Rules of Debate

I'm reading an introduction into Eastern Philosophy and I appreciated what I read today of the rules of philosophical debate established by the Naiyayika school in India.  There are 3 types of debate--discussion (vada), disputation (jalpa), and destructive criticism (vitanda).  Here's an excerpt:

Vada is concerned with arriving at the truth through rational discussion. The aim is not simply to win the other party over to your view, but to work through the arguments together.  Even if agreement cannot be reached, the debate will succeed if each party comes to a good understanding of the other's position.  A successful debate is one in which both participants explain their position using the five-membered Nyaya form of argument and without breaking any of the rules of reasoning.

Wow, that sounds really good and constructive.  I wish we had more of that type of public discourse.  And I appreciated these ideas:

This framework for debate was developed to be conducive to the exchange and clarification of ideas.  The respondent is not allowed simply to contradict the proponent's thesis and advance another in its place.  Instead the thesis has to be thoroughly examined in the terms offered by the proponent.  The respondent has to put himself into the mindset of the proponent and appreciate the force of the arguments from that person's point of view.

Drifting Flowers of the Sea

Drifting Flowers of the Sea

by Sadakichi Hartmann 


Across the dunes, in the waning light,
The rising moon pours her amber rays,
Through the slumbrous air of the dim, brown night
The pungent smell of the seaweed strays—
From vast and trackless spaces
Where wind and water meet,
White flowers, that rise from the sleepless deep,
Come drifting to my feet.
They flutter the shore in a drowsy tune,
Unfurl their bloom to the lightlorn sky,
Allow a caress to the rising moon,
Then fall to slumber, and fade, and die.

White flowers, a-bloom on the vagrant deep,
Like dreams of love, rising out of sleep,
You are the songs, I dreamt but never sung,
Pale hopes my thoughts alone have known,
Vain words ne’er uttered, though on the tongue,
That winds to the sibilant seas have blown.
In you, I see the everlasting drift of years
That will endure all sorrows, smiles and tears;
For when the bell of time will ring the doom
To all the follies of the human race,
You still will rise in fugitive bloom
And garland the shores of ruined space.

Inner Voice

A fascinating article on Aeon about research into our inner voice.  This will come in handy when I start Descartes in class in a couple of weeks.

An excerpt:

The roots of the new work trace back to the 1920s and the Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who said the human mind was shaped by social activity and culture, beginning in childhood. The self, he hypothesised, was forged in what he called the ‘zone of proximal development’, the cognitive territory just beyond reach and impossible to tackle without some help. Children build learning partnerships with adults to master a skill in the zone, said Vygotsky, then go off on their own, speaking aloud to replace the voice of the adult, now gone from the scene. As mastery increases, this ‘self-talk’ becomes internalised and then increasingly muted until it is mostly silent – still part of the ongoing dialogue with oneself, but more intimate and no longer pronounced to the world. This voice – at first uttered aloud but finally only internal – was, from Vygotsky’s perspective, the engine of development and consciousness itself.

"It's My Book Day"

Cover--Open by Scott E. Jones—Smaller File
Yesterday, after many years of writing and post writing editing and design and marketing work, my book was published!  Open: A Memoir of Faith, Family, and Sexuality in the Heartland.  

As I was getting ready yesterday, I composed myself a little ditty set to the tune of the Laverne and Shirley theme song, "It's my book day, my book day, making my dreams come true."  I sang it most of the day.

You can order the book online at Amazon and other sites or go into your bookstore and request it.  If you want a signed copy, here are my upcoming events and where others will be posted as they are scheduled.



I first remember being aware of John McCain when I was impressed by his speech to the 1988 GOP convention.  He was the first politician I ever gave money to, during the 2000 primaries.  Over the years he was as likely to frustrate and anger me as he was to do something I admired.  His speech on torture I play in my ethics classes when we discuss respect for human dignity after reading Immanuel Kant.

This weekend generated some very good articles about him and his funeral (and Aretha's too).

This article at the Guardian was quite good in discussing the complexity of his legacy.  I felt it was in bad taste for it to be published before the funeral--they should have waited till this week.  But the article is, nonetheless, good and accurate, I believe.

This CNN article discussed both major funerals--Aretha's and McCain's--and what meaning we could take from them.  The references to Pericles at the beginning remind you of the importance that a public funeral can play for a society. Excerpts:

While McCain's funeral recalled Eurocentric classical traditions (Athenian democracy, after all, did not extend to women and slaves), Franklin's evoked the scores of civil rights funerals at which she had sung, or at which her father had preached. 


