Summary of some of the criticisms of “Homo Deus” from a Philosophical point of view(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein)

Hits: 39

First Part
The author asserts that famine, plague, and war are fading into insignificance thanks to the pragmatic scientific approach to the solution of the problems facing mankind. The Humanist largely agrees with the view that mankind is making slow progress with respect to the various goals that define for him a flourishing life but this is not all good news because it is obvious that man is not living up to his rational potential. Were Apollo to send a message to us it would be the same as the one he sent to the ancient Greeks. The message would contain the two norm based imperatives “Nothing too much” and “Know thyself”. He would clearly see the hubris of man in his continual craving for more and better and bigger. Harari claims that on the biological level our expectations and happiness are founded on biochemistry rather than economic, social or political factors. Happiness is pleasure for the capitalist Juggernaut, it is claimed and this pseudo-knowledge is then used for re-engineering projects which will modify our biochemistry rather than our relation to the world. It is quite clear that “Humanism is a straw man erected for the purposes of the impending bonfire” and it is equally clear that the kind of progress Harari suggests is not that of the humanist who demands norm based progress.

Part two
Harari dubs our era “The Anthropocene era because for the first time the fate of the globe is in the hands of its products, Homo Sapiens. There is much discussion about the lot and fate of animals in this section. Harari hypothesises that animals are just a collection of algorithms and claims this leaves a question mark over the issue of whether they suffer or not. This approach contrasts dramatically to Aristotle’s claim that animals possess a “soul” or psuche that is not like a spirit dwelling within them but more like a principle explaining their movement and activity. The Agricultural Revolution Harari argues sees animals rather as fodder for the gods and given that we have a streak of the divine within us, we treat animals as fodder for ourselves. The Scientific Revolution changed our relation to the divine and moved us to the centre of the stage to replace deus absconditus. In its wake new humanistic based religions occurred such as Nazism, the author proclaims somewhat paradoxically. These kinds of reflections cannot but arouse the spectre of post modernism and its obsession with relativism.

Part three
After a long fruitless discussion of the soul which disregards the philosophical view of the soul as a principle of motion there is an attempt to reify the soul as some spiritual something(not a principle) which is separate from its effects. It was in response to Cartesian mythology of this sort that Wittgenstein insisted in his later work that “Our attitude towards a person is an attitude towards a soul”. This importantly draws our attention to the fact that attitudes belong to human beings and not some fictitious part of a human being.

“Darwin has deprived us of our souls” Harari claims. Does this even make sense? One can surely ask how any theory about the evolution of an animal body could deprive us of a philosophical theory of an attitude which is an expression of a principle? This point is in a critical point elaborated upon as follows:

“This claim could only be true if science could engage directly with the argumentation of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein and “prove” that there is no principle governing out attitudes, thoughts, etc. How would that be done? By observation? This is completely ignoring the fact that Darwin’s theory is as much a theory involving reasoning about animal populations as it is a theory incorporating the observation of animal populations. The person standing before me now might have been evolved “by degrees” over millions of years but my recognition of this person as human is only partly constituted by this long history of his human bodily form. He stands before me and I recognise him to be the kind of being that is capable of discourse and a source of rational argumentation in spite of the fact that he is at the moment staring at the cat in the room. It is my expectations of him and his expectations of me that constitute the kind of interactions we can have with one another. Referring to these expectations as either “subjective” or “intersubjective” is an “idle use of language” as a Wittgensteinian might be inclined to comment.”

In the light of the above it is difficult to comprehend exactly what is meant when Harari says “If you really understand the theory of evolution you understand that there is no soul.”

Harari then attempts to link the continuity of our human being with immortality which is neither a religious/philosophical view nor a secular/philosophical view where occupants of either of these positions may believe the formercontinuity thesis but not the latter immortality thesis. Reference is made to the importance of our institutions and in relation to this question we should point out that our legal systems are secular/philosophical and have no rules for dealing with the actions of disembodied souls or the actions of uninhabited bodies. There is however a belief in a continuous embodied principle which is responsible for its actions. Imagine the absurdity of a defence in terms of evolution theory where the defendant claims no responsibility for his actions because “he is evolving”.

Harari shifts to speaking about the mind and slips very surprisingly into Cartesianism. Aristotle Kant and Wittgenstein all reject this form of dualism for good philosophical reasons which are not even acknowledged in Harari’s discussion. Why, one may justifiably ask? He then equally surprisingly claims that science knows very little about mind or consciousness” and he subsequently, on Cartesian grounds, rejects the possibility of robots or machines possessing experience. The right conclusion for the wrong reasons. One of the consequences of this argument is :

“The whole system of human value collapses because there is nothing significant science can say about it.”

Harari discusses the fall of communism and attributes it to the inability of the Soviets to cooperate and organise their society. The point he extracts is not the Greek position that they lacked the appropriate knowledge but rather that power needs to be organised effectively. One means of organising power effectively is for the population concerned to believe the same stories which can lose their credibility overnight, it is argued. Our human rights are a consequence of a story we all believe, it is claimed.

Part four

The dualism of Descartes is again invoked when it is claimed that animals live in a dual reality, a world of trees and rivers and an internal world of subjective experience of which they are aware! This attributes to animals a self consciousness which is necessary for what Hacker called the operation of two way powers in which we humans that possess such powers will to do or not to do an action. It attributes to animals self conscious actions, that is, instead of behaviour. Harari then distinguishes animal “actions” from human actions by the fact that we humans tell stories about our actions , money, gods nations and corporation. These stories are so powerful apparently that they, rather than our actions, are the means by which History is created. Again it is suggested that our story telling ability is wrongly dated and there is talk of story-telling Neanderthals. It is not being deniedin our commentary that story telling played a part in our cognitive development: what is being questioned is that this concrete cognitive skill could give rise to abstract activities such as the formulation of laws or the intentional creation of Biblical texts possessing abstract symbolic complexity. The stories of the Sumerian gods created the modern equivalent of brands or corporation it is claimed. In response to this point it was argued:

“the talk of God or gods of most of the Greek philosophers were not items of the imagination gleaned from stories, but rather condensations from clouds of argumentation. Even Kant would have objected to the claim that his philosophical idea of God originated in the imagination. For Kant God was an idea of reason that interestingly enough was only one of three ideas. The idea of God for Kant, in contrast, was not to be explained in the theoretical terms of Aristotle but more in terms of the moral law.”

The counterargument to Harari’s position is that the kind of abstract knowledge we are presented with in the Bible does not emanate from the concrete stories that we find there. It is impossible to capture the philosophical idea of God in a story:

“We should also remember that Einstein believed in Spinoza’s “philosophical” view of God and his reasoning may well have been Aristotelian and Kantian.Newton too believed in God but it is difficult to believe that his theological training at Trinity College Cambridge did not relate to the arguments of the philosophers. Wittgenstein’s belief in God was also based on argumentation not of the demonstrative theoretical kind but rather of the practical ethical kind. All of these figures, Newton, Kant, Einstein, and Wittgenstein of course probably read the bible closely but this reading process would more resemble a critical interpretative activity than a receptive emotional process of identification and introjection. These latter two processes may well involve the imagination whereas the former would require reasoned argumentation.”

The Bible is also a source of law and the same point can be made in relation to this fact, namely that the civilisation creating act of legal intention cannot be fully captured in a concrete story. The complexity of the action of writing and the possible abstract uses of language in the communication of abstract intentions and knowledge is not captured in narratives where the intentions of the authors are connected with the evoking of imaginative mechanisms such as projection and introjection.

Part five

The emphasis on the power of stories to shape mans existence continues at the expense of the view that much of the cooperation that lies behind mans success is founded upon the following of abstract ethical rules which occur in texts like the Bible and the laws in our law books:

“For Harari, the decisive contents in a narrative are the elements in it which may happen to be false or fictional as he puts it. It was suggested in the previous lecture that the belief in the fictional elements of biblical narratives are not actually the components which facilitate cooperation between men but rather that function is produced by the element of the following of the ethical rules which are suggested in these narratives. The reason why men follow these rules are teleological: they hope that their actions will lead to a flourishing life for themselves and the people they care for. Corporations and nations are not “fictional entities” as is maintained but rather entities which scientific theory cannot adequately describe given its ignorance of what consciousness is and its ignorance of how to characterise action in general and ethical action in particular. Nations and corporations are not objects of belief but objects of action brought about by the activities of men. Action is as real as the suffering that cause it or it causes. Philosophical theory has been concerned with action theory for over two thousand years not through the activity of story telling but through the activity of theorising and arguing about it. The kind of action that avoids the consequences of suffering is the kind of action which builds not upon a shaky belief about something fictional but about knowledge of what is real, e.g. suffering.”

Much of this section of Harari’s work “The Odd Couple” is again a dialectical bi-polar discussion that swings between Science and Religion, natural and supernatural,facts and myths, power and order. Reality, however, is not so easily divided. In one bizarre discussion it is suggested that once the power of science takes over the weakness of myth, people will be able to reshape their reality in accordance with their pet fictions. The philosophical analysis of reality and ethical principles is wholly absent in such discussions, which have a post modernist atmosphere about them. Everyone can live in their virtual alternative reality if they wish to: a formula for chaos if ever there was one. Along the way religion is branded with the term “supernatural” because for example the narrative of Moses is a story about a meeting with a supernatural being. Once again there is a failure to recognise and understand the intentions of the writers of sacred texts and their use of symbolic language which, actually, in the end, after philosophical analysis, might reveal that God was an idea in mans mind–a complex idea condensed from clouds of argumentation about the nature of reality and human existence. Or, alternatively, an analysis of the symbolic language of the Biblical text might reveal that Moses , in order to put an end to wandering in the wilderness leading a hunting-gathering form of life, made the judgment that an agricultural revolution was the next necessary step in the progress of man toward leading the flourishing life. Harari regards the agricultural revolution as a fraud, as promising something it never delivered, but if one brings philosophy and ethics into the equation we might then see that the agricultural revolution was necessary for one of the following steps which was the industrial revolution that in its turn eventually provided man with the freedom to educate himself and philosophise in his free time. But for Harari it is the scientific revolution that pre dated the industrial revolution which will take control of our destinies rather than the philosophical revolution( that predated the scientific revolution by thousands of years). But as we know the philosophical revolution is not even on Harari’s timeline of important historical events.

Part six

Harari claims that prior to our modern age human beings were like actors on a stage playing a part. Presumably he believes that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were playing the role of the philosopher whilst at the same time initiating through their complex and abstract ruminations the very subject and activity of Philosophy. This is said in response to Harari’s claim:

“If famine, plague, and war were in the script then everyone played their parts with varying degrees of Stoicism. Humans had no control of the script, no control over famine, plague, and war. It is this powerlessness that science challenges on the grounds that the cosmic plan has no meaning. Life , it is claimed has no meaning and “the universe is a blind and purposeless process, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing”. The feeling that life is without meaning is actually a symptom of the depressive phase of the mental illness, manic depression, and we know that the Shakespearean character associated with the above words was not in a stable mental condition. This statement that the life of humans and the processes of the universe have no meaning would be somewhat puzzlingand mysterious only if we were not familiar with the cultural phenomenon of post-modernism. Post modernists begin by denying the truth and then they deny meaning on grounds that actually undermine their own position. To take post modernist claims seriously we would have to believe that they were true and meaningful. If these claims were not meaningful they could not be true and this relation between truth and meaning has been a fundamental tenet of Philosophy since the time of Aristotle and up until modern times which Philosophers date back to Hobbes and Descartes. Hobbes as we saw wished for humans to give up their freedom that according to Kant is the source, principle and meaning of human action and human activity. Kant would not therefore have negotiated any deals with the Hobbesian Leviathan.
Normally the Shakespearean character in a mental state of confusion rants and raves about the storm and the lightning and sees an adversarial meaning in the storm. If he is finally blinded and moves toward a state of calmer equilibrium and as a consequence a greater understanding of what has happened to him, it is not out of the question that he might sit and ponder his behaviour in the storm and arrive at the Aristotelian analysis that the storm is a physical process composed of the elements of earth, air, water, and fire and processes of hot and cold, wet and dry interacting with the purpose of reestablishing an equilibrium in the weather system. The storm is not a blind process: its power has meaning. Modern culture does not reject this cosmic plan. Modern science might believe this but that is a problem that science needs to address. If science has been blinded by its power then it is about time that it calm down and sit in Shakespearean fashion and ponder its future.”

The modern covenant is a contract that we moderns have formed with Politics Science and Economics in the spirit of the motto “Shit happens”. Economic growth and credit is what enables us to trust in the future it is argued and the primary economic commandment is to invest ones profits to increase growth. This together with the motto of post modernism which is to destroy the old and build the new in the face of the death of God provides a picture of the kind of future Hobbes envisaged when he recommended a contract with the Leviathan. The counterargument that Kant used against Hobbes was that we trust in a future better ethical state of the world which he called “the kingdom of ends” in which if there was any economic component necessary at all it would be “Use capital responsibly to create a kingdom of ends.” Trust for the philosophers was a condition of economic activity and not a consequence of it.

Part seven

Harari points out that Gods death did not lead to a social collapse and this might prove that there is no cosmic divine plan or script for mans destiny. For the Enlightenment Philosopher, Kant, there are both physical and moral laws that explain both what happens to man and what he does. Freedom and God are ideas of reason that jointly motivate the moral law and will explain the route of his pilgrimage to the kingdom of ends that the cosmopolitan man will create. There is a humanistic script aiming at the good elaborating upon the above points:

“Only rational animals capable of discourse can think,plan and aim at this good.Animals lead their lives in accordance with the drivers of instinct, feeling and emotion and because of this they cannot cooperate in the large numbers needed to found cities and communities in which such art,activities and inquiries can be pursued for the purposes of the good. Reason for Aristotle enabled man to develop the virtues which then defined the good person and the good action. Here again feelings were either an incidental irrelevant accompaniment or psychic obstacles which needed to be circumnavigated. This is similarly the case in Kant where the ideas of reason such as Freedom and God jointly motivate the moral law in which it is scripted that man ought to treat his fellow (and himself) as an end in himself and never merely as a means. Thus for Kant, the God respecting philosopher, there is a humanistic script to the human drama leading to the formation of the Cosmopolitan man which is part of the cosmic plan and there are laws both moral and physical which will explain the free, chosen pilgrimage of man on the road to a kingdom of ends. For both Aristotle and Kant the pursuit of the good is the essence of humanism and Aristotle specifically says in the Nichomachean ethics that virtue is not a feeling because it would be absurd to praise or blame a man for the feelings he is experiencing. For him the humanistic drama playing out is a process of actualisation in which the political conditions are being created for man to acquire the virtues via politically created educational systems led by a politically educated middle class. Aristotle, the biologist, believes that man the rational animal capable of discourse, is the most important proximate cause of this actualisation process: he believes, that is, that this process is driven by human nature that somehow participates in the divine through its possession of reason and the use of this reason in moments of philosophical contemplation.”

Harari identifies humanism with the feelings the humanist has and ignores the Aristotelian criticism of this position which states that man is not praised or blamed for the feelings he has. Humanists like Aristotle and Kant certainly would not ride the waves of populism and claim that God was dead or that there was no plan for mans destiny. For both Kant and Aristotle it was a philosophical possibility that the universe had always existed and that God was present in its form and the changes it underwent and undergoes. Their positions are not incompatible with the fact that both were amongst the most renowned scientists of their age and that both have built a philosophical framework for science which has as yet to be fully evaluated.

The “science” of psychology par excellence, i.e. Freudianism, created the professional role of the therapist which Harari contrasts with the role of a priest. Freud’s therapy was of course an example of humanistic moral treatment of mentally ill patients and the humanistic art/science of symptom interpretation. When Harari claims that:

“Humanism has taught us that something can be bad only if it causes someone to feel bad.”(p264).

He clearly misunderstands the role of both the priest and the therapist as interpreters of symptoms and the negative feelings associated therewith. Both these professionals in response to the negative feelings of their patients/parishioners, might, as part of their interpretation of these negative feelings produce more anxiety and even more negative feelings for the greater good of the flourishing life that Aristotle referred to in his Ethics.

Harari believes that the power of science and the growth principle of economics will lift us out of the dustbin of history where artificial intelligence will take the place of the death of God and the failure of what he calls “humanistic religion”

Part eight

Liberalism and Humanism are closely associated for Harari:

“The Liberal order, according to Harari, is defined in terms of individualism human rights, democracy and the free market and is also a form of religion. Human rights as we learned earlier are figments of the imagination and Humanism, a term traditionally closely associated with liberalism, is also more or less defined in terms of a romantic solipsistic individualism which does not have very much in common with our traditional notion of an ethical humanism steered by law and reason. Ever since Kant associated ethics and human rights with freedom, freedom also became a more systematically characterised concept than it was when it was referred to by Hobbes as that which citizens have to partly abandon in order for the Leviathan or the commonwealth to provide security for nation states citizens.”

The concept of the free will is then criticised because it is undetectable with a microscope or otherwise accessible to human observation. The commentary responds to this position as follows:

“Looking for freedom with such instruments is of course what a philosopher would call a category mistake. Harari claims that the attribution of free will to humans is a fact and that is true, but some facts are categorial such as “all men are mortal”: no observation would ever reveal the counterfactual that a man is immortal and trying to base this conceptual fact on purely observational grounds is failing to appreciate the logical and categorical nature of conceptual truths. Hume once tried this line of reasoning with the self and pointed out that we are not able to observationally detect the “self” and therefore the self did not exist. Kant pointed out a number of objections to this line of empiricist thinking , amongst which was the self or soul, was an idea of reason(a principle) rather than a phenomenal thing to be encountered in the phenomenal world. He pointed out, in other words, that the initial premise that we can not observe the self is ambiguous. If the self is a principle that cannot be observed because it is a condition of what it as that we are observing then it cannot warrant the conclusion that there is no such principle or condition. Similarly if freedom is an idea or principle of ethical activity, then claiming as the author does people are free because they “feel free” is incoherent. When people say they feel free it is a negative judgment which is in focus: the judgment namely that no one is preventing them from doing what they wish to, which in turn focuses attention on the fact that freedom is an idea or condition qualifying action and can not qualify sensation:actions and sensations are different psychological entities and even if sensations might peripherally be associated with action there is no logical connection between these logically different entities”

There is then a discussion of consciousness and its cognitive correlates in this section which is the key to understanding the kind of reasoning that Harari is using to establish his position in the latter part of “Homo Deus”. O Shaughnessy and his work “The Will:a dual aspect theory” is used in the commentary to establish the kind of psychological explanation that is used in a universe of discourse that is philosophical and not scientific.

Harari, however, continues to insist that in this region it is not psychological explanation that reigns but rather

“The free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms.”(354)

The response of the commentary is to suggest that this kind of reasoning then destroys “the myth” that a story is something told by one free individual to another with the intention of understanding a person,or the time he lives in.

Liberalism is then defined as a kind of utilitarian position:

“Ethics is of course a figment of the imagination for Harari as is human rights which is tied not to mans imagined happiness but to his actual dignity and worth. In his reasoning about the utility of man for the economic or political system he notes that artificial intelligence is decoupling intelligence from consciousness and that there is no guarantee that this will not lead to man becoming superfluous to the point at which all occupations can be performed more efficiently by computerised robots. This is a serious prediction. Hannah Arendt pointed to the consequences of the industrial revolution when large numbers of men became superfluous in Europe and created the economic and political conditions for two world wars. It should, however be pointed out that it was precisely the political and economical utilitarian value of these men that contributed to their alienation. Educational systems did not suffice to convince the masses of unemployed that they possessed a value in being human.”

Harari is not merely ignoring the reflections and theories of the philosophers in the regions of philosophical psychology, ethics and politics but he is also ignoring the History of Psychology and the history of the idea of consciousness which we will need to present in detail if our counterarguments in this field are to be efficacious. The case against AI rests to a large extent on the case for robots or machines being neither alive nor conscious and therefore incapable of “intelligent action”.

The account of this so called “history of the future” becomes more and more like a story from a science fiction author:

“once Google, Facebook and other algorithms become all knowing oracles, they may well evolve into agents and ultimately into sovereigns”(p397)

So God is dead and the future rests not with the philosophical capacities and judgments of men but with the algorithms of machines. The familiar totalitarian consequences follow and it is claimed(Harari):

“some elites may conclude that there is no point in providing improved and even standard levels of health for masses of useless poor people, and it is far more sensible to focus on upgrading a handful of super-humans beyond the norm.”(pp407)

We have been down this totalitarian road before and it is difficult to believe that our knowledge of what happened in History will not prevent some of these more exotic scenarios from actualising in the future.


Part nine:

Research laboratories will provide us with new religions, it is argued amongst which will be a techno religion which:

“argues that humans have completed their cosmic task and should now pass the torch on to entirely new kinds of entities….Techno-humanism agrees that homo sapiens as we know it has run its historical course and will no longer be relevant in the future, but concludes that we should therefore use technology in order to create Homo Deus–a much superior human model.”(pp409-410)

Medicine will transform itself from an archeological discipline to a teleological adventure in which new states of consciousness will be sought and a new super-form of life will emerge.

The will to power is of course crucial in this brave new world. The commentary elaborates upon this position in the following way:

“The above account of Jaynes may well, however, support the thesis that the will is the nail which the universe is hung upon but if this is so, it is the nail of knowledge and not the nail of power. All previous attempts to hang the universe on the nail of power have failed. The author openly admits that science knows very little about consciousness, and if history has taught us anything as a consequence of the failed attempts to control the masses via power, it is surely that these attempts failed because power hungry dictators did not have sufficient knowledge of the human psyche to transform it. If this authors work has taught us anything it is that science has no theory of the knowledge of value or knowledge of the good as Plato put the matter.”

The Enlightenment Philosophy of Kant strengthened this message and related ethical knowledge to the moral law that opposed the raw exercise of power in the name or normative logic.

Harari claims that there will be a collective pursuit for the experience of the strange: experience of strange forms of consciousness which we will engineer ourselves:

“Technological progress has a very different agenda.It does not want to listen to our voices. It wants to control them. Once we understand the biochemical system producing all these voices we can play with the switches, turn up the volume here lower it there and make life much more easy and comfortable. We will give Ritalin to the distracted lawyer, Prozac to the guilty soldier and Cipralex to the dissatisfied wife. Humanists are appalled by this approach but we had better not pass judgment on it too quickly. The humanist recommendation to listen to ourselves has ruined the lives of many a person, whereas the right dosage of the right chemical has greatly improved the well being and relationships of millions.”(p424)

No humanist would insist that one listen to “voices” from within. As was pointed out earlier in this work the phenomenon of Socrates remaining transfixed on the same spot for hours consulting his daemon would have caused suspicion already at the time of Aristotle. Humanist has no objection to the administering of chemicals to return the patient to a state in which he can receive meaningful therapy for his hallucinations. The following was the response to the above point:

“The schizophrenic experience of being plagued by alien and sometimes hostile voices is, according to Jaynes , an interesting throwback to bicameral man, a throwback to a time before the advent of consciousness and it is , according to him, a moot point whether medication is the right method to lead the patient back on the road to full consciousness. Humanists like Aristotle and Kant who understood that we are physical beings composed of physical substances in a certain state of equilibrium would hardly have objected to any physical treatment that restored lost equilibrium. Many medications, however, alleviate symptoms and do not restore the natural equilibrium of life. The humanist will naturally question such a state of affairs. Freud being a follower of Aristotle and Kant, would also have agreed with this position: remember he experimented with magnetism and hypnotism before the “age of medication” we now live in. There were patients who needed to be returned to a state of physical equilibrium before the so called “talking cure” could be effective.”

Returning to the plot of the overthrow of our old world in favour of the new Harari ends with the following image:

“Instead of visiting a museum or climbing a mountain to view a beautiful sunset the more appropriate responses to the problems of life would be to have ones DNA sequenced, wear a bio-medical monitoring device, post pictures of all ones experiences on Facebook, allow Google to read your e mails and keep a record of your likes and dislikes. Finally, the author argues, even if Dataism is wrong and organisms are not algorithms this in itself might not prevent Dataism from taking over the world.”

We are meant to replace our desires with information, as if we could ever do such a thing without becoming machines ourselves. The paradox of all this is that if we humans cease to exist as humans and if “deus” is merely absconditus and not dead he may send a flood the like of which no man has ever seen to rid the earth of the algorithms and metal monstrosities we created, in proof, as Paul Ricoeur would put it, of the fallibility of man.

Summary of the criticisms of “Homo Sapiens” from a Philosophical point of view(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein)

Hits: 47

The following essay is an attempt to assist the reader in the understanding of Harari’s claims in his work “Homo Sapiens: a brief history of mankind”. We summarize here the major discussion and criticisms of the work provided in the first ten chapters.

In Part one Harari maintains starkly, without any critical discussion, that matter and energy came into existence 13.5 billion years ago with the singular event of the big bang. Without the philosophical discussion which is needed to correctly “interpret” the meaning of Harari’s opening statement we may be forgiven for suspecting that this is an unfortunate dogmatic opening to a book with the subtitle: ” a brief history of mankind”. Kant would have specifically objected to the big bang theory on the grounds that it is using an illegitimate realist assumption that the world exists as a finite whole which began with a first cause, the so called big bang. The world, he would have argued is , in terms of the appearances that happen, transcendentally ideal, because appearances leave our relation to things in themselves, the world in itself, undetermined. An explosion, even if it is massive is something that necessarily could only happen in a world, situated in a space and over a period of time that must have preceded the explosion. The dogmatic insistence of the scientist that space and time sprang into existence with the explosion merely suspends the principle of causation that by definition cannot have a first cause: because if causality is to have a universal application literally everything has to have a cause even the so called postulated first cause. If one was to bring the early Wittgenstein into this discussion he might have said that this is something that cannot be spoken about and must be passed over in silence, being beyond the limits of our language.

Problems of a different kind emerge when in this first critique Harari insists that the Cognitive Revolution which appeared 70,000 years ago occurred because this is the period when fictional language emerged. This, a current theory argues, by marshalling a mountain of evidence in its support, is far too early for such a complex linguistic phenomenon. No attempt is made to dismantle the extensive archeological and literary evidence presented by researchers such as Julian Jaynes who claimed that the fictional use of language must have occurred much earlier than 70,000 years ago. Indeed, according to Jaynes, it probably occurred well after the beginning of the agricultural revolution that according to Harari began in 12,000 BC.

In essay number two we are not subjected so much to dogmatic statements as a kind of bi-polar dialectical argumentation that contrasts myths with facts. This form of argument basically insists that if a myth is not factual it cannot have any cognitive relation to reality. Myths are products of the imagination it is argued which can disappear tomorrow if suddenly no one believes in them any longer. Our ideas of freedom and equality are also dubbed “figments of the imagination” but they separate themselves from myths because so many people continue to believe in their importance. This belief in, for example, the value of freedom continues in spite of the contradiction that is involved when governments use imagined authority for example to remove peoples imagined freedom. Harari, it is argued, is confusing the conceptual systems we use to describe states of affairs with these states of affairs. Political and ethical freedom are not defined in terms of what the individual wishes, however unreasonable the wish: it is rather defined in terms of equality, namely in terms of the permissible use of ones freedom in the light of the condition that this use does not encroach upon anyone else’s freedom. The power of reason whose scope and limitation has been charted by philosophy and the conceptual systems of philosophers are completely ignored in Harari’s account.

Essay number three points to an interesting probably correct observation by Harari, that nationalism is losing ground to the globalisation forces of the world, in particular the businessman’s desire to colonise the world with trade and transform everyone into customers, and the conqueror’s wish to conquer the world and turn everyone into his subjects. Religion attempted to install universal beliefs about the “truths” of religion but this attempt has failed Harari claims. Philosophical globalisation via the media of knowledge and ethical and political principles are not mentioned or evaluated.

The universal character of norms and values and their relation to the universal principles of logic, metaphysics, and morality are themes of essay number four. Ancient religions are used to demonstrate the absence of universality. Two norms/values, namely freedom and the sacred are degraded from positions of claimed universality to figments of the imagination which at best have what is referred to as “intersubjective validity”, whatever that means. Ricoeur and other philosophers have defended the universality of these ideas of the sacred and freedom and pointed out their efficacy in the binding of communities into holistic entities. Two extraordinary claims are made in the name of liberalism and humanism. Firstly it is claimed that liberalism is a religion. Given liberalisms intimate relation to science and the anti-religious and anti-metaphysical inclinations of science this is a difficult position to understand as is the declaration that there are three kinds of humanism amongst which are included social humanism(communism) and so called evolutionary humanism(the dogma of the Nazis). These claims in relation to humanism, would have been substantially criticised by Hannah Arendt in terms of what she called “the inversion of values”, the confusing of a virtue which generally attracts universal praise with a political totalitarian position that attracts the opposite attitude of blame. One can but recall in this context that Thrasymachus in his debate with Socrates over justice in Plato’s Republic was the first Sophist to use this technique of inverting the good into its opposite and wishing in this process to redefine justice.

Essay number five claims that Commerce, Empires and Universal religion have brought us into the global world. The author rejects the philosopher’s claim that a commitment to a system of universal virtue is a necessary and perhaps a sufficient condition of creating the cosmopolitan citizen living in a cosmopolitan world. In a discussion of the difference between description and explanation it is maintained that the narrative of description is the best we can do in a situation where explanations cannot disperse the fog surrounding our past and the future. Julian Jaynes as will see in our later essay will agree that consciousness is defined partly by the power of narratising events but of course insists that this power emerged much later than Harari predicted. If narratives are our main means of clarifying the meaning of the events of our world then this has the consequence that there are no future necessities but only future contingents which might or might not be realised.In such circumstances the power of the imagination supplants the power of reason and we are left to wander in the fog created by this power which cannot explain the functioning of the system of concepts we use to explain our value system. Harari insists that cultures are viruses which might kill their hosts, thus inverting the inherent value status of this word from something positive to something negative.

Essay number six deals with a pseudo-distinction between so called “new knowledge” which is discovered and “old knowledge” which is supposedly fictional. It is not denied, of course that there can be new discoveries of new states of affairs which might question hypotheses held to be the best available until the context of discovery can complete its work but to call such hypotheses “knowledge” is to misunderstand the function of this human power that was defined by the Greek philosophers and Enlightenment followers of those Greek philosophers. The power of reason is a power that attempts to see the world “una sola ochiata”: holistically. The abandonment of belief in this power results in attempting to see everything through a glass darkly of a science committed to a method of resolution-composition producing variables to be manipulated and measured that in certain regions of discourse such as education can only produce correlations between states of affairs instead of the once valued gold standard of causation. Of course humans search for new experiences such as flying to the moon and they may do so in demonstration of their power but knowledge is not to be conflated with power as Harari insists. Habermas points out that both knowledge and power are steering mechanisms of different systems: politics and culture and should not be conflated but the “theory of communicative action” which he proposes also fails to acknowledge the categorical universal-logical character of knowledge. Habermas conflates instrumental reason and categorical reason and leaves us at the mercy of “persuasive ideologies.” The chapter ends with two so called humanistic projects, the elimination of poverty and the possibility of living an immortal life barring the occurrence of accidents. The biblical words “full of years” are invoked in counterargument to suggest that we might not wish to live forever.

Essay number seven continues the theme of the relation between the economic striving for Empires and the universal intent of Science. The discussion of the misnomers of “New knowledge” and “Old knowledge” also continues and it is pointed out that knowledge is not merely a state but rather a state and the products of states which actualise a disposition that is not actual. Our value predicates might originally attach to the disposition and only subsequently to actualising states. Harari asks why Europe became the central power in the world. One of his answers is that both technological innovators and conquerors acknowledged their ignorance and the use of knowledge instrumentally which of course was the prevailing attitude of the colonisers. Counter arguments are presented to the effect that knowledge has a categorical value in itself and that historical knowledge, for example requires the understanding of a metaphysical spirit in a context of justification. Scientific attempts to generate an ethical theory from its method of resolution-composition and assumption that the world is merely the totality of facts produces a theory that ethical action is defined in terms of its consequences. This position is incoherent it is argued.

Essay number eight indicates the ease with which scientists can be hypnotised by ideologies and Habermas’ “Theory of Communicative action” is evoked again to suggest a better description of the mechanism of persuasion than is given by Harari. It is insisted that “Communicative action is a technical disguise for the rhetoric used in ideological exchanges where the aim is “systematic persuasion”. Arendt’s work on the “Origins of Totalitarianism” is again called to testify to the consequences of allowing powerful ideologists the space to persuade us of their dogmatic and skeptical doctrines. As a counterweight to this rhetoric the ideal of the doctor as an ethical scientist is suggested. Harari attempts to use economic images from the bakery, a slice of a bigger pie, to persuade us to abandon our view that Greed is unethical.

Essay number nine points to the various projects of social engineering that have taken place throughout the ages: for example the replacement of the natural rhythms of agriculture(which earlier was accused of being a gigantic fraud) with the precise timetables and schedules of the industrial revolution. It is pointed out that prior to the Industrial Revolution the family was the institution of care for the community. The shift of this role to the state and the market produced an uneasy relation of these “institutions” to individuals in which there is fundamental disagreement over what is owed in the form of duties and what is promised in the form of responsibilities. Again appeal is made to the imagination and it is claimed that nations are merely imagined communities in which we imagine ” a common past, common interests, and a common future”. It is claimed falsely that scholars(like Aristotle and Kant) have only a vague idea of the answer to the question “Are we happy?”. Happiness according to both Aristotle and Kant is the result of the virtuous activity of man–the result that is, not of the activity of his imagination, but rather the result of his rational/ethical activities.

The final essay number ten is filled with experiments producing green rabbits and a mouse with an ear on its back and there is a distinctive schizophrenic atmosphere over this whole chapter discussing what is euphemistically called “intelligent design”. Again we experience the inversion of values in relation to the concept of “intelligence”. Object relations theory is invoked to argue that an object can be both good and bad in different respects without compromising the logical principle of non contradiction.

The History of Psychology and the History of Consciousness: Introduction to criticism and commentary of Harari’s “Homo Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”: Part Three( Analytical Philosophy and Julian Jaynes).

