Friday, April 8, 2016

Steig's Shrek!, Kant's Critique of Judgement, Steig's Yellow and Pink, and Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

So they got hitched as soon as possible and they lived horribly ever after, scaring the socks off all who fell afoul of them.
I took a class this week on teaching philosophy through children's literature and for it I read Shrek! and Yellow by Williams Steig along with Kant's Critique of Judgement and Hume's Diaglogues Concerning Natural Religion. Shrek! was definitely the closest to my reading level, so it made the cover photo.

Mostly I learned that since graduating college my brain has completely forgotten how to read. In the opening small group talks, I admitted that I didn't understand the difference between what Kant describes as "pleasant" (which is subjective) and "beauty" (which isn't). My discussion leader said "It all comes down to 'subjective universality'" at which point I turned my book around to show him my high level annotation where I had circled the phrase "subjective universality" and written, in large letters "WTF IS THIS." Needless to say, I struggled with Kant.

After three hours of class and a lot of brainwork, I think what Kant is trying to say is that beautiful things (sunsets, waterfalls, Leonardo DiCaprio in the 90s) produce a universal reaction in all humans; it's not grounded in individual perception or taste.  Kant discusses how matters of taste ("Canary wine is pleasant" for example) vary from person to person, but subjective universalities like beauty don't. I then got sidetracked wondering whether or not I found Canary wine to be pleasant. Shrek!, who is uglier than his parents put together and can "spit flame a full ninety-nine yards and vent smoke from either ear," both illustrates and challenges Kant. He is a great example of subjective taste: he compliments a witch on her "ugly stench" and falls in love with a princess because she's ugly, but he doesn't seem buy into the subjective universality of beauty (since he hates flowers and children). I think that was it?

Hume was a little easier, although I found the format of dialogues a little confusing. My limited Hume knowledge from college slash the internet told me that he was an atheist, so when he kicked things off by stating that clearly God exists because "No man; no man, at least of common sense, I am persuaded, ever entertained a serious doubt with regard to a truth so certain and self evident." From there, Philo (who is sort of Hume) spends his time dismantling Cleanthes "a posteriori" (a word I had to look up) arguments for the existence of God. Cleanthes' general argument is that the universe's design mimics the design of human inventions, and we clearly understand that books have authors, therefore, the universe has an author with human-like qualities. Philo says the analogy falls apart because the things are too dissimilar (and that we can't make the assumption that a human-like God created the universe since we've never witnessed the "origin of worlds"). He starts to make an argument about how everything could have just randomly come into being on its own, but he stops short of saying there isn't a God.

In Steig's Yellow and Pink two puppets argue about how they came into being, but this time Pink (the Cleanthes of the two) gets to be the skeptic. Yellow argues that they could have been created by chance (a branch falling off a tree, being struck by lightning, and rolling down a hill over some paint), and Pink tries to deconstruct his argument by asking questions about the likelihood of such a process creating such perfect puppets. The best part (but also the most troubling part for the atheist in me) is when the guy who made them (and left them out in the sun for their paint to dry) comes to pick them up at the end: "'Who is this guy?' Yellow whispered in Pink's ear. Pink didn't know."

Overall, I highly recommend both Steig books. Kant and Hume, if you want to impress people at dinner parties, are best read on Sparknotes if at all.