There was one further question hanging in the air this weekend. Where do we go from here? Could we ever see Obama, Dyson and Williams organizing in the same civil rights movement? A rallying cry for voter registration is at least a start. At McCain's commemoration, former Presidents from the GOP and the Democratic Party were able to give speeches touching on the same virtues of civility and political self-sacrifice.
But on the frontlines of this November's election battles, the tone is still set by Donald Trump and his Twitter feed. To many American voters, the very bipartisanship of Saturday's gathering at the National Cathedral will testify to the herd mentality of a Washington elite.
Pericles had an advantage. If we believe his biographer, the historian Thucydides, his listeners shared his definition of his nation's values. They just needed an eloquent reminder. The broken body of Emmett Till exposed an evil so explicit that its presence in America could no longer be denied. But it is not clear that the vast TV audiences for Aretha Franklin's homegoing are all on the same page about racial justice. Nor that the millions who watched John McCain's funeral share his vision for America. Meanwhile, to many voters elsewhere in America, unity looks like weakness.

And the New Yorker reflected on the civil religion aspect of McCain's funeral, as it considered him "Americanism's High Priest."

Sublime happiness and metaphysical enlargement, achieved through the transcendence of self, are promises usually reserved for divine, not patriotic, worship, and McCain’s invocation of liberty, justice, and respect reads like the Jeffersonian shadow of St. Paul’s list of virtues: faith, hope, and love. He was an understated Protestant, not given to much mention of the Biblical God, but, when we understand Americanism as a church, we can see the true McCain, as religious a figure as has lately crossed the national stage.

This, I think, is the key to interpreting McCain’s funeral.

But this the article's dark conclusion:

But for all of the scorn heaped on Trump—whose name was never mentioned outright—there were questions left unanswered at the service. First: Is it really possible for a person to rise to power in a country with which he has absolutely nothing in common? Isn’t it more likely that Trump, whose most fervent devotees are white evangelicals and proponents of the fraudulent prosperity gospel, is just as archetypically American as McCain, embodying an alternative set of equally real national principles: anxious acquisitiveness, a distaste for deep thought, endless aggrandizement?

Then, too: Even if the American religion is good, and inclusive of certain eternal truths, if it can be thrown so quickly into crisis, turned so violently on itself, how sturdy was it, really?

My favourite parts of the funeral were actually when the words of the Episcopal ceremony were read about him, the same words read about every departing Christian.  This was a reminder that these same words are said about both the simple and the great, a truly Christian message.  So, I was most annoyed when the online footage from NBC I watched on Monday (on Saturday, the day after my step-father's death, I had not been in the mood to watch the funeral) ended with annoying historians and political commentators talking over the clergy's close of the service.  How incredibly disrespectful, as the service was not over, yet they seemed to think the religious words unimportant, a clear sign of the degradation of the nation and their fundamental misunderstanding that this was a worship service, not merely an act of civil religion.


Revis  Daisy  & Michael
In all the long years my mother was a widow, I wondered what sort of man she might meet and marry.  I wanted someone who would make her happy, but worried about some man I might not get along with.

So, when my mother began seriously dating in 2001, I was nervous to meet Revis Stanford.

My nerves were quickly eased.  Revis was very kind and gentle and funny, even if his humor was corny.  It's then I learned what my mother most liked in men--those who made her laugh, as that is the trait Dad and Revis shared.

And I would soon learn many other things about Revis--he was generous, caring, athletic, smart, religious, and he liked his routines.

In 2004 he and Mom married, in a lovely little ceremony in her backyard with forty family and friends gathered for the occasion.  

In those years when I lived in Dallas, he and Mom would come to visit and bring their bicycles, and we would all bike along the trails from near my house at Royal and Greenville down to White Rock Lake and back.  We still talk with dreamy nostalgia of those days.

Mom was soon in the best shape of her adult life as she and Revis biked, fished, traveled, and had fun together.

In the summer of 2004, not long after their wedding, I came out to Mom and Revis.  I didn't know how the moment would go, and it is recounted in detail in my forthcoming memoir.  I especially didn't know what my new step-dad might say, but he reached out and held my hand and said, “Scott, why should that matter? I love you like my own son. This doesn’t change anything.” And so Revis Stanford became a hero in my story.

But he was a hero already.  Revis spent ten months in Vietnam from 1967-68 with the U. S. Marines 2nd Battalion.  He fought in seventeen battles, including Khe Sanh, the longest of the war.  He received four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.  But in Vietnam he was also exposed to Agent Orange and experienced trauma, receiving a PTSD diagnosis forty years later.

Revis grew up in California surfing and listening to the local band, the Beach Boys, before they made it big.  He raised two children with his first wife.  He went into accounting and auditing and worked for the Phillips Petroleum company and later the U. S. Government as a Certified Fraud Examiner.  He worked for Housing and Urban Development when he and Mom met.

