Welcome to the Moral Imagination Podcast.
The overarching theme of my podcast is what it means to be a human person and what makes for a meaningful and good life.
We will discuss philosophy of the human person, culture, religion, social philosophy, and many other related topics, like education, learning, economics, food, technology, artificial intelligence, and intellectual history. My goal is to interact with ideas and people whose work I find challenging, and intellectually and socially important.
Ep. 43: Orthodox Judaism, Leo Strauss, and Baruch Spinoza’s Critique of Religion
In this episode I speak with Jeffrey Bloom and Rabbi Jeremy Kagan about the book Spinoza, Strauss, and Sinai: Orthodox Judaism and Modern Questions of Faith published by Kodesh Press . The book is a collection of essays edited by Jeffrey Bloom, Alec Goldstein, and Gil Student.
Jeffrey Bloom grew up secular, Jewish family and the idea of actually practicing Orthodox Judaism was outside of the realm of possibility. He studied at University of Chicago where he took a class with Professor Leon Kass on Genesis. (see book link below) This was the first time that he took religion seriously. He notes that as a child of divorce— he wanted stronger family life, and he was attracted to Orthodox Judaism, but still questioned whether it was reasonable. This led him to read Strauss critique of Spinoza’s critique of religious belief. The Enlightenment philosopher, Baruch Spinoza argued that religious belief was irrational. But in his book, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Leo Strauss argued that while the enlightenment with Spinoza and his heirs claimed to refuted orthodox belief, they in fact did not. Strauss claimed that as long as orthodoxy is willing to make the concession that they can’t “know” and only “believe” the tenets of Judaism, then it is plausible and no weaker a position that rationalism because that is precisely what Spinoza is doing—when pressed, Enlightenment rationalism, like religion, rests on acts of “faith” in tenets that it cannot prove.
Strauss’ argument opened up questions about reason, belief, truth, access to reality and more, and what it did for Bloom was make orthodox Judaism rationally and intellectually plausible. As Rabbi Jeremy Kagan puts it, “carved out a space for the Torah” and religion belief and practice.
Yet Bloom had another question—Strauss opened the door to religious belief, but what did Orthodox Jews think about the arguments of both Spinoza critique of religion, and Strauss’ critique of Spinoza? Bloom gathered a group of Orthodox believers, Rabbis, computer scientists, philosophers, to address the question: Is the argument of Strauss any good? Are there better replies to the critique of religion than Strauss provides?
This book is relevant for many reasons— There is a sense that the Enlightenment and science and empiricism has proved that orthodox religion, Judaism and Christianity, is intellectually unserious and untenable, and many people hold this to be the case. Secular thinkers and atheists often critiques religion for its faith but they don’t realize they that rely on a host of non-empirical assumptions that uphold their beliefs. For example, why is reason is better than non - reason and how can one prove it in empirical means?
We discuss several essays including those by Jeffrey Bloom, Rabbi Kagan, Rabbi Shalom Carmy who argues that Strauss’ arguments are not compelling, and Moshe Koppel’s essay, “Why Revelation and not Orbiting Teapots” which makes the distinction between orthodox belief and superstition and more.
This is a complex discussion that addresses some of the big underlying questions about faith and science, reason and belief, different forms of knowledge, the value of religious observance, and some of the main themes of the Moral Imagination Podcast. I hope you enjoy.
Ep. 42: Whoever Owns the Test Owns the Curriculum: Classic Learning v. Industrial Model
In this episode, I speak with Jeremy Tate, the founder of the Classic Learning Test about school testing, curriculum, and the classical versus industrial models of education. Jeremy argues that the current testing regime of the SAT and ACT have a tremendous influence on the curriculum taught in public and private schools. They promote a utilitarian vision of learning and drive students away from the classical Western tradition and serious reflection on what makes a good life. In response, Jeremy and his team developed the Classic Learning Test not only to be a better, more rigorous test, but to positively influence the curriculum toward more serious reading, and introduce students to the classic texts of the Western Tradition and those which shaped the founding of the United States, By ignoring these texts, the current testing and curricula regimes exclude students from engagement with the tradition. One of Tate’s colleagues noted that she could go from Kindergarten through a Ph.D. without reading Homer, Plato, or Shakespeare. This unfamiliarity with the tradition makes people unaware of history and complexity, unable to make distinctions, and thus more susceptible to propaganda and manipulation. It excludes the poor from opportunity and indoctrinates the elites into utilitarian and progressive ideas that they think are simply facts. As C.S. Lewis described, “10 years hence” we can find ourselves on the side of the philosophical controversy that we didn’t even know was up for debate.
