from the world's big
Simon Critchley on Religion and Death
Simon Critchly is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York. He is the author of many books,including On Heidegger's Being and Time and Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. The Book of Dead Philosophers was written on a hill overlooking Los Angeles, where he was a scholar at the Getty Research Institute. He lives in Brooklyn.
Qusetion: Does religion or philosophy best prepare us for death
Critchley: There’s an aspect of religious thinking which I think is superior to philosophical thinking and this appears historically with the person of St. Augustine and Augustine’s Confessions. The center of Augustine’s Confessions are 3 deaths, death of his friend, death of his mother and the death of his son. This death of mother is the key, this key death and what you’re getting in Augustine and elsewhere in the Christian tradition is this extraordinary meditation on grief or mourning, and the way in which grief, if you like, defines what it means to be human. You know, a human life can be punctuated in terms of a series of acts of grief, death of a parent, a mother or a father or a child, or whatever and these things structure what it means to be a self but they do it by tearing us apart, by really sundering us and the religious tradition has got a much, I think the Christian tradition has got a much, is much better on that than the philosophical tradition. What I don’t like about the idea of the philosophical death, although I defended it in the book, is there’s a certain selfishness and, if you like stoicism, at the heart of it. You know, it’s about me, Socrates or Epicurus dying, my dying well, my death surrounded by my disciples. What this overlooks is the fact that death comes into the world, comes into the world to us through the death of others and so this question of grief I think is the key. They have something to work on more on the future because that’s the question of love, the relation between death and love. The death that really, you know in the sense you could say perhaps finally my death isn’t so important. It’s the death supposed that we love that are truly important and how do we think about that?
Question: How has secularization in the West affected view of death?
Critchley: A very revealing issue in this regard are our attitudes towards suicide and our attitude towards suicide are already still completely colored by Christianity, and in the ancient world, it was no ignominy to kill oneself. Certain people, it was a noble death if it was done in a noble way. Often one was, it was required of one, Seneca was asked to kill himself by his employer, Nero, sort of employee one, but there we are. Suicide was no shame and the idea that begins with Christianity is the idea that death is something, that life is something given, all right, over which one has no dominion. It’s something given over which not one has no dominion. Therefore to take one’s life is to as it were assume the role of God. So, therefore suicide is illegitimate. It is blasphemous, and we’re still very much stuck with it, with those of the debates. Think back to its own, the Terri Shaivo debate, the issue, a few years ago. We, it seems to me that one thing that the [emaciation] [09:01] of the history of philosophy can allow one to think about is the fact that suicide should be something that was, is within everybody’s power. I think it’s, you know, a minimum of human dignity, consisting of the fact that one’s got the right to take one’s life, not willing really but you know, in the right circumstances. So, I still think we’re very much in the grip of religious frameworks of a [fool] [09:31] so, I don’t, you know, so secularization, yeah, but really how far? The other thing I’d say about secularization is that the only metaphysics in which we believe these days are really, is the metaphysics of medical science, and medical science which really means technology, and medical science and technology being used as an instrument which furthers our longevity. Longevity is seen as an unquestioned good in life, unquestioned good and this is a very strange thought. When you look the history of humanity and the history of philosopher as I’ve done, the brevity of human life was often something to be celebrated. A brief, brilliant, meteoric, wonderful life was a great thing. Whereas the idea we have is that, you know, I was raised in Sweden and Swedes die, I think, it’s 83 is the, you know, the average age of death and they’re very proud of this. This is one of the achievements of [serving] democracy. If you don’t die when you’re 83, they’re sort of cheated. They feel as they’ve sort of failed in some way or they should have lived for longer.
Question: How would you prefer humans appreciate death?
Critchley: There were different heroes in the book but the hero in many ways is, one hero is Montaigne, Michel de Montaigne, 16th century French. A writer which develops the essay has this amazing form and in his essay to philosophize is to learn how to die which is a phrase that he takes from Cicero from antiquity. He says a number of things. The line which I think sticks with me is the following. He says, he who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. He who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. What that means is that the person who, what that means is a slavery because this is slavery to the fear of death. It’s the fear of death that really enslaves us. It’s that fear of death that grips us and makes us want to believe that death is an illusion or death is a passage to some afterlife, some immortality, whatever. Freedom by contrast consists in the acceptance of our mortality and this is a very I think paradoxical conclusion but for me, very important is that freedom consists in the acceptance of the determination of our life by necessity, right. The one thing that gives life meaning is the certainty of death, this frame, and without that, life would rapidly become meaningless. Look at the following example. Look at the, what if we had immortal life here on earth. I think if we had immortal life here on earth, life would soon become meaningless. There’s a very good literary example of this from Gulliver’s Travels, from Book 3 of Gulliver’s Travels. It’s the, Swift talks about these creatures called the struldbrugs and the struldbrugs have immortal life on earth and they’re marked with a red spot in the middle of their forehead. He shows them slouching against walls, sort of having lost the will to live many generations previously, lost the use of language, lost any sense of the purpose and points of life. So, immortal life on earth would rapidly become meaningless. I think immortal life would also rapidly become as a rather, rather boring if we were conscious. So, as were the big message of this is that a free human life consists in accepting our mortality and affirming our life in relationship to that mortality. At the end of the book, I try and talk about the idea of creature in us and I go back to a, this is a theological line. The theological tradition is full of fascinating things when it comes about, comes to mortality but the idea of being a creature which usually seen as being a creature in relationship to Creator, namely God, but what I take from the idea of being a creature is that we are, we’re dependent. We’re not as if we’re, we’re not Robocop. We’re not, you know, we’re not self-sufficient beings, you know. We are creatures, who are frail and dependent upon others, and that’s what we have to accept. I think human history, particularly history of the last few hundred years, is full of delusions of omnipotence through technology, usually some point in the future, let’s say 15 years away, somewhere there’s not quite now but not quite that far away. I think that’s a great pity, I mean, fantasies about artificial intelligence, fantasies that will be, you know, cloning and all the rest. I mean, the fact is that what it means to be a human is to be a frail creature, the softest, that loves that has an extraordinary range of emotions and creates servicing and a creature that dies.
The philosopher talks about how suicide has become a taboo and how death could be regarded differently.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?
Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.
Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.
Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.
- Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
- "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
- In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.