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An Introduction to Western Philosophy – Why the West is Great

I just watched the PBS DVD on Western Philosophy called “Wisdom for Life” and here’s what it’s about. At a time when Western culture seems to be strip clubs, Kim Kardashian, and porn, the program looks at the true value of Western culture – thinking.  In an age of terror, it’s more important than ever as Columbia University philosopher Arthur Danto explains, “the 911 terrorists came here and visited strip clubs and immersed themselves in our pluralistic society … and then turned around and said ‘yuck’.”

An illustration of Mahommed's assetion - the kind before the 1300's ban on realistic art

The Prophet Mohammed’s ascension – in green robe – the kind of illustration common before the 1300’s ban on depictions of the Prophet

The arguments for the West’s outlook on reason and morality are extremely compelling.   At a time when we face competing claims from religious fundamentalists, it’s helpful to draws out the West’s rational and moral tradition.

Otto Neurath - one of the philosopher's who's ideas are discussed in the program

Otto Neurath – one of the philosopher’s who’s ideas are discussed in the program

The program features interviews with 10 top philosophers who explain the modern Western outlook by tracing it back … all the way back to Plato and Aristotle.  Otto Neurath’s analogy of  human consciousness as a boat at sea needing repairs while afloat, is explained.  The ship metaphor – a brilliant challenge to empiricist foundationalism – is contrasted with the worldview of the fundamentalist.  Richard Rorty, in an interview before his death, explains how everyone needs to have the courage to act in a world where  certainty is not achievable.

Far from being an attack on the Muslim tradition, the program explains how the West rediscovered it’s self with Muslim help.  I found this low quality sample of the DVD on Youtube:

Akeel Bilgrami goes on to explain how the Muslim fundamentalist worldview has more to so with colonialism and  shame than logic.

Muslim scientist with Astrolabe

Muslim scientist with Astrolabe as seen in the philosophy program

We all need to get clear about the case to be made for the West’s pluralistic values.

The above illustrations are included with the kind permission of the PBS documentary “Wisdom for Life – A guided Tour of Western Philosophy.”

ORESTEIA – A new staging of the famous Trilogy

I just viewed the four and half hour staging of the Oresteia by MacMillan Films on DVD and it is a delight to see the entire trilogy in a faithful translation.

Actor James Thomas as Agamemnon in the new staging of the OResteia Trilogy
Agamemnon returns to Argos after 10 years of war

I remember seeing the entire production live at the now-closed Groton theater in Connecticut 30 years ago – and I remember well the thrill of catharsis after experiencing the day-long ordeal. I have also enjoyed Peter Hall’s 1980’s British staging but found that this new staging on DVD gave me insights into many aspects of the drama which I had not noticed.

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The LYSISTRATA movie – The Not 300

“The 300” blockbuster movie and the recently released “Lysistrata” are not just different – they’re opposites.  In watching both films, I’m struck by how similar the mise-en-scene and how opposite the message.

The women unite in a sex strike to end war
The women unite in a sex strike to end war

The joy of The 300 is in reveling in the gore, the revenge and the balletic slaughter that is male testosterone. It’s the nihilistic primordial myth that celebrates male violence as the indispensable defender against the bestial Persian horde.  The joy of Lysistrata is in imaging a world beyond all this male violence – a world where woman are on top and war is no longer necessary – a world where male hormones are harnessed and female sexuality triumphant.

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