We discuss a number of themes including
The revival of classical education
Whether you should go to college or not?
Education and virtue
C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man
Eustace Scrubb and the Chronicles of Narnia
Elite students focus on test scores rather than on learning
Scientists with no sense of history or complexity
The problems with critical thinking
The false dichotomy of Facts vs. Opinions
How moral and value judgments are reduced to opinions and more.
Biography Jeremy Tate is the founder and CEO of the Classic Learning Test. Jeremy is also the host of the Anchored Podcast, CLT's top 2% global podcast that features discussions at the intersection of education and culture. Prior to founding CLT, Jeremy served as Director of College Counseling at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, Maryland. He received his Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Religious Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. Jeremy and his wife Erin reside in Annapolis, Maryland with their six children. You can find Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyTate41.
Resources Classic Learning Test
For more on C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man - See my interview with Michael Ward
For more on classical education see my interview with Heidi White and the importance of reading good books, my interview with Elizabeth Corey
Jeremy Tate: Not Another Test, The Right Test
Ep. 41: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man with Father Michael Ward
In this episode, I speak with Michael Ward about his book, After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man. I think The Abolition of Man is of the most important books in the twentieth century. It addresses important issues that are relevant today — from what it means to be human, reason, passion, and the emotions, to how to think about technology, power, and beauty. It’s a short book but can be a bit difficult to understand at times, and Michael Ward does a great service by going through the book line by line and explaining and providing context to make the book easier to follow.
We discuss key themes of The Abolition of Man:
whether beauty and morality are objective or purely subjective education power and authority honor nobility sacrifice for others, dystopian fiction technology and technocracy contraception and how man’s power over nature ends up being man’s power over other men We also discuss the relationship between the Abolition of Man, Eustace Scrubb, and Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and the space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.
Word on Fire Special Offer: After Humanity + Abolition of Man
Michael Ward is an English literary critic and theologian. He works at the University of Oxford where he is a member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion. He is the author of the award-winning Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford University Press) and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis (Cambridge University Press).
Though based at Oxford in his native England, Dr Ward is also employed as Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, Texas, teaching one course per semester as part of the online MA program in Christian Apologetics.
On the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death (22 November 2013), Professor Ward unveiled a permanent national memorial to him in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. He is the co-editor of a volume of commemorative essays marking the anniversary, entitled C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner.
Michael Ward presented the BBC television documentary, The Narnia Code, directed and produced by BAFTA-winning filmmaker, Norman Stone. He authored an accompanying book entitled The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens.
Michael was resident Warden of The Kilns, Lewis’s Oxford home, from 1996 to 1999. He studied English at Oxford, Theology at Cambridge, and has a Ph.D. in Divinity from St Andrews. He was Senior Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford (2012-2021). He has been awarded honorary doctorates in Humane Letters (Hillsdale College, Michigan, 2015) and Sacred Theology (Thorneloe University, Ontario, 2021).
Visit https://www.themoralimagination.com/episodes/ward for show notes and resources.
Ep. 40Who are You? Family, Politics, and the Hunger for Identity with Mary Eberstadt
In the episode I speak with Mary Eberstadt about her latest book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics. She argues that the revolutionary changes to family structure across the western world: fatherlessness, divorce, abortion, single parent homes, the shrinking of the family –have caused deep hurt in people and that many of the social problems we face today are manifestations of a “primal scream” for belonging.
Eberstadt explains that the breakdown of the family has resulted in a widespread subtraction: we have a much smaller protective infrastructure around us than our ancestors did. While many people connect family decline to individual things like loneliness or educational achievement, it also has large macro impacts. She argues that primary cause of political rage, identity politics, gender confusion, and more is rooted in the breakdownof the family and people’s struggle to answer the question “Who am I?”
