Monday, April 21, 2008

st anselm and six words

Today is the feast of St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), who was both a great churchman and a great theologian. I am particularly fond of his ontological argument for the existence of God. He also put forward his form of atonement theology, and although I know it hasn't been that popular in this corner of the blogosphere, and though I don't accept it fully, I still think it's brilliant intellectually and, taken in its context, should still give us food for thought.

William tagged me for the six-word meme, and I promise -- I have thought about it a little bit. Of course, the joke is that my life in six words is "dissertation, teaching, dissertation, teaching, dissertation, teaching." Apart from that, I don't know. My life has been somewhat crazy, and now the things that fill it up -- my wife and stepson, my scholarly career, my newfound devotion to God, my friends -- seem to spill out at the seams of a six-word sentence. That's not even taking into account things I have parked on the side right now, like poetry. The sad truth is that grad school leaves me very little time to reflect deeply on myself and what I am. That's okay -- I'm going through a kind of boot camp and it's almost over. But right now, my life is "dissertation, teaching, dissertation, teaching, dissertation, teaching," with an occasional break for other valuable things. I will return to this question in about a year and a half.

Coming soon: tattoo update.


crystal said...

I wrote my mater's thesis on the history of the ontological argument, from Anselm to Bertrand Russell :)

Liam said...

Crystal --

That's very cool, I envy you.

Anonymous said...

No kidding, Crystal? I would actually like to read that sometime. I just taught my Intro to Philosophy course the ontological argument (Anselm's version). I can't quite say I'm convinced by it, but it is extremely intriguing.

Jeff said...

Hi Liam,

Crystal, I'm impressed. Maybe I'm thick, or maybe I just would have made a lousy philosophical student, but I just can't seem to get my head around Anselm's ontological argument as a irrefutable proof. It seems like one of those examples of someone arguing flawlessly, but from a faulty premise right at the outset. As far as his atonement theory goes, it suited his own times pretty well.

Hope you can see the light at the end of the tunnel for this cycle you're in, Liam. Do you enjoy teaching?

Liam said...

Hey Brian,

How are you doing? How did the students deal with Anselm?

Liam said...


I don't know about it as proof, but it has a beguiling beauty about it for me.

I love teaching, but I'm also glad the semester is almost over so that I can concentrate on the dissertation.

crystal said...

Yes, noi kidding :) But it wasn't very good and I oouldn't have done it without my brother-in-law's help. I guess it's gathering dust in the school library, but I didn't save a copy..

Garpu the Fork said...

Crystal, I think I'm in love. :)

crystal said...

Jen, ? :)

PS - it was a thesis for history, not philsosphy, which I'm sure I wouldn't have been up to doing.

Anonymous said...

Crystal-- you didn't save a copy of your master's thesis? I've hung on to my dissertation and my undergraduate honors thesis, even though neither is very good and my interests have completely changed. Maybe I should let go of them... Still, I'm sure that your thesis would make for good reading.

Liam-- my students did OK with Anselm, I guess. I cut out the chapters from the Proslogion (chs. 2-4) that deal specifically with the ontological argument, which leaves out most of Anselm's specifically Biblical, religious, and theological talk. The tendency in modernity (and especially in the last century) has been to treat the argument as free-standing, quite apart from, say, Anselm's more specific theological and confessional aims. Arguably, this is mistaken, at least in the case of Anselm, but most of the philosophical discussion of the argument goes that way, and besides it makes the argument far more amenable to brief treatment in an introductory course.

That said, my students found it much easier to understand when I gave a pared-down version in class! Anselm's rhetorical model is Augustine, which makes for some challenging prose.

crystal said...


I was just telling my sister yesterday about what you'd said. She and I and her husband were all philosophy majors, but she was the only one who went on to get a masters in philosophy. Her husband dropped out after a while in grad school. I later got into history but still was pretty lost - didn't get accepted into grad school for philosophy (or art, my other major) and got diagnosed with an eye disease.