Jordan Peterson: Why be a mother?

I have never encountered a more perfect explanation of Virgin Mary’s role in Christ’s Passion. She truly offers a sacrifice. From the moment she freely accepted the conception of Jesus in her womb, she must have been aware of the price. Everything that’s good will be crushed by the world. To bring into the world a human being, this being of infinite value, is to bring him into the world of suffering. But a true mother says: It’s worth it. Life is of greater value than the whole suffering that it may be inflicted with. And with Mary this heroism is only magnified. This is not a mere human being that is crucified – it is God in the flesh, come to save the world. She cooperates in His mission, for she gives Him the flesh indispensable to save the world. But she’s not a neutral, disinterested bystander – she is truly His mother. The moment she was asked to become His mother, she was implicated into the mission, she was inevitably destined to join Christ in suffering. Every of Jesus’ disciples, who could stand to watch His crucifixion, could turn away, hide, decide that it’s not his or her business to stay with him. They could say that it’s not what they wished for him, that this terrible event has been forced on them and they would be right. But she was as responsible for this horrific Passion, as was Christ Himself. Of all the people only they could really allow this to happen and they courageously accepted their shared lot.

On today’s feast of Our Lady of Sorrows we contemplate precisely that heroic decision of Mary to suffer with her Son. She was not a passive, fearful albeit compassionate mother thrown into the unknown. She chose the Son of God to be born of her, and thereby she condemned both of them to suffering. But the fruit of this suffering was the salvation of the world, our salvation, our redemption. She paid the price with Him.

Stabat Mater dolorosa
iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.
At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.
Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!
O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.
Quae maerebat et dolebat,
pia Mater, dum videbat
nati poenas inclyti.
Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Full text of the hymn can be found here.

Tolkienian intersubjective realism

Not long ago I was listening to a lecture devoted to Tolkien’s artistic languages such as Quenya or Sindarin that he created for his Legendarium of the Middle Earth. I have long been an avid reader of everything that came from Tolkien’s imagination and it has formed to a significant degree my own thinking and deepest intuitions. So as I was listening to this lecture it suddenly dawned on me that there is a very firm philosophical foundation underlying Tolkien’s philological creativity and as you dive deeper into Tolkien’s understanding of language, this philosophy takes over your own sensibilities. But first a bit of philosophical introduction.

Since the late Middle Ages we inhabit an increasingly nominalist worldview, i.e. we very often think that the names we attach to things are a consequence of arbitrary categorization by our minds and therefore this categorization is not inherent to the things themselves. E.g. we call things green not because the things we consider green have an inherent “greenness” that can be discerned within them, but because we arbitrarily lump together things that could be categorized differently and equally legitimately. Long story short, the resulting worldview is strongly subjective and relativistic. The “name” of a thing is a question of convention.

What is striking in Tolkien’s approach to language creation is that he insists that there is a certain fittingness of the sounds he settles for to name a thing. In the course of his designing of Quenya and Sindarin he repeatedly changed and adjusted forms of the words he had come up with so that they expressed better the meanings they were supposed to convey. The idea was that e.g. the Quenya word alda expresses in the most beautiful manner the “treeness” of the thing it designates, i.e. a tree. Tolkien constantly looked for sounds that would serve the meaning best and this quest of his was grounded in what he termed as “euphony” or “phonoaesthetics”. According to this idea the sounds of human language have a potential for beauty and for an appropriate expression of meanings.

In other words in Tolkien’s language creation we encounter a different worldview in which rational creatures are capable of naming things in accordance with their nature. The world is filled not with disparate entities, but by beings that have something real in common – certain natures – and language really attempts at reflecting these natures in a fitting way. This vision gains an especially attractive embodiment in Tolkien’s description of the elves, for the elves excel at naming things euphonically, that is with a beautiful and appropriate sounds. A language, however, is not a private enterprise but a common good, shared and used by all. Here emerges the idea of intersubjective realism. It’s true that an elf can consider a certain string of sounds as appropriate for a thing, but for a word to enter the common vocabulary it has to be approved by the community. So the sense of the beauty of particular sounds experienced by one rational creature is confronted by the sense of beauty of other creatures. This way the whole community discerns the proper names for things and comes at a phnoaesthetic consensus (usually by acclamation, in Tolkien’s world).

The things therefore have natures, these natures are accessible by reason and especially by an aesthetic “taste” of a person, and they can be expressed in a concerted intersubjective effort of rational creatures to name them. This is a beautiful literary embodiment of philosophical realism. When I first stumbled upon Tolkien’s works in my early teenage years I didn’t know a thing about realisms and nominalisms, but this Tolkienian vision of reality and its relationship to rational creatures so artfully turned into a narrative in his Legendarium made great impression on me back then. Only today I am able to recognize its influence on my thinking and reasoning, and especially on the first principles of my thinking as well, as on my philosophical “taste”. This proves how truly great literature is essential to laying down unconscious foundations of personality that will sustain it through the course of a person’s life. Many a time these unconscious foundations saved me from an existential crisis and I don’t doubt they will do this again in the future.

As we commemorated Tolkien’s death almost a week ago (2nd of September), it is appropriate at this point to say with thanksgiving this short prayer for him:

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Or perhaps in Quenya:

Oia sérë á anta sen, Héru, ar oia cala nai sen caluva tennoio. Nai seruva sívessë. Násië.