Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quoting GKC Is Worth Doing Correctly

Herewith, the real source of one of GKC's most famous quotes. It seems that a number of people, both pro-Chestertonian and anti-Chestertonian, have no clue about it. At least this excerpt will give the context. Read it, enable your brain - then come to a conclusion, for "The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. " [GKC Heretics CW1:196]
--Dr. Thursday

...I am often solemnly asked what I think of the new ideas about female education. But there are no new ideas about female education. There is not, there never has been, even the vestige of a new idea. All the educational reformers did was to ask what was being done to boys and then go and do it to girls; just as they asked what was being taught to young squires and then taught it to young chimney sweeps. What they call new ideas are very old ideas in the wrong place. Boys play football, why shouldn't girls play football; boys have school colors, why shouldn't girls have school-colors; boys go in hundreds to day-schools, why shouldn't girls go in hundreds to day-schools; boys go to Oxford, why shouldn't girls go to Oxford - in short, boys grow mustaches, why shouldn't girls grow mustaches - that is about their notion of a new idea. There is no brain-work in the thing at all; no root query of what sex is, of whether it alters this or that, and why, any more than there is any imaginative grip of the humor and heart of the populace in the popular education. There is nothing but plodding, elaborate, elephantine imitation. And just as in the case of elementary teaching, the cases are of a cold and reckless inappropriateness. Even a savage could see that bodily things, at least, which are good for a man are very likely to be bad for a woman. Yet there is no boy's game, however brutal, which these mild lunatics have not promoted among girls. To take a stronger case, they give girls very heavy home-work; never reflecting that all girls have home-work already in their homes. It is all a part of the same silly subjugation; there must be a hard stick-up collar round the neck of a woman, because it is already a nuisance round the neck of a man. Though a Saxon serf, if he wore that collar of cardboard, would ask for his collar of brass.

It will then be answered, not without a sneer, "And what would you prefer? Would you go back to the elegant early Victorian female, with ringlets and smelling-bottle, doing a little in watercolors, dabbling a little in Italian, playing a little on the harp, writing in vulgar albums and painting on senseless screens? Do you prefer that?" To which I answer, "Emphatically, yes." I Solidly prefer it to the new female education, for this reason, that I can see in it an intellectual design, while there is none in the other. I am by no means sure that even in point of practical fact that elegant female would not have been more than a match for most of the inelegant females. I fancy Jane Austen was stronger, sharper and shrewder than Charlotte Brontë; I am quite certain she was stronger, sharper and shrewder than George Eliot. She could do one thing neither of them could do: she could coolly and sensibly describe a man. I am not sure that the old great lady who could only smatter Italian was not more vigorous than the new great lady who can only stammer American; nor am I certain that the bygone duchesses who were scarcely successful when they painted Melrose Abbey, were so much more weak-minded than the modern duchesses who paint only their own faces, and are bad at that. But that is not the point. What was the theory, what was the idea, in their old, weak water-colors and their shaky Italian? The idea was the same which in a ruder rank expressed itself in home-made wines and hereditary recipes; and which still, in a thousand unexpected ways, can be found clinging to the women of the poor. It was the idea I urged in the second part of this book: that the world must keep one great amateur, lest we all become artists and perish. Somebody must renounce all specialist conquests, that she may conquer all the conquerors. That she may be a queen of life, she must not be a private soldier in it. I do not think the elegant female with her bad Italian was a perfect product, any more than I think the slum woman talking gin and funerals is a perfect product; alas! there are few perfect products. But they come from a comprehensible idea; and the new woman comes from nothing and nowhere. It is right to have an ideal, it is right to have the right ideal, and these two have the right ideal. The slum mother with her funerals is the degenerate daughter of Antigone, the obstinate priestess of the household gods. The lady talking bad Italian was the decayed tenth cousin of Portia, the great and golden Italian lady, the Renascence amateur of life, who could be a barrister because she could be anything. Sunken and neglected in the sea of modern monotony and imitation, the types hold tightly to their original truths. Antigone, ugly, dirty and often drunken, will still bury her father. The elegant female, vapid and fading away to nothing, still feels faintly the fundamental difference between herself and her husband: that he must be Something in the City, that she may be everything in the country.

There was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God; so that even now the color of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower (or a firework), comes to our hearts with a kind of authority and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message, or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education; and closest to the child comes the woman -she understands. To say what she understands is beyond me; save only this, that it is not a solemnity. Rather it is a towering levity, an uproarious amateurishness of the universe, such as we felt when we were little, and would as soon sing as garden, as soon paint as run. To smatter the tongues of men and angels, to dabble in the dreadful sciences, to juggle with pillars and pyramids and toss up the planets like balls, this is that inner audacity and indifference which the human soul, like a conjurer catching oranges, must keep up forever. This is that insanely frivolous thing we call sanity. And the elegant female, drooping her ringlets over her water-colors, knew it and acted on it. She was juggling with frantic and flaming suns. She was maintaining the bold equilibrium of inferiorities which is the most mysterious of superiorities and perhaps the most unattainable. She was maintaining the prime truth of woman, the universal mother: that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.
[GKC: the conclusion of chapter 14, "Folly and Female Education" of Part Four, "Education, or the Mistake About the Child" in What's Wrong With the World CW4:197-9, emphasis added]


  1. Thanks for posting this. I enjoy Chesterton's prose and his spirit of wonder even when I can't embrace his thinking. This passage includes some examples of the kind of Chestertonian thinking I struggle with, and I'm hoping that Dr. Thursday, Nancy, or someone else here will be willing to help me with this.

    Chesterton says that "Somebody must renounce all specialist conquests, that she may conquer all the conquerors." This sounds poetically appealing--but am I right in thinking that by "somebody" he means Womankind?

    If so, then I feel a little lost. There are a lot of women I know who would not find the role of "generalist" at all suitable (and some men for whom it might be great). And this is not peculiar to our time. In Chesterton's time, there were many women, like Vera Brittain and Virginia Woolf, who were not content with the traditional female education and gender expectations that Chesterton describes. It seems that Chesterton concerns himself with what is good for Woman, as if She were some kind of unitary Platonic essence, rather than with what is good for women. Am I right about that? If so, do you have ideas about why he thought that way? Or about what modern Chestertonians should do with this thinking? I ask this respectfully, and I thank you for any help.

  2. Dr Thursday: You might also mention that "the real source" could sometimes be "the real sources". I've only read the statement in WWWTW, but according to the ACS website the statement is also in The Paradoxes of Mr Pond in defence of hobbies.

    I recently noted a misapplication of GKC's "if a thing is worth doing" statement over at the Chesterton & Friends blog.


  3. Anonymous,

    I think you are forgetting the beginning of the piece. The point of the article is not to proscribe to women how they should act. His point is in pointing out the stupidity of trying to educate girls in the same manner as boys. He's defending the old method of teaching girls, which was to allow the girl to learn many things so that she could do anything she wanted. Rememeber he speaks of Jane Austen? She loved writing and she wrote. She learned from her family and was encouraged to write by them. He's not decrying woman writers in the least, as you would expect him to if he were proscribing some "non-specialist" role for women. No, instead, he's saying that the old style created better writers. This being only one example. He would probably say that it produced better woman, no matter what endeavor they proceed in.

  4. Chiming in with Davy, if I may...while there is something vaguely unsettling to the contemporary sensibility, I think the key lies in the line: "But they come from a comprehensible idea; and the new woman comes from nothing and nowhere." The point being--the insensible quality of educating women in exactly the same way we educate men. The old way, at least, emerged from a comprehensive philosophy of what a woman was, how she differed from men, and to what ideals she should aspire.

    There is also a slightly more subtle implication of education in general at work here--and it is reminiscent (or rather, prescient) of CP Snow who came some 50 years later. I'm not sure if higher education had already begun to take the turn Snow indicts in The Two Cultures. But I believe he is also criticizing the trend toward increased specialization in education in general.

    He seems to do this a lot--to use women's issues as a red herring to challenge existing conditions by implying (or stating outright) that she is too good for them. It's kind of funny, actually.

  5. Thanks for your thoughtful response, davymax3. You're right to point out that I didn't discuss the beginning of the piece. I'm actually right with Chesterton when he suggests the need for "a root query of what sex is, of whether it alters this or that, and why." That's fantastically up-to-date and ahead of its time. Personally, I think that the kind of root query Chesterton advocates would have to entertain the possibility that "sex," or gender, is an abstraction rather than an essence, that what it "alters" or doesn't alter depends greatly on a tremendous array of variables, and one woman's educational needs may differ from another's more than they do from some man's.

    So, in the first paragraph, I find myself hoping for Chesterton to acknowledge that there might not be any such thing as "female education" in general; there might be almost as many varieties of female education as there are females. This is not to say that educational reformers should have simply "ask what was being done to boys and then go and do it to girls"; I think Cheserton was right about that. Maybe what was being done to boys was not good, or not individualized enough, even for boys. Chesterton himself, a prodigious generalist who chose not to pursue academic degrees, might have enjoyed the kind of education that he proposes for women (though perhaps without the ringlets). If its true that "the world must keep one great amateur, lest we all become artists and perish" and that "Somebody must renounce all specialist conquests, that she may conquer all the conquerors," then I am inclined to nominate G.K. Chesterton for that role and honor.

    Earlier in "What's Wrong With The World," in the chapter on "The Emancipation of Domesticity," Chesterton says that "woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time that he asks all the questions that there are," and some that there aren't." It's an amusing and sympathetic description of motherhood. Chesterton goes on to acknowledge that this "duty of general enlightenment" may seem "too exacting and oppressive," but "our race has though it worth-while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world." I love, love, love that he is able to say so bluntly what is usually masked in ideology. But again, as he does after the "root query about sex" comment, he seems to stop short; I just wish that he could have gone another step and said that maybe it was time to figure out ways to keep common sense in the world without oppressing women. Maybe I'm just mad at him for not having been born 50 years later and read Woolf's A Room of Her Own in his formative years. What can I say? He's so smart that I expect him to have though to of everything. But maybe it's up to us to carry on for him and apply and adapt his thinking to new contexts. Heck--maybe it's time for a Chestertonian feminism.

  6. Blog nerd,

    Good points, blog nerd. Thank you for acknowledging that there is "something [at least] slightly jarring"; I'm glad that I'm not the only one who thinks so and still likes reading Chesterton. I like your analysis of his "not good enough for women" rhetorical move, and I agree that it's funny.
    --Brian (I'm having trouble posting as other than anonymous, bu feel I should use an actual name.)

  7. That's funny, B. I would have sworn you were a woman! But yes, OF COURSE, he's out of step here. But sometimes being out of step means you get a handle on something that those who are "in step" are blind to. And that's why he gives pause.

    I also think one shouldn't underestimate his tendency to use hyperbole and rhetorical gesture to make oblique points. It's pretty consistent.

    Your point about Woolf is interesting--but I was thinking that he very likely would have heard of, or at least the ideas raised by, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I think "The Yellow Wallpaper" was published in 1895 or 6.

  8. Brian,

    You're remark about "oppressing" woman I would like for you to elaborate on. In some sense, we're all oppressed in that we're all burdened with certain things, the question is whether it is just and if we can ease those burdens. If those burdens are placed there by an unjust persecutor than we should certainly do something about it. However, Chesterton, I believe would reject the notion that Austen was burdened or oppressed. In fact, what he's saying is that modern society is the oppressor; taking away the liberties of the woman from days past.

    I think what Chesterton would ask is are woman more or less persecuted. Do they have more unjust burdens now or in the past. And I think I agree with his answer of why yes, indeed, woman may have had more burdens in the past, so did we all. However, the amount of unjust burdens has increased for almost all of us, whether male or female.

  9. If a thing is unsettling to contemporary sensibility, it is almost always right—since contemporary sensibility is the single worst thing in human history, ever. Especially in its treatment of women.

    Here's a hint: if you're expected to take a steroid, with a significant risk of stroke, heart attack, impaired immunity, and blood-clotting, just so sex with you won't involve having to take responsibility for a child, your society doesn't value you. If you're told to attach your self-worth to what you do for the capitalists, rather than what you do for your family or for God, your society considers you a natural slave. If you're told being exploited by pornographers is liberating...your society hates you, and it likes when you suffer.

    That's what contemporary sensibility does to women, and then, when they're brainwashed, enslaved, poisoned, and violated, we tell them ridiculous, unhistoric tales, mostly made up out of hole cloth but sometimes backed up with quotes out of context, about how bad things were for them in past eras, especially the Middle Ages. Of course, in the Middle Ages a woman could be a full member of any Guild and her own economic master (also they could vote by proxy in Guild matters, which men couldn't), and a man who offered a woman the slightest insult stood a real chance of dying for it. But don't let's let facts get in the way of our sense of superiority; we've only got more rape, exploitation, and sex-trafficking than any society ever, even the ones with slavery. And you think "jarring to contemporary sensibility" is a term of reproach?

    I don't think it's traditional sex-roles that were oppressing women.

  10. Sophia's Favorite raises some excellent points (and expresses them in even more excellent manner!) But I have to disagree with Davy that Chesterton wouldn't describe Austen as oppressed. In fact the entire passage concedes the unfair burden on women in society--though he cannot really offer a solution, and is sure the current solutions are doomed to failure and absurdity. (A typical Chestertonian conundrum--the conservative is wrong about what's wrong and the progressive is wrong about how to fix it.)

    And to Sophia's point about Medieval society--Austen certainly was oppressed and Austen certainly viewed women that way, since most of her books are about women who lack agency and are dependent upon males to save them from either poverty, dishonor, or both. Which was a condition brought about by the Reformation and thrust upon women who had once enjoyed greater security and protection in Catholic society.

    However, one point at which I might depart from Sophia is that the points that she makes about today's "society" are changes that were brought about by women themselves--birth control in particular was a women's movement led by a woman, heralded as a secular saint. So to think that "society" is oppressing women more than Jane Austen's day is rather upside down. We are in the odd situation in our current world--a world that Chesterton predicted in some ways and would be totally flummoxed by in others--where women have become their own oppressors.

    The point of comparison between Austen and the Brontes, I think, is that the Brontes were formally educated and Austen was not (money forced the completion of her education at home). And he notes that this did not affect her ability to write in the slightest.

    It's that usual Chestertonian twist. It's not that women are not worthy of education. Education, in it's current state says Chesterton, is not worthy of them.

    Whether or not women should be formally educated as men are is the red herring--his target is formal education in general.

    And here in this combox and post in combination we have represented, as Chesterton described it, those who would rush into ruin and those who would look back at the ruins and admires them. Moonshine anyone?

  11. I don't think he's against formal education in general. Can you show me why you think this?

    You're right about my Austen statement, I meant to say, "...Austen was burdened of oppressed unjustly."

    Also, you seem to be saying that it was women as a whole who were responsible for the feminist movement. I disagree. For instance, you could point on Sanger and Planned Parenthood, but Sanger didn't come up with those ideas. Men did. Her ideas can be traced back to Marx and Engels (indeed, she was a Socialist.) She was influenced by the "elites" of her day, as were many of the feminist movement of that period, the intellectual children of those Chesterton continually fought against. And as it happens, oftentimes the "elite" have a great influence on society, not commensurate with their number alone. So, I would very much challenge your notion that women are to blame for their oppression. Certainly, there is some blame because they were complicit and some where certainly tricked. However, the greater blame goes to the men who first came up with the intellectual foundation for the later feminist movement, and secondly to the men who did not do enough to protect the women, to educate them properly, and to stand up for them when the moment came. Granted, these men who did not do enough to stand up for women, were themselves first beaten down by the "elites" and their social and economic theories and so they can be somewhat forgiven for not having the energy and the time to do all that was necessary.

  12. I may be wrong Davy, I'm no expert, as I've only begun serious examination of Chesterton in the past year or so, but when he says things like this:

    "...any more than there is any imaginative grip of the humor and heart of the populace in the popular education."

    and this:

    "...To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education;"

    And that this passage is from an entire section about "Education and the Mistake of the Child."

    I don't think it incorrect to state, that he has problems with the thought--or rather, lack of thought--undergirding educational philosophy, its purpose, and its implicit understanding (or lack) of man.

    He does this trick several times with women--when asked if he thinks women are able or capable of some thing or another, he turns the question around completely and questions not whether woman is good enough for x; he questions whether x is good enough for woman. He then uses the issue to talk about the troubles in society--he does this concerning his Distributist concerns about labor and the work force. He also does this, I am told, on the issue of politics and suffrage.

    By his continual use of the word amateur, I believe he is using it in the true root of the world as in lover of. In begging that women be allowed to be amateurs he is also implicating an educational system which beats amateurism out of all of us.

    Further, as I am a specialist, alas, I've been trained to look at things contextually--his specific use of comparing Austen to Bronte and George Eliot was very likely to do with the manner in which the former was educated (at home through books and a love of knowledge) as compared to the two ladies in the latter.

    I am also cognizant of a shift in education and culture in general at the moment in which he wrote this--the world of education and of labor was becoming increasingly specialized and professionalized under the auspices of Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. A trend we know by his Distributism he was critical of.

    Woman, for Chesterton, it seems, is a metonym for all that was worth valuing and saving in the world, and all that should remain uncorrupted. That's not to say he certainly doesn't mean what he says about not educating them in the same manner as boys, he does, and I agree with him (I am product and proponent of a single-sex Catholic education) but he is taking on a web of issues through the idea of what woman is and what she was becoming. It is a means to an end of criticizing both progressive and conservative measures in society.

    This is why I made the moonshine reference--he certainly doesn't uphold the social conditions that Austen wrote against as just ideal--how anyone could read and appreciate Austen and come away with a sense that the condition of her heroines were "just" is beyond me. He is using Austen specifically as an example of her amateurism--her love of word and of life--and how it is not the product of formal education as it was taking shape in England at the time.

  13. Well, I continually find it hard to respond to you, because we find ourselves in agreement on so much.

    On education I think we are talking about two different things. I don't think Chesterton wants to abolish or is against formal education in and of itself. Your response seems to be that you think he is against many of the ways that it is run and operated, and the ideology behind a lot of those schools. I couldn't agree more.

    As for Austen, I'm not well-versed, however, I have read her more well-known novels. I think that the conditions of her heroines were mostly just. If I recall correctly, any suffering in the novels was usually caused by some Dickensian tragedy, not a malevolent male. And while I agree that those conditions are, well, tragic, that doesn't mean they were unjust.

    I think we may have a problem of words. I think that Austen was commenting on the times and I would challenge the idea that she herself thought women were oppressed. By oppressed, I mean that they were victims of some group of people wanting to suppress them.

  14. That you call Austen Dickensian is my point--over the word oppression we might have a slight difference of opinion--but Dickens was a huge critic of the Industrial Revolutions effects on families, particularly women and children. Dickensian tragedies by definition are unjust.

    Austen's heroines and/or the secondary characters are victims of circumstance because they lack agency. Without male heirs livings and estates are entailed away, a dead father leaves a family of women socially outcast and vulnerable to sexual predators, a woman who has neither means nor inclination to marry has an uncertain future, society turns immediately on women vulnerable and unprotected, and so on, and so forth, etc. etc.

    That her books end happily does not imply that she felt the conflict of her novels to be arising from situations she would acknowledge as just.

    And this is a quote from one of her books that I recently used in a piece:

    "Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything. "

    Not the voice of someone entirely content with her lot in life, yes?

    But yes, you are quite right. We agree on far more than we disagree. Thanks for an interesting exchange.

  15. Hmmm... Forcing me to really delve into this. Thanks for that!

    Are Dickensian tragedies unjust, though...

    I say that primarily, no, they are not unjust. In every Dickens novel I can think of, except the Christmas Story, there is something like a death, if not a death, from something mostly unavoidable. This then throws the character into a chain of events in which he oftentimes confronts unjust and oppressive people. However, it's more as if they are entering into their lives and not vice versa. I think of "oppression" as a willful interfering and burdening of someone else, not just a crappy situation. For instance, Oliver Twist's mother dies at childbirth. And then, we see oppressive characters. Or as in the few cases you gave me, all arise from things out of anyone's hands. i.e. no male heirs, a dead father, no inclination to marry. No one conspired to take away the males from these women's lives. Dickens, like Austen, shows us the exceptions; the exceptions that prove the rule. These writings show us that yes, there are people that fall through the cracks and impel us try and do something about it, however, it is far from a proof of oppression. In fact, it's just the opposite.

  16. This is the root of many of the problems with social engineering. Someone says, well look at all these people that are in bad situations, we should do something about this. Okay, fine. However, let's make sure we don't mess it up for the majority of people that are okay. Just because the majority turns out all right, doesn't prove oppression. It may just mean some people are in need of a helping hand and some more assistance than was previously offered them.

    To put it another way, Oppression must be eliminated. The world can not in any way stand for the slaughters of Auschwitz, the Gulags, or Darfur. They can not just be altered and then they're okay. With an Oppression, the underlying philosophy is the problem. In contrast, since Eden, in all times and all places, there have been people who have suffered from lack of attention, people paid unjust wages, people unjustly incarcerated, people unfairly denied access to medical care, etc. However, it is unjust to call many of the systems, in which these injustices occur, oppressive simply because of those injustices. Precisely, as the Romans knew, because the exception proves the rule. Or to use an English expression, we must not throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Now, if, as a rule, people are burdened with unjust circumstances, this is of course oppression and then and only then, we must muster all the energy we can to fight that oppression and to destroy the system of thought that allowed for it.

  17. I like your distinction about the definition of Oppression with a capital O but I think you are seriously mistaken if you don't think that the world of Dickens was created to implicate the workhouses and the abominable conditions for the weak, infirm, and women and children in Industrial England.

    Even a basically well-off character like Pumblechook in Great Expectations was designed specifically to reveal the dehumanizing aspects of Industrial England.

    I have not yet read Chesterton's book on Dickens (thought I look forward to it) but I suspect that he (as a Distributist) identifies and agrees with Dickens scathing critique of social conditions in Industrial England.

    It's not just random misfortune it's the outgrowth of the dehumanization that stemmed from the so-called "Enlightenment" in England.

    Perhaps you do not find those conditions unjust with your political philosophy but Dickens and I daresay Chesterton found those conditions highly unjust and a problem worthy of addressing. For Chesterton a more Distributist society would ameliorate some of those unjust conditions--though, of course, the poor will always be with us as somebody once said. ;)

  18. Hey, we agree on all that. Cool.

  19. Hi,

    I missed out on the discussion today because of some work responsibilities. I'm so oppressed! (Just kidding!)

    Since there's so much agreement, let me try being the skunk at the garden party. Davy says that "the amount of unjust burdens has increased for almost all of us, whether male or female." I don't want to uncritically adhere to a narrative of progress, but I don't want to be uncritically nostalgic, either.

    Let me look back through recent generations in my own family to see if I and the women in my family are more unjustly burdened than our ancestors were before us. My ancestors on both sides, up to just a couple of generations ago, lived in deep poverty as Irish tenants of British aristocrats. They lived through the nineteenth century Irish potato famine, which wasn't just a natural disaster, but involved grave inequities. Furthermore, their rights to their own language and religion were interfered with.

