A while back, I took a wonderful class entitled “Meaning in Life.” It dealt with meaning, obviously, and personal significance, purpose, fulfillment, death, and philosophy. My professor was named Mattias Risse and he’s really quite erudite. The topic I wanted to write about follows a lecture of his about renowned existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. Ancillary topics are scientism, truth, and ethics. The background is in the era of 1900-1960, thinkers such as inimitable philosopher Bertrand Russell and the French intellectual Sartre were trying to find meaning and purpose in a secular-humanistic way. Much later, philosopher Robert Nozick made some improvements to their work. None wanted to slide into radical scientism as much as they didn’t want to resort to theological/religious assumptions. Indeed, Sartre penned a significant essay entitled “Existentialism is a Humanism”, and this is a medium-length encapsulation of how Sarte believes ethics is part and parcel of a developed form of existentialism.Read More
August 24th, 2020
August 18th, 2020
Will Durant was one of America’s greatest intellectuals. He lived from 1885 to 1981. In his long, varied, and distinguished career, he taught, wrote, earned a doctorate in philosophy, and came to know many of the most important and elusive truths. His interest in history was as salient than his love of philosophy, for he is best known for his book the massive, 11-volume set The Story of Civilization, his take on significant historical happenings and patterns (which he published with his lifelong interlocutor, his wife Ariel). They won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the work. Only slightly less remarkable was The Story of Philosophy, which detailed the lives and works of a dozen of the most impactful philosophers throughout history, such as Plato and Nietzsche. Durant was truly a remarkable man; we are so lucky he lived to the ripe old age he did, and that he was a philosopher, historian, teacher and writer – and not a banker or a tennis player or a gambler. This blog is about Will Durant’s quotes about the meaning of life from his superb book on the subject.Read More
June 20th, 2020
Strength quotes are one of the best ways to keep on keepin’ on, to push forward, to keep at it, and to overcome obstacles. Many great minds and historical characters of note faced insurmountable odds. Think of what Epictetus, Frederick Douglas, Fannie Lou Hamer, Nelson Mandela, and Bernie Sanders had to endure, and yet, they found the strength to keep going and continue trying; they persevered. Perseverance, dedication, stick-to-itiveness, will power, determination, stamina, and fortitude are allied values to this. Strength and courage combine to make a “ValueSet,” meaning, two values that are closely aligned in the values of the wise scheme.Read More
May 16th, 2020
I heard the following amazing story the other day while attending church with my wife. The priest shared it, and it felt like it was essentially a long inspirational quote. I came home and was able to find it online, and am happy I did! It tells the story of the amazing life of Roy Campanella, a Hall of Fame catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and fellow African-American player when Jackie Robinson played. Not only was his career remarkable, his spinal injury and the way he lived his life afterward were also deeply significant. He read a long inspirational quote on the wall of a rehab facility one day, and it floored him. In this blog, I share quite a bit of background about the buoyant, heralded player, human being, quadriplegic, and author Roy Campanella.Read More
May 11th, 2020
I was just listening to Bravado, one of Rush’s greatest songs. On their 1998 album Different Stages, it really stood out to me (and the mead probably helped!). I wanted to juxtapose the lyrics to it with some thoughts I have. Maybe listen to it live on Youtube or something, it’s quite a piece. Very aspirational and inspiring. The first two lines feature the pithy line, flying too close to the sun.
It is an amazing song about willingness to risk, courage, vision, sacrifice, dedication, love, sorrow, and meaning.
It has me staring out the window, eyes welled up with tears.Read More
May 3rd, 2020
…along the way.”
