Our Country, Our Nation, and Actual Things

I know I shouldn’t do this – for various reasons, most of all because I don’t think I want to pursue it very far. But….

the Giuliani thing. [Giuliani said that Obama does not love “our country.”]

I don’t know what is meant by “our (or the) country.” To me, it seems to be an abstract (and very sentimental) concept without concrete/empirical substance, an hypostatization. References to it (like Giuliani’s gratuitous statements about Obama) commit what Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” taking an abstract (and very murky) idea/concept as designating a specific actual entity.

I love my wife, my children, my broader family, my cats, my “stuff,” my friends, etc. Am I also required to “love my country”? If so, what is that reality (if it is a reality)? Is it a collection of things, e.g., the Constitution (and all that goes with it), the 50 states, New Jersey, all the people in the US? Does it include the KKK, the Democratic and Republican parties, the NAACP, the American Communist Party, etc., etc., etc.? I certainly don’t “love” all of those “things.” I admire the Constitution (and some of what goes with it), but it is defective in various ways I will not mention here. The KKK? The parties? The NAACP? The ACP? No way. I don’t love them. The 50 states or even NJ? I don’t even know what it might mean to love them all or any of them.

If someone says the “country” is the “nation,” that’s just the same sort of problem. I am (at least) suspicious of nationalism. I don’t think I can love “the nation” since I don’t know exactly what is encompassed in the idea. Historically, a lot of stuff I definitely don’t love has been perpetrated in the names of “nations.”

I have a sentimental love for the City of Paterson [NJ], and I have fairly specific notions of what that entity is and what I mean when I refer to it, but even it is – really – an abstract idea.

Are countries, nations, cities, states, political organizations, etc., Platonic Forms? I like Plato, but I’m not sure I am a “Friend of the Forms.”

I can say this: on most political, religious, and philosophical issues, I know what side I am on (when there are sides), even though I am puzzled by all the abstractions that are treated as referring to concrete things.

God bless America!


Flat Earth Round World

There’s a widespread view about the “ancients” and the geography of the earth that always sets me off.

This is really a minor side issue, but I did not want it to pass without my commenting on it. It is largely a myth that thinkers in past times believed the earth to be flat.

Perhaps some held this idea in ancient times, but not many did. The ancient Greeks (Aristotle, Ptolemy, others) had discovered that the earth is spherical. The ancient Greek philosopher-scientist, Eratosthenes, pretty accurately computed the circumference of the earth in the 3d century BC – he estimated it to be 23,000 miles; it is, in fact, 24,900 miles. From that time on, no serious scholar in the Western world (at least) thought that the earth was flat.

Columbus and other educated people of his time (15th-16th centuries AD) knew quite well that the earth is spherical (“round”). There was, in fact, a huge argument going on then as to just what the circumference of the earth is. Columbus thought it was a lot smaller than it actually is, which is why – when he landed in what we now call the West Indies – he (mistakenly) thought he had arrived in Asia (India). Did you know that Columbus died believing that he had reached Asia? He never realized that he had “discovered” a “new world”!

The myth that medieval and ancient thinkers believed the earth to be flat was propagated by certain 19th century writers who were hostile to Roman Catholicism (perhaps to Christianity in general) and who wanted to pin the flat-earth belief on the Church. This was a total fabrication. St. Augustine (5th century AD), Roger Bacon (11th century AD), and St. Thomas Aquinas (13th century AD) all knew that the earth was spherical, and all speculated on just what the total size (volume) of the earth is.

The 19th century propagators of the flat-earth myth were interested in establishing that there is a war between religion and science in which science is in the right and religion is in the wrong. However, the idea that the earth is flat was never a teaching of Christianity, Roman Catholic or otherwise.

Again, this is just a bit of (perhaps?) trivia….