    By the time my father was born, an independent Ireland was emerging and instituting land reform, putting my father's family on a slightly less barren plot of land--a small victory for distributionism, perhaps? My father went to school only through the sixth grade, moved to America, worked hard, saved well, sent me to college. I have had educational and economic options that my father, and certainly my mother and grandmothers, never had.

    My paternal grandmother's life was devoted wholly to her 12 kids. I never met her, and, though I feel sure that she loved all of her children and never regretted having them, I don't know how much of a choice she had or perceived herself as having.

    Even if she loved being the mother of 12--and I hope and believe that she did love it--did she ever dream of a career that she was unable to pursue (not necessarily instead of, but along with, her family)? Who knows? Maybe she had the makings of a writer in her. Austen, no doubt, did alright, but that doesn't mean that other artistic sparks weren't squelched for lack of a suitable education or a room of one's own. How would Toni Morrison's career have gone a hundred years ago?

    I don't mean at all that my grandfather or some other individual might have been oppressed my grandmother; I think that sometimes a person can be unjustly oppressed by a culture or a system or a situation.

    The women I know best aren't forced to use the steroid Sophie's Favorite mentions, though they could choose to do so if they wanted. Women I know have made choices to enter the job market, come out of the job market, go back, sacrifice family for career, try to balance family and career--there's no doubt it's complicated and burdensome and there is pressure to try to have it all, but women don't necessarily succumb to that pressure if they don't want to. And there are women I know who have been deeply satisfied with their careers as well as their marriages and/or families.

    So on reflection, I do not believe that we are almost all more burdened now than past generations were; I certainly don't think this is true of my family. I don't, of course, mean that everyone in the world is less oppressed than everyone in Chesterton's generation. To take a tragically easy case, there is certainly as much oppression in the developing world as there has ever been. I almost (whimsically, yet cynically) wonder if there's some kind of historical Law of Conservation of oppression, equivalent to the Thermodynamic Laws; maybe there's never more or less oppression, but it's just distributed differently.

    Or maybe it can be less. Chesterton, to his credit, conceded that women might have been oppressed in the past, though he feared that New Women were even more oppressed. I don't agree with the latter point, but I can still suggest that maybe it's up to us take up where Chesterton left off, and to not pick the lesser evil but try to work towards less oppression than there was then or than there is now.

    Sorry if I'm working up too much rhetorical steam. Davy, you asked a really powerful and engaging question, and I appreciate it!


  20. Brian,

    Are we using the same definition of oppression? I don't know if we are. Look at the above and let me know.

    "the amount of unjust burdens has increased for almost all of us". I thought the same thing you did when I typed those words, and was going to change them, and purposefully didn't. I think you're right in that as we should avoid saying we're naturally progressing and getting better everyday, we should avoid the opposite philosophy of the pessimists. I think that there is a natural ebb and flow to things, as Chesterton points out also. I think that we're at a time in our history where we are experiences an ebb in liberty, and so that explains my remarks. It has nothing to do with a continual downfall or some other such nonsense. Nor do I mean that we are all more burdened than ALL past generations were. Simply, that I think there were past generations with less unjust burdens for most people.

    Moving on, you bring up the excelent example of the so-called Irish Potato Famine, which led my great-grandmother to come to America. I think by my above definition, this is certainly oppression. Surely, the British meant to do what the were doing to the Irish and had plenty of good excuses for it, just as those involved in the African slave trade could come up with plenty of excuses and explantions to cover up their terrible crime. This is what oppression is. It's a philosophic problem, not a pratical problem. Surely, we don't say the lion oppresses the gazelle. Oppression requires an oppressor, a person or group of people that philosophically ignores a part of whole of another's humanity and so in practice treats them unjustly.

    As for your paragraph about the many choices of a young woman. You seem to be saying because they don't have to succumb to the pressure, they're not oppressed as if because some jews escaped from Germany they weren't oppressed. (Obviously that's an extreme case, but the same reasoning)

    Going back to oppression for a moment. Since, as stated above, oppression is something that requires a certain philosophy that minimizes a person's or group's humanity (if you disagree with this, let me know) then the true question of whether or not woman of a particular time and place were more oppressed is to ask what the philosophy of the times was. Since, we're speaking of women, we ask, did society have more or less respect for humanity of women in some other time period over now. I am hard pressed to think of another time in Western history which the underlying philosophy of the powers-at-be had such little respect for the humanity of women in general as now.

  21. (cont.)
    While I agree with you point that we should work for less oppression, in order to do fight something we must know what it is. We must know why oppression starts and how it manifests itself if we are to successful challange it. This is something that many do not do today, they simple spout platitudes about ending world hunger or violence or any other such movement. However, one of the few orginizations I know of that actually asks themselves what the root causes are and responds accordingly is the Catholic Church. Certainly, no other orginization has done as much for Africa. I use this not to praise to Church, but to praise the method they use when confronted with a problem. They first asked why the problem is there. What happened. Then they respond. That's why they realized that by just throwing money at the problem they wouldn't solve it, and in many cases would just make it worse. They realized the notion that Pope Benedict XVI expresses that there is a striking and important difference between philanthropy and charity. In a similar way the church doesn't respond to the oppression of women in the West by saying oh, just give them more freedoms since this throughout the ages was often a cure for oppression, because they know that that's not the reason for our modern day problem. In fact, similarly to Africa, when people throw old answers at new problems without engaging the root problem it will oftentimes just make the problem worse.

  22. Interesting, Davy. Thank you. I get the feeling that we come at these issues from very different perspectives, and I'm glad we're talking. There are not enough places on the web where people with different social or political perspectives really talk to each other, and it seems fitting that a Chesterton blog should be one of the palces where that happens, since Chesterton was (and is) so great at transcending divides.

    I can agree that oppression requires an oppressor. i wonder if we can agree that the oppressor isn't always a individual or a discrete conspiracy. I think the oppressor can be a more diffuse agency--an impersonal system, a culture, an ideology.

    That said, I do tentatively agree that oppression requires a philosophy that demeans someone's "huamnity"--although I'd rather use a word like "agency." Some philosophies may seem to honor Woamn's "humanity" by glorifying Her beauty and delicacy, thereby placeing Her--the idealized Woman-- on a pedestal, and removing actual women from the field of action, confining them in the domestic sphere, denying them agency. Portrayin woman as the 'Angle in the House" glorifies her, but in the process dehumanizes her; an angel is not a human. And in dehumanizing it disempowers her. Women who are consigned to the domestic sphere with few options for economic independence are materially depednent on men--thus, they are rendered less free, or allowed less agency, than men. (I'm fascinated by Sophie's Favorite's point about women in Medieval guilds, and would like to learn more about that point; but I think it's self-evident that Victorian women had fewer economic opportunties than mdoern women.)

    Let's also not forget the seemy underside of theVictorian and Edwardian view of women. As I understand it, this view of women was heavily dichotomized betweent the "Virgin" and the "whore"--there was the angel in house, but there was also a thriving porn industry. (For an account, see Lisa Sigel, Governing Pleasures.)

    Women did, at this period and at all times, occasionally trasncend this dichotomy, acheive indepednence, gain agency. Jane Austen is a nice example. But how is this different from your example of Jews who escaped the Holocaust?

    Conversely, I do not think that this example applies to what I said about modern womens' choices. Jews who escaped the Holocaust didn't do so by simply choosing to do so; they escaped by some combination of intepidity and luck. If women are able to choose not to succumb to pressures to be a certain way, that those pressues seem not to qualify as oppression in the sense that you've been talking about. To have many choices is surely a burden, but I think that the most just of burdens is freedom with its responsibilities

    I'm starting to seem to sound like I idealize the present, and i don't mean to--there is an inifinite amount of imperfection about the present. But at least in the present, we can attempt a philosophy that says that there is no such thing as Woman; there are only women. Though Paris Hilton and an elderly nun, let's say, may share certain physical characteriztics, they are not essentially the same, and they likely have different aspirations and needs. In important ways, they are as different from each other as either one of them is from me. It's hard to live with a philsophy like this, because multiplicity seems overhweming; we want to lump people into two big, dichotomous groups. But I think we have to resist this tendancy because it is the beginning of oppression; once we'e lumped people into big groups, it's easy to overlook each person's unique humanity or agency. By saying that there is no such thing as capital-w Woman, I mean to respect each small-w woman.

    Finally, you say that you are hard pressed to think of a time when the powwrs that be had so little respect for women. I say that I can think of no time when so many of the powers that be WERE women. Are they women who lack self-respect? I don't see the evidence of that.


  23. I'll work backwards...

    No, they are not women who lack self-respect, they are women who lack respect for the fact that they are women, they ignore this fact of themselves. One comparison that comes to mind are the freed-slaves from ante-bellum America who were said to act "more white" than the white people. I think that this is evidenced by the "don't call me ma'am" quote from Boxer. Many of these politicians see being a woman as a negative thing and wish to show themselves to be as manly as possible.

    In reference to woman vs. Woman, I would counter with the Chestertonian piece with how Wells rejected the idea of categorizing anything. It's quite good. Basically, I think that this is faulty reasoning. I reject the notion that by rejecting Woman you are in any way respecting woman, although that may be your intent. I think it is denying a fundamental fact about woman to do so, that is that they are part of a group called Woman. Lumping people into groups I also don't think makes it lesser or more likely to bring about oppression. Look up the origin of the word Cretans for instance. By grouping those with gout as Christians, they were able to treat them more humanely.

    I disagree with your statement that freedom with it's responsibilities is somehow by definition more just. If we refuse to educate our children and then throw them out to make whatever choices they wish then we would have bedlam, and this would be to oppress our children. To not educate them and moreover to force them into situations in which understanding is paramount would implicate parents in a terrible crime. It is like putting a house cat out in the wild. I could go on, but I think you get my point. We are not only refusing to properly inform our girls of today, but then we are continually throwing more choices at them and forcing them to be as sheep among wolves.

    I concede Austen to you. I'm not nearly educated enough about this time period or her situation to debate further on it. Though I, without sufficient proof, have a sneaking suspicion, that she wasn't as oppressed as many young girls are today.

    I disagree with you that a certain lack of economic independence has a relationship to oppression. Obviously, this could be taken to an extreme, in which case it is oppression. However, am I oppressed because I can't have children without help of a woman? Of course not. Now, if I lived in a society where children were valued above all else, then by your argument I would be oppressed. The important thing to remember is that while yes, economic freedom is important, once a certain minimum is met, oppression is not a concern, because money for money's sake is not something that we should seek. This is one of the foundations of Distributism.

    And yes we can agree that it isn't always an aggressor or a discrete conspiracy. It can be accidental to a severely flawed philosophy of a more diffuse agency. For instance, a govt. that puts abortion-on-demand as a greater priority than conscience protections of doctors and nurses.

    And, we've come to the end, or the beginning, since I've gone backwards. And I can't agree more with your first paragraph, how fitting indeed. I thank you for continuing to discuss the matter with me. I hope I don't become too much a bore.

  24. You won't become a bore, but I'm afraid I may put myself beyond the pale, so to speak, by saying what I have to say in response to your post.

    I see no reason--no evidence, no principle--to think that women who are among "the powers that be" lack respect for "the fact that they are women. Is there something about being among "the powers that be" that fundamentally conflicts with female gender? if so, what?

    As to your example of formely enslaved African Americans, I think it shows what's wrong with expecting peoples' behavior to conform with expectations of their demographic groups. To say that black people acted more white than white implies that there are propoer ways for white people and bawck"peopel to act, and that black people should act according to type and, in essence, stay in place. I reject that idea.

    I also do not believe that rejecting the word "ma'am" means that Barbara Boxer feels that being female is negative. Perhaps "ma'am," to her, signifies a version of female gender that is not hers. I think a woman has to decide for herself what being a woman means. (And let's not forget that we could take Boxer at her word; maybe she just likes being called "Senator". Good for her.)

    I know many women who would be very untrue to themselves if they were to pretend to be what some call "womanly," and many men who would be equally untrue to htemselves if they were to act "manly" in a traditional way. These people have charactertistics that are more in keeping with traditional gender expectations for the opposite sex. I don't see any reason to think that such chaaracteristics make women imperfect or should be repressed.

    It's true that grouping people together for rhetorical purposes is not necessarily oppressive, and can even be counter-oppressive. But I think we get an oppressive philosophy when we turn those categorizations into supposed essences. You defined an oppressive philosophy as one that "minimizes a person's or a group's humanity." I think that if you expect an individual to conform to the expectations of s demographic group, then you are minimizing that perspn's unique humanity and agency. Vera Brittain, for example, as she recounts in her Testament of Youth, was a young woman with a deep, strong yearning to go to Oxford. A philsophy that denied her admission to Oxford because of her feminity would have "maximized" her femininity but minimized her "Vera-Brittain-ness"--her unique humanity and agency.

    What, exactly, are the "fundamental facts" that bind women as members of the grouop Woman? There are individuals with XY chromosome but female anatomy (due to adrogen insensitivity syndrome. And there are anatomical males with XX chromosome (due to the placement of the SRY gene). There are people who are physically one sex but identify as the other gender. You might be able to point to studies that show gender-based patterns of behavior and persoanlity, but these are statistical abstractions, not essences. There are many, many excpetions. The human species is wonderfully mutliplicitous.

    Now , on economic independence: Victorian women typically did not have the financial resources to leave their husbands and live indepednently if they were physically or psychologically abused. I think that's a very clear link between economic independence and opression. If I were depednent upon you for my physical sustenance, then you could be kind to me or you could choose to minimize my humanity.

    On freedom: I wasn't trying to be a Shavian absolutist. Certainly there are have to be constraints on the freddom of children, and even to some extent on the freedom of adults, even in a country that deems the right to liberty self-evident. But if we do enjoy a degree of freedom, the price of that freedom is the burden of responsibility for out actions, and that, I believe, is a just price and a "just burden." Should grown women be less burdened with choice than grown men?


  25. What is happening oftentimes in this dialogue is one of us will state a generalization and then the other will point out an exception. It shouldn't be up to the generalizer to correct everyone exception, however, it should be up to him to show why his generalization fits into a particular way of thinking so as to make sense and justified.

    I find it quite difficult to respond to your first few paragraphs because they seem to stem from a very relativistic philosophy.

    You deny that there is an essence distinct between woman and man because of exceptions (which there certainly are) and because there is no statistical proof of behaviors. You're first point proves mine, these exceptions are quite rare, and almost everyone in society recognizes these as exceptions. These are exceptions that prove the rule of gender differences. As to you're second point, I need no more proof than throughout the entire history of man, in every culture, there has been a distinction made between man and woman. We need not be aware of all the hormonal and other differences in order to recognize that fact. And while it is difficult to ascertain exactly the essence of what Woman is. We can do so by looking at it's effects. Now, I can certainly give you one statistic that is true, 100% of babies born today are born from woman, and 100% born yesterday, and so on. This is not just a statistical abstraction. It's a fundamental truth about woman and it's great news. They can bear children. Now, I dare not say, that this completely defines a woman's essence. However, we may know an essence by it's effects. I will dare to say that an essential part of the essence of woman is the ability to bear children. Now, one might respond and say what if a woman ceasing being able to bear a child. I say, this is an exception, she is still a woman, because that is not the whole of being a woman.

    Many woman belonging to the powers that be deny this aspect of woman's nature. They seem to think that it just so happens that all the babies are born of mothers. Who knows, maybe tomorrow it will be a father, and it probably would be if they had their way. Equality for all!

    A lot of your argument has to do with expecting people to conform. Of course we expect people to conform. It would be insanity otherwise. I feel like driving on the left today or going through reds and stopping at greens. You respond with well maybe to him, left is right and green is red.

    "I also do not believe that rejecting the word "ma'am" means that Barbara Boxer feels that being female is negative. Perhaps "ma'am," to her, signifies a version of female gender that is not hers. I think a woman has to decide for herself what being a woman means. (And let's not forget that we could take Boxer at her word; maybe she just likes being called "Senator". Good for her.)"

    I don't understand your reasoning. She was talking to a general. In the army every female is ma'am and every male is sir as a sign of respect. This is one of the rudest things someone could do. Imagine if I opened the door for you and you said, thank you, sir, and I said excuse me that's rude, I worked hard to become a doctor and you better call me Doctor. There is no other reason for her remarks other than that she is afraid of the femininity of the word ma'am. She'd rather be the Senator, the sexually ambiguous representative from California. Imagine if Obama was addressed Mr. President and he bugged out because "Mr." to him didn't correspond to what he thought a man was. It doesn't make any sense.

  26. Hi Davy,

    I do think it's hard to try talking acorss perspectives; thanks for sticking with it.

    I don't exactly consider myself a relativist, but I understand that I'm coming off as one. I think that people shouldn't throw up their hands and say "to each his own," but instead have to work to build common ground, or shared understandings. But this is very hard to do, and so we are tempted to lapse into easy generalizations and false certitudes rather than facing the scary, but beautiful, mulitplicity of life. I think it's important to resist that temptation.

    Exceptions are vitally important for a philosophical and an ethical reason. Philsophically, if you say that something is **by definition** x, y and z, but someone produces an example of that "something" which is NOT x, y and z, then your definition doesn't hold. To use a common example--if you say that swans are by definition, essentailly, or fundamentally white, and someone produces one black swan, then your definition has been disproven. You need a definition that applies to all cases--or you need to do without a definition, at least in the strict, genus-species sense of definition. Ethically, we need to pay attention to exceptional people because otherwise we leave them open to prejudice. If we were to ascertain that women, as a group, do not need specialized education, and if we were then, on that basis, deny specialized education to 1,000,0000 "exceptional" women, or to 100 woman, or to one, then I submit that we would be pre-judging and, yes, oppressing those "exceptions" or that one unique woman.

    I used the extreme example of genetic variation within sexes to try to show that even the most "fundamental" characteristics are actually not fundamentally invariable. Maybe this rhetorical move on my part backfired, as it made me seem to be talking only about a "negligibly" small group of people. But if you expand the characteristics that you ascribe to geners, the number of exceptions gets much larger. XX males and XY females are rare; transgendered individuals are less rare; people who vary in some way from gender expectations are not at all rare. (Een Chesterton does not appear to have been some kind of Hemingway code-hero stereotypical male.) Some people think that men are more competitive than women; well, I know a lot of very competitive women and some not very competitive men. I don'tt think that those owmen and men are imperfect examples of what their gender are supposed to be; i just think they are themselves.

    (to be continued..)

  27. When I referred to gender generalizations as “statistical abstractions,” by the way,. I didn’t mean that we necessarily need more statistical evidence. Rather, I’m saying that an inference from statistical cases, doesn’t have the universality or force that an “essence” would have. If you can show me that 99% of women act in a certain way, I‘ll still say that this near-unanimity doesn’t mean that the other 1% necessarily “should” or “would ideally” act in that way. Perhaps you would agree?
    The appeal to “what people have always believed” would be more persuasive to me if I didn’t think there had always been injustice and oppression. As noted in previous posts, Chesterton himself conceded that women might historically have been oppressed. He suggests that this oppression might have been an unfortunate necessity; I’m just saying that we are now at a time when we are, or should be, trying to make such oppression unnecessary and unacceptable.
    Yes, even I will concede that men don’t have babies. (Well there was that one case—but never mind that!  ) I assume you’ll concede, though that not all women have babies. Therefore, we can’t say that women are by definition mothers. And therefore, it would be wrong (and oppressive) to expect all women to undergo an education designed as preparation for motherhood. Do you agree?
    I’m not sure that the Barbara Boxer kerfuffle is really worth arguing about—but here’s my response anyway. I think that many women have too often heard “ma’am” in a condescending tone (e.g., “We had to replace something called the CAR-bur-Etor, ma’am. It’s a very, very important part of the car!”) Maybe after a while the tone become inseparable from the word. I don’ think there’s similarly dicey context for “mister” in your Obama example. But maybe the word “ma’am” just reminds boxer of a 90-year-old sweet grandma; maybe she’s happy to be a woman but doesn’t want to be that woman, just yet. I don’t know; I’m not inside her head.
    I do, actually, agree that we need to conform with traffic laws, conventions of civic discourse, and so on. In a civil society, we balance constraints with freedom. The constraints should be beneficial and necessary one. I don’t think it would be beneficial or necessary to take women with “specialist” talents and make them conform to a “specialist” education, or to expect so-called “manly” women to behave in a “womanly way at the expense of not developing their particular talents. Chesterton didn’t have to conform with getting a degree or specializing in one field of endeavor; good for him! May we all have a chance to be as “nonconformist” as that.

  28. The swan - white example is not analogous to woman. A better analogy, it is part of the essence of a swan to have wings. Then, if for some reason a swan loses it's wings, it's still swan, because it's not a necessary part of a swan because a swan has a composite essence, not primal. Similarly, humans have a composite nature. Thus,it is not wrong to say that humans have reason since part of the essence of human is reason. In other words, this does not mean that having reason is all there is to be a human or even that all humans have reason. Only that part of the essence of human is reason. Again, this is possible because humans have a composite essence. To describe something's essence is not to say what it by definition has, unless it is of a primal essence, such as say, water. Water's nature is to be water. You'll never find water without it being H20. That's what it is by definition and it's essence is that. Now sure if we had a bucket of pure water, and we put in some dirt. We would often call this a bucket of water, but this is only a verbal shortcut to saying this is a bucket of water, and of course I recognize that the dirt in it isn't water, it's a foreign substance.

    Similarly, with man. A man with say a bacterial infection is still a man, however, we know that the bacteria is not part of his humanity. It's a foreign substance, it's not part of his essence.

  29. "Ethically, we need to pay attention to exceptional people because otherwise we leave them open to prejudice."

    Yes, but only because exceptional people are part of the set people, and we must pay attention to all people.

    "If we were to ascertain that women, as a group, do not need specialized education, and if we were then, on that basis, deny specialized education to 1,000,0000 "exceptional" women, or to 100 woman, or to one, then I submit that we would be pre-judging and, yes, oppressing those "exceptions" or that one unique woman."

    How would this possibly be pre-judging? That's certainly an inappropriate use of that word. You're providing education to those of society you can. No one every made a *pre* judgment. They just made a judgment and what could be a very rational one. It would be insanity to think that would could provide perfectly for the needs of every person in society. To apply this to your example. Every society has a particular amount of resources. Suppose as in many societies they have people that can't afford food. Suppose that they then make the decision that instead of trying to feed them they're going to put their money towards trying to perfectly satisfy every child's educational needs. This would be a great moral wrong. You seem to think that some ideal situation exists and that if we just work hard enough to figure it out everyone will be happy and everyone's needs will be satisfied. I say that this is lunacy. A simple example, some people want to live in a society where no one can get an abortion. Others want to live in a society where everyone can. There is no way to satisfy both sides if they live in the same society.

  30. "Some people think that men are more competitive than women; well, I know a lot of very competitive women and some not very competitive men."

    Just because some people think something about another group doesn't make it right. Nor am I defending every generalization that has every existed about the different sexes. You're putting up a straw man by doing so.

    "I don't think that those women and men are imperfect examples of what their gender are supposed to be; i just think they are themselves."

