedents for the intellectual freedom of academic professionals. [via]


The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America by J Stillson Judah.

J Stillson Judah The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America

Writing in the 1990s, Wouter Hanegraaff refers to this book as a “standard work” on the topic, and notes that Judah coined the term “metaphysical movements.” (See Judah, p. 7) The volume treats a set of “religious philosophies” in the United States, beginning in the 1840s, and progressing up until the date that the book was written. Although Judah provided no evidence for the claim, he asserted that these religions were growing in popularity at the time of his writing. (p. 12) He characterized these metaphysical movements by family resemblance, with a set of fifteen chief features, including: gnostic anthropology, divine monism, pragmatism, psychological interpretation, optimism, mental or spiritual healing, and preferring “principles” to creed. Even when explicitly Christian, these groups tended to view Jesus as a teacher, rather than as the unique human incarnation of God.

Judah’s first chapter is devoted to inventorying some aspects of the germinal milieu of the American metaphysical movements. Besides the transcendentalist school and its effects, which he remarks as their foremost precedent and influence, he observes the importance of American religious pluralism, revivalism, deism, Swedenborgianism, Puritan utilitarianism, and occultism (i.e. hermeticism and kabbalah). He then goes on to provide historical sketches, with representations of doctrines and practices, for each of the following metaphysical movements: Spiritualism (with its various institutions and sects), Theosophy “and its allies” (i.e. the Arcane School and the Astara Foundation), New Thought (with the precedent teachings of Quimby and Evans, and the progeny of the Divine Science Church and the Church of Religious Science), the Unity School of Christianity, and Christian Science. A closing chapter treats the effect of the metaphysical movements on Protestantism, especially through the avenue of notions of health and mental healing.

Judah repeatedly cites Frank Podmore’s history of Spiritualism, Charles J. Ryan on Theosophy, Horatio Dresser on New Thought, and several secondary sources on Christian Science. For all of the movements surveyed, he makes extensive use of their own doctrinal literature, and in several cases he has interviewed key leaders or their families. Perhaps it is significant that no secondary sources appear in different sections of the book, since Judah appears to have been the first to tie these various groups and teachings into a coherent tradition.

Judah’s theory of religion is partly formulated in his closing chapter, where he insists that all religions can be analyzed in terms of three chief components: mental/philosophical, conative (relating to aspiration and conduct), and emotional. He insists that the conative component, the religious will as such, must be powered by an emotional experience, and he suggests that the historical transformations in American religion have resulted from the waxing and waning of emphasis on emotional experience. He points to the metaphysical movements as offering an orientation to the religious experiences of the individual during periods when mainline Protestantism has become abstracted into concerns about social justice. (pp. 291-2)

A significant part of Judah’s methodology in The Metaphysical Movements might be best characterized as comparative theology, even though that term has not been in vogue since the mid-20th century. He consistently attends to comparing the theological elements in the various metaphysical movements against each other, and against an implicitly normative mainline American Protestantism. But he has no evident chip on his shoulder, and his foreword includes an accounting of his own past engagements in the study and practice of Theosophy, yoga, New Thought, Spiritualism, and other “metaphysical” systems. The frankness of this passage shows a sort of scholarly reflexivity that is admirable in the early and mid-1960’s when Judah was writing. He cautions that any seemingly negative evaluations of the religions in his book “should be considered as constructive criticism offered in the same spirit in which the writer has also criticized the Protestant churches.” (p. 9) He does in the end refrain from offering either praise or condemnation of the metaphysical movements as a whole, but he opines that there would be ample justification for different parties to view them as revolutionary, restorative, or subversive of more customary institutional religions in America. [via]


The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece

The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece by Marcel Detienne, foreword by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, translated by Janet Lloyd, a 1996 paperback from Zone Books, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Marcel Detienne Janet Lloyd The Masters of Truth in Archaic Greece from Zone Books

The Master of Truth in Archaic Greece traces the odyssey of ‘truth,’ Alētheia, from mythoreligious to philosophical thought in archaic Greece. Marcel Detienne’s starting point is a simple observation: In archaic Greece, three figures — the diviner, the bard, and the king — all share the privilege of dispensing truth by virtue of the religious power of divine memory which provides them with knowledge, both oracular and inspired, of the present, past, and future. Beginning with this definition of the prerational meaning of truth, Detienne proceeds to elaborate the complex conceptual and historical contexts from which emerges the philosophical notion of truth still influencing Western philosophy today.” — back cover