I don’t remember being this engrossed in a book for some time. This has been a good year with a number of wonderful reads, but this one is special. And I don’t even agree with lots of it!
Here is my review: John Kaag is a philosopher, but don’t let that scare you away from his writing, at least not with this book.
American Philosophy: a Love Story is remarkable twin tour of a long abandoned library and the human heart. Kaag is a candid diagnostician of his own interior life with all its complexities and contradictions.
I’ve been reading some of Kaag’s interlocutors for some time, especially Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a Christian, I disagree with much of what Emerson wrote, but he makes me wrestle with important issues in ways that make me a better Christian…at least a better thinking Christian.
Kaag is vulnerable about his own personal struggles and path to happiness. Like Emerson, I don’t agree with Kaag’s philosophy of life, but reading about his pilgrimage to greater sanity was fascinating and time well spent.
This is a brilliantly conceived and exceedingly satisfying read. If scholars like Kaag wrote more books like this one there would be a whole lot more interest in philosophy!
I think a wonderful movie could be made from this book…at least a well-crafted documentary.
From Ayn Rand: “Listen to what is being preached today. Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men. He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion—prestige.”
It is interesting to see this in light of my present study of Jeremiah. Jeremiah makes it clear that there are really only two options: follow God or follow idols. If you do the latter, then shame will be your forever bedfellow.
So Rand is correct that there are two options: caring what other folks think or not. Her “how not to care about other people’s view of you” is very different than the Bible’s, but she gets that there is a true dichotomy.
Years ago, I had a conversation with a brilliant Stanford MD/PhD student. He was fascinated with the growing field of artificial intelligence. It was the late 1980s. I asked him how the complexity of human beings could come from inanimate matter. He told me this was a philosophical question and he just did “science.” It was a dodge, but I can’t even say it was a clever dodge because no one can escape thinking philosophically. We human beings are constantly wondering what the “good life” looks like so pondering the big questions (what the best approaches to philosophy are all about) is impossible to avoid. My Stanford interlocutor had confidence in the power of science for less than scientific reasons! He “believed” in science with a religious fervor which bordered on fanaticism.
This budding scientist had a working philosophy of science that matter is responsible for everything, even though that becomes illogical. There are various problems with believing science so called can explain everything. This view is called scientism. Here is a good summary of the problems attached to scientism:
It is self–refuting—one cannot prove the statement itself scientifically. That is, there is no way to use our senses to test whether or not the claim that the senses are our only sources of knowledge is true. Second, there are a number of things we know that are not known through scientific means: the laws of math and logic, our own consciousness and thoughts, the reality of certain moral claims, and, of course, that God is real. Some of these are actually pre-suppositions of science and, as such, science could not even begin without knowledge of them.
HT: Klaus Issler and J.P. Moreland, “Doubter’s Prison,” interview by Marvin Olasky, World, Sept. 20, 2008, 4 (Internet version).