    Yes, they are themselves, we all are ourselves. This is a trivial statement. However, you must recognize that we are all imperfect examples of what our genders are supposed to be because we're all imperfect examples of what we're supposed to be. One of the greatest Chesterton said is "that whatever I am I am not myself," meaning he is not what he is supposed to be, what God wants him to be.

  31. To your question int he next part, of course I agree. The question of something's essence is in no way contingent upon statistics.

    "The appeal to “what people have always believed” would be more persuasive to me if I didn’t think there had always been injustice and oppression."

    This doesn't make sense unless you think every society in all times has had the exact same injustice and oppression. From an objective standpoint that opinion is extremely suspect. The argument of "what people have always believed" is indeed quite strong. On the contrary, the argument of well, these people at this time thought this, is of course weak. Or these people always thought this is similarly weak. However, almost every society everywhere and in all recorded history have thought x is one of the strongest arguments.

    "I’m just saying that we are now at a time when we are, or should be, trying to make such oppression unnecessary and unacceptable."

    Yes, I think all moral societies have tried to get rid of oppression. The problem is that all societies have imperfect philosophies. Our goal should be to have a correct philosophy about humanity in order to more aptly serve it through society. To say, well everyone's different and an individual, while true, does not help in that question. Certainly there is more to humanity other than that we're all different. I could say the same thing about a deck of cards.

  32. "Therefore, we can’t say that women are by definition mothers. And therefore, it would be wrong (and oppressive) to expect all women to undergo an education designed as preparation for motherhood. Do you agree?"

    No, not at all. First off I never implied that woman were by definition mothers. I said that the ability to be mothers is part of their nature. These are very different things as I explained above. Now, surely, if I showed you 100 schoolboys and asked you to tell me which ones would become historians or which ones mathematicians, you could not tell me. However, most people think that history and math are good and proper things to teach boys and most boys are expected to go through the learning of these subjects, even though some if not most might never use that information. (I'm sticking with boy so as not to confuse the conversation, this is just an example) The boy doesn't grow up and say I was oppressed because I was expected to learn math! (or maybe he does, but he's of course wrong)

    Similarly, I think that all men should be taught how to be good fathers, even though not all men surely won't become fathers. As I think that all women should be taught how to be good mothers even thought not all women will become mothers. I don't see how this is oppressive in the least. In fact, I think the exact opposite. It is certainly oppressive to not teach someone something that they should know. Most would think it oppressive to not teach a kid math or science. However, it's much more oppressive to not teach them how to be a good person and in turn a good parent.

  33. As to your Barbara Boxer point. Of course, that's an interpretation. However, I think we can all agree that it was an inappropriate response to the general during a Senate hearing. I could maybe see where you were coming from if she had him over for some tea and she said in private. "I'm sorry general, but would you be so kind as to call me Senator instead? I really don't want to be that old lady yet!" But yes, not really pertinent. I couldn't help myself...

    "I don’t think it would be beneficial or necessary to take women with “specialist” talents and make them conform to a “specialist” education, or to expect so-called “manly” women to behave in a “womanly way at the expense of not developing their particular talents"

    Clearly the point you're making here is that we don't want to force people to become something they oughtn't have to be or look down on them for not being something they oughtn't have to be. Correct? I certainly agree. Taking say getting further education. I don't think it wrong for a parent to want their child to get a college degree. If their kid dropped out and did nothing with his life, than I think they should be pressured into doing something else. However, if he drops out and does something great with his life, like becoming a world-renowned writer, then it would be wrong for people to look down on him for not getting a college degree. We shouldn't judge woman based upon some faulty criterion of what it is to be a woman. No one's saying we should. However, judging by a correct criterion is of course okay. If a woman is doing things a woman oughtn't, you're right that we shouldn't simply condemn them, but surely we can say, "hey, don't do that, let me show you a better way."

  34. Let me respond selectively, so that I don't wear out your patience or the patience of others on the list.
    1. What I'm about to ask is a big question, so feel free to beg off--but could you identify some of the the "essential" qualities of women? Did I understand correctly that you think the female "powers that be" fail to respect some of those qualities? If so, which qualities? (I ask because I don't want to put up a straw man. The competitiveness example was only an example of a stereotype many people have believed. I didn't mean to ascribe that belief to you.)

    2. About the pre-judgment question: to say, **before** first learning what Vera was actually capable of capable of, that "Vera is a woman, and therefore she does not have the abilities suited to an Oxford education," would have been to, in effect, "pre-judge" Vera's abilities. Fortunately, educational policies were changing by the 1910's, so, while few women in her set were going to Oxford, Vera Brittain was able to go to Oxford, become a nurse in World War I, and make great contributions to literature. Can we make up a complete set of laws for each individual? No. Can we do better than providing all women with one kind of education and all men with another, regardless of their needs and abilities? Yes.

    3. I'm not sure why you think I would want to **stop** after saying we're all different. I think, for a example, that a good teacher **starts** by recognizing that students in the class are all different, and then tries to understand the abilities and needs of each students in the classroom. Such a teacher doesn't simply say "the girls need this kind of help, and the boys need that kind of help." If the class is too big to allow a lot of individual work, the teacher might at least divide them by abilities or learning styles. Gender is not always the operative distinction--just as red and black aren't the only important distinctions in the deck. I think Chesterton was write that we need some people to be educated as non-competitive generalists. I just don't think that women are are all among those people are that all of those people are women.

    4. Certainly different cultures and generations have been wrong about different things--but they also may have been wrong about some of the same things. If women have been consigned to certain roles in almost all recorded cultures, there is likely some reason for that--but how do we know that this reason is a just one? Even Chesterton concedes that women may have been oppressed at all times, though he suggests that this may have been a necessary sacrifice.

  35. 1. As I've said before, the ability to bear children. I think that many of the powers-at-be don't have respect for that.

    2. Yes, to judge her abilities before we knew what they were is to pre-judge, certainly. You say, "fortunately" though. How do we know that that was fortunate. Maybe should could have done much better things if she hadn't gone to Oxford. We'll never know. Otherwise, I agree with most of that part.

    3. I would say stop because that's what you've done in practice during this conversation. I recognize that this is very limited and don't presume that you actually stop there yourself, but I can only expect to know about your ideas from what you write. You don't seem to be disagreeing with anything I or Chesterton has written, only that there are more important things other than gender that we should first consider. I agree. I don't think that Chesterton meant for ALL generalists to be woman or vice versa. Nor do I. He's simply showing how it could be the case that woman are better at that and so it's silly to expect them to not be that and to be specialized. He's actually expressing the same idea you are. That we shouldn't expect people to be what they oughtn't have to be. His point is to respond to those that say women SHOULD go to Oxford or in our modern culture SHOULD get jobs and be independent.

    4. You took my statement out of context. I never used the argument that practices such as cosigning people to particular roles gives proof of it being right or just. What I said was in response to your statements implying that there is somehow not really a difference between man and women, that the distinction was artificially made up. My reasoning applies not to practice but to philosophy. If all societies of all times thought there was a difference. It makes sense to think that they all didn't artificially come up with that distinction. In fact just the opposite. It lends credence to the idea that there is indeed an actual difference. Just as if I said there's no difference between a window and a door (or a walking stick and an umbrella), and you responded by saying well almost every society has recognized these to be different things. That would be good reason to believe an actual and meaningful difference existed.

    You continually bring up that Chesterton concedes that women may have been oppressed at all times. I don't deny that Chesterton may have said that, would you be so kind as to show me where he said this?

  36. Thanks, Davy. For now, let me just remind you where Cheserton's concedes that women may have been oppressed. As I said in my first response to you, it's in the the "Emncipation of Deomsticity" chapter of What's Wrong with the World.

    On page 164 of that book (in the edition you can find on Google Books) Chesterton says that motherhood entails a "duty of general enlightement" which he concedes may be "too exacting and oppressive," and he says "I can only answer that our race has though it worthwhile to cast this bruden on women in order to keep common snese in the world." A page earlier, he had said that if we agree that humanity acted at least not unnaturally in dividing itself into two halves, respectively typifying the ideals of special talent and general sanity," we can see that women were suited to the care of "general sanity" because the job of motherhood has limited their exposure to "adventure and experiment." On page 160, he acknowledges that "even under the old traditiona women had a harder time than men" and that "she was a seravant," though with the grace of being a "general servant."

  37. Thanks for doing the work for me, :)

  38. "You say, 'fortunately' though. How do we know that that was fortunate."

    That's funny--I was joking about something like this with my wife the other day. She was saying how glad she was that I had taken my current job instead of one that had offered more money but would otherwise have been a nightmare. I remarked that the other job might have worked out better--maybe I'd have had time to write the Great American Novel while recovering from the breakdown I surely would have suffered, .

    You're right that we can't compare an actual outcome to an unknowable alternative. Still, I think it's fortunate 9and just, and counter-oppressive) when someone is allowed to pursue a goal that is appropriate to her abilities and interests.

    This is one reason why I find it disconcerting that Chesterton preferred the old system of female education to the reforms that were underway. I could agree with Chesterton if the reformers truly were forcibly loosing womens' schools, shipping loads of girls to Eton and sending them all up to Oxford, but that really wasn't happening. Brittain's memoir makes clear that many of her peers were still getting a relatively traditional "female education," but she herself had an educational opportunity that probably would not have been open to her had she been born in a previous generation.

  39. "As I've said before, the ability to bear children. I think that many of the powers-at-be don't have respect for that."

    I agree that people in power could have more respect for motherhood--and fatherhood and childhood--by providing more funding for adoptions and day care, for example.

    I would say, though, that one of the things that bugs me about Chesterton's What's Wrong With The World is that it seems to places great emphasis on motherhood as virtually THE essence of woman. In "The Emancipation of Domesticity," the chapter I cited in my previous passage, he invokes the exigencies of motherhood to justify traditional limitations on womens' roles and options. I think this widely held view has been detrimental to women who have had dreams and ambitions other than motherhood.

  40. It may have been detrimetal to women who have have had dreams and ambitions that didn't include motherhood. My response is well, okay. I don't see how that's oppresive. Our tax code gives tax breaks to those with kids. That's detrimental to those without kids. However, it's not oppressive towards them. In order for society to continue there needs to be families and children. So, it's to the benefit of all for society to favor the idea of woman bearing children. We could of course take this idea too far and force woman to birth children or something, but we don't do that.

    Also, you bring up this idea of being free to pursue ones interests. While this sounds nice, it's also a bit silly. Of course we've always had that ability. Society never forcibly stopped a woman from writing. Just like society today doesn't stop people from playing scrabble 6 hours a day. Even if you could be the best scrabble player in the world and that was your primary interest, I think it's wrong for someone to do that. It's a waste. I reject the notion that just because someone truly wants to do something it's a justifiable action. I reject the notion that it's wrong to judge other people's actions as immoral. As a society we've become afraid of doing such things because the philosophy of relativism has corrupted our thought.

  41. Davymax3,

    In responding to your first paragraph, let me start by taking as a premise that the rights to "liberty" and "the pursuit of happiness," along wiht "life," are "self-evident." With that in mind, let me go back to your definition of unjust oppression--am I right to paraphrase that definition as "burdens arising from a philsophy that is demeaning to the humanity of a group or individual"? If so, and if you agree that the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness are integral to our "humanity," than you might agree with me that philosophically rationalized but unreasonable, unnecessary infringements on these rights are unjustly oppressive.

    Obviously (or so I would have hoped) I'm not suggesting that all infringments on these rights are oppressive. I'm not at liberty to burn down your house, and you can't pursue happiness my eating all my food and drinking all my liquor (unless I invite you to). And sure, the government can reward parenting, incentivize good stewardship of the enevironment, or otherwise promote po-social choices.

    However, historically, the equation of "female" and "mother" has led to infirgments on the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a number of ways at various times and places. At many times in many places, the education of women has, as Chesterton acknowledges, been based on the goal of preparation for motherhood, (almost) to the exclusion of other goals. At many times and in many places, women have felt cultural and familial (if not legal) pressure to bear multiple children, even if they didn't want to do so. At many times and in many places, women have been afforded no viable opportunities for exonomi opportunities, so they have had to become wives and mothers (or else prostitutes adn objects fo pornography) in order to survive. Almost none of this (except perahps legal pressure to have morie children) was remote from Chesterton's time and place.

    You say "society never forcibly stopped a woman from writing." Are you sure about that? It's certainly the case that "society"--or at least, brutal and powerful members of society, acting within their legal (though unjust) authority-- forcibly stopped female and male slaves from reading and writing. This is a very common thread in American slave narratives. Its also true that society has often denied women the education, material and social conditions that are conducive to becoming accomplished writers. See Woolf's "A Room of Her Own."

    I think it's good for society as well as for women that reforms to female education, among other factors, have led to more women writers, doctore, professors, lawyers, legislators, and an English Prime Minister, an American Secretary of State and two American Vice Presdiential nominees.

    These folks aren't professional Scrabble players. I agree with you that it's just as well that society doesn't pay people to play Scrabble. But, if I may creativley misquote chesterton, if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing by whoever can do it well. Society, in the past, did itself no good by letting talent go to waste because it happened to reside in female bodies. Society is less oppressive to the extent that it encoruages people to realize their positive potential. (This is part of why I believe that the UK and America today are, on blance, less oppressive than they were in Chesterton's time.)

    In the passage that sparked this conversation, Chesterton said that reform of female education lacked a "root query of what sex is." I greatly respect him, and because i do, i wish he would have offered more of his own conribution to such a root query, rather than simply preferring the old form of womens' education in the absence of a new understanding of women, and also rather than continuing to define and justify women's roles almost exclusively in terms of motherhood. I'm not "mad" at Chesterton for this, but I'm trying to figure out how to engage with and honor his thinking despite these issues.


  42. Wow you guys have covered a lot of ground since I last checked in--if you'd indulge me I'd like to make an entry.

    Scrabble is a great analogy. You can talk about Scrabble--most people are Scrabble amateurs and it serves a lovely purpose, a sideline activity, a cognitive exercise, it demonstrates and encourages a love of words and language, it is properly social and it has a pleasure principle involved.

    For most people not only is being an amateur Scrabble player their right, it is the best way in which to enjoy Scrabble and for others to enjoy it with them. For the amateur, playing for six hours would be a waste.

    The professional Scrabble player is not a waste, though I see why some Scrabble amateurs would think that, because they have no inclination toward the upper levels of the game. The person who focuses single-mindedly on Scrabble is an exceptional person and for most who do so that pursuit has fruits for themselves and for others. I am a Scrabble amateur but have dabbled in the professional competitive world and it is a wonderful thing--to watch a true pro operate in a Scrabble match sharpens your own skill and love of language; their strategems teach lessons in critical thinking and analysis, and often, their ability to achieve high scores are mathematic feats. (You should actually watch a professional tournament and a true pro play--I like GI Joel the best. If you say that professional Scrabble is a waste, you'd also have to say that about Chess, champion spellers, and those who can do computational math in their heads--should not excellence be pursued for the benefit of us all and to celebrate the achievements and aptitudes of man?)

    Like all things worth doing badly, they are also worth doing well, and a pursuit of excellence in anything worthy gives fruits to everyone, like Bobby Fischer in Chess and like professional athletes, dancers, singers, musicians, actors, etc.

    But the absurd notion that GKC is taking apart here, is that all who have enjoyed amateur Scrabble should now be compelled to pursue it as a professional would. Not only would that ruin Scrabble for the individual for whom God had not blessed with natural Scrabble ability, who once enjoyed amateur, diverting games of Scrabble, but now was chained to the daily drudgery of learning Scrabble because she must, it would ruin it for the pro as well, as people without the inclination, aptitude, and skill would begin to flood the sport.

    He also looks at the fallacy: If professional Scrabble is so good, than nothing but professional Scrabble would do. A fallacy that looks sneeringly on the inferior form of amateur Scrabble.

    The amateur's experience with Scrabble is the one that gives Scrabble support in the first place and leads to a greater appreciation of Scrabble. I am an amateur pianist--this only allows me to appreciate the skill of a pro even more.

    Without amateurs there is no appreciation of the specialist. So saying that either the specialist or the amateur is equally wrong or a "waste," or giving praise to either the amateur or the specialist is not to give moral sanction to either one over the other.

    GKC isn't saying that a specially inclined, gifted, or driven woman shouldn't be able to pursue male-style education if she wishes. It says that nowhere--he questions if it would serve all women, because it might serve an exceptional few and the tendency of those to look sneeringly on the education of women in the traditional manner, simply because it is not the education afforded to men. Ever fond of the paradox, he is actually addressing a form of woman hatred that exists within the efforts to "liberate" her--that anything essentially "feminine" or "woman-ist" is necessarily inferior to what the man has or wants.

    Yes--the Scrabble analogy was a good one to play with!

  43. I'm really glad you came back into the conversation. I completely take your point about professional Scrabble players. I take Chesterton's point about the value of amateurism, a well.

    I even agree that he doesn't say that no woman should ever be allowed to pursue "male-style education"--though, rather than the proposed reforms, he does prefer a traditional system in which such an education was very inaccessible to womeen. He seems to suggest that women were being forced to receive a male education, but this may have been a somewhat uncharitable view; other accounts of the time period, such as the Brittain memoir, reflect expanded options and opportunities rather than compulsion. In What's Wrong with the World, the "Emancipation of Deomsticity" chapter, which I have quoted above, makes clear that C. saw women, collectively, as representing the amateur. Also in that chatper, he seems to justify traditions of keeping women (or at elast most women) out of specialized learning and professions.

    But I'm sounding like a Chesterton basher on the Chesterton blog, which is maybe not optimal. Let me try to be more constructive by asking a question: are there educational and economic reforms that would, today, make more room for people who want to be amateurs or generalists, rather they are men or women, to pursue that (a)vocation?

  44. and yes, you know, in all honesty, I am trying to wring the most value from what he says as a practical application to today's world. many of the trends he saw beginning are the status quo of today--and he is telegraphing a warning about the direction of those changes and their unintended consequences.

    But of course, we are never going back toward the Victorian woman leaning over the screen, nor should we. And I never see Chesterton as that one 19th century journalist called him as a medievalist--I think Chesterton said about going backwards, something like you don't gallop full speed backward to retrieve a glove or feather or something like that.

    Interesting discussion. Thank you to everyone.

  45. I do reject the other professions that you compared to scrabble as not being worthwile. I don't mean they're worthless. I think that people should do better things with their lives. Chesterton agrees with me. Look at what he wrote about professional sports. I think it was tennis that he used. Also, Chesterton wrote that he himself was, indeed, a medievalist. Brian keeps bringing up the Brittain, but she came from a well-to-do family. It's like saying affirmative action helped black people because well-to-do black families were helped. It's not a good argument. Look at the common girl of the day. This has nothing to do with Oxford. It has to do with the schooling provided to the common young girl. I say that this fallacy prevades your thought. You seem to always worry about the exception in spite of the general situation. This is more oppressive. What we could do is try and set up programs to recognize exceptional situations and provide for them in a different way.

  46. Davymax,

    Respectfully, the argument we've been having is not about poverty*, and I don't see Chesterton restricting his argument about female education to a certain social class, level of education, or level of educational prestige. If he did, let me know. And if you know of examples of how educational reform affected lower class women, positively or negatively, I'd be very interested. Otherwise, I don't see how Brittain's class disqualifies her as an example.

    (*Note that the problem of economic dependence has, historically, often been as real for upper-class women as it has been for the lower classes. Often, even women in upper-class marriages have had few options if they were abused or abandoned.)

    Now, on the question of exceptions: Sometimes the exception becomes the norm. Perhaps the reason that only "exceptional" women could aspire to attend a university, in Brittain's time, was that women received so much less preparation for a university-level education. Once women began to receive more ample education at lower levels, it became evident that women with the motivation and ability for university-level work were not actually exceptions at all.

    Don't you agree that university education in the 21st century is no longer only for exceptional women (at least, no more than it is only for exceptional men)? Would you not agree, also, that this is, on balance, a good thing for individual women and for society, in that women have been enabled to make important contributions in fields that would not have been open, or would barely have been open, to them in the 19th century? I ask in all candor: Is this really still debatable?

    If the educational reforms being planned or implemented during Chesterton's time turned out to be the beginning of a good thing, and if he erred in taking such a dim view of those reforms, then shouldn't we who admire his thinking try to understand where he went wrong in this case, so that we can collectively amend and improve his thinking even as we adopt it? I think that he would expect no less.


  47. Davy: the point at which I depart from you is where you point to the professional, the person in a single-minded and exceptional pursuit of excellence and say they are not worthwhile.

    Chesterton is not attacking what is bad in the increasing professionalization of the sport--he is protecting the amateur spirit of the English approach to the sport. He does not call other people's lives a waste--he protects other people from having to become "professional" in order to be considered not a waste.

    There is a difference--which maybe miniscule to you but it makes a world of difference in tone to me.

    And again. Context, context, context. This was on the verge of the increased professionalization of EVERYTHING--the arts, athletics, education, etc--that came with the advent of the Industrial Revolution.

    He wasn't so much concerned with what is wrong with the New as with protecting what is Right with the old, or with the Now.

    He calls the book What is Wrong With the World but he opens the book by saying what is wrong with the world is no one asks what is right with it.

    You may feel justified in using Chesterton in calling other people's lives and interests a waste. But to me the tone of that is slightly off.

    But that's just me. I'm only an amateur in Chesterton. ;)

  48. blog nerd,
    I'm not using Chesterton to justify calling anyone anything. I was simply stating my opinion and then drawing in a reference from Chesterton. I'm not against all professionals. I'm against professionals in unproductive pursuits such as scrabble or chess or tennis, etc.

    "Would you not agree, also, that this is, on balance, a good thing for individual women and for society, in that women have been enabled to make important contributions in fields that would not have been open, or would barely have been open, to them in the 19th century?"

    No I would not agree. Certainly universities today cater to everyone, but I don't think the system is good at all for women. I'll let the results speak for themselves. Just because a few exceptional women go to a university and end up making great scientific discoveries doesn't mean that it's beneficial for all woman. I also don't think it's beneficial for all men. I think that for most university education is a waste of time. The only reason most people do it is to get their piece of paper at the end. Do we really have a more upright and moral society today that we did before everyone went to college? I say, certainly not. And while the middle ages had it's own problems, and we've certainly made strides in certain fields, we no longer put God at the center of our lives or our philosophy. That is the measure of success for our society.

  49. Davmax8,

    I don't mean to interrogate you, and feel free to ignore me if you want, but I want to try to understand your position. So let me ask you this:

    If you could design your own educational and economic system, would women and men of equal ability have equal opportunities to attend your ideal university they so chose, and study the field of their choice? And would they, if they so chose, have equal opportunities to enter professions for which they were qualified?

  50. I would not agree that Chess or Scrabble are unproductive pursuits, any more than I would agree that theoretical physics or philosophy are unproductive pursuits--and perhaps my equation to professional athletics is unsuitable, which I only raise because it is an acceptable pursuit in the united states. But your point about Chesterton's example of tennis is valid on that score--though I think my point about the distinction between saying something is worthy (the amateur approach to tennis in England in that time and context) and pointing to something and saying it is distinctly unworthy is also a valid distinction worth addressing.

