83. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Divisive Harvard Address, ‘A World Split Apart’,1978, Part 3

Solzhenitsyn proved that the pen is mightier than the sword, for his writings were instrumental in toppling an evil superpower. If you would like to start at the beginning, see Post 81. Click the link to read his speech in its entirety.

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82. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Divisive Harvard Address, ‘A World Split Apart’,1978, Part 2

A Young Alexander Solzhenitsyn as a Russian Gulag Prisoner

Just as Solzhenitsyn agitated the Soviet Union with his criticisms, so he agitated the West with his critique of the United States during his 1978 Harvard address. This is Part 2 of that address. See Post 81 for background and discussion of Part 1.

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81. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Divisive Harvard Address, ‘A World Split Apart’,1978, Part 1

Solzhenitsyn

When I was growing up, in the midst of the Cold War, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) was a household name. Older readers, like myself, will remember his name. Younger readers, tragically, have never heard of him.

He was known for being the Soviet dissident who spent years in a Soviet gulag for a simple critique of Stalin and eventually wrote his famous Gulag Archipelago, which recounted the harsh, miserable existence in a Soviet labor camp, shedding light on the evils of the Soviet Communist system. Because of that, he was one of my childhood heroes. Beginning in 2009, Gulag became required reading in Russia. 1 The Gulag Archipelago has sold tens of millions of copies. 2 His writings were significantly responsible for bringing down the Soviet Union. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.

In 1978, he gave his famous Harvard Commencement Address, which did not go very well. Americans naively thought that Solzhenitsyn, a natural political and cultural critic, would spare them the scrutiny he had dished out to the Soviets. They were wrong. His critique of America during that speech is even more relevant now than it was over forty years ago. A link to his speech is provided below.

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80. Phaedo on the Soul and the Afterlife, Part 3

Phaedo

Despite all of our technology, the Greeks were, in many ways, wiser than we are. We should not mistake knowledge for wisdom, for we have much more knowledge. They were wiser for many reasons, but especially because they recognized that human beings have immortal souls, something that we have lost today. This is the subject of Plato’s Phaedo.

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79. Phaedo on the Soul and the Afterlife, Part 2

Phaedo

Many people think about the afterlife on a regular basis, while others avoid the subject. But coming to grips with our mortality is essential if we are going to have any sort of meaningful life. This is what Plato’s Phaedo is all about. After all, as the saying goes, if you don’t know how to die, then you don’t know how to live.

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78. Phaedo on the Soul and the Afterlife, Part 1

Phaedo :
Phaedo :

Phaedo deals with the remaining hours of Socrates’ life. As such, there is much we can learn from it. The contrast above is stark and represents what Socrates accomplished in his death: turning the West from a violence-based culture to one of reason. On the right, we have the famous Greek hero Achilles, whose death was truly a tragedy. On the left, we have the famous Greek philosopher Socrates, whose death was truly heroic.

Achilles represents an age in Greek history when men could only aspire to greatness by aspiring to glory in war. The ancient Greeks termed this kleos. Any kleos that Achilles gained in battle was to know avail, for the brooding, angry warrior ended up in the shadowy existence of the underworld.

Socrates, by his death, taught us that there was a far superior way, the way of virtue, or arete. Socrates sought to exercise reason in the face of evil and injustice, not returning evil for evil. This made him virtuous. By doing so, he set the West on a better, but not perfect, trajectory. This lasted until the French Revolution, which set the way of violence once again as the primary means of controlling populations through the all-powerful nation-state.

By studying Socrates’ death, we can hope to learn the difference between arete and kleos. If we can do that as a culture at large, then there is hope for the future. If not, then the West will descend into a new Dark Age that characterized the Greek Homeric Age. Homer collected stories about Achilles and others during that time and passed them down to future generations. Maybe Socrates can show us a better way.

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77. The Death and Resurrection of Israel

The Destruction of Jerusalem, 586 B.C.

Since the beginning of human history, nations and empires have risen and fallen. We live in interesting times, when the United States Empire and even the West itself appear to have collapsed. Western Civilization will lose the progress it has made in a few decades if things continue as they are. In light of these events, my Easter post this year deals with the death and resurrection of the nation of Israel.

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76. Plato’s ‘Meno’ Part 2; A Common Uneducated Slave

Plato's Meno

Can a common, uneducated slave do complex geometry without ever learning it? This is one of the questions in Plato’s Meno. Plato was hoping that the answer to this question was yes, for that would give hope to slaves everywhere.

This and other unusual aspects of the dialogue make it one of Plato’s most interesting and thought-provoking dialogues.

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75. The Essence of Virtue – Plato’s ‘Meno’ Part 1

75. The Essence of Virtue – Plato’s ‘Meno’ Part 1

The Essence of Virtue Plato's 'Meno' Part 1:
Personification of virtue (Greek ἀρετή) in Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey

What is virtue? The Essence of Virtue is a difficult concept to define, Although most people can identify examples of virtue, such as courage or justice, defining the concept of virtue, as well as those individual concepts. This is what the dialogue of Meno is all about: defining virtue.

Plato’s other dialogues, like this one, frustrate us because they never provide clear answers. However, it is important to note that the Greeks were more focused on asking questions than providing answers. This is how they viewed the world: that the key to understanding is asking the right questions. Before we become critical of the Greeks, we must realise that we moderns have just the opposite problem. Modern man is more interested in answers than questions. In our haste to make sense of the world, we fail to ask the right questions and, as a result, end up with a superficial understanding of the world around us.

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74. Faith and Reason -The Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI, Part 3

Faith and Reason: Benedict's Regensburg Address touched on how Kant picked up where Luther left off, leading us eventually to the juxtaposition between faith and science we currently see.

This is the third and final part of a series on Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Address on “Faith and Reason”. If you wish, you can start at post 72 if you have not read it yet, and then proceed post 73, but that is not necessary. You can also read this as a standalone.

Benedict gave this groundbreaking address before a group of distinguished scientists in Germany on September 12, 2006. In a nutshell, he explained how science must be rooted in transcendent ideas to be most effective. It is one of the best explanations of philosophy in modern times.

The whole point of Benedict’s speech and of this blog is to show how strange it is that we have separated faith and reason, something that most philosophers before the Enlightenment would have found hard to understand. We will only be happy and whole as people and culture, when we get back to that natural state.

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