Pathology Potpourri

It feels as if I’ve been blog-silent for ages, so I thought perhaps, in this little spare moment I have, I should throw some bloggy stuff out there. Got to keep one’s hand in, after all.

So, miscellany.

1) I have been miserably and annoyingly ill for a little over a week now. Yay. To lighten the burden of whinging about my misery, I’ve taken to making stupid Facebook status updates elevating my relatively minor (but nonetheless unpleasant) affliction to revolutionary status. Long live the Glorious Revolution of the White Blood Cell Proletariat! Down With the Empire of Phlegm!

As I played with this little conceit, I was reminded (in a hazy, drug-soaked sort of way) of an article my undergraduate advisor once gave me. It talked about the history of something called the Drane Report (I think — can’t find the article right now), and the way in which this report and the man who wrote it (Mr. Drane, I presume) changed our dominant disease/treatment metaphors. Once upon a time, apparently, we did not use military models or language to talk about medical practice. We did not make war on a disease (for we did not conceive of ourselves as being under attack from it).  We did not organize treatment along lines of defense or necessary aggression. It was an amusing thing to remember.

Now, while popping the next round of pills (marshaling my reinforcements!), I find myself wondering how else I might describe my condition and its treatment. One tried-and-true (hah!) approach from the past is the ol’ purity/impurity game, but I find myself uncomfortable with how far that one can extend into places that make it dangerous in the hands of the powerful (and of the fearful). Could I describe disease in the language of diplomacy? In the language of beauty? What other metaphors might be productive? Do we all just want to wander off into Sontag and get it over with? (Actually, I’d rather not — I have some problems with Sontag’s approach.)

2) For the first time in a decade, I’ve bought new glasses, and this time I tried a different approach to frames: I have Embraced Ugly.

One of the things that makes buying glasses so annoying for someone as profoundly nearsighted as I happen to be is this: If I can’t wear my contacts for some reason on the day when I select frames (and for years I either didn’t have contacts or didn’t wear them while at the eye doctor’s office), I’m at the mercy of the salesperson and/or whichever fashion-forward individual I’ve managed to convince to join me on a visionwear excursion. I have heard everything there is to say on the subject of finding the right frames for the shape of one’s face, finding the right color, etc. I have dealt with the inevitable problem of finding glasses that won’t weigh too much once my lenses (VERY thick, even when made of the lightest plastic available). I have been told to get BIG, ROUND frames (bad idea, 80s. Bad idea. Never going back to that). I have been told to get tiny, tiny frames (actually, kind of like those — but lose a lot of vision because of them). I have been told to minimize color or frame thickness (both for weight and style reasons). I have heard it all.

So today, I went for it. Buddy *bleep*ing Holly me. Screw it. I am done being stylish. Bring on the heavy, fugly black frames. I’m too old for this girly fashion crap. I am tired of trying to minimize my dorky blindness. I want some fugly damn black frames with my big ol’ coke-bottle lenses in ’em, through with I will peer geekily at the world. To hell with style! I found some ugly black frames for free, so all I’m paying (through the nose, as always) for is the polished plastic bits to make me see.

I am feeling oddly elated by this choice.

Of course, I have no idea how they’ll look when I get them in a week or so.

This once, I find that I don’t actually care.


3) Over at one of the blogs I read regularly, there’s a really cool post about an ongoing discussion of arguments related to the hiddenness of God (specifically one of Schellenberg’s arguments centered on hiddenness).

Schellenberg’s argument, as described over there by Helen de Cruz, goes like this:

1) if God exists, he is perfectly loving
2) If a perfectly loving God exists, he wouldn’t allow non culpable unbelief (e.g., atheists who are willing to believe, who have sincerely weighed the evidence and considered theism, but rejected it [Schellenberg pointed out to me that it’s not only atheists but also, e.g., people in the distant past who have not been acquainted to theism are subject to nonculpable unbelief, see the update below]
3) However, there is nonculpable unbelief
4) therefore a perfectly loving God doesn’t exist
5)There is no God

[*all of that is quoted directly from de Cruz — she’s the “me” referred to in point 2*]

De Cruz and the others involved in the discussion over at NewAPPS (a discussion well worth reading, btw, if you’re interested in this particular neighborhood of the philosophy of religion) are paying most of their attention (as one would expect, given the usual practices of the field right now) to the nice, meaty stuff in (2) and its interesting consequences. It *is* interesting stuff, and I have a student working on this sort of material right now who I think will find the discussion extremely helpful.

I remain contrary, though. My first thought on looking at the argument is that the real problem is point (1) (and that the step from (4) to (5), if you lose (1), obviously isn’t any good). My main reason for being uncomfortable with (1), however, is not the usual stuff about the problem of evil and other, similar concerns. I have no problem with the possibility of a deity describable as “loving.”

I do, however, object to the notion that we are actually describing what theism as such entails when we make arguments that bank on the divine possession of the attribute “loving.” My objection here is really a favorite tangent of mine, I freely admit it (and there’s probably a good reason why no one really bothers with it much in the current literature). We (philosophers of religion) tend to use the term “theists” to cover anyone and everyone who identifies as a believer in one of the major monotheistic traditions. Typically (with the exception of people like John Hick, who does appear to acknowledge a wider theistic field that could include some varieties of Hinduism) we are talking about the Abrahamic theisms (the many varieties of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) when we do this.

Problem: We’re not actually talking about them all, and this use of “theism” hides a multitude of conceptual sins. The language of Western academic philosophy of religion, for all its attempts and breadth and depth and conceptual clarity, is still the language of a certain strain (or set of strains) of Christianity. At best, arguments like Schellenberg’s are problematic for (some) Christians. A reasonably large number of Jews and Muslims and theistic sorts of Hindus, however, aren’t playing quite the same ball game. God’s love is simply not what’s at stake in those traditions, and the definition of God offered in point (1) is in some ways rather bizarre, even by some Christian standards.

Ultimately, arguments attacking Christian-variety conceptions of God under the guise of “theism” aren’t  persuasive when aimed at certain non-Christian theisms. At least that’s what I think. I also think there could be some really interesting arguments to make if we had a more difference-sensitive notion of theism, but I’m groggy right now and have other stuff to do.

Hmmm. More on this someday, when the cold meds fade and I’ve got more time to drum up the source material I need. Also: A return to D. Z. Phillips.


About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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