    Though I will agree with you about the university system today--I think I noted here that I am a proponent of single sex education and Tom Wolfe's Charlotte Simmons book is about as dead on as you can get regarding how young women are poorly served at today's universities, and reflects my experience at a secular east coast university to a t. So cheers on that.

  51. I don't think Chess and Scrabble are unproductive pursuits either. Maybe I'm not making myself clear. I think that making it the primary pursuit of ones life in lieu of things such as God or family is wrong. I think that for most of these professionals, that's unfortunately the case. I could be wrong, but not all too important I suppose...

    Sorry Brian, didn't mean to ignore you.
    I'm having a hard time understanding your question as phrased. I'll try my best though.
    One reason I find it hard to answer is because I don't want you mean by "ideal university." The word university can mean many different things. So, let me answer what my ideal way schooling would be done. First, parents and the rest of the family would be educated enough to teach the kids. Then, as time went on, they could learn trades from a relative or a friend, similar to the guild system. If someone had a great interest in some particular subject. Say they loved math and wanted to continue their education and do research, then they could go to a university and study, and everyone would be open to this university. However, the university would be quite different from most today because the university would be dedicated mostly to research and training future researchers. There of course, would also be other professional institutions that would exist. I think that a woman who showed the ability to do high-level research should be allowed to study at the university, and a woman who showed the necessary aptitude to be trained by the guild should be allowed entrance into it, too.

  52. You ARE making yourself clear, Davy. What I object to is your clear and decisive observation that if a person pursues something like Scrabble and Chess, in the pursuit of excellence, that they are not serving God and not serving their family.

    It is not clear to me, that pursuing something worthwhile, with a goal of excellence and mastery, precludes, dedication to God and family and all that is good.

    Where I think--and I admit I could be wrong--that you differ in TONE from Chesterton, is that Chesterton DEFENDS the amateur while you cast an OFFENSIVE (I mean that in terms of strategy and not in terms of "rude") moral judgement on the professional, as he exists in today's post-Industrial, capitalist society.

    You dig? :)

  53. You say that I'm making myself clear but then you say, "you cast an OFFENSIVE (I mean that in terms of strategy and not in terms of "rude") moral judgement on the professional"

    No, I don't. Only a small number of professionals. Those that pursue excellence in detriment to their family. Now it may be possible to be a chess champion and a great family man and a great man of God. I've certainly never seen it or heard of anything close to that. I've been a chess enthusiast from a very young age and most of these people don't have to sacrifice everything in order to study all day long to even try and compete against the best in the world. It may be worth it to sacrifice everything else for some professions, a priest is one example I can think of. But scrabble or chess is certainly not worth it.

    Certainly, just because we have a goal of mastery or excellence in a particular field doesn't make it right. The field is certainly of importance to the question. Suppose someone tried to be a master of television watching and watched tv 12 hours a day in order to win the most tv watcher man. That would be wrong, no?

  54. okay, then I have no idea what the point is. :) I retract.

    If you are not casting a general moral statement about the professional pursuit of Scrabble, or Chess, or what have you, then we have no quibble. It seemed to me that you were, when you said that pursuing Scrabble for six hours a day was waste.

    But of course, any pursuit, even a pursuit of perfection in parenting or family life, that includes vanity and precludes God, is, indeed a waste. We have no quarrel there. :) Cheers!

  55. I had a feeling we'd get to this point, blog nerd. I don't mean to continue an argument already settled, but in order to explain why I so ardently stood by my position. It is because you said the following,
    "should not excellence be pursued for the benefit of us all and to celebrate the achievements and aptitudes of man?"
    To which I read to much into your statement by assuming you meant "excellence should be pursued to celebrate the achievements and aptitudes of man [ALONE]." I believe we can add, contingent on the idea that in doing so people recognize and celebrate who gave to man those aptitudes.

  56. Davy,

    Oh, I didn't mean that I thought you were ignoring me--I literally meant that you should feel free to ignore me if you didn't want to answer. After all, to some degree, I was asking you tho think up a whole system of higher education, which was a bit presumptuous of me.

    But hanks for choosing to answer. You told me what I wanted to know--by "your ideal university," I meant whatever kind of higher education you'd like to see.

    To your credit (in my eyes), your system sounds more open to women than the "traditional system" which Chesterton preferred to educational reforms.

    I'm certainly not one to deny the imperfections of higher education, for both men and women. But you're right that we have to evaluate an educational system by its results--and I believe that there have been very important positive results. These results aren't just the careers of exceptional women--although I do find it funny that you say Oxford has nothing to do with it, when Chesterton specifically complains (in the passage quoted of Dr. Thursday) of the attitude that says "boys go to Oxford, why shouldn't girls go to Oxford?"

    On a wider scale, there have been a number of positive changes in England and America since the start of the 20th century, and most of them can be traced at least partially to the greater accessibility of higher education to women and working class men. These include the civil rights movement, the elements of a social safety net in the U.S., the erosion of the rigid social class system in England, regulations on child labor and wages and hours and working conditions, the emergence of an American middle class capable of saving and investing, the ability of many more women to be independent and to leave men who abuse and oppress them, the decline of imperialism (including imperial control of our shared ancestral homeland, by the way, Davy).

    There's more, but I'll stop. BlogNerd, I do hear and can't ignore what you are saying about your college experience and that of other girls. I've been meaning to read the Tom Wolfe book and will do so sooner now.

  57. "To your credit (in my eyes), your system sounds more open to women than the "traditional system" which Chesterton preferred to educational reforms."

    And so do I, because I still think the reforms made things worse. Chesterton, I think, was choosing the lesser of two evils as they say. I still think (in my arrogance :)) that Chesterton would have preferred something like what I describe even more.

    You believe that there have been important positive results outside of the careers of exceptional woman(which I still don't necessarily see as a positive) from the educational reforms taken since Chesterton's writing. What specifically?

    Many of the changes you bring up since the 20th Century, while not challenging if they are positive or not, aren't a result of educational reforms as you claim. The civil rights movement was, to their credit, started and driven by blacks themselves for the most part. Many of them were not affected by the educational reforms. In fact, just the opposite, they caused educational reforms to occur along with many others. And in turn, many blacks are much worse off today than they were when it comes to family (notice a trend here). Before the civil rights movement, black families by a lot of measures were better off than white families. Now, this by no means means that I want to go back to treating blacks as second class citizens. Just as Chesterton likes some things of the Middle Ages doesn't mean he wants to return to those times. I think that oftentimes with reform people recognize something they want to fix and go about fixing it in all the wrong ways. I think that many of the policies resulting from the civil rights movement were sadly detrimental to blacks. I think many are starting to realize that, even if they won't admit it and are coming up with very Chesterton solutions. (I have first hand experience of this, since I live and work in Newark, NJ as a teacher.)Similarly, I think that many of the policies resulting from the feminist movement caused more harm than good for woman. Also, we have a social safety net, but why do we need one? Because they have destroyed the family. You speak of child labor. Why was their child labor? Because of inhumane practices during the Industrial revolution. You speak of the savings and investing by middle class America, but they often don't own true value. They don't own the means of production. And are too often lied to and cheated by Big Business. You speak of spousal abuse. Why was there spousal abuse. I say, because the family was torn down.

    Also, since and because of those educational reforms we've seen a drop in respect for families. Abortion-on-demand. Skyrocketing births out of wedlock. Over 50% divorce rate. Drops in Church attendance. All of this stems from a lack of God at the center of our philosophy. Whenever man ignores God and his true founding, he will come down the path of hedonism and immorality. Not everyone, but as a society. I say not everyone, because even when man ignores God, God does not ignore man and in the deepest recesses of man's soul, we know that there is someone calling us home.

  58. btw, blognerd, you said you went to school on the East coast? I went to Rutgers, anywhere around there?

  59. davy, I thought, given the context of our conversation, that a celebration of man's aptitudes implied a celebration of the One who gives them--but good on you for reminding me of it. :)

    When were you at Rugters? I know two people who taught there.

    I went to Adelphi University on Long Island and then graduate school at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.

  60. I went there from 2004-2007. My sister went to Stern from 2001-2005, but a lot of her friends were at Tisch. If you're still in this area, let me know if there's every any Chesterton events going on.

  61. I'm in the arts, so my contacts are in that area. I graduated Tisch in 1999. Went to University of Pittsburgh on a teaching fellowship there after. I'm now in Cape Cod--there is a Chesterton Society in Boston, but I don't know in NY. There's got to be a pocket somewhere. EVERYTHING finds its way in to the fabric of NY.

  62. Its difficult to race the origins of complex social change. It's also difficult, though, to honestly deny that the expansion of higher education play a role.

    Its hard to see how the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the main organizations through which African-Americans led the civil rights movement, would have existed had there not been a substantial African-American citizens. Even many the non-college-educated leaders of the movement were made literate by graduate of African-American teaching colleges and inspired by figures like W.E.B. DuBois. It's another case where the "exception" became the rule; the so-called "talented tenth" educated generations who showed that African-Americans could do as much good as anyone else in the educational, professional and civic worlds.

    I'm glad we agree that the civil rights movement did well by starting to move us past a notion of second-class citizenship. We seem to disagree about the material impact of the movement, though. The notion that many African-Americans were hurt by this movement sounds like weak revisionist history to me--but if you can direct me towards some readings that make this case, please do.

    The notion that we didn't need s social safety net before we "destroyed the family" is simply false, if you think that much of this destruction occurred in the 20th century. There was terrible cyclical unemployment and poverty in the nineteenth century and around the turn of the century, and in the absence of a social net, people died. We can agree that this cyclical unemployment, along with particular kinds of child labor, are results of the industrial revolution; however, I prefer the 20th century regulation of these industrial horrors to the 19th century rampant horrors.(Let me just leave the Middle Ages and Early Modern period on the side for now, since our discussion focuses on nineteenth and twentieth-century educational systems.) I agree with you that working people don't own enough (and would add that we have not yet been able to collectively wield the financial influence that should come with what we do own) but I think it's undeniable that what we do own makes our lives materially better--and also gives us more of the security and stability needed to think about better reforms.

    I'm not saying that there aren't peculiarly modern problems in the structure of the family--but spousal abuse? You think that there wasn't spousal abuse in 19th century, in the middle ages, and going all the way back beyond recorded history? Really?

  63. Above, I meant "trace [not race1] the origins of complex social change." Apologies if that was confusing. Please feel free to use my typos as evidence of the inadequacies of the modern university system.

    I want to throw in another question. Just what precisely were the "greater evils" to which Chesterton preferred the admitted evils of early Victorian women's education? When I say "precisely," I mean I want to know something more concrete than "forcing women to get a male education, without first coming up with a sound philosophical design." What were women being forced to do, and where, when, how and by whom were they being forced to do it? Chesterton mentions girls playing footballs, girls going "in hundreds" to day schools, girls s going to Oxford (which, by the way, meant going to all-women's colleges at Oxford), and girls having school colors. Assuming that massive numbers of girls weren't being sent off to compulsory soccer camps again the wishes of their parents, and recognizing that women were not being forcibly imprisoned at Oxford, were these really the greater evils?

  64. weak revisionist theory? Have you been to any major city in the USA? Have you been to inner city schools? Do you think tearing down communities in order to build high-rises in order to herd all the blacks into one place is good? How about the rampant amount of drug abuse or violence. The huge number of absentee fathers. I could go on and on with the terrible policies implemented and terrible effects that occurred after the civil rights movement. Certainly black families were stronger before the civil rights movement. It seems like insane revisionist history to deny that.

    "Let me just leave the Middle Ages and Early Modern period on the side for now, since our discussion focuses on nineteenth and twentieth-century educational systems."

    I don't think our discussion is to the exclusion of these periods. Chesterton and I would have preferred to have a safety net similar to these periods, which was based on family and church.

    "I think it's undeniable that what we do own makes our lives materially better"

    Maybe, but I don't see this as particularly relevant when the much more important aspects such as family and God have been made worse. Hey, someone stole a million bucks from me, but he gave me some nice candy in return, good for me??

    Of course I don't deny that there has been spousal abuse throughout history.

    I think that he saw where the road was leading. To the wholesale sexual abuse of woman, cause by the evils of widespread condom use and later access to abortions. He saw that if we ignore woman and refuse to understand the "root query" than we are moving towards barbarism, moving towards a society where we lack true respect for woman and in turn ourselves.

  65. Hi Davy,

    Yes--I have lived in Morningside Heights (at the edge of Harlem) and in Philadelphia, near North Philadelphia. Also, my first job out of college focussed on placing kids from inner-city Catholic schools in corporate summer jobs. I'm aware of the social problems you're talking about. I'm not aware of a very good argument attibuting responsibility for these problems to the civil rights movement--hence my request for a reading suggestion, if you know a book or article that convincingly makes your point. I don't deny that all movements are imperfect and almost all have unintended consequences. However, I know you realize that if we say certain problems must have been caused or aggravated by a movement because they appeared or worsened after that movement, then we are committing the logical fallacy known as "post hoc ergo prompter hoc" ("after that, therefore because of that.")

    I was humbled by Dr. Thursday's praise, in his "blogg" entry today, for this discussion. I suggest that we try to live up to that praise by not throwing words like "insane" or "lunacy" at each other. If you found "weak revisionist history" offensive, I apologize.

    Putting aside our differences about the results of the civil rights movements, let me return to its causes. Now that I've pointed out SNCC and the so-call Talented Tenth, I wonder if you would agree with me that expanded educational oppostunties for Afrian-Americans between the Civil War and the mid-20th Century helped make the Civil Rights Movement possible. I also wonder if, based on my observation about slave narratives, you'd want to modify your statement that society never forcibly stopped a woman from writing. Would you also now agree that it's not accurate to say that "this isn't about Oxford," since Chesterton explicitly includes Oxford in the comment that started this? I'm jsu trying to see if we're now in agreement on facts.

    The facts of my own family history make me reluctant to accept the analogy between middle class financial stablity, meager and tentative as it has been, to a "candy bar." I am grateful to my parents and their ancestors for working to give me opportunities to have some security, some advantages, and event the leisure to spend time having an interesting conversation like this with you.

    Respectfully, I think that you may be taking what Chesterton said about a "root query about what sex is" out of context. He wasn't talking about simply understanding sex as it has always been understood; he was talking about critically reexamining these concepts. That's what "query" implies. Such a query has been going in many fields over the past 100 years; you might not like the tone or results of thhis query (in feminism and gender studies, for example) but there it is. I've admitted bing diappointed that Chesterton, while calling for this query, doesn't seem--based on what I've read to far--to have pushed it forward, other than by candidly admitting the oppression of women and some motivations of that oppression. But for urging the inquiry and making thsoe admissions, I give him great credit.

  66. I didn't mean to offend you by the "insane" statement. I was just telling you what I honestly thought of it. I apologize if you were offended by that. That's certainly my attention. I'll admit that I may not put enough thought into being careful with my words.

    As to the logical fallacy, you're right if that was my only proof. I think that a lot of the problems. High-rises in public housing for instance is a policy that was implemented as a result of the civil rights movement. I'm afraid I'm not making myself clear. I don't mean to say that the civil rights movement caused those problems pro se, but that the resulting policies were a problem.

    I do agree with you about the talented tenth thing. My argument is that they should remain a tenth, not a half of a society that goes to universities.

    I suppose I will modify my statement to, "society never forcibly stopped woman from writing because she was a woman." I thought that was implied. Again, I apologize for not being clear.

    No, I don't think it's about Oxford for the same reason I don't think it's about Eton and it's not about mustaches.

    I never made an analogy of a candy bar to those stated gains. I made the analogy to the million bucks. I recognize those material gains, however, I don't think they were worth the decrease in family stability and the focus of God in society.

    I don't think I'm taking the "root query about sex" statement out of context. I don't think he necessarily wanted to "reexamine." I think he wanted to further examine. Also, you talk about feminism and gender studies as making a query. And certainly they results are the universities' answer to that query. However, I disagree with their answers. Surely, I can do that without being intellectually dishonest.

    To be clear, I very much appreciate having this conversation with you and for your civility. I only hope I can come close that myself.

    I would like to know what your philosophical foundation is, now that I gave you a rough outline of what my ideal would be like.

  67. Thanks, Davymax3. I appreciate that message.

    I wasn't really that offended. i just think it's easier to have a good conversation when each party stipulates the others' sanity--at least for the sake of argument. :)

    Your clarification on what you meant about "results" of the civil rights movement is helpful. I do think that public housing policies have been warped, though I think that's a distortion of the movement or a failure of others to implement its ideals, rather than a result of the movement. It sounds like we might be approximately on the same page about that.

    If you agree about what I said about the "Talented Tenth", I take it that you agree that they and their legacy helped foster the Civil Rights movement, and therefore that expansion of higher education at least contributed to whatever good the movement did.

    I thought your analogy was along these lines: "'a million bucks" is to 'some nice candy' as God and family are to middle class material gains." This would have likened "middle class material gains" to "some nice candy." I still can't seem to read it any other way, but I apologize for misunderstanding.

    I do recognize that you can disagree with feminism without being intellectually dishonest. And I didn't think you were acting dishonestly in, as it seemed to me, taking the phrase "root query" out of context. I can accept "further examination" rather than "reexamination," i guess--although I think any serious query has to be open to going unexpected places, whihc may mean rethinking initial premises. I also think that "not understanding the root query" is an odd thing to accuse the 20th century of, since this query seems to have gotten more attention in our time than in any other recoded time--again, if you don't agree with the results. But I guess it depends on what you mean by "understanding [a] query"--certainly, I think many people in last 110 years or so have understood the necessity and required scope of the query, but you may mean that they haven't understood the right (as you see it) answer to the query.

    I think Chesterton was kidding about mustaches, but it seems to me that he was serious about Oxford, since the opening of women's colleges and the availability of some Oxford courses and exams to women were among the more prominent innovations in womens' education in England over the previous half century or so.

    It's fair enough that you ask about my "philosophical foundations." I'll try answering in my next reply.

  68. This is going to feel a little self-indulgent, bu day fairly asked about my philosophical foundations, so here goes.

    It's hard, because I'm less philosophical than rhetorical, and I'm therefore not a foundationalist. By that I mean that I don't see any firm philosophical foundations on which to rest with certainty, and I value what Keats called "negative capability": the capacity to remain in active, honest, searching doubt, rather than investing in false certitudes. I'm not sure whether or not "existence precedes essence," but it sure looks that way to me; to some degree, I think we have to muddle through in the dark (or, if you prefer, "work out our salvation in fear and trembling") though we can often do so more less elegantly and happily if we do it together. I don't believe we should relativistically go it alone, but that we should negotiate meaning together and in relation to the facts of the physical world (as best as we an ascertain them). Because I think meaning-making is collaborative, I'm drawn to rhetoric--the art of persuasion, or, to loosely paraphrase the American rhetorician Kenneth Burke, the art of identifying with others and of transforming our own identities in concert with others. Like Burke, I think we should try to keep transcending our own narrow perspectives, and I I think that we should try to frame history, our interactions with others, and our lives as comedies rather than tragedies. Partly, that means that we should try not to sacrifice each other or (usually) ourselves, and we should try instead to laugh our way into comity. In many moods, I believe that laughter is the deepest philosophy (I'm afraid I may be plagiarizing that last bit, but I an;t seem to find it anywhere.).

    I was raised Catholic, but i found that i was unable to say the creed without equivocation or to identify enough with certain attitudes of the church, universally or locally; I am still influenced by Catholicism, but also by Buddhism, existentialism and other ways of thinking. I'd like to learn more about Gnosticism, because what I've heard and read touches my interest in free inquiry and free worshipfulness.

    So what am I doing on a Chesterton blog? I I may use an analogy based on The Man Who Was Thursday, i feel a little like Lucian Gregory might have felt if he'd ended up among a Council of Detectives. (Maybe I should try my hand at writing a sequel.)

    But I appreciate Chesterton's humor, his candor, his penchant for paradox, his willingness to debate and befriend people of entirely different philosophies, and his critiques of capitalism. And I like to stretch my beliefs by conversing with people who come at things from different perspectives--and this seems like a good place to do it.

    Educationally, I believe we have to recognize and cultivate students' uniqueness--liberate them to be who and what they are, if I may paraphrase Chesterton (see Dr. T's quotes from today)--while also teaching them to be members of a community. Davy, this may sound impossibly idealistic to you, and I know we can't create an educational system for each student. I do think we can come closer than we have-a-t every level of education--by providing resources for smaller class sizes and more one-on-one attention, and by recognizing and accommodating multiple intelligences and learning styles (which many educational innovators are already working very heard to do).

    I hope you're not sorry you asked. :)

  69. I'm not sorry I asked at all. I agree with everything you've said (or almost, not the part about foundationalism and the Catholicism/Gnosticism part. Think these are really the same thing. You seem to be a foundationalist though, since you said that something before about certain things being self-evident.)

    It seems like we agree on a wide range of topics, certainly more so than I'd expect to than with a random person on the street.

    To give you a few reasons of why I think so.

    "I'm not sure whether or not "existence precedes essence," but it sure looks that way to me."

    And to me and to Aquinas, except for God, in which case they are the same.

    "I'm drawn to rhetoric--the art of persuasion, or, to loosely paraphrase the American rhetorician Kenneth Burke, the art of identifying with others and of transforming our own identities in concert with others."

    This is exactly what I think and I also think it is the main reason Christ instituted the Church.

    "I think that we should try to frame history, our interactions with others, and our lives as comedies rather than tragedies."

    It seems like you're plagiarizing Chesterton! (JK) He says almost this exact thing saying that it is indeed a true "divine comedy."

    "I believe that laughter is the deepest philosophy"

    It's difficult to get more Chestertonian than that. Reminiscent of how Chesterton ends Orthodoxy.

    On education I couldn't agree with you more. As a teacher I only wish that there were more people like you involved.

    "i was unable to say the creed without equivocation or to identify enough with certain attitudes of the church"

    This is a personal question and feel free not to answer, but might I pry into what part of the Creed you had troubles with?

    "I am still influenced by Catholicism, but also by Buddhism, existentialism and other ways of thinking."

    As are a great many Catholics that I know. If you haven't read The Everlasting Man, I highly recommend it. Chesterton speaks highly of Buddhism but recognizes the one place it comes short and how Catholicism really doesn't reject many of it's teachings, but expounds upon them. He argues that Buddhism has an isomorphism to a part of the Church.

    "I'd like to learn more about Gnosticism, because what I've heard and read touches my interest in free inquiry and free worshipfulness."

    Again, I don't want to seem obnoxious or overbearing, but if you would, I think you might also enjoy the shorter piece, "Where All Roads Lead" by GKC and if you like that then, "The Catholic Church and Conversion," "The Thing:Why I Am a Catholic," and "The Well and the Shallows."

    Anyway, thanks for indulging me by answering my question. I hope to hear from you soon.

