Archive for May, 2010
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Mencius” draws from the “Philosophers” section of the Biographies edition.
Mencius was a Chinese philosopher who was arguably the most famous Confucian after Confucius himself. Mencius sought to defend the teachings of Confucius (sixth to fifth century B.C.) against other influential movements of thought, especially those associated with Mozi (fifth century B.C.) and Yang Zhu (fifth to fourth century B.C.). He is probably best known for the view that “human nature is good”, a view of human nature on the basis of which he defended the Confucian ideal and developed an account of the self-cultivation process. His view was subsequently challenged by Xunzi (third century B.C.), another major Confucian thinker, who defended the alternative view that “human nature is evil”.
For Mencius, the four ethical attributes, ren, yi, li, and zhi, result from our cultivating four kinds of predispositions of the heart/mind that everyone shares. These include commiseration, the sense of shame, a reverential attitude toward others, and the sense of right and wrong. He referred to these as the four ‘sprouts’ or ‘beginnings’, and regarded the four ethical attributes as growing from these predispositions in the way that a plant grows from a sprout. Besides commiseration and the sense of shame, he also regarded love for parents and obedience to elder brothers as the starting point for cultivating ren and yi respectively.
His view that the heart/mind has these ethical predispositions provides the basis for his response to the Moist and the Yangist challenges. If a man is constantly subjected to negative influence, his character is bound to be affected accordingly, despite occasional good education. But that is not his true character, or his original nature. His original nature, as Mencius always insists, is good. The evil in him is a result of external influence.
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Thomas Hobbes” draws from the “Philosophers” section of the Biographies edition.
During its ten year run (November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995), the beloved comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” followed the humorous antics of Calvin, a highly precocious and adventurous six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his sardonic stuffed tiger. What many fans of the comic strip don’t know, however, is that the pair is named after the 16th-century French Reformation theologian John Calvin, and the 17th-century English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who had what Watterson described as a “dim view of human nature.”
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher and political theorist who is best remembered today as the author of “Leviathan,” (1651) a work on political philosophy that established the foundation of most Western political philosophy from the perspective of social contract theory. Many contemporary political scientists believe that this work is one of the most complete materialist philosophies of the 17th century. Hobbes rejected Cartesian dualism and believed that the human soul was not immortal. He rejected the prevailing perspective of free will in favor of determinism; he argued that a man is only as “free” as his ability to do what he desires.
Leviathan was written during the English Civil War, which played no small part in shaping Hobbes’ rather pessimistic view of human nature. Starting from a mechanistic perspective of human beings and their passions, Hobbes vividly imagines what life was like for men before civil government, a condition which calls the “state of nature.” In the state of nature, each person theoretically had the right to anything and everything they want. This led to a perpetual state of anarchy and “war of all against all.” Life was, in his words, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Hobbes believed that men were finally able to transcend this brutal state by coming together to make a social contract and establish the state to maintain peace and order. However, Hobbes was not an advocate for a representative democracy. On the contrary, he believed that only an absolute monarchy – a government that gave all power to a king or queen – was strong enough to keep a lid on its subjects. Because people are essentially wired to promote their own self-interests, he believed that democracy – allowing citizens to vote for government leaders – would never work.
Despite his belief that states should be ruled by a strong monarchy, it would be a mistake to assume that Hobbes endorsed despotism. Despite his distrust of democracy, he did not assume that the powers that be would be above furthering their own interests to the detriment of their subjects. Thus, he believed that the government should include a diverse group of representatives that were responsible for presenting the problems of the commoners to the crown. Hobbes (naively) hoped that this representative body would prevent the king from being cruel and unfair. However, the king still had the last word, and Hobbes never satisfactorily addressed the dangers presented by an unenlightened monarch. Oops!
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “L. Ron Hubbard” draws from the “Prophets and Preachers” section of the Biographies edition.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (March 13, 1911 – January 24, 1986) was an American science fiction author who developed a self-help system called “Dianetics” (1950) and went on to found the Church of Scientology. One of the earliest books to tap into the American obsession with self improvement, Dianetics sold a whopping 150,000 copies within a year of publication. Over the following three decades, Hubbard developed his self-help ideas into a wide-ranging set of doctrines and rituals that eventually became the guiding texts for the Church of Scientology.
While he is revered by his followers as a charismatic, persuasive and “larger-than-life” father figure, his life, teachings and church have also attracted considerable criticism, notably from former Scientologists themselves. Most famously, Sam Moskowitz, a science fiction editor, claimed that Hubbard gave a speech in front of the Eastern Science Fiction Association in 1948, only two years before the publication of “Dianetics” where he explicitly stated that he wanted to get rich by starting a religion.
