Deep Work (120)

In this episode John and Gregg discuss John’s reading of Deep Work, by Cal Newport. A recent interview with Cal Newport is found on the Productivityist Podcast.

John wonders specifically about how the themes and concerns of the book relate to Christianity and lack of depth / thought in one’s beliefs. The author offers a philosophical argument for depth (or concentration that leads to “deep work”) and examines how “notions of sacredness and meaning have evolved though human culture.”

Referring to Descartes the author quotes All Things Shining (by Dreyfus and Kelly), that the thinking individual who seeks certain knowledge essentially trumps truth offered by kings or by God.  John wonders if this seems a fair presentation / how we are best to understand Descartes.

Gregg responds that Descartes is seen as one of the premier figures of “modern” philosophy. Descartes observed that people held all manner of contradictory beliefs, such that neither the education nor number of people holding a belief guaranteed its truthfulness. In contrast, in mathematics the proper use of reason (applying one’s reason according to a specific method) always yielded correct results.

As such Descartes set out to create a method similar to that used in mathematics for obtaining certainty, such that all people would come to the same, universal and true understandings / have true knowledge. This would yield happier, longer lives and grant a greater degree of control over the natural world. Nor was Descartes’ orientation to remove God from human reasoning and life but to adjudicate between competing claims about God (again, so that we could arrive at certain, true beliefs).

From Gregg’s perspective the glory and the terror of the Enlightenment is that it put human beings in a more central role than ever before. Gregg then argues that the ability critically to adjudicate various perspectives is itself essential to a Christian way of being. So while modernist philosophy changed the starting place (and moved it from God to the individual), Gregg sees this as appropriate: how can human beings “start” from anywhere other than themselves?

In response to the notion that modern philosophy has not only removed a sense of mystery from life but has in fact made life nearly unlivable Gregg sees this as both true (and somewhat sad) but also necessary for what it is to be a human being. In other words, with the Enlightenment there is a necessary recouping of our agency and responsibility that human beings, at least from a Christian perspective, we were never mean to have given up / been without.

One thought on “Deep Work (120)

  1. Pingback: When Reasonable People Disagree (121) | Untangling Christianity

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