Hits: 57

Analytical Philosophy as a branch of philosophy has taken many forms, positive and negative, but there are two very influential forms which, in different ways break with the thread of continuity or what I shall call “the thread of philosophical tradition” that stretches from the Pre-Socratic philosophers to Socrates , Plato, Aristotle, Kant and the later Wittgenstein and all of their followers throughout the ages. Ironically, both these discontinuities manifested themselves in the twentieth century ( what Hannah Arendt called “this terrible century”). The first discontinuity was logical atomism that attempted to use the principles of set theory and mathematical logic to generate “atoms” of sense data, objects states of affairs, names and descriptions: all in the name of a concern or obsession with truth conditions that marginalised a number of traditional domains of philosophy which the “thread of the tradition” had been successfully including in its definition of philosophy as “the systematic understanding of the world as a systematic whole”. The second, discontinuity, logical positivism, born of the obsession of Science with the cloud of metaphysics hanging over theorizing, was more concerned with philosophical theories of meaning than truth and knowledge(the concern of the tradition). It too marginalized domains of philosophy where the major concern was with action, values and the many meanings of “the good”. These two tsunamis drenched and then drowned the hinterland of traditional philosophy with “logic” and “science”, flattening the philosophical landscape into atoms of debris. The major structures of ethics, aesthetics, philosophical psychology, political philosophy, philosophy of religion and metaphysics barely survived the flood and devastation. There were of course reactions and responses to the tsunami in the forms of phenomenology, existentialism, pragmatism, linguistic philosophy and the later Wittgenstein(whose earlier work had been part of the last phase of the tsunami). Some remaining structures and parts of structures are now in the process of being rebuilt in accordance with the principles of “the tradition”. Yet some of these responses were mere “reactions” to the tradition and manifested discontinuities of their own(Pragmatism, phenomenology, existentialism, instrumentalism). We explored some of these in part two of this essay. It was pointed out that the history of psychology and consciousness were also affected by a modernist revolution that Husserl had described in his work”The Crisis in the European Sciences. Psychology, having at the end of the 1800’s made the decision to ally itself with the forces of the tsunami that fundamentally affected how we thought about consciousness in the twentieth century, was left homeless when the waters receded. The so-called “crisis” of course had begun much earlier with the Philosophers Descartes and Hobbes who together succeeded in severing the thread of continuity leading back to Aristotle’s philosophy. Kant in his brilliant synthesis of empiricism and rationalism managed for a short time to rekindle interest in ethics, political philosophy and metaphysics. Hegel and Marx quickly neutralized these Kantian interests and Aristotle or rather the spirit of Aristotelianism was once again cut adrift(a spirit which naturally integrated logic, science, metaphysics, philosophical psychology, ethics, aesthetics, and rhetoric under one umbrella). It is difficult to identify the reasons why philosophy fragmented into the atoms of a logical/scientific epistemology. Perhaps the answer lies in the different characterizations of consciousness that have manifested themselves since the era of Descartes and Hobbes. This answer unfortunately merely raises another question concerning the fragmentation of the holistic perspective of the human being we inherited from Aristotelian and Kantian Philosophy.

We have illustrated some of the difficulties involved in abandoning a metaphysical approach to our existence in parts one and two of this essay. In this part, I wish to show firstly, how the epistemological project can result in a view of consciousness that does not constitute a break with tradition, and secondly how the “thread of tradition” views consciousness from a holistic philosophical perspective. In relation to the first goal we discuss the work of O Shaughnessy and in relation to the second, the work of P M S Hacker.

O Shaughnessy’s first work: “The Will: a dual aspect theory” was truly a metaphysical excursion into the philosophical territory of action and thought about action. He used this same combination of logic and metaphysics to analyze consciousness and its relation to the world. In terms of the “thread of tradition” leading from Aristotle to Kant much of what O Shaughnessy claimed about “experience”*is consonant with the later work of Wittgenstein.

*Aristotle and Kant did not focus on the concept of consciousness that in fact seemed to emerge from the ideas of Descartes and transformed itself at the end of the 1800’s when Psychology detached itself from Philosophy. There are, of course, significant differences in the philosophies of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein but I am abstracting from these in favour of commonalities and concentrating on similarities that seem to be sketching out a position which has yet to be named.

Harari has claimed that a “cognitive revolution took place ca 70,000 years ago. We questioned this claim on two grounds. Firstly, the archaeological evidence gives very little support to Harari’s position that appears to be founded upon an over-interpretation of the significance of the find of the lion man from Stadel dated 32000 years ago. Julian Jaynes, in his work “The Origins of Consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind” produced a veritable mountain of archeological evidence for the origins of consciousness being much much later, around 1200 bc. Secondly, Jaynes also produced linguistic evidence from both Homer and the Bible that suggested solving complex problems and thinking for oneself are key elements of consciousness. In contrast to the state of mind of men who fail to think independently and spontaneously when a new difficult to solve problem emerges, a skill or competence that these so-called bicameral men appear not to possess. Jaynes is referring to practical problems and appears to be committed to this kind of problem in contrast to O Shaughnessy who claims that the epistemological function of consciousness lies closer to its constitution.

There is, however, an interesting shift in paradigm between the fundamental claims of William James and Jaynes. There is no definition of learning in James’ “Principles of Psychology” whilst Jaynes appears to be using a traditional Psychological definition: “The acquisition of knowledge, habits or skills as a result of study, being taught by others or experience”. James may well argue in response to this criticism that his account focuses on the conditions and consequences of the phenomenon of learning that does not require definition once the mechanisms involved have been revealed. Learning, that is, may require analysis in terms of conditions and consequences. The consequences of learning are evident in Jaynes’s definition, namely knowledge, skills, and habits but it must be pointed out in the light of the above point that James avoids the epistemological theme of knowledge and concentrates instead on practical skills and habits(for reasons given in part one). James then attempts to discuss habit in the context of a so-called stream of experience and surprisingly claims that habit aims to diminish the role of consciousness in the stream:

“If an act requires for its execution a chain ABCDEFG etc of successive nervous events, then in the first performances of the action the conscious will must choose each of these events from a number of wrong alternatives that tend to present themselves: but habit brings it about that each event calls up its own appropriate successor without any alternative offering itself, and without any reference to the conscious will, until at last the whole chain ABCDEFG rattles itself off as soon as A occurs just as if A and the rest of the chain was fused into a continuous stream.”(James Principles of Psychology, vol 1, p114)

This discussion reinforces James’ practical definition of consciousness given in part one, his definition relating to the intelligent choice of ends and means to ends, but it also focuses on a kind of energy regulation principle that appears to aim at regulating the amount of energy expended by consciousness in the choice of the best alternative. This is, indeed an interesting hypothesis: the power of consciousness is in a sense too powerful in its generation of alternatives and needs to select the one which will facilitate an efficient stream of events constituting either a knowing that something is the case, a habit or a skill. The selection of the correct alternative is obviously an occurrent act and an expression of a power or disposition of consciousness. If for some reason one is unable to solve the problem that has arisen, the inability to choose from a large number of alternatives will cause anxiety. Jaynes’ account appears not to agree with James’ position that consciousness is an occurrent operation of selection of ends and means to ends. According to Jaynes:

“As we saw earlier in the performance of skills, so, in the learning of skills, consciousness is indeed like a helpless spectator, having little to do. A simple experiment will demonstrate this fact. Take a coin in each hand and toss them both, crossing them in the air in such a way that each coin is caught in the opposite hand. This you can learn in a dozen trials. As you do, ask, are you conscious of everything you do? Is consciousness necessary at all? I think you will find that learning is much better described as being “organic” rather than conscious. Consciousness takes you into the task, giving you the goal to be reached. But from then on…it is as if the learning is done for you.”(“Origins of Consciousness…p33).

So, consciousness is not involved in choosing means to ends generally but perhaps only the first in the chain of means leading to an end. But how, then, should we characterize consciousness?:

“Subjective conscious mind is an analogue of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behaviour in the physical world. Its reality is of the same order as mathematics. It allows us to shortcut behavioural processes and arrive at more adequate decisions. Like Mathematics it is an operator rather than a thing or repository. And it is intimately bound up with volition and decision.”(p55)

Jaynes then elaborates upon this point by exemplifying how we refer to mental events with visual metaphors that refer to a posited mind space rather than real space:

“We “see” solutions to problems, the best of which may be “brilliant”…we can “approach” a problem, perhaps from some “viewpoint” and “grapple” with its difficulties, or seize together or “com-prehend” parts of a problem…using metaphors of behaviour to invent things to do in this metaphorical mind-space.”

There are a number of characteristics of this mind-space. Firstly we spatialize even elements that are not essentially spatial, e.g. time: a hundred years is, for example, spread out on a time-line extending from left to right. Secondly, we excerpt or select certain aspects of a total experience to best represent or symbolize that experience: e.g. the images of a trapeze artist or clown symbolize “the circus”. Thirdly, we symbolize ourselves by a so-called “analogue I” which can move about in this metaphorical world. Fourthly, if we catch glimpses of ourselves doing what we have not actually done(so-called autoscopic images) this is referred to by Jaynes as a “metaphorical me”. In this so-called metaphorical world, it is possible one presumes for this analogue I to converse with this metaphorical me and thus provide some foundation for the Greek idea of thinking as a kind of dialogue with oneself. Fifthly, we narratise everything we experience into a story which in its turn is then also used to assimilate new events and give meaning to them. In this story we also attribute causes, real or fictional, to explain our actions or what happens to us. We can also use narratisation to attribute causes of events we experience that might have only peripheral significance in our lives, e.g. a child crying in the street may be characterized in a narrative as being “lost” and being searched for by parents. Sixthly, we assimilate events which look similar into schemes we have formed on the basis of previous experience.

The hypothesis here appears to be that consciousness has an intimate relation to language which, if true, suggests that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon based on a certain complex use of language. Given that Jaynes has suggested that consciousness is related to the cortex of the brain and we know that language is so related we are then provided with an interesting triangle of factors: the brain, consciousness, and language. Jaynes is however convinced that both language and consciousness are cultural entities that may require the substrate of the cortex as a condition of its operation but which cannot finally be reduced to functions of the brain. In his controversial but interesting thesis of a bicameral mind preceding the advent of consciousness Jaynes uses the hemispherical structure of the brain to situate a voice in the right half of the brain telling a listener in the left half what should be done. He speaks of the Myceneans for example who, he argues, possessed none of the 6 “characteristics” of consciousness mentioned above. When these bicameral people engaged in planning, initiating or willing anything, no consciousness was involved: a voice tells them in a friendly way what to do in a hallucination. According to Jaynes, these individuals had no mind-space in which to think about what they were experiencing or debate with themselves(the analogue I and the metaphorical me) what they ought or ought not to do. They could not even assimilate events into a narrative. In this context, it is of interest to note two things. Firstly, it is recorded in Plato’s dialogues that Socrates was once seen standing in the same spot in a trance-like state for a considerable amount of time “consulting” with his daemon. Secondly by the time we get to the period of Aristotle, people “hearing voices” were regarded with suspicion. These two events would fit in well with Jaynes’ thesis that mankind had only relatively recently become conscious beings. The Achilles of the Iliad is indeed a strange being in modern eyes and he only becomes heroic if we endow him with the characteristics of consciousness. And yet he is a being that could perform complex deeds(with the help of the voices of his gods, of course) In order to understand how Achilles could accomplish the complex feats in battle that he did(without being a conscious being), Jaynes asks us to imagine driving a car and having a conversation simultaneously. The latter activity would be occurring in my mind space and in that space, I would be debating with myself or conceiving of alternative responses but in the case of the former activity of driving, that would be occurring sub-consciously and involve a myriad of complex decisions that I am not conscious of making. It is thus that the Myceneans and Achilles carried out their complex tasks, being jolted anxiously out of the state of circumspection by unforeseen circumstances and being forced to stand and wait like Socrates for the voice to appear out of the mists of anxiety and confusion. In this context Jaynes points out the power the voice has to command obedience:

“To hear is actually a kind of obedience. Indeed both words come from the same root and therefore probably were the same word originally. This is true in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, German, Russian as well as in English whose “obey” comes from the Latin obedire which is a composite of ob+audire , to hear facing somebody.” “Origins of Consciousness…” p97)

Consider in addition the strangeness of the fact that there is no one facing you or who can be seen, merely a disembodied voice. In such circumstances to hear was to obey.

Jaynes also produces brain research support to support his hypothesis that consciousness evolved culturally. Language in conscious man is located in the left hemisphere(in the temporal and frontal lobes) but every other function is controlled and registered bilaterally in both hemispheres. Could it be, Jaynes asks, that the language function was once also bilateral and that the temporal lobe of the right hemisphere was the source of a voice carried over to the left hemisphere by the anatomical structure known as the anterior commissure? Jaynes points out that stroke patients who have sustained serious damage to the left hemisphere can still understand language using the right hemisphere and moreover can obey commands to retrieve objects with their left hands. Wilder Penfield’s studies on epileptic patients also revealed that electrical stimulation of the right hemisphere produced voices. Jaynes also produces evidence from a theory of evolution of language that he presents and he claims that the changes in language used the plasticity of the brain to perceive and attend to the environment in different ways. In this theory of the evolution of language he posits the first sentence to be an imperative and to have occurred between 25000 and 15000 bc, to be followed by thing nouns (corresponding to the time in which animal paintings were appearing in caves), the age of names of people between 10000 and 8000 bc(corresponding to the time of the emergence of agriculture and towns).

All of these reflections make it abundantly clear that for Jaynes, consciousness is not a genetically caused phenomenon but rather a culturally created phenomenon that was perhaps partly brought about by the advent of writing and a series of environmental catastrophes. It was this cultural development of language which then helped to form a mind space, an analogous I, a metaphorical me, symbolic consciousness, and a narratization function that turned life into a story.

But, one can wonder whether all this is typical of our consciousness that appears to abandon narratives in favour of more academically structured forms of discourse. The Greek philosophers and the thread of tradition looked upon the truth and knowledge function of language as a very important aspect of the relation of our consciousness to the world. If we follow this Ariadne-like thread out of the Greek cave and into modern times we encounter a work entitled “Consciousness and the world” by Brian O Shaughnessy which attempts to do justice to a more philosophical answer to the question “What is consciousness”, an answer very different to the answers we have been given in the name of Psychology and Continental Philosophy(and very different to the concept Harari uses in his works).

O Shaughnessy states in the introduction to his work that a bridge of awareness extends between the mind and “the spatiotemporal scene of physical objects” and that since consciousness emerged at some point in the history of life-systems it can only be a supervenient contingent phenomenon for which there cannot be scientific criteria. This fact does not, however, prevent there from being what he calls psychological assumptions that explain behavioural phenomena. This contact with reality–this awareness is clearly based on the power knowledge has to generate explanations that are not descriptive in the way narratives are.
O Shaughnessy claims that:

“A self consciously conscious subject must be acquainted with certain general properties of the World, for example with the character of the overall framework, the rules of individuation and explanation that prevail in the world, together with some kind of awareness of its actual contents.”

This is a long way from the characterization of consciousness in terms of narratization, analogues, metaphors, and symbols. Indeed the polarity of the entire investigation into the nature of consciousness seems to be reversed in this philosophical account: an account where veridical Perception of physical reality is going to play an important role in a final analysis that is going to arrive at the destination of the truth orientation of consciousness. This, in turn, no doubt will resurrect the Aristotelian definition of man as a “rational animal capable of discourse” simply because the truth is intimately related to a rationality that knows what causes one’s beliefs and actions: i.e. one seeks to know the explanations and principles outlined in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The truth and knowledge are also intimately bound up with the state of consciousness of awe and wonder at something existing rather than nothing: an essentially contemplative state of mind.

The correct analysis of visual experience will obviously play an important role in this analysis, an analysis that will involve the light emanating from the object and the sensation that arises and its special character of being caused by the light and simultaneously aware of its cause. This is most apparent, it is argued, when we awake in the morning and the light both floods in and “is noticed”. This is the basis of the thesis of perception being primarily being extensional and only secondarily intensional:

“Finally it should be noted that the core of all perceptual experiences is “pre-interpretational”: an infant who winces at the light sees light and very likely also its colour but need see neither as “bright”, “white”, “light” “over there”, indeed as anything. It is around this core that all of our familiar meaningful descriptions which owe their existence to the closer integration of the Perceptual Attention and Understanding are ultimately draped.”(p16)

This quote cannot but remind one of the Kantian ideas of how intuitions are related to concepts and thus to the categories of the understanding. In Kant, we find no analogical “I” or metaphorical “me” but we do find an “I think” which accompanies all representations. This “I think ” is also intimately related to the understanding, sensible intuitions, and reason. O Shaughnessy argues in this context that in this act of perception, the world casts its shadow on the mind as nowhere else. This is an important point. Consciousness, it is being argued, has both extensional and intensional objects given to it in the stream of experience:

“This experiential consciousness is not something behind closed doors as it were, a pure representation of lies beyond. Thanks to the phenomenon of perception. essentially extensional consciousness of concretely and pre-interpretationally given mental objects are there from the start(and to an abundant degree) side by side with purely interpetationally essentially mental phenomena. In particular, the one other experience capable of discovering an extensional object in the concrete mode, namely the bodily will, cannot accomplish so much, seeing that there is no psychic “thing” that is the immediate object of the bodily will, which has instead a perceptually given bodily target-object(e.g. arm) and bodily goal event(arm movement) as its (diverse) immediate objects.”(p17)

This division between what is extensional and what is intentional in the stream of experience is important. Thinking intensionally puts us in a certain sense at a psychic distance from the world. It is pointed out in this context that the animal cannot think intensionally given the fact that it is tied to its environment and an extensional form of perceiving, in the way a goat is tied to a post.
It is clear that on this account the function of perception is cognition. The combination of the “I think” and the intuitive representation(to use Kantian terminology) involves conceptualization of the particulars of the visual field. This conceptualization rests upon knowledge of certain truths but conceptualization and a propositional understanding of reality should not be confused even if the one is a necessary condition of the other. Pre-propositional understanding and perception combine to produce an interpretational order that is constituted of a chain of phenomena before the physical object actualizes at its end.

“We desire to know” is one of the most important opening claims of Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”. In this work, he produces a classification system of 4 kinds of change, three principles, and four kinds of explanation that all together circumscribe the arena of knowledge. Knowledge, of course, is dispositional in contrast to the contents of consciousness that are occurrences or episodes. Knowings and reasonings can occur in the stream as the actualization of “knowledge” as can learnings, rememberings, believings, conceivings, feelings, emotings, perceivings, strivings. Conceivings and perceivings can combine to produce a knowing state. Imagine you witness the event of lightning striking a tree. On the above account, this is not one event in a complex self-conscious mind: the sight of the lightning striking the tree will be intimately related to the event of knowing that the lightning has struck the tree. This is because consciousness is truth-oriented. Here the insistence that “I know” is universal and would be valid for every normal witness of the event. Understanding will be involved in both the seeing and the knowing: in categorizing the lightning and the tree as well as the causal relationship between the two in a causal categorial judgment. There is nothing metaphorical or fictional about this judgment. One could, of course, take the lightning striking the tree as a symbolic or metaphorical manifestation of the anger of the gods and this indeed would be a kind of narratization of the kind Jaynes envisages. In terms of Aristotle’s theory, the Understanding and Reason will be involved in different ways depending upon whether the lightning destroys the tree or not. If destruction is the result we are dealing with a substantial kind of change: the destruction of an enduring form of life situated in space S at time T: there will be both material and efficient and perhaps also formal explanations of this change in our world.

This is the kind of account of consciousness we can expect from philosophy tied to the thread of tradition stretching back to Aristotle via Wittgenstein and Kant. This approach contests both the earlier dualistic and materialistic accounts that dominate our current thoughts. It is by no means complete however because what becomes apparent is that consciousness is not identical with the realm of the mind that is composed not just of those lower elements of physiological sensations which are best explained physiologically, and the intermediate realm of what O Shaughnessy refers to as “the psychological” realm, but also of a higher realm which for current purposes we can temporarily refer to as the realm of the “mental”. O Shaughnessy refers to it as the “mental- non-psychological”. This is the realm which is responsible for reasoning and explaining that appear to be more concerned with dispositions than occurrences( or what Gilbert Ryle in his work “The Concept of Mind” refers to as “episodes”). In this context of exploring the realm of the mind from its sensory base up to its intellectual apex of intellectual dispositions, we should return to the Kantian cognitive triangle mentioned earlier.

Perhaps the term “Power” used in relation to the term “agency” might be another interesting perspective the issues involved here. P. M. S. Hacker is understandably impatient with the term”consciousness” which he traces back to the modernist revolution that began with Descartes:

“The essence of the mind, Descartes argued, is thought: but he extended the concept of thought to include sensations felt(as if in parts of the body) perceptions(understood as seeming to see,hear, smell etc) mental images, cognitive and conative functions such as thinking(as normally understood) understanding, judging and believing(which he conceived of as acts of the will, not of the intellect) as well as feeling, emotions and desire. Thought included “everything which we are aware as happening within us insofar as we have awareness of it”. Hence thinking is to be identified here not merely with understanding, willing, imaging but also with sensory awareness. Thought was therefore defined in terms of consciousness and consciousness was assimilated to self-consciousness misconceived–that is, as that of which we are immediately aware within us”(Human Nature: The Categorical Framework, p242)

Hacker is not impressed with the French Cartesian revolution. He continues thus:

“This conception of consciousness is like a virus. It is with us today in mutated forms infecting current “consciousness studies” that bedevil the thought of philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive neuroscientists….But consciousness correctly conceived is no more a mystery than attention, of which perceptual transitive consciousness is a form. It is at root a biological phenomenon, and the corollary of sentient life”(p244)

Hacker’s account of thought is in terms of powers which being Aristotelian and Wittgensteinian, he does not hesitate to trace back to the power of language. He works with the Aristotelian definition of man’s human nature as being a rational animal capable of discourse and has this to say on the powers of animals compared to humans:

“Human beings are substances of a certain type(the concept of a human being is a substance concept)- an evolutionary offshoot of the anthropoid apes, whose upright posture and consequent laryngeal changes made articulate vocalization possible. The human species has not only a distinctive appearance and anatomy, posture and mode of locomotion but also a unique form of life. Our rational powers endow us with a horizon of possibilities of action, thought and feeling vastly more extensive than anything accessible to other animals. Our ability to reason enlarges the possibility of knowledge and enables us to strive for theoretical understanding. It has made possible the benefits and evils of science and technology. Our ability to act for reasons makes us uniquely answerable for our deeds. We alone in the animal kingdom have knowledge of good and evil, have a conscience and are susceptible to feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse for our wrongdoing. It is no coincidence that only human beings can be said to have a soul, for to the soul belongs moral sensibility, the commitment to righteousness and moral goodness, as well as the darkness that besets those that have lost their way. All but the lowest forms of animal life are conscious. It was a far-reaching Cartesian confusion to identify the human mind with the domain of consciousness. Animals undergo periods of sleep or unconsciousness and duly awaken and regain consciousness. Their attention is caught and held by objects and events in their environment, and it is of these that they become, and then are, conscious. They enjoy or suffer various states of consciousness such as feeling contentment, hunger thirst, and pain. But only human beings are self-conscious. We can reflect on what we are doing or undergoing, on our reasons for thinking acting or feeling, on our motives and motivations, on our likes and dislikes, on our character traits and relations to our fellow human beings….(animals) can intelligibly be said to think only what they can express in their behaviour. The horizon of human thought is far wider. We can think of specifically dated events of the distant past and remote future. We can think general thoughts, discover and reflect on sempiternal laws of nature, and understand and come to know the timeless truths of arithmetic, geometry, and logic. We are blessed and cursed with the ability to think of how things might have been, and with the ability to imagine countless possibilities–an ability that lies at the heart of our storytelling, and, more generally, of art. For, again, we are unique in nature in possessing an imagination which also makes possible artistic creativity and aesthetic appreciation… Human beings have and can know a history..they can be said and to be able to tell, an “autobiography”…Only human beings are aware of their mortality, can be occupied or preoccupied with their death and the dead. We are unique among animals in being able to strive to understand our lives and the place of death in life. So we are uniquely God-creating, myth-generating creatures–making the gods in our image initially to explain the phenomena of nature and appease the forces of nature, later to make moral sense of our lives and fortunes by holding out vain hopes (and unwarranted threats) of a life after death. Whence these unique powers?…it is part of our nature to be born with the ability to speak a language. From this, from our animal nature coupled to a mastery of language, all else flows. We are language-using animals.”

This is the statement of a philosopher who philosophizes in accordance with a tapestry woven of what I have called “the thread of tradition”. It weaves the truths of William James, the Continental philosophers, Harari, Julian Jaynes, and O Shaughnessy into the tapestry, thus forming a picture of the mind that realizes the philosophical intentions of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein.

What needs to be done philosophically is the work of establishing which powers build upon or are integrated with other powers. Does, for example, the faculty of the imagination belong to the sensible aspect of our minds or is it a part of our understanding? How does language relate to perception and to thought? How does language relate to consciousness? Are there levels of consciousness?

Until all the above conceptual confusions and fallacies are avoided and the above questions are answered we will not have a clear idea of what constitutes the cognitive domain of man’s mind and the role that consciousness plays in this domain. We do, however, have a good idea, thanks to the thread of tradition leading back to Aristotle’s Philosophical Psychology.

The History of Psychology and the History of Consciousness: Introduction to criticism and commentary of Harari’s “Homo Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”: Part Two( Kant and Twentieth-Century Continental Philosophy).

Hits: 87

The previous excursion into the territory of William James’s “Principles of Psychology” in part one demonstrated that the combination of concerns for retaining a commitment to a modern view of science together with a commitment to retain the concept of “consciousness” did not succeed in either satisfying the philosophers demand to understand the intentions and point of the new discipline of Psychology, or in satisfying the expectations of the breakaway pioneers to advance the state of knowledge with respect to human beings. James was criticized by philosophers from many different schools especially the followers of Aristotle and Kant but in fact, the most severe criticism of James’s position came from within the ranks of the pioneers of the new movement. It was believed that retention of the concept of “consciousness” resulted in insufficient attention being paid to what can be observed and measured. James’s physiological and biological reflections tempted many in an act of counter-revolution to follow the path of Pavlov in his attempt to manipulate stimuli and responses. Many who followed this path including John Watson even went so far as to deny the existence of the concept of consciousness on the grounds that it cannot be observed. Consciousness was, they argued, a so-called epiphenomenon like the sound of a harp which issues from its vibrating strings, contributing absolutely nothing to the rate of vibration of the strings. Scientists should ignore the aesthetic impression of the harmonious sounds of the instrument and pay exclusive attention to the variables of the cause of the vibrations and the frequency of the vibrations. The music of the soul was not for these pioneers who meant business with their new subject. This state of affairs reflected a growing sense of dissatisfaction with “modern” philosophy which is shared by the author of “Homo Sapiens: a brief history of mankind” and Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow”. Philosophers of classical persuasion, observing this phenomenon of obsession with physical nature were amazed at the myopia of a method that sought to analyze human life into the variables of stimulus and response. What was on the minds of these philosophers? They were certainly not impressed with the methods of the new pioneers but what did they think about the task of advancing knowledge of the human being? In answer to this let us briefly review the last great Philosophical attempt to provide us with knowledge of the human being before “modern philosophy” (in the form of Descartes and Hobbes and their followers) eroded the gains in the form of the knowledge we experienced from Aristotle and the Enlightenment.

Immanuel Kant was the most influential Enlightenment philosopher and his work “Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view” helped to separate a particular concern for the human being from more general epistemological and metaphysical interests whilst at the same time retaining a connection to the major principles and laws of these more general areas of reflection. When we look at the reflections of William James and the writings of the physiological and biologically oriented behaviourists we can note the presence and concern with the idea of the cognitive in the former and the absence of this concern in the latter counter-revolutionaries. Let us, therefore, ask what Kant meant by the term “cognitive”. What he meant can be pictured as a triangle of the powers of the human mind, with the apex of the triangle representing the theoretical operation of reason in its search for complete explanation in terms of the principles of non contradiction and sufficient reason and immediately below that the practical operation of reason that is involved in two kinds of tasks: firstly the performance of instrumental tasks(where means to ends are calculated) and secondly the selection of final ends in accordance with the universal law of the categorical imperative. The next level is that of the categories of the understanding which provide guidance for the operation of judgment at the base of the triangle. This base borders the more sensible aspects of the mind which house sensations, imagination, and the intuitions of space and time. The faculty of Reason, of course, is integrated with the categories of the understanding which many philosophers have likened unto a system of rules. Insofar as these rules belong both to the theoretical and the practical sphere they can be separated. Theoretical rules combine and separate concepts in order to generate the truth-value of our statements. Practical rules are used by the understanding to regulate action(both the means to ends and the ends themselves). When all these powers of the mind or “faculties” as Kant called them, were being used optimally we then encounter the Enlightenment ideal of the citizen of a cosmopolitan world which the species of man is in the process of striving to achieve.The higher cognitive faculties were, then, theoretical and practical reason, theoretical and practical understanding and judgment whose major task in relation to reality was to subsume the particulars we encounter under more general ideas or concepts. The lower faculties were those that were on the border with judgment and which were used in relation to the pre-conceptual organization of our sensory encounters with the world or ourselves, namely the work of the attention and the imagination and the intuitions of space and time in our organizations of these sensations. Kant specifically talks about the operation of this lower faculty in similar terms to Aristotle when he states that representations of sensations are created by the faculty of attention and imagination to produce intuitions which are then subjected to a process of abstraction that attempts to obtain common elements in order to form a concept(a rule for the combination of representations). This, in its turn, is organized by a reflective faculty which then combines or separates these concepts for the purposes of producing a cognition of the state of affairs represented(a synthesis which Heidegger called the truth making or veritative synthesis). The question relating to the role of consciousness in the aforementioned operations is a difficult one. James, when he talks about language and the perching and resting places of a narrative of sentences is perhaps thinking about a fictional or descriptive narrative when he says that sensorial imaginings supervene at the full stop. Fictional and descriptive narratives do not have universal intent aiming at truth and knowledge but are rather particular descriptions about particular states of affairs that might either be actual but also might be purely fictional and imagined. Consciousness is certainly involved in these sensorial imaginings but it is also involved in the formation of truths as O´ Shaughnessy points out in his work “Consciousness and the World”. The difference between the two forms of consciousness here is probably the differences between its operation in the lower and higher cognitive faculties respectively. Another example of the workings of consciousness in the higher faculties was actually given in James’s account when he talked about the attempt of an agent to find the right conception for their action. It was not entirely clear exactly what he meant by “conception” here, however. A more complex example can be found in the work of Kant who in his work discusses how the search for the reason for an action is a search not just for the truth of such a statement about the reason for the action but also a search for what is good or valuable about actions that have universal intent.Consciousness is a peripheral term in Kant’s thought but we can find this passage in his Anthropology:

“Experience is empirical cognition, but cognition(since it rests on judgments requires reflection(reflexio) and consequently consciousness of activity in combining the manifold of ideas according to a rule of the unity of the manifold: that is, it requires concepts and thought in general(as distinct from intuition). Thus consciousness is divided into discursive consciousness(which as logical consciousness must lead the way since it gives the rule)and intuitive consciousness.”(p32)

Here Kant is drawing attention to a distinction (not found in James) between “I” as a thinking being and “I” as a sensing being. In the latter, I cognize myself only as I appear to myself in intuition(in time) without any concept involved. In this realm, we find my sensations and their causes and consequences. Narratives, fictional and factual, are the means in the language we have to represent these types of states of affairs. In the former, I cognize myself objectively as I am(in truth) in my essence. This is the “I” that thinks and the importance of the higher cognitive faculty is clearly seen in Kant’s insistence that the “I think” accompanies all my representations, indicating the superior power of thought to organize sensations over, for example, the imagination which would clearly be involved in fictional and descriptive narratives. In the higher cognitive faculty, understanding and reason seek not a description but an explanation, the concern of all “philosophical” science.

There is involved in the above account a major distinction between sensation and concept which is sometimes clear and sometimes obscure in James’ reflections. In Harari we also see this confusion between the operation of cognition in the higher and lower cognitive faculties. This is especially prominent in his reflections on the role of imagination and its imagined role in the formation of human rights, scientific theorizing etc. This distinction between the sensation as something which happens to us and the concept which is something that we actively create is used in O´Shaughnessy’s work “The Will: a dual aspect theory”. In this work, the author claims an ontological distinction between the active parts of our mind connected to our wills where I consciously decide to do something and the parts of my mind in which sensations “passively” happen to me. This is in accordance with Kantian Philosophical Psychology as represented by the cognitive triangle above.

The followers of Aristotle and Kant have throughout the ages carried on with their slow painstaking work to create, maintain, and preserve the integrity of an abstract form of theorising in the face of first, the onslaught of Christianity to return to more concrete forms of reflection and then secondly the Philosophies of Descartes and Hobbes and their followers who also wished for a return to more concrete forms of experience. In part one we saw how psychology and the work of William James reflected this yearning for a return to the tribunal of experience to settle abstract philosophical issues.

On the continent of Europe this populistic movement made itself felt in Philosophy in the works of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty who in the name of Philosophy revolted against the tendency of Science to reduce experience to elements these philosophers regarded as products of methodology and theory, products that ignored the principles of the mind or consciousness.

In an essay entitled “Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man”, Merleau-Ponty refers to Husserl’s claim that the sciences were in crisis at the beginning of the twentieth century. He notes that Husserl had pointed out that Psychology, Sociology, and History were all distorting their missions by invoking external causes in order to explain the nature of phenomena that, in contrast, needed explanation in terms of intention and meaning. As a consequence, it was maintained, the sciences of man were fragmenting into their own respective territories of psychologism, sociologism and historicism. Husserl, Merleau-Ponty claims:

“saw that these different disciplines had entered into a permanent state of crisis which would never be overcome unless one could show by a new account of their mutual relations and their methods of knowing, not only how each alone might be possible but how all three might exist together. It must be shown that science is possible, that the sciences of man are possible, and that philosophy is possible.”(“Phenomenology, Language, and Sociology”, p228)

Husserl, in a sense, was merely giving voice to the classical Kantian view that explanation in terms of appearances and their external causes were only one kind of legitimate explanation. In spite of its legitimacy, this kind of explanation was insufficient to explain the wider world of intention and meaning that inhabited our experiences of phenomena. Husserl was, of course, a “modern” Philosopher, critical of Kant and all rationalists who wished to maintain with Aristotle that man was essentially a rational animal capable of discourse. His complaint was mainly that these rationalists were guilty of what he called logicism when they invoked the principle of non-contradiction and sufficient reason to explain phenomena. We know that both Kant and Aristotle shared the conviction that theoretical reason and its “logic” was the highest form of explanation governing even practical reason and the ethical virtues amongst which one could find the virtue of a lawmaker formulating and passing laws with universal intent. For Kant however, his categorical imperative also had a universal intent and it together with these laws of the law-maker would ensure a progress of mankind to a kingdom of ends in which men would be cosmopolitan citizens treating each other with the respect each deserved. The reasoning involved when they did so would obey the principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason. Husserl called this logicism but beyond that accusation and the claim that neither Aristotle nor Kant could give sufficient accounts of the essence of phenomena we do not have details of his motivations for breaking with traditional rationalism.

