Archive for the 'Lecture' Category

Lecture night: On Flannery O’Connor

May 10, 2017

Tonight’s lecture is on the life and work of Miss Flannery O’Connor. This is well-travelled territory, you might think, but the lecturer, Steve Ayers, speaks with such understanding and appreciation that I was enchanted throughout, and he does so in a down-to-earth manner that I think would have pleased her. The lecture is roughly one hour in duration. Excuse me, I have to go tend my pea-chickens.

Steve Ayers also has given a very good lecture on Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Lecture night(s): At Notre Dame

December 1, 2016

A couple of weeks ago the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame held their annual fall conference, this year on the theme “You Are Beauty: Exploring the Catholic Imagination”.

I wasn’t able to be there, and neither, I expect, were you, but they’ve just published a set of the lectures to their YouTube channel, and quite a number of them look intriguing. Roger Scruton was there, Mary Ann Glendon, Alasdair MacIntyre, Daniel Mahoney. Here is a list of the featured presentations, with links to the videos. Where to begin? Right here, of course:

Lecture night: Hart on consciousness

October 19, 2016

Today’s lecture is a treat: David Bentley Hart speaks about consciousness to an audience at (I believe) Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Hart is currently writing a book on the subject, a book which is to be an expansion of the treatment he gave the topic in The Experience of God. The talk describes a number of the problems faced by attempts to provide a materialist account of mind and consciousness, and outlines the features that a successful account of consciousness would need to have.

As usual with Hart, the ideas are challenging, the perspective is fresh, and the whole is expressed in melodious prose.

The talk raises a number of questions in my mind, but foremost among them is an issue that has long puzzled me. Many of the arguments against a materialist account of mind have the following structure: “Given the premises of the mechanical model of nature, it is impossible to provide a scientific account of this-or-that feature of mind.” The mechanical model is the one that has prevailed since the early modern period: the real is just atoms and the void, there are no formal or final causes, the mathematical structure of matter exhausts its properties. And, given those premises, I think the arguments Hart (among many others) offers are persuasive.

Yet it seems to me that one possible response, for those committed to a “naturalistic” view of mind and consciousness, is to challenge the prevailing premises of the mechanical model. Perhaps a materialist model of mind could succeed if the potentiality of matter were not stripped down to its mathematical minimum. For instance, if contemporary models of mind fail to bridge the gap between matter, on one hand, and characteristically mental properties (intentionality, unity, conceptualization, teleology), on the other, might this not be plausibly due to the fact that, in our theory of nature since Descartes, matter has been defined to have none of those characteristically mental properties, no final or formal causes? As such, the project was doomed from the outset by the very terms in which it was posed. If we were to restore the full panoply of causes to nature, à la Aristotle, might that not provide sufficiently rich resources to permit mind to find its place within the natural order? The pan-psychism that has been advocated by, for instance, Thomas Nagel, seems to me a step in this direction, and a not unreasonable one, given the objective and the obstacles.

In the lecture, however, Hart raises this prospect only to dismiss it, and I admit I didn’t understand his reasoning. If somebody feels able to explain this to me, I’d be grateful.

Lecture night: psychology and politics

August 23, 2016

Jonathan Haidt is an unusually interesting academic. He is a psychologist who has in recent years turned his attention to matters of public import, and has especially emerged as an advocate of greater “viewpoint diversity” in the academy. To that end, he has founded Heterodox Academy, a forum for highlighting findings that run counter to received opinion in academic disciplines, particularly in the social sciences.

Earlier this month he gave the keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Assocation. His lecture is entitled “What’s Happening to Our Country? How Psychology Can Respond to Political Polarization, Incivility and Intolerance”, and in it he considers a number of long-term polarizing trends in American society and what to do about them.

He’s an engaging speaker. If you’re interested in understanding the Trump phenomenon, or fancy the thought of seeing a crowd of left-wing academics called out for bias by one of their own guild, this lecture might be for you. If you’re of conservative temperament, you might be pleasantly surprised to hear that an eminent academic considers you anything other than roadkill on the upward way of enlightenment. As he says in the lecture, every healthy society needs a party of order and stability as well as a party of change and progress. It sounds sensible to me (except the bit about change and progress). The lecture is about 50 minutes long, once the introductions are over.

If you enjoy this talk, you might also enjoy a TED talk he gave on the respective moral motivations of liberals and conservatives.

Lecture night: He said, she said

May 25, 2016

The history of the Reformation in England has been of special interest to me since I read Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars, in which he challenged the received (though not universally so) account of the docility with which the English people embraced Anglicanism in the sixteenth century. Since then there have been many books published exploring the condition of non-conformists, both Catholic and Protestant, in England, and the oppression and violence they endured from the state.

