15 Books July 6, 2009Posted by Matt in books.
Tags: 15 books, 1984, Facebook, Huckleberry Finn, Marcus Borg, On the Road, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Brothers Karamazov, The Catcher in the Rye, The Cost of Discipleship, The Kite Runner, The Road, The Sun Also Rises, To Kill a Mockingbird, Walden, Watchmen, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Since I was tagged by both of my favorite native Africans, Mark and Nicole Kennell, I figured this was one meme that I should follow up with. So, here goes…
Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Copy the instructions into your own note…
These are not in any order … Just whatever comes to the top of your head! Copy and paste the above into your own note. Tag 15 + plus friends including the friend who tagged you.
Walden – Henry David Thoreau (Sometimes I think we all want to just build ourselves a little cabin in the woods and get away from it all.)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig (A great milestone of our culture’s postmodern evolution)
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway (Who doesn’t want to travel around Europe and drink. A lot.)
On the Road – Jack Kerouac (I came up with my son’s name nearly 10 years ago after reading this one.)
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally – Marcus Borg (A revelation for someone who struggles with the idea of divine inspiration)
The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer ( A challenging book that should be required reading for all followers of Christ)
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger (It’s almost scary how much of myself I see in Holden Caulfield)
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (The great American novel. If you haven’t read it, you should be ashamed of yourself.)
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky (God, free will, morality, justice – there are few philosophical topics Dostoevsky doesn’t cover)
1984 – George Orwell (the prophet speaks.)
The Road – Cormac McCarthy (Probably the greatest book of the last 20 years.)
Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut (So it goes…)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain (There is a reason Hemingway claimed that all of American literature sprang from this small tome.)
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini (A heart-wrenching beautiful book that will someday be looked upon as a classic)
Watchmen – Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (The movie wasn’t bad, but the graphic novel was far better in its explorations of God and morality.)
On the Watchmen and Morality March 11, 2009Posted by Matt in books, philosophy.
Tags: deontology, Dr. Manhattan, evil, good, Immanuel Kant. consequentialism, John Stuart Mill, moral absolutism, morality, philosophy, Rorschach, utilitarianism, Watchmen
I re-read the incredible graphic novel, Watchmen, last week and was able to see the newly released movie on Friday night, so, as would be expected, I’ve been thinking about it a good bit. The book itself is complex in its dealings with human nature, God, society, and a host of other issues, but one piece of the overall puzzle that caught my attention was its treatment of morality, and the conflict between major schools of moral thinking.
While the Comedian could be included as an example of amoral philosophy, there are two characters in particular that I would like to look at, each of whom tend to reside on opposite ends of the moral spectrum – Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach.
Throughout the book, Rorschach displays a sort of black and white moral absolutism, a personal philosophy shaped by his past experiences on the street. He displays this time and again, both through statements like “There is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon I shall not compromise on this,” and through his actions in punishing with no remorse those he perceives as evil. This worldview becomes particularly clear in the end when the characters discover Veidt’s plot to end nuclear escalation and avoid global war by orchestrating a catastrophic event that kills millions, rather than the billions that might die in said war, and Rorschach stands as the lone dissenting voice, refusing to acquiesce. Moral absolutism, such as that exhibited by Rorschach, is a subset of an approach to ethics known as deontology, which can be defined as a branch of ethics dealing with duty, moral obligation, and right action. Immanuel Kant was a noted deontologist whose moral philosophy was centered upon the concept of duty. One’s duty is a direct consequence of what Kant called the categorical imperative, a standard of rationality which begets a moral structure. In the story, it was Rorschach’s uncompromising dedication to duty, built upon a categorical imperative defining evil that led him to act in the way that he did and that eventually led to his death. In his view, as well as that of Kant, some actions are always evil, regardless of circumstances.
On the other side of the coin stands the manifestation of a man-made, deist God, Dr. Manhattan. Throughout the book, Manhattan stays coldly aloof from humanity, apart from the cares and wants of others. It is not until the end of the book, as Veidt’s plan for an act of horrific violence to end worldwide hostilities comes to light, that we really see the bedrock upon which his moral sense stands. As the story reaches its climax, Manhattan, with his near-omnipotent powers, certainly has the ability to put a halt to the plan that would destroy much of New York, yet he chooses not to do so, instead allowing millions to die in order to save the lives of billions. This type of moral philosophy is known as consequentialism. Consequentialism is the idea that the consequences of an action are more important than the action itself. Therefore, if the outcome is desirable, then the method of reaching that outcome is morally good, or, in more Machiavellian terms, “the end justifies the means.” Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill may have expressed this best when he wrote about “The greatest good for the greatest number.”
So, we find the moral predicament of the Watchmen similar to that which has plagued our world for ages. Which is more important, the end or the means?
On Jesus and the Watchmen March 5, 2009Posted by Matt in books, movies.
Tags: deism, Dr. Manhattan, Jesus, Watchmen
If you have not read the Watchmen graphic novel before, the following short entry will probably make very little sense and you may want to skip it. Otherwise, I’d like to know what you think.
I’ve just completed re-reading perhaps the greatest graphic novel ever published, Watchmen, and as I read of the plight of the world and examined the characters in the story something hit me: Dr. Manhattan is the equivalent of a deist vision of Jesus.
He is a nearly omnipotent being, yet his attitude is one of total ambivalence to the plight of humans and to the entire universe. Even in the end, he “saves” the world utilizing an “end justifies the means” sort of method in which millions die in the process.
Though he is completely emotionless, Manhattan does acknowledge the existence of love in the end and it is that capacity that gives him a reason to “save” the human race.
I’m not sure where I am going with this and I haven’t quite fleshed out my ideas yet, but after reading the Watchmen again this week in preparation for the movie, I have found myself again enthralled with the deep philosophical ideas present in this collection of comic books.
What do you think?