It is clear, however, that he felt that his response to the crisis in the European Sciences required a rejection of Kant and development of a “method” to supplant the scientific method. This method would allow psychology and the other sciences to continue their inductively based observationalist activity of collecting the facts. The method would navigate a course between psychologism and logicism. Merleau-Ponty describes Husserlian Phenomenology in the following way:

“A phenomenology, therefore, has a double purpose. It will gather together all the concrete experiences of man that are found in history–not only those of knowledge but also those of life and civilization. But at the same time it must discover in this unrolling of facts, a spontaneous order, a meaning, an intrinsic truth, an orientation of such a kind that the different events do not appear as a mere succession. For a conception of this kind comes to the spirit only by “the spirit of the phenomenon”–that is, the visible spirit before us, not just the internal spirit which we grasp by reflection or by the cogito. This spirit is not only in us but spread far and wide in the events of history and in the human milieu.”(p236)

We see here a manifestation of James’s spirit, a desire to return to attempting to understand life and civilization by the easy route of examining our experience, its phenomena, and conditions. For Husserl and Merleau-Ponty we need an account of the lifeworld before we explore the higher world of cognitive rationality that might not, according to them, even exist in any significant sense. Merleau-Ponty’s view of Phenomenology is given in his work “The Phenomenology of Perception”:

“What is Phenomenology?….It is the search for a philosophy which shall be a “rigorous science”, but it also offers an account of space, time, and the world as we “live” them. It tries to give a direct description of our experience as it is, without taking account of its psychological origin and the causal explanations which the scientist, the historian or the sociologist may be able to provide…It is a matter of describing, not of explaining or analyzing. Husserl’s first directive to phenomenology, in its early stages, to be a “descriptive psychology”, or to return to the “things themselves”, is from the start a foreswearing of science. I am not the outcome or the meeting point of numerous causal agencies which determine my bodily or psychological make-up. I cannot conceive myself as nothing but a bit of the world, a mere object of biological, psychological or sociological investigation. I cannot shut myself up in the realm of science. All my knowledge of the world, even my scientific knowledge, is gained from my own particular point of view, or from some experience of the world without which the symbols of science would be meaningless. The whole universe of science is built upon the world as directly experienced, and if we want to subject science itself to rigorous scrutiny and arrive at a precise assessment of its meaning and scope, we must begin by reawakening the basic experience of the world of which science is the second order expression… I am not a “living creature” nor even a “man”, nor even a “consciousness” endowed with all the characteristics which zoology, social anatomy or inductive psychology recognize in these various products of the natural or historical process–I am the absolute source, my existence does not stem from my antecedents, from my physical and social environment: instead it moves out towards them and sustains them….Scientific points of view, according to which my existence is a moment of the world’s, are always both naive and at the same time dishonest, because they take for granted, without explicitly mentioning it, the other point of view, namely that of consciousness, through which from the outset a world forms itself around me and begins to exist for me.”(Phenomenology of Perception, Preface vii-ix)

Here we have all bets placed on consciousness and the method of phenomenology and it was a counter-revolution to what Harari called the scientific revolution that itself was rooted in a much earlier cognitive revolution that began with the dawn of consciousness around 1200 bc(not as Harari claims ca 70,000 years ago). This cognitive revolution in turn gave rise to the Philosophical Psychology of Aristotle and the conception of man as a rational animal capable of discourse. Aristotle’s conception of the first principles of Philosophy acknowledged the importance of all kinds of explanation: logical, conceptual and causal. The method and “discoveries” of phenomenology mean however to disavow such origins and even mean to disavow the relevance of the Kantian evolution of Aristotle’s position. Given the fact that Psychology had in its reaction to William James and his followers evolved into behaviourism, phenomenology was a worthy adversary to the position that denied even the existence of consciousness. Consider this description of reflex behaviour from Merleau-Ponty in his work “The Structure of Behaviour”:

“If I am in a dark room and a luminous spot appears on the wall and moves along it, I would say that it has “attracted” my attention, that I have turned my eyes “toward” it and that in all its movements it “pulls” my regard along with it. Grasped from the inside, my behaviour appears as directed, as gifted with an intention and a meaning. Science seems to demand that we reject these characteristics as appearances under which a reality of another kind must be discovered. It will be said that seen light is “only in us”. It covers a vibratory movement, which movement is never given to consciousness. Let us call qualitative appearance, “phenomenal light”: the vibratory movement, “real light”. Since the real light is never perceived, it could not present itself as a goal toward which my behaviour is directed. It can only be conceptualized as a cause which acts on my organism.”(p7)

This invocation of Aristotelian teleology to prove the limitations of behaviourist description and explanation is somewhat ironic resting as it does on a kind of rationality which phenomenology must reject given its criticism of logicism. The reference, however, to intention and meaning in the above account is what is truly revolutionary. In the scientific view of consciousness, there is always the risk of dividing holistically experienced phenomena into cause and effect thus creating the impossibility of unification: cause and effect are logically and conceptually independent of each other. The concepts of intention and meaning refuse such a division of holistic phenomena into its “atoms” but there may nevertheless be a division of a different kind.

Merleau-Ponty refers in the passage about Husserl quoted above to “intrinsic truth”. This truth is rooted in conceptual meaning yet it is also rooted in the lived facts of the situation and these together are what make possible the idea of consciousness we encounter here. Experiencing the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven is not just experiencing a collection of facts but rather the experience of an essence or universal meaning. Consciousness is capable of experiencing these essences, the essences of intentional objects, it is asserted. The subject possessing this consciousness is situated in the world with its stimuli and causes but it also thinks this world and in this sense transcends it, transforming the world into an intentional object. This has implications for Psychology:

“Consciousness is accessible only to intentional analysis and not to mere factual observation. The psychologist always tends to make consciousness into just such an object of observation…Psychology, like physics and the other sciences of nature, uses the method of induction which starts from the facts and assembles them. But it is very evident that this induction will remain blind if we do not know in some other way, and indeed from the inside of consciousness itself, what this induction is dealing with.”(Philosophy, Language and Sociology, p242)

This combination of induction with the reflective knowledge consciousness has of itself requires a phenomenological approach if the facts ascertained by the process of induction are to have meaning. Jean-Paul Sartre and Merleau-Ponty were friends and colleagues. Sartre was also influenced by the phenomenological tradition and used the method to analyze the phenomenon of the imagination which was emerging as a cognitive faculty of significance in the phenomenological account of man. (The imagination is also a faculty of significance in Harari’s works). Sartre argues that all experimentation in relation to the power of imagination remains ambiguous whilst the search is directed toward the physical conditions which give rise to images in the mind–images that are regarded as schematic outlines accompanying our thought or carrying symbolic references to particular objects. Merleau-Ponty supports Sartre in this position and elaborates:

“All this is true but it does not enable us to understand what the image is, how it enters into relation with a thought that uses it and what the predominance of imaginary life means for a given subject…What does an act of imagining mean in the life of man?”( Phenomenology, Language and Sociology. p243-4)

We should recall the reflections of James in this context and his reference to the fact that images are of absent objects and also his insistence that this picturing of absent objects is an activity of consciousness. Merleau-Ponty refers to Alain’s observation that we cannot count the pillars of the Pantheon when we imagine it. This of course helps us to distinguish this form of consciousness from the perceptual form in which counting the pillars would be possible but it does not reveal its essence. Sartre in the first part of his work on the “Psychology of the Imagination” claims that imagining is an operation of consciousness which pretends to itself that the object imagined is present. He also claims that his definition means that the conscious subject is involved with nothingness: it is consciousness in the face of nothingness that arises because man is a questioning being, questioning for example whether Pierre is in the café when he is not. This, according to Merleau-Ponty is a phenomenological analysis and it is this type of reflection that should be used to understand the meaning of experimentation in this realm.

Sartre also relates the imagination to desire. On page 141 of the “Psychology of the Imagination” he claims:

“”The act of imagination is a magical one. It is an incantation destined to produce an object of thought, the thing one desires, in such a way that one can take possession of it.”

Here it appears as if the act is connected to a wish fulfilment that has no connection with the kind of perceptual contact we have with an object that can result in investigations into the number of columns the Pantheon has, to take an example. The type of reaction to the image is the type of reaction connected to a wish rather than the type of reaction to reality involved in the perception of objects like the Pantheon. Freud clearly situated the wish in the realm of the pleasure-pain principle that regulated the play of sensations in consciousness and the eventual fate of these sensations, if accompanied by too much pleasure or too much pain. Freud charted the course of a patients fantasies and dreams using this principle, which, in relation to our cognitive triangle fell outside the scope of those powers that functioned in accordance with what he called the reality principle, the true concern of consciousness and the method of psychoanalysis. The problem that many of the patients of Freud faced was that the power of their imagination usurped the place of the power of their understanding and reason–the bearers of the reality principle–thus disturbing the balance of their minds.

It is perhaps important to point out at this stage of the argument that Aristotelian Philosophical Psychology and the Kantian cognitive triangle would not deny all the descriptions of phenomenology or psychoanalysis. The mind has depths that classical and Kantian theories did not concern themselves with. The distinction they would have insisted had paramount importance in Psychology, however, is between what happens to the mind and what the mind does in a free and spontaneous active mode or operation. Both Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis earned the admiration of followers of the classical and Kantian traditions because it broke the stranglehold that science had taken on the humanistic subjects, fragmenting them into a plethora of strictly compartmented disciplines each with its own special interest to be defended in the marketplace of the sciences. This can be seen in the work of Sartre who tries to integrate phenomena that are drifting apart in the scientific environment. After suggesting a relation between imagination and emotion, Sartre then presents a phenomenological investigation of Emotion in his work “Sketch for a theory of the emotions”. This analysis is important Sartre argues because the inductive approach of science reveals two separate realms of facts: so-called “corporeal manifestations” and “representations” and concentrating on either of these two sets of facts merely results in removing us from the phenomena of emotion as we “live” them. He criticizes James’ theory of the emotions when it appears to argue that my joy as a state of consciousness is nothing but the consciousness of physiological or corporeal manifestations. In arriving at such a position James is guilty, Sartre argues, of leaving the psyche out of the study of psychology. Also, he argues, since these physiological events in virtue of being physical, are unconscious, this calls into question whether James has assumed the concept of consciousness in his theory without fully motivating it theoretically. Sartre, in this work, praises psychoanalysis and draws attention to the fact that:

“psychoanalysis was the first to lay emphasis upon the significance of psychic facts: that is, it was the first to insist upon the fact that every state of consciousness stands for something other than itself.”(p50)

Phenomenological eidetic reflection shares this fundamental insight and asks of the phenomenon of emotion, for example, “What is its meaning?”. Merleau-Ponty supports the Sartrean project thus:

“One will understand emotion as a total act of consciousness, as a mode of our relation to the entire world, and one will seek to determine its sense. In earlier times psychology noted vaguely that emotion was both a “psychic” and a “physical” state and sought to determine which was the cause of the other. Phenomenology will remain neutral before this issue, and without assuming that emotion is either psychical or physical will simply ask what emotion means and toward what is it tending?”(Phenomenology, Language and Sociology”(p245)

Sartre elaborates upon his analysis and claims that emotion, insofar as we regard it as a way of responding to the world, is connected to the imagination and the wish and ignores causal relations embedded in reality, preferring instead to magically transform its world into something it wishes it to be.
Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty would have felt sympathetic to Husserl’s resolution of the problem of the relation of Phenomenology to Psychology. Husserl claims that the relation is that of form to content and whilst Psychology might provide us with a myriad of facts about the space of the world we live in, we must turn to phenomenology to find the answer to a question such as “What is space?”Phenomenology will provide us with essences–the universal nature of the phenomena it investigates. In this context, Husserl provides us with a number of insights on the relations between induction, imagination and scientific activity. Merleau-Ponty summarizes the matter thus:

“We must here recall the profound remarks of Husserl on induction in general. These were basically opposed to the theory of induction which held sway at the end of the 19th century, essentially that of Mill. According to this theory induction is a process by which, in considering a group of facts, we discover a common character and set it apart by abstraction, regarding it as essential to the group of facts from which we started. Or again, induction is an operation which enables us to find the cause of a phenomenon among its various antecedents by discarding those which are neither constant nor unconditioned. According Husserl induction is not and never has been this.”(Phenomenology, Language and Sociology, p252)

What then is induction and how is it related to the imagination? Galileo, Husserl maintains did not engage in this process of abstracting from a number of examples but instead imagined a concept of the fall of bodies that in fact guided his experimentation–a conception which, Husserl claims, has not been abstracted from the facts. He notes that the empirical facts do not support the concept and introduces additional conditions such as friction and resistance to explain the difference between the facts and the imagined concept. It is via this process of imagination that scientists read off the essence of phenomena. Husserl also invokes the single experiment of Davy that established the existence of potassium to prove induction is not a collection of a vast number of cases, but rather a method for applying a group of concepts imagined and real to the relevant phenomena. This account also fits the way Newton arrived at the law of gravitation in his theory, bringing together such diverse facts as the orbiting of heavenly bodies around larger bodies and the apple falling from the tree to the earth. Newton was certainly attempting to find the essence of gravitation. Husserl claims, in relation to examples such as these, that the intuition of essences is based not just on the facts but on what he calls the “free variation” of certain facts. This occurs by imagining a phenomenon and then in or with our imaginations trying to imagine all possible modifications of the phenomenon. Whatever remains constant or endures through these changes is the essence of the phenomenon. Here the individual “fact” is considered “hypothetically” and not “grasped as a reality”, whatever this may mean. Husserl may here be confusing a fact which is a true belief about a state of affairs with a state of affairs that indeed can be imagined to vary by imagining a variation of causes or conditions. A state of affairs is real and a fact is conceptual: it is a relation of a number of concepts in a statement which refers to a state of affairs or a number of states of affairs. A state of affairs is made up of actual things or objects in relation to each other.

So, the idea of an imaginary variation of the facts can only mean imagining the facts not to be true but this by definition of what a fact is is not possible. In addition, some essences are facts which are necessarily true and it must follow that such an imaginary negation of the fact or facts cannot possibly reveal the essence of a thing. Now some scientists like Harari also believe that the imagination can do what is logically impossible and “vary the facts” and this attitude is probably inspired by Phenomenology that in its attempt to alleviate the crisis of the European sciences merely added yet another problematic dimension to this sorrow-laden state of affairs. Other scientists inspired by perhaps a combination of phenomenology and quantum physics will deny that their theories carry truths about the states of affairs they are investigating. These scientists claim to be providing “models” of reality which will inevitably be replaced by other better “models that will function more pragmatically insofar as evaluating and conducting experiments is concerned. Many phenomenologists and traditional followers of Aristotle and Kant have complained about this scientific obsession with methodology and Husserl would no doubt have been surprised to learn that his theorizing actually reinforced the aforementioned form of pragmatic functionalism. For the followers of Aristotle and Kant, this was not a surprising result considering the lack of concern with the traditional cognitive triangle we referred to earlier.

Merleau-Ponty initially appears to differentiate himself from both Husserl and Sartre by introducing a study of speech in his phenomenological investigations. he notes, rather ironically in the present context, that the patient suffering from aphasia has:

“lost the general ability to subsume a sensory given under a category, that he has lapsed from the categorical to the concrete attitude.”

An interesting diagnosis by a phenomenologist whom the traditional philosopher believes is guilty of the same “lapse”. The phenomenologist has flattened our cognitive traditional cognitive triangle of the powers of the mind in its retreat from the so-called abstract theory of knowledge to the more modern concrete imaginative attitude. This criticism should be borne in mind when are asked to evaluate Merleau-Ponty’s attempt to “reduce” language to the user of a language in a speech situation expressing himself. This of course is according to Merleau-Ponty a far better method than an observationalist third-person account of phenomena which has ignored the life-world aspect involved in the operation of the powers of perception, emotion and the imagination. Husserl and Merleau-Ponty are striving to provide arguments against the learned observers view of language embedded in a linguistic past that made language possible and both philosophers are instead striving to provide arguments for a speaking subject oriented toward the future and the task of communicating some kind of message which, according to this theory, has no relation to the truth. It is rightly pointed out that the speaker cannot relate to the language they are speaking as they would to an object, and yet their words relate in some manner to reality. Phenomenology cannot explain how this phenomenon of a speaker speaking relates to what we know, namely, that we understand another person by understanding the truth of what they say. Understanding of course comes from the higher regions of the cognitive triangle that the phenomenologists reject and it is these regions of the triangle which are needed to explain the truth function of language or thought.

All attempts to concretise the operations of consciousness appear to do so at the expense of its relation to the world , at the expense of its true thought about the world. Analytical Philosophy with its early commitment to the methodology and assumptions of science also initially had a problematic relation to language and consciousness but that early tendency was neutralized by the recantation by Wittgenstein of his earlier work and the “turn” his philosophizing took when he returned to more traditional philosophical investigations of these areas. In part three we will attempt to provide an analysis of the concept of consciousness from the perspective of Analytical philosophy.

Seventh Centrepiece lecture by Jude Sutton, from “The World Explored, the World Suffered: The Exeter Lectures”

Hits: 109

Jude walked into the lecture room with Harry and Glynn who had requested to be present earlier in the week. Surprisingly Jude felt more comfortable knowing that they would be there. Harry and Glynn sat with Robert and Sophia:
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to today’s lecture which will be about Philosophy and the Human Sciences. One of my theses today is going to be that Philosophy is not itself a human or social science but that philosophical reasoning and understanding is needed if we are to characterize the kind of knowledge involved in the understanding of judgments in the arena of human science. I want to begin with some brief remarks about what Philosophy is not. It is not what Locke referred to as an “under-laborer” or a “gardener” in the garden of knowledge attending to the different regions of the garden in accordance with different skills. Philosophy, ladies and gentlemen is about what is in the garden, and why it is there. Philosophy is logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and all five are concerned with man’s relation to reality. The under-laborer or gardener conception is confused: it identifies Philosophy with a method: the method, namely, of studying the statements made in the different regions of knowledge, trying to identify contradictions and then leaving the science in question to carry on doing whatever it is doing. Let me just say quickly in parenthesis that such a view in relation to education, namely that education was all about the methods of learning and teaching, would turn teacher training into a course for mechanics rather than a course for architects. One readily sees how the above reduction of Philosophy to Logic diminishes its role in the discussion of the nature of man’s relation to reality. The early Wittgenstein we spoke of in the beginning of this course, ladies and gentlemen, was guilty of such a conception. As we saw, he believed that Philosophy was the philosophy of language and that what we could sensibly say was determined by the language, of the individual and not the language of generations developed over time in many different communities. According to the Tractatus, Philosophy was not an autonomous discipline with anything to say about reality. It mysteriously was only able to show reality. Fortunately this conception was corrected by his later view that would revolutionize philosophy, get it out of the hole it had dug for itself. The human being of the Tractatus was a lonely language user, a linguistic solipsist. As we have pointed out in relation to his earlier view, all value and self- consciousness stood mysteriously outside of the world defined as the totality of facts. The unsurprising consequence of this was that nothing could be said about ethics, religion or society. In his work “Philosophical Investigations” he realizes that his earlier views were untenable and we get an account of language that is less metaphysically pretentious. Language is in its very essence social, determined by a history and community of language users. Yet in being social there is still a fundamental philosophical question haunting his discussion: the question namely of our understanding of reality and what difference this understanding makes to our lives. Wittgenstein has learned his lesson in the later work and there is no quick and easy answer to the question of the relation between language and reality. In a discussion about a triangle Wittgenstein discusses seeing firstly this part of the triangle as an apex and that as a base, and then subsequently, seeing different parts of the triangle as a base and as an apex. He asks what makes this seeing of aspects of a thing possible and gives himself the answer that the substratum of this experience involves the experiencer having mastered certain linguistic techniques in relation to the conceiving of triangles. He has, that is learned certain rules, and his experience of the world has changed as a consequence of this learning. Man, in Wittgenstein’s later work, has been transformed from a linguistic solipsist to a rule constitutor and follower in a community of language users who play language games determined by communally agreed upon rules. A number of followers of Wittgenstein’s earlier work rejected this view with the following thought experiment: surely, they argued, one could imagine someone growing up on a desert island and having had no contact with any society or language, deciding to invent a language of their own, and surely one could then also imagine a scientist arriving on the island and learning such a language by formulating hypotheses about the meaning of the sounds that are being uttered. That we can imagine such a state of affairs, it is claimed, means that it is possible for language to be invented or constructed by one individual linguistic solipsist. So language may not have a social essence after all, since saying something has an essence entails that if that essence is not present, the thing it is an essence of, also is logically impossible: for example if Socrates is essentially human and he loses his humanity because of damage to his brain, then Socrates as such no longer exists. We can see from this example that the agenda of understanding reality is vital to the activity of Philosophy. The 64,000 pound question here of course is whether knowledge and the reality knowledge is of, is a seamless robe or a coat of many colors. The jury is still out on that question but until it has fully considered its verdict Modern Philosophers subscribe to the following views: that the scientist seeks understanding of the aspect of reality he believes to be important: the artist, psychologist, theologian, social scientist, historian all seek understanding of the aspects of reality they are concerned about. If Aristotle is to be believed, there is a more natural divide of the kingdom of reality running between the theoretical, practical and productive sciences and Kant’s more transcendental view is that the divide runs between theoretical reason, practical reason and judgment. But I digress: to return to the plot, we learn rules and play language games and are both constituters and participants in forms of life. You will not find reference to any of this in social science writers, some of which are dedicated followers of Durkheim who insist that the insider view of participants in a society will very likely not refer to or even understand the underlying causal mechanisms which are responsible for what we are conscious of or experience in our societies. Other sociologist’s also insist that sociology must disregard the cultural aims of the members of society and all agree that we must examine the manner in which individuals gather into groups independent of their subjective cultural aims. The philosopher’s role in this discussion is to ask, for example, whether it makes any sense to talk about the reasons why individuals gather together in communities independently of their experience or of the aims they are striving toward. The philosopher also would wish to ask metaphysical questions relating to the truth, especially if he were told of individuals and groups that are ruining their individual or collective lives by not acknowledging certain truths: for example truths such as that murdering Jews is wrong. There are great metaphysical and ethical truths about what we ought and ought not to do, both individually and collectively, and the sociologist can talk all he likes about the causes of the mass murder of the Jews, the truth of his scientific hypotheses about such a matter will never exceed the great metaphysical and ethical categorical imperative which says “never murder, whatever the causes”
“Except in wars, or if the circumstances make the deeds committed “killing” and not murder”, Sophia’s friend Valery commented
“Very good comment, my dear. My answer may seem surprising but goes back to Socrates and Jesus:” It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong”. Killing someone on that categorical imperative is wrong. War is a collective ethical mistake, according to this maxim of Socrates.”
The Science major, Mark Cavendish, interrupted:
“Come on! Surely if I am attacked and I kill someone in self- defense it cannot be said that I have done anything wrong!”
“And yet if you cannot prove in law that firstly, you did not intend to kill your attacker and secondly that the act which killed your attacker stands in proportion to the violence of the attack, you will be sentenced to prison for his slaughter. Of course killing in other circumstances “appears” to be legitimized in war situations but even here there are bans on killing civilians, killing children, enemies bearing white flags etc. Here we don’t refer to law but to conventions. Conscientious objectors do not invoke cowardice or fear as a ground for their objection but the Socratic imperative, and with all the courage of Socrates, I might add”
“But”, insisted Mark, “if everyone in Britain were conscientious objectors in the last war we would have been overrun and you would be lecturing in German!”
“Are you sure about that prediction? What strategic geo-political significance could there have been in occupying a little island that would have refused to cooperate with its invaders. As far as lecturing in German is concerned, this presupposes, in this imagined atmosphere of non-cooperation, that universities would have been open for normal business.
I have talked about the importance of rule following and in doing so have incorporated the social value of cooperation. According to Wittgenstein’s later conception of Philosophy, the approach to talking about value is by taking the route of meaning which is a broader notion involving truth in a complex relation which philosophers have no agreed upon formula for as yet. Peter Winch in his work “The Idea of a Social Science” which is one of the inspirational sources of today’s lecture, introduces the following thoughts:
“The notion of following a rule is logically inseparable from the notion of making a mistake. If it is possible to say of someone that he is following a rule that means that one can ask whether he is doing what he does correctly or not…the concept of a rule is that it should enable us to evaluate what is being done.”
Or in other words the concept of a rule establishes a standard similar to that of “Murder is wrong”. A practical mistake, seemingly contradicting the rule is best explained not by abandoning the rule but by judging, using the rule as a standard, that the behavior in question ought to have followed. Our evaluation resides in the ought-system of concepts: we say X ought to have followed the rule or it was wrong of X not to follow the rule.
Communication with language is a form of cooperation. We live in a realm of ideas or rather we live in different realms of ideas: scientific, religious, psychological, artistic, philosophical, economic, and political. Wittgenstein thought of these as forms of life, as fundamentally social, and suggested investigating these philosophically not by imposing a network of scientific concepts and “explanatory” theories upon the “data” of this human behavior, but rather by using the method Weber referred to as “interpretation” which involved understanding the meaning of the social phenomena we are investigating. Wilhelm Dilthey pointed out that the concept of “meaning” is a concept or category of thinking which is only relevant to the life-world and the historical world. The idea of “meaningful behavior” emerges as a non- observational concept, where observation means theoretically determined by scientific concepts and theories. “Meaningful in this context refers to the comprehension of certain concepts and ideas from within a form of life from a first person point of view. Weber, in giving his account of “meaningful behavior” uses two important concepts: “motive” which he defines as “a meaningful configuration of circumstances which appear to the agent or observer as a meaningful reason for their behavior” and “reason”. He points out that if an agent votes Labor and his “reason” for doing so is that he believes a Labor or socialist government will ensure the industrial peace which is needed for the prosperity of the country, then this of course is a meaningful socio-political act. Such an act logically implies that, if the agent does not have the concept of, or know what industrial peace means, or if he does not have a concept of the relation between his act and what the government he votes for will do when it comes to power, it cannot make sense to say that he voted in order to preserve industrial peace. The Freudians amongst us of course might want to insist that it is notoriously difficult to know the motive of anyone and whilst the agent might say that he voted for industrial peace, he might have voted against the conservatives for the reason that his hated father was a conservative politician and he did not wish to vote for his fathers’ party. It is important to see that this does not affect Weber’s point that there is a type of action that is meaningful because there is a reason for doing it. It might look as if the latter agent was in a sense not conscious of what he was doing and we need a “scientist” to settle the matter. Well, if that is the case it will need to be a scientist who “interprets” the meaningful behavior he sees and uses “verstehen”, or understanding, to bring about acknowledgment of the real meaning of the behavior by the agent who voted labor in order to avoid voting for his father’s political party. Furthermore it is important to realize that this latter “action” has taken place in a divided or dissociated consciousness and for this reason it probably deserves to be placed in a different category to that of the purposive-rational behavior of the agent who genuinely voted for the political party that would provide industrial peace. Perhaps the “dissociated action” will fall into Weber´s category of “expressive” behavior that could be reserved for those agents, whose social capacities have been for various reasons disturbed. In the case of purposive rational action it is important to acknowledge how important the knowledge of social institutions is in the decision to vote.
English Philosophy has been dogged for many centuries by naturalism, empiricism and positivism. The English tradition opposed the hermeneutic interpretative tradition of “verstehen” and instead supported naturalist explanations. One tradition recommends understanding from within and the other explanation from without. Hobbes, for example, thought that we could study behavior as we study the external natural world: by adopting an objective position outside the events to be studied. Hume thought we could separate reason from passion: in his account: reason obeys intellectual laws but yet also mysteriously obeys the commands of the passions. J S Mill believed that there was no such thing as the logic of the moral sciences or the Philosophy of social science since both of these were basically scientific forms of life in which the scientist ought to be observing regularities and conjuring up causal generalizations to explain these regularities. Mill believed that Laws of the minds of individuals, rather than physiological laws, are needed to explain the connection between motives and behavior and also explain why societies change. One of the great aims of the scientist is to be able to predict what is going to happen in the future given firstly, the laws of the universe and generalizations as he comprehends them, and secondly, a description of the current situation where all the particular facts about the situation have been collected by systematic observations. Mill acknowledges that explaining human behavior and social change is going to be much more complex than say explaining the behavior of the sea but he does not acknowledge there to be a logical difference. But leaving aside the concerns of the above British gentlemen for the moment we can say it is not, for example, possible to predict theoretically what a person will practically do, given certain antecedent conditions and theoretical laws of the mind. But if it is not, then the prediction made by scientific theories was a mistake, and the laws need revising or the observations need to be more meticulous. But the prediction might not have been a mistake. Someone asks me what I am intending to do this afternoon and I reply: “spend the afternoon reading in the library”. On the way to the library I get involved in a discussion with Dr. Samuels and we spend all afternoon discussing what I was going to research into at the library. Does it make sense to say that my “prediction”, if one can call it that, was “mistaken”? J L Austin points out that the practical logic of a mistake involves asking what was mistaken for what. I shot your donkey thinking it was mine: they resemble each other and one can easily see how the mistake could have been made. But in saying I was going to spend the afternoon in the library, what was mistaken for what? I had no idea I would chance to run into Dr. Samuels. Of course expressing intentions are not predictions because in our practical life it is the making of promises that more resemble predictions but only because of a practical moral commitment to the proposition “one ought to keep ones promises”. In this universe of discourse if I do not keep my promise it is not a mistake to make the promise, rather, the mistake is in the behavior that is judged to be in breach of a moral law. It is not the law which is evaluated, rather, the law is the source of the evaluation of the behavior.
Now Karl Marx was a sociologist and “political scientist” who did not flinch from making predictions. Capitalism would fail and world socialism would prevail until the state withered away. Well, as we speak capitalism appears to be thriving, and there are predictions abroad that socialism will fail. If that does happen will Marx have made a mistake? Will he have mistaken capitalism for socialism? If Marx did make a mistake it was perhaps not in making the specific predictions he made. But rather in thinking that any prediction at all was possible in the circumstances. In thinking, that is, that economic theory and structural institutions such as classes can determine the freedom of actors and states in real circumstances. He talked, if we recall, about two classes, one of which will take control of the economy by taking over the means of production and which will triumph because of this strategic advantage over an exploitative class which invests its capital: his was a purely economic model. The ancient Greeks, who believed that oeconomos was the practice of keeping order in one’s private household by saving money in good years to be able to continue to flourish in poor years, would have been amazed at Marx’s hubris in imagining that this kind of quantitative economic calculation could determinate the fate of civilizations. For the ancient Greeks, phronesis or practical wisdom of a political kind would have been far more important. Aristotle already in his own time realized that the battle between the rich and the poor was destroying the unity of the state and pointed to the operation of phronesis in the finding of a middle way between the extremes. In our times we may point to capitalism and socialism as being the extreme forms of political organization. According to Aristotle a middle class, in such an extreme situation, would emerge possessing phronesis. Now here is a prediction based on practical reasoning, If it is correct, we should in the future begin to see the continued emergence of this middle class and a resultant improvement in the state of the world. Kant of course believed in this type of progress of reason in the species but he believed the process would take one hundred thousand years and he made no reference to classes.
An Economics major raised their hand:
“Marx was also a historian and claims historical fact as evidence for his theories. Could it not be conceivable that one could use his method of dialectical materialism to postulate welfare liberalism as a synthesis of the thesis of capitalism and the antithesis of socialism?
“Excellent point. History, however, is not just a totality of the sum of historical facts. It requires interpretation and understanding of a kind that uses political and ethical concepts as well as perhaps economic”
“And why not religious concepts”, interrupted Glynn with a good natured laugh
“And why not “Anthropological” Harry added.
“Why not indeed” Jude responded. “There are only two lectures left in the series before the examination which will take the form of an essay and a viva voce for a selected few. The next lecture will follow up some of the themes discussed today. Its title will be “Political Philosophy and Education”. The last lecture will be entitled “The Arts and Education””.
The student common room was filled with students milling around in their blue tracksuits, waiting for their various practical lessons in physical education to begin. Jude, Robert wearing his track suit, Sophia, and the Philosophy students found a place to sit together. Mark Cavendish began the discussion:
“The behavior of rule following is connected with the behavior which is being judged by the agent concerned, but what about the rule? Can that be questioned and reflected upon?”
Jude responded
“It must be a given in the system. One cannot adopt the position of a user of the rules of chess whilst playing the game and simultaneously question the rules by moving in ways that break the rules. My moving my knight to checkmate the king is being guided by the rules of chess. Of course I might wonder why the game has to end so arbitrarily and imagine another game in which there were no rules governing “checkmate” but this would be a different game to chess, if indeed one thought that a game without an end was a game at all. If my opponent makes a mistake and carries on playing after I have checkmated his king, I do not celebrate his invention of a different game and join him in playing this game without an end. I correct his mistake by appealing to the rules concerning checkmate. Similarly, in mathematics we count in accordance with the rule n plus 1 and if we happen to skip a number we don’t let the mistake alter the formulation of the rule to n plus 2. We correct the mistaken behavior by appealing to the rule”.
A Mathematics major known to Sophia asked her:
“But then how do we submit the rule to philosophical reflection?” Surely critical reasoning goes all the way up in the system and does not stop at a particular level.”
Sophia looked around for assistance in answering the difficult challenge but Robert came tentatively to her rescue whilst looking to Jude for support
“We have had a similar discussion earlier but perhaps a more nuanced answer is possible now. I don’t know enough about mathematics to be certain of this but on what we have heard so far, Mathematics is a form of life with its own rules which allow game-like moves which are its calculations, to be made by the agents engaged in the form of life. These rules have been formed by the calculations and the point of the game, over a long period of time….”
Jude acknowledged that Robert was in difficulties, nodded in acknowledgment of Robert’s point, and continued.
“….by the dialectical process exploring extreme alternatives which have detracted from the point of the game. If the point of counting is more to do with the measurement of time than the quantification of a number of objects in our environment then n+1 rather than n+1/2 or n+2 would seem to have many advantages when using a clock for example to measure time. The Greek idea of 12 hours being one day then serves as a system or framework for the counting of units of time rather than the decimal based- system that of course allows calculations to be done more easily. With the introduction of the decimal-based system the point of mathematics becomes more complex and more capable of measuring a continuum by the division of numbers into decimals and those decimals into decimals. So if time is an actual continuum it becomes theoretically possible to chart continuous changes. In the old dozen -based system, the second was the resting point. Theoretically one could have divided it into 12 parts but this would not have been a manageable system. The reason that 12 was selected as an important unit had to do with the fact that light and day at the equator appeared to be equally distributed in 12 hour periods.”
An Economics major, threw up their hands in desperation:
“I don’t know, I cannot get the hang of this philosophy lark. It seems to fly in the face of the facts”
Which facts?” Jude asked
“The fact that we have a collision between capitalist and communist systems which will probably be decided by either military or economic means. The fact that economics, whether one likes it or not, rules. The reasoning process of politicians seem very clear to me money-in through taxation and money -out in accordance with some principle of distribution.”
“I do not think Philosophy has any interest in denying the facts if they are the facts, but it seems to me that there are ethical questions to be asked about the conflict between world powers and there are political/philosophical questions to be asked about the justice of any distribution principle. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether economics ought to rule, that is, whether economics has any mandate to rule over people’s lives” Jude replied.