In 2005, when I accepted the call to serve as Pastor of the Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City, I put my Dallas house on the market and Mom offered me their guest bedroom in Oklahoma City until it sold.  Little did we know that it would be eight months, so at 32 I lived with my Mom and her new husband.  It was not ideal for any of us, but we survived.  It did give me and Revis a chance to grow closer together, while also learning each others strengths and weaknesses.

He and Mom retired in 2010 because his PTSD was worsening.  They built a big beautiful home looking out on a cove of Grand Lake O' the Cherokees with the intention of spending their retirement years peacefully enjoying the water, fishing, entertaining family, and traveling.  

They were able to do some of that, but less than a year into retirement, Revis was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.  Since 2011 the health episodes and diagnoses have come quickly--he had a brain aneurysm and struggled to recover from the brain damage, Parkinsons, a stroke, and finally he went blind this year.  By 2015 the Veterans Administration declared him 100% disabled, and he entered a nursing home only a few weeks after Sebastian was born.

Two weeks ago I drove to Oklahoma to spend my final days with my step-father.  His corny humor was still present.  We Facetimed with Sebastian, who sang him a song, and Revis, who delighted in grandkids, was so happy in that moment.  But his horrible diseases robbed his dignity.

He died today, only 72 years old.  

Idols of the Mind

Bacon headshot
In Novum Organum, Sir Francis Bacon writes that there are "four species of idols [that] beset the human mind."

The first are Idols of the Tribe--"man's sense is falsely asserted to be the standard of things."  These are "inherent in human nature."

Second are Idols of the Den--besides the errors common to all humans, each individual has his or her own den "which intercepts and corrupts the light of nature, either from his own peculiar and singular disposition, or from his education and intercourse with others, or from his reading, and the authority acquired by those whom he reverences and admires, for from the different impressions produced on the mind."

Next are Idols of the Market--these are false ideas generated by our social interactions.  Bacon emphasizes the role language plays: "words still manifestly force the understanding, throw everything into confusion, and lead mankind into vain an innumerable controversies and fallacies."

Finally, there are Idols of the Theatre--these arise from "the various dogmas of peculiar systems of philosophy."  Bacon wrote, "For we regard all the systems of philosophy hitherto received or imagined, as so many plays brought out and performed, creating fictitious and theatrical worlds."  Wow!  That sounds like someone writing in the 20th or 21st centuries.

What can rid us of these idols?  "The formation of notions and axioms on the foundation of true induction is the only fitting remedy by which we can ward off and expel these idols."

Knowledge & Power: Some Baconian Aphorisms


I've begun reading Sir Francis Bacon's Novum Organum as part of my now many-year project of reading through some of the philosophical canon, re-reading some volumes I've read before and some for the first time.  Here are a few aphorisms from the beginning of the book.  Some comments afterwards.

Knowledge and human power are synonymous.

The subtilty of nature is far beyond that of sense or of the understanding; so that the specious meditations, speculations, and theories of mankind are but a kind of insanity, only there is no one to stand by and observe it.

For the subtilty of nature is vastly superior to that of argument.

The human understanding, from it peculiar nature, easily supposes a greater degree of order and equality in things than it really finds.

The human understanding is active and cannot halt or rest, but even, though without effect, still presses forward.

For a man always believes more readily that which he prefers.  He, therefore, rejects difficulties for want of patience in investigation; sobriety, because it limits his hope; the depths of nature, from superstition; the light of experiment, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should appear to be occupied with common and varying objects; paradoxes, from a fear of the opinion of the vulgar; in short his feelings imbue and corrupt his understanding in innumerable and sometimes imperceptible ways.

But by far the greatest impediment and aberration of the human understanding proceeds from the dulness, incompetency, and errors of the senses; since whatever strikes the senses preponderates over everything, however superior, which does not immediately strike them.

For the sense are weak and erring.

As I read these and other comments by Bacon, at the very foundation of our modern science, I was intrigued to see not hubris and certainty (a la Descartes) but this emphasis upon limitation, bias, and error.  In some ways Bacon reads like a postmodern critique of modernism or something like Daniel Dennett's criticisms of how we interpret sense perceptions.  A reminder that our tradition contains rich material.


Segu (Ségou, #1)Segu by Maryse Condé
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A marvelous epic story. I fell in love with the characters, grieving their sorrows, and delighting in their joys.

The novel opens in Segu, the capital of the Bambara Empire in what is now Mali in the late 18th century on the day that the first white man tries to visit the city and is turned away. The story centers on the Tagore family over three generations as they navigate rapid changes brought upon West Africa by the rise of Islam, the slave trade, and the imperial ambitions of European nations. One theme of the novel is religious belief and how that is affected by larger social changes.

I come away from the novel with a much richer understanding of West African culture and history while also having greatly enjoyed the story Condé tells.

View all my reviews