Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant
Really stimulating discussion last night on really stimulating topics.
Our essays are here.
First, Howard’s essay on homosexuality and gender roles during the Enlightenment raised some interesting discussion. Michael mentioned that even today, as in the past, homosexuality seems to be more casually excepted than previously thought; he mentioned reading an article about the recent war in Afghanistan and how American soldiers were surprised to learn that pederasty (that is, sexual relations between two males, especially when one of them is a minor) was quite heavily practiced in local Afghan villages. Howard mentioned that a lot has to do with economic and societal issues in raising unwanted kids. For instance, adultery between two heterosexual people will be severely punished (usually resulting in the stoning of the female) because of the possibility that the sexual union would produce an unwanted child. An unwanted or unplanned child will not only create shameful cultural burdens within the cultural community but also the economic impact and cost of raising another mouth to feed might be too much, so therefore it is more heavily frowned upon. However, within a homosexual relationship, one need not worry about pregnancy.
I’m sure homosexuality was more or less prevalent throughout history, but with changing economics, demographics, and the weakening of religious institutions to carry out punishments, people could be more open about their homosexual or lesbian relationships.
Then in Michael’s essay about Descartes and Cartesian dualism, we went around the room and expressed whether or not we believed in a soul and body distinction. The room was split I believe in whether or not the soul that departed the body after death. One person believed that the soul did depart the body after death to be with God after death, while others believed in varying degrees of closeness between the body and soul or that one cannot survive the other – basically we are embodied souls, that once we die that is it, but somehow, someway God will ultimately restore us in resurrected/spiritual bodies. Then the discussion asked how we really knew that we weren’t dreaming already and that we were living inside our dream – our brains pick up electrical signals and such to give us sensations and experiences that what we are experiencing with our senses is real, but how would we truly know whether or not we were all dreaming about it?
Chris addressed his continual question of whether or not what we were reading constitutes the “real church” of Jesus Christ. I believe he reluctantly said yes more or less, but the church became highly flawed and corrupted unfortunately with its greed and struggles for dominance and power. We then got into an fascinating discussion on whether or not we believed that people were born good or bad. Chris wrote a bit about Hobbes and his view that all men were essentially born bad and have bad motivations throughout. Likewise, flip the question around, and ask whether we’re born good and we become bad because of the environment we’re surrounded in or not. I think the more appropriate way to address the situation is that people are selfish or are born with innate selfish tendencies that try to maximize our happiness or optimize survival. Can education fix our bad tendencies? Yes and no. Again, it’s the “nature vs. nurture” question.
Finally, we finished with Kant and we all saw the challenges his thought would bear to the Christian faith. There are limitations to our rationality and we should be aware of what we truly know or do not know about God. We realized the importance of divine self-revelation to the Christian faith and how much our testimony relies upon not only revelation but claims to the supernatural such as the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the claim to miracles. What happens when we strip the faith down to only the rational and ethical parts and leave out everything we consider to be from divine revelation or the supernatural? The discussion did get a bit heated as we went back and forth between the nature of the Christian faith’s dependence on revelation and Kant’s call for a purely rational faith.