Primal Screams is a very important book that combines an empirical examination with a real empathy for people who suffer from the impact of the sexual revolution and the break down of the family.
We discuss a number of issues including:
Loneliness in the elderly and the young
The rise in psychiatric problems among Generation Z and Millennials
What we can learn from animal behavior and family structure
How the sexual revolution harms women and children and only benefits predatory men.
The #MeToo Movement
The role of abuse and sexual dysphoria
The lack of siblings and the problem of social learning
The Myth of the Lone Wolf
The Trend of Incels
The Great Resignation
How Feminism creates problems for both girls and boys
Masculinity and Decline of Males
Declines in Fertility
Critiques and replies to her argument by Mark Lilla, Peter Thiel, and Rod Dreher
Biography Mary Eberstadt holds the Panula Chair at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, DC, and is a Senior Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute. Her latest book is Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, with commentaries by Rod Dreher, Mark Lilla, and Peter Thiel.
Her other books include It's Dangerous to Believe; How the West Really Lost God; and Adam and Eve after the Pill. Mrs. Eberstadt’s writing has appeared in many magazines and journals. [Her 2010 novel The Loser Letters, about a young woman in rehab struggling with atheism, was adapted for stage and premiered at Catholic University in fall 2017. Seton Hall University awarded her an honorary doctorate in humane letters in 2014. During the Reagan administration, she was a speechwriter to Secretary of State George Shultz and a special assistant to Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick at the United Nations. Updates about her work can be found on her website, maryeberstadt.com
Resources Mary Eberstadt Website: maryeberstadt.com
Podcast interview with Carrie Gress on Feminism
Podcast Interview with Noelle Mering on Awake Not Woke
My lecture on Robert Nisbet and the decline and quest for community
Ep. 39 What is Justice with Marcel Guarnizo
What is Justice? What do we owe to each other? The theme of justice is core issue of all human societies and pervades myth and philosophy. Plato’s Republic and Gorgias are reflections on justice and the right ordering of the soul and society. So is Aristotle’s Politics. The Hebrew Bible, the Tao Te Ching, the Analects of Confucius, the writings of Buddhism, and the Stoics all contain reflections on justice. C.S. Lewis notes in his appendix to the Abolition of Man that in every land and every culture there is a “Tao,” a way of being in the world that affirms what is good and condemns what is bad. Despite the universal hungering for justice, injustice seems to be the way of man. Against Plato stands Thrasymachus and Callicles, the tyrant and the sophist who want to reduce justice to power.
In this episode I speak with Marcel Gaurnizo about the nature of justice. We discuss the definition of justice — giving each what is due. We discuss how justice is not simply a social or political condition but a human virtue that requires a consistent act of the will.
Marcel explains how the shift from metaphysical view of justice to political justice opens the door to the dictatorship and tyranny of the majority or injustice through procedural methods. We discuss the Plato’s story of the ring of Gyges which makes the wearer invisible just like Bilbo and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings — and thus free from any punishment. Would we have strength to do the right thing even if we would never get in trouble for doing what is wrong? As Marcel notes, the ring of Gyges is all around us. There are many things that are legal—that we will not be punished for — but which are evil and unjust.
Marcel also walks us through different species of justice — commutative (exchange) and distributive. He explains how many of the errors we make about legal, economic, and social justice —both on the right and the left — often come from a misunderstanding of the difference between commutative and distributive justice, e.g. we apply commutative justice to the family.
Marcel argues that one of the problems we have today on the right and left is that we are not formed in correct thinking about justice is that In this conversation there are some detailed discussions, but in a time where there the word “justice” is used so frequently and where there is so much confusion, I think it is very worthwhile.
Some of the themes and thinkers we discuss include:
Justice as a virtue
Economic justice of exchange
Family vs. Market
Gary Becker and the error of applying commutative justice to the family
John Rawls and the shift to political and procedural justice
Socialist view of justice
St. Thomas Aquinas Treatise on Justice
Catholic Social Teaching
John Rawls and the transformation of justice into political justice.