    P.S. I wonder how long we can keep this going? lol

  70. Thanks for the reading suggestions--I appreciate them and will find time for them.

    To me honest, what gives me trouble about the creed is its creedness. I have trouble adopting its definitiveness, its voice of certainty--and its not really that I simply have trouble, but that I don;t believe I should be so certain. I believe that we have to make meaning together, but the creed sounds to me like a declaration that meaning has already been made. Much of the creed seems metaphorically insightful, but neither reason nor faith tells me that it is THE Truth rather than "just" a truth. "A truth" could be enough for me, but I think reciting the creed is, in effect, more than a declaration that I believe this to be this is one interesting perspective among others. Ultimately, I don't know the answers to the final questions, I suspect that they are not knowable by humans on earth, and I believe in remaining in active doubt rather than adopting false certitude. (I'm not crazy about labels, but i don't like being coy, either; if you all me an agnostic, I won't deny it.)

    So, my use of "vocation," on the other thread, was something of a metaphor; maybe we are called by God, or maybe we are "called" by our own best selves, by love unincarnate, by the circumstances of need and ability. It may be that God speaks to us through friends and family, through our own inner voice in prayer or meditation, through our own reasoning and emotions, or in other ways. But all these voices are probably worth listening to and weighing even if they are not God speaking. I'll also say that there are different kinds of desires or passions, and they should probably should be weighed differently; it's one thing to say that say that an activity gives me momentary pleasure, and another to say it gives me lasting fulfillment. If a person feels called to be a priest and profoundly believes that he would be useful and fulfilled as a priest, I think that's a kind of passion, and yes, if it's strong enough and deep enough, it might outweigh his assessment that his abilities are more suited to teaching.

    You're right to point out that my reference to self-evident rights sounds foundationalist. What can I say? We have to pick premises to argue from, even if we're not sure they're metaphysically authorized. Another good starting point is Kant;s second formulation of hte categorical imperative: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end." Perhaps "oppressive" acts and beliefs and philosophies (to return to the beginning of our discussion) are those which reduce people to means and not ends.

  71. It's funny you bring up means and ends. That's something I've had many conversations about. You see, I deny the idea that we should not look at anything as a means to an end. In the same way I think the ends always justifies the means. If anything justifies the means, certainly the ends does. Same with a friend. I don't think we should have friends simply to have friends. We have friends in order to have conversations with them, to grow with them, to share in life with them, etc. That's the end. So, the means of having friends is thus justified. We must always look at the ends to justify something and I think that a lot of oppression stems not from reducing people to means and not ends, but precisely the opposite. Oppression exists when people stop treating people as means, or as useful. When we see someone as an end it could mean we like them or we don't like them, but either way, we have no use for them. As an example, if the husband saw that his wife was a means to eternal salvation, then he very well might not abuse her. If he sees her as an end in and of itself, then you're right, she might get lucky and he doesn't abuse her, but this is by itself, certainly no justification to not abuse her.

  72. "I believe that we have to make meaning together, but the creed sounds to me like a declaration that meaning has already been made."

    I believe we must make meaning together. (Thus we're not ends) The creed is a declaration of fundamental beliefs. It's not meant to be an end in and of itself. Without us, without the church, the Creed means nothing. We are the inheritors of the creed. It's like reading a history book. Yes, this happened. Okay, now, what do I do with it. So, yes, certainly it does say meaning has already been made. (surely, you don't deny that our ancestors made "meaning") However, it doesn't say, now that's the end of being meaningful or stop doing more things. In fact, it's precisely the opposite.
    "You might as well say that a man who has a completely recovered health, after an attack of palsy or St. Vitus' dance, signalises his healthy state by sitting absolutely still like a stone."(GKC)

    You say you prefer to remain in active doubt over false certitudes. This presupposed that those certitudes are false. But you said before that you don't say they are false? Am I missing something?

  73. I think that Kant's point is not that we should never see ourselves or others as means to an end,but that we should never see ourselves or others as ONLY means to an end. We should value ourselves in our own right and not only as workers on some assembly line or footsoldiers in some cause; and we should care about others for their own sake, and not for what they can do for us. So, Friend A may "use" Friend B for conversation or good times, but should also care about Friend B's well-being--perhaps even to the point of hoping that Friend B will be able to move somewhere where he will be happier and more fulfilled, even though that will cut down on his utility to Friend A. I think that if a husband sees his wife as an end, that means he sees her her well-being and happiness as his purpose, and he will do his best to bring those goals about. (By seeing someone as an end, Kant doesn't mean having the goal of possessing them; he means roughly the opposite of that. An abusive husband is using his wife as a means to his end of asserting power, venting frustrations, or something else.)

    In reading WWTW, I wonder whether Chesterton sees a woman as only a means to the end of child-rearing and housekeeping, or whether he sees the well-being and personal development of women as an end to which society should strive. I ver y much want to think the latter.

  74. Certitude as an attitude would be false coming out of my mouth (or fingers, as it were), because I'm really not sure. As I said, much of the creed seems like it could be metaphorically true from a certain perspective, but I haven't been convinced, by faith or reason, that it is THE truth. Or even that it's the primary truth for me personally. I don't mean that i feel the need to reinvent the meaning-making wheel, so to speak; if the meaning already collectively made by the church was deeply persuasive to me, I'd be happy to adopt it. As it stands, I haven't found it persuasive in the singular, truth-of-truths way that I mentioned. And the church hasn't seem to me to be an institution where that welcomes active doubt about, and inquiry into, its most fundamental concerns. That's just a subjective impression; I don't presume to make a judgment about the Catholic Church, and there are many Catholics I greatly respect.

  75. We should not value ourselves for our own right, we should value ourselves as God's creatures. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so we reflect the goodness of our Creator.

    "we should care about others for their own sake, and not for what they can do for us."

    Yes, not what they can do for us, alone, but for what they can do for God and in turn all his creatures. However, we should about others not for their own sake, but because they are creatures of God and reflect his goodness. Yes, he should care about Friend B's well-being. However, this isn't because Friend B's well-being is a good thing in and of itself. It's because it serves a function, or a potential function. Similarly, Friend B moving and being more fulfilled and such with result that they can no longer share in eachother's company is because Friend B would serve God and fellow man better there. Just as when someone dies, they don't cease to have meaning to us. And if they are a good person we trust that they are in God's arms and serve him there.

    "I think that if a husband sees his wife as an end, that means he sees her her well-being and happiness as his purpose, and he will do his best to bring those goals about."

    Similarly with the friend. The wife's well-being is only good in as much as it emanates from God. And he should care for her well-being. This caring is his means to serve God. Not an end in and of itself. I know what Kant means, I think he's wrong. An abusive husband is most certainly using his wife as a means to his ends. I agree. The *reason* it's wrong is because his "ends" or goal is wrongly conceived.

    I think Chesterton sees a woman is a similar way as I do; as a creature of God. As a means in serving Him and in turn His handiwork. I believe, in reading WWTW, that Chesterton thought that by child-rearing and taking care to make a good home, a women served God quite well. (This isn't to say that all woman are meant to do this, or God wants all woman to do this. God could have other, dare I say, lesser purposes for some women) I think he sees in this function, this service to God, a woman can achieve a sound well-being and the highest service to God, and grow and become a continually better person and thus satisfy her "personal development." Also, society should strive towards preserving this God-given function of woman, not merely an ends, but as a means towards the end of serving God and reaching eternal salvation.

  76. "the church hasn't seem to me to be an institution where that welcomes active doubt about, and inquiry into, its most fundamental concerns."

    Precisely the opposite. But instead of quoting the piece, I'll just direct you to "The Catholic Church and Conversion" Chapter IV. Not very long.

  77. I believe we must make meaning together. (Thus we're not ends)

    I don't think your parenthetical follows. Sure, others may help us make meaning--but if we are also helping them, then we are not treating them only as means to our own end; we also helping them towards their end. It's if we use others in meaning-making without their participation and consent (i.e, if a man were to say "it helps me make sense of the universe to think of women as a keepers of the domestic fire, whether they agree or not and whether the role is in their interest or not") that I would worry about taking others as means only.

  78. You say that we should care about Friend B's well-being only because it serves, or could serve, a function. Poor B. He thought we loved him. :)

    You also that that we should love ourselves only as reflections of God's goodness. But doesn't the Bible often speak of coming to love God because we want eternal life (meaning, presumably, that we love ourselves, or at least care about our interests as ends in themselves)? You can say that our self-love is transformed once we have converted, and that the self becomes an end rather than a means. Still, in that case, it was self-love that brought the Christian to love God, and not the other way around.

    It seems a little presumptuous, and perhaps self-defeating, of a doubter like myself to quote the Bible to a believer. But I'm not going to make much of an impact using Kant, so here goes: Luke 10:25-28. When the lawyer asks how may gain eternal life, Jesus doesn't tell him to stop being so self-involved as to care about eternal life, or to see the prolongation of life as only a means to serving and honoring God. Rather, he elicits from the lawyer two laws leading to eternal life, and says to follow to those in order Doesn't Jesus seem to endorse using the love of God as a means to securing one's own ends? (Admittedly, one should then love God "with all his heart--I'd submit that Jesus that the love both self and God is both means and ends.)

    And he goes further, of course. If acting well towards others was really something we're supposed to do only to serve and honor God, then there would have been no need to single out a second over-arching commandment. But he endorses the belief that you should "love your neighbor as yourself" (with the term "neighbor" including a stranger, who may, for the Samaritan knows, serve no good purpose.) Again, by saying "as yourself," Jesus seems to presume that self-love, as in devotion to one's own ends, is a given and something that does not even have to be commanded. And he places the love of others on the same level, which suggests that we should love others as ends in themselves (though also as means to eternal life).

    When Chesterton says that the role of woman is oppressive but that the race has found it convenient to cast her in that role anyway, I have to wonder if he is loving woman as himself, I have to wonder if he is really loving woman as himself. Maybe he is; as I've suggested earlier, I think Chesterton was attracted to the generalist role that he ascribed to women, and his tongue may have been partly in cheek when he called it oppressive. So maybe my next question is whether he saw the historical role of women clearly and understood how oppressive it really was. As my wife pointed out to me yesterday, there's an argument that woman historically was not a generalist was a specialist in the care of the house, and that this narrow role was more constraining and less romantic than what Chesterton imagined. I don;t know--I'll look forward to the WWW discussion that it sounds like Doctor Thursday will be leading.

  79. "Doesn't Jesus seem to endorse using the love of God as a means to securing one's own ends?"

    He may SEEM to. But this is only because you failed to recognize the true idea of eternal life. Eternal life IS being with God and loving him with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul. That's our goal, our end. ANd not only that but being in the communion of saints and sharing in God's love for them too. Thus, loving your name like yourself. These, two commandments are preparation for heavan, an emulation of heavan. (Socrater or Plate has similar advice. That we should emulate what we would experience at death. I'm sorry I forget where though.)

    "with the term "neighbor" including a stranger, who may, for the Samaritan knows, serve no good purpose"

    Christians reject that notion. That's precisely the whole point. The Samaritan always has the potentiality of serving a good purpose. He is made by God in his image and likeness. No matter what he still has goodness inasmuch as he *is*.

    I like that you brought up those two commandments. I was going to, too, because this a main topic of Deus Caritas Est. Pope Benedict talks about the centrality and primacy of these two commandments in not just self-professed Christian life, but all life. The most basic thing is to love. God is love. So, whether we want to or not, inasmuch as we love, we are glorifiing God.

    You say that we don't love friend B because we *only* love him because he is a creature of God and that means that we don't really love him. Then what is love, in your definition. I profess that loving someone as an image of God, to try and love someone as God loves, is the ultimate form of love. For example, take a husband and wife, who are atheists, they love eachother very much. Then, they make a true conversion to Catholicisim, than their love for another will be intensified because they see eachother as being so much more.

    You say that self-love that brought Christians to love God, not the other way around. I answer that that's looking at it in the wrong way. Since God's love is primal to everything, including, of course, self-love. This self-love, a form of God's love, was made stronger and was magnified (not transformed) into love for other's and love for God.

    There are two types of love we're talking about here. One is the perfect love that *is* God, and then there's the imperfect love that we have for God and for others. Certainly, we can love people without knowledge or recognition of God. But this love is in spite of that lack. We are made in God's image whether we want to be or not, so as humans, we have this ability to love. The lowest form of love is simply loving one's self. By itself, it is often a cause for sin. However, just as Christ conquered death and trandformed it, so this form of love is made into something salvific. Without Chirst, we can have love, but it very often leads us astray, because it can be perverted. There are people that love sin, but "He that loves sin, hates his own soul."(Ps. 10:6) There are people that love other people in a perverted way. I could go on, obviously, but just read Dante for all the ways love can be perverted :). In fact the seven deadly sins can all be considered a perversion of love. One of the essential parts of loving is ordering. For instance, not to love scrablle more than family or not to love the ritual of the Mass more than God, etc.

  80. Hey Davy,

    It's certainly true that the Good Samaritan story illustrates that anyone, even the despised Samritan, can do good. What I meant was that the Samritan had no knowledge of the good or bad potential of the mean heading down from Jerusalem, but chose to help him anyway, simply because it was right to do so. Presumably having no expectation of an afterlife, he chose to help the wounded traveler anyway. The Samaritan treated the traveler as an end in himself.

    But I do agree with you that everyone has the potential for goodness (though it's hard to feel that when one thinks of a Hitler, for example). If you're saying that everyone has goodness inasmuch as he or she is, then I actually think that's functionally equivalent to saying that we should treat everyone as an end. My neighbor is fundamentally good; therefore I should act in a way that honors and serves that goodness and helps her develop it in her own unique way.

    If you think we should love Friend B even if he falls into an irreversible coma, and even if makes choices that you find fundamentally wrong, then I don't think we disagree about the ethics of friendship, even if we ground those ethics differently.

    A lot of what you say I can't really agree with or effectively argue with, since I don't share your faith in your theological premises. I see that some of your conclusions follow logically from the premise that the world was created by the God described in the Christian Bible--but, since I'm not sure that the truth or untruth of this premise is ultimately knowable, I can't be convinced that your arguments are sound. I do however, believe that "[you must] love your neighbor as yourself" is a good premise, and I think there's at least some kind of truth in the premise that you should love God--although, for me, it might be "love what is best and truest in the world," or "love love." Neither of those sounds completely edifying, though. Still happily searching.


    I do agree with you that

  81. Hey, you're not anonymous anymore! lol

    I doesn't seem to me that you would admit to believing nothing. You say you're not a foundationalist. So does this mean your primary and only belief is that we can't have other beliefs? What do you believe?

  82. Again, I'm going to feel very self-indulgent, but since you asked, and since you've indulged me...

    The last thing I'd believe is that we "can't have other beliefs." I say I'm not a foundationalist because I haven't found ultimate grounds for knowledge and am skeptical that there are such grounds to be found. But I think we necessarily formulate beliefs, however provisional or firm, as we go along. And because I don't have firm foundations, I have no grounds to tell anyone else exactly what to believe (at least not on the deepest, ultimate questions). But if someone proposes a belief or a practice that I think is wrong, or tries to impose their belief unjustly on others, I believe I should try to argue them out of it and, if necessary, try to persuade others to oppose it.

    As I am admittedly (and pretty happily) muddling through, I don't have a complete or final system, but here are a few beliefs I'm willing to affirm today:

    Metaphysically, I don't know who or what, if anyone or anything, created the universe, though its an interesting question and I enjoy thinking about it.

    Physically, I believe there's both pattern and chaos in the universe, and both can inspire wonder. (Again, see the argument between Syme and Gregory in TMWWT.)

    Etymologically, I believe in the utility of the scientific method, but I also believe that knowledge is mediated by language, and I believe in fiction, poetry and the arts as ways of understanding the world. In other words, I believe there are many ways of finding and debunking patterns in the world, and that these different ways each have their purposes.

    Also etymologically, I believe that we become more wise when we step beyond out narrow perspectives and look at the world with different eyes. that's a paraphrase from Nietzsche, so I believe I'd better duck. :) But I don't believe that you have to a Nietzschean to look at things from mulitple perspectives. As you may have noticed, and as you surely do too, I believe in argument and dialogue.

    Ethically, I agree with Kant that we should strive to never treat ourselves as others as means rather than ends. We are not merely instruments, and neither are our neighbors; we should strive together to develop our uniqueness in the context of harmonious communities (and, as necessary, a harmonious society).

    Ethically, theologically, and by virtue of my cheerful disposition, I believe that, if there is a God, He or She surely also sees us as ends and not means. I don't believe that God would create us, let alone become one of us and sacrifice for us, just to have mirrors for His or her glory. (I'm not saying anyone else beleives this--just trying to make clear why i have difficulty with the idea of subordinating love for people to love for God: I don't think he or She would want us to do so. I think God would want us to love God by loving each other and the world.)

    Eschatologically, I feel that our lives are not bounded by time. I hesitate to call that a belief, as I lack a rational basis for it or firm fate in it. But I feel and hope it.

    Corny as it sounds to me, I believe in wonder and laughter, which is why I'm here.

  83. Good to hear. Thanks for indulging me. You stand on interesting ground. Not many are in your spot. I commend you on your honesty. Thanks for indulging me.

  84. My pleasure. And thank you for your honesty and patience as well. I don't think my beliefs/doubts are really that unusual, especially in academia--or in Unitarian Universalist congregations, though I don;t currently belong to one. These beliefs and doubts may seem unusual because people like me look like abject relativists upon casual examination by people of faith. I hope I've at least made a distinction between abject relativism and ... whatever "-ism" I fall under. :)

  85. It's funny that I mentioned Dickens before because I just started reading "Charles Dickens" and near the beginning of the very first Chapter he has something to say about our conversation comparing 19th century to early 20th century. He speaks more broadly than here, but it has the same spirit to it. Maybe this will help shed some light on what he truly thought.

    "But the fundamental difference between the beginning of the nineteenth century and the end of it is a difference simple but enormous. The first period was full of evil things, but it was full of hope. The second period, the fin de siécle, was even full (in some sense) of good things. But it was occupied in asking what was the good of good things. Joy itself became joyless; and the fighting of Cobbett was happier than the feasting of Walter Pater. The men of Cobbett's day were sturdy enough to endure and inflict brutality; but they were also sturdy enough to alter it. This "hard and cruel" age was, after all, the age of reform. The gibbet stood up black above them; but it was black against the dawn. "

  86. And again a few paragraphs later. It's as if he were reading our conversation and responding.

    "And a religion again, is a thing which, by its nature, does not think 6£ men as more or less valuable, but of men as all intensely and painfully valuable, a democracy of eternal danger. For religion all men are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King. This fact has been quite insufficiently observed in the study of religious heroes. Piety produces intellectual greatness precisely because piety in itself is quite indifferent to intellectual greatness. The strength of Cromwell was that he cared for religion. But the strength of religion was that it did not care for Cromwell; did not care for him, that is, any more than for anybody else. He and his footman were equally welcomed to warm places in the hospitality of hell. It has often been said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary."

  87. You guys are having some conversation. :)

  88. Great selection of passages!

    I think that the Victorian age was both a "hard and cruel age" and an age of reform. This can probably said of most eras, in retrospect. It's particularly true of the Victorian Age in respect to womens' eduction. I'm no expert, but I understand that the first women's colleges in England opened during the nineteenth century. As many women who passed through those colleges became teachers, they augmented the eduation of girls at lower levels. These Victorian reforms seem to fall under Chesterton's censure; he says that "there never were" true reforms of womens' education, and he looks back nostalgically to "the elegant EARLY Victorian female." I stand open to correction about this, bit it seems to me that Chesterton is implicitly complaining even about the idea that women should have colleges as men do; that is, he's opposed even to single-sex higher education for women (at least pending some future "root query" and the possible design of a new system in the unforseeable future).

    As Blog Nerd has observed, the early Victorian woman is gone and not coming back. so maybe I should stop carping all this. But, like Blog nerd, I want to see what I can take from Chesterton's thinking and apply to the modern world, and for me, that process of borrowing and application also involves seeing what i can't accept in his thinking and understanding to what degree it is or is not intertwined with the more attractive parts.

  89. Also, though he is defending the Victorian Woman and what was Good about her--I think ultimately the Victorian woman is already degraded by the post-Reformation restructuring of society. She is truly more vulnerable. One of the early posters brought this up and expressed it astoundingly well--Sophia--the vulnerabilities expressed in the pre-Victorian novels of Austen, and then of the Victorian and early 20th century woman, were a direct extension of the break down of Catholic society and the destruction of Religious houses as owners of estates and providers of asylum to the most vulnerable.

    Truly, I think, and maybe I'm wrong, Chesterton is really expressing through the Victorian woman bent over her screens, what needs to be valued and protected and what was cast adrift once the natural protections and social safety nets of medieval Europe were abandoned forever.

    This is why he is often accused--in a truly pejorative sense--of being a medievalist.

  90. I think that Chesterton's description of religion in this passage is characteristically beautiful and idealistic (and i mean idealistic as a high compliment), but I think it describes an ideal while purporting to describe the reality of religion. When I worked for the development office of an archdiocese, I never expected to be treated as "equal" to the Cardinal--and in expecting a hierarchy, I wasn't disappointed.

    As an ideal, Chesterton's view of religion is noble and resembles, ironically, Kant's third formulation of the categorical imperative. Kant tells us to act as if we were "legislating members of the Kingdom of Ends." that is, my neighbors are ends in themselves as much as I am, so I am no more important than they and they are no more important than I, and we should work in concert to meet all of our ends.

    Blog nerd--thanks! By the way, i want to Adelphi, too! Back in the late 80's, though.


  91. And as a side note--I think in reading What is Wrong with the World, it's a good companion to read What I Saw in America.

    He is so deeply sensible of how things are totally and completely different here than they were in England then--and when thinking about American society in terms of WIWTW it's important to remember those differences and how they apply to the values he's expressing.

  92. It's true that the destruction of the religious houses eliminated places of asylum for women. And it set back the development of nursing and hospitals and probably schools and orphanages, and the Reformation also fueled witch-hunting.

    At the same time, I think it's fair to say that the way the English Reformation played out was not just a cause of new troubles for women, but also a symptom of existing troubles. I'm not a scholar on the Tudors, but I know that Henry's inclination to put Catherine aside predated and occasioned the official English Reformation.

    Overall, I'm thinking that a medieval Jane Austen in England wouldn't have been short of material, just as Christine de Pizan, I understand, wasn't short of material to use in exposing and resisting misogyny in her time and place. Again, it seems to me that most eras an be characterized as both times of cruelty and times of reform.

    Also, isn't it true that the Reformation led to greater literacy among women (and men), as reformers taught their congregants to bypass the Church and go directly to Scripture? If so, perhaps there's a line to be traced from the reformation to the establishment of women's colleges and greater proliferation of literacy in the mid- to late-Victorian period. Again, I'm not a scholar of the Reformation, so I'll appreciate any correction. And perhaps some will think that the establishment of women's colleges was a negative development for women--but I think that's a tough case to make, especially from our (as opposed to Chesterton's) historical perspective.

