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Camden Philosophical Society Meeting

Tuesday, November 16 @ 4:00 pm 6:00 pm

At the Camden Philosophical Society’s next regularly scheduled meeting, on Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 4 pm, we will be discussing “Self, Society and Universe.” Howard Engelskirchen will lead a discussion of Chapter 1 of Peter Berger’s 1967 classic,” The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion,” together with the first pages of Chapter 4 of Richard Seaford’s recent book, “The Origins of Philosophy in Ancient Greece and Ancient India.

The Society will continue for a bit longer to hold our discussions primarily online, via Zoom. All are welcome to participate. Let us know by emailing sarahmiller@usa.net and he31@verizon.net if you wish to attend via Zoom. You will then receive an invitation on the morning of the meeting.  Click on the “Join Zoom Meeting” link in that invitation at the time of the event.

We anticipate going into hybrid mode, with most attending in person but Zoom participation also available, in December or, latest, at the beginning of the new year.

CLICK HERE to read a pdf of the pages from Seaford (please read through the first paragraph on 55); a link to a pdf of The Sacred Canopy is <https://aww.moe/mdnsoi.pdf>.  Howard has provided the following questions to introduce the readings:

Seaford’s Chapter 4 is titled “Self, Society and Universe in the Earliest Texts.”  Berger argues that, as individuals, we create society and, moreover, we project the social forms we create onto the cosmos in a process he calls ‘cosmization.’  In turn, he argues, there’s a relation back: we internalize these forms and, dialectically, they fashion our subjectivity. Consider the last sentence of his first chapter: “religion is the audacious attempt to conceive of the entire universe as being humanly significant.”  Seems like there ought to be some philosophy in all this.

For example, are “self” and “society” the same kind of thing?  Margaret Thatcher famously denied there was any such thing as society at all.  Another writes: “Army is just the plural of ‘soldier’ and all statements about the army can be reduced to statements about the soldiers comprising it.” Karl Popper, too, wants explanations of social phenomena in terms of the decisions of individuals and rejects explanation “in terms of so-called ‘collectives’.”  Do we agree? Do social forms have any ontological reality?  Or are there only individuals? 

“[T]he institutions of the individual’s society . . . will be real,” Berger writes.  In what sense?  What is the stuff of this reality?  Does society have an existence that is independent of the selves that populate our world? Humans are material things importantly characterized by intentionality. What of the social forms Berger takes to be cosmized? Is the garbage collector’s reason for collecting garbage the reason garbage is collected? Might there be a hiatus between what my will and consciousness intend and the social product I bring about? 

What does Berger mean by ‘objectivation’? Aristotle applies his theory of the four causes to building a house or table or fashioning a sculpture for the agora. Can we apply the idea to society? What would be the material cause? The efficient? The formal and final? Is language a social product? “Society structures, distributes, and co-ordinates the world-building activity of men” (Berger). Are we determined by this? Is this what internalization means? 

Berger refers to the difficulty of keeping the world that shapes us “subjectively plausible.”  Later in the book he writes of the “crisis of credibility” where the subjective plausibility we’ve internalized no longer convincingly provides, as he writes in Chapter 1, “a shield against terror,” against “chaos,” the “abyss of meaninglessness.” Is this our dilemma in the world today?

“Whenever the socially established nomos attains the quality of being taken for granted, there occurs a merging of its meanings with what are considered to be the fundamental meanings inherent in the universe. Nomos and cosmos appear to be coextensive” (Berger).  Seaford notices that what we take for granted can change. Thus, the self we take for granted, he shows, has not, even in the Western world, always been characterized as we would characterize it now; it is broadly understood that the self we take for granted does not occur in Homer.

Two questions then:  What causes change in something like the concept we have of the self?  Seaford, for example, appeals to the emergence of coinage pretty much contemporaneously in Ancient Greece and India.  And, if we confront a crisis of credibility, how might new forms of plausibility reconfigure what we might mean by the self?  How do they get put in place?

Also, recalling the final sentence of Berger’s chapter 1 referred to above: Are we even entitled to find meaning for ourselves in the cosmos?  Or might that be a category mistake?

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