Monday, June 02, 2008

Postcard from Siena - 2

In the little piazza beneath our window, children have been celebrating their first communion. Being Italy, the occasion is marked before and after by a lot of noise, clanging bells and a brass band, and the inevitable gathering for food and wine. There are proud parents and grandparents, and the youth of the village dressed more for a party than for a solemn occasion. No doubt, it all means different things to different people: but these occasions are just part of village life, and I suspect that many of the participants are just comfortable through long familiarity with participating in religious services (with more or less regularity, more or less enthusiasm), and don't worry too much about what it all means. It is what you do, and it ceremoniously links the occasions of life with the eternal verities.

It's a salutary reminder for philosophers who are wont to over-intellectualize religion. That was part of my beef about the Murray/Rea book on the philosophy of religion which I blogged about here. They seem to take Christian belief, at any rate, as essentially replete with detailed metaphysical commitments (commitments articulated by early Councils of the Church imbued with late Greek philosophy), and so feel that defending the coherence of religious practice involves having to dodge and weave their way through some pretty murky metaphysics. Somehow I don't think that the local signore going along to say their rosary think of it quite like that.

Anyway, back to logic. I've pretty much finished correcting IFL: I'll just make a new pdf file of the whole book from the FrameMaker files and check through that again and then I'll send it off and forget about it. So there's time for the serious stuff again -- after all, I am supposed to be on sabbatical research leave! I've brought a couple of books with me for when I'm in a logical mood, Steve Awodey's Category Theory (because I want to give it a second chance and get another perspective of the role of the concept of an adjoint functor in category theory), and Charles Parsons's Mathematical Thought and Its Objects (because I have agreed to write a critical notice of it). So the plan of action is to comment a bit here on the Awodey book -- but just as a consumer, so to speak, representing one segment of his target audience (i.e. someone who knows a little logic and wants to get to know a bit more about category theory). And I'll start blog-reviewing the Parsons book too, which looks as if it should be a pretty rewarding read. So watch this space.


Paul said...

I was glad to read your remarks about philosophy of religion. It is so important, when doing philosophy of X, to study people who do X, and as much as possible to get one's own hands dirty in X.

It should be no different when X is religion. The problem is that being an academic philosopher may distance one from certain communities. Can a Cambridge professor who (even jokingly) complains about only making enough from his book for a decent meal in Italy really understand how religion functions in the life of an intelligent but uneducated man in Belfast who has seen his friends murdered, labours on a building site in a struggle to provide for his family, is losing his eyesight due to a medical condition, and wants nothing more than to visit Rome and see the sights before he goes blind, but for the last few years hasn't been able to raise the few hundred pounds or so that would enable this? I'd say it is difficult.

That's not a dig -- I admire your desire to get to the heart of the matter, and not to mince your words -- it's just an issue I've been thinking about, being a philosophy grad student from a working class & religious background.

a cartesian said...

To be fair, it was an intro to philosophy of religion, not to religion, and so had to cover the material most common in the field, rather than try to reform the subject in light of religious practice.

Anti-religious philosophers over-intellectualise as well, often from a position of considerable ignorance.