CURIOSITY: The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace
more and more possibilities, to be constantly learning,
to give oneself entirely over to curiosity.



donald davidson — we should not

"We should not say that truth is correspondence, coherence, warranted assertibility, ideally justified assertibility, what is accepted in the conversation of the right people, what science will end up maintaining, what explains the convergence on single theories in science, or the success of our ordinary beliefs."

john dewey — flickering candles

The concern of the philosopher, wrote John Dewey "is not with morals but with metaphysics, with, that is to say, the nature of the existential world in which we live."

Dewey grasped the precarious and unstable nature of things that could make human beings tremble with insecurity, and he remained convinced that the meaning of existence is itself a meaningless issue. But rather than deplore the precarious character of existence, Dewey celebrates its benefits. Out of the interaction of the organism with a troublesome environment arises our intellectual growth, our capacity to think, analyze, plan and control the processes of nature.

To Dewey, our sense of confusion and estrangement simply reflected the price of consciousness. He rejoiced in affirming the incompleteness of experience and the vagaries of nature. Life confronts us as a struggle between what is precarious and what is stable in existence, and the mind is called into being to minimize the contingent and develop the constant elements. Thus, the greater the uncertainties of the environment, the greater the challenge to our reflective intelligence.

Dewey repudiated all philosophical systems (both secular and religious) that would provide final truths in the false hope of liberating humans from their existential condition within nature. Such spiritual liberation would mean death to the life of the mind. It would be conceivably "better," Dewey conceded, if we could accept experience as "given" and feel ourselves at one with a "closed" and "finished" universe, which was the great claim of many schools of thought. "But," he added, "in that case the flickering candles of consciousness would go out."

j.p. diggins — modernism

“Modernism may be defined in a number of ways, but each definition returns to the problem of belief and the limits of cognition. The idea of order and objective truth becomes untenable to the modernist, as do all traditional modes of acquiring knowledge. Modernism rose in the late nineteenth century when Darwinism challenged the idea of divine creation and left religious dogma in shambles. Man without God was left, as Arnold put it, wandering between a world that had been lost and a world that had yet to be found. With God dead, the problem of creating meaning fell to men and women, especially writers like Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson, who gazed into the void to see if the intellect could be at home with the unknown and face the look of death. The modernist can neither believe nor rest content in disbelief.”

diana eck

From “A New Religious America: How A 'Christian Country' Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation” by Diana Eck.

Religion is never a finished product, packaged, delivered, and passed intact from generation to generation. There are some in every religious tradition who think of their religion that way, insisting it is all contained in the sacred texts, doctrines, and rituals they themselves know and cherish. But even the most modest journey through history proves them wrong. Our religious traditions are dynamic not static, changing not fixed, more like rivers than monuments. The history of religion is an ongoing process.

Even humanists, even secularists, even atheists have to rethink their worldviews in the context of a more complex religious reality. With multitheistic Hindus and nontheistic Buddhists in the picture, atheists may have to be more specific about what kind of “god” they do not believe in.

Articulating one's own faith in a world of many faiths is a task for people of every religious tradition today, and in every tradition there are thinkers and movements taking up this task. We cannot live in a world in which our economies and markets are global, our political awareness is global, our business relationships take us to every continent, and the Internet connects us with colleagues half a world away and yet live on Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday with ideas of God that are essentially provincial, imagining that somehow the one we call God has been primarily concerned with us and our tribe.

In my heart I know that the old-time religion is not “good enough” unless those of us who claim it are able to grapple honestly and faithfully with the new questions, challenges and knowledge posed to us by the vibrant world of many living faiths. To be good enough, the old-time religion has to be up to the challenges of an intricately interdependent world.

We must embrace the religious diversity that comes with our commitment to religious freedom, and as we move into the new millennium we must find ways to make the differences that have divided people the world over the very source of our strength here in the U.S. It will require moving beyond laissez-faire inattention to religion to a vigorous attempt to understand the religions of our neighbors.

paul elie — american pilgrimage

"The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage," by Paul Elie, is the story of four famous Catholic writers: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy. Harold Bloom says: "Paul Elie's book is lucid, poignant, and wise. As a work of the spirit, it is universal and in no way sectarian."

Some passages from the introduction:

Because they prized independence, they are typically seen as great individuals, four figures who came out of nowhere and stood alone.

Taken together, their stories are told as episodes in a recent chapter of American religious history, in which four Catholics of rare sophistication overcame the narrowness of the Church and the suspicions of culture to achieve a distinctly American Catholic outlook.

(The book) is meant to be the narrative of a pilgrimage, a journey in which art, life, and religious faith converge; it is a story of readers and writers — of four individuals who glimpsed a way of life in their reading and evoked it in their writing, so as to make their readers yearn to go and do likewise.

A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken in the light of a story. A great event has happened; the pilgrim hears the reports and goes in search of the evidence, aspiring to be an eyewitness. The pilgrim seeks not only to confirm the experience of others firsthand but to be changed by the experience.

In the story of these four writers, the pattern of pilgrimage is also a pattern of reading and writing. ... it was in literature, first of all, that they found religious experience most convincingly described. ... Emboldened by books, they set out to have for themselves the experiences they had read about, measuring their lives against the books that had struck them most powerfully.

