This is a review of the article of Tom Stern in the Point Mag:
The most interesting and essential part of the article, which must be read for good understanding, reads as follows:
“Later I watch de Botton himself interviewing Nigella Lawson, celebrity U.K. food writer, about the meaning of food. The hall we sit in—usually a church—is packed. Nigella sits comfortably beneath a quotation from the Gospel of John: “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it abundantly.” The one time in the interview when de Botton seems genuinely disappointed is when he asks Nigella what one needs to be a successful cook. “The most important thing in becoming a good cook is having a palate,” she begins, “and that is something you have or you don’t have.” De Botton is bothered: “Well, tell us about that, because I thought… everyone had a palate. Is it like an ear for music?” Once it is affirmed, he looks momentarily downcast. The answer he wanted was, presumably, “we all have it in us to know which tastes we like and which ones we don’t, we just have to find the grammar, the right emphasis, the right audience…” The Poetics of Food. But we don’t all have it in us to discriminate between flavors and to know how to mix them in a way that other people will enjoy them with us.
One thing I notice about my class, in fact—and about de Bottonism in general—is that it finds it difficult to tell you that you are wrong about something. You are told in the class that you are “the expert” about what matters to you, that there’s “no intrinsically good or bad thing to do,” that what matters is the “meaning and purpose” that you put on it. You can lose sight of the things that matter to you or fail to appreciate what you have. You can be misled, on the wrong path, disoriented, hindered, distracted. But you can never just be wrong.”
I think this is also the frustration that the philosopher might even feel in the earlier part of his essay about the sunday discussion group… but what he also somehow… celebrated, by saying that philosophy does not necessarily divide into experts / non-experts.
And in the conclusion this seems to be hinted ata gain that ‘philosophy has failed,’ or some such, because there is no definitive answers…
Yet, I think we all know that while we cannot come to concrete conclusions there are the people who have given very inadequate evaluations of the positions that they have. There is certainly impossibility in making definitive conclusions about all manner of hard, moral questions… but I think we can even distinguish between the person who we disagree with that has made a conclusion after great effort, and even the person we agree with but who has made such a conclusion inadequately. We’ve all had the moment where the person we actually agree with is embarrassing us with their agreement.
I felt the reference to the Sunday Assembly ‘religion for atheists’ thing fun, as well, and runs the course of misunderstanding religion from classical perspectives. For instances, the Catholic & Orthodox perspective believe in the entire liturgy & ceremony is an incredibly meaningful act, and even the Lutherans & mainline Protestants see the Eucharist also as a very meaningful action. Even more purely philosophical religions like Buddhism have all manner of liturgical affair that are at the core of it…. And the liturgical grows out of the spiritual, the power of ceremony & ritual, and bridges a profound gap between the logical & the rational and the concept of the eternal. To reduce religious services to ethical sermons ignores the core of these services and also, I think, ignores the fact that religion is meant to supersede ethics and is often possessed by notions of salvation via non-ethical principles. It is perhaps supremely de Bottonist to reduce thousands of years of theological & introspective practice to something you can just pick up and go away with…
And this is why de Botton is despised:
These aren’t things that you can casually pick up and put into practice.
De Botton and others are very useful when they can successfully explain it concisely and in everyday terms, but let’s not fool ourselves… It is better to understand it in the original and complete fashion, and it is better still to not treat it as reduced. De Botton’s chief sin is to attempt to boil things down and make them so consumable and give some unwarranted sense of satisfaction to people that may be appropriating some of the phrases without understanding the depth.
Likewise, I guess it is this strange democratic egalitarianism that may have even contributed to the vanquishing of philosophical sentiment being respected — it is the common people who do not put much effort into understanding these things that present their large conclusions as equals to those who devote much attention to it that certainly is de-mystifying. We’ve resorted to the idea that public verification is the only premise from which something can be seen as entirely true… and perhaps this is the natural conclusion of an egalitarian society based on materialism. The vanquishing not just of the appeal and pull of philosophy, but even debasing the philosophical argument as a means of advocating something.