In brief, Hubbard asserted that all human beings are immortal souls or spirits (called thetans) and that the root of all psychological disturbances in an individual stems from their collective store of engrams, defined as, “a recording in the reactive mind of something which actually happened to an individual in the past and which contained pain and unconsciousness”. Hubbard’s followers believe that the techniques outlined in his teachings helped them access and rid themselves of these engrams, a process referred to as “auditing”. In the late 1950s, Hubbard introduced the “E-meter” to the world; a biofeedback device-cum-religious artifact that he claimed facilitated the “auditing” process by helping locate deeply embedded engrams. The subject holds electrodes in his hands, and a dial needle records changes in current while he or she recounts deeply disturbing memories to the specially trained auditor.
In 1968, Hubbard famously used his “E-meter” to determine whether tomatoes feel pain, for reasons that I cannot quite fathom. His rigorously scientific interpretation of the subject tomato’s “stress” response led him to the grim conclusion that “tomatoes scream when sliced”. Sadly, the growing throngs of vegans and vegetarians remain deaf to the cries of the innocent fruits and vegetables they consume with self-righteous impunity. Shame on you, PETA!
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Marco Polo” draws from the “Authors and Artists” section of the Biographies edition.
Long before paper, gunpowder and the compass, the ancient Chinese invented yet another staple of human civilization-pasta. ¬By the time the famous Italian explorer Marco Polo arrived in China in 1274, pasta was already a well-established staple of Chinese cuisine. Polo remained in China for 17 years, and was a frequent dinner guest of the likes of Kublai Khan. Thus, it is safe to say that he certainly ate his fair share of Asian pasta during his extended visit.
Moreover, Polo described noshing on dishes similar to macaroni during his stint in China in his travelogue, “Description of the World,” which he wrote after returning home from the East. This has given rise to the persistent urban legend that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy. What else could explain the gastronomical bridge between two distant countries? However, any foodie worth his vermicelli will tell you that there isn’t a grain of truth to Polo as the pasta pioneer.
The first recorded mention of boiled noodles dates from the 5th century AD when used to refer to an Arab food called “itriyah.” Itriyah was a type of dried noodle sold by vendors. Unlike fresh noodles which had to be eaten soon, dried noodles were good for traveling because they could be carried for long distances without spoiling. It is likely that it was the Arabs who introduced pasta to Italy when they occupied Sicily during the Early Middle Ages. They probably did not put sauce on their noodles, however, so the Italians themselves probably invented the array of sauces that we eat on pasta today.
Dried pasta became popular through the 14th and 15th Centuries, as it could be easily stored on ships, among them ones setting out to explore the New World. Various types of pasta, including long hollow tubes, are mentioned in the 15th Century records of Italian and Dominican monasteries. By the 17th Century, pasta had become part of the daily diet throughout Italy because it was economical, readily available and versatile. The first mention of a pasta recipe is in the book “De arte Coquinaria per vermicelli e maccaroni siciliani” (The Art of Cooking Sicilian macaroni and Vermicelli). This was recorded by the chef to the Patriarch of Acquileia. The first historical references to dried pasta made in proportions large enough to be offered for sale are found in the city of Palermo.
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “John Smith” draws from the “Authors and Artists” section of the Biographies edition.
Captain John Smith (c. January 1580 – June 21, 1631) Admiral of New England was an English soldier, explorer, and author. He is best remembered for his role in establishing the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown, Virginia, and his vivid account of being rescued by Pocahontas, the young Indian girl who allegedly interceded during an altercation with the Powhatan Confederacy and her father, Chief Powhatan. He was a leader of the Virginia Colony (based at Jamestown) between September 1608 and August 1609, and led an exploration along the rivers of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay.
The story begins when Smith and two English companions are ambushed by Indians. After killing his two companions, the Indians take Smith to their chief, Powhatan. After two months in captivity, Powhatan determines to have the Englishman clubbed to death in a ritual ceremony. According to Smith, the plan was thwarted only when the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas (then aged 11 or 12), throws herself between him and his attackers causing her father to relent. Smith published his account of the incident in 1624. It is the only description of the event we have and some historians doubt its authenticity.
Another reason for believing the Pocahontas story is that such a ritual of sponsoring a nearly executed man in order to adopt him into the tribe was a typical Indian custom. Two examples illustrate the point: the daughter of Chief Ucita saved Juan Ortiz in 1528, and Milly, the daughter of the Seminole chief Hillis Hadj, performed a similar feat at some time. But was it just simply a ritual, or was Smith’s life actually in danger? Since Smith’s writings clearly indicate that he believed Pocahontas actually saved his life, it could not have been just a ritual unless either Smith lied, which we have shown to be improbable, or Pocahontas never corrected his error, which seems equally unlikely. Moreover, in the case of Chief Ucita’s daughter, she apparently pleaded for Ortiz’ life by arguing that he could do no harm since he was a Christian, an argument that makes no sense unless she were actually pleading for his life.