  93. Mmm. I can't really argue WELL on this point--only my sense and I could back this up with some Marshall McLuhan and Diarmaid McCullough. Thomas Cahill too though he's like A Penny Dreadful writer of history (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that, natch)

    But--it's not so much that literacy increased under the Reformation. Increased literacy provided a megaphone for the Reformation. Increased literacy allowed a populist undermining of clerical and ecclesial authority as you described but it was the effect not the cause of increased literacy.

    Literacy in general was a value propounded by Renaissance Humanism---and please note: what we call "Humanism" today scandalously tries to claim ancestry to Renaissance Humanism and characterize it as either secular or Protestant but it was indexically Catholic.

    If you want to see what women were allowed and able to achieve by the protection and nurturing of the religious houses Google (if you don't already know them)


    and even more astoundingly

    Hildegarde of Bingen

  94. blog nerd,

    For the Penny Dreadful version of English medieval history, I like Ken Follett.

    You're right that Catholic Humanists valued literacy and that "increased literacy provided a megaphone for the Reformation." I've been under the impression that the reverse of the latter clause was also true--that the protestants, as they gained influence, further popularized literacy so that the masses could read Scripture. As I understand it, Luther was a supporter of compulsory education, and this was implemented in some places where the Reformation took hold. (The situation was probably complicated in England, though, where dissolution of priory schools might have offset reformers' efforts to expand education.) By contrast, I think the Humanists, in general, valued literacy more in terms of purifying scholarship than in terms of educating the masses.

  95. I think you are right about literacy for populace vs. literacy for a literate class--and the point about compulsory education coming from Martin Luther is well-taken.

    (I'm really grateful for how this conversation is pointing out huge gaps in my knowledge, or at least points where my thinking is not as clear as it should be.)

    However--my sense is just that--that to be a member of the litterati was not compulsory for all people but no particular person was barred from entering that class if one had the inclination and aptitude for it. I'm thinking of St. Godric)

    And again the Abbeys were just such a place to go if you were called to study but had not the means to pursue it yourself.

    I think people mistake fedualism for Hindu caste systems, but I think they were far more flexible than that. I also think that classes and states in life became far more rigid in post-Reformation England than they ever were in Medieval or Renaissance England.

  96. I'm grateful in just the same way.

    I do remember being taught about feudalism as if it were caste-like (or at least "castes light--the untouchables-free version!"). Getting that simplistic frame in my mind made it disconcerting (and enlightening) to later read about more-or-less self-made Medieval and Early Modern Englishmen like Godwin of Essex, Thomas Wolsey (at least according to the traditional account of his heritage), and Thomas Cromwell.

    At the same time, serfs were bound to the manor and subject to will of their lords. Most commoners probably had little opportunity, let alone encouragement, to discover whether they had the inclination and aptitude to join the literati. So then--if I may make a comically sweeping historical jump--serfs were freed from the manor and shackled to factories. There continued to be "by their bootstraps" stories, which now came to stand for supposedly new possibilities of social mobility; but most people still were economially and socially unfree. I think that narratives of nostalgia and narratives of progress are both suspect.

    But I can't help thinking that expanded education and literacy does represent real progress. Having posted ad nauseum about freedom, choice, self-development and so on, I do feel a bit self conscious about now saying "boy, I'm glad they made education compulsory!" I do think, though, that some degree of education, once received, helps give people more choices and freedom--and since children can't decide for themselves whether to be educated or not, it makes sense for the state, as the agent of the people, to preserve future options for children by requiring that they be educated.

  97. we're peeling back an incredibly dense onion here--but what you said about education becoming compulsory also makes me think about how compulsory education changed the nature of education for all.

    I won't jump to the famous "dumbing down" concept--okay, I just did--but when aptitude and inclination are removed and education becomes compulsory the very nature of what is delivered changed, it seems, irrevocably.

    I'm not saying that I want to dwell on what was bad about that. But I do, often, dwell on what was good when education was for those who chose it as vocation, rather than endured it as a hoop to jump through.

    I'm saying this as a teacher in higher education (temporarily in retirement to be mommy to my two girls)who often felt dismal about the lack of interest or engagement in students who didn't even seem to understand why they were there or why what they were being given had any value at all.

    There is a crisis in thought about it--in learning to teach we could never come to consensus on what our pedagogical goals WERE. The mission statement of liberal arts education is frightfully convoluted and unclear, and is left so, deliberately, so educators can pick and choose their own agendas deliberately.

    And we are being trained more and more on teaching students HOW to think instead of the quality and value of WHAT to think ABOUT.

    The HOW to think portion is all about making sure our students reach the CORRECT conclusions--which of course are the conclusions of secular humanism.

    It's a strange sort of homogenization of thought within an institution and an ideology that purports to uphold "free thinking" when it seems to be very little free or thoughtful about it.

  98. I'm college faculty, too--though I may not be for long, if I don't stop blogcrastinating and get to work on my syllabi and scholarship! (I'm kidding, of course; this conversation is much more than procrastination for me.)

    I've had various experiences with what you describe as "teaching students HOW to think." It's true that it can shade over into an attempt to radicalize or otherwise indoctrinate. This happens at religious institutions as well as secular humanist ones; see Camille Lewis's writings, including entries in her blog, on being a faculty member at Bob Jones University.

    However, "teaching students how to think" can also mean (and, I submit, should mean and often does mean) teaching them to effectively reach and support their own conclusions. Some of my best experiences as a teacher have been in helping students sharpen arguments with which I don't agree--and these experiences have been great not just because of what the students happen to be thinking about, but because they are learning to deepen their own thinking by anticipating and addressing counterarguments. i do the same with students whose arguments I do agree with, though it can be harder to see the logical and rhetorical flaws.

    I think it's true that education popularized is sometimes education diluted. In historical scale, we haven't been at mass education very long at all, and we're still (hopefully) learning how to do it right. Again, some of my best experiences as a teacher have been with students who began seemingly not ready for college education, and ended up real scholars. I'm thinking of one who was in my basic writing class four years ago and is now about to become a White House intern. That wasn't because of me in any way, but because of her--and I admit that she was never an unmotivated student, and it is easier to prepare the underprepared than to motivate the unmotivated (though the latter is not unheard of). I also admit that I have participated in many failures of education. I, personally, was and am learning to teach, and I think society as a whole is trying to learn to teach, also. Like I said--I really think that we're still in a place in history where we're trying to work out how to do education on a massive scale.

    I imagine that the other Chestertonian objection to compulsory education would be that families should decide. I have great respect for family, and have said above how grateful i ma to my family for ...well, everything. But I also think that families can make wrong decisions that unfairly restrict their children's future options. It seems right, to me, for society to set some parameters.

    Similarly, Chesterton's comments on the education and social status of women seem, to me, to romanticize a situation in which women had very few options within the family. Here's something from Blackstone’s Commentaries, mid-18th-century England,

    “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person under the law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is in incorporated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection and cover she performs everthing.” (Quoted in Law and religion: God, the state and the common law, by Peter Radan, Denise Meyerson, Rosalind Frances Croucher)

    In justifying Woman's status as a "general servant," I think Chesterton was, by implication, defending the situation which Blackstone coolly describes, in which women were "suspended" or "incorporated into" their husbands as legal entities (rather than either retaining independent legal agency or even merging with their husbands on equal terms). And in doing that, I think he was, in all good intentions and idealism, defending the indefensible. I know I'm imposing present-day standards--but hey, I don;t want to be a relativist. :)

  99. Blog Nerd. I couldn't agree more with your last post. I couldn't really put in to words what I was thinking though. Thanks.

    "I think the Humanists, in general, valued literacy more in terms of purifying scholarship than in terms of educating the masses."

    Blog nerd seems to agree with this too. Maybe I just have a completely skewed view, but from my reading of Humanists, from Pico della Mirandolla to Dante through Erasmus, they all seem to be expressing the opposite viewpoint. Pico addresses this directly if I remember correctly. Dante wrote in the venacular not to purify scholarship, he states his opinion on this in De Vulgari Eloquentia. And Erasmus in Praise of Folly talks about the importance of "educating the masses." This was his motivation for translating the Bible into the vernacular.

    I think everyone conceded that for scholarship purposes, Latin was supreme.

    Also, as an historical note;I would think that one reason literacy rose, is because the prevalance of books rose and moreover the prevalence of books written in the vernacular. I challenge yoour idea that the reformation was at all responsible for literacy. Reformation or not, literacy was increasing and would continue to increase. Remember that Dante's Divina Comedia was extremely wide-read and that was written just after 1300, about 200 years before Luther would even start writing. Also, we have examples of Eleanor of Aquitane gaining power and respect for woman even though she certainly didn't conform to society's expectations way before all this. And on the religious side, Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church, wrote just a few short decades after Dante her Dialogue. In addition to her more private writings, she carried on exchanges with all types of powerful people, including not only monarchs and popes, but also to many other important and *powerful* woman of the day in her petitions for peace. Also, she publicly led both woman and men in helping the poor and infirm.

    So, it seems to me that this was truly one of the freeest periods for woman. It tooks later "educated" people to stamp out many of these freedoms and to "put woman in their place."

  100. Brian, I think that quote you gave is great for the conversation. I think you're right that Chesterton defends this. I would certainly defend it. One reason that I think families have been weakened, is because they are still recognized as different legal entities. I think that society should default to them being one. That's why I don't think woman should be able to vote (I know I'm way behind the times on that one) I also don't think all men should vote, only those that have families. I know this is quote radical, and I suppose I'd be willing to change my mind on it, but I've yet to hear a convincing argument against it.

  101. (as an addendum) I think a woman should be able to vote if her husband dies or is incapacitated.

  102. In risk of being to long, I'll add one more thing on the subject of education. I think we should certainly teach how to think, but essential to that is giving children enough ammo to successfully draw conclusions. The brain is like a machine for making conclusions and reasoning, but unless it's fed with facts, and with knowledge, that machine has nothing to work on, no foundation. So, for instance, in math, one of the worst thing about "new math" was that educators tried to teach how to think without ever teaching basic math facts. All the stress was on having the kids figure out every single thing. Many times it's good to teach the facts, and then later explain why it works that way. For instance, there are many mathematical proofs that are absolutely ingenius. The connections that are made are astounding, but still with little training one can understand it. What makes it astounding are the connections drawn. In many ways, this is what the brain can be characterized as, a connection making machine. But as I said before, if there aren't any points to connect, it can't do its job.

  103. I give you credit for consistency, though Davymax3; I can see how this conclusion follows from arguments you have been making.

    Honestly, I never thought I'd have an opportunity (short of time travel) to argue for female suffrage. Now that I have the opportunity, I feel overwhelmed with possible lines of argument; let me come back to this. It's probably also right for blog nerd or another woman (or unmarried man) to have the first crack at responding to your argument; I don't mean to assume that all women think the same way about anything, but they and single men stadn to be the most affected should your proposal carry the day. :)

    On the other matters:

    I'm under the rebuttable impression that humanists were more inclined (relative to the Reformation) to stress literacy for the upper classes, but I don't mean that there are no counterexamples or that Catholic humanists had no influence on spreading literacy.

    Based on my very incomplete knowledge of the history of the period, I agree that a movement towards somewhat more widespread literacy, fueled by humanism and by the printing press, preceded (and, as blog nerd says, provided megaphone for) the Reformation. My suggestion (completely non-original, of course) was that the Reformation built on and popularized this movement. I think that compulsory education was key to bringing literacy to the masses, and this can largely (though by no means exclusively) be traced to Lutheranism.

  104. Davymax3,

    I agree with you about the need for content in education. Teaching writing skills without teaching students to write about **something** tends to degenerate into pointless drills.


  105. Would you mind giving me some examples of how humanists were more inclined to stress literacy for the upper classes? Also, do you mean this as literacy in Latin or vernacular?

    Also, you suggest that the Reformation built on and popularized the movement towards widespread literacy. I don't necessarily disagree with this. I, too, have an incomplete knowledge of the period, but I feel like saying, well, yes, of course the Reformation built on it, everyone built on it. It was already popularized. If anything, Catholics like Erasmus were excoriated for having popularized the ideas, which soon after were enlarged to become the reformation. So, although, you can say that compulsory eduation was key to bringing literacy to the masses, and that this can be traced to Lutheranism, I say, that compulsory education was not key to bringing literacy to the masses, I think this was happening anyway, and also that even if you can trace it to Lutheranism, this is only because they shared the ideas that Catholic thinkers initially came up with. I don't see literacy per se as being a issue of division between the Reformation and Rome. From the 1100s onwards, the masses were becoming increasingly knowledgable and educated and they were steadily producing more and more great works of art that we still read and admire today. These works overshadow almost everything stemming from the Protestant Reformation itself. If anything, the Reformation stymied this growth. I'm not saying that there was no growth, just that it slowed from it's considerable pace. You might say that it was worth it because more people could not participate, but I don't see it. What evidence is there that more people truly participated in it. I would relate it to the idea of compulsory education in math. I'm highly suspect that this has caused many people to become truly interested in math and participate in it. If anything, I could very well aruge that it has had the opposite of the intended effect. Back in the day, almost everyone would revel in math problems and appreciate the joy of mathematics. Kipling, even, wrote a ballad about the Pythagorean theorem to one of his friends. This is almost unheard of today. Often, when most people even hear of math, they cringe in fear.

  106. Hmmm. I won't tempt myself with a discussion on the problems with education. It is so vast! LOL.

    About the Renaissance Humanists--I am wondering if we are confusing the words literacy with educating?

    I think most Renaissance Humanists would object to the masses having access to sacred scripture, for example. But not to them being educated on it and by it.

    Of course, I'm sure you could find exceptions. But that is my impression.

    And I'm still having a thought project about only male heads of family having the vote.

    I have a roughly formed notion that disenfranchising large portions of the population in a heterogeneous society like America would be destablizing.

    But I'm still conducting my thought experiment.

    I find it infinitely amusing--this question came up between a friend and I the other day, and he proposed pretty much the same thing, and I find it shocking.

    At the same time, it makes me laugh because I have been so indoctrinated with the idea of a "right to vote" for every person, I have never really asked, "why?"

    That's funny to me. Trust me. I am laughing. And smiling a lot.

  107. Another way to think about the Humanism/reformation issue: Erasmus and Luther were mutually respectful before they broke over the issue of free will and over Luther's extremism (or Erasmus' excessive moderation, depending on how one looks at it). It would be surprising is any care for literacy on Luther's part either began or ended with Luther's departure from Erasmus' humanism. It seems more likely, to me, that the Reformation continued the humanistic tendency towards humanism and gave that tendency more pragmatic force in the larger world beyond the arts and scholarship.

    On the suffrage issue, let me ask you this question; in Davymax3's Republic, if my wife and I decide that she's better qualified to vote, can she represent our family? Also, we don't have children yet; do we get a vote anyway?

  108. "I am wondering if we are confusing the words literacy with educating?"

    I can't believe you said that, I was just about to type those exact words in a post. Don't you love when that happens? You're thinking something and then you read or hear someone else say exactly what you were thinking. This is one of the many reasons I love Chesterton. I feel like I'm constantly reading things that I say, wow, I've thought that exact same thing, how comforting. (I think C. S. Lewis wrote about this same feeling, which caused me to feel that feeling, that was even more amazing!)

    "this question came up between a friend and I the other day, and he proposed pretty much the same thing, and I find it shocking."

    Really?? I'm not the only one!! I'm smiling and laughing a lot, too! To clarify, I don't know if I would be in favor of now disenfranchising those people entirely. I feel like we're almost at the point where it's so much a part of how many Americans define their country; this "right to vote" thing, that I feel like it would in many ways cause more chaos than it's worth. But if I were setting up something almost from scratch, similar to the Founders, than I would certainly have it set up in the way set forth before.

  109. Davy,

    You asked for examples of how humanists were inclined to stress education of the upper classes more than education of the masses. Fair question. I realize that Erasmus theoretically favored opening education to be open to all. My thinking is that the Reformation went further in addressing popular audiences and making practical changes to spread education to the masses. Erasmus did a great deal of work, such as his Greek New Testament, which was consumed by those privileged to receive a classical education. And humanists reformed the curricula for those privileged to attend gymnasia and other educational institutions. And then Luther called for compulsory education and places like Stuttgart adopted it; if I'm not mistaken, which I could be, the gymnasia and schools there then found themselves worked with larger, more diverse audiences. But it's a very simplistic narrative that I'm building; I'm aware that Scotland legislated a kind of compulsory education earlier.

    I brought up this issue mostly because I wanted to balance or complicate a mention of the reformation's negative affects on English women and culture through the dissolution of the religious houses. I acknowledged these effects, but I think they're part of a more complex story. If you acknowledge that the Reformation may have built upon and popularized the move towards literacy (even a little), then that's good enough for me for now, though I'd like to explore the subject further in the future.

    One difficult part of this inquiry, I think, is avoiding the mistake of drawing conclusions about the literate culture of past periods based on the limited evidence afforded by high culture. For example, you may be right that that "almost everyone" "back in the day" enjoyed math--but how do you know? Does "almost everyone" include all walks of life--scullery maids, farm workers, chimney sweeps, etc.? Although Kipling's attitude towards math is not the dominant attitude today, I'm not convinced that is was in Kipling's time either; did math puzzle books outsell dime novels and the literature of sensation? Also, there is fairly popular math and science writing in day; see Martin Gardner's books. (Or sudoku, although here I guess we're talking about numbers but not really math.) I wouldn't be surprised if there's more math-related poetry out there now than there was in Kipling's time. Try looking around at

  110. Maybe a little bit--but Gutenberg had a lot more to do with increased literacy than Martin Luther.

  111. "It seems more likely, to me, that the Reformation continued the humanistic tendency towards humanism and gave that tendency more pragmatic force in the larger world beyond the arts and scholarship."

    Don't take this the wrong way, but because of a few typos I'm a bit confused by that statement. But if my interpretation is correct. I think I agree with that statement by and large. But I think that this isn't because of the "lutheranism" of Luther, but because of his energy and ability to move people. I think he could have just as easily meant that end within the Church.

    If you and you're wife decide that she's better able to vote than I would be okay with that but I have some reservations. I would be afraid of a man forcing his wife to vote for them (Men I think have the tendency of passing things they don't want to do onto their wives.) Maybe requiring a document that says both of you want the wife to vote would suffice, I'm not sure. I don't really see why the wife would be better able to cast the vote for the family than the man unless he was incapacitated for some reason. And yes, you can of course vote if you don't have kids.

  112. You're counter-points as to math are well taken. I suppose that my issue is more about the joy in math and those that take part in them. I think a while back people were much more open to hearing about math. They were willing to be entertained by it and wanted to experience those joys. The popularity of Lewis Carrol is evidence (albeit somewhat weak) of this idea. Today, there may be more poetry on math and of course there are more and more discoveries being made, however, my argument has not to do with mathematicians, but with non-mathematicians. Gardner seems to give credence to your side, however, this is more a testament to him and his skillful writing (BTW he's a huge Chesterton fan!) than it is to the success of compulsory education. My point more abstractly, is that rather than bringing joy into knowledge, compulsory education oftentimes stomps out the joy and fun of learning. Oftentimes if you look at lists online of "worst books ever" they are ones that people were forced to read in school. Many people have related stories about having been forced to read a book and hating it, and then they picked it up a few years later and read it and loved it. For example, one of my Latin teacher's from H.S. used to tell me about how he took 4 years of Lain in H.S. hated it and just barely got his diploma, went to college and dropped out, was homeless for a bit joined a band and toured with them to no avail, and then randomly picked up an old Latin book and started reading it and loved it and he went back to college, got a 4.0 in his Major of Classics and went on to be my Latin teacher. Anecdotal yes, but I think gets through the spirit of what I'm trying to say. It's nearly impossible to *prove* my point because it's so indefinable (indefinable as Chesterton described, meaning self-evident). The idea that by forcing people to do something, the joy in doing it is largely taken out. And, in other words, as opposed to Calvin and Luther, God's gift of free will gives us a greater joy for life.

  113. I don't take the typo comment the wrong way at all, and I apologize for causing confusion; the statement should read:

    "It seems more likely, to me, that the Reformation continued the humanistic tendency towards literacy..."

    And i don't particularly disagree that Luther could have met the same ends had he been able to actually help reform the church rather than split from it. I'm just saying that the Reformation helped literacy along--not that the Reformation had to happen in order for literacy to spread.

    I agree that men have a tendency to force women to do things that they don't want to do. This, I think, is one problem with your plan. If men are willing to impose their will on women within the household, how can you have confidence that each man would act fairly as voting representative of the household?

    You could make my argument a little more difficult by saying that each family gets one vote, but both spouses (or all adults) in that family have to sign off on the vote. That need to come to agreement, of course, might create more tensions within the family rather than stabilizing it. Governor Jindal would have to call out the Louisiana National Guard just to keep peace in the Mary Matalin/James Carville household.

  114. haha, this is true. But I think that's because in this day in age, people value their vote to highly. (Blasphemy!!! lol) It's only because people have elevated the vote so much that there would be so much confusion and resentment if people's votes were taken away.

  115. I keep thinking of an All in the Family episode, in which Archie (shockingly) disagrees with the kids over an election. Edith seems to be quietly siding with the kids, but Archie will have none of that; "Don't you dare cancel out my vote, you Dingbat!," he orders. (Of course, I'm summarizing and quoting from memory, and I've seen the episode a few times, but not recently.) So, the whole family goes together, solemnly and excitedly, to vote.

    There are two points I want to make here. First, the family acts as a family by discussing the issues and going to the polling place together. Individual agency doesn't negate family togetherness.

    Second, Archie, though he believes he has the right to decide for Edith and act for her, doesn't consult her; if he alone were voting, he'd be voting as an individual, not truly on behalf of his family. I'm not saying other men are Archie, but are you confident that we would all fairly represent our families' views? How would Archie and Edith (or Mary and James) even come to agreement?

    In case, for some reason, you are unpersuaded by my novel rhetorical strategy, "appeal to Dingbat," let me try appealing to more-or-less fundamental principles instead. Do you agree that voting is based on the principle that government is by consent of the governed? I'm thinking in roughly Lockean terms here: we have given up some part of our liberty so that we can have security; we cede some of our individual agency so that we can have a share in collective agency. Otherwise, why vote at all? Why not have theocracy?

    So, who gives consent? Who makes this deal with the state? "Families," you say. But, in practice, doesn't each individual have to obey the laws and pay taxes? (Even when women don't work outside the home, they contribute to the value and productivity of the household, so they pay taxes, directly or indirectly.) Why should an unmarried person or a wife consent to a government in which they are given no share, or to taxation without representation? Why should they surrender individual agency without getting a share in collective agency?

    If you'd been around among the Founders and if you had gotten your way, I think what would have happened is roughly what did happen; within 150 years the unenfranchised would have demanded the franchise, or their allies would have demanded it for them. In a government by consent, people expect to have their consent sought. Democracy, like popcorn, is hard to have just a little of.

