“Now, Lord, since it is you who gives understanding to faith, grant me to understand as well as you think fit, that you exist as we believe, and that you are what we believe you to be. We believe that you are that thing than which nothing greater can be thought.” – Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion

“Discourse about God comes second because faith comes first and is the source of theology; in the formula of St. Anselm, we believe in order that we may understand (credo ut intelligam).” – Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation

Romanelli, Giovanni Francesco. The Meeting of the Countess Matilda and Anselm of Canterbury in the Presence of Pope Urban II. 1642. Oil on canvas.
Romanelli, Giovanni Francesco. The Meeting of the Countess Matilda and Anselm of Canterbury in the Presence of Pope Urban II. 1642. Oil on canvas.

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“Upon the disappearance of the fixed points that should give unity to everyday activity, persons live at the mercy of events, unable to establish fruitful links between them and forced simply to jump from one to another.” – Gustavo Gutierrez, We Drink for Our Own Wells

Van Gogh, Vincent. Wheatfield with Crows. Amsterdam, Netherlands. Van Gogh Museum, 1890. Oil on canvas..jpg
Van Gogh, Vincent. Wheatfield with Crows. Amsterdam, Netherlands. Van Gogh Museum, 1890. Oil on canvas.

Theodicy

“Epicurus (c. fourth century BCE), the ancient Greek philosopher, who held that it was impossible to hold these three propositions together:

  1. God is all-powerful.
  2. God is all-good.
  3. Evil exists.

Epicurus’ argument was revived in the eighteenth century by the skeptical Scottish philosopher David Hume. In Hume’s own words: ‘Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?'”

Richard J. Plantinga, Thomas R. Thompson, and Matthew D. Lundberg, An Introduction to Christian Theology.
Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Tissot, James. Cain leads Abel to death. 1902..jpg
Tissot, James. Cain leads Abel to death. 1902.

“Since empirical science can only proceed on the working assumption that nature is uniform and subject to universal and necessary laws, and since this presupposition cannot be established by the inductive method of science itself, the question arises: Whence come these larger suppositions? Many scholars today believe that Christianity’s creation doctrine slowly encouraged the requisite philosophy of science needed to supplant Aristotelian cosmology.” – Richard J. Plantinga, Thomas R. Thompson, and Matthew D. Lundberg, An Introduction to Christian Theology

Wright of Derby, Joseph. A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery. Derby Museum and Art Gallery. 1766. Oil on canvas..jpg
Wright of Derby, Joseph. A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery. Derby Museum and Art Gallery. 1766. Oil on canvas.

“Our prevailing modern Western worldview is no more ‘modern’ than the worldview of the first Christians. All that has happened is that many leading scientists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who were attracted to Epicureanism for quite other reasons (not least social, cultural, and political), have interpreted their perfectly proper scientific observations (for instance, concerning the origin and development of different species of plants and animals) within an Epicurean framework. It has then been assumed that ‘science’ actually supports this view of a detached ‘God’ and a world simply doing its own thing. But this is profoundly mistaken.” – N. T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms

Raphael. Epicurus. The School of Athens. 1511. Fresco..jpg
Raphael. Epicurus. The School of Athens. 1511. Fresco.

Botticelli, Sandro. Violent against others. 1495.

“Non ti rimembra di quelle parole
con le quai la tua Etica pertratta
le tre disposizion che il ciel non vuole,
incontinenza, malizia, e la matta
bestialitade?”

“Have you forgotten, then, the words with which
your Ethics treats of those three dispositions
that strike at Heaven’s will: incontinence
and malice and mad bestiality?”

“‘Filosofia’, mi disse, ‘a chi la intende,
nota, non pure in una sola parte,
come natura lo suo corso prende
dal divino intelletto e da sua arte:
e se tu ben la tua Fisica note,
tu troverai, non dopo molte carte,
che l’arte vostra quella, quanto puote,
segue, come il maestro fa il discente:
sì che vostr’arte a Dio quasi è nepote.
Da queste due, se tu ti rechi a mente
lo Genesì dal principio, conviene
prender sua vita ed avanzar la gente;
e perché l’usuriere altra via tiene,
per sé natura e per la sua seguace
dispregia, poi che in altro pon la spene.”

