Phi­los­o­phy, Cul­ture, and So­ci­ety Book Club

The Weekly Vista - - News - JENE PORTER

How would you eval­u­ate the health of Amer­i­can democ­racy or of Western civ­i­liza­tion it­self? What is­sues do we face and what prin­ci­ples and be­liefs are needed to sus­tain us? Ev­ery two or three weeks, our club ex­am­ines these ques­tions for a cou­ple of hours by read­ing and dis­cussing a book. We have read a va­ri­ety of books, all cho­sen by the mem­bers. We tend to al­ter­nate from a rel­a­tively pop­u­lar work to a se­ri­ous work. We read only a chap­ter or two at a time and have a syn­op­sis pro­vided prior to the dis­cus­sion. We have a cup of cof­fee or a glass of wine, some cheese and crack­ers and a cookie or two. The point is to learn some­thing and to en­joy our­selves while do­ing so. Laugh­ter nour­ishes the mind too.

The first work we read was a short book by the philoso­pher Charles Tay­lor, “The Malaise of Moder­nity,” which gives a quick over­view of some is­sues fac­ing con­tem­po­rary democ­ra­cies. The next work, “The Clos­ing of the Mus­lim Mind,” was writ­ten by jour­nal­ist Robert Ri­ley. He leads us through the his­tory of ideas that cul­mi­nated in the break be­tween the Is­lamic world and Western civ­i­liza­tion. Our next book was a short work by the­olo­gian John Polk­inghorne, “Science and Prov­i­dence.” Polk­inghorne’s work poses the ques­tion of whether a phi­los­o­phy of his­tory helps in any way our un­der­stand­ing of con­tem­po­rary democ­racy and Western civ­i­liza­tion. Our next work ex­am­ined di­rectly the present health of Western democ­ra­cies. The po­lit­i­cal philoso­pher Ken­neth Minogue is deeply wor­ried about our fu­ture as re­flected in the ti­tle, “The Servile Mind: How Democ­racy Erodes the Moral Life.” We have also read more pop­u­lar works by such au­thors as Thomas Sow­ell, Rodney Stark and Di­nesh D’ Souza. In be­tween, we read a work by the Bri­tish philoso­pher, Mary Mid­g­ley, “Heart and Mind.”

Some is­sues tend to reap­pear in many of the books we have read, For ex­am­ple, sub­jec­tivism and rel­a­tivism per­me­ate our cur­rent public dis­course and, some ar­gue, have a harm­ful ef­fect on the sus­tain­abil­ity of our democ­racy. Dis­put­ing and weighing such is­sues take the bulk of our time in dis­cus­sions. Since we read only a chap­ter or two at a time, and since we have a rel­a­tively de­tailed syn­op­sis of the read­ing prior to our meet­ing, our dis­cus­sions tend to be clearly fo­cused. We try to ro­tate books among three ar­eas: phi­los­o­phy, the­ol­ogy/re­li­gion and po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy.

We are in­ter­ested in works that can help us un­der­stand the ori­gins of the great is­sues af­fect­ing our cul­ture and civ­i­liza­tion. The fol­low­ing are some of the other au­thors that we have read: Plato, Rodney Stark, Ed­ward O. Wil­son, Vic­tor Davis Han­son and Re­becca New­berger Gold­stein.

If you are in­ter­ested in an open dis­cus­sion of se­ri­ous works with a group of like-minded adults, please join us and call Jene Porter at 479-876-2597.

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