  116. Let me also just pick up on a loose thread. If I understood you right, you said that the pace and magnitude of literary production declined during and after the Reformation. Would you agree that this does not apply to English literature? I'm in no way deprecating the great classics of the medieval English literature, but during or after the Reformation, we've got Shakespeare and Elizabethan literature, Milton, the rise of the novel, Romanticism, Victorianism, and whichever works of the 20th century you happen to consider great. It's hard for me to see how this body of literature could be "overshadowed" by anything.

    I'm not sure how important this is to our overall argument(s); I just felt like mentioning it.

  117. As to the literature things, note, I'm talking about acceleration, not velocity. I think the pace at which the pace was increasing decreased. And also I'm not talking as much about quantity as I am quality.

    "If you'd been around among the Founders and if you had gotten your way, I think what would have happened is roughly what did happen; within 150 years the unenfranchised would have demanded the franchise, or their allies would have demanded it for them."

    I agree.

    "Do you agree that voting is based on the principle that government is by consent of the governed?"

    Voting is based on that principle, yes. But voting is not in all cases just. In fact, in a great many cases it is quite unjust. Our founders new that and strove to defend us from those abuses. Unfortunately, many of those safeguards have been eliminated, or have been perverted from their initial purpose.

    The rest of your argument seems to based on the idea that a government with the "consent of the governed," which in practice means "consent of the majority" is just. I completely reject that. Unless we are a subordinate to God, unless we are a moral society, than no matter what government is in place, that government is destined to failure.

  118. Quality, quantity, acceleration, schmeleration--we're taking Shakespeare, Spenser (how in Gloriana's name did I forget Spenser before??), Milton, all our great novelists...--no matter what criteria you want to use, I don't know how one could credibly argue that the development of English literature during and after the reformation was in any way "stymied." How could it have been better? I'm sure there's a lot you can lay at the door of the Reformation, and I know there's no accounting for taste, but I think criticizing this period based on its literature (particularly in England) is not going to be your strongest argument.

    On government by consent: I don't mean that government by the majority is always just; majorities have no right to oppress minorities, and they often do. I do (with Locke) think that government without some kind of consent is necessarily unjust. And I think it's unjust for one group of adults to be empowered to give or deny its consent actively (by voting) while another is supposed to consent passively by just not rising up or complaining.

    I think my argument can be made on your terms. Earlier you quoted Chesterton (from his book on Dickens, I think) on the "democracy" of religion. Try applying this thinking to government. If all coins are valuable only because they bear the same impress from their maker, why should some rule over others? Why should the consent of some be more important than the consent of others.

    The biggest (not the only, but the biggest) problem I have with the Blackstone passage I quoted and with your suffrage scheme is not that the husband and wife are merged into one entity; it's that, as Blackstone makes pretty explicit, the merger is unequal--the wife's legal existence is "suspended" or incorporated INTO (not incorporated with) that of the husband. We may all be equal in the eyes of God, but we were not all equal in the eyes of the ancient legal system that Blackstone codified.

    I feel like I'm being way too earnest about this, though, despite my "appeal to Dingbat" strategy. I thought I was an open-minded guy, but blog nerd has really taught me a lesson in open-mindedness; I'm not sure I'd think it was funny if someone told me that perhaps I shouldn't have the right to vote. But she's right to be amused and to see this as a thought experiment, and I'm glad that you, too, have a sense of humor about your ideas, and that you enjoy the freedom to think outside the box.

  119. In terms of literature, what you are asking is what would have happened to literature if the Reformation hadn't happened and that's really an impossible question to answer--I mean, you could come up with some sort of speculative fiction or alternative history idea, but it could never be tested as true or false, so it sort of degrades the conversation immediately.

    however what you can say--and this is what my dissertation covers, in part, which is on Shakespeare--is that the Counter-Reformation impulse fed literature in unique ways that begins to slowly disappear as it becomes clear that the dream of Restoration in England evaporates.

    You CAN say that certain imaginative tropes begin to disappear and become replaced by more dialectical one.

    You CAN say that verisimilitude (realisim) begins to replace fantasy and imagination.

    You CAN say that Naturalism on stage and in the Novel is a direct exponent of the Reformation.

    You CAN say that Elizabeth suppressed medieval theatrical traditions because of their connection to Catholicism, and that certain aspects of that tradition were muffled.

    All of these things you can say, add up to a supposition about what these developments in post-Reformation literature replaced.

    As in Emile Zola's naturalism, for example, went this far in one direction--so, by definition, it means it went AWAY from another direction. What I would challenge is NOT that Zola's direction is better or worse than what it moved away from. What I challenge is that because it moved away from something else, that, that implies PROGRESS and therefore something INEVITABLE and GOOD, just because it is progress.

    Also--Milton and Shakespeare--very Catholic literary traditions so not a good place to make an argument about the positive impact of the Reformation on literature if that is the argument you want to advance.

    I think you have to get safely into the 18th century before you can really do that.

    This is like a major article forming here. So I'll stop. LOL.

  120. "I think it's unjust for one group of adults to be empowered to give or deny its consent actively (by voting) while another is supposed to consent passively by just not rising up or complaining."

    I think you're confusing the act of giving consent and voting. They aren't the same thing.

    blog-nerd - Oftentimes I can't express all the reasons for why I think something or even put what I'm thinking into precise words. Thank you very much for doing that job for me.

  121. Davy,

    Sounds like I made myself very unclear. Actually, I was trying to distinguish voting from other ways of giving or withholding consent, or of operating as citizens wihtin a government by consent. There are, it's true, many ways of consenting to be governed--the simplest is completely passive: not rebelling. On this basis, a very totalitarian government can claim "consent" as long as its people are thoroughly indoctrinated or can't get it together to rise up. Sometimes, this is done purportedly "in the name of God"--see Iran, though of course, that's also an example of the precariousness of a government that relies on the kind of presumed consent I have just mentioned. It's also conceivable, hypothetically, that you could have a benevolent dictator or righteous theocrat to whose rule the people freely and gladly but passively give consent.

    However, in democracies and in republics with representative government, we actively express our consent to specific policies or candidates, and our dissent from others, by voting. On a broader historical scale, we consent to being ruled on the condition that we can participate in ruling ourselves; as I said before, we give up some individual agency in return for a share in collective agency, and we exercise that agency largely through voting (though also through jury duty, petitioning the government, etc.)

    A problem with your proposed system is that you have different groups of people being offered different social contracts, even though we think of them as equal under the law, in nature, or in the sight of God. Married men get Social Contract A: in return for giving up some of your liberty and wealth to the people as a whole as represented by the government, you get to participate in the government as a full, voting citizen. Women and unmarried men get Social Contract B: in return for giving up some of your liberty and wealth to the people as a whole as represented by the government, you get to hope that your husband (or, I guess, in the case of unmarried men, your married relative and neighbors?) will serve your interests through their participation in the government. Social Contract B is obviously not as good a deal as Social Contract A, so the people who are offered Social Contract B are being treated as second-class citizens. If they see themselves as equal to first-class citizens under the law, in nature or in the eyes of God, they should reject the lesser deal and demand full citizenship, including the vote. And this, as I think you've acknowledged, is exactly what happened historically and what would have happened under your system.

  122. blog nerd,

    Your dissertation sounds fascinating! Don't feel like you need to answer these uninformed thoughts, but here are a couple of things I'm curious about: Do you use Goody and Watt in tracing these trends towards realism and naturalism? And do you engage with Bakhtin much, on the epic vs. the novel? I realize that your diss is about Shakespeare and not novels or epics, but it seems like some aspects of his distinction might interact with your sets of opposing terms in interesting ways. Do you think "more dialectical" necessarily corresponds with "less imaginative," or do you question the dichotomy between those terms? Also, on a completely different line of thought, do you accept the attribution to Shaksepeare of the play Henry VIII (I think I remember that it's disputed, but I'm not sure), and if you do think it's Shakespeare, is there a counter-reformation reading of it? (Again, these are just my weak first-impression questions, and they're probably out of left field and off track--don't feel like you have to respond. I'm just interested; it really does sound like a great project.)

    Also don't feel you have to respond to this, but did you take courses with Professor Klass when you were at Adelphi? I don't know if he was still there when you were, but I think he would would have been very interested in this line of thinking.

    Back to the discussion: I wasn't trying to make an argument for the "positive" effects of the Reformation on literature. I was making an argument against determining that there was the "negative" effect that Davy described; if I read right, he said that the "pace" of literature had been "stymied" once the Reformation occurred. It seemed to me that Davy was trying to compare actual Post-Reformation literature with hypothetical Post-Reformation literature, and that was largely what I was trying to disagree with, so I think we're on the same page. He seems to agree with you, too, so maybe we're all on the same page; thanks for translating!

    Above, I've made a tentative claim for the net positive effects of the Reformation on education and on literacy--but, of course, literacy (especially mass literacy, which is really what I was talking about) is not the same as literature.

  123. Hey B:

    No I did not take any courses with Klass--though I know exactly who he is. How do you know him? I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate so only took a couple of english courses outside the core curriculum.

    I think the dialectical and the imaginative co-exist. It's the nature of language, but I do believe that the dialectical and the imaginative tend to compete with each other in given expressions and one is usually clearly the dominant mode.

    I have worked with Bahktin in other areas but not in my dissertation. This distinction between the epic and the novel is actually an updating of the Aristotlean distinction between the epic and the dramatic. I have an article coming out about the difference between the novelesque and the dramatic and how that manifests in going from page to stage or screen, so its a discourse with which I'm familiar. :)

    I don't do much truck with authorship questions on Shakespeare. I take the plays attributed to him at face value. He wrote the plays we think he did. :)

    Henry VIII--seems to be the exception however, in that it seems to bear the mark of a man named Fletcher.

    Clare Asquith and Joseph Pearce are good reads on Shakespeare's Catholicism. Asquith actually thinks he was a crypto-Catholic and that the plays are actually code.

    I actually think Joseph Pearce's book is an excellent primary source for the critical mass of evidence in Shakespeare's religious affiliation--he interrogates the issue fearlessly and is very even-handed and fair-minded, though, ultimately, completely convicted on the subject.

    I wrote a brief review of it on my blog if you get a chance to look that way.

  124. Oh and Goody and Watt--no, I do not--and actually I don't deal with trends toward naturalism and realism as my dissertation is focused entirely on Hamlet and I used cognitive science to do a linguistic analysis that I assert reveals a context which can only be properly understood within Catholicism and the CounterReformation.

    My interest in how the Reformation affected imaginative vs. dialectical discourse (and how we today are confused with how to deal with either discourse on its own terms) is a project I've been working on in philosophy--tracing how Heidegger's call to remove metaphysics from philosophy was a direct exponent of the Reformation (and an inevitable development) and how this has led to an impoverishment of aesthetics, philosophy, and theology. (You can draw a straight line from Luther to Heidegger. Even quicker than you can get from an actor to Kevin Bacon in six degrees or less.)

    I'll have to look up Goody and Watt though, if you think they apply. I have not heard of them. Thanks for the lead.

  125. "tracing how Heidegger's call to remove metaphysics from philosophy was a direct exponent of the Reformation (and an inevitable development) and how this has led to an impoverishment of aesthetics, philosophy, and theology. (You can draw a straight line from Luther to Heidegger."

    That sounds great. Very interesting stuff!

  126. Hey b.n.,

    Klass was one of my favorite professors. I don't know whether you noticed this in a post upthread, but I went to Adelphi too, in the late eighties (at the beginning of the dark days of Dimo).

    About Goody and Watt--maybe relevant, maybe not. You might be interested in Ian Watt's Myths of Modern Individualism, see Before, I was thinking of the his better known individually authored work, the Rise of the Novel; it's seminal to novel studies, but now I'm thinking that the other book might be more relevant to your interested. With Jack Goody, an anthropologist, Watt also did work on literacy and its cultural effects--it's more or less in a discourse with Havelock, Ong, McLuhan,etc., and it's interesting, though it might be way too dated for someone applying cognitive science to literature. I agree with davymax3, by the way; your Luther-Heidegger work sounds very interesting.

    I'll read the review, and thanks for those other references.


  127. B: No kidding!!! I was there from 91-95. Well isn't that funny as heck? I was in Philosophy with Mattick, Fennelley, Olson, and Greenfield. But this is a conversation better suited for another forum, I think. LOL. Let's not bore the rest of the blog readers with the "Do you know?" game. :)

  128. "It seemed to me that Davy was trying to compare actual Post-Reformation literature with hypothetical Post-Reformation literature, and that was largely what I was trying to disagree with, so I think we're on the same page."

    It does "seem" like I am. However, I'm not actual. I'm comparing the acceleration and development of knowledge and the arts from the turn of the millennium to the Reformation, to the acceleration afterwards. You can reject it out of hand, or take from this that I'm talking about hypothetical literature, but I'm simply not. I'm not saying this argument is a be all end all proof that the Reformation had a negative effect, however, it compares how literature and arts progressed during two different eras and under different influences.

  129. I have another question for you Brian. Now, you may not know which one you choose, but there are two logical choices to be made as concerns God. Either we are all gods in our own right, by our essential nature, or we are good by participation in God. You can't really have it both ways. Now, from your "and friend B thought we loved him" remark before you seem to be very much against the idea that we are good by participation. So, it seems to me you have chosen. Am I correct in my reasoning then, that you believe us all to have essential goodness, and thus to be Gods unto ourselves?

  130. I forgot, that there is a couple other choices, such as there is no such thing as "good" or "us" or some other such thing, but you don't seem to fall in that group.

  131. That's cool, Davy. I wouldn't reject your point out of hand, and if you're saying you're not trying to compare literature or its "pace" after the reformation to the literature and literary pace that would have occurred had there been no Reformation, I believe you. I don't know how you're measuring the development or acceleration of literature or the other the arts; what some critics see as acceleration of progress, others may see as deceleration or even regression, depending on what they value. But it sounds like an interesting project to attempt, and I do agree with bog nerd that one can identify specific trends or traditions, like the medieval dramatic traditions she mentioned, that got interfered with (and others taht got initated, altered, or whatever.). I certainly wouldn't argue that the Reformation had no effects on literature; of course it did (though I think, and it sounds like you agree, that the effects had to be very complex and not easily categorized as "postive" and "negative.") I was just reacting to sweeping statements that you seemed to be making, but you've clarified them now.

  132. "I was just reacting to sweeping statements that you seemed to be making, but you've clarified them now."

    Fair enough. I tend to do that... :)

  133. Davy,

    In answer to your question: If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that I am not a god (even onto myself). I do try to be good, but I don't always know what that means. I think we all have to define "good" together as we go along, and in doing that, we use everything: our senses, our feelings and intuitions, our powers of reason, the scientific method, tradition and received wisdom, dialogue--and anything else ya got. The closest I'd come to sounding like I think we're gods onto ourselves is to say that we're ends in ourselves--but that's really more like saying that we're humans and we need to mutually respect our humanity.

    By the way, I find Psalm 8 a beautiful statement of respect for and wonder at humanity, and I've been thinking about it since Dr. Thursday cited it this morning. Thanks, Dr. Thursday.

  134. One other thing on this, Davy--I'm not sure you interpreted that "Friend B thought we loved him" remark in the way I intended it. Before I made that remark, you had said this: he should care about Friend B's well-being. However, this isn't because Friend B's well-being is a good thing in and of itself. It's because it serves a function, or a potential function." It's the idea that care for a friend's well-being depends on "a function or a potential function" that I found a little off. However, if the friend serves his function simply by virtue of his existence, than the distinction between loving him for himself and loving him for his purpose becomes pretty much moot for me.

  135. Davy,

    In thinking about the two messages above, I think I've really only told you *that* i believe every individual is valuable, and not really *why.* I should try to fill in that gap, even though I've been going on too long. Note that I'm saying "valuable" instead of "good" because I find the former term easier to define; by it, I mean "deserving of being valued."

    I think my own value is self-evident. I mean that to sound humorously vain, but it’s also true, autobiographically. Before I could noticeably learn, I was valuing myself and pursuing my needs; I was crying when I was hungry, tired, wet, lonely. As my capacity to learn developed, I used that capacity to protect myself (e.g., by determining that I shouldn’t touch hot stoves) and to pursue my wants (e.g., by figuring out how to get my way with my parents, or how to ride a bicycle, or how to play games, or how to pass a math test and not get yelled at). What kind of reasoning do we do that does not in some way seek to advance our interests—if only our desire to know? Even if our reasoning leads us to the conclusion that we should sacrifice ourselves or commit suicide, it is because we have identified some drive or interest or value of ours that we cherish more than self-preservation, or some agony that we fear more than death. So, my reasons for believing I am valuable are similar to Descartes’ reasons for believing that he existed; I can’t doubt it without contradicting myself.

    It follows that everyone else is valuable. What (beyond a particular example or two that I added as illustrations) have I said above that is not applicable to people in general? If I conclude that I am valuable (able to be valued) on the basis of observing that I do in fact necessarily value myself, how can I not apply the same reasoning to you? “Every atom that belongs to me as good belongs to you.” (Whitman)

    This doesn't make us gods onto ourselves. I can't decide that touching the stove is good for me and have that become true. And if I decide that beating you up would be good for me, I'm still obliged, by the the reasoning above, to treat you as an end, not means, and to at least do you no harm.

    My way of thinking isn't original and I'm not claiming that it's rock-solid; I've said before that I'm muddling through without a complete system.

  136. Thanks for trying to elaborate a bit more on your position, especially the "friend B" one. So, you take human goodness for granted, and you haven't chosen yet whether it's by participation, or by essence? I'm not trying to trap you or anything, I'm just trying to get a good handle on where you're at.

    If that is the case, then this statement, "If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that I am not a god" seems to be contrary. It implies that you think that we are good by participation. For if we are good by essence, then we are gods.

  137. You're very welcome.

    I've not sure I fit these scholastic categories very neatly--and that's OK with me. As I mentioned earlier, I'm more of an existentialist than an essentialist, so the phrase "good by essence" doesn't really compute for me. As I said, I think we define "good" collectively as we go through life. If you want to say that this means I think we're good by participation **with each other**, then i guess you can. I don't think that;s the kind of participation you had in mind, but there you go.

    I do think that the premise that we are, in some way, **valuable** is embedded and entailed in virtually all of our reasoning, action and even behavior,as I mentioned earlier. The conclusion is pretty close to what i think you'd call "intrinsic goodness," but I really don't believe that we're gods unto ourselves. Each of us does not create his or her own world or his or own values independently.

    When I was a practicing and believing Catholic,
    I believed in goodness by participation--but even then, I think I would have wanted to say that we each carry (or are) a flame lit by God, rather than saying we each simply reflect his light like the moon reflects the sun. If the human being is nothing but a shiny object, than why would God be "mindful of him,"as the Psalmist puts it?

    I want to ask a question of my own--of you, blog nerd, or anyone else listening--in order to take us back to some of the questions about Chesterton that we started with. But I'll do that in a separate post.

  138. Back at the beginning of this discussion, just after Dr. Thursday's instigation, I asked about something that is a stumbling block for me in Chesterton's non-fiction: what I see as his tendency to justify broad generalizations about whole populations. Before Dr. T.'s study of what's Wrong With the World starts, I wanted to come back to this line of inquiry (and hopefully get it out of my system) by asking about Chesterton on prejudice.

    In What I Saw in America, Chesterton writes the following:

    “Prejudice is a very lucid Latin word meaning the bias which a man has before he considers a case. I might be said to prejudiced against a Hairy Ainu of his name, for I have never been on terms of such intimacy with him as to correct my preconceptions. But if after moving about in the modern world and meeting Jews, knowing about Jews, I came to the conclusion that I did not like Jews, my conclusion certainly would not be a prejudice. It would simply be an opinion; and one I should be perfectly entitled to hold; though as a matter of fact I do not hold it. No extravagance of hatred merely following on experience of Jew can properly be called a prejudice.” (137)

    Gotta love the Hairy Ainu example. But is it a given that everyone “meeting Jews, knowing about Jews” can be said to have “consider(ed) the case of Jews”? I have, I'm sorry to admit, met and "known about' individuals and made judgments or assumptions about them without having, in any meaningful way, considered their case. And it's even harder to say that we have considered the case of a whole group when we have only met a subset. If I meet 1% of the Jews in New York, could I know enough to justify an “extravagance of hatred” against the Jews of New York in general? Against the Jews of America? Against the Jews of the world? To make such leaps would hardly seem "localist." Southern slaveowners interacted daily with their slaves and those of their neighbors and acquaintances; can we say that those slaveowners had "considered the case" of the slaves and thus were not prejudiced against them?

    Chesterton points out that dislike of Jews is an opinion he does not hold; I want to emphasize that fact, because my purpose is not--i repeat, NOT--to label him an anti-Semite. I even believe that if he were prejudiced against Jews as a group, he would not have been prejudiced against a Jewish individual; he would have been able to say, for example, "though I believe Jews is general are not patriotic, I acknowledge that Isaac Rosenberg--Jew, war poet and fallen soldier--was a patriot."

    I think, though, that his understanding of prejudice, if widely held, would be dangerous because it would make it very easy for people to justify prejudice (or, in Chesterton's words, "opinions"--or "extravagance of hatred") against individuals.For example, someone might claim that there is no prejudice in the following statement: “I know 50 Irish-Americans; they are lazy and shiftless; Irish-Americans are a lazy, shiftless lot; Brian and Davy are Irish-American; Brian and Davy are lazy and shiftless.” Or, to return to the heart of our discussion, try this one: “I know many women; they are motherly generalists; the essence of woman is to be a motherly generalist; Joan (or Elizabeth or Vera or Virginia or Gertrude or Hillary of Jane Doe) is a woman; the essence of Joan (or...Jane Doe) is to be a motherly generalist, and she is being untrue to her essence if she lives her life a different way.”

  139. "I think I would have wanted to say that we each carry (or are) a flame lit by God, rather than saying we each simply reflect his light like the moon reflects the sun."

    Come on man it's an analogy, lol. But that works too.

    Can you tell me what you think the difference is between an essentialist and existentialist is?

  140. Brian,

    I agree that it CAN be dangerous. However, only if someone makes the sweeping generalizations and wrong generalizations that your character in the monologue makes. I don't think it's bad to say for instance, I know a lot of Russians, whenever I'm around them I have a great time and they are very jolly. Boy, Russians are a jolly people. Now, this doesn't mean that I can't be convinced otherwise or I'm not going to realize when I've met a sad Russian. It just means that in general I wouldn't be surprised to run into another jolly Russian. Maybe you're confusing discrimination with prejudice?

  141. To clarify my question 2 posts ago; you seem to think that existentialist deny essence or something. That's certainly not true for the most part. They just think existence precedes it. I agree, but this doesn't mean that we can't speak of thing's essence. I'm having a difficult time understanding what you're trying to say. I understand if you don't want to continue trying to get through to me.

  142. I don't mind continuing to try to make myself clear, though I feel a little guilty taking up so much bandwidth explaining my thinking. I'm conscious that this is, happily, not the American Brian Society blog; Chesterton is more interesting than me. But, since you ask...

    As you say, essentialists believe that existence precedes essence. As I understand your previous statements, you believe this to be true except in the crucial case of God, for whom essence is existence and existence is essence. Not being convinced that there is a God, I make no exception, and therefore I don't think there's an essential "goodness" that precedes our actions. As Sartre says, "Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world--and defines himself afterwards." As I've said, I believe we must go on defining ourselves and defining "good" in dialogue with each other; we can't just rest on the "essences" that have been constructed by prior generations.

