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January 01, 2011



You've probably covered this somewhere else on this blog, but I'd be interested in hearing about how you differentiate between faith and belief, esp in your last 2 paragraphs above.

Greg Horton

I typically don't differentiate between the two. I happily differentiate between know and believe or knowledge and faith, but faith is certainly an issue of what I believe, and it seems, an issue of preference. I am free to believe any set of metaphysical assumptions I choose; this is, I think, what I mean by faith. However, from my perspective, I simply don't care what set someone prefers; all are ultimately unverifiable and therefore equally true and false. (I would say utterly devoid of epistemic content, but I try to be civil.) When it matters to me is when someone creates a system, political or moral, that relies on a mythological narrative to give justification to the system. Why would I prefer one narrative over the other? I don't care who gets the reward after death; I care about how people live now and how they treat each other. From that perspective, I can know how a belief will impact a polling station and therefore a given set of circumstances for a given set of people in the world. I prefer to work with the "knows" not "believes" because I have no way of deciding whose beliefs (faith) are correct, but I can know their impact in the world.


I've been mulling this over since you posted it, and it's not likely to leave my consciousness anytime soon. I'm troubled by your conclusion. The surly dude in me wants to say, "Anyone who claims poetry is fungible isn't reading his Dorothy Parker," (or Basho) and leave it at that.

Your list of attributes -- "inspire, enrich, impart wisdom, make me a better human" -- strikes me as problematic, if only because myths are capable of taking possession and bringing people and systems to absolute ruination. Witness what the myths of Redemptive Violence, or Unfettered Markets have recently generated. If we underestimate, or find ourselves strangely powerless in the grasp of a negative myth, unable to persuade others with the soundest of arguments, I have to wonder just how well we understand the power of myth at all.

Greg Horton

WP, no need to be surly. I still love poetry; I just think it's untrustworthy given certain criteria, particularly when I really need an answer to the sorts of questions above. Dorothy Parker can't convince me by means of poetry that any of the metaphysical claims have a shred of truth to them. I don't need poetry for that.

I agree that myths can ruin us. I only listed the positive aspects. I spend a great deal of time in Myth and Ethics deconstructing the myth of redemptive violence. I do think it's possible to transcend bad myths, and usually with the help of reason and experience. I still want poetry in my life, but it's not there to answer big questions, unless the questions are about aesthetics, emotion or beauty. I have no need for myth that I know of, not in the cosmogonic, cosmological, metaphysical, messianic, etc., sense. Maybe I'm a naive humanist, but I fail to see the need for myth, but I do want to keep poetry.


I doubt there's any final escape from myth -- or metaphor, or poetry -- if only because our subconscious does most of its work on that level. If we can't escape it, we must "need" it. I'm rather leery when it comes to variations on Chesterton's argument, but what about an evo-bio approach to the matter? Denis Dutton's "The Art Instinct" being the best -- well, frankly, to ONLY example that comes to mind.

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