That, as you may recognize, is the unparalleled song No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Contrary to what some figure, the title does not mean “If you don’t have a relationship with a woman, that’s great—your heart won’t get broken”; rather, it refers to a “government yard in Trenchtown”, Jamaica where the poor, huddled masses were trying to survive in what was obviously a horrible economy and conditions of stress and privation. The man (the narrator) is looking back on the time he decided he must go find work or some other opportunity, and when he was leaving, his wife or whomever was crestfallen and worried. His reassuring response was, “No woman; no cry!” which is basically a pidgin-type dialect of Caribbean English for “Please do not cry.” The reference to “good friends we had, and good friends we lost along the way” is part of Bob’s reminencence, with his woman, of all the good and bad things that have occurred to them in the refugee camp (or whatever kind of camp it is). It is shortly followed by the inimitable line: “Everything’s gonna be alright!” I picture him wiping her tear and then turning to head off to the “far, unlit unknown” (Rush’s phrasing in Subdivisions, a song that I consider a tear-jerker). No Woman, No Cry is a somber tale about the storm and stress a life tends to bring at one time or another, and the perceptive listener might just feel pangs of empathy and loss in their own memory, as I usually do.Read More
April 26th, 2020
My father was a brilliant surgery resident at the famed Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA when he was oh, probably, 27 years old. He ended up specializing in and completing another residency in family practice (long story!) by the time he was 31, or thereabouts. Coming from relative poverty, a loveless and sometimes-physically-abusive home, and facing anti-Semitism growing up in the 1950s, I remember him telling me “I went off to college at age 18 with only a suit.” As in, no money, no furniture, no books, no nothing. My father busted his butt and was an admired and even loved physician in the rough part of L.A. when I was growing up. He was asked to be the head of four Kaiser Permanente when he was, oh, about 40. Instead, he opted to remain at Kaiser-Montebello and be the Physician-in-Charge at that clinic. Mort Merchey spoke Spanish with probably 50 percent of his patients—who always remembered him generously during the Christmas holidays. As if that weren’t enough, he also was a Captain in the Reserve Corps of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, a huge organization. My pop knew how to shoot his Magnum .357 as well as any uniformed deputy could. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he did pretty darned well, considering where he came from. He makes me look like a slacker in comparison, that’s for sure! He was smart, good-looking, funny, amiable, and competent. Driven to school in his true-blue Mercedes convertible in the mornings, needless to say, I had the greatest respect for my dad’s professional and educational achievement.
This story does not, however, have a happy ending, exactly. My dad suffered greatly in retirement. This happens with many people, perhaps especially those who are like him.
April 7th, 2020
I just watched the movie 300, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. If you haven’t seen it, you may want to go for it. It is bloody; savage even; but it tells a story of solidarity that is compelling in any time and place, but particularly so now that America is facing down a mortal enemy: the virus, COVID-19. This blog is a paean to first responders, doctors, and parents who have to now teach their kids; it is in praise of those who lost a job due to no fault of their own; it is a criticism of the federal government; it is a recounting of some of the tough spots Americans have been in since the tumultuous colonial era which led to war with England. Heroism and self-sacrifice are called for during these dark days.Read More
March 9th, 2020
David Leonhardt of the New York Times, says this about Joe Biden: “As happened with McCain in 2008, a large share of primary voters this year weren’t wowed by any of the candidates. They instead were waiting for one to emerge — especially one who seemed likely to beat President Trump. I don’t think it was inevitable that Biden would be that candidate, especially after his weak start. But after Sherrod Brown and Mitch Landrieu didn’t run, after Michael Bloomberg entered the race late, after Cory Booker and Kamala Harris dropped out and after every other candidate failed to appeal to black voters, Biden was the one left standing. Many voters have found their way back to him.” He might not have been the most able candidate from the beginning, but with Bernie failing to really catalyze a winning combination of huge voter turnout, minority support, and suburban appeal, Biden is the man African-American, older, and many Hispanic voters are choosing to accomplish the most important goal conceivable: send Donald Trump back to his gilded towers of dark magic and usher in an era that is both progressive and harkens back to the largely-successful Obama years. Biden’s coup on “Super Tuesday” was reminiscent of the mythical boxer and “comeback kid”, Rocky Balboa. Here is a brief synopsis of the virtue and character that many see in Biden’s glorious victory.Read More
January 12th, 2020
“In order to improve yourself, Socrates insists, you have to know yourself,” said philosopher Judith Barad. Socrates hasn’t been around since ancient Athens, Greece, but the method of inquiry and self-examination he pioneered is still valid and has a lot to recommend it. “Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from the heavens and establish it in the towns and introduce it into homes and force it to investigate life, ethics, good and evil,” according to also-significant Roman orator Cicero. “Socrates’ method was to go about, as he said himself, ‘cross-examining the pretenders to knowledge and wisdom,’ and by the cross-examination, showing them that they were in error, that what they supposed they knew, they did not know,” noted the luminary Mortimer Adler. This blog is about Socratic dialogue – how to appreciate it, and what it can do.Read More