Thursday, September 2, 2010

What it means to be human

When we reduce Manet's painting to mere pigment on canvas we completely miss the "woman" that is portrayed. Gone is any hint of emotion - the piece fails to evoke from us any response. However, when we suspend the knowledge of the paints and the canvas, the image strikes us and begins to stimulate a response. Then, we are free to reintroduce the knowledge that we are looking at paint on fabric and we are able to appreciate not only the power of the image, but also the skill of the artist who created it.
Read Roger Scruton's article on What it means to be human, then answer the questions below.
(Note: the painting above was recreated with 5000 Pantone Swatches - the little squares of color you find in the hardware store. Though the color and basic composition remains, there is no trace of the "fading innocence" of the young woman at the bar.)

1. Scruton asks at the end of the first paragraph if biology is not sufficient to explain the human condition. He also asks, and so do I, Why must we bother with this consept of soul? On what grounds do we believe that the soul exists or that it is the final end of of our existence?

2. The author remarks that one who does not see the intangible elements of this (or presumably any painting) "doesn't understand what he is looking at." Explain why you agree or disagree.

3. "The concepts that we spontaneously use to describe the human being do not explain; they interpret." Offer your own account of the difference between an explanation and an interpretation, using examples to illustrate your meaning.

4. Explain the quote from John Milton's Paradise Lost: "For smiles from Reason flow...and are of love the food".

5. What is the one concept that, according to Scruton, differentiates humans from other organisms? How much of a difference does that make, really?

6. Immanuel Kant argued that self-consciousness and freedom are two sides of a coin. What does this mean? and how does Kant resolve the paradox?

7. What is the "Devil's work"? Who is actively involved in doing to Devil's work in our culture or community? Provide as many examples as you can. Finally, and you don't have to commit this to paper, but answer it to yourself: how often do you find yourself in the Devil's employ?

8. What is your reaction to the author quoting the Koran and using a muslim conept as a means to explain the concept of soul?

9. Scruton writes that humans are "subjects in a world of objects." What does this mean, and what are the implications of this perspective.

10. What is significant about God's use of a reflexive pronoun? Why is that a "crucial detail" in the understanding of human nature?

11. "If Manet's work were perfectly copied and then burned, we would confront a new canvas but the same woman." How is this so? What does this reveal to us about human identity and immortality?

There. Not 12 questions... only 11.
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. Basso

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