Either way, Smith’s account permanently etched his name in American folklore.
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A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Henry VIII” draws from the “Leaders” section of the Biographies edition.
In the early 16th century the balance of power in Western Europe was a precarious one; the major players being Francois I of France and Carlos V, Holy Roman Emperor. Each monarch tried to build a set of alliances to swing the balance in their favor. Into the mix came England, under King Henry VIII of England. Henry’s chief advisor, Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, favored an alliance with France. Henry’s queen, Catalina of Aragon, favored the Empire (the Emperor Carlos was her nephew). Yet Henry and Catalina’s daughter Mary was affianced to Francois’s son, the Dauphin.
The Field of the Cloth of Gold, also known as the Field of Golden Cloth is the name given to a place in Balinghem, between Guînes and Ardres, in France, near Calais. It was the site of a meeting that took place from 7 June to 24 June 1520, between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France. The meeting was arranged to increase the bond of friendship between the two kings following the Anglo-French treaty of 1514. The form “Field of the Cloth of Gold” has been in general use in the English language since at least the 18th century.
Each king tried to outshine the other, with dazzling tents and clothes, huge feasts, music, jousting, and games. The tents and the costumes displayed so much cloth of gold, an expensive fabric woven with silk and gold thread, that the site of the meeting was named after it. The most elaborate arrangements were made for the accommodation of the two monarchs and their large retinues; and on Henry’s part especially no efforts were spared to make a great impression in Europe with this meeting. Before the castle of Guines, a temporary palace covering an area of nearly 12,000 square yards (10,000 m2), was erected for the reception of the English king. The palace was in four blocks with a central courtyard; each side was about 300 feet (91 m) long. The slanting roof was made of oiled cloth painted to give the color of lead and the illusion of slates. Contemporaries commented especially on the huge expanse of glass, which made visitors feel they were in the open air. It was decorated in the most sumptuous fashion and was furnished with a profusion of golden ornaments. To top it off, red wine flowed from the two fountains outside.
The feasting ended abruptly when King Henry challenged King Francis to a wrestling match which ended in Francis throwing Henry to the ground and besting him. The meeting, which had taken place over three weeks (June 7-June 24, 1520) nearly bankrupted the treasuries of France and England, and was useless politically. Francis and Henry signed no treaty, and a few weeks later Henry signed a treaty of alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Within a month, the Emperor declared war on Francis, and England had to follow suit.
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Damn you Shakespeare!
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Biographies, will be available online and in stores on May 11. (Click here to pre-order your copy.) As the release date approaches, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from that book. Today’s entry on “Richard III” draws from the “Villains” section of the Biographies edition.
Even though he ruled for only two years before his death on the battlefield in 1483, Richard III has become one of England’s most controversial monarchs. To some, Richard III is synonymous with pure evil; to others, he was a brave hero whose reputation has been unfairly tarred by inaccurate historical portrayals of the king, particularly in Shakespeare’s “Richard III” (1591). The bard’s play portrays the monarch as a scheming and Machiavellian figure, and charts his rise to power and subsequent short reign over England.
Ricardian is a term used to describe a person who is passionately invested in rehabilitating the posthumous reputation of Richard III, for reasons that I cannot even guess at. Ricardian historians’ work has produced editions of documents from Richard’s reign, research and articles which have contributed to scholarship of England in the 1480s. In fact, so many people are invested in resurrecting Richard’s reputation that there are actually three major Ricardian societies, including The Richard III Society, The Society of Friends of King Richard III and last by not least, The Richard III Foundation, Inc.
The first of the three prominent Ricardian societies, The Richard III Society was established in 1924 and has gathered considerable research material debunking falsehoods about the monarch’s life and reign. Its aim is summed up by its patron, the present Richard, Duke of Gloucester:
“… the purpose and indeed the strength of the Richard III Society derive from the belief that the truth is more powerful than lies – a faith that even after all these centuries the truth is important. It is proof of our sense of civilized values that something as esoteric and as fragile as reputation is worth campaigning for.”
While the present Duke’s efforts to rehabilitate his namesake’s reputation is understandable, what attracts the other Ricardians to the cause? Richard lived during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), an era marked by both calculated subterfuge and betrayal, and the idealism and lofty values of King Arthur’s court. Richard ruled at the tail end of this “Age of Chivalry”, and inspired Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur. Thus, many Ricardian’s view Richard III’s death at the Battle of Bosworth as marking the end of “chivalry” and presaging the subsequent bloody reign of the Tudors.
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