Human Nature — what kind of thing we are
Individualism, the market, and the state
Poverty and Distribution
Biography Marcel Gaurnizo is a philosopher and theologian. He spent many years in Europe and has founded a number of institutions including an academy in Austria to teach philosophy, ethics, and politics, and was president of Aid to the Church in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Resources Whittaker Chambers: Big Sister is Watching You
The Second Coming, Poem by William Butler Yeats
Ep. 38: with Dr. Margarita Mooney
In the episode, I speak with Professor Margarita Mooney about her time in Nicaragua and how these experiences shaped her scholarly work and teaching at the intersection of sociology and philosophy. Margarita tells a story of her time in Nicaragua and how a weekend trip to a political rally in a small community where she almost was kidnapped challenged her assumptions about elite education in the United States. Margarita explains how her engagement with poor women farmers and micro-entrepreneurs helped her realize the power of small acts of love and solidarity to help alleviate the problems of violence from the bottom up – and how these things are neither taught nor accounted for at elite universities where a technocratic approach reigns. Margarita discusses how sociology does not address the problem of evil but rather sees it as a social or structural problem, but this does not align with ethnographic studies and the real work of talking to people about their experiences of war and violence.
Margarita talks about her founding of the Scala Foundation to address questions of meaning, beauty, and wisdom because she was worried that many Ivy League and other universities are creating a culture of resentment and anger for people who are genuinely concerned about justice but don’t have a framework to understand justice, subsidiarity, solidarity, truth, and law outside of power and politics.
As she explains in her essay “Why Choose Mystery over Ideology”
“The void left by the denigration of beauty and a classical liberal arts education is directing more and more people to “woke” social justice activism or alt-right movements because those movements offer them meaning, purpose, and hope, as well as community and a sense of belonging. Others burn out psychologically or resort to social isolation because trust and intimacy are hard to experience. Yet others resort to drugs, pornography, or another temporary pleasure to fill the void. Still, others pursue ambitious and demanding careers without reflecting on how they should live or why they exist to begin with. The result is skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Educational institutions have not succeeded in addressing these problems, leading many people to seek alternatives to feed their minds and souls.”
Any conversation with Margarita Mooney is interesting and wide-ranging and we discuss a number of broad themes and thinkers including:
Subsidiarity and Solidarity Fascination with Violence Rene Girard Jacques Maritain Participation as a remedy to alienation The Nicaraguan Civil War -- Contras and Sandinista Haiti St. Thomas Aquinas on just war, violence, and pacifism Solidarity as a means to inclusion Solidarity Structures, institutions, property rights, law, exchange, are required to serve families Family as a place of moral formation The proper role of government The Bruderhof Communities and Plough Magazine Edmund Burke’s ideas about society as a “partnership” among the living, dead, and yet to be born Commutative Justice — exchange John Paul II on participation The documentary, Poverty, Inc. Rwandan Genocide and Rwandan reconciliation Integration of the Virtues Moral Formation Sin and Redemption Law and Justice Beauty Ideology and the closed systems that close of access to the transcendent Hopelessness Critique of utilitarianism that reduces the value to the economic value The dangers of cultural imperialism Virtues –Cardinal Virtues, Daughters of Virtues and Vices Augusto Del Noce Luigi Giussani on Education Karl Stern –poetic knowledge in The Flight from Woman Biography
Margarita Mooney is an Associate Professor in the Department of Practical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. She teaches courses on the philosophy of social science, Christianity and the liberal arts tradition, aesthetics, research methods for congregational leaders, and sociology of religion.
Margarita founded Scala
What a great podcast!
Magic! Pure magic! What an amazing podcast for people who want to think through and earnestly explore not only the underlying problems of our era but also the beauty of living. Thank you!
Great podcast for current social issues
Thank you for such great and thought provoking content. Swimming upstream from a culture that is falling fast is not for the faint of heart.
Insightful and timely
These podcasts are all-around fantastic! Many issues that we face today are addressed in a serious and straight-forward manner that is refreshing and highly informative. Do yourself a big favor and listen to all 30+ podcasts! You will not be disappointed!