Advanced Philosophy

Naturalizing Plato’s pessimism about nature.

Is everything we perceive cheapened by its inferiority to a deeper reality?

This is what Plato argued, building on a presocratic dichotomy between an eternal, abstract, unified reality, and the mere appearance of a multiplicity of changing things in nature. Plato in turn distinguished between the eternal Forms or blueprints, such as the perfect triangle or the perfect dog, and the instances or approximations that only imperfectly imitate the Forms.

The surprise for us, though, should be that this subversive dualism can be reformulated in scientific terms. …


Our flawed coping strategies in religion and secularism

Most societies in history have been religious and even theocratic in that the priests who officiated the ceremonies held political power too. The word religion” comes from the Latin “ligare,” which means to tie or to bind, this being the same root of “ligament,” meaning the fibrous tissue that holds in place bones and organs.

According to that root meaning of “religion,” the members of an irreligious society would have to be defined largely by their lack of social binding. …


Mental assimilation, the illusions of mastery, and the futility of revelation

In epistemology, knowledge is roughly justified, true belief. But what’s the point of having such beliefs? What’s the function of knowledge?

The justifications in question are the reasons you’d offer to show that you know what you’re talking about, that you’re not just guessing or lying. These reasons, then, are nodes in a net made of concepts, words, or institutional frameworks that we cast over what we know, to enable us to trap and to pacify the fact, to give us peace of mind.

Knowledge is mental assimilation, so there are two kinds of knowledge: either we assimilate the world…


Advanced Philosophy

How philosophical doubts expose the effrontery of math textbooks.

I was a poor math student in high school. Possibly I was too lazy to excel at learning math’s mounting levels of complexity or perhaps I had a learning disability. But I think there was another, more interesting reason.

I still have a memory of sitting in math class, looking through the textbook, and seeing how each chapter added to the previous one with more and more definitions, proofs, and problems to be solved. …


How modernity triumphs over divided, obsolete religions

What’s the purpose of interfaith dialogue? More precisely, what’s the expected, likely, or ideal result of dialogue between religions or sects?

Here are three possibilities.

Dialogue as Covert Warfare

First, one effect would be to establish the supremacy of some extant religion. The dialogue would be a weeding-out process, a highlighting of the strengths and weaknesses of each religion which would entail that some religions are better than others and that perhaps one is best.

Alternatively, the dialogue might be designed as a cover for converting members of one religion to another.

Finally, the comparison and implicit evaluation of religions might show that some…


And the bittersweet stakes of growing up.

One of the big choices in life and in history is between believing one of the following:

(a) the human adventure means something to the universe, consciousness is the primary stuff of being, or God created the world to test our faith

(b) none of that is true.

In a couple of big words, this is the choice between “anthropocentrism” and what weird fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft called “cosmicism.” Either our kind of life is cosmically important or it’s not. If it’s not, it’s an awful comedown.

Our Collective Stone Age Youth

This choice wasn’t always available or so pressing because prior to the development…


Secularism and reason without the Christian underpinnings

China is arguably the most pragmatic civilization in history.

A pragmatic society eschews fantasies that foster false optimism — unless the society finds a use for convenient religious myths or other noble lies to bind the people together and motivate them to work hard in the service of some worthy cause. Alternatively, a realistic society might hew more closely to the natural truth, putting a premium on accepting and working with the harsh facts.

While the cynical leaders of many polytheistic and monotheistic societies likely chose the former path, China chose the latter.

China’s Collectivism and Social Stability

India is also a very long-lived civilization…


Modernity and the phony wisdom of wokeness

For the politically correct crowd, there’s supposed to be a peak of postmodern enlightenment called “wokeness.” You’re “woke” if you’re aware of the subtle and systemic discriminations and oppressions that happen all around us; in that case, you fight for social justice at every opportunity. Otherwise, you’re asleep and part of the problem.

But what exactly is this neo-enlightenment and how does it compare to the aim of the period known as the modern Enlightenment or to ancient religious awakenings?

Hyperskepticism and Foucault’s Genealogies of Power

As expressed in intersectional feminism and critical race theory, wokeness draws its inspiration from postmodern European thought, particularly from Michel…


Gnosticism, courtly love, and hypermodern disenchantment.

We tell stories about everything, including sex and romantic love, to avoid confronting some harsh truths. We’ve always done so, and we still do despite the relatively recent ideal of scientific objectivity.

The question is whether any of the uplifting fictions we live by are honorable as well as reassuring.

Animistic and Patriarchal Rationalizations of Natural Obligations

For many millennia there was no culture of romantic love. The pair bond evolved to support the mother’s onerous job of having to carry and give birth to encephalitic, helpless infants who needed to be socialized for an extended period. …


Anthropocentrism and the downfall of medieval Christian apologetics

There are two abundant resources for Christians who want to come across as odious. First, there’s white conservative resentment and backlash culture in the US, which flow into evangelical Christianity. Second, there’s the pedigree of the Catholic church, which fuels Catholic sanctimony and haughtiness.

The neo-Scholastic philosophy professor and apologist, Edward Feser, prefers the latter form of Christian obnoxiousness.

Now, anyone can have an off-putting personality, but that’s not what’s at issue here. I don’t know Feser personally, so I can’t speak to his character. Moreover, judging a stranger on personal grounds is none of my business. …

Benjamin Cain

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store