The History of Psychology and the History of Consciousness: Introduction(part one) to criticism and commentary of Harari’s “Homo Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”

Hits: 95

Philosophical Psychology is the arena of focus of much of Harari’s account of the history and future of mankind and yet there is very little acknowledgement of the thought and theory of Philosophy in general and Philosophical Psychology, Ethics, Political Philosophy, and Aesthetics in particular. Harari argues for the Cognitive revolution of 70,000 BC being the decisive moment in the history of mankind insofar as the development of cognition is concerned and consciousness is an important concept to consider in this debate. The evidence for the cognitive revolution, the use of language for fictional purposes, is flimsy and is not supported by the existing evidence(archeological and literary) that would place both the use of fictional language and the advent of consciousness much later, to ca 1200 BC(Julian Jaynes’ dating). One explanation for this dating error may reside in the contours of the modern conceptions of Psychology and consciousness which only an excursion into the History of these interrelated concepts can illuminate.

The major question at issue when Psychology cut its umbilical cord to mother Philosophy in 1870 was, how to define its subject matter. Initially general consensus orbited around the claim that Psychology was “The science of consciousness”, up until the time that the difficulties of manipulating and measuring variables in experiments with human subjects became apparent. At this point two choices must have presented themselves to workers in this new field: either abandon the concept of consciousness on the grounds that it could not be measured or abandon the modern conception of science and scientific method.

Philosophical analysis of this situation, of the kind we are familiar with through the works of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein would have revealed that this seemingly dialectical choice was a false bipolarity. In all these three philosophical accounts, consciousness was not a spiritual phenomenon that could not be manipulated or measured, nor was it a nothing – a figment of the imagination. Aristotle,to take one example, did not speak explicitly of the idea of consciousness but the term might be in some sense operational in his investigation of the notion of the psuche: in his investigation into the life principle of the human form of life. Reifying consciousness into a thing or phenomenon that could be manipulated or measured would have been regarded by Aristotle as a form of logical mistake. The Aristotelian definition of the “science” of psuche was supported by investigations searching for explanations of his holistic idea of the human form of life. The kind of investigation we find in his work “Metaphysics” in which he classifies all change into four kinds of change, three principles of change and four “causes” (or explanations)of change, focuses upon the human form of life that these kinds of change, principles of change and causes of change are attempting to illuminate aspects of. One can perhaps anticipate from such a complex investigation that the type of knowledge being sought for in the work “De Anima” for example is very complex and the most difficult to acquire. This in turn suggests that the oracular challenge to “know thyself” is no easy task to accomplish and is further confirmed by the fact that in the Aristotelian structure of the Sciences, knowledge of the human form of life would be spread over all three Sciences: theoretical science, practical science and the productive sciences.

So, human life can be studied by the three sciences of Aristotle: Theoretical science which seeks knowledge of the conditions of our life: practical science which is about action and the telos of the good and the productive sciences whose concern is with the production of beautiful objects(some of which imitate reality) and useful objects such as houses beds and shoes. Christopher Shields in his work “Aristotle” reiterates what has been taken for granted by many other commentators, namely that the principles of the theoretical sciences(the principle of non contradiction and the principle of sufficient reason) underpin many of the discussions in both the Practical and Productive sciences.

The major feature of Aristotelian thought expresses the view that man is a questioning creature driven by the basic feeling of wonder at the fact that there is something rather than nothing. Aristotle, as we have claimed, does not use the term “consciousness” but if he were to, this might be its original point of insertion. That we experience something rather than nothing gives rise to two questions which his Metaphysics and other works attempt to answer, namely the question what that something is and the question why this something is as it is. This in turn gives rise to thinking which is a common inhabitant of the stream of experience that appears to contain both elements of sensible feeling such as sensations and elements of cognition such as concepts and judgements. This line of investigation in fact is reflected in contemporary philosophical psychological theories that maintain the mind is divided into two halves that are more or less integrated with each other , depending upon the complexity of the animal possessing it (O’ Shaughnessy “The Will”).

We desire to know, Aristotle argues in the Metaphysics and we aim at the good in all our activities he argues in the Nichomachean Ethics. Both works attest to this division of mind that we can also find in the work of Immanuel Kant, who sees reason to be operating in different ways in both spheres of the mind: the epistemological sphere and the conative sphere. In the epistemological sphere theoretical judgments are organised into a system of categories which in turn organise our concepts and intuitions and experiences in general: a system where justifications and explanations are given in terms of principles of theoretical reason(non contradiction, sufficient reason). In the conative sphere, practical reason organises the field of imperative judgements governing action into three categories: the categorical imperative, the instrumental imperative and the technical imperative: a system reminiscent of the Aristotelian account of judgements. O’ Shaughnessy argues in this context more empirically and neutrally in terms of the desiring half and the thinking half of the mind. The modern conception of science would of course refuse to regard Aristotle, Kant and O’Shaughnessy as scientists because of what is thought to be a lack of commitment to an observation based methodology and a lack of commitment to materialistic assumptions. It was these lack of commitments that in fact was the psychological inspiration for the cutting of the umbilical cord to mother Philosophy. This commitment to materialism and observation/measurement manifested itself when the infant redefined itself and rejected the definition of its subject matter in terms of “the science of consciousness” in favour of the definition “the Science of behaviour”. The reasoning was simple: one can only shake oneself free of the spiritual conception of the mind by returning to the perception and measurement of physical things. Systematic perception or observation became important for theory building. This reasoning of course removed concern for the mental life of human beings because I cannot observe such mental events only behaviour. If the sphere of “the mental” is not event- based but purely dispositional, this fact might explain the difficulty in observing what is mental. Thus was created the schism between mind and behaviour that Kant had seen in the empiricist philosophies of his time and which Wittgenstein was forced to bridge with his concept of “criteria”. For Wittgenstein criteria connected mental states(not dispositions) and processes with behaviour grammatically: resting his philosophical case on the logic of language.

For both Aristotle and Kant it was evident that wonder in the face of the starry heavens and the phenomena of life of all kinds including the human form of ethical life demanded explanations of the same logical kind: in terms which were in accordance with the principles of non contradiction and sufficient reason. Both philosophers, for example, would have claimed that one can indeed “perceive” or “observe” that someone is joyful or grieving” and for some actions such as a man diving into a river to save a drowning infant the goodness of such actions are “observable”. For many philosophers there is no schism between mind or consciousness and behaviour requiring a separation of the disciplines of Philosophy and Psychology. Dividing a whole into two elements, one of which is by definition inaccessible to observation would have been a methodological disaster for Aristotle, Kant and their followers.

Both Aristotle and Kant respected the integrity of experience and would have acknowledged the presence of a stream of experiences that could be more or less organised. Sensations from within the body and from the outside world draw attention to themselves and momentarily disappear unless as William James claims our theoretical, practical, emotional, or aesthetic interests focus the attention upon them turning them into substantive entities to be felt, talked about or reasoned about.

William James is an interesting figure to refer to in this context because his major work “The Principles of Psychology” was published in 1890, during the period in which the shift was occurring in Psychology from focusing on consciousness to focusing on behaviour.Consciousness was still the paramount concern and we can see in this work passing reference to Philosophers in a way that clearly manifests a waning of interest in their ideas and theories. He was attempting to defend the idea of consciousness whilst maintaining what he regarded as a “scientific” attitude toward the idea. As always in history it is interesting to speculate what might have happened if James instead of using the modern conception of science to defend the idea of consciousness attempted to develop the thought of Aristotle and Kant. If this counter-factual were true we may well have been presented with a very different discipline of Psychology to the one we are confronted with today, containing as it does what are regarded by philosophers many conceptual confusions and logical fallacies. Let us , however, examine this work of William James with a view to throwing more light on Harari’s concerns as well as for the purposes of supporting the truth of the above counterfactual.

William James defines Psychology as “The Science of mental life, both its phenomena and their conditions”:

“The phenomena are such things as we call feelings, desires, cognitions, reasonings, decisions and the like: and their variety and complexity is such as to leave a chaotic impression on the observer.”

Phenomena must be classified in accordance with our practical, emotional and aesthetic interests but there is very little recognition of the importance of our theoretical interests in the work. Indeed, there is, one might argue, also a lack of recognition of the “rational” contribution that Philosophy could make to the discipline of Psychology. James, in Hegelian fashion, instead refers dialectically to two different approaches that have attempted to understand the variety and complexity of phenomena he referred to above: the associationist approach and the spiritualistic approach.In the former, James argues, we discover mental “facts” as he calls them and we arrange these into a structure very much in the same way in which a builder arranges his bricks into the form of a house. In this approach the self or the soul emerges as a consequence or fact of the correct arrangement of the elements. The Spiritual approach, on the other hand, begins with the self or the soul and its faculties of memory, reasoning, volition, imagination, and appetite. James criticises both these approaches in an empirical spirit and does not acknowledge the conceptual difficulties involved. He wonders for example , in relation to the faculty or power of memory why, when we remember something like our university graduations, we remember this incident rather than that. He also asks why illness should weaken and diminish the power but fevers and asphixiation and excitement can actually result in a surprising emergence of memories long forgotten we previously had no access to.

It should be pointed out in this context that Aristotle would acknowledge an associationist inductivist phase of discovery in science where facts are accumulated, classified and sorted into categories and faculties that will each eventually reveal themselves to have conceptual definitions. These conceptual definitions will contain a form or principle relating to the phenomena related to this principle and also to the principles of other faculties. Moving to the conceptual level, however, indicates a shift of context from the scientific context of discovery to the so-called scientific context of explanation. The principles of the faculties will relate themselves holistically to the human form of life if it is human experience we are dealing with. The conceptual activity involved here will of course be in accordance with the principle of non contradiction and principle of sufficient reason. We should also point out here that a principle is not a phenomenon to be observed, spiritual or otherwise, nor is it a nothing that is embedded in the chaos of infinite change. The three principles of the Aristotelian Metaphysical theory of change are: that which a thing changes from, that which a thing changes to and the enduring entity which remains the same throughout the change. These three principles together with the 4 causes or kinds of explanations and the classification of the kinds of change will explain why my various interests determine what I remember from my graduation day. The material and efficient “causes” of Aristotle’s account will explain why I remember or fail to remember certain particular things. James also asks why as we age the mind is more inclined to remember abstract names than proper names and to this empirical question he gives the correct empirical answer that this state of affairs probably depends upon the fact that there are greater numbers of association of other experiences to the well used abstract name compared to the name of someone one does not meet that often. He points out in the context of this discussion and the context of his definition that the above considerations prove that the mental faculties work under conditions and it is the task of the Psychologist to explicate these conditions. One should also remember in this context Kant’s insistence that the power of reasoning in man attempts to unify a totality of conditions in accordance with the principles of non contradiction and sufficient reason. James takes a different more empirical tack and insists that in relation to memory” the brain is the one immediate bodily condition of the mental “operations”. Apparently, however, the ghosts of philosophers past must still be haunting him because he hastily admits that this condition is only a co-determinant of the result.
In accordance with his definition, James then points out that there are also consequences of the activity of mental states and processes: consequences which can be observed and measured such as physiological responses and behaviour that must also fall into the purview of the science of Psychology. It is in discussing this issue that the concept of consciousness first arises in his account. He claims that behaviour or action originates through what he calls “conscious intelligence” and it is this which so clearly manifests mentality in our behaviour. He also points out in this discussion that actions and behaviour can grow automatic and be performed unconsciously in the case of our habits. he then asks whether such machine-like acts should be included in the study of Psychology. His answer is a tentative yes which of course is music to the ears of those cognitive psychologists that have moved away from a biological account of behaviour action and consciousness and toward a model of artificial intelligence to explain human behaviour. James is less tentative in his essentially Aristotelian definition of mental life in terms of what he calls “conscious intelligent action”. This definition occurs after James contrasts an event in the physical world with an event in the human world. He speaks of a magnet attracting iron filings and characterises this event in terms of an agent acting in relation to an object. If in this process of attraction one inserts a cardboard obstacle between the iron filings and the magnet, the iron filings will cling to the cardboard obstacle and never make contact with the attracting agent. James then discusses the trials of Romeo in his attempt to overcome a number of obstacles in order to make contact with his attractive agent, Juliet. It is because Romeo possesses what he calls conscious intelligence that he will eventually overcome all obstacles and make contact with his attractive agent , Juliet. of course, love and desire also play their role in this drama and this leads James to his definition of consciousness:

“The pursuance of future ends and the choice of means for their attainment are thus the mark and criterion of mentality in a phenomenon.”(P8)

This conclusion then leads to discussion of why a machine that performs a certain action when it is working as it should, and another different kind of action when it is broken, could never be regarded as intelligent or conscious. James points out that in the above case both the right and the wrong action follow from a physical condition which just is what it is and could not be anything else, indicating a lack of conscious intelligent choice. James ends this discussion by arriving at the following principle:

“No actions but such as are done for an end and show a choice of means, can be called indubitable expressions of mind”.(p11)

Aristotle, in response to Harari and the above cognitive psychologists and their embracing of the concept of artificial intelligence, would merely have pointed out that embodiment of a certain kind and complexity is necessary for life that is in turn a condition for consciousness and intelligence. The claim that a machine could think or consciously act would be for Aristotle a conceptual mistake,namely the conceiving of an inorganic artefact as a living organic being. He would however have applauded the appearance of a teleological explanation for conscious intelligent action.

Materialists concerned with the observation of the entities they are investigating are naturally curious about where these entities are located and James shares this attitude when he asks where memory and consciousness are located. His answer is, in some sense neo-Aristotelian. These mental faculties are located in the nervous system of the animals that possess them and these nervous systems are designed to act in accordance with the survival imperative or principle. Neurones are concerned with producing and responding to sensation and obey energy regulation laws of the stimulus-response kind especially where the lower regions of the nervous system are concerned. James, no doubt influenced by the thinking of Hughlings-Jackson differentiates between the lower centres of an animal which “act from present sensational stimuli alone” and the higher centres such as the hemispheres of the brain that act from perceptions and considerations that may involve the absence of sensations. The hemispheres, according to James are centres for memory and recall and the function of memory is to assist in formulating the goals of distant(absent) goods and evils.Memory enables us, James argues, to also deliberate among a number of alternatives, pause, and eventually act prudentially which is obviously a distinct virtue in the human world. The simpler the animal the more it is the case that its acts emanate from the lower nervous centres. In the context of this discussion James connects human intelligence with the more distant ends of life:

“The tramp who lives from hour to hour: the bohemian whose engagements are from day to day: the bachelor who builds for a single life: the father who acts for another generation: the patriot who thinks for a whole community and many generations, and finally the philosopher and saint whose cares are for humanity and eternity.”(p23)

Ideas obviously play an important role in the process of deciding for ones ends and implementing the means to these ends and James gives an excellent account of the conditions involved:

“The same cerebral process which, when aroused from without by a sense organ, given the perception of an object, will give an idea of the same object when aroused by other cerebral processes from within.”(p24)

In this context the example of a child who burns his fingers after extending them because of the attraction of the candles flame is discussed in relation to the efficacy of the idea of the burned fingers in preventing the child from extending his fingers into the flame a second time. Here James examines the mechanism of a sensory idea intervening to prevent the reflexive action. It is this kind of process that is involved in what he earlier described as considerations of future good and evil. There is however no theoretical discussion of the roles of perception, memory, language, and reasoning in the life of a human being as there is in Aristotle’s hylomorphic actualisation theory. Aristotle begins his discussion at the level of the power of perception for the discrimination of the differences between objects and the different power of thought to form an idea based on similarities which abstracts from those differences. Experiences are formed into memories in accordance with the various interests of life. The result of this organisation is the formation of a general practical rule that rests on a general principle. Contemporaneously, another power of the mind emerges to assist in the organisation of experience: the power of discourse or language. For Aristotle, spoken sounds are symbols of affections in the soul and written marks are the symbols of these spoken sounds. These affections, argues Aristotle, are the same for all men as are the things which produced these affections. The internal organisation of these spoken and written words is grammatical. In De Interpretatione Aristotle discusses names and verbs in relation to the truth and falsity generated by sentences affirming or denying something about something. Aristotle also points to the fact that names and verbs occurring outside the context of sentences have a meaning but no truth value which can only be constituted by an intended combination or separation of the name and the verb. It is also pointed out in this discussion that the verb is a more complex grammatical form for two reasons: firstly it refers to time and secondly because it says something about something else when it occurs in a sentence. It is what primarily generates the truth value of a sentence. Sentences can of course have other functions than a truth function. Poetry, rhetoric and prayer produce meaningful sentences that have different grammatical functions.Sentences referring to goods and evils, on the other hand are multi-functional possessing both truth function and other functions such as the function of recommending a change of a state of affairs in the world through the performance of an action of value. This is a short account of how ideas or affections in the soul are organised in thought and speech. In this account it can readily be seen how language or discourse brings into play a manifold of powers of the mind. In this connection consider this passage from James:

“Take, for example, the “faculty of language”. It involves in reality a host of distinct powers. We must first have images of concrete things and ideas of abstract qualities and relations: we must next have the memory of words and then the capacity so to associate each idea or image with a particular word that, when the word is heard, the idea shall forthwith enter our mind. We must, conversely, as soon as the idea arises in our minds, associate with it a mental image of the word, and by means of this image we must innervate our articulatory apparatus so as to reproduce the word as a physical sound.To read or to write a language other elements still must be introduced. But it is plain that the faculty of spoken language alone is so complicated as to call into play almost all the elementary powers which the mind possesses, attention, perception, memory, imagination, association, judgment and volition”(p28-9)

Given the fact that we find sometimes in James an element of neo-Aristotelianism, it is not then surprising to find him insisting that there is no localization of speech in the brain because the entire brain is involved in speaking. James skillfully elaborates upon the Aristotelian position which maintains that the human being is a combination of matter and form that together form a functioning unit. For Aristotle, the matter cannot occur independently of some principle of organization or form and in the case of the human, this involves an interrelation of organs including the brain. James again refers to Hughlings-Jackson in characterizing brain function as a sensory-motor system in which sensory impressions and movements are “represented” and to which there correspond “mental” ideas of these impressions and movements. Dualism was the natural alternative position to materialism during the time of James’ theorizing in spite of the fact that both dualism and materialism had been substantially criticized by Kant when he was engaged in the task of uniting empiricism and rationalism in his critical philosophy. James ignores this contribution of Kant and as a consequence, it can be said that he oscillates theoretically between dualist and materialist positions throughout this work. In the name of materialism, he points to examples of how devastating the effects of physical damage to the brain can be for the mental life of such unfortunate victims.
The distinction between the higher and lower centres of the brain was also the basis for James’ claim that consciousness was “located” in the cortex of the hemispheres. In the hemispheres we have both the so called sensory motor “projection” areas but also language in both the frontal and temporal lobes. the lower centres of the nervous system have no connection with speech and therefore no connection with the self that speaks. In this context, however James does enigmatically claim that a kind of consciousness might attach to the lower centres but if so “it is a consciousness of which the self knows nothing”(p67)
The hemispheres of the brain do possess those native tendencies of reaction we know as the instincts or emotions. These instincts or emotions project upwards into the cortex areas and associate themselves with certain special objects of perception. In this association these reactions can obviously be modified.

We cannot escape the fact, however, that James, regards consciousness as practical and directed at principally practical ends which it prefers or desires. For Aristotle the desire to understand, that James would have regarded as theoretical, is a contemplative state of consciousness which could transform all ones practical preferences and desires. Apart from obscure references to the lives of philosophers and saints there is no acknowledgement of the importance of this theoretical desire to understand or the desire to lead a contemplative god-like life. It is no great surprise therefore to find James speaking of the will as being primarily connected to the motor centres of the brain: connecting desire to motor discharges. In this context James claims that:

“All nervous centres have then in the first instance one essential function, that of intelligent action. They feel, prefer one thing to another and have “ends” that have become more intellectual because of the integration of powers in the cortex.”(p79)

James does not refer to this fact but brain research in the last century has focussed on the frontal lobes of the cortex where motor centres are found in close juxtaposition to language, the medium we use to contemplate, think and discuss actions past present and future. We know also the importance Freud placed upon his “talking cure” as if merely contemplating, thinking and talking about one’s illness and condition could be transformational. That evolution has brought such a state of affairs about is not paradoxical given the fact that we know that the process itself is basically a trial and error matter unconcerned with outcomes. We can just accept this fact and turn to Aristotle rather than a divine designer to give us an account of the teleological aspects of human life.

Having arrived at the idea of intelligent action and being confronted with the automatic mechanical appearance of habit James then attempts to explain the role of habit in the life of human beings. Habit, he argues, is a means which the mechanism uses to reduce the energy it spends on the necessary tasks of living. If James continues, we never learned habitually to do anything our life would be spent on fewer tasks because they would require much more attention and energy for their completion. He appears here to be relating consciousness with attention and expenditure of energy in accordance with some kind of energy regulation principle: a principle we also find in Freud’s early theorizing. He refers to the writing of a Physiologist, Dr Maudsley;

“A man might be occupied all day in dressing and undressing himself: the attitude of his body would absorb all his attention and energy: the washing of his hands or the fastening of a button would be as difficult to him on each occasion as to the child on its first trial: and he would furthermore be completely exhausted by his exertions. Think of the pains necessary to teach a child to stand, of the many efforts which it must make and of the ease with which it at last stands unconscious of any effort.”(Physiology of Mind, p155)

The consequence of habit, then, is to “diminish the conscious attention with which our acts are performed.”

Consciousness then is also associated with the effort in learning something new. Imagine a particular complex action composed of a sequence of nervous events ABCDEFG etc and imagine the effort involved in choosing one event from a large number of alternatives at each stage of the sequence. Such activity requires much energy for the cortex which is the origin of these choices. Once we have successfully learned the complex action, the task is devolved upon the lower parts of the nervous system which requires only one sensation to function as a signal for another without the interposition of the cortical “mental” events of perception idea and volition. The whole sequence requires either an initial conscious perception or idea for the whole process to begin. The sensations involved in the habitual performance can of course become conscious again if something unexpected happens or goes wrong in the performance of the task. The process of correction appears to require a conscious relinking of perception ideas and volitions. The habitual area of the mind reminds one very much of the Freudian preconscious in which knowledge and the meanings of words are located. In relation to this point one can but imagine how slowly we would read if we were unable to transform the conscious act of reading into a preconscious stream of activity. Each word would require a conscious search for a meaning.

Habit, which initially looked to be a physiological matter guided by an energy regulation principle also has social and ethical consequences according to James:

“it saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor. It alone prevents the hardest and most repulsive walks of life from being deserted by those brought up to tread therein. It keeps the fishermen and deck hand at sea through the winter: it holds the miner in his darkness, and nails the countryman to his cabin and his lonely farm through all the months of snow: it protects us from invasion by the natives of the desert and the frozen zone. It dooms us all to fight the battles of life upon the lines of our nurture or our early choices and to make the best of a pursuit that disagrees because there is no other to which we are fitted, and it is too late to begin agin…” (p121)

Aristotle’s discussion of the process involved in acquiring the virtues confirms, without the details of the role of the brain, the moral of James’ message.
James’s discussion is of course a reminder of a time gone by when perhaps our educational systems were not sufficiently complex to provide us with a base of ideas, perceptions and skills that would enable almost everyone to do almost everything including hopefully, think about the most distant ends of humanity typical of the philosopher and the saint. Yet the ultimate insight is correct in accordance with the thoughts of the Philosopher, Aristotle: habits should be developed as early as possible.

Julian Jaynes in his work entitled “The Origins of Consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind” claims that consciousness is not a phenomenon or a thing or a principle but rather an operator thus raising the obvious question: what are the nature of its operations? James is thinking along similar lines when he claims that consciousness is an active selecting agency:

“Whether we find it in the lowest sphere of sense or in the highest intellection, we find it always doing one thing, choosing one out of several of the materials so presented to its notice, emphasising and accentuating that and suppressing as far as possible all the rest. The item emphasised is always in close connection with some interest felt by consciousness to be paramount at the time.”(p139)

Again James emphasises the practical at the expense of the theoretical-cognitive function thus undervaluing Aristotelian and neo-Aristotelian positions which regard positively the conscious attitude of contemplation in respect to the wonder and awe we experience in the face of the world. For James the cognitive powers are subservient to the practical ends created by practical attitudes in the higher centres or cortex of the brain. It is quite clear that for James Consciousness is no epiphenomenon but on the contrary has causal efficacy in our lives. It has been pointed out that it is responsible for intelligent action, the perceptive selective choosing of the correct alternatives from an array of possibilities: it is also responsible for correcting actions that have gone awry, and it is further responsible for the sensory selection of stimuli from an array of alternatives, all in relation to the so called interests of the organism. This idea of interests it turns out in James’ argument is significantly related to the consciousness we have of pleasure and pain both of which have obvious relevance for what we undergo and choose to do:

“It is a well known fact that pleasures are generally associated with beneficial, pains with detrimental experiences.All the fundamental vital processes illustrate this law.”(p143)

If painful or destructive events were pleasurable for the organism or vice versa then this conscious pleasure-pain principle would not be useful for the organism. James refuses this possibility and points out its obvious evolutionary value in the process of evolution insofar as vital functions are concerned.This principle obviously also plays a role in the instability of a restless consciousness continually searching for a state of equilibrium in a world which continually precipitates states of inequilibrium.

The efficacy of consciousness is not further discussed except for the insistence that the mind itself cannot, as the associationists suggest, be made up of an assembly of atomic fact that mysteriously “constitute” consciousness” or “mind”. There is ambiguity in James’s terminology when he speaks sometimes of consciousness and sometimes of the mind, soul, or self.

In speaking about the mind he claims that the mind knows other objects and he insists that this relation is so mysterious that it cannot be explained. the Psychologist in this situation has no choice but to assume a dualism of subject and object and a mysterious pre-established harmony. We can nevertheless distinguish two kinds of knowledge:

“we call them respectively knowledge of acquaintance and knowledge about…I am acquainted with many people and things which I know very little about, except their presence and the places where I have met them. I know the colour blue when I see it and the flavour of a pear when I taste it. I know an inch when I move my finger through it: a second of time when I feel it pass, an effort of attention when I make it: a difference between two things when I notice it: but about the inner nature of these facts or what makes them what they are, I can say nothing at all.”(p221)

One can wonder in what sense I can be said to know an inch if I move my finger through it if I am not moving my finger along a ruler :or know a second of time unless I am watching the second hand of a clock move but there does seem to be some kind of distinction between these two types of knowledge which we can form a better idea of when we consider how assertions in our language function.
The sentence for James is the principal bearer of a knowing consciousness that begins with sensations or feelings that help us become acquainted with things and begin our cognitive relation to them. The subject of a sentence often names this beginning point and the predicate of the sentence then moves consciousness into the mode of thinking about reality as opposed to merely feeling it. This is the mode of conception and judgement and the truth value of our statements and it is at this level that communication best occurs between rational animals capable of discourse..

The stream of consciousness, James argues, is made up of feelings and thoughts which I own:

“The universal conscious fact is not “feelings and thoughts exist” but “I think” and “I feel”. No psychology at any rate can question the existence of personal selves.”(p226)

This comment is in accordance with the Aristotelian requirement that something must endure through a process of change if we are to be able to think coherently about it. The stream of consciousness may be continually changing but something is enduring throughout this change. James does however cast some doubt on his own statement in a discussion about the possibility of secondary conscious selves. The very term “secondary” however takes this phenomenon out of the realm of contradiction because the secondary will still have complex relations to the primary personality with which it will share certain powers(the power of speaking for example).

Personality remains high on James’ agenda when he talks about personal reminiscences being more closely related to feelings than to conceptions:

“Remembrance is like a direct feeling, its object is suffused with a warmth or intimacy to which no object of mere conception ever attains.”(p239)

This memory is continuous with other memories in the personal system. These latter memories may not be presently conscious.

Consciousness itself seems also to possess a continuity such that the thought of one object and then another does not disrupt the stream. The sound of thunder therefore is not just that sound simpliciter but rather a figure on a background: it is rather “thunder -breaking-upon-silence-and-contrasting-with-it.” The feeling of this thunder is also a feeling of the silence that has just recently been broken. James elaborates upon this point in relation to language and its connection to what is occurring in consciousness. He claims that we name our thoughts after the things they are about as if each thought knew only its own thing and nothing else. What is more likely to be the case, he argues, is that each thought knows clearly the thing that it is named for and more dimly perhaps a thousand other things.

James is here attempting to capture in his account the fleeting nature of his so called “stream of consciousness”:

“Like a birds life it seems to be made of an alternation of flights and perchings. The rhythm of language expresses this , where every thought is expressed in a sentence and every sentence closed by a period. The resting places are usually occupied by sensorial imaginations of some sort, whose peculiarity is such that they can be held before the mind for an indefinite time, and contemplated without changing… Let us call the resting places the “substantive parts” and the places of flight the “transitive parts” of the stream of thought. It then appears that the main end of all our thinking is at all times the attainment of some other substantive part than the one from which we have just been dislodged. And we may say that the main use of the transitive parts is to lead us from one substantive conclusion to another.”(p243)

The stable sensorial imaginings are the stable points in a process of change. There are transitional processes such as the process of deciding to say something and perhaps this process cannot be named but only described, perhaps with the words “the intention to say so and so” James admits that ca one third of our psychic life is constituted of premonitions of things to be said or done. These transitory phases form what he calls the “free waters” of consciousness which we cannot gather in spoonfuls, pailfuls or barrellfuls.

Intentions as such however, can be discriminated from each other and James illustrates this by referring to the intentions of a language user using the term “man” in its universal sense in contrast to using the term to refer to a particular man. The universal and particular intentions are discernible in the structure of the sentence. The universal intention itself is embedded in the interest we have in saying something about man, for example, that he is a rational animal capable of discourse. Here the interest is clearly theoretical or philosophical, i.e. the complete sentence aims at the production of a knowledge claim about all men. Each word is felt as a word but also as something with a meaning. In an abstract thought such as this the meaning is not connected to the sensory image of man but rather perhaps to other words. This is the mark of a conceptual thought:

“the verbal symbol “horse” which stands for all our experiences of horses serves all the purposes of thought without recalling one of the images clustered in the perception of horses, just as the sight of the horses form serves all the purposes of recognition without really the sound of its neighing or its tramp, or its qualities as an animal of draught etc”(p271)

James adds here, without explaining why, that the image must appear at the end of the thinkers thinking if the thought is not to be left unrealised or in some sense incomplete.

James on a number of occasions washes his hands of any philosophical investigation into this mysterious power of knowing and prefers to give scientific and psychological account.(cf the commentary and critique of Harari) In this spirit he asks why a thinker believes that his thought knows outer reality and discusses two examples of what he calls “triangulation”:

“The judgement that my own past thought and my own present thought are of the same object is what makes me take the object out of either and project it by a sort of triangulation into an independent position from which it may appear to both…making repeated judgments of sameness among their objects, he corroborates in himself the notion of realities, past and distinct as well as present which realities no one single thought possesses or engenders, but which all may contemplate and know.”(p272)

This triangulation process is what enables a mind to become conscious of its own consciousness, to know, for example that the things it enters into cognitive relations with. It is via this process that we know that we know them. Many psychological commentators refer to this phenomenon as the meta-cognitive power of consciousness. Philosophers, on the other hand refer to it as the reflective consciousness of the self.

James then elaborates upon the operation of selective attention that enables man to organise external reality into forms assimilable to appropriate sense organs:

“Out of the infinite chaos of movements of which physics teaches us the outer world consists, each sense organ picks out those which fall within certain limits of velocity. To these it responds but ignores the rest as completely as if they did not exist… as Lange claims there is no reason whatever to think the gap in Nature between the highest sound waves and the lowest heat waves is an abrupt break like that of our sensations: or that the difference between violet and ultra-violet rays has anything like the objective importance subjectively represented by that between light and darkness.”(p284)

Some of the physical phenomena mentioned above may create no sensations in us at all but out of those which bombard our bodies, attention selects from an array corresponding to our interests, be they theoretical, practical aesthetic or emotional. In what must be regarded as a theoretical spirit our attention then selects amongst the array of sensations belonging to one phenomenon those sensations which represent the thing most characteristically, i.e. we call the table square probably because of the knowledge that the top is composed of 4 right angles. This essentially perceptual process is mirrored by a possible form of higher activity that may aim at conceptualising where concepts are selected for combination or separation in the search for truth about the table. Propositions can be then subsequently be combined or separated in a process of reasoning about the truths of the table in order to arrive at knowledge.

