Martin Hägglund, This Life

Martin Hägglund is a professor of comparative literature and humanities at Yale. He has written a very interesting book titled This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (buy from that link, and I get #commissions!). This Life caught my attention a while back, but I was not able to get to it because of numerous obligations. I have serious disagreements with the book, but found it helpful in a number of regards. There is a good review of This Life by Nathan Brown here, and another by Samuel Moyn here. I’ve just found another review/exchange, as I post this here, between Hägglund and Robert Pippin — so far (I’ve only dipped into it), it’s great. There are other reviews out there, and some are bad; the ones I linked to above, as I recall, are the better ones that I found.

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Hans Jonas, “Seventeenth Century and After: The Meaning of the Scientific and Technological Revolution”

Just over a week ago, I published a post that gave a summary of one section from Hans Jonas’ essay “[The] Seventeenth Century and After: The Meaning of the Scientific and Technological Revolution”. The essay is from Jonas’ Philosophical Essays: From Ancient Creed to Technological Man. The essay, its argument, is worth summarizing.

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Excerpt #27 — Hans Jonas on Three Consequences of The Cosmological Revolution of Early Modernity

In his Philosophical Essays: From Ancient Creed to Technological Man, Hans Jonas has an essay titled “Seventeenth Century and After: The Meaning of the Scientific and Technological Revolution”. In part of this essay, he writes about the radical shift in the change from an Aristotelian and Ptolemaic cosmology to a Copernican and post-Copernican one, and what this meant for the early moderns.

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Excerpt #14 — John Bremer on the Singing and Hearing of Homeric Becoming and the Seeing and Reading of Platonic Being

In an earlier post, I offered some words about my late friend and former professor, John Bremer. John was a prolific writer, and most of his work went (and remains) unpublished. One of these unpublished works was a not-fully-edited set of short essays, titled “Plato’s Understanding of Philosophy” (or simply the “P.U.P. Papers”, as John called them). There, John wrote that Continue reading

“All Things are Full of Gods”, and Homer (and Hans Jonas)


In the world of Homer, it is difficult to think of anything that cannot be described as alive, from the highest power to the lowest impulse. The Homeric world restricts the title of “god” to something that is “deathless”, and this boundary between divinity and mortality cannot be crossed so as to make a mortal become immortal (V.440-442). Yet if we insist on the rigidness of this divide too strictly, we ignore the tissue of connections and participations between the deathless gods and mortal men.

The most obvious connections are through the half-god children of the sexual unions of gods and mortals (who receive special divine care, and mourning — the sons of Zeus and Ares, respectively). There are other connections, however, such as dream-visions (II.1ff.), prophets (who are given to “hear” divine speech [VII.53, clarifying the odd VII.44-45]), and especially through reciprocal gifts. These gifts include libation and sacrifice on the part of humanity (which secure protection, the failure to perform them making the gods wroth [V.177-178] even when such failure is merely due to human forgetfulness [IX.535-540]; the gods, it should be noted, take pleasure in these sacrifices [“savoring” the smell of them in I.66; IV.49; and, in a lesser sense, IX.500], and can even be said to “dine” on them [IX.535]). On the part of the gods, this reciprocity of exchanges can be seen in the “gifts” that they “lay on” people ([XIII.726-734, etc.] — for people are sometimes spoken of as godlike, and some are likened to the gods they have some symmetry with [II.169; III.16ff.; III.156-160; III.309; VII.47; VII.207-213; XV.603-606, etc.], and by which they are loved [so Aphrodite to Helen III.413-417]).

Focusing too hard on the divine-mortal spectrum, and the threads that connect the poles of it, overshadows not only the presence of divinity amidst mortality, but also occludes a feature of the Homeric world that it does not share with ours: the pervasiveness of life. In the increasingly rational environment that followed in the centuries after Homer, it is a short distance from presenting all things as full of life to Thales’ reported position that all things are modifications of water (the gods themselves come from Ocean in Homer), and Thales’ famous alleged statement that “all things are full of gods.” Continue reading