    If our essences don't precede our existences, then we define ourselves by our actions. If "we are as we do," so to speak, then clearly humanity is neither all good nor all bad. I think we can all agree that humans have done great good as well as great evil.

    Yet I do believe in something like intrinsic worth. As I've explained, I think there's a sense in which everything we do, from crying for our mothers to making our last wills and testaments, implicitly asserts that we value ourselves, our interests, our beliefs, and whatever pertains to us. And if we value ourselves, we should value each other, as I have argued above.

    Having an a priori idea that we are worthy and valuable, no matter what we do, I may not be a very good existentialist. I don't really care. As I said, I think I'm "more of an existentialist than an essntialist," but I'm not reciting anyone's creed.

    You didn't ask about my comment on your metaphor of participatory goodness as the reflection of a sun by a planet, but let me clarify that comment anyway. When I was Catholic, I believed we were created by God and imbued by him with goodness and wonderfulness of our own, like small but brilliant candles lit from His flame. To me, this is different from merely reflecting His light. It's "just" a difference in choice of metaphors, but I submit it for your consideration.

    I hope that helps. Obviously, I'm not trying to persuade you of anything (other than maybe women's suffrage :) ), but since you were wondering, that's a little bit of what and how I think.

  143. Oops--you did mentions my comment on the "planets" metaphor; I overlooked that message. Your response--"Come on, man, it's an analogy"!-- is fair (and funny); I hope I didn't sound like I was reaming you out for a figure of speech. I was just proposing an alternative. But I do think metaphors play an important role in shaping our thinking; see Lakoff's Metaphors We Live By.

  144. I like you alternative and hope that one day I'll get to that book, it looks like a good read.

  145. Indeed, it is a good read! Lakoff and Johnson form a big chunk of the foundation of my dissertation. Brian, drop me an email if you would, so we can find out who we have in common at Adelphi! It's in my profile.

  146. Hi Davy,

    I agree that not all prejudices are bad. In fact, I don't think we can eliminate all prejudices from our thinking. (I kept wanting to say that to certain Senators during the Sotomayor hearings--but that's a whole 'nother can of worms.) Gadamer offers an interesting critique of the Enlightenment "prejudice against prejudices"; he says that instead of trying to eliminate prejudices--which usually just results in concealing them--we should "foreground" the prejudices in our arguments, thus putting them in play and subjecting them to rethinking.

    So, then, what's my problem with Chesterton's statement on prejudice? It's that he is not foregrounding prejudices; he is not cloaking them them as considered opinions. He suggests that anyone "meeting [some] Jews, knowing [something] about Jews," if they have negative experiences and "know" negative things, can feel perfectly justified in forming a negative opinion about all Jews. I know he opposed German persecution of Jew, and I honor him for that. But I'm still concerned that seems not to properly distinguish prejudice from opinion, and I'm trying to understand whether this is what he's doing and, if so, whether this is a prevalent tendency in his thinking. I'm also troubled by some what he says in The New Jerusalem, which i won't go into here, ad you know I have issues with his treatment of gender. But I see a great deal of value in his work, and I'm just trying to get a sense of perspective.

    I'm not confusing prejudice with discrimination. But unjust prejudices have often led to or reinforced unjust discrimination. And having grown up in New York, I know that different groups of people can live next to each other, meet each other, think they know each other, but still have ill-considered prejudices about each other. Again, I think that's natural; it's just important to own those prejudices and be open to reconsidering them, just as you are open to reconsidering your harmless prejudice of The Jolly Russian. I would note that even apparently "harmless" prejudices can have harmful consequences if people are not so open to reconsidering them; see, for example, the myth of the model minority and its negative effect on Asian Americans who don't meet stereotypical expectations (as well as its use in invidious comparisons of other minorities to the "model.")

    B.n.--Yes, Lakoff and JOHNSON--thanks for the discrete correction! Your dissertation is sounding even more interesting. And I'll definitely email.


  147. can you explain more on how one "foregrounds" prejudices. I'm unfamiliar with that concept.



  148. To foreground prejudices (or assumptions) is to take them out of the background, make them visible, subject them to examination.

    For example, based on experiences that were limited but left a strong impression, I'm prejudiced in favor or portfolios (a students' selection and reflection in his or her work) as a method of assessing students' skills. (When i was grad student teaching composition, students had to take a horrible, frustrating exit exam to satisfy the writing requirement. Portfolios replaced the exam and saved the day, so I have positive feelings about them that exceed my actual knowledge of their general usefulness.) I have a colleague and friend who, I think it's fair to say, is prejudiced against portfolios for comparable reasons; on the one one two occasions he's seen them used, the process of composing and assessing them has been cumbersome, time-consuming and generally annoying. To the extent that we were making "objective," reasoned arguments for and against using portfolios at our college, we weren't convincing each other or even making ourselves clear to each other. By telling each other stories about how we came by our prejudices, we reached a better understanding and moved towards middle ground.

  149. Now, a return question. Would you agree with and endorse the following revision of Chesterton's statement?

    "If after moving about in the modern world and meeting Catholics, knowing about Catholics, I came to the conclusion that I did not like Catholics, my conclusion certainly would not be a prejudice. It would simply be an opinion; and one I should be perfectly entitled to hold; though as a matter of fact I do not hold it. No extravagance of hatred merely following on experience of Catholics can properly be called a prejudice.” (137)

  150. I would agree with it, certainly.

  151. I again give you credit for being consistent, Davy--and I mean that sincerely.

    But imagine someone who grew up among Catholics, or even as a Catholic, and went about meeting Catholics and (in some sense of the vague phrase) "knowing about Catholics"--and suppose that this person met and knew about Catholics whom he perceived as overly conformist, materialistic, unthinking, "dogmatic" in the perjorative sense--even, let's say, totalitarian and just plain mean. Further suppose that this person had mostly met Catholics in a tiny part of America, and that he "knew about" Catholics mostly through the self-professed "Catholics" he despised and through deorgatory representations in the secular media.

    (This is, please understand, truly hypothetical--my own experience of Catholics is much more complex and includes many people I dearly love.)

    Now suppose that, based on his negative experiences and perceptions, our hypothetical friend contracted a fierce dislike of Catholics as a group--which including Catholics not just in his American enclave, but in Calcutta and Brasilia, Dublin and Bejing. Suppose he didn't, in the depths of his dislike, disntingush the kinds of Catholics he knew (or thought he knew_ from Chestertonians, from members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, from Mother Teresa). Suppose he conceives an "extragance of hatred" and wishes harm on all these Catholics (though let's says he never acts upon this hatred--I don't want to confuse the issue by mixing up prejudice with bad acts).

    Now go back to Chesterton's definition of prejudice: "the bias which a man has before he considers a case." I think that's a perfectly acceptable definition. But has the man I have sketched considered the case of "Catholics" as a group? I say no: the man I have described knows very little about Catholics in general, having knowledge of only those few around him. He cannot have considered the case of those whom he know nothing about. Is he entitled to his dislike of Catholics in general, or to an "extravagance of hatred" for them, based on his limited knowledge and experience? He is entitled legally; he is entitled as a matter of freedom of thought and speech; but by those standards he is also free to hold the opinion that the pope is a potato. If that's all Chesterton meant by "entitled," then he didn't mean very much. I say that the man who generalizes from personal experience to a general dislike of Catholics or Jews is not entitled by a decent regard for the truth, by solid reasoning, by common sense.

    To some extent, our difference of agreement about this passage may be a semantic difference. But if you haven't, look at Chesterton's comment in context and see if you you really think he was right, either semantically or pragmatically. If you find that he may have been wrong, it's not the end of the world, or of Chesteron's greatness--we're all entitled to be wrong about something.

  152. I think he's entitled to a dislike in general but, I don't think anyone's entitled to an "extravagance of hatred." Although, I wouldn't call that extravagance a prejudice.

  153. I'm glad we agree that any "extravagance of hatred" would be unjustified. Maybe we can also agree that conclusions drawn from insufficient evidence--like conclusions about a large poulation based on a small and possibly unrepresentative subgroup, or consclusions about one subgroup (say, the cahtolics of Brasilia) based only on knowledge of a different and distant subgroup (like Catholics in New York), or conclusions about a stranger based on general impressions of a group to which the stranger belongs, --are not the kind of good, well-founded opinions on which judgements and actions should be based.

    We can disagree on what it means to have "considered a case" (as Chesterton puts it) so that we may rightly call a conclusion an opinion (even if it's a not a good, well-founded opinion) rather than a prejudice.

  154. I was meandering through other internet channels and happened to hear the news on the longest part of a most exciting blog and thought to join in.

    It's wonderful to hear (and see) so many people talking sanely. And not just a little about it, but a lot.

    This conversation, about women and their role against their 'presumed' role is something that I usually get into trouble with when I discuss it with anyone. You see, I myself am a woman. And when I say anything remotely close to my beliefs of true womanhood, it is actually the other women who glare with penetrating eyes, shooting across the aisles (usually in school, can you believe it). I tend to see this as a mustering force and bend my head down, have a determination in my eye, and set my shoulder to it!

    Too many people have tried to define a woman. Part of her, I think, is something that cannot be defined. Or, if we try and define her too much, we end up defining her away. Chesterton is a breath of sweetly-scented air because he sees past the sex (i.e. the issue of sex as we make it out to be) and reaches deep into the essence of it again. A woman cannot be man-handled and retain her femininity. She must be searched out in her own environment for us to see her acting naturally. This is what Chesterton is wishing to bring out.

    Chesterton seems to be focusing so hard on one thing that in his zeal to try and describe it, he furiously spits out bits of words and phrases. Though, I do not mean that he does this haphazardly. Only that, as I see it, if one analyzes too deeply any given portion, the whole, very large picture that he is trying to paint (at the very least) becomes dim, possibly even tainted.

    A woman is a woman is a woman. This is a clear as the clarity that we have not been able to acheive in all these ages. Perhaps women, specifically, is also not Chesterton's point, though it is his focus. His point is on relationships, from a feminine perspective. His point is on family and ascertaining what is needed for a family unit.

    Things can be stripped down and still have an essence of the original. A woman can work and still be a woman. A mother can work and still be a mother. A family can be comprised of one parent. A wife can still be a wife though her husband beat her. But one question remains (and it is a daring question): what situation is best? How much oil should an engine have, if time and money is taken out of the question?

    Chesterton's argument for women is the best that I have ever seen. I have read many books, heard many voices (of both genders) on what women are or do or want, and his comes the closest. How do I know this? Because I know that I don't exactly know. It is something apart from logic and reason. I have fought to accept and appreciate my womanhood again, partly because it seemed so transient. But now I know, thank God for my blessed friend, that it is not so transient as it is made out to be. It is indeed something, to be a woman. Even though I may be spending the rest of my life trying to find out exactly what they may mean.

  155. Thanks for joining us Camille! I like what you had to say. One thing that I think you've said that rings particularly true is that what Chesterton says is something that almost surpasses logic and that if you start focusing on one part too much you miss the whole thing. Anyway, thanks again for the good post.


  156. I'm really glad you joined in, Camille, and what you said is both beautiful and helpful to the conversation.

    I agree that "too many people have defined a woman," and that womanhood ( or manhood, I think) is, in a way, undefinable. I sometimes think that Chesterton is one those who shouldn't have tried to define woman, if only because his essay at definition seems to leave out some of the women I know and respect.

    BUT, if it resonates with you, who am I to say it's wrong? I can't expect Chesterton to be all things to all people. I'm drawn to Chesterton largely by his fiction, and maybe I should try reading his non-fiction more as a dramatization of a point of view rather than a more "objective," evidence-based or logic-based kind of argument.

    At the same time, I enjoy being a devil's advocate when I read and discuss Chesterton. With The Man Who Was Thursday in mind, maybe I feel a little like a detective playing anarchist, or vice versa. If Shaw was able to appreciate Chesterton's and not harm it with his skepticism, I'm pretty sure I won't be able to do anything to harm it.

  157. It is good to hear from you both. And both of you are very kind.

    Let me add, that while I defend Chesterton, I would not wish to take arguments, discussions, or devil's advocates away from him either. I think that one of the fundamental reasons why Chesterton is so good (so healthy) for us is for the very fact that he was (in fact) all of these to most of points of view and their advocates during his lifetime. He approaches most arguments in an argumentative fashion, snatches it and runs with it! Therefore, discussion and argumentation are all very much needed.

    Chesterton does not describe all women, you're very correct, Brian. I got the sense of this too when I read it. But I do think that he attempts to describe something that is very much a part of the heart of a woman. One cannot describe all bikes by describing one, though they tend to have some generalities in common.

    Chesterton did something quite amazing, I think, when he attempted to state any commonalities about women (and now we find this practice all too commonly, yet without any of the original daring). One of the first questions would be to ask: what really is a commonality? It is unifying, but around which center? A clock works not only because it has a fulcrum, but really, because all gears agree that there is this one fulcrum, and that it is here. The commonality of a clock is not that they all have gears and all have pendulums (though this is one type of commonality). The commonality of a clock is that their source for tension, their defiance of gravity all agree upon one time/space. Same with the bike then. It's commonality (in function) is not wheels, gears, and pedals, but for the fact that all bikes are meant for work to effect change. So it is with woman.

    Take a woman and separate her from her men and you have a picture of a woman that is different. Take a woman and put her out of her world (environment) and yet again, a different woman. This is partly true because women adapt. But I think that Chesterton assumes that there is a necessary relationship between a man and a woman. And that it is based upon this first assumption that he continues on to dig for lost treasures in the hearts of those ladies.

    All women are more emotionally based. All women have strange biological clocks. This is true. But what may be even more true than this, is that all women appreciate (and more importantly, respond favourably towards) some kind of individual recognition (as Chesterton points out among a few others). This becomes more than just a theory. There is something concrete about this fact because it has something to do with a woman's function. And this is the fundamental difference between Western and Eastern thought. Western is abstract whereas Eastern is concrete. Western is concerned with describing something with all that it is, could be, ever was, and never will be. Eastern looks at the same thing and discards all in its description for the sake of finding out its intended use. Chesterton, I think marries these divergent thoughts quite well and still manages to have fun with it!

    So, what is a woman? Probably nothing that man (or indeed woman herself) will be able to say fully. Perhaps it is something not meant to be fully known in our 3 (or 4) dimensions. But we can certainly still debate and discuss what a woman's function is(her usefulness) all we want. Because it is here that an answer can actually be derived.

  158. Thanks, Camille. I agree with a lot of what you say.

    I'm a little more skeptical about universals, like "all women are..." For example, I think you can say that women are more emotionally based than men on average (for whatever cultural and/or biological reasons) but I would describe some men I know as more emotion-based than some women I know.

    Davy has said that I'm putting too much emphasis on exceptions and minorities--and maybe he's right (though I'm not convinced). But if I know an "emotion-based" boy named John and a "reasoning-based" girl named Jane, I wouldn't try to get them to switch so that John could be a more ideal male and Jane could be a more ideal female; I would want to help them become a more "ideal "John" and "Jane," whatever that might turn out to mean. It might be that I would need to help the emotional one develop his powers of reason and help the rationalist get in touch with her emotions--but I'd be just as likely to do the same if their strengths and weakness were gender-compliant. I don't think you're implying anything different; I'm just emphasizing this point because it's so important not to let statistical averages harden into normative ideals or group essences to which individuals are expected to conform even at the expense of developing their own potential.

    I like it when you say that we can determine "a woman's function...(her usefulness)." I especially like it because because of the word "a"--as in "the function of a particular woman." Dr. T., by way of Chesterton, has pointed out that we don't know, within our own devices, who we are in this postlapsarian world, and I think it follows that we're not born knowing how we can be of use--but I also think that we in this argument all agree that people can help each other, both men and women, find their functions and usefulness. I would say that some particular man's best function and usefulness in his family might be to cook and clean and raise children; his wife or same-sex partner might be a nuclear engineer, or a caterer. Some particular woman might function best in the role of a practical generalist; another might be more useful as a specialist with her head in the clouds. And, as you suggest, each person, male or female, may have different functions in different contexts.

    I think Davy has pointed out that woman as such, "woman writ large," has a particular function: to be a mother. Naturalistically, I can't deny that nature assigned different procreative roles to males and to females. I just don't think that procreation is necessarily the essential function of a given individual male or female. Again, I'm not saying that you've in any way applied that this is "the essential function"; I'm just anticipating a possible turn in the overall argument we've all been developing. This is fun!

  159. Brian, et al,

    I wanted to see if you would have a problem with absolutes and indeed, that is a problem. An absolute, like many other things, are in and of themselves, quite harmless. It is their application which becomes an issue. If I were to say that all women are more emotionally-based than men, which led to my reality of excluding women who I did not think lived to this standard, my absolute statement has done damage. However, the context of the absolute was for the sake of the argument, putting it into the rigours of logic (premises, conclusions, etc.).

    Which also strikes upon a tangent. The fact that too often these days, we have given over to science a sanctity for absolutes that we do not give to any other (possibly God, but hardly, comparative to our history). All humans breathe. We can say this because science has not told us anything differently. It has become that all concrete statements (all absolutes) can only be based upon fact. But is all fact truth? And yet again, is all truth just facts? But I digress.

    Women: emotionally based. True, there are so many variances upon this that one would nearly say that the beginning statement must not be true. It is too small for what we know it to be now. But what we have really done is turn the microscope to a power too strong to see what it is that we are really looking for. Keeping in that analogy, if we wished to decipher different types of skin cells under a microscope, there are powers at which they are best for identification. If one plays with the power levels too much, identification becomes nearly impossible (becomes distorted) and it becomes obvious that we are searching for something else instead. Again, if we take the function of women (being only that which is relationally relevant) and change the perspective too much, in order to encorporate all women, we will sacrafice the specific details of the argument. We would no longer be wishing to know about a woman's relational functionality, but about women in general. To know women is not to know women's relations. If you knew about gold, that would not mean that you would know about your ring, watch, chain, etc. You would come to appreciate the gold in the jewelry, but not necessarily the jewelry anymore, for its artistry, for its symbolical significance. In fact, it may hinder one from seeing these, since they would now recognize a more universal price and worth.

    And that is my point. Too much emphasis on women alone leads not to the understanding of women, but only that which would try to attach some value to her. The point of this argument is not to find women's value. She already has one. It is to find out how that value works and where it is to be found. Otherwise, we are trying to catch a bit of fog, take it to the lab and have a look under 'better' light. Part of women is their environment, because they are living and their whole makeup (body and soul)is about nurturing life.

    Women are not as elusive as men may think. It is only because men think too much and too closely, that women tend to slip on past them. Women are rather large -- rather whole. This is partly why women are mothers. Men are most necessary, please do not misunderstand. God made it this way: that women elude men's penchant for reasoning. Women are. And it is shocking.

  160. And here is the last part of it, published in two parts, since it was too long for one single post:

    Women are not all about procreation. Again, this would be turning the magnification up too strongly. If one were studying reproductive organs, this magnification is suitable. Men are not all about procreation either. If it were so, it would be as ridiculous as saying that the only purpose in being human is so that we can breathe, or so that we can eat, or so that we can talk. But is it not so. Our purpose is all of this, more, and much more simplistic than we make it out to be these days. I believe that we are God created. Can we say only one thing about God that is all that He is? I'd rather dare not! And if we are created in His image, as the Bible states, then we would have a similar multi-facetedness. It is the very 'multi' of our being that is part of who God is, not to mention everything else that has already been said. But just even the 'multi' of it (Selah), something so taken for granted, is really something so very grand.

  161. It's not that I don't believe there are any aboslutes--everyone breathes, of course. But a common problem with absolute statements is that they are, in themselves, microscopic; when you say something about "all woman...", you're by dfinition saying it about every women, without exception. And that invites or creates the kinds of distortions of microscopy that you mention. This is because absolutes are so often disprovable; "all," by definition, means "without exception," and there are usually exceptions. "All women..." and "Woman in general..." don't mean the same thing; the latter is not an absolute, but only a generalization.

    And generalizations are necessary, but I actually think it's an overemphasis on generlizations that feeds both the "penchant for reason" and the habit of assigning values that you mention (which, in turn, lead to the problem of application that we agree about). Isn't it looking at individuals, without defining or generalizing, that we can see individuals in, for and as themselves, and not for some extrinsic value?

    When I say looking at them as individuals, though, I just mean not lumping them into categories more than we must. I don't mean that we don't have to see the individual in relation to other men and women (or to nature..or to God, if one believes); of course, we do.

  162. This most recent talk about the particulars of the argument and my response that you seem to be missing the bigger picture is similar to the sentiment Chesterton himself expressed in his introduction to "The Thing: Why I am a Catholic;" "Anyhow, it represents my attitude towards this controversy; and it is quite possible that everything is wrong with it, except that it is right."

  163. Davy,

    That's cool. I wouldn't really even claim to know Chesterton's bigger picture; I'm not really part of his ideal audience, as I don't share some of the assumptions on which his argument is premised. I came to him because of his fiction--I love The Man Who Was Thursday, partly because I think it dramatizes the absurdity of entrenched side-taking--but I'm glad I've started to delve into his non-fiction; it, and especially this conversation, is helping me better understand and empathize with a worldview that isn't mine. What more could I ask? But, if I seem like I'm nit-picking or fixating on details, I think it's because I want to understand the differences, as much as the similarities, between my perspective and Chesterton's (and yours).

    I do share an assumption that Dr. Thursday presents as central to WWTW's big picture: that our selves (and other people's selves, and the answers to the ultimate questions) are not transparent to us, and that we live in what I can metaphorically agree to call a postlapsarian world.(This has to be metpahorical to me because I'm not sure there was ever a non-imaginary prelapsarian world from which to fall.)

    In this postlapsarian world, I think it's very good to be open to the possibility that maybe "everything is wrong with" the particulars of one's argument--and, for me, I think it's even necessary to admit that my whole attitude could be wrong.

    I suspect, though, that all of our traditions, insitutions and even religions are about as "postlapsarian" as we individually are--so, imperfect as our perceptions and powers of reasoning are, we have no choice but to rely on them and on ourselves, in dialogue with each other. Therefore, **for me**, it seems that being a little unsure is the only humble and honest thing to do.

    I know Chesterton also believes that we each should exercise our minds and draw our own conclusions (as Dr. Thursday reminded us through a quotation at the begining of this discussion), and you seem to agree; but you and Chesterton also seem to believe that our conclusions should lead us to the Church, which can provide certainty even in this postlapsarian world. Though I no longer definitively agree with that belief, I respect it.

    And now I need to plunge into finishing my syllabi and teaching my classes, so I'll probably be posting less, if at all. I wanted to mention this in case my silence might make me seem to have lost interest, which I haven't. I'll still be reading, and I'm particularly looking forward to following Dr. Thursday's discussion of What's Wrong With the World. Maybe I'll get the big picture yet. :) Thank you to everyone who has been part of this thread so far.



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