Conception is an important effect of the operation of attention upon the infinite continuous manifold of external phenomena. Concepts in this sense are fixed points in an ever changing stream of external and internal events. Concepts enable us to determine truth:

“The paper, a moment ago white, I may now see to have been scorched black. But my conception “white” does not change into my conception “black”. On the contrary, it stays alongside of the objective blackness, as a different meaning in my mind, and by so doing lets me judge the blackness as the papers change…Thus amid the flux of opinions and physical things, the world of conceptions, or things intended to be thought about, stands stiff and immutable, like Plato’s realm of ideas.”(p462)

Concepts also assist in the generation of knowledge:

“The facts are unquestionable: our knowledge does grow and change by rational and inward processes as well as by empirical discoveries. Where the discoveries are empirical no one pretends that the propulsive agency, the force that makes the knowledge develop is conception. All admit it to be our continual exposure to the thing with its power to impress our senses. Thus strychnine, which tastes bitter, we find also will kill etc. Now I say that where the new knowledge merely comes from thinking the facts are essentially the same and that to talk of self development on the part of our conceptions is a very bad way of stating the case. Not new sensations as in the empirical instance, but new conceptions are the indispensable conditions of advance. For if the alleged cases of self development be examined it will be found I believe that the new truth affirms in every case a relation between the original subject of conception and some new subject conceived later on.”(p464)

Certainly new conceptions must be arrived at consciously and the very term connotes an activity involving the selection of one concept instead of another as well as the application of the concept to reality, transforming and translating a continuously changing continuum into a system of unchanging items that then can be used in complex judgements to make knowledge claims or alternatively to claim what we ought to do. Concepts do not resemble the sensations of which they are composed and when they occur linguistically in the stream of consciousness they do so symbolically, relating to sensation and objects via the operation of meaning. When one, as James argues, uses the concept of “man” in the sentence “What a wonderful man Jones is!” one means or intends to exclude Napoleon Bonaparte, Smith and all other men except for Jones. When, on the other hand, one says “What a wonderful thing man is!” I mean to include Jones and all mankind past present and future. In this case the image or sensation of man is the least important part of the thought. With concepts man judges, and with judgement man operates upon the world, transforming experience into something more systematic and something very different: the conceived world–a world in which explanations are given for changes in the physical world and reasons are given for changes brought about by action in the human world.

James’ penchant for the empirical then leads him into a strange adventure of attempting to describe the present perception of time. Whether or not one believes that this description makes sense will depend upon whether one believes that time is not an experience like Aristotle but rather a measure of change in terms of before and after. Of course Aristotle claims that there is a now but he also maintains that it is like a point on a line marking a boundary with no magnitude in itself. James claims that the perception of “the present” is restricted to 12 seconds and this phenomenon ultimately depends upon a brain process which consciousness is tied to. It is claimed that this amount of time, which he calls the specious present, is “pictured” fairly steadily in each passing instance of consciousness. James calls this an experience of duration. This parcelling up of durations in 12 second packets of course contradicts the Aristotelian notion of time as a continuum. As was indicated above moments of time for Aristotle are rather like mathematical points on a line that can only be actively counted in terms of acts of saying or thinking “now”. As claimed before a now is a non quantifiable boundary between a moment of before and a moment of after, just as a point on a line serves as a boundary of a segment of a line. A consequence of this is also that since every now can be numbered and every number is divisible, so time theoretically can also be infinitely divided. What we are seeing in this adventure of reflection is an attempt to conceptualise time which is to say the least problematic. James concludes by claiming:

“but the original paragon and prototype of all conceived times is the specious present, the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible.”(p631)

This is a denial of both the discovery of physicists relating to the continuum of velocities of waves as well as a denial of the philosophical and mathematical view of reality as possibly being an ever changing infinite continuum. The ultimate purpose of this adventure might however be related to a point he wishes to make concerning memory:

“For a state of mind to survive in memory it must have endured for a certain length of time. In other words it must have been what I would call a substantive state.”(p643)

The argument is that our intellectual faculty requires an after memory of our states of mind if these states are going to form an idea or perhaps determine a transition to an action. This concern is obviously also related to James’ materialistic concern with the brain and its neural activity. What is not evident in this account is the fundamental element of change. Had James paid more attention to the account of Aristotle he would have realised that the mere act of counting up to twelve would have served to differentiate the experience into twelve different moments or “presents”: each “now” must be regarded as a present which slips into the past with the next number being uttered. One can of course recall the numbers uttered but the number of items we can recall according to modern research is not twelve but seven plus or minus two which in itself gives a good indication of how difficult measurement is in this arena of consciousness. Aristotle has the following to say about the apprehension of time:

“We apprehend time only when we have marked change, marking it by before or after, and it is only when we have perceived before and after in change that we say that time has elapsed. Now we mark them by judging that one thing is different from another, and that some third thing is intermediate to them. When we think of the extremes as different from the middle and the mind pronounces that the nows are two, one before and one after, it is then that we say that there is time, and this that we say is time. For what is bounded by the now is thought to be time–we may assume this. For time is just this-a number of motion in respect to before and after.”(Physics iv ii 219a22)

This process can then be used for larger “units” of experienced time in the creation of the conceptual framework we use for collectively measuring time: a process of conceptualising time by clocks and calendars. For example the passage of a day can be marked out in relation to the earths rotation on its axis. The passage of a year can be marked out by the orbit of the earth around the sun and the passage of a month by lunar observations. Each second, minute, hour, day, month or year could then alternately become a “now”

The difference between these two accounts is clear.In the Aristotelian account man interacts with nature and the changes occurring there. Aristotle does however acknowledge that his account requires the being in time, in some sense, of the soul if such measurement is to occur and this brings us back to the idea of consciousness. For Aristotle the bodily self is the source of all the powers of the human being. The human being is a unity of matter and form and matter is all that remains when it is no longer “inhabited” by form which here means that the principle of life is no longer active in the body. The external forces that brought matter together in just this body slowly gave rise to the formation of internal powers which could maintain the organism in existence, until that moment when these powers fail and the organism ceases to exist, eventually losing its shape and crumbling into particles of dust. When, however the body remains activated by its powers of life and consciousness it is like a sounding board and James’ account of instinct and emotion provides us with unique insight into the realm of being that lies between life and consciousness. Emotional consciousness, James argues, often terminates in something happening to the body, something being felt in the body–the field of operation of what Freud called the pleasure-pain principle. James discusses three central cases of emotion: grief,fear and hatred and claims:

“Were we to go through the whole list of emotions which have been named by men and study their organic manifestations, we should but ring the changes in the elements which these three typical cases involve. Rigidity of this muscle, relaxation of that , contraction of arteries here, dilation there, breathing of this sort or that, pulse slowing or quickening, this gland secreting, that one dry,etc etc.”(p447)

Kant in his work “Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view” would regard much of what James is discussing under the heading of instincts and emotions as “physiology”, a study not directly relevant to what man makes of himself because it studies instead, in a certain sense, events that happen to man and over which he has little control. Elements causing physiological and physical reactions in the body fall into a different field of study for Kant. For him, Anthropology then, is about mans active thought and reasoning about what he is doing with his life and includes ethical considerations. Here too we see the holistic perspective without the retreat into the inner life of the human being. Kant’s focus is on the human being as “a form of life” to use the words of Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein advised us, when it came to explaining what is going on in our selves, to focus upon what we do and not what we feel or what happens to us. The emphasis for him is also on the “we”, on the collectivity and its activities. In this respect one must admire Harari’s passage about “Modern Time” in his work “Homo Sapiens”. Whilst one can question much of what is said in terms of the analysis of the history of mankind the following passage is Wittgensteinian to their very core:

“The Industrial Revolution opened the way to a long line of experiments in social engineering and an even longer series of unpremeditated changes in daily life and human mentality. One example among many is the replacement of the rhythms of traditional agriculture with the uniform and precise schedule of industry. Traditional agriculture depended on cycles of natural time and organic growth. Most societies were unable to make precise time measurements, nor were they terribly interested in doing so. The world went about its business without clocks and timetables, subject only to the movement of the sun
and the growth cycle of plants. There was no uniform working day, and all routines changed drastically from season to season. People knew where the sun was , and watched anxiously for portents of the rainy season and harvest time….If the worker who operates machine number 5 has overslept it stalls the other machines. In order to prevent such calamities, everybody must adhere to a precise timetable…The Industrial Revolution turned the timetable and assembly line into a template for almost all human activities…schools too adopted timetables followed by hospitals, government offices and grocery stores–..In Assyrian , Sassanid or Inca cities there might have been at most a few sundials. In European Medieval cities there was usually a single clock–a giant machine mounted on top of a high tower in the town square. These tower clocks were notoriously inaccurate, but since there were no other clocks in town to contradict them, it hardly made any difference. Today a single affluent family has more timepieces at home than an entire medieval country. You can tell the time by looking at your wristwatch, glancing at your Android, peering at the alarm clock by your bed, gazing at the clock on the kitchen wall, staring at the microwave, catching a glimpse of the TV or DVD, or taking in the task-bar on your computer out of the corner of your eye. You need to make a conscious effort not to know what the time is. “(p394-397)

This is an excellent exercise in descriptive phenomenology by Harari and serves well as a basis for the philosophical explanation of time such as that given by Aristotle.

Linking consciousness with what we do, the effort of attention in the selection of materials, the choice of means and ends etc is clearly in accordance with the Kantian project of Anthropology and the project of Wittgensteinian and post Wittgensteinian Philosophy. It is not clear however where the emotions and the instincts fit into this account.

For James, however, emotions are a very central element of the discipline he calls “Psychology”. He claims consciousness is intimately involved in the sequence of events one can observe in every emotion which is, perception of an exciting fact, bodily response, consciousness of the bodily response. This consciousness must be regarded as non-cognitive. It is not, that is, consciousness of an image of the bear that frightens us but rather the consciousness of our bodily response or reaction. Were, on the other hand, I to judge that on seeing the bear it is best to run from the bear and then do so, this would be a cognitive instrumental response which is not that of an emotional consciousness as James describes it. We know from experience for example that the emotional consciousness of fear for the bear could even paralyse me and prevent any life saving action. It seems clear, therefore that we are investigating a realm of being between life and consciousness. We are investigating, in other words, the sounding board of the body whose reverberations can be manifold. James insists that this is the case also with aesthetic responses where emotional thrills and flushes of pleasure are related to the rightness or appropriateness of the relations of elements in the objects we appreciate.It seems here that the aesthetic object which is a cognitive work of art is being undervalued in being reduced to thrills and flushes. The object appears to have dropped out of the account as the external world also appeared to evaporate in the account of the specious present James gave as part of his account of time-consciousness.

James then moves from an account of those events of consciousness which cannot be foreseen to those which can, namely those movements which we desire and intend before their occurrence. One of the conditions of such voluntary movement is, according to James, the memory images of the sensations of the act we are proposing to ourselves to perform. Once these conditions are met, James argues:

“Every representation of a movement awakens in some degree the actual movement which is its object: and awakens it in a maximum degree wherever it is not kept from doing so by an antagonistic representation present simultaneously to the mind.”(p526)

Some commentators have posited an act of consenting internally to the idea of the action but James claims that this is only the case if there is an antagonistic or inhibiting idea competing for attention in ones stream of consciousness. It is only then we deliberate over the action, James argues. Consciousness is, James continues, by its very nature impulsive. Movement whether it be reflexive, emotional or voluntary originates in feeling.

It is clear that James does not acknowledge any higher cognitive power than consciousness and if what is said above concerning the impulsive nature of consciousness then one must wonder what powers of mind are involved in the education of the mind to act in accordance with the distant ends of the saint or the philosopher. It appears that at least two further powers need to be involved. Firstly that in which we find the correct conception in accordance with which we shall act and secondly the use of this conception in formulating a reason to act which will serve the distant ends of humanity so important to the saint and the philosopher. An example of such a distant end was given by Kant’s moral philosophy of the categorical imperative in which the actor reasons universally(with universal intent) to protect universal human institutions such as truth telling and promise making in order to create a very distant(in terms of the future) communal state in which reason is used universally by everyone in a so called “kingdom of ends” where the truth and the good are actualised and not just hoped for norms of action. The higher power Kant is referring to is, of course, the power of rationality: the same power referred to by Aristotle and his followers. James appears to refuse to acknowledge this power especially given the fact that he appears to believe that consciousness is by its very nature impulsive and connected to both emotional states of mind and the performance of instrumental actions. The status of final ends and their relation to consciousness is left hanging in the air in this account. In the Philosophies of Aristotle and Kant, final ends , or termini of action are what can be rationally justified by a reflective self conscious being reflecting upon the nature of his conceptions of action and his reasons for acting. If in this self reflective process reason can theoretically meet the tests of virtue for Aristotle(doing the right thing in the right way at the right time), or the tests of universalisation of Kant then these are the kinds of action that are more likely to lead to the distant ends of humanity valued by philosophers and saints. Consciousness as a power of mind might be needed in Aristotle’s account of the man who is being trained to act virtuously, especially when he realises he must choose a third position between two extremes if he is to lead a flourishing life. Consciousness as a power of mind might also be needed in Kantian moral training where one realises for example that one is doing the right thing for the wrong reason, the wrong thing for the right reason , or the wrong thing for the wrong reason.

According to James, actions performed with the distant ends of humanity in mind can only be performed by an effort of will: presumably because thinking in itself is contemplative rather than impulsive–aimed at delaying action rather than initiating it. For Freud too there is a clear distinction between the impulsive acts sponsored by the pleasure-pain principle and the more reflective acts sponsored by the reality principle and it was clear to him that the latter were the acts which would most likely lead to the flourishing life. The latter, that is, exercises a controlling influence over the impulsivity of consciousness. The reason why James refuses to acknowledge rationality as a superior power of mind to consciousness probably resides in a picture he has of the rational thinker. He imagines a thinker deliberating but never being able to act because he is forever embroiled in his deliberations. He imagines that is, rationality as a pathological phenomenon. He does not see the relation between thought and action. This is confirmed when he claims that sometimes the man of reason might be right and sometimes the man of instinct may be right. If, however one accepts the idea of a continuum of which instinct and reason are earlier and later phases this bi-polar objection loses its force. This probably also due to a failure to recognise the power of speech which also possesses the power to integrate a whole host of powers and susceptibilities including the non voluntary forms of reacting instinctively and emotionally to stimuli. James also ignores the cognitive aspects of consciousness where we relate to the world in terms of a contemplative understanding of what we see and experience, in terms of truth and knowledge, the traditional concerns of Philosophy. We see the same tendencies to disregard the conceptions and theories of philosophers in Harari’s work.

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Nine: Techno-Humanism and Dataism

Hits: 243

New Religions are going to emerge from research laboratories. Thus sayeth Harari. Silicon Valley will be the birthplace of techno religion that :

“argues that humans have completed their cosmic task and should now pass the torch on to entirely new kinds of entities….Techno-humanism agrees that homo sapiens as we know it has run its historical course and will no longer be relevant in the future, but concludes that we should, therefore, use technology in order to create Homo Deus–a much superior human model.”(pp409-410)

Just as medicine is going to transform itself from an archeological discipline dedicated to the curing of disease, to an imaginative, teleological adventure striving to bring immortality to the soul, so humanism narrowly conceived will transform itself into techno-humanism (imaginatively conceived)that will seek unknown experiences and strange states of consciousness in an infinite ocean of possible states of consciousness.

The narrow conception of humanism we have been provided within this work was, of course, necessary for the plot of Harari’s drama to unfold as it has. The Humanism of Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein, and their followers would regard what Harari calls ” ” the sect of techno-humanism” as a figment of the imagination, especially the following totalitarian phantasy;

“Like all humanist sects, techno-humanism too sanctifies the human will, seeing it as the nail on which the universe hangs. Techno-humanism expects our desires to choose which mental abilities to develop and thereby determine the shape of future minds. Yet what will happen once technological progress makes it possible to reshape and engineer those very desires?”

The author then continues to insist in accordance with his narrow conception of humanism, that humanists cannot identify their authentic will from the cacophony of internal voices competing for attention. Firstly it is not clear how our desires can decide to shape the character of our minds in the future. I can, of course, decide to become educated but this is a decision which is not visualizing or imagining the exact consequences of such an extended process filled with unknowns. This is more like an existential decision to transform myself into something that I know that I value which in turn has been arrived at not through perception or imagination but by knowledge and argument. This existential force of knowledge in relation to the will must be acknowledged. Hannah Arendt in her work “The Human Condition” discussed the ability of man to use his will to create something completely new and related this phenomenon to the totalitarian movements of the 20th century. She points to the three forms of activity man can engage in: labour, work and action and attributes to the latter the ability to create something entirely new but it is not clear, even on this account, that one can decide to create a new self, although Sartre the French existentialist thought that this might be possible. That is, Sartre thought that I am able to recreate myself through my action from moment to moment. This “philosophy of mind” that “anything is possible” was, according to Arendt one of the motivating forces of totalitarianism. For O’Shaughnessy, on the contrary, the mind is divided into a willing half and a knowing half and this divide is more complete the simpler the organism that possesses it. This means that in relation to willed action knowledge plays a greater guiding role in complex organisms such as ourselves–hence the importance of the humanistic “decision” to educate oneself.

Julian Jaynes, discussing the phenomenon of hemispheric function, pointed to how, with the development of our human consciousness,( as a consequence of the development of language which occurred much much later than the author of this work has claimed) we spatialise time and even our consciousness itself which according to Jaynes is not a “something” but rather an operation that operates in accordance with an analogous “I” to the I that is, acts, and thinks. This “I” also operates in an analogous space to the space in which I act and think. This spatialization of a metaphorical world enables us to imagine”ourselves” doing this and that with imagined outcomes. Narratization is the spatialization of my temporal life strung out as it is in a chain of befores and afters. The assigning of causes and purposes or the saying of why we did a particular thing is also a feature of this narratization process. When we encounter on our daily walk a cat perched nervously on the branch of a tree we say to ourselves that the neighbours dog has probably chased it up the tree. By extension, encountering putative facts about the mind, we then assemble them into a story. This spatialization of the mind is a consequence of the integrated functioning of the right and the left hemispheres, according to Jaynes. The long tradition of the influence of oracles during the period of Greek ascendency was probably, according to Jaynes a consequence of right hemisphere dominant individuals.(ca 35,000 people a day from all regions of the Mediterranean were visiting Delphi at the height of the influence of oracles). We do not hae any clear idea of the states of mind of such individuals or the kinds of judgment they were capable of. Reason and knowledge enter into this picture via the goal of thinkers immersed in their various disciplines aiming at truth or knowledge via methods and principles of reasoning such as the principle of non-contradiction and the principle of sufficient reason which seek to disentangle the false and meaningless parts of our narratives from the true parts. Narratization obviously preceded the search for knowledge by thousands of years.

The above account of Jaynes may well, however, support the thesis that the will is the nail which the universe is hung upon but if this is so, it is the nail of knowledge and not the nail of power. All previous attempts to hang the universe on the nail of power have failed. The author openly admits that science knows very little about consciousness, and if history has taught us anything as a consequence of the failed attempts to control the masses via power, it is surely the case that these attempts failed because power-hungry dictators did not have sufficient knowledge of the human psyche to transform it. If this authors work has taught us anything it is that science has no theory of the knowledge of value or knowledge of the good as Plato put the matter.

The author takes up in a spirit of excited curiosity, the prospect of experiencing a strange form of consciousness that no one else has experienced. These forms of consciousness remind one of the deranged desires of mental patients like Schreber who thought his body was stretched all over the universe. Many mentally deranged people believe they are all-powerful in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary. They too are troubled by a cacophony of voices which they may not recognize as their own.

In elaborating upon his plot the author claims:

“Technological progress has a very different agenda. It does not want to listen to our voices. It wants to control them. Once we understand the biochemical system producing all these voices we can play with the switches, turn up the volume here lower it there and make life much more easy and comfortable. We will give Ritalin to the distracted lawyer, Prozac to the guilty soldier and Cipralex to the dissatisfied wife. Humanists are appalled by this approach but we had better not pass judgment on it too quickly. The humanist recommendation to listen to ourselves has ruined the lives of many a person, whereas the right dosage of the right chemical has greatly improved the well being and relationships of millions.”(p424)

The schizophrenic experience of being plagued by alien and sometimes hostile voices is, according to Jaynes, an interesting throwback to bicameral man, a throwback to a time before the advent of consciousness and it is, according to him, a moot point whether medication is the right method to lead the patient back on the road to full consciousness. Humanists like Aristotle and Kant who understood that we are physical beings composed of physical substances in a certain state of equilibrium would hardly have objected to any physical treatment which restored that lost equilibrium. Many medications, however, alleviate symptoms and do not restore the natural equilibrium of life. The humanist will naturally question such a state of affairs. Freud being a follower of Aristotle and Kant, would also have agreed with this position: remember he experimented with magnetism and hypnotism before the “age of medication” we now live in. There were patients who needed to be returned to a state of physical equilibrium before the so called “talking cure” could be effective.

The will, of course, is connected fundamentally to desire but it is also, as we have pointed out, connected to knowledge. Indeed along with the mysteries of consciousness the mysteries of the epistemological relation of the will to the world and its own body have yet to be fully explored, although it should be added that O’Shaughnessy has made a good start in this direction by philosophically exploring these topics in accordance with the traditions of Aristotelian and Kantian Philosophy. In the light of this work, the following quote is somewhat surprising:

“According to Humanism, only human desires imbue the world with meaning. Yet if we could choose our desires on what basis could we possibly make such choices?”(p425)

The explorations of the philosophers have indicated that we cannot choose our desires, they happen to us, and sometimes they need restraining. We can, of course, choose the objects of our desires and those can vary considerably if we ignore the prophecy of Apollo, “Nothing too much”. Narcissus, we should recall was consumed eventually by his own desire as are many mentally ill patients. Of course, the mentally ill patients can “choose” to go to therapy in order to be returned to normal but the quotation marks around this word suggest that this may not be a choice in the normal sense of the word at all. Saying as the author does that when our desires make us uncomfortable, technology can remedy this situation does not make sense in the light of the above reflections.

Nevertheless, let us follow this high-speed train speeding into its station and ask how one might wish to manipulate our desires. The author claims that we should replace them with the element worshipped by the members of the new religion of the 21st century, namely information or data. The concept of information, however, is ambiguous. It can either refer to facts or to knowledge. If the former is what is meant and the information is value neutral and the product of scientific inquiry, we are by definition excluding all forms of humanistic and philosophical knowledge such as that which has been presented in the form of counterarguments in this review. This is also the case if the knowledge we are talking about is restricted to the algorithms of science. Replacing desire with knowledge instead of integrating these two parts of the mind is going to lead to a high-speed catastrophe. The absence of value related to the knowledge of the good and the absence of the desire of individuals to live in freedom will be a very strange algorithm of ethical and political life indeed.

Dataism is what is going to give the 21st century its meaning, according to the author. This religion, it is claimed owes its existence to two different scientific origins: Firstly, Darwin’s “Origin of the species” which the author claims, somewhat enigmatically, leads to the modern scientific position that all organisms are biochemical algorithms, and secondly, the discovery of electronic algorithms by computer science. The confluence of these two streams will, it is claimed, change the future structure of the world. Electronic algorithms, however, hold the real power to deliver this vision of totalitarian control. The humanistic means of controlling our existence is the law which incorporates in its laws knowledge of the good and respect for the freedom of the individuals that are subject to the law. Information, or the facts of scientific knowledge, are obviously important in legal cases but at the end of this process, constructed with the intention of distributing justice, is a human judging the evidence in accordance with the value-laden humanistically oriented law(influenced no doubt by Greek ideas of the common good and Kantian notions of the practical contradictions involved in disregarding moral laws). This work “Homo Deus”, speaks very seldom of the law and its humanistic structure and processes and this is a limitation because the law is the humanistic discipline which best incorporates the findings from the inhabitants of the ivory tower where philosophers dwell. What we know about totalitarian regimes is that the first order of business is to dismantle respect for the existing law in order to replace it with “the law of the Fuhrer” or “the laws of history as interpreted by Lenin, Stalin etc” that often involve not just small alterations but veritable inversions of what is right and what is wrong. Harari’s system disregards philosophy, philosophical ethics philosophical psychology and political philosophy because it belongs in Greek or Enlightenment ivory towers. His system redefines and thereby inverts the value of Humanism, redefines Liberalism which also historically via liberals such as Socrates, Locke and Kant has had a great respect for the law, disregards the truths and knowledge of civilization-building institutions such as religion, and elevates all forms of science and technology to fill the vacuums created. This is an algorithm for totalitarianism if there ever was one.

It is not clear that Harari shares the definition of information given by the OED because he constructs a chain of terms beginning with data, leading to information, and thereupon to knowledge and wisdom. It is not clear here whether he is envisaging the possibility of false information that is not possible with knowledge if we agree with the definition of the philosophers that knowledge is justified true belief. If false information is a possibility then it is not clear how it or data could be the focus of his “new religion”. What would be the value of “false information” or data which presumably could also be truly neutral or false? Arguments require true premises if they are to be valid. Imaginative narratives can, of course, contain accounts of robots or superhuman bionic men obeying the rules or algorithms of Google or Facebook but this is fictional. If these narratives are a consequence of studying the disciplines of computer science and biology then something has gone seriously wrong. It is argued that even societies are data processing systems and the only difference between capitalism and communism is that the former is a centrally organized data processing system and the latter a distributed processing system. The latter system is evaluated as being inferior to the former because of the impossibility of steering the price of bread centrally. Further, as is the case with all singular instrumental judgments the evaluation does not take into account the possible advantages of steering entire artificial intelligence systems centrally in accordance with a policy of economically and politically interfering with other more distributed data processing systems. The author is very clear in his judgment:

“Capitalism did not defeat communism because capitalism was more ethical because individual liberties are sacred or because God was angry with the heathen communists. Rather capitalism won the cold war because distributed data processing works better than centralized data processing, at least in periods of accelerating technological change. the Central Committee of the Communist Party just could not deal with the rapidly changing world of the late twentieth century.”(p434)

So, in the light of the above, would the unethical behaviour of centrally steered data processing systems, if successful, be in any sense laudable? Surely, the author does not believe that the only residue of the Greek reflections on ethics and the Kantian reflections on ethics are either a)individual liberties defined solipsistically or narcissistically or b)the religious dogma of an angry God?
Democracies and dictatorships are also defined in terms of centralized and distributed data processing systems and even if democracies appear to have advantages it is admitted that in some circumstances centrally steered systems may prove advantageous. In rapidly changing technological environments the government tortoise, it is argued can never outrun the hare. The amount of data is overwhelming and the average voter in a democracy is, it is argued :

“beginning to sense that the democratic mechanism no longer empowers them”(p437)

The average voter further believes:

“Government has become mere administration. It manages the country but no longer leads it.”(438)

In this environment, it is argued, some people search for conspiracy theories to explain why society is taking the direction it is.

Harari asks what the output of international data processing systems are, and refers to the “Internet of all things” which once it is installed will mean the disappearance of Homo Sapiens. According to the dogma of Dataism mankind is merely a tool to create this universal/cosmic data processing system:

“Homo Sapiens is an obsolete algorithm. After all, what’s the advantage of humans over chickens? Only that in humans information flows in much more complex patterns.. Well, then if we could create a data processing system that can assimilate even more data than a human being, and process it more efficiently, would not that system be superior to a human in exactly the same way that a human is superior to a chicken?”(pp444-5)

In this maelstrom of the flow of information(and as pointed out above it is not clear whether the author means to regard false information as part of this flow) it is claimed that no one would understand fully what is happening. But, it is claimed, no one today understands how the global economy works or where global politics is heading. The recommended response to this state of affairs is to contribute to this information flow by writing emails(which presumably might inadvertently contain false information) that could then be read by the system(Would the system detect falsehoods?), and part of this response requires trusting the invisible hand of the system. Apparently, this system would not be anti-humanist because it has nothing against human experience: the system merely “believes” that these experiences are not valuable.

Music.according to the author is just a mathematical pattern and God is a product of our imaginations that are merely biochemical algorithms and will be replaced by the internet of all things which will be monitoring for example how many eggs there are in my refrigerator. The previous modern alliance(?) between science and humanism had resulted in scientists accepting the guidance of humanism because, apparently, the author claims, in the name of his narrow definition of humanism, feelings were the best algorithms in the world for millions of years. This “alliance” between scientists and humanists will be dissolved now that algorithms have replaced feelings. There will no longer be any need to listen to the internal voices giving expression to one’s feelings because, for example, the algorithms will know how we are going to vote( making democratic elections also irrelevant). The algorithms will know how we feel and the interesting question to be raised is what if anything will be done with that knowledge especially if it indicates that all the humanists believe the system to be totalitarian. Instead of visiting a museum or climbing a mountain to view a beautiful sunset the more appropriate responses to the problems of life would be to have one’s DNA sequenced, wear a bio-medical monitoring device, post pictures of all one’s experiences on Facebook, allow Google to read your emails and keep a record of your likes and dislikes. Finally, the author argues, even if Dataism is wrong and organisms are not algorithms this in itself might not prevent Dataism from taking over the world. The author then claims that the overthrow of homo sapiens is not inevitable and that the purpose of the book is to loosen the grip of technology in order that we may think in more imaginative ways about the future. The problem with this declared purpose is that human beings are rational animals capable of discourse and it is the denial of this thesis that has led us into totalitarian realms of the imagination where one can literally imagine anything.

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Eight: Action, AI and Totalitarianism

Hits: 231

The Liberal order, according to Harari, is defined in terms of individualism human rights, democracy, and the free market and is also a form of religion. Human rights as we learned earlier are figments of the imagination and Humanism, a term traditionally closely associated with liberalism, is also more or less defined in terms of a romantic solipsistic individualism that does not have very much in common with our traditional notion of an ethical humanism steered by law and reason. Ever since Kant associated ethics and human rights with freedom, freedom also became a more systematically characterized concept than it was when it was referred to by Hobbes as that which citizens have to partly abandon in order for the Leviathan or the commonwealth to provide security for nation states citizens.

As was the case with the difficulty of seeing the principle of the soul through a microscope or via imaging techniques we are now also informed that the free will cannot be detected with scientific instruments either. Looking for freedom with such instruments is of course what a philosopher would call a category mistake. Harari claims that the attribution of free will to humans is a fact and that is true, but some facts are categorial such as “all men are mortal”: no observation would ever reveal the counterfactual that a man is immortal and trying to base this conceptual fact on purely observational grounds is failing to appreciate the logical and categorical nature of conceptual truths. Hume once tried this line of reasoning with the self and pointed out that we are not able to observationally detect the “self” and therefore the self-did not exist. Kant pointed out a number of objections to this line of empiricist thinking, amongst which was the self or soul being an idea of reason(a principle) rather than a phenomenal thing to be encountered in the phenomenal world. He pointed out, in other words, that the initial premise that we can not observe the self is ambiguous. If the self is a principle that cannot be observed because it is a condition of what it as that we are observing then it cannot warrant the conclusion that there is no such principle or condition. Similarly, if freedom is an idea or principle of ethical activity then claiming as the author does, people are free because they “feel free” is incoherent. When people say they feel free it is a negative judgment which is in focus: the judgment namely that no one is preventing them from doing what they wish to, which in turn focuses attention on the fact that freedom is an idea or condition qualifying action and can not qualify sensation:actions and sensations are different psychological entities and even if sensations might peripherally be associated with action there is no logical connection between these logically different entities(See O’Shaughnessy’s “The Will: a dual aspect theory). There is even a difference in the causal origins of these two entities with action having an immediate psychological cause and sensation or feeling having an immediate physical cause. This discussion also accords well with the Kantian ontological distinction between “what happens to man” and “what man makes of himself”: therefore, all talk about there not being a self “present” in the stream of consciousness is an unnecessary spiritualist reification of the concept. One of the immediate psychological causes of action is, for example, desire which certainly must be an occupant of the so-called stream of consciousness, but one should not succumb to the scientific temptation of reducing action to mere bodily movement that can be observed, for two reasons: firstly there are mental actions such as trying to remember a name and secondly, there is trying to sustain a mental image. Both are mental actions sharing the logical structure of being active (one can ask people to stop doing them) and both share the relation to the psychological realm rather than to physical origins. Secondly, action is a concept transcending the ontological realms of thought and existence and thereby is what O´Shaughnessy calls an apriori metaphysical concept that only a self-conscious consciousness or language user is capable of comprehending. We know behaviourism is behind much of the confusion related to consciousness and the understanding of language. Having being forced to abandon experiments with humans because of the difficulty of controlling and measuring the variables, experiments with animals only succeeded in producing the limited results they did because of the presence of an animal form of consciousness and the consequent existence of teleological intentional behaviour. Attempting to generalize these results to humans failed because self-conscious consciousness and language use is a higher form of life. O Shaughnessy points out how the way in which we linguistically demarcate the concepts of perception, action, and consciousness includes an ineluctable first person identification of the occupants of our stream of consciousness:

“While action and perception and consciousness have no tendency to cause any single phenomenon-or set-of-phenomena in one setting, they nevertheless have a characteristic “outer face” in the following sense. The simpler the organism in which they occur, the more they figure in causal transactions from inner to outer that are readily interpretable to a third person other. For example, nearby perception by an insect of its natural prey or predator will very often cause movement: and this movement in this situation is readily interpretable. Then I would suggest that such an “outer face”, call it C-phi must have been that via which the psychological item in question first came to the consciousness of some third person other.Yet it is one thing to know of and notice such psychological items in another via C-phi, it is quite another to relate to them as does a self-conscious consciousness. That is, to be in a position to notice and know of them/in oneself and another/ under linguistically demarcated concepts. This huge development depends on C-phi- but also on the internal psychological setting of the outer phenomena, call it C-psy. For example, physical action Phi gets thus conceptually demarcated via a C phi which includes “say” the presence of a quarry, and a C-psy which includes desire. Now C phi and C-psy are interdependent: indeed C-psy rationalizes C-phi…In short, the development of self-conscious conceptualized knowledge of the physical act is made possible by C-phi and C-psy , and ultimately by C-psy.”(Volume 1 p80)

C-psy is inaccessible to the scientific method. Pretending that the firing of neurones is logically equivalent to the desire for the quarry is a mind-brain identification fallacy but it is the only move available if one does not want to deny the existence of the internal phenomenon of desire. The science of Aristotle and Kant it should be pointed out had no difficulty in accommodating transcendental and metaphysical truths and did not need to resort to the spiritualisation of phenomena that cannot then causally interact with the physical world.

One of the major arguments used against the notion of the self is the following:

“Liberals believe that we have a single and indivisible self. To be an individual means that I am in-dividual(indivisible). Yet my body is made up of approximately 37 trillion cells and each day both my body and my mind go through countless permutations and transformations…..For liberalism to make sense, I must have one–and only one–true self, for if I had more than one authentic voice how would I know which voice to heed in the polling station, in the supermarket, and in the marriage market…However, over the last few decades the life sciences have reached the conclusion that this liberal story is pure mythology…if I look really deep within myself the seeming unity which I take for granted dissolves into a cacophony of conflicting voices, none of which is “my true self”. Humans aren’t individuals. They are dividuals.”

