Has Liberalism Failed?

Has Liberalism Failed?

Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century—fascism, communism, and liberalism—only the last remains. This has created a peculiar situation in which liberalism’s proponents, on both the left and right, sometimes forget that it is an ideology and not the natural end-state of human political evolution. In his new book, Why Liberalism Failed, Patrick Deneen argues that liberalism is built on a foundation of contradictions: it trumpets equal rights while fostering incomparable material inequality; its legitimacy rests on consent, yet it discourages civic commitments in favor of privatism; and in its pursuit of individual autonomy, it has given rise to the most far-reaching, comprehensive state system in human history. In this reading group, we will examine Deneen’s argument that political liberalism is a system whose success is generating its own failure. We will also look at critical reviews of the book from a variety of perspectives. For copies of the short weekly readings, please contact director@binst.org.

Dates: Wednesday evenings on 5.30, 6.6, 6.13, 6.20.
Time: 6:00-7:15 PM
Location: 2134 Allston Way

Reading schedule:

5/30: Chapter One: “Unsustainable Liberalism”
6/6: Chapter Two: “Uniting Individualism and Statism”
6/13: Chapter Three: “Liberalism as Anticulture”
6/20: TBD

To receive the short readings, please contact director@binst.org

**This seminar is free and open to all Cal, St. Mary’s, and GTU students.**

Theology Amid the Revolution

Theology Amid the Revolution

In the autumn of 1968, the world seemed on the verge of collapse. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the growing American entanglement in Vietnam, and the assasinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy left the entire Western world bitter and divided. From Berkeley to Paris, students revolted on university campuses. The same year a young German professor named Joseph Ratzinger published Introduction to Christianity, and fifty years later people are still talking about it. Ratzinger’s book was a set of university lectures written for students who, he believed, had become intellectually alienated from the basics of Christian thought. The book was his attempt to think theologically amid the revolutions occuring all around him, rather than to dismiss them. This discussion group will meet to talk about short selections from Ratzinger’s text. It presumes no previous study of theology, only a healthy curiosity about how Christians think. To receive copies of the short readings, please contact director@binst.org.

Dates: Tuesdays on 11.13, 11.20, 11.27, 12.4
Time: 5:30-7:00 PM

Reading schedule:

11/13: Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, pp. 31-33, 39-52, 151-153.
11/20: Ibid, pp. 69-74, 79-81, 90-96.
11/27: Ibid, pp. 110-115, 137-148.
12/4: Ibid, pp. 181-183, 244-254, 262-269.

Location: 2134 Allston Way

**This seminar is free and open to all Cal, GTU, and St. Mary’s students.

Thinking with Bad Feelings

Thinking with Bad Feelings

Human life isn’t a safe space–and thankfully so. Bad feelings can lead to good thoughts, and losing one’s temper can be morally productive. This seminar will argue that human reactions like anger, hatred, envy, confusion, frustration, disgust, even guilt can help us attain self-knowledge. We’ll look at moments in literature and philosophy where “dangerous” emotions are seen as sources of real knowledge, including scenes from Homer’s Illiad, a few pages from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, a short essay by James Baldwin, and a few other readings. In our meetings we will talk together about how writers depict uncomfortable feelings and how “bad” feelings can be good and even praiseworthy. All the readings will be short and we’ll re-read them in the seminar together.

Dates: Thursdays on 10.18, 10.25, 11.1, 11.8
Time: 5:30-7:00 PM

Reading schedule:

10/18: Homer, Iliad, Book One. 
10/25: Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, pp. 5-11.
11/1: Virginia Woolf, pp. 48-59 (cont); James Wright, “Saint Judas” and “Son of Judas”.
11/8: James Baldwin, “Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare,” pp. 65-68.

All readings can be found in the course reader.

Location: 2134 Allston Way

**This seminar is free and open to all UC Berkeley, GTU, and St. Mary’s College students.  For copies of the short readings, please contact director@events.org

The First Conservative

The First Conservative

The Thought of Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke is often called the “first conservative.” His writings on the French Revolution and other political movements are widely understood to be the earliest articulation of modern conservatism, and have offered intellectual guidance to generations of thinkers on the political right . This seminar will introduce students to Burke’s thought, showing how the great British Whig saw the nature of politics and social life. We will look at his views on natural law, the importance of tradition, the virtue of prudence, and his understanding of religion in shaping culture. We will also examine how Burke’s thought can help us better understand contemporary divisions between the political “right” and “left.” Our goal will be to see if Burke’s ideas still hold up and how they might apply to our own revolutionary times. All readings  from Burke can be found in the course reader.