“‘Philosophy, for one who understands,
points out, and not in just one place,’ he said,
‘how nature follows—as she takes her course–
the Divine Intellect and Divine Art;
and if you read your Physics carefully,
not many pages from the start, you’ll see
that when it can, your art would follow nature,
just as a pupil imitates his master;
so that your art is almost God’s grandchild.
From these two, art and nature, it is fitting,
if you recall how Genesis begins,
for men to make their way, to gain their living;
and since the usurer prefers another
pathway, he scorns both nature in herself
and art, her follower; his hope is elsewhere.”

“God creates nature, and human art springs from and imitates nature [Aristotle]. Usury thus offends both nature (God’s ‘child’) and art (His ‘grandchild’).”

“And to the man he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”

3.17.19.png

1. Botticelli, Sandro. Violent against others. 1495.
2. Dante Alighieri. La Divina Commedia. BUR Rizzoli, 2016.
3. Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. Translator Allen Mandelbaum.
4. Dante Alighieri. La Divina Commedia. BUR Rizzoli, 2016.
5. Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. Translator Allen Mandelbaum.
6. Notes by Peter Armour
7. Genesis 3:17-19 (NRSV).
8. Crumb, Robert, and Robert Alter. The Book of Genesis Illustrated.

Farewell to Kenneth Arrow, a Gentle Genius of Economics by Lawrence Summers

No one else I have ever known so embodied the scholarly life well lived.

I remember like yesterday the moment when Kenneth won the Nobel Prize in 1972. Paul Samuelson—another Nobel economist and, as it happens, also my uncle—hosted a party in his honor, to which I, then a sophomore at MIT, was invited.

As the night wore on, Paul and Kenneth were standing in a corner discussing various theorems in mathematical economics. People started leaving. Paul’s wife was looking impatient. Kenneth’s wife, my aunt Selma, put her coat on, buttoned it and started pacing at the door. Kenneth raised something known as the maximum principle and the writings of the Russian mathematician Pontryagin. Paul began a story about the great British mathematical economist and philosopher Frank Ramsey. My ride depended on this conversation ending, so I watched alertly without understanding a word.

But I did understand this: There were two people in the room who had won Nobel Prizes. They were the two people who, after everyone else was exhausted and heading home, talked on and on into the evening about the subject they loved. I learned that night about my uncles—about their passion for ideas and about the importance and excitement of what scholars do.

Kenneth’s writings resolved age-old questions and opened up vast new areas for others to explore. He likely was the most important economic theorist of the second half of the 20th century.

Drawing upon mathematical logic, it shows that there is no possible voting scheme that can consistently and sensibly reflect the preferences of a set of individuals with diverse views. . . . Mathematical and abstruse it was. But it also explained why committees have so much trouble coming to consistent conclusions and why, with an increasingly polarized electorate, democracy can become increasingly dysfunctional.

Economists have been drawn to Adam Smith’s idea of the “invisible hand” for hundreds of years. But until Kenneth drew on the techniques of topology, no one had ever been able to establish precise conditions under which there would be prices that would clear all markets, or under which one could assume that the market outcome was optimal. Writing in the early 1950s, he clarified the very specific conditions under which market outcomes were for the best and, of equal importance, the far more general conditions under which public interventions in markets had the potential to make things better.

It is hard to imagine what economics would be like today without his contributions.

In a family of professors, the conversation ranged widely. Save for the NFL, there was no topic—from politics to music, from classics to physics—on which Kenneth was not infinitely curious and apparently omniscient.

Kenneth knew more about everything than most know about anything, but he never flaunted his intelligence. It was another lesson for me when, many years ago, a paper was published correcting a famous analysis published by one of Kenneth’s teachers. At the time, it created a stir. I asked him what he thought. He said quietly that he had known of the error for decades, but such was his respect for his teacher that he did not publish his insight.

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