The use and abuse of the term “liberal” in this work is similar to the use and abuse of the term “humanist”. If one connects liberalism to liberty and the positive concept of freedom then Kant must be the liberal par excellence in virtue of the fact that his reflections on the concept of freedom are the most systematic account of the concept we have. Kant, of course, reflects on the parts of the self which for him are sensibility, understanding, and reason. For him, it would be perfectly consistent to maintain that someone could steal something in spite of hearing the voice of reason within telling the individual not to do the deed. When the individual finds himself in court and is asked why he stole the item he may, like a good scientist, cite a number of causes: he needed to pay his rent, his mother left him when he was 6 months old, his father became an alcoholic, he fell in with a gang of thieves etc. Now if the legal system were based on the causal principle of science, the judge would have no alternative but to release the man. One cannot be blamed for one’s choices if one has no control over them. But the criminal can be blamed: he heard the voice of reason and if he did not, he ought to have developed his reasoning about his social existence to the extent that the voice did protest the deed. The criminal is blamed on the grounds of one of the key concepts of social science, namely freedom. The judge in sentencing him refers to the principle that the criminal could have chosen not to steal the item. He is sentenced, that is, for not using his freedom and reasoning powers. Now let us assume, incidentally, that our criminal is a scientist and as a Parthian shot shouts out that it was not he that committed the crime but some other person, the person he was six months ago is not the person he is today, literally millions of cells and chemicals are different in his body, therefore, he is different. This narrative indicates the irrelevance of scientific concepts in the realm of social science and law. We would not find Kant the liberal denying the validity of the assumption of the legal system that the criminal is the same person that committed the theft. The Sensible part of the mind may have been behind the action but the criminal will understand the reasoning of the legal system if he is not mentally ill. If he is mentally ill he may continue to insist that the voice telling him to commit the theft was not his. He may even complain about a cacophony of voices. There is a contradiction in insisting that the number of cells changing is logically relevant to the claim that there is not an individual self and many materialists have themselves attempted to patch up their faulty reasoning by reference to the functional continuity of the organs of the body that may or may not be sufficient to claim the unity of the self. For Aristotle, the hylomorphic philosopher who acknowledges the truths of materialism, the functional unity of these organs were a partial explanation of the unity of the self, i.e. in modern terminology they were perhaps a necessary but not sufficient condition of the unity of the self. Functional unity, however commits one to teleology: the organ’s function is for the sake of the individual and many physical scientists do not want to be associated with this kind of “backward causation” as they incorrectly call this type of explanation. Teleological explanation is however very much tied up with our conceptualisation and linguistic demarcation of action. O’Shaughnessy points to instances of actions in which observation based descriptions of instrumental action would be confined to just the movements of the body. So when in walking to the shop to buy some milk, I say so upon being asked, and the scientist obsessed with observation claims that to be an illegitimate description of my action because all I can scientifically be said to be doing is walking. This, after all, is all that can be captured on his video of me on the way to the shop before being asked about the matter.

After discussing the respective different functional roles of the right and left hemispheres Harari claims that Daniel Kahneman’s experiments prove the existence of an experiencing self that remembers nothing(a moment to moment consciousness) and a narrating self that remembers selectively and is duration blind. It is this narrating self, the author argues that is behind the liberal belief that we have a single enduring self:

“Most of us identify with our narrating self. When we say “I” we mean the story in our head not the onrushing stream of experiences we undergo. We identify with the inner system that takes the crazy chaos of life and spins out of it logical and consistent yarns. It doesn’t matter that the plot is full of lies and lacunas and is rewritten again and again so that today’s story flatly contradicts yesterday’s.”(347-8)

The author goes on further to suggest that the self is a result of an imaginary story that we tell ourselves:

“just like nations, gods and money. Each of us has a sophisticated system that throws away most of our experiences, keeps only a few choice samples, mixes them up with bits from movies we’ve seen, novels we’ve read, speeches we’ve heard and daydreams we’ve savoured, and out of all that jumble it weaves a seemingly coherent story about who I am, where I came from and where I am going. This story tells me what to love, whom to hate and what to do with myself.. We all have our genre. Some people live a tragedy, others inhabit a never-ending religious drama, some approach life as if it were an action film and not a few act as if in a comedy. But in the end they are all just stories.”

….which the author seems to be able to distinguish from the truth in some fashion that he thinks the people he is talking about do not possess the capacity to do. He assumes that the language located in the left hemisphere is one without a truth function which subjects putative facts to observational tests, testimony from other witnesses, different kinds of reasoning processes and different theories. If Aristotle is a liberal as he ought to be, given his suggestion of the importance of an educated middle class to the fate of the political community, why would he reject the above account so categorically? Here are some of the grounds he would use to reject the above account: Reason uses arguments and theories to determine the truth of putative beliefs that can occur uncontested in a narrative: Experience can be organized by narratives and also organized at a higher level by knowledge: My life is the true story of who I am where I came from what I am doing–it characterizes my epistemic relation to myself. To the extent that I am capable of telling this true story is the extent to which I “know myself”.

Harari concludes this section with the following:

“The free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms.”(354)

…thus dispelling the myth that a story is told by one free individual to another which needs to be done if one is to accept the totalitarian story of the future which we will be treated to in the next section.

The arguments of Kant pertaining to the dignity and worth of the individual have made no appearance in either of Harari’s works thus far. If Kantian liberalism has survived the totalitarianism of the last century then it must be because of these arguments. The author claims, however, that:

“liberalism succeeded because there was abundant political, economic and military sense in ascribing value to every human being. On the mass battlefields of modern industrial wars and in the mass production lines of modern industrial economies every human counted. there was value to every pair of hands which could hold a rifle or pull a lever.”(p357)

This makes liberalism a utilitarian Philosophy that resonates with the political philosophies of Hobbes and the Mill’s. We are all familiar with the futile attempts of utilitarian ethics to explain the worth of an individual and his freedom. Attempts that at the political level justify the unjust tyrannizing of the minority by the majority however insane the policies of the majority are. At the individual level, the liberalism of the Mills and Hobbes will allow the individual who is mentally ill the freedom to destroy himself. Utilitarianism was a political philosophy inspired by the science of the 16th and 17th century. It relied on a method of resolving wholes into their parts and attempting to re-compose them back into the whole(the former process being of course much easier than the latter) and it also relied on an assumption of linear causation applied best to the billiard balls of Hume cannoning off each other. Utilitarianism was science “applied” to social phenomena with a teleological twist: man pursues happiness it was claimed. The test of whether something was good or not was a consequential test and Bentham’s sovereign principles of pleasure and pain were the key indicators of a man’s happiness. If a man was happy, irrespective of whether he met the Kantian condition of deserving his happiness, this was a sufficient test of the ethical good. What are we to say of the happy man who then asks himself the Kantian question and upon realizing he does not deserve to be happy is now unhappy? This unhappiness is, after all, a consequence of a consequence and if consequences determine what is good why should one particular consequence be preferable to any other? This is, of course, a variation of Aquinas’ double effect theory that is a standard objection to any consequentialist ethical theory.

Ethics is, of course, a figment of the imagination for Harari as is human rights which are tied not to man’s imagined happiness but to his actual dignity and worth. In his reasoning about the utility of man for the economic or political system, he notes that artificial intelligence is decoupling intelligence from consciousness and that there is no guarantee that this will not lead to man becoming superfluous at the point at which all occupations can be performed more efficiently by computerized robots. This is a serious prediction. Hannah Arendt pointed to the consequences of the industrial revolution when large numbers of men became superfluous in Europe and created the economic and political conditions for two world wars. It should, however, be pointed out that it was precisely the political and economical utilitarian value of these men which contributed to their alienation. Even advanced Educational systems did not suffice to convince the masses of unemployed that they possessed a value in being human.

Sometimes there is something of the air of a science fiction film hanging over these reflections. Firstly, the reflections ignore the variable of freedom and consent. Would people consent to have AI based teachers and doctors and politicians? Secondly, it is not clear that algorithms will be able to capture the essential elements of teaching to take one example. Everyone in education knows how difficult it is to change one small component of the educational system: there just is no hope of agreement over what constitutes a good education. There must literally be hundreds of thousands of algorithms involved in the educational system and we look forward to seeing the conference which will discuss where to start. Let us, however, explore this totalitarian vision to its logical conclusion:

“As algorithms push humans out of the job market, wealth and power might become concentrated in the hands of the tiny elite that owns the all-powerful algorithms, creating unprecedented social and political inequality….Alternatively, the algorithms might themselves become the owners. A human law already recognizes intersubjective entities like corporations and nations as “legal persons”….5,000 years ago much of Sumer was owned by imaginary gods such as Enki and Inanni. If gods can possess land and employ people, why not algorithms?”(p376-7)

The author appears to believe that if we provided Google free access to our biometric devices, our DNA scans, and our medical records it would provide a better solution to the problems in our lives than the narrating self with its “cooked up stories. Google will help us make choices in the supermarket, in the polling booth and the marriage market:

“once Google, Facebook, and other algorithms become all-knowing oracles, they may well evolve into agents and ultimately into sovereigns”(p397)

“The new technologies of the 21st century my thus reverse the humanist revolution, stripping humans of their authority, and empowering non-human algorithms instead.”(p401)

All of this will apparently be based on the life sciences conclusion that a living organism is just a collection of algorithms. This in its turn will transform medicine from an ethical project of healing the sick to an elitist project of upgrading the lives of the healthy. Elites will want these services, it is maintained and further:

“some elites may conclude that there is no point in providing improved and even standard levels of health for masses of useless poor people, and it is far more sensible to focus on upgrading a handful of super-humans beyond the norm.”(pp407)

These super-humans will, it is argued, abandon their “liberal” roots and treat humans “the way 19th century Europeans treated Africans”.

It is difficult to treat some of these reflections academically because of their “imaginative” science fiction-like character against the background of the absence of philosophy, ethics, philosophical psychology, and law, but the purpose of this review thus far has been to present this absent background. With this in mind it is difficult to believe that given our natures and the knowledge we have of what happened in history the last time we encountered the above-mentioned phenomena when “science” was left to dominate the field of humanistic explanation, we will travel this totalitarian road again without recognizing its landmarks. We are free to choose not to go down this yellow brick road.

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Seven: The Humanist Revolution.

Hits: 271

It is not clear what the author means when he refers to a great cosmic plan. Does he mean to include the cosmic intentions of Aristotelian Philosophy, Kantian Philosophy, or Post-Wittgensteinian Philosophy? He certainly means to refer to the texts related to those major religions that believe in an all powerful, all knowing, all good, God who is popularly imagined to be a kind of scriptwriter for the human drama played out in his creation. In the beginning was the word and the word was God could symbolize such a state of affairs where God is the creator of the universe and all forms of life.

Much of the language of the Bible is metaphorical or symbolic. Biblical scholars have pointed out for example that the creation story, when it refers to the creation of the earth in a period of six days, is referring to a divine day which could be a billion years in our human scale of measurement of time. Similarly, the drama whose beginning we are witnessing in the human events reported in the holy book may be the beginning of a sequence of events that will in its turn last hundreds of thousands or billions of years. In such contexts, the ancient deluge and current nuclear threats will literally be nano-elements of the overall cosmic plan. When it is symbolically reported in the Bible that God saw his creation to be good he might have been seeing or “knowing” the beginning, middle, and end or endlessness of the drama. The claim during the course of this span of time that God is dead by a few modernist thinkers on the grounds of a temporary loss of meaning over thousands of years would not register as significant in the mind of a prophet who is seeing such events darkly through the divine lens of a meaning created by eons or ages of time.

The argument presented against believing is a cosmic plan is the following:

“God’s death did not lead to a social collapse. Throughout history prophets and philosophers have argued that if humans stopped believing in a great cosmic plan all law and order would vanish. Yet today those who pose the greatest threat to global law and order are precisely those people who continue to believe in God and His all-encompassing plans. God-fearing Syria is a far more violent place than the secular Netherlands.”(p258)

For a philosopher like Kant, the announcement of the death of God would have carried no more meaning than the announcement that a particular way of thinking
non-philosophically about God was becoming less and less relevant. Neither he nor any serious philosopher would think that the law and order of the world (which is partly a creation of philosophical thinking from the arenas of ethics and politics) was going to collapse because of a collapse of a way of thinking that was not philosophical. Further, even a scientist interested in collecting statistics relating to the number of people hurt or killed by terrorism or the violence of local wars( for example, in Syria) would regret this state of affairs. They would not perhaps dramatise it in the way Harari has done especially when it is seen against the background of other sources of violence and destruction in the world. The statistics do not suggest there is a global threat to world law and order from these sources.

It is further claimed that because there is no cosmic plan there are no laws determining what is happening on a global stage. Aristotle, Kant and a number of other dwellers in the ivory tower of philosophy would disagree with this. The roots of humanism were planted by the ancient Greeks culminating in the work of Aristotle with the statement at the beginning of the Nichomachean Ethics in which it is said that:

“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.”

Only rational animals capable of discourse can think, plan and aim at this good.Animals lead their lives in accordance with the drivers of instinct, feeling and emotion and because of this, they cannot cooperate in the large numbers needed to found cities and communities in which such art,activities, and inquiries can be pursued for the purposes of the good. Reason, for Aristotle, enabled man to develop the virtues that then defined the good person and the good action. Here again, feelings were either an incidental irrelevant accompaniment or psychic obstacles which needed to be circumnavigated. This is similarly the case in Kant where the ideas of reason such as Freedom and God jointly motivate the moral law in which it is scripted that man ought to treat his fellow (and himself) as an end in himself and never merely as a means. Thus for Kant, the God respecting philosopher, there is a humanistic script to the human drama leading to the formation of the Cosmopolitan man which is part of the cosmic plan and there are laws both moral and physical which will explain the free, chosen pilgrimage of man on the road to a kingdom of ends. For both Aristotle and Kant, the pursuit of the good is the essence of humanism and Aristotle specifically says in the Nichomachean ethics that virtue is not a feeling because it would be absurd to praise or blame a man for the feelings he is experiencing. For him, the humanistic drama playing out is a process of actualization in which the political conditions are being created for man to acquire the virtues via politically created educational systems led by a politically educated middle class. Aristotle, the biologist, believes that man the rational animal capable of discourse is the most important proximate cause of this actualization process: he believes, that is, that this process is driven by human nature which somehow participates in the divine through its possession of reason and the use of this reason in moments of philosophical contemplation. It is probably this kind of explanation of mans nature which causes Harari to call philosophizing an activity that takes place in an ivory tower and it is important to point out that, apart from this name-calling, no argument is invoked to question this truly humanistic view of man that produces convincing arguments against the simplistic equation of humanism with the feelings man has. Kant too would agree with this counterargument and he would rest his case on a complex theory of the philosophical psychology involved in what he calls “Anthropology”. In his humanistic “Anthropology” Kant draws an Aristotelian distinction between what happens to man (feelings and sensations) and what he does( rational action). Both Philosophers would not get caught up in any premature populistic wave of declaring that there is no cosmic plan or that God is dead. Both would probably question the creation myths and narratives respectfully, (being aware as they are of the wisdom they contain), on the grounds of the philosophical possibility that the universe has existed forever and God was always present in its form and the changes it undergoes. Neither would question the physical age of the earth that has been proved by science or the approximate dating of the emergence of life or, lastly,the approximate dating of the emergence of our species. Both philosophers would have been fascinated by the writings of Julian Jaynes in which it is maintained that as consciousness emerged in man it did so originally in a bicameral form because of the biological probability that like all other major functions, language was present in both hemispheres of the brain. In the beginning, man, in stressful circumstances heard voices that were traces and perhaps combinations of the voices of other men(as is the case with schizophrenic patients today). These voices told men what to do. Jaynes points out that this phenomenon is recorded in the early texts of the Bible and that we see a gradual change in the mentality of man toward a higher level of consciousness in which man in such circumstances, with language now concentrated in the left hemisphere, begins to think for himself with the aid of his own thought( with perhaps more than a little help from the texts he finds important). This transition is also recorded in the early Greek literature of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Jaynes points out the important role of writing in this process of transformation from an oral culture to the culture of the text. Mountains of evidence are presented for the thesis of “Deus Absconditus”: the thesis of the retreat of the voices of the gods from consciousness. He also points to the major trauma of the eruption of Thera that forced millions of men to relocate after the devastation of a huge tsunami. The relocation could not have been a peaceful matter in a relativistic world where each community listened to its own voices and would have found confrontation with voices from other gods confusing. This tale of the confusion of tongues is also in the Bible. What Aristotle and Kant would have found to be alarming in our present culture is the power of our language games to detach themselves from the knowledge we have and generate relativistic theories about what a value is or what it is that makes a fact a fact. Postmodernism is a movement that seeks to destroy the meaning of everything in the past as if it had no connection with the present. It has no patience with the painstaking work of the scholar in his ivory tower trying to work out what Socrates was right about and what he was wrong about, what Aristotle was right about and wrong about. Aristotle was certainly not wrong about the 4 kinds of explanations presented in his Metaphysics and he is not wrong about the importance of teleological explanation in the spheres of action, ethics, and politics. One must read and understand the Philosophy of Kant if one wishes to understand what Aristotle was mistaken about and even then the scholar working in his ivory tower might even find that there may be things Aristotle was right about which have not found their way into Kant’s Philosophy. Aristotle and Kant were both respected scientists of their times and built a philosophical framework for science which has not yet been fully evaluated. We find for example “scientists” like Freud, Piaget, and Jaynes using that framework intuitively in the arena of Psychology and Anthropology but we also find their messages lost in the babble of the confusion of tongues about what science is or ought to be. These three thinkers follow in the footsteps of Aristotle and Kant and sometimes they are affected by the babble and leave the straight and narrow to meander in the swamps of Babel but even when they do so we find them correcting themselves and returning to the road that leads from the city of ivory towers to the cosmopolitan city where all tongues are understood. A humanist does not believe as Harari claims that God is dead or that there is no cosmic plan or that there are no laws and principles guiding every event that happens. A humanist will not claim that humanism is based on feelings. Bureaucrats who share with Harari the distaste for the inhabitants and products of the ivory towers throughout the ages have “colonized” the texts of our holy books and past thinkers and Harari is right to deprecate the bureaucratic practice of dispensations, the practice of “paying” for one’s sins. Bureaucracy has a long history and bureaucrats had by this time completely forgotten about the writings of the Greeks on the irrelevance of money for the life of virtue. Indeed they could not even see the relevance of what they were doing to the event of Jesus throwing the moneylenders off the steps of the church. Capitalism was beginning to make its presence felt under the cover of this collective “forgetfulness” of the very texts that stand for the foundation of our culture.

Harari believes a chasm separates the activities of the therapist from the priest because the former do not possess a holy book to define good and evil. Firstly we have to refer to the way in which language is used in the Bible. It does not work with definitions(for definitions one needs to consult Aristotle) but rather uses language symbolically in the realm of meaning where a latent meaning of the concept of sin, for example, can be “schematized” by various manifest images such as a stain, missing the target or inner accusations of guilt, each of which may refer to an advancing state of awareness of the meaning of evil. It is this realm that Harari believes is part of the modern covenant whereby man willingly trades this realm of meaning for power. Therapy has its roots in Freudian therapy and theory and whilst there may not be a definition of the good in Freud there is certainly an Aristotelian understanding of the concept of the good operating in the idea of the superego regulating the value system of the ego. There is also a humanistic attitude toward psychic phenomena which respects the complexity of what one appears to observe and sees in the example of dreams that manifest themselves in our sleep the operations of latent structures of wishfulness and anxiety. Dreams are symbols and have both an archeological significance and are teleologically oriented: dreams are psychic storms seeking a state of equilibrium. The therapist is thus an interpreter in much the same way in which the priest is and if one peruses the pages of Freud, products of the ivory tower, one understands that how the patient feels about his dreams is just another symptom to be interpreted and there is much work to be done on the road to achieving a state of equilibrium in any patients life. If the patient happens to have marital problems according to Harari their personal feelings are what it is that gives value to this bond and he asks:

“..if the very same feelings that once drove you into the arms of one man now drive you into the arms of another, what is wrong with that?”(p263)

Modern man, argues Harari justifies marriage in terms of feelings rather than holy scriptures or divine commandments.Why? Because it is argued:

“Humanism has taught us that something can be bad only if it causes someone to feel bad.”(p264).

As we have pointed out this is not the Aristotelian humanism that lies at the foundation of the normative meaning of the concept we acknowledge today. Kantian humanism speaks specifically to the problem of marriage and sees in this institution, which he never embraced personally, an ethical core far removed from the sensibility of feeling and more related to the understanding of and the reasoning about the ethical action of making a promise. “Promises ought to be kept”, Kant argues, and the reasoning does not relate back to the individual and their private world of psychical storms but rather to the important role that the institution of promising plays in the life of man. Breaking a promise, Kant argues also brings up the issue of truthfulness and compromises the institution of truth-telling. Promises are made before one is married and only the virtuous man should venture into such a commitment where timeless human institutions are the latent content of the manifest ceremony.

Voting is also an action related to promising, in particular, the promises of politicians. Harari’s description of how one needs to “filter” away propaganda lies, spin, and experts, and listen to one’s inner voice is literally bi-cameral. The voter Harari describes is barely conscious: he is more like an automated robot following a program. It seems that this is how he imagines governments are selected and how referendums occur. Governments make promises at the end of chains of descriptions of problems and arguments about the rights and wrongs of alternative solutions. The “filter” being talked about is that of rationality and meaningfulness that are core elements of humanism but conspicuously absent in the conception of humanism we are encountering in this work.

Harari then makes fun of the account of artists being guided by the holy spirit in their great creations. Now a considerable amount of reasoning goes into the creation of a work of art and much of it is instrumental reasoning as Wittgenstein noted when speaking about a tailor creating a suit of clothes..” a little longer in the leg”, “more room for the waist”, “a little less grey”. Here there is a physical body operating as a standard for the tailor’s measurements and subsequent sewing activity. In many works of art the standard is the psychological feeling of appropriateness of the artists choice of motif, his choice of colours, his way of painting the scene we are presented with, that gives rise to not just the feeling we get but also to the disposition we have to speak with a universal voice about the work, should we find it to be beautiful. In a work of beauty such as Michelangelo’s Delphic Sybil, or his sculpture “Times of the Day” standing at the front of the Medici’s tomb, why should we not say that some spirit rare and sacred guided the work? If all the laws of physics, evolution, and psychology were involved in the bringing into being of these works, why should we not see Michelangelo as merely a medium for these processes that transcend any and every individual? Characterizing all this as merely a “feeling” is dogmatizing away a complexity that requires much philosophy to unravel. Characterizing these processes as being caused by some “imaginary” anthropomorphic agent working in the heavens is a populistic picture of what the serious theologian or philosopher means by the term “God”.

The author suggests that :
“In the Middle Ages without a god, I had no source of political, moral and aesthetic authority, I could not tell what was right good and beautiful”(p275)

Has the author forgotten about the fact that works of Plato were translated into Latin? Plato supplies us with a theory of the good, the true and the beautiful that, though appropriated by the Church does not rely on reference to God as an authority. The works of Aristotle were not translated into Latin until the 1200’s but then there were still 200 years left of the Middle Ages. Aristotle’s hylomorphic works, it can be argued, even though appropriated by Aquinas and the church so undermined the dualist view of the universe that the Renaissance was an inevitability: a Renaissance in which Michelangelo could quarrel with the Pope about his aesthetic characterization of God and biblical figures painted on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. The Platonic and Aristotelian formula for knowledge was not “knowledge =Scripture X logic but rather “justified true belief” where the justification was not by faith but rather by the works of theories.
Thanks to the publication of Aristotle two centuries earlier the activities of science like all other cultural activities independent of the church intensified but again the author ignores the role of theory in his formula for scientific knowledge which is: Empirical data X Mathematics. Aristotelian science had no difficulty incorporating the idea of the good: all activity, including scientific inquiry we recall from the Nichomachean Ethics, aims at the good. The definition of humanist knowledge as “Experience X Sensitivity also ignores the role of theoretical explanation in the activity of inquiry and the accompanying idea that we should “observe” our inner experiences is a very modern formula for Solipsism or what Harari very liberally calls “liberal humanism”: one of the “sects” of humanism, as the author puts the matter. The other sects are even more controversial: communism and Nazism are also forms of humanism on this postmodernist account of humanism. Both forms of totalitarianism disregard absolutely the principles of ethics and the belief in the philosopher’s Gods, not to mention their unified total disregard for the individual’s feelings about what they were witnessing. Calling the two world wars, wars of religion between three sects of humanists surely must strain even the postmodernists imagination!

The picture of liberal democracy or the solipsist crawling out of the dustbin after the two world wars to clean itself up and conquer the world is good comedy and farce but hardly serious history or Philosophy.

Harari asks where we are to find the answer to the questions that technology is posing for the human race and claims that the answer is not to be found in the Bible or sacred writings of any culture. The virtue principle of Aristotle or, even if you wish to go further back in Greek History to the myth of Apollo who issues the proclamations of “nothing too much” and “know thyself” should suffice as guidance if one has not abandoned rationality or meaning as standards by which to measure our discourse and actions. The author then asks what we are going to do when artificial intelligence surpasses or equals human intelligence. Will human experience be just another designable product in the supermarket of products, he wonders? This is of course in a sense quite “logical” once one falsely equates humanism with deaf formulae, dumb feelings, and blind experience. But it is not logical from the viewpoint of the philosophers who are the guardians of logic.

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Six. The Modern Covenant

Hits: 294

In response to social contract theorists, Hume once asked for the evidence and concluded that there is none and the deal may be fictional: social contract theory then died to be resurrected again by John Rawls in his work “Theory of Justice” but not as an actuality. Social Contract theory for Rawls was an explanatory hypothesis designed to explain our social and political behaviour. In the original deal that Hobbes proposed we have agreed to give up some of our freedom in exchange for the security that the nation-state offers. Harari’s deal that modern man makes is to exchange meaning for power. With Hobbes and Rawls it is clear that the parties to the deal are the nation-state and its citizens but it is not clear who the parties to the deal are that the author of the work “Homo Deus” has in mind. Power and not the truth, we know from earlier essays is what science is concerned with and insofar as the meaning is concerned, the following is claimed:

“Until modern times most cultures believed that humans played a part in some great cosmic plan. The cosmic plan gave meaning to life, but also restricted human power. Humans were much like actors on a stage.”(p233)

If famine, plague, and war were in the script then everyone played their parts with varying degrees of Stoicism. Humans had no control of the script, no control over famine, plague, and war. It is this powerlessness that science challenges on the grounds that the cosmic plan has no meaning. Life, it is claimed has no meaning and “the universe is a blind and purposeless process, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing”. The feeling that life is without meaning is actually a symptom of the depressive phase of the mental illness, manic depression, and we know that the Shakespearean character associated with the above words was not in a stable mental condition so this statement that the life of humans and the processes of the universe have no meaning would be somewhat puzzling if we were not familiar with the cultural phenomenon of post-modernism. Postmodernists begin by denying the truth and then they deny meaning on grounds that actually undermine their own position. To take postmodernist claims seriously we would have to believe that they were true and meaningful. If these claims were not meaningful, they could not be true and this relation between truth and meaning has been a fundamental tenet of Philosophy since the time of Aristotle up until modern times which Philosophers date back to Hobbes and Descartes. Hobbes, as we saw, wished for humans to give up their freedom which according to Kant is the source, principle, and meaning of human action and human activity. Kant would not, therefore, have negotiated any deals with the Hobbesian Leviathan.
Normally the Shakespearean character in a mental state of confusion rants and raves about the storm and the lightning and sees an adversarial meaning in the storm. If he is finally blinded and moves toward a state of calmer equilibrium and as a consequence a greater understanding of what has happened to him, it is not out of the question that he might sit and ponder his behaviour in the storm and arrive at the Aristotelian analysis that the storm is a physical process composed of the elements of earth, air, water, and fire and processes of hot and cold, wet and dry interacting with the purpose of reestablishing an equilibrium in the weather system. The storm is not a blind process: its power has meaning. Modern culture does not reject this cosmic plan. Modern science might believe this but that is a problem that science needs to address. If science has been blinded by its power then it is about time that it calm down and sit in Shakespearean fashion and ponder its future.

Harari claims that the motto of modernity is “shit happens”. This is not exactly a Shakespearean response but it does fit into the postmodernist cauldron of chaos. He then invokes a principle of freedom and insists that man can do anything he wants. Man is a powerful creature when armed with his science and his money. The economic concepts of growth and credit allowed man to trust in the future. The hubris is astounding in this account and reminds one of what happens to men of Hubris in Greek and Shakespearean tragedies. One is reminded of that almost megalomanic capitalist Cecil Rhodes gazing like the philosophers once did in awe and admiration at the heavens and instead of experiencing awe and admiration wished he could colonize the planets. Arendt discusses this example in her work “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and points out that the motto of this aspect of the modern period, namely “everything is possible” was one of the driving forces of totalitarianism. One understands why the author of “Homo Deus” refuses to learn anything from Philosophy but it is surprising to discover that even history is going to be ignored. We should also recall in this context that Harari earlier claimed communism to be a religion thereby ignoring the normative meaning of the word. Why? Because as he says man has given up meaning for power. This is not true of course but if meaning collapses then so does the distinction between truth and falsity. This, of course, is not to deny that money can be a medium which can be used to do good. If that is, man understands the ethical meaning of “the good”. Indeed not money but the cooperative intentions it unleashes may be a very important element on the road to the Cosmopolitan world Immanuel Kant envisaged. With this aspect in mind, we could perhaps suggest an alteration to Harari’s number one commandment of Capitalism. Instead of “thou shalt invest thy profits in increasing growth” an inhabitant of the ivory tower might suggest “Use capital to bring about a Kantian kingdom of ends”. There are signs that bubbling up beneath the surface of all this hubris of the modern world there is this Kantian kind of philosophical attitude emerging from the subterranean depths of our history. One of the richest men in the world, for example, Warren Buffet, relatively recently agreed to give up 99% of his fortune to “good causes”.
The threatening ecological collapse as a result of global warming is discussed and the logic of the bleeding obvious is applied when it is claimed that when the deluge or great flood comes the rich will have the Arks and the poor will pay the price. But, the author claims the poor are unlikely to support anything which reduces the rate of growth of the world economy because they see this as the only way in which the quality of their lives will improve. What about the middle class, that class which Aristotle predicted would choose the middle way between the extremes, take the golden middle road into the future? Of course, it requires an education to do the right thing in the right way at the right time in all circumstances and such an educated class surely sees the meaning of the excesses of power and money which is meant to comfort us when as Harari so poetically puts it “shit happens”. Meaning is the currency of the educated man and such a man would not engage in “the modernist deal” or regard the megalomanic obsession with power as something to be desired. The educated man reads his Greek tragedies, reads his Shakespeare and studies his history. The author likens the men of the premodern world amongst which we have to include all the philosophers and cultural figures that have created meaning for us, to lowly clerks in a socialist bureaucracy punching their time cards and waiting for something to happen or someone to do something. The businessman is the author’s hero who gets up every morning and gets on the treadmill connected to the giant wheel of growth. The businessman is running in what the author calls a “rat race” and he points to the consequences:

“Every generation destroys the old world and builds a new one in its place”

This could be the motto of postmodernism which is a movement committed to the dissolution of the “old” system of values in favour of the new. We are told that humans are greedy and that greed is good. We are further told that the world needed to be turned upside down in the name of modernism whose task it was to convince human collectivities and institutions that equilibrium is “far more frightening than chaos”. It is not clear what the author means but he claims that the modern world is devoid of ethics, aesthetics, and compassion but not of morality beauty and compassion which he believes somehow has managed to flourish because of what he calls the new revolutionary “religion” of humanism. Separating humanism from ethics and uniting it with Capitalism and omnipotence is agreeably a chaotic assertion which could only be understood in a through the looking glass world where words can mean whatever you want them to mean and not only can cats smile but their smile can be separated from their bodies symbolizing the separation of biology from psychology. But the world of the postmodernist is much worse than the fictional world of wonderland because not only is it upside down it is like a landscape barren of everything human after an atomic explosion or a catastrophic tsunami. Somewhere the author realizes this is an untenable position and in the next chapter agrees that the contract can be breached and must be breached because it is impossible to establish order without meaning after the so-called death of God.

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Five: Science versus Religion

Hits: 280

“Stories serve as the foundations and pillars of human societies. As history unfolded, stories about gods, nations and corporations grew so powerful that they began to dominate objective reality.”

For Harari, the decisive contents in a narrative are the elements in it which may happen to be false or fictional as he puts it. It was suggested in the previous lecture that the belief in the fictional elements of biblical narratives are not actually the components which facilitate cooperation between men but rather that function is produced by the element of the following of the ethical rules which are suggested in these narratives. The reason why men follow these rules are teleological: they hope that their actions will lead to a flourishing life for themselves and the people they care for. Corporations and nations are not “fictional entities” as is maintained but rather entities which scientific theory cannot adequately describe given its ignorance of what consciousness is and its ignorance of how to characterise action in general and ethical action in particular. Nations and corporations are not objects of belief but objects of action brought about by the activities of men. Action is as real as the suffering that cause it or it causes. Philosophical theory has been concerned with action theory for over two thousand years not through the activity of story telling but through the activity of theorising and arguing about it. The kind of action that avoids the consequences of suffering is the kind of action which builds not upon a shaky belief about something fictional but about knowledge of what is real, e.g. suffering.

Science is defended on the grounds that it has in fact relieved suffering by overcoming famine plague and war via its substitution of intersubjective myths with objective scientific knowledge. A confident claim which is immediately mitigated by a skeptical self doubt which verges on science fiction:

“Modern science certainly changed the rules of the game, yet it did not simply replace myths with facts. Myths continue to dominate humankind, and science only makes these myths stronger. Instead of destroying the intersubjective reality, science will enable it to control the objective and subjective realities more completely than ever before. Thanks to computers and bioengineering, the difference between fiction and reality will blur, as people reshape their reality to match their pet fictions.”(p208)

The implication of the above is that people will be able to live out their virtual realities whatever they are, whether they lead ultimately to flourishing lives or not. Science will, for example, be able to provide an elite with eternal youth!

There then follows a bewildering discussion about the supernatural:

“Modern physicians blame disease on invisible germs and voodoo priests blame disease on invisible spirits. There’s nothing supernatural about it: if you make some spirit angry, the spirit enters your body and causes you pain. What could be more natural than that?”

