A few weeks ago I met Chris Mooney for some drinks & snacks, and we talked about his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality. It was an interesting conversation. We have a long history, so it wasn’t as if we were strangers. I recall Chris from the late 1990s when we were both involved in the college “freethought” movement, and later when I followed his political journalism at The American Prospect. On the whole we’re on different political “teams,” though neither of us seems particularly enthusiastic “players,” so to speak (I think at this point I can disclose that when I emailed Chris a few times when he worked at TAP to object to items in a particular piece, I often found that he concurred with my specific objections). I assume that to push copies Chris had to make sure that the emphasis was on Republican and not conservative in the title for his new book (and also, it exhibits nice parallel to The Republican War on Science). For me this is unfortunate because I have a lot more sympathy for ...
May 19, 2012
May 5, 2011
Most of you know of the Cārvāka system of philosophy. It is a putatively materialist system which has broad family resemblances to atomic Epicureanism which died out ~1500 A.D. Much of what we know of the Cārvāka we know from its enemies, as they characterize its work. This to me is problematic. The same issue crops up with the philosophy of Mozi, which was transmitted by his Confucian enemies, or the character of much of Late Antique Classical Paganism, which serves in its reflection Christian polemics and apologetics. Imagine if the only knowledge of Christianity we had were Porphyry’s polemics against the religion (as it is, we know of Porphyry’s work through quotations of Christians who sought to refute him).
A broader issue though for me is whether movements such as the Cārvāka were as people say they were. In other words, was the characterization of them as materialist hedonists simply a projection of what should exist as an antithesis to one’s own school of thought? Consider the relative sophistication and diversity of Gnostic thought which has been uncovered in the 20th and 21st centuries through primary texts preserved in Egypt. If we had only to go on the fragments from the “orthodox” Christian sources we’d have a very distorted and bizarre view of the perversions and blasphemies of these “heretics.”