Sunday, February 3, 2008

When is Stupidity a Sin?

I know... it's been a busy day for posting... but so much good stuff is out there... you really have to read Alice von Hildebrand's article in the latest Inside Catholic Digest... Here are a few choice excerpts to whet your reading appetite...

Dr. von Hildebrand writes about the late G. K. Chesterton:

“In his autobiography, G. K. Chesterton writes, “A large section of the Intelligentsia seems wholly devoid of intelligence.” At first, this surprising indictment might be interpreted as merely humorous; after all, are not “intellectuals” those to whom we turn for enlightenment and guidance, those who are the luminaries of universities – castles of knowledge and wisdom? But upon thinking about it, one is bound to come to an inevitable conclusion: The places of “higher learning” have also been the nurseries of the most ponderous errors and the most devastating heresies that have plagued our world.”

She goes on to say:

“The blue-collar worker is very unlikely to have any illusions about the quality of his work: If a carpenter makes a set of drawers that does not close, he knows he has done a bad job. If the food prepared by a cook is unpalatable, the culprit knows that he should go back to cooking school… Blunt, tangible results are more eloquent than words. The punishment is on the tailcoat of the fault.

Things are very different in the religious, spiritual, intellectual, and artistic spheres. These are domains in which we find both the greatest accomplishments and the greatest aberrations.”

She goes on to describe how, in the history of philosophy,

“...intellectuals have given us many errors and ‘stupidities’. In her words: “The tragedy is that those making these catastrophic mistakes are blessed (or cursed) with a great amount of what Plato calls “cleverness.” They readily find arguments to buttress their position, however indefensible, because they are “glib,” well-trained in rhetoric and know how to hypnotize a gullible public by brilliance and pseudo-depth.

As a result, some of the most disastrous philosophical errors are not always easy to diagnose. One of the most successful means of spreading error is to couch it in such complicated language that many will swallow it because they assume that if they do not understand a text, it must be because “it is way above their heads” and therefore remarkable.”

Another excerpt:

“Why are errors so appealing to the human mind? The answer is original sin: Man’s mind has been darkened, and moreover, every error is tempting because it gives its perpetrator a feeling of intellectual fecundity. Creativity is flattering. One feels good about oneself—“This has never been seen before me.” In fact, it is true that anyone inventing a new error fully deserves to be given a patent: it is truly his own. On the other hand, any thinker who is granted to highlight a truth must acknowledge that it is not his own. “

So… Dr. von Hildebrand leads the readers to the key question of whether or not stupidity can ever dubbed a sin. She speaks of the usual meaning the word stupidity has for us and the fact that charity is called for on the part of those who are “sharp” when we consider those with a “lack of intelligence, a heaviness of mind preventing some people from grasping what is self evident, obvious, or easy to grasp; an opacity of mind for which, we may assume, those afflicted by it have not responsibility.”

She points to a different sort of problem of “stupidity”. She is pointing to a sort of “intelligentsia” that has a “superior education” and people who are ‘intellectual leaders whose views we should respect’. She quotes Chesterton in The Man Who Was Thursday as follows: “The dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them.”

We have many examples in her article of modern philosophers whose ‘minds have derailed’. One such example is Simone de Beauvoir. A quote:

“Simone de Beauvoir writes in The Second Sex (not surprisingly on the bestseller list): “The law forbidding abortion in unmoral, since it is necessarily bound to be violated every day, every hour.” Her claim could make some sense if applied to purely positive human laws: “Dogs not allowed in the park.” What about murder, theft, or rape? What about the abuses against women that she condemns and rightly so? Should not the law prohibiting these abominable deeds be abolished, because every newspapaer daily informs us that they are constantly taking place?”

She gives us another example in the person of Christopher Hitchens, particularly in his book God is Not Great. She brings up the rather humorous fact that, since the author is an atheist it is a bit strange that he would use this title. To quote her: “… the author seems to forget for a moment that he is an atheist – someone whose dogma is that “god” does not exist. Obviously, if this is the case, to attribute any “size” to him is utter nonsense.”

As with Alice von Hildebrand’s other writing, this article shows that she has a keenness of mind and the wit to battle the ‘clever’ philosphers who lack the light of truth.

The first book of hers I read was The Privilege of Being a Woman in around 2002 or 2003. I was lucky enough to hear her speak in Albuquerque around that time. She is a brave and wonderful woman of faith, one of a seemingly very small minority in the field of philosophy…

What a great beginning to the weekly Inside Catholic digest!

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