The pilgrimage of these four writers is part of a larger story of the convergence of literature and religion in the twentieth century. ... As James Wood has pointed out, the decline of the Bible's authority in the nineteenth century coincided with the rise of the modern novel, which aspired to have something like religious authority over the reader. In part, this development led to the defiant heterodoxy of the great modernist writers, who conceived of literature as a cult, creed, and dogma, a world unto itself.

(These writers) thought of writing as an act of communication, an urgent piece of news sent from writer to reader like a message in a bottle. "No matter what the writer may say, the work is always written to someone, for someone, against someone," Percy explained.

Their work, once the pride of a socially aspirant Catholic populace, is now a point of entry for readers of all kinds — curious, perplexed, indifferent, or altogether hostile to religious experience. Set as it is on the border between life and art, between faith and doubt, it describes that experience with rare clarity and power. What is more — and this, perhaps, is what makes it persuasive — it dramatizes that experience in such a way that the reader enters into it personally through a kind of radical identification with the protagonist. At its best, it is writing that one reads with one's whole life, testing the work against one's own life, and vice versa.

It is writing that invites the reader to make a pilgrimage. Because it has to do with questions of belief — questions of how to live — it makes the pattern of pilgrimage explicit. But the way of the pilgrim, so to speak, is a common way of reading and writing. It is not the only way, of course, or the correct way, but it is a way that we actually do read and write, whether or not we acknowledge it. Certain books, certain writers, reach us at the centers of ourselves, and we come to them in fear and trembling, in hope and expectation — reading so as to change, and perhaps to save, our lives.

ralph waldo emerson

He called himself, “An endless seeker with no past at my back.” In regards his rejection of traditional ideas, he said simply, “I must unfold my own thought.”

“There are two objects between which the mind vibrates like a pendulum; one, the desire for Truth; the other, the desire for Repose. He in whom the love of Repose predominates, will accept the first creed he meets … he gets rest and reputation; but he shuts the door on truth. He in whom the love of Truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings and afloat.”

“The true path to spiritual reality lay in and through the structure of the human mind. … The character of each man shall form his Imagination. The Beings of the Imagination shall become objects of unshaken faith, that is, to his mind, Realities.”

“The craving for a strong faith is no proof of a strong faith, but quite the contrary. If one has such a faith, then one can afford the beautiful luxury of skepticism; one is sure enough, firm enough, has ties enough for that.”


“Those men of facts who cannot answer by a superior wisdom these facts or questions of time, serve them. Facts encumber them, tyrannize over them, and make the men of routine, the men of sense, in whom literal obedience to facts has extinguished every spark of that light by which man is truly man ... ”

mmmdry bones

“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition? Why should we grope among the dry bones of the past?”

Emerson Page> Ralph and Charlie>

nicholas fearn — the masquerade

“An idea becomes an idol when an expression of our will to truth masquerades as an objective truth about the world. To take things this far is not only to deceive oneself but also to insult the creative drive by which we fashion truths. In doing so we elevate our ideas only by debasing ourselves. A ‘healthy’ philosopher, by contrast, is happy to carve his truths out of appearances and leave them at that … because self-doubt does not compel him to seek a status for his truths higher than his own affirmation of them.”


lawrence ferlinghetti
mmmmm— i am waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail

and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

first stanza of I Am Waiting

sigmund freud — from a letter he
mmmmmmmmwrote when he was 17

“I won't ask you that when you find yourself in a position of doubt, you analyze your feelings unmercifully, but if you do it, then you will see how little about yourself you can be sure of. The splendor of the world surely rests on this multiplicity of possibilities, only unfortunately it is no firm foundation for our self-knowledge.”

erich fromm — on knowledge

“We should not look at our knowledge as a possession, in which we find security and which gives us a sense of identity; we should not be filled with our knowledge or hang on to it, or crave it. Knowledge should not assume the quality of dogma, which enslaves us. Knowledge is nothing but the penetrating activity of thought — without ever becoming an invitation to stand still in order to find certainty.”

northrop frye — imagination

Human consciousness is absorbed in routine activity. Human intelligence can resist routine by arresting it an act of consciousness. The revolution of consciousness against routine is the starting point for all mental activity, and the center of mental activity is imagination, the power of transforming “reality” into an awareness of reality.

peter gay — courageous and modern

“David Hume was both courageous and modern; he understood the implications of his philosophy and did not shrink from them. He was so courageous that he did not have to insist on his courage; he followed his thinking where it led him, and he provided through his own life (and in the face of death) a pagan ideal to which many aspired but which few realized. He was willing to live with uncertainty, with no supernatural justifications, no complete explanations, no promise of permanent stability, with guides of merely probable validity; and what is more, he lived in his world without complaining, a cheerful Stoic. Hume, therefore, more decisively than many of his brethren in the Enlightenment, stands at the threshold of modernity and exhibits its risks and possibilities. Without melodrama but with sober eloquence one would expect from an accomplished classicist, Hume makes plain that since God is silent, man is his own master: he must live in a disenchanted world, submit everything to criticism, and make his own way.”




UNCERTAINTY: Living with no supernatural justifications,
no complete explanations, no promise of permanent
stability, with guides of merely probable validity.