Dates: Mondays on 10.1, 10.8, 10.15, 10.22

Time: 6:00 – 7:30pm

Seminar Schedule:

10/1: Course readers, section 1.
10/8: Course reader, sections 9, 10, 11. Samuel Huntington, “Conservatism as Ideology“.
10/15: Russel Kirk, “Edmund Burke and the Constitution” and Richard Samuelson, “John Adams vs. Edmund Burke
10/29: Francis Canavan, “Burke’s Religion“;  Garret Sheldon, “Burke’s Catholic Conservatism“. Please note that our original meeting on 10/22 has been postponed one week.

All Burke readings can be found in the course reader.

Location: 2134 Allston Way

**This seminar is free and open to all UC Berkeley, GTU, and St. Mary’s students.

AI in a Human Context

AI in a Human Context

Artificial Intelligence promises much. According to some, it will not only rival human intelligence but surpass it entirely, bringing with it incalculable gains in knowledge, power, and wealth. According to others, it will lead to a loss of human dignity and to a decline in the quality of human lives. It is difficult to evaluate such claims from the perspective of both philosophy and science. This seminar will raise some of the most fundamental questions about the nature and promise of AI. What is AI and what is it not? How does AI compare to human intelligence? Can a robot be said to be conscious and make decisions? Can a robot be our “equal” and even the bearer of rights? What is the possible moral status of AI? Our seminar will explore these questions with the help of some short texts and the knowledge and expertise of all those present. To receive the short readings, please contact director@binst.rog

Dates: Tuesdays on 9.4, 9.11, 9.18, 9.25
Time: 5:30-7:00 PM

Reading schedule:

9/4: E. Schwitzgebel and M. Garza, “A Defense of the Rights of Artificial Intelligences” (sections 1-9)
9/11: Geoffrey Hinton, “Deep Learning”.  Optional: Ed Feser, “Contra Computationalism” and Jonathan Searle, Minds, Brains and Programs (excerpts).
9/18: Jonathan Searle, “Consciousness” (excerpt).
9/25: Brian Green, “Some Ethical and Theological Reflections on Artificial Intelligence”.

Location: 2134 Allston Way

**This seminar is free and open to all UC Berkeley, St. Mary’s, and GTU students.

How to Read Christian Poetry

Dear Lord Pay Attention to Me:

How to Read Christian Poetry

What do poetry and prayer have in common? In our contemporary world, poetry is often thought of as an art form of personal expression, or a meditation on personal identity. Prayer, on the other hand, describes the appeal a believer, or possible believer, might make to a deity larger than the self. The title of this seminar comes from Robert Frost’s definition of prayer: “Dear Lord – Pay attention – to me.” When we meet, we’ll try to figure out what poetry has to offer Christian thinking and practice, and, perhaps more radically, what Christian thinking and practice has to offer poetry. Our readings will come from “Christian” poems, and will also argue that there is such a thing – that art doesn’t have to be detached from faith, or, indeed, other Christian ideas, either in its composition or in its study.

The seminar is structured around four Christian “states of mind” and poems/prayers that have used those states of mind as occasions. We won’t have time to talk about all the readings for the week, but it’s my hope that they might lead you into further investigations. We’ll start with close reading a poem and maybe, if time permits, move on to another. Instead of reading towards a historical period, or a set of aesthetic qualities, we’re going to try to read towards these states of mind in an attempt to get familiar with them and see what they might have to do with both poetry and Christian thinking.

Dates: Wednesday evenings on 1.24, 1.31, 2.7, 2.14
Time: 5:30-7:00pm

Discussion Schedule:

1/24: Faith: From “Eleven Addresses to the Lord,” John Berryman; 373 (“This World is not Conclusion”) Emily Dickinson “Good Friday: Riding Westward,” John Donne; “After Apple Picking” Robert Frost; “The Raft,” Carl Phillips; from My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman.

1/31: Mercy: “Love III” and “The Collar,” George Herbert; a few poems by Fanny Howe; “To A Blossoming Pear Tree” James Wright; “The Only Animal,” Franz Wright; from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Matthew 5:3-12.

2/7: Despair: “Eve’s Lament” an old Celtic poem; 320 (“There’s a certain slant of light”) by Emily Dickinson; from “East Coker” in Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot; “Carrion Comfort,” “No worst, there is none,” “My own heart let me more have pity on,” Gerard Manley Hopkins; “Litany,” Chiyuma Elliott.

2/14: Joy: “Holy Spirit,” Hildegard of Bingen; the “Hail Mary” and the “Magnificat;” “Spring,” Gerard Manley Hopkins; “A Blessing” by James Wright; “The Figure a Poem Makes,” by Robert Frost.

Location: Berkeley Institute, 2134 Allston Way

This seminar is free and open to all Cal, GTU, and St. Mary’s students. For more information or copies of the short readings, please contact director@binst.org.