This freshly considered history has begun to spill into related disciplines, including Shakespeare studies. Although Shakespeare’s own religious views are a matter of dispute, there is at least circumstantial evidence connecting him with Catholic recusancy: among other things, his mother’s family were well-known recusants, and his daughter was also cited for recusancy.

Some have now undertaken to re-read Shakespeare’s plays in the light of this new understanding of the historical context in which he wrote. Do the plays have anything to tell us about the Catholic experience during the Elizabethan period?

Here are are two lectures addressed to this question, both delivered at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture a few years ago. The first, by Peter Holland, answers in the negative: in his view, there is no convincing evidence that Shakespeare was a Catholic and nothing in his plays to suggest that he was concerned about the plight of Catholics in England. He’s a very distinguished Shakespearian, and it’s an excellent lecture.

Opposing him is Clare Asquith, author of Shadowplay, a book which argues that Shakespeare, rather like an Elizabethan Shostakovich, laced his plays with veiled criticisms of the state, especially for its handling of religion, and that Shakespeare was deeply concerned with the suffering of Catholic recusants. She proposes a kind of “code” for understanding the references to religious and political controversy that Shakespeare’s audience would have understood, but which were artfully framed so as to maintain plausible deniability — this is the same “code” of which Peter Holland is critical in his lecture.

Taken together, these two lectures are very interesting. Holland’s skepticism is salutary, but I do think that Asquith makes some good points about his failure to adequately integrate the post-Duffy history into his reading of Shakespeare, and some of the passages she proposes as examples of Shakespearean subterfuge are quite fascinating. On the other hand, when hunting for subtleties it is hard to know when or if a trail has dried up, and Asquith runs the risk of imagining evidence where none exists.

(There are two other lectures from the same Notre Dame series: one by Joseph Pearce and one by John Finnis. Both argue that the evidence supports the view that Shakespeare was himself a Catholic. Pearce focuses on biographical and historical data, while Finnis’ approach is textual, concentrated in this lecture on Richard III. If you should want to hear them all, the order in which they were delivered is: Pearce, Holland, Finnis, Asquith.)

Lecture night: Educating the heart

May 17, 2016

My favourite pastime on YouTube is to watch news anchors making mistakes, but my second favourite is to listen to lectures. There are many excellent lectures posted from all manner of venues. I could listen to something interesting nearly every night, if I had the leisure. It occurs to me that I might post some of the more interesting of these lectures here.

For today, here is a lecture by Fr Andrew Cuneo, an Orthodox priest, broadly on the topic of education, and broadly based on C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. Fr Cuneo is the first Oxford graduate to have done his doctoral degree on C.S. Lewis, so he knows his subject, but he wears his learning lightly. It’s a very thoughtful lecture.

Incidentally, I rarely sit and actually watch these lectures; I listen to them while I commute to and from work. (I usually use a simple tool to reduce the videos to audio only.)

Wonder and imagination

March 10, 2016

Here’s a quite wonderful lecture by Anthony Esolen on education and the imaginative life, in which he circles around that most wonderful of plays, The Tempest.

Ker on Chesterton on humour

October 15, 2014

A few months ago I gave brief notice to an essay by Fr. Ian Ker about Chesterton’s views on the importance — even the seriousness — of humour and comedy. Here he gives a good lecture on the same topic:

Hart on atheism

April 18, 2013

It might be that the “New Atheist” phenomenon has fizzled out by now — I haven’t heard much from those quarters since the untimely death of Christopher Hitchens — but if you’ve a lingering interest in such matters let me recommend this lecture by David Bentley Hart. He offers an appraisal of the leading “New Atheists” (Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris), but does us the service of viewing them in a broader historical and cultural context. He wishes they were more like the old atheists (pre-eminently, Nietzsche), and, in a nice ironic reversal, sees them as textbook examples of Nietzsche’s detested “last men”.

The lecture was apparently delivered some time ago — reference is made to Hitchens in the present tense — but it only recently made its way onto YouTube. Some of the content, including an amusing foray into the world of enthymemes, also appeared in Hart’s 2010 essay “Believe It Or Not”. The “video” below is actually just audio ornamented with a photograph. Highly recommended nonetheless.

Humble Chesterton

June 13, 2012

The single best talk I have heard on Chesterton was given in 2010 by David Fagerberg at a Notre Dame conference devoted to the themes of humility, wonder, and joy. Chesterton was a man richly endowed with all three virtues, and it was fitting that a talk was devoted to him.

Our Chesterton mini-festival (which ends tomorrow!) was launched by disappointment with Christopher Hitchens’ essay on Chesterton. Hitchens, in my view, simply didn’t get what Chesterton was about; Fagerberg gets it, and this talk makes a nice counterweight.

The talk lasts about 50 minutes, and is followed by a Q&A session.