The observation of the action of causality in the one case and not in the other are the obvious grounds for calling the physicians germs and diseases “natural” and the voodoo priests spirit “supernatural”, Post modernists often operate with a Humpty Dumpty theory of meaning where words mean what they want them to mean. Wittgenstein pointed out that it is open to a group of language users to change the meaning of a word or suggest a change in the meaning of the word, if there was a clear purpose to do so. The attempt to define what is “natural” by fixating upon the normal perceptual characteristic of visibility or observation as a criterion at the expense of the gold standard of science, namely causality, needs further clarification. Or perhaps it does not because one of the reasons the scientist is not happy about the concept of God is that God cannot be observed. The philosophical response to this is to claim that if gravity can be observed then so can the philosophers God operating in both the physical and the ethical realm of human activity. The philosopher does not of course agree with anthropomorphising this activity as the bible tends to do for the heuristic purpose of understanding the ethical messages, but he understands the purpose of so doing, and would therefore be reluctant to dismiss texts filled with wisdom about human suffering as “fictional”, “subjective” or “imaginative”. As was pointed out previously it is a difficult task to capture this God in the web of the meaning of a narrative. It is, as the history of the philosophy of religion has proven even difficult to capture God in the clouds of religious and philosophical arguments men have brought to bear on this topic throughout the ages.

Claiming as the author does that religion is created by humans rather than gods and that religion is defined by its social function rather than by the existence of deities might at least be partly true. Analysis of Kant’s arguments for the existence of God has led many commentators to insist that insofar as humans are concerned it is the idea of God we have in our minds that is decisive for the relation we have to this idea of reason. Here the idea of God is not essentially different from the idea we have of human freedom which some scientists also claim does not exist because their eyes are fixated upon the gold standard of causality. Freedom is another idea that would be difficult to capture in a narrative without the use of “symbolic language”(Paul Ricoeur “Freud: an essay in Interpretation). Interpreters need, that is, to understand the intention or the purpose of this language in these texts and that requires philosophical argumentation at a high level of abstraction. Branding “intention” as “psychological” or “subjective” as some philosophers of science are wont to do only places obstacles on the road of our understanding. Branding religion and god as supernatural or superhuman is equally problematic.

When a religious person claims that the ethical principles we find in religious texts are not created by humans but by God, this statement requires interpretation. There is a story in the OT of Moses coming down mount Sinai with the ten commandments fresh from God. Mountains stretch up into the sky and sometimes even into the clouds. They are natural features which inspire awe and admiration from afar and feelings of freedom when we are walking amongst their peaks or climbing them. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help” is a psalm which places God in some relation to the mountains perhaps via the cognitive attitude of awe which so inspired the Greeks and Kant’s Philosophy. Now the mountains could certainly exist without any human presence on the earth as could all the forces that created them. Is not knowledge of this “fact” a part of my state of awe at something and the processes of its creation. Something that could well be older than the consciousness of man. Is my awe and the mountains and the processes that created them defined by social function? The content of the tablets containing the commandments that Moses brought down to his people certainly will be related to social function because social attitudes and ethical attitudes are intimately connected in the way that Aristotle laid out. A man alone and isolated is not a man. he will either be a god or an animal, Aristotle argued.There is no great difficulty in referring to these commandments in a narrative although some of the assumptions behind these commandments regarding the origin and end of evil will not easily be characterisable. Popular images of devils and demons merely confuses the issue and turns the human landscape into a dualistic war zone between the good and evil. Symbolic language and hermeneutical interpretation of this language will hopefully restore some order and wisdom to our ancient texts. The ten commandments were obviously written by Moses in an awe inspiring environment and in a state of mind seeking help after a long period of homelessness and hunting and gathering in the wilderness. The commandments were what was needed to form a permanent settlement. Men cannot live together without principles or laws. The narrative of Moses is written in symbolic language by inspired scribes.Where is the science here? Well, it is in the facts that the life of hunting and gathering created a problem for which a trial solution was needed which in turn would require further error elimination until a state was achieved which in turn could be conceptualised as problematic. We are talking here about the transition from the hunter gathering phase of human existence to the agricultural phase. Harari is critical of the Agricultural revolution because he argues that for many people it did not symbolise a better life. On the contrary, Harari argues that there was a deterioration of our form of life(longer hours at work, disease etc). The question is whether, although problematic, this was not the necessary step needed to raise the level of mans awareness or consciousness of himself and his life. The dating of the so called “Cognitive Revolution” prior to the Agricultural Revolution suggests that man was sufficiently conscious to speak of imagined entities 70,000 years ago: this is highly controversial. Many commentators including the Psychologist/Anthropologist Julian Jaynes produces mountains of evidence which indicates that the kind of self awareness Harari is talking about probably only occurred ca 3-4000 years ago. He concedes that certain individuals may have reached the levels of consciousness being talked about earlier than this and they may have been regarded as “gods”. Like Moses they may have been the law makers of the communities they were part of. The Agricultural Revolution produced the conditions necessary for this heightened level of awareness and in accordance with scientific method we may , with Harari, see many things to be problematic and seek for new trial solutions to our problems. The industrial Revolution could have been such a trial solution seeking to eliminate the errors of the agricultural revolution which bound us to the soil. Greek Culture taught us that we needed freedom if we are to lead the kind of contemplative life necessary to solve the problems of existence. The Industrial Revolution seems to have given many of us this freedom in spite of some of its more problematic characteristics which almost destroyed civilisation with its invention of weapons of mass destruction.There seems to be here a thread of progress which means that in spite of the process of error elimination leading to a new problem, this problem bore with it a slightly better life than was the case previously. Harari claims that science must be assisted by religion because of its ethical concerns. Ethics as a search for the principles of a flourishing life and the good character who does the right thing in the right way at the right time has been a focus of Philosophical thinking for over 2000 years but Harari ignores this presumably because he believes logical argumentation is something that only the dwellers in ivory towers are concerned with. Logic was invented by Aristotle in accordance with the principles of non contradiction and sufficient reason and many Greeks saw this as a means to clarify the dialectical structure of Philosophical dialogues which in their turn were intended by Plato and other poets to use writing to dispel the limitations of stories and narratives. We see even here a thread of progression which Harari ignores. Religion is neither generally philosophical nor logical in its approach to ethical problems and exactly because of that fact will always remain perspectival in the face of other religions. There is one principle of non contradiction and one principle of sufficient reason and both are universal. You can question both if you wish but only at the expense of contradicting yourself or denying the role of reason in mans life. You can replace reason with imagination but only at the expense of taking a step back in our cultural evolution and helping the modernists and post modernists to turn our world upside down. Popular religion is dualistic and dialectical and perhaps those bureaucrats who have found themselves taking responsibility for the rewritings of words of ancient wisdom for heuristic purposes may in the long run have done a disservice to the tradition.

In a discussion of the relation between facts and values the interesting case of abortion is selected after the point is made that science deals only with the facts and religion deals with ethical judgments and values but also seeks to venture into the world of facts with claims that contradict scientific truths. It should be pointed out, especially in relation to the case of abortion that scientists too venture into the realm of value and on the basis of “facts” that are only probable make recommendations concerning the period of time when abortions are permissible. Harari claims that the contentious issue here is a factual one: when does human life begin. This may not be the correct question to begin this discussion insofar as the philosophical position on this issue is concerned. Elisabeth Anscombe is the most famous Philosopher to have debated this question and according to her any abortion after the zygote is formed is murder because of the so called “knowledge argument”: we know that the zygote is a human one and therefore we know the being which will actualise in the developmental process will be human, we also know that human life is sacred or absolutely valuable, therefore terminating that human life is murder. The medical argument which allows an abortion up until that time when a foetus can be kept alive without undue suffering outside of the womb is a dual argument and rests on the judgment that the foetus before that point may be alive but does not suffer. Whatever the merits of that argument it still remains the case that we know we are taking the life of a human being and we have in my view an unassailable argument for that position. An abortion is an action and cannot occur without a decision to that effect. Let us ask what the reason the decision maker could have for having an abortion. The principle often quoted is that if the decision is made by the mother the reason behind the decision is that the mother has the right to decide over what happens to her body. She is, in other words, free to exercise this kind of control over her body. This principle as has rightly been pointed out allows abortions to occur because having a child at a particular point in time might be “inconvenient”. There are many variations of these positions and the status quo “ethical” position is the one recommended by science. It is important to note however that there is an important philosophical counterargument based not on suffering but on the conceptual knowledge we have of something being human and the conceptual knowledge we have of the value of human life and perhaps all life.

Harari ignores this philosophical argument which may be implied by many ancient religious texts when he maintains that religious stories conflate ethical judgements and factual statements upon arriving at the position that abortion a single day after conception is not permissible or an unholy act. His argument for “conflation” appears to be that the issue can be resolved by biologists on the grounds of whether human foetuses have nervous systems immediately after conception or whether they can feel pain immediately after conception. When I lift my eyes to the hills and feel awe and admiration shall I turn to the physicist or geologist to explain the nature of my feeling of value or the meaning of my judgment “Those mountains are awesome!”? Similarly why should I turn to the scientist when I feel the same sort of awe and admiration at the creation of a human life? What is being conflated with what here? If the conclusion that abortion is an unholy act follows from the premises, and the premises are true then it is a fact and knowledge of the most certain kind. This is what is done in the ivory towers by the occupants trained by Aristotle, Kant and Wittgenstein. This is the knowledge that hermeneutical interpreters use in their interpretations of ancient texts.

There is a problem with construing science as the search for the totality of facts and this comes out in the discussion relating to ethical judgments and facts:

“Conversely ethical judgements often hide within them factual statements that proponents dont bother to mention because they think that they have been proven beyond doubt, Thus the ethical judgement “human life is sacred”(which science cannot test) may shroud the factual statement “every human has an eternal soul”(which is open to scientific debate)”(p228)

Unfortunately in order to decode this problematic paragraph we will need the aid of the occupants of the ivory tower(the philosophers) because what the above means is only seen through a scientific lens very darkly. Firstly a proof requires a conceptual argument and not an invitation to view an object because a concept is something that is thought and not something to be perceived. Secondly, if the statement “human life is sacred” is a conceptual statement and is not able to be tested because of that fact then exactly the same reasoning must be applicable to the statement “every human has an eternal soul”. What is meant by conceptual here? We have suggested in a previous essay that one ought not to look for an object with ones microscope when looking for a principle because for the philosopher and possibly also for serious theologians the soul might be a principle. Concepts are regulated by principles. The word “eternal” also needs parsing philosophically. We are not certain of the origins of this thought but for Aristotle knowledge was certainly connected to principles which are “timelessly true”. The principles of non contradiction and sufficient reason are examples. They are the very conditions of our discourse and experience and are unconditioned by any other principles. Unlike the principle of causality which is situated in a time stretching forever backward (on pain of contradiction–a first cause is a contradiction) these principles do not stretch forever back in time but create the framework of our experience and discourse: they create the framework of our knowledge.

In a final discussion on the relation between Science and Religion Harari has the following closing remarks:

“It is customary to portray the history of modernity as a struggle between science and religion. In theory both science and religion are interested above all in the truth, and because each upholds a different truth, they are doomed to clash. In fact neither science nor religion cares that much about the truth, hence they can easily compromise, coexist and even cooperate. Religion is interested above all in order. It aims to create and maintain the social structure. Science is interested above all in power…as collective institutions, science and religion prefer order and power over truth. They therefore make good bedfellows.”

An amazing closing statement. We see again the post modernist dismissal of the importance of truth and knowledge and refusal to recognize the conceptual truth that the cognitive attitude of understanding is inextricably bound up with the truth. Imagine Moses upon presenting the ten commandments to the learned men of his tribe saying “here they are but I am not sure whether they are true!”. The tribe would have returned to their worship of animal idols and the Israelites would probably have remained nomads with all the consequences that this kind of life entails. It is because these commandments were understood to be true that they were able to create the order that they did. Imagine if the learned men of the tribe said “yes they may be true but you have your truth and we have ours” and you will be imagining the consequences of the post modernist position on knowledge and truth. In a way this might be consistent with Harari’s overall position when he claims that the hunter gatherer life was in many respects better than the life of suffering during the agricultural revolution. It is a strange position. There are those who long to go back to the Garden of Eden. But to the wilderness?

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Four : Stories, Science, and Religion.

Hits: 317

Harari claims that animals live in a dual reality because of the act that they :

“are familiar with objective entities outside them such as trees rocks and rivers. On the other hand, they are aware of subjective experiences within them, such as fear, joy and desire.”(p181)

From a third person perspective, it is obvious that animals have contact with an environment that obeys certain laws and that the nature of this contact is sometimes a consequence of a moving force or principle within them. Asserting on the other hand that animals are aware of their own experiences attributes to them a complexity they may not have and one in which we could not possibly be aware of from a third person point of view given the fact that there is no possible first-person point of view confirmation of such awareness. We humans are acutely aware of the difference there is between our species and the species of all other animals. Were they to possess this reflective form of awareness we would find them much more like us then we do. This is not a scientific question. No scientist could “discover” that an animal had this form of self reflective awareness. Our species is defined not just by a host of powers that animals do not possess such as the power of language, but we are defined by these powers being what P M S Hacker called two-way powers: powers to do things or refrain from doing at will. This is a philosophical position arrived at on the basis of a tradition of philosophising stretching back to Aristotle and forward to Kant and Wittgenstein. Harari then wishes to claim that we humans can be said to live in a triple layered reality because:

“in addition to trees, rivers, fears and desires, the Sapiens world also contains stories about money, gods , nations and corporations….Humans think they make history, but history actually revolves around this web of stories. The basic abilities of individual humans have not changed much since the Stone Age. But the web if stories has grown from strength to strength, thereby pushing history from the Stone age to the Silicon Age.”

Philosophy is conspicuous by its absence in many of Harari’s reflections on the progress of culture, except perhaps for a few passing references to philosophers living in isolation in ivory towers. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle certainly did not live in such isolation but Plato and Aristotle were at work on the creation of institutions of education which would in the future of the culture provide us with the setting(including the towers of learning at universities) to educate the citizens of our civilizations. In Ancient Greece pupils were educated in the hard-won knowledge gained through the elenctic method of Socrates, the dialogues of Plato and the more systematic written reflections of Aristotle on the nature of knowledge and metaphysics. If in our time one wishes to insist that philosophers live in ivory towers that might actually be the case now, and if this is the case, it is probably an attempt to escape the plague of postmodernist thinking that has infected our society. Postmodernist thinkers do not see the role that knowledge has played in the growth of our culture: they do not believe that justified true belief is the gold standard and they do not believe that imaginative stories are merely interesting cultural productions which in the past probably forced us to theorize more systematically in the way that Aristotle did. Even Science or more correctly some modern scientists have been infected by the postmodernist plague upon all our houses when they have insisted that there is no truth, or knowledge about reality only provisional theory and hypotheses that must be tested ad infinitum. Poppers scientific formula of the problem to which we find a trial solution and then eliminate the errors does not end in truth and knowledge but only another problem. Newtons work must be subject to error elimination by Einstein who was living in the modernist era and perhaps we could accept his work as an evolution of Science by the man who had read Kant at the age of 14 and believed in the philosophers God. But what do we do about those scientists that felt time travel was possible because of the imaginative thought experiment(story) of a man traveling on a beam of light away from a clock face. What do we do about quantum theorists who not only wish to deny the gold standard of science, namely causation but also wish to deny the gold standard of philosophy, namely, the philosophical principle of non-contradiction: insisting upon the intelligibility of a story about a cat that is neither dead nor alive.

The gold standard of culture for the Philosopher was already registered by Plato when he pointed to the necessary role of knowledge in the polis if it was not to fall into ruin and decay. Of course one then needs then to reflect upon the nature of this knowledge in the way that Aristotle and Kant did but that is not the same thing as dismantling its significance as has been done in the name of post-modernism. Insisting as Harari has done earlier upon a distinction of “new knowledge” and “old knowledge” is, of course, following consistently Popper’s downward spiral of his problem-trial solution-error elimination schema. The consequence of this is that both truth and knowledge and their associated cognitive attitudes are marginalized

Reaching back into the mists of history as Harari does is nevertheless an interesting adventure. He suggests that a Cognitive revolution occurred 70,000 years ago that allowed Homo Sapiens an evolutionary advantage over the Neanderthals. The former, it is claimed began talking about the things in their imagination. There is no direct or indirect evidence for this claim as was pointed out earlier but there is certainly an interesting hypothesis to be formed relating to the ability to tell and understand stories and its relation to later supervening cultural activities of telling the truth and reasoning about the foundations of knowledge. The activity of storytelling where one imagines things that did not exist may have occurred later than Harari suggests but the hypothesis that our storytelling power pre-dated our more developed cognitive powers is very interesting. Kant certainly thought that our imagination was involved in the schematization of our concepts but this was an imagination that was working with the materials of perception and intuition in the service of the conceptualization of our experiences and the cognitive attitude of truth. That is, consciousness when it is operating at the conceptual level is asserting that something is the case: e.g. the lightning struck the tree. Now the imagination may well be brought into play when the mind seeks an answer to the Aristotelian question “Why did this change occur?” and a god is thought to be the cause of the lightning but we know that Aristotle himself postulated physical processes to be the cause of physical events such as this,i.e. he was postulating the pre-eminence of material and efficient causes for the explanation of events in the inorganic world. Aristotle would have dismissed any suggestion that a living organic being with its constitution could have secreted electrical power of this magnitude on the basis of his examination of the organs of such beings. The world may have been an infinite continuum of change but for him, there were kinds of being and kinds of change which required inductive investigation if one was to ascertain the essences of such beings and kinds of change. For him, God was a pure form that was in some sense active in the way that principles and thought are active. It would not be easy therefore to exactly specify the Aristotelian way in which God may have been involved in the lightning strike on the tree. Being had many meanings for Aristotle and it is not out of the question that he would have been sympathetic to Thales and his enigmatic utterance “All things are full of gods” but these gods(or God for Aristotle) would have been thought-like(a Gods thought would be very different to ours and have a connection to the physical world that is different to our thought) and resemble principles or a principle more than they would spiritual “ghost-like things”. It should also be pointed out in this discussion that the talk of God or gods of most of the Greek philosophers were not items of the imagination gleaned from stories, but rather condensations from clouds of argumentation. Even Kant would have objected to the claim that his philosophical idea of God originated in the imagination. For Kant God was an idea of reason that interestingly enough was only one of three ideas. The idea of God for Kant, in contrast, was not to be explained in the theoretical terms of Aristotle but more in terms of the moral law.

We should also remember that Einstein believed in Spinoza’s “philosophical” view of God and his reasoning may well have been Aristotelian and Kantian. Newton too believed in God but it is difficult to believe that his theological training at Trinity College Cambridge did not relate to the arguments of the philosophers. Wittgenstein’s belief in God was also based on argumentation not of the demonstrative theoretical kind but rather of the practical ethical kind. All of these figures, Newton, Kant, Einstein, and Wittgenstein of course probably read the bible closely but this reading process would more resemble a critical interpretative activity than a receptive emotional process of identification and introjection. These latter two processes may well involve the imagination whereas the former would require reasoned argumentation.

Harari’s cultural portrait, however, may be appropriate for the historical period prior to the advent of philosophical reasoning about our experience:

“Farmers believed in stories about great gods..In the first cities of ancient Sumer about 6000 years ago, the temples were not just centres of worship, but also the most important political and economic hubs. The Sumerian gods fulfilled a function analogous to modern brands and corporations. Today corporations are fictional legal entities that own property, lend money, hire employees and initiate economic enterprises. In the ancient cities of Uruk, Lagash, and Shurupak the gods functioned as legal entities that could own fields and slaves and build dams and canals.”

The problem with the idea that because something is a legal entity it is somehow a fictional being has been discussed earlier. Wittgenstein in response to the tiresome postmodernist philosophical tendency to wish for a theoretical logico-mathematical demonstration of the truth of statements on pain of being labelled “subjective” or “fictional”, claimed that the final justification for a large number of our claims is what groups of people do when they are speaking or what a person does, for example, when he is grieving. This for him was a real objective justification. Actions spoke louder than words. The problem with regarding gods or corporations as fictional entities is that it fails to understand the philosophical and ontological character of action which has a beginning, intermediate stages, and an end and is related to other actions and objects which themselves are embedded in larger environments. Stanley Cavell, in the spirit of Wittgenstein, once said that naming actions was a difficult and sensitive business because they are related to the agents thought about both the ends to be pursued and the means to achieve these ends. Actions, in other words, are intentional and just as it is almost impossible to capture the philosophical idea of God or gods in a story so it is difficult to capture the world-creating intention of action in an ancient narrative. If this is true then it is possible that biblical narratives were not very good attempts to express the knowledge of “knowers” who had thought deeply about the principles of existence and the intentions of men. Receivers of these narratives at the time of their creation might then, not have been as ignorant as we might like to believe. If men 6000 years ago could be working for a God in the way we work for corporations they might have had more “knowledge” than our modern reconstructions give them credit for. We should remember here that it takes a considerable amount of organization and cooperation to build a city and create laws which will govern the intentions of men. Laws are actions of government but no less real for that. Looking at the Bible with a pair of post-modernistic theoretical sunglasses may not be the best means of retrieving the wisdom in these ancient writings. Of course the assumption “God exists” is a key assumption of the bible but it is the nature of that existence which is the most important hermeneutical question here and not whether one can theoretically demonstrate the existence of something which may have an essentially practical kind of existence. “Figments of the imagination”, “subjective” “inter-subjective”, “fictional” are all theoretical terms and may not be categorically relevant to the kind of analysis required to analyze important ancient phenomena. The activity of living in a city obviously raised the levels of awareness of its inhabitants. Money and writing of a rudimentary kind appeared to assist in the task of organizing everyone’s actions more efficiently. The collection of taxes became possible over large territories. The appearance of pharaohs who “embodied” the principle that organized one’s activity previously transformed something that was previously abstractly real into something that was concretely real. It is not absolutely certain that this principle of kingship was not a “modern” “invention” of the times which we in our times no longer see the meaning of. An impersonal process was being made personal. What we ought to do ethically to maintain the status quo of the city was being transformed into the “personal brand” of a fallible man whose imagination was being overloaded by the trappings of power.The formal task of the pharaoh was to enable the continuity of a network of practices which had served the community well but as we have so often seen in history the focus of such figures rapidly shifts to themselves and their emotional needs. Perhaps this was the first “modern” mistake which was corrected when the Greeks attempted to restore the idea of an abstract principle in both theoretical and practical contexts. Was “the law” made more “realistic” by the presence of a fallible judge who had been untimely ripped from the womb of everyday human activity? The Greeks, especially Socrates and Aristotle sidestepped this “invention” and urged a belief in the model of the knowledge bearing man as the source of justice and truth. The virus of modernism may be ancient as may be the treatment. It is also important to note that Harari’s idea of the personal brands which he uses the figures of business and entertainment to illustrate would not have found a place in the Socratic “healthy city”: the life of wealth and pleasure was only ranked third out of three alternatives spoken about in the Platonic dialogues. The life of the politician leading his noble life in accordance with the principle of areté and the philosopher leading his examined life was superior forms of life for the ancient Greeks. The fact that our modern lives are so dominated by figures from the business and entertainment worlds would have led the Greeks to believe that though we might be leading very busy distracted lives in a world free of abstract ideas, respect for politics and Philosophy, this form of existence was a regression from that flourishing life they once talked about. Here we find no “scientific” talk of “fictional” or “imaginative” or “subjective”, only talk of abstract principles and concrete “misapprehensions” or “imitations of the real”.

Harari makes some interesting observations concerning the authority of writing which originally was confined to the educated elite. If as is being proposed here that the legal process of regulating men’s intentions is not to be equated with either the practical imagination of human-like being or beings(God or gods) but rather to the meaning of the activity which indeed is connected with the meaning of the word legal: that is, to tie people together, then we can draw the conclusion that the meaningful activity of a collective of men has a natural authority. Writing grows out of the meaningful activity and also acquires a natural authority because it is considered, or reflective, speech: words are written with the intention of being considered carefully and with the intention of being responded to carefully, as is the case when the laws are written down. It is with this kind of cognitive attitude that we should approach the Bible–not with the kind of white wax tablet mentality of the skeptical scientist who believes that meanings are “subjective” or have to be concretized or proved before he can understand them. We need to approach the Bible with the cognitive attitude of the philosopher armed with hermeneutical theory, who like Paul Ricoeur or any serious philosopher that reads the Bible, understands that meanings are the dwelling place of laws and principles and who also understands that the language of the bible is symbolic or enigmatic and needs to be interpreted in accordance with a battery of philosophical concepts. “In the beginning was the word and the word was God” may not, that is referred to a fictional being but to the power of language to “reveal” the principles or laws embedded in our activity and speech. The authors of such a complex text were concerned with much more than telling a story about a fictional or imagined being. Only a scientist(not Newton or Einstein) could come up with such a tale. In this context, it should also be remembered that Socrates did not write anything because he supposedly believed that writing would lead eventually to a general forgetfulness of the more important things of life. Plato disagreed and when we get to Aristotle it is clear that he thought that not writing the difficult abstract ideas of philosophy down might also lead to a general forgetfulness of them. Harari then discusses education and the writing down of precise scores in tests which in our bureaucratic schools then supplanted the original philosophical intentions of education. This might be regarded as evidence for the Socratic position. As Harari says :

“We use writing to describe the reality of fields, canals, and granaries. If the description is accurate, we make realistic decisions. If the description is inaccurate, it causes famines and even rebellions. Then we, or the administrators of some future regime, learn from that mistake and strive to produce more truthful descriptions. So, over time, our documents are bound to become more precise”(p195)

Harari then points out how excessively bureaucratic regimes can even willfully falsify the truth of written descriptions. This is obviously not what is meant by the “original authority of writing” which the bureaucrats rely upon in their deceptions in the same way that people who lie rely on their hearers to make the very natural assumption that they are telling the truth. To question the natural authority of writing because of the behaviour of those postmodernists who abuse that authority is itself a form of bureaucracy. A form of bureaucracy that undermines the meaning of meaning and the respect we have for the authority of abstract principles.
The argument continues by a strange bureaucratic argument:

“Holy Scriptures work the same way. The religious establishment proclaims that the holy book contains the answers to all our questions. It simultaneously presses courts, governments, and businesses to behave according to what the holy book says.”(p200)

As a Historian, Harari should know that what is written in the Bible has many sources and that many thinkers in history, philosophical(Spinoza)and non-philosophical(e.g. Tolstoy) have pointed out that some of the things written in the Bible have had bureaucratic intentions and are clearly ill-considered, even by the standards of clear thinkers of those days. Some of the things written are clearly metaphorical because of the difficulty in representing an abstract principle in concreto. Taking metaphorical language literally obviously leads to absurdities. Some things ought also to be taken with a pinch of salt considering that we are dealing with documents which originate from the childhood of our culture. Harari rightly points this out:

“Thus the ancient Jews believed that if they suffered from drought, or if King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia invaded Judea and exiled its people, surely these were divine punishments for their own sins….The Bible does not recognize the possibility that perhaps the drought resulted from a volcanic eruption in the Philippines.”(p201)

It is rightly pointed out that this is self-centered thinking typical of early childhood but Harari does not, as we do, wish to apply a principle of tolerance to such very early reflections. In spite of this observation, it has been argued by some scholars that the New Testament transcends some of the writings of the OT, e.g. in its insistence that “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. So there are signs of a growing self-awareness in the Holy Book. Julian Jaynes also points to this growing complexity of consciousness even in the OT where there is a distinctive shift from men hearing and responding to the voice of God to men reflectively considering what would be in accordance with the wishes of God. This same author would of course hotly contest Harari’s account of the origins and evolution of consciousness with mountains of evidence as he would have contested the optimistic account of the kind of language we spoke 70,000 years ago based on the minimum of “evidence” presented.

Harari maintains that:

“The Bible accordingly shows no interest whatsoever in understanding the global ecology, the Babylonian economy or the Persian political system.”

But it does show considerable interest in the ethical and psychological well being of the reader when it speaks of loving other things outside of oneself such as God and one’s neighbour. Admittedly the New Testament is less occupied with historical and political matters and more concerned with telling the story of the life of Jesus in the spirit of exemplary necessity, the spirit of how one ought to live. It is important to point out in this context that this was a new beginning for man, the Biblical equivalent of the Greek focus upon the importance of the knowledge of the workings of the mind and its importance for the flourishing life. Of course, this narrative was to have a greater appeal to the masses than the hylomorphic theory of Aristotle which required the presence of an educational system before it could be fully appreciated.

Harari concludes this section by claiming that fictions enable us to cooperate better. One wonders whether he is questioning the veracity of the life of Jesus. Of course, it is maintained that he was the son of God, born of a virgin mother, walked on water etc, but should not this be taken with a grain of salt in a spirit of tolerance for the immature thinking of the time? It could even be the case, if we assume a knowledge of the Greeks and their adherence to a philosophical God, that the author used the above “falsity’s” to attach a kind of holy significance to the life of Jesus. The above “false” elements of the narrative could be an intended fiction, not intended to deceive but intended heuristically for self-education. This in its turn, of course, inevitably leads to better cooperation with neighbours and strangers(if someone steals your coat offer him your cloak, if someone strikes you turn the other cheek). One can, however, ask this question: would the truth of the above collection of ethical prescriptions be more important to the cooperation referred to than the falsity of those parts of the elements of the narrative designed to rhetorically “persuade” the readers of the importance of this mans life? (or even the lives of the prophets and kings of the old testament).

The touchstone, however, of the real for Harari is not the truth of the ethical statements and their capacity for the facilitation of cooperation but rather suffering. The reason for suffering might be the “fiction” of “Deus Absconditus”(Julian Jaynes) but the suffering itself is real, Harari proclaims. Dying for one’s country or for the money of corporations or for ones religion is dying for inventions of the imagination. The section ends with an ominous prediction:

“In the twenty-first century, we will create more powerful fictions and more totalitarian religions than in any other previous era. With the help of biotechnology and computer algorithms, these religions will not only control our minute by minute existence, but will be able to shape our bodies, brains, and minds, and to create entire virtual worlds complete with hells and heavens. Being able to distinguish fiction from reality and religion from science will, therefore, become more difficult but more vital than before.”

This from the same author that claims that Humanism and Nazism are “religions”.

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Three: The Human Spark and the Mind.

Hits: 310

The myth that human beings have eternal human souls is still:

” a central pillar of our legal, political and economic system. It explains why, for example, it is perfectly okay for humans to kill animals for food, or even just for the fun of it.”(p118)

This is a puzzling and complex claim. It assumes that the popular religious idea of a soul inhabiting and surviving the death of a physical body has had more influence on our legal and political systems than the philosophical idea of a soul as a principle explaining and justifying our human activities. Since Philosophical discussions of this idea have been systematically ignored it is difficult to evaluate this particular claim. The philosophical opposition to many religious claims and an acceptance of the ideas of the soul and God as principles which reasoning can illuminate (even if not completely understood) has been an important part of the historical development of Homo Sapiens. These philosophical ideas are, it could be claimed uncertain as to the implication for animals rights discussed in this section. Many people are vegetarians and it is not out of the question that some are reasoning philosophically about the rights of animals to a natural existence without unnecessary suffering. We wish our dogs, cats, and pets to lead flourishing lives and we systematically relieve their suffering and allow them to lead “semi-natural” lives. We establish national protective parks which enable animals to lead a natural life. Should these attitudes be generalized to all animals?

There is a long fruitless discussion relating to the scientific attempt to “prove” that there is no such entity as a “soul” inhabiting our physical bodies or the physical bodies of animals. In one sense it is as obvious that there is a principle guiding the activities of a human psuche in much the same way as it is obvious that gravity is the principle explaining the falling of bodies and the orbiting of heavenly bodies in outer space. We do not observe gravity in separation from its effects. In the same way, we can not “observe” human attitudes separate from its effects. It was the philosophy of the later Wittgenstein which brought to our attention the fact that there are grammatical criteria helping to “connect” attitudes to physical behaviour. In his work the “Philosophical Investigations” he famously claims that our attitude toward a person is an attitude toward a soul. He does not mean here that we can observe a soul in the way in which we can observe a person. This talk of attitude towards persons does not then preclude a justified belief in the theory of evolution which is a theory of how our bodies(and animal bodies) achieved the shape they have and possess the organs that they have. The claim that Harari makes that “Darwin has deprived us of our souls”, however, does not make any sense. How can a theory about the evolution of a physical body deprive us of a philosophical theory of an attitude which is an expression of a principle?:

“Darwin has deprived us of our souls. If you really understand the theory of evolution, you understand that there is no soul.”(p120)

This claim could only be true if science could engage directly with the argumentation of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein and “prove” that there is no principle governing out attitudes, thoughts, etc. How would that be done? By observation? This is completely ignoring the fact that Darwin’s theory is as much a theory involving reasoning about animal populations as it is a theory incorporating the observation of animal populations. The person standing before me now might have been evolved “by degrees” over millions of years but my recognition of this person as a human is only partly constituted by this long history of his human bodily form. He stands before me and I recognize him to be the kind of being that is capable of discourse and a source of rational argumentation in spite of the fact that he is at the moment staring at the cat in the room. It is my expectations of him and his expectations of me that constitute the kind of interactions we can have with one another. Referring to these expectations as either “subjective” or “intersubjective” is an “idle use of language” as a Wittgensteinian might be inclined to comment.

Many “secular people” Harari claims would :

“nevertheless want to believe that each human possesses an eternal individual essence that remains unchanged throughout life, and can survive even death intact.”(pp120)

And many secular people would believe the former and not the latter claim. That is, we believe in our legal system that refuses to accept that a person at one point in time is for legal purposes significantly different from a person at another period of time, perhaps decades later. You will be held responsible for your actions on the basis of the assumption of a continuous personal identity. The legal system, however, does not have rules and regulations for the bringing to account of souls that have vacated their bodies. Here the legal system is philosophical to its core– and not on scientific grounds, it must be added– because the assumption of a continuous personal identity is a philosophical assumption partly captured by the Wittgensteinian claim that our attitude toward a person is an attitude toward a soul. The political system’s major responsibility is the forming and passing of laws and this means that both these systems jointly accept the continuous personal identity assumption.
The confusion of the idea of the immortality of the soul and the assumption of a continuous personal identity enables Harari to then claim the following:

“Unfortunately, the theory of evolution rejects the idea that my true self is some indivisible, immutable and potentially eternal essence.”

The word “indivisible” is important in this context because there is a discussion of the meaning of the word “individual” in terms of its meaning,i.e. in terms of its indivisibility. Now the individual can mean the individual body which Aristotle was happy to define as the sum of its parts: the sum of its tissue, bone, organs etc and the individual can also refer to the principle which sets these parts into motion and wills perhaps all the parts to come to rest and take a nap. “The will” for Kant was the principle behind all ethical behaviour when it was willing that the maxim of its action become a universal law and treats people as ends in themselves in a social/political arena where one willingly obeys the moral law which was such a focus of Kant’s awe and admiration. If one thinks of this individual holistically in terms of an indivisible will then the fact that the individual’s body is composed of neurons, hormones and muscles is irrelevant to the claim of the formal and final cause of one’s action.

Harari is happy to speak freely of minds and claims that :

“the mind is a flow of subjective experiences such as pain, pleasure, anger, and love. These mental experiences are made of interlinked sensations, emotions, and thoughts, which flash for a brief moment, and immediately disappears…This frenzied collection of experiences constitutes the stream of consciousness. Unlike the everlasting soul, the mind has many parts, it constantly changes, and there is no reason to think it is eternal”(pp123)

Here the mind is being reified into a divisible substance. For Harari this rag bag is then held together by a thread of Cartesianism:

“The stream of consciousness, in contrast, is the surest thing in the world. You cannot doubt its existence.”

Sensation and desire, it is claimed are the so-called fundamental characteristics of subjective experience that robots cannot share because robots are not capable of experience. Now, this is a curious argument from someone who has been arguing so materialistically and concretely throughout both this work and his earlier work “Sapiens: a brief history of mankind.” Resting ones case against robots on Cartesian dualistic grounds which is the final motivation for an idea of a disembodied mind is inconsistent. Aristotle would have argued against the robot being able to experience anything on the grounds of its physical embodiment which is the substrate of our human experience. He would have argued that robots do not have sensations and desires because only a being with a certain bone, tissue and organ constellation is able to have an experience. This physical embodiment possesses a “form” or “principle” that is the source of its “experience whether that be the passive reception of sensations of pain or the activities of discourse and rational argument.
The question is then raised by Harari, as to whether animals have conscious mind similar to human minds and the surprising admission is made that science knows very little about minds and consciousness:

“Current orthodoxy holds that consciousness is created by electrochemical reactions in the brain and that mental experiences fulfill some essential data-processing function. However, nobody has any idea of how congeries of biochemical reactions and electrical currents in the brain creates the subjective experience of pain, anger or love. Perhaps we will have a solid explanation in ten or fifty years. But as of 2016, we have no such explanation, and we had better be clear about that.”(p125)

Aristotle would agree that the entire organ(including the brain tissue and bone system) is the “material” cause of consciousness but would argue that the cognitive, emotional and conative powers thus produced then require other types of explanation which will fall under what he called the formal and final causes of the consciousness or the mind of a person. Materialist assumptions, the methodology of observationalism, and experimentation alone will, however, need other assumptions and another methodology if the enigma of the mind or consciousness is to be resolved. This would mean that science would have to retrace some of its theoretical steps back to philosophy. The more likely alternative, however, is that of denying the relevance of the enigma and continuing the work of studying brain activities, together with individual and social behaviour in accordance with current nonphilosophical assumptions. One immediate consequence of this is, of course, an abandonment of the sphere of value because as is pointed out by Harari there is no difference of value between neurones firing in relation to the behaviour and the institutions involved in torture, and the neurones firing in relation to the behaviour and institutions that contribute to humans leading flourishing lives. The whole arena of human value collapses because there is nothing significant that science can say about it. The Aristotelian framework of formal and final causes would undoubtedly include an awareness of the reasons why one is behaving in a certain manner and an awareness of the value of one’s institutions: these are capacities which undoubtedly for Aristotle required a language using being. Of course, animals are aware of what they are doing and an example of A Swedish ape throwing stones at onlookers is cited in evidence. Not only is this ape aware of what he is doing he can also plan the activity by collecting the stones he is to throw well ahead of the event. This, however, does not imply that the ape knows why he is doing what he is doing. The onlookers may irritate him but the kind of logical connection between the two events of irritation and the action of throwing the stones are probably not integrated into the logical unit of conscious intention and action. This is probably partly due to the fact that the ape is not an animal for whom epistemic states of understanding and asserting the truth are part of his nature, It would be absolutely absurd to arrest the ape for disturbing the peace because an epistemically oriented animal is the only kind of animal that would be able to understand such an action.

Harari discusses then the idea that it might be the case that the Swedish ape Santino is conscious but lacks an awareness of self that psychologists have referred to as self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is an awareness that one is undergoing or has done something or is about to do something: this is an epistemic state connected to the Philosophers notion of consciousness. Brian O’Shaughnessy in his work “Consciousness and the World” points out that a self-conscious being observing a lightning strike on a tree both notices the event and knows that the lightning has struck the tree. The event activates the state of possibly exclaiming or asserting that the tree has been struck by lightning. Here we see a complex integration of the powers of attention, perception, conceptualization, and judgment that, whatever the similarity of the neural substrate with apes is not a possible activity for our primate cousins.

In a section entitled “Long live the Revolution” Harari points out that history has shown that the ability for large groups of strangers to cooperate with each other points to a significant difference between homo sapiens and other species of animal. This ability also allows revolutions to occur when relatively small groups exercise power over larger groups:

“In order to mount a revolution, numbers are never enough. Revolutions are usually made by small networks of agitators rather than by the masses. If you want to launch a revolution, don’t ask yourself, “How many people support my ideas?” Instead, ask yourself “How many of my supporters are capable of effective collaboration?” The Russian Revolution finally erupted not when 180 million peasants rose against the tsar, but rather when a handful of communists placed themselves at the right place at the right time.”(p155)

Communism in Russia then fell, it is argued, because of an inability to cooperate and organize the country. Harari also discusses the dramatic fall of Romanian communism under Ceausescu and points to the televised event when he was giving a speech to 80,000 of his countrymen who began booing and shouting:

“Ceaucescu and his comrades dominated 20 million Romanians for four decades because they ensured three vital conditions. First, they placed loyal communist apparatchiks in control of all networks of cooperation, such as the army, trade unions, and even sports associations. Second, they prevented the creation of any rival organizations–whether political, economic or social–which might serve as a basis for anti-communist cooperation. Third, they relied on the support of sister communist parties in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe….Ceausescu fell from power only once all three conditions no longer held.”

Harari points out that in such circumstances the power does not necessarily pass to the rebels but rather to those who are best organized and who can proclaim support for the revolution, in this case, the National Salvation Front, a branch of the communist party.

The interesting question to pose is what is the significance of cooperation and organization when viewed through the theories of Philosophical Psychology. Aristotle would maintain that being at the right place at the right time and proclaiming ones support for the revolution in front of the microphones of the media would fall under the heading of the efficient causes of the acquisition of power. But later philosophy would also insist that there are a large number of psychological powers at work in the processes of political cooperation and organization: sensation, perception, attention, imagination, will, language, conceptualization, judgment desire, expectation, and attitude. Many human powers are, as stated by P M S Hacker in his work “Human Nature: The Categorical Framework”, so-called two-way powers which are expressive of our voluntary choice or will to do one thing rather than another. These powers are both integrated with each other and some build upon others. It is the task of Philosophy and not Scientific Psychology to chart the relations of these powers to each other in an all-embracing theory.

The important role of language in the process of cooperation and organization is emphasized by Harari in a section entitled “The Web of meaning”. We cooperate with each other and organize ourselves into large institutions because we believe in the same stories. The limited infrastructure of subjective intersubjective and objective reality again is called upon to bolster up the argument:

“..there is a third level of reality: the intersubjective level. Intersubjective entities depend upon communication among many humans rather than on the beliefs and feelings of individual humans. Many of the most important agents in history are intersubjective. Money, for example, has no objective value. You cannot eat drink or wear a dollar bill. Yet as long as people believe in its value, you can use it to buy food, beverages, and clothing.”

The polarisation of fact and value we encountered before again produces a confined debate. Desire, expectation, and attitude would have been better terms to use if one wished to systematically explore the nature of value and its relation to reality. Isolating the cognitive attitude of belief from knowledge is sometimes in some contexts useful but it might also be argued that the belief we have in money is justified exactly because of the desires, expectations, and attitudes of everyone using the money. This is similarly the case with language which is even more deeply embedded in our lives and consciousness. A word is connected to the practical desires, expectations, and attitudes of language users and there are objective criteria for its correct use: thus embedding it in the arena of value (the arena of what we ought and ought not to do). Claiming that this kind of objectivity is “subjective” is misleading. It is, in fact, the same kind of reasoning which will claim that ethical action is “subjective” and this has always been welcomed with open arms by communist and fascist leaders throughout history. One should add to Harari’s three conditions the taking hostage of knowledge and truth which all dictators know they must somehow control if they are to retain power. Given the fact that these dictators never reasoned their way to power, the only means to control these powerful values is of course by violence and by the use of stories which appeal to the limited use of the people’s imagination rather than the whole battery of cognitive powers people normally use when evaluating those in power. Description will, in such circumstances, eventually replace explanation and justification by raw power and violence will replace justification by theory and argument. It was such a state of political affairs that motivated Plato’s famous words relating to the state falling into ruin and decay unless philosophers become kings or kings become philosophers. The first task of these philosophers would be to keep the warriors of the state under control by educating them.

Harari diminishes the value of truth, explanation, and justification by emotionalizing our cognitive attitudes:

“We want to believe that our lives have some objective meaning and that our sacrifices matter to something beyond the stories in our head. Yet in truth, the lives of most people have meaning only within the network of stories they tell one another.”(p170)

This is a weak account of meaning. The meaning of our words are connected to their objective use, according to the work of Wittgenstein, and whilst many stories may be describing events wished for or related to objects of our anxiety, many narratives, including historical narratives are judged by the objective criteria of truth and knowledge. Biblical narratives may even be more complex than historical narratives if they incorporate what Paul Ricoeur referred to as “symbolic meaning” when they reason about good and evil.

Harari even goes so far as to say that our convictions about human rights (resting upon over 2000 years of philosophical argument, theory, and justification) is only a story whose meaning might unravel in future ages.

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Two: The Anthropocene era

Hits: 328

Never before has something born of the earth been a threat to that earth’s very existence but this has become the case with Homo Sapiens in what Harari calls the Anthropocene era. This work rightly raises the question as to whether we ought to fear Homo Sapiens more than we do the tectonic plates that cause earthquakes and tsunamis.

Homo Sapiens since the beginnings of the Agricultural Revolution has domesticated the wild animals of the earth and the question is raised as to whether this causes suffering. Pythagoras, when a fellow Greek kicked a dog in the street causing it to yelp and howl, complained about his fellow’s behaviour on the grounds that given the response it was obvious that dogs have souls and therefore should not be made to suffer unnecessarily. Harari and many other interpreters of materialistic bent think they know what the Greeks mean by the term “psuche”. They assume, that is, that psuche means some kind of spiritual entity dwelling “in” a physical body. We know that Aristotle used the term “psuche” to refer to a life-principle, that roughly amounts to an idea or a form which explains the behaviour of those organisms that function in accordance with this principle. It is possible that Pythagoras the mathematician also thought in this principled way about the dog’s psuche. Materialists often complain that such an idea or form transcends experience and is therefore an unverifiable metaphysical entity. They fail to realise that the arguments in favour of gravity are also transcendent and metaphysical in exactly the same way. One cannot verify gravity without using the idea in a hypothesis which we then apply to falling and orbiting bodies. This is why Newton retained the term “philosophy” in the title of his book. Harari believes that Philosophers sit in their ivory towers contemplating transcendental and metaphysical entities that are merely figments of their imagination woven into a web of the stories they tell each other about the existence of things. The truth of the matter is that the philosophers being referred to in this work are committed to principles. Principles for example, which explain the changes we see in nature and are present in these processes in the way the form of an animal psuche is present “in” the dog that howls when it is kicked. The quotation marks around in indicate that there are not two things in one relation here but rather one thing in a process of change which is explained by a principle.

Whatever the confusions over the philosophical issues here, Harari’s basic point, that we are in the name of the superiority of our species subjugating animals to a life of abject suffering, needs to be taken seriously even if he sometimes seems to be wondering whether animals really suffer and are instead just a collection of algorithms:

“how can we be sure that animals such as pigs actually have a subjective world of needs, sensations, and emotions? Aren’t we guilty of humanizing animals, i.e. ascribing human qualities to non-human entities, like children believing that dolls feel love or anger?..In recent decades life-scientists have demonstrated that emotions are not some mysterious spiritual phenomenon that is useful just for writing poetry and composing symphonies. Rather, emotions are biochemical algorithms that are vital for the survival and reproduction of all mammals.”(p96)

An algorithm is a formal descriptive “device” for bringing about changes in machines or for bringing about changes in a material world of ingredients(as when one follows a recipe to bake a cake). Algorithms in relation to machines have a mathematical character because instead of a declaration at the beginning of the recipe of the ingredients needed we have a declaration of the variables to be manipulated. These variables all have values relating to the function of a machine which in itself was created by an algorithm that resembled a recipe. The origins of applying a machine analogy to animals go all the way back to Hobbes and Descartes, the first two philosophers to rebel against the hylomorphic philosophy of Aristotle. There is no mental “substance” Hobbes argued, not realizing that what Aristotle meant by this term was “form” or “principle”. Man the animal is a physical substance whose elements are to be determined by the resolution -composition method of science and his bodily life was to be characterized in much the same way one characterizes the springs and wheels of a machine. Descartes added to this that animals are just machines without any mental “substance”. If “substance” does mean “principle” as Aristotle maintains then neither Hobbes’ or Descartes’ remarks make much sense. Yet it is these assumptions that form the background to the thought that animals might just be a bundle of algorithms. Harari is more Hobbesian than he is Cartesian and this is revealed in his determination to use the term algorithm to depict lifeworld activities such as drinking a cup of tea:

“Over the last few decades, biologists have reached the firm conclusions that the man pressing the buttons(of a vending machine) and drinking the tea is also an algorithm. A much more complicated algorithm than the vending machine, no doubt, but still an algorithm. Humans are algorithms that produce not cups of tea but copies of themselves…The algorithms controlling vending machines work through mechanical gears and electric circuits. The algorithms controlling humans work through sensations, emotions, and thoughts. And exactly the same kind of algorithms control pigs, baboons, otters, and chickens.”(98-99)

Yet an algorithm is not a principle. The principle behind an algorithm is theoretically a hypothetical principle or practically an instrumental principle, both of which presuppose basic categorical principles or forms. The principles governing the tea drinking human psuche are the principles governing the rational animal capable of discourse. Pigs oinking at the drinking trough are not socializing or arguing rationally about whether what they drinking is good or not. To characterize this difference in terms of a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind requires further argumentation. It may be the case that homo sapiens can only appreciate differences in degree because they can understand and even perceive differences in kind. The difference of degree versus the differences in kind is more akin to the difference between the laws of electromagnetic radiation and the laws of gravity. The comparison with these physical laws fails in some respects because there is a kinship relation between the form of life of a pig and the form of life of homo sapiens. This kinship can be expressed in terms of both being mammals or more basically, in terms of both being life-forms or forms of psuche. The sensations, emotions and biological problems associated with being animals have to be partially expressed in modified forms and partially regulated because of the fact that we are social and rational animals who need to behave in a civilized manner in the company of each other. Our behaviour here is more a matter of social attitudes than of socially based emotions and it is these attitudes that enable us to form cooperative bonds with one another. Harari does not say that the algorithms are different, he insists they are the same and this is going to create difficulties even at the perceptual level. Many psychologists claim that there is built into the perceptual systems of different animals a species recognition function that even at this level recognizes a difference in kind rather than a difference in degree. Tigers recognise other tigers in a way that they do not recognise lions as lions: a threat is not the same as a sexual partner. The grounds for saying the algorithm is the same is probably conceptual and categorical: man is both a mammal and an animal. For Aristotle these are forms of psuche and the categories that name them register this way of thinking about the infinite continuum of possible life forms. Yet on the developmental line of mans biological and psychological powers, the latter acquire increasing significance as the organism matures or actualizes its essence or nature, and in fact it is the actualizing of linguistic and rational powers that serve both in hylomorphic theory and in terms of language as criterial differentiators between man and animals. The infrastructure of subjective-objective-intersubjective is the typical scientific framework that is used to reinforce Harari’s prejudice in favour of the argument that the significant difference between animals and man resides in his power of sensation, emotion, imagination, and language: these four capacities are systematically separated from action and reason and thereby from the philosophical frameworks of hylomorphism, Kantian critical Philosophy, and Wittgensteinian Philosophical Investigations.

Behaviourism is a topic that is touched upon in order to highlight the importance of emotions in childhood development. John Watson’s childcare advice is rightly ridiculed and the following conclusion is reached:

“Today we look back with incomprehension at early 20th-century child-rearing advice. How could experts fail to appreciate that children have emotional needs and that their mental and physical health depends as much on providing for these needs as on food, shelter, and medicines?”(p104)

Freudian childcare advice aside. One can wonder why Freudian ideas from this period were ignored in this discussion except for a brief mention. Perhaps it was because they were “too philosophical” for the scientific subjective-objective-intersubjective framework. After all Freud, himself suggested that his Psychology was essentially Kantian. Perhaps it was because Freud saw the limitations of the emotions and the imagination for the purposes of leading a flourishing life in accordance with what he called the reality principle. For Freud, language was amongst other things an instrument for making what was unconscious conscious and in so doing connecting to memory systems in order to restore a more healthy relation to ones past. The real memory of real events is distinctly distinguished from the wish fulfillment and anxiety orientation of the imagination. For Freud, as was the case for Aristotle, the emotions involved in wish fulfillment and anxiety need regulation by the kind of self-reflective reasoning about oneself which occurs in therapy or philosophical examination.

The above reasoning is then used to further conclude that homo sapiens in the process of domesticating animals were in their practice of removing these animals from their mothers perhaps guilty of breaking the most essential emotional bond in the animal kingdom. The argument of the farmers for doing this was essentially religious it was argued. The sacrifice of animals to the gods was commonplace in pre-Christian temples. So, it is claimed that the Agricultural revolution was both an economic and religious revolution that justified the inhuman exploitation of animals. Animals were property and fodder to placate the gods.

According to Harari it was Science that silenced the gods in favour of homo sapiens who now stood alone on the world stage. Newton himself is God. Harari omits to mention that Newton not only believed in Philosophy, he also believed in the relevance of religion and the bible for the leading of a human flourishing life. The argument then transitions to our scientific/technological oriented societies in which humanists worship humans and the implication is that humanists condone the suffering of domestic animals. The explanation for this state of affairs is as follows:

“Whereas the Agricultural Revolution gave rise to theist religions, the Scientific Revolution gave birth to humanist religions, in which humans replaced gods. While theists worship theos(Greek for “god”), humanists worship humans. The founding idea of humanist religions such as liberalism, communism, and Nazism is that Homo Sapiens has some unique and sacred essence that is the source of all meaning and authority in the universe.”

The conflation of the ideas of religion, liberalism, and Nazism is a reminder of the limited infrastructure which earlier conflated differences in degree with differences in kind. The absence of attention to ethical issues of rational justifications for action explain claiming that political positions such as liberalism are “religious”. This is the inverse position of that adopted by Euthyphro in his discussion with Socrates in which he was conflating the holy with the just. This section of the work is conflating the religious with the political. This is a minor objection, however, compared to the willingness to call Nazism both humanistic and religious. Language and the philosophical criteria for the use of these terms are completely ignored and we find ourselves deposited in a relativistic post-modernist world where nothing can mean everything and everything can mean nothing. This is, of course, the kind of world that the Nazis were striving to create, with some success apparently. The image of Science allowing factory farming on massive scales where animals are cramped together in small spaces whilst waiting for eventual slaughter, of course, take the mind back to the Nazi “final solution”, to the problem of the Jews who were literally thought of as animals thanks to the Science of the times. Given this, it is somewhat paradoxical to focus on Religion as being solely responsible for the narcissism of human beings. Newton, like Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein saw no contradiction in searching for explanations and justifications of phenomena whilst at the same time being religiously committed to his philosophical ideas of God. All three would have taken the general thesis of Homo Deus with considerable skepticism. The situation is, however, complex, given, for example, the implications of Kantian Philosophy that God is an idea of reason “in” the mind of man.

Sixth Centrepiece Lecture from “The World Explored, the World Suffered: The Exeter Lectures”(Jude Sutton)

Hits: 338

Jude stood ready at the front of the lecture hall waiting for the students to arrive. He had not had a drink for a few days and he was feeling strange: a combination of anxiety and a numb trance- like state. He was looking down at his rather sparse notes which he had fished out of his waste paper basket, when Robert and Sophia arrived. He began the lecture exactly on time:
“Today I am going to talk about Science and the Theory of Knowledge. I begin with a quote from Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” which I believe I have mentioned before:
“Every art and every inquiry and similarly every action and choice seems to aim at some good, accordingly the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.”
“Let me say right away for those of you who have heard firstly, my ethical criticisms of some forms of science and, secondly, my criticisms of those scientists who believe that science is more concerned with exploration and experimentation than explanation and understanding, that I believe the pretensions of this subject exceed its achievements especially when it concerns the understanding of the human sphere of existence. I, of course, acknowledge the considerable achievement of scientists in the realm of physics, chemistry and biology and am keenly awaiting the general unified theory of all regions of Science, which is lacking at present
Let me also say that I am largely in agreement with both Plato and Aristotle’s definition of knowledge as Justified True Belief. In spite of the modern remonstrations of many scientists claiming that their theories only provide models of reality, which is probably true in the absence of a general unified theory, their aim must surely be at the good that in this context must be, understanding the truth. Aristotle as part of his method asks us to take heed of what the common man regards as the truth, because even here amongst common men if someone claims something to be true which they know to be false, it is said that such men lack understanding. Another aspect of Aristotle’s method is to consult the wise man who uses the same criterion as the common man, the only difference being that the wise man will be considerably more rigorous in his examination of his beliefs and will not cease his investigations until an understanding of principles is reached: principles which can be philosophically defended and justified.
Understanding is also aimed at in the so called practical sciences such as ethics where it is claimed that the good to be aimed at is related to our understanding of action and its relation to ultimate ends such as the flourishing life. The term used by the Greeks was eudaimonia that as mentioned earlier has unfortunately been problematically translated into the English term “happiness”. According to Aristotle the flourishing life lacks nothing and will therefore include both theoretical and practical understanding of reality. Through the flourishing man’s theoretical understanding of reality there will be an understanding of reality as an infinite continuum that brings with it a realisation that one of the problems with searching for a general unified theory of all physical phenomena, is that these phenomena are conceptualisable in different ways. It may be useful in this respect to talk about the mathematical scientists’ activity of describing and explaining motion in the world. He regards the motion as starting at a particular point and as coming to rest at another. These points divide the infinite continuum of space into a discrete length or unit. The motion thus traces a line in infinite space between the two points. The distance may be measured purely spatially in terms of length or more complexly in terms the time the motion takes. The scientist may proceed further and using a category of his understanding, namely causality, ask the question “What caused the motion?” In the inanimate physical world the cause would lie outside the object that was moving. If the object moving was a billiard ball, and had been caused by the impact of another billiard ball, we can continue asking the causal question until we arrive at a cue striking the ball, and a man acting to bring about the first movement. We can, that is, map a history of motion in a theatre of space all the way to the biological flexions and contractions of the muscles of the billiard player’s body, the chemical actions and reactions, in and amongst the cells involved, and the chemical elements involved. Notice how the transcendental question of causation that, by the way, is not directly derived from experience as Hume so acutely proved, is organising this whole field of experience. The field can also be organised by so called metaphysical laws such as matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed and, which like transcendental categories such as causality or transcendental intuitions of space and time, cannot in themselves be experienced but function as conditions of experience. If we wished to completely map the psychological theatre of human space we might begin to look at a non- physical elements such as the choice of a human to play billiards, to focus their attention on just this segment of the billiard table in order to play their shot, in order to score points in order to win the billiard game, in order to win some money, in order to pay the rent, in order to have a safe base to bring up the family etc. etc. Had the billiard player lost the game and lost his money for the rent we could have then posed the ethical ought- question: “ought he to be gambling and risking the security of his family?” Notice now the difference between the physical and non- physical chains of causation: notice how the former seem to move backward in time until we encounter a source and notice how the former “causes” stretch forward in time in order to rest at an end. With the introduction of the action and choice of an agent we leave the domain of the forever fluctuating continuum of the physical world and enter into the world of the mind or soul which can perceive think and reason in relation to its actions. We encounter therewith a stream of reality where the principle of movement no longer lies outside of the object moving but rather within the moving object. The human billiard player is not caused to move by outside forces as he would be if he fell off a cliff, but rather causes himself to move by amongst other things his tactical and strategic thoughts concerning which ball to play and how to position his white after the play in order to pot as many balls as possible and win the game. His actions occur in the field of physical causes and these can be investigated by the sciences mentioned above. The billiard ball of course is an artifact and has therefore a mixed theoretical and practical history that would take us outside the immediate theatre of the game of billiards. The same is true of the agent who is a composite of causes of different kinds. We have referred in earlier lectures to the importance of Aristotelian hylomorphism in our explanations of such diverse kinds of phenomena. In a complex human situation such as the game of billiards all 4 causes or kinds of explanation will be needed for a complete explanation and understanding of all of the phenomena involved. Two kinds of explanation will be needed for the material involved in the motion and the immediate proximal causes of the bringing about of motion in the game. Two of the causes or kinds of explanations will refer to the intentions, tactics and strategies tied up with the agents involved in the game and also perhaps to life projects and plans extending beyond the space-time continuum of the game. These latter two types of explanation will combine what Aristotle called the formal and final causes. All 4 causes are interwoven.”
Robert raised his hand and asked:
“Is there a science of game-playing?
“Interesting question given the fact that you major in Physical Education. Aristotle used the term “Science” much more broadly than contemporary science would countenance. For him there were the theoretical sciences, the practical sciences and the productive sciences. We moderns need to bear in mind that the word “aitiai” in Greek, which we translate as “cause”, actually bears the meaning of the basis or ground for something. Aristotle’s 4 cause’s schema then translates into 4 kinds of foundation or explanation. Modern science would probably reject at least one if not two of these foundations. The formal cause or foundation in contemporary science is certainly of secondary importance in comparison to the material cause or foundation. The inner structural organisation of the material will explain the forms it takes and not vice versa. To the physicist the teleological movement forward to an end instead of backward to a source will be an anthropomorphic view of the process of material motion. To the biologist the study of animate forms of life must involve teleological explanation that in its turn perhaps involves a hierarchy of principles all moving the organism towards maturity or a flourishing life or telos. Perception and locomotion needs are integrated with nourishment growth and reproduction needs. If one needs the language of mathematics to express everything here perhaps one can say that the flourishing life equation will be composed of the values of these variables. Now to directly answer your question: animals do not engage in game playing in general or billiards in particular but in terms of our human playing billiards, Aristotle would examine these activities in accordance with their contribution to a form of life which has a need for theoretical understanding of the world, a need for acting with the best practical intentions, and he would investigate how these higher level activities transform and integrate with such lower level activities as nutrition, growth and reproduction. To take just one example: the flourishing human life would engage in having friends for dinner and conversation where all manner of things would be discussed and reasoning about these things would occur. After dinner activities may include billiards or cards or other games where the point of the activities will be to show ones knowledge or skill by playing well: winning or losing gracefully and in the latter case hopefully having learned something in the process of losing. All of this will occur as part of the flourishing life—the full account of which we will get only by combining both Aristotle’s and Kant’s thoughts about the matter. For Aristotle, Ethics is a practical science and involves practical modes of understanding. For Kant, Ethics is logical and systematic and the following of principles of action is not merely connected to pleasure, as is the case with game playing: for Kant one has an obligation to follow the principles of ethics as a matter of character. So, in answer to your question, there can be a science of game playing but only in relation to the broader meaning of “science” embraced by Aristotle. But someone who thinks that theoretical science with the rules of procedure which constitute its method can explain game playing is confusing the theoretical with the practical.”
A Science major raised their hand and asked:
“But surely has not science shown time and again that reducing a whole to its parts and examining the functioning of those parts is the road to discovering important things about the whole. Was it not Aristotle who divided the phenomenon of the weather into four elements and two processes: earth, water, air, fire, hot and cold, wet and dry?
“In a sense the infinite continuum has to be divided but the question is how and into what kinds of parts. Perception obviously begins the process on the basis of discriminating differences, and the understanding subsequently unites the manifold parts under a basic unit of thought whose basic function is to connect things. Thought can connect particulars such as those that make up the meaning of the name Socrates, and particulars which have something in common with each other such as the past present and future exemplars of wise people…”
The Science major interrupted:
“It would be useful to know what mechanisms are involved in the thinking of universals.”
“The process begins with experience and memory of, for example, manifold exemplars of men which are initially discriminated by the processes of perception but then subsequently these differences are abstracted away and the exemplars are subsumed under one concept or term which we call “man”. Perception itself becomes organised in this process and we learn to perceive wholes on the basis of having conceived these wholes. These processes or mechanisms allow us then to move on to the next stage of thought when we say or think that “Socrates is mortal”: this latter is a true judgment that has the structure of thinking something about something. This stage of the process allows propositions to be connected in valid arguments and it also allows demonstrations or proofs to be constructed and understood. This would very roughly be Aristotle’s account. The point of all processes for Aristotle must be connected to actualising forms potentially contained in the material concerned. Remember that he was committed to an idea of matter that lacked form and as such matter was something fundamentally indefinite, which cannot therefore be thought to have a nature. To return to your weather example: a weather system is obviously an organised system containing 4 elements and two processes. Take any of these elements or processes out of the system and the remaining elements would behave in different ways. The so called elements in themselves will not be pure material but rather be form-ed . This can actually be more clearly seen if we focus our attention on biological life forms: on animals and their parts, for example bones, limbs, heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, brain etc. which in themselves are composites of form and matter. Confronted with these parts we have a choice posed by the modern chemist or the ancient biologist, Aristotle: we can move backward in time linearly and look for the material cause, eventually resting at the material of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen nitrogen, sulphur, phosphate and a few trace materials: we could, however on the other hand look instead for the formal and final cause, proceeding forward in time and discovering that these parts are in service of the life principle of the organism if we are dealing with the parts of non- rational animals or, alternatively, the flourishing life principle if we are dealing with the parts of rational animals.
Robert raised his hand:
“So Aristotle is definitively saying that the body is there for the sake of the soul”
“Yes, this would be essential to his holistic program. He would seriously question any analysis of the whole into parts that did not have reference to the whole. Saying as some scientists do that bodies are merely swarms of particles would have been incoherent as far as Aristotle was concerned.”
Robert continued:
“What about the slogan “Mens sana in corpore sano”?”
Well Latin may be regarded as a classical language but its translation of Greek terms has not always been very useful for scholars seeking to academically reconstruct Greek thought. The above quote seems to be neutral on the question of the priority of its elements. It may, that is, be purely descriptive and translatable into the dualist statement “A healthy mind in a healthy body” or more neutrally “a healthy mind healthily embodied”. The quote also, I suppose raises the question of the relation of the mind to the soul. Some commentators feel the two terms are identical, but I think that identification is mistaken. The soul, for me, is the more universal comprehensive idea because it more naturally includes the idea of something physical as a substrate and bearer of potentialities that will be actualised during a complex process of development. I say, “includes” here but perhaps the better term would be “regulates”, not in the way something physical regulates something else physical but rather in the way in which a law regulates an event. On this continuum of development powers will build upon powers and lead the organism from merely being alive to the possession of a flourishing life. These powers or capacities will include discriminatory perception, conceiving, the perceiving of something as something, the thinking of something and the thinking something about something, and finally, acting, in order to bring about the various forms of the good. To use the concept of a mind here appears to be unnecessarily cumbersome because it seems more difficult to think of the mind as containing an idea of the body as Spinoza hypothesized. It also seems difficult to believe that the mind can be the bearer of powers or capacities. The term “mind” goes back to Old English and perhaps there was this non- physical spiritualist aspect already present in the old English use of the word, or alternatively, it could have been the Latin translation which introduced the spiritualist connotation. There also seems to be a natural tendency to attribute minds to humans only. It does not, for example, make sense to say of animals that they have lost their mind. This particular fact inclines one to the position that mind is a power, but a power of what? The body? The person? I do not deny that some of these difficulties will also haunt the idea of the soul. If animals cannot lose their minds in the way humans can, then this may suggest that frogs either are not capable of leading flourishing lives or that the word “flourishing” in the context of animals has purely a biological significance.
Let me conclude by distancing myself from the flat world of the billiard table, where the event of one billiard ball impacting another encourages the idea that we are witnessing two events happening and not just one holistic change. Aristotle takes us to the building- site to reflect upon such matters: houses are built on building sites, and, according to Aristotle there is only one activity going on and that is the builder building the house. One change is occurring. The divided whole, namely, the builder building and the finished house are theoretically possible at a descriptive level. But we should not then proceed from this theoretical possibility to ask about the practical relation between the two events. Answers will necessarily be two-dimensional and appeal to billiard- ball kinds of mechanisms linking these two “imaginative hypotheticals”. This process of the house being built is teleological. The process is conceptualized in terms of the end of the activity, or the good being brought about by the activity. Proceeding in the opposite direction in search of a linear regression and asking about the event preceding the part of the activity one is currently perceiving will cut the whole process into unrecognizable ribbons. One terminus of such a scientific regression could end somewhat paradoxically in Platonism. Here the search may end up at an idea of the house in the builders mind. Another possible outcome of this scientific regression is that the process is broken into so many fragments that no principle uniting them into a whole activity can be thought of or imagined. In the attempt to frantically re-introduce the whole into the fragments, mereological fallacies are committed such as “the brain understands language”: which a number of brain researchers believe to be true. A brain is a part of a man but only a man understands language. You can try, as some have, to avoid the issue by placing “understand” in quotation marks but that will not help matters. You will also need to make highly artificial stipulations to the effect that “by “understand” I mean that such and such brain circuits will jump into operation. Neural circuits of course jump into operation when I perceive a cat, or move a muscle or eat my food or when I am pricked by a pin. When this is pointed out the neural scientist then sets out to find differences between neural circuits. That is, he tries to find an Aristotelian form embedded in the neural circuits. The whole investigation at this point has become so convoluted that the philosopher does not have the heart to tell the scientist he is looking in the wrong place. Next week we will continue this Odyssey when we ask whether the Human Sciences or Psychology can contribute anything to this epistemological debate. Psychologists, when they detached themselves from Philosophy in 1870 took two life rafts with them: one was the method of science which we have discussed almost ad infinitum not to mention ad nauseam, and they also took a second life raft: the concept of consciousness. Will this method and the concept of consciousness permit a reunification of the two subjects or will we find in this concept, the attempt to restore dualism in more modern dress. What we will find is that there is a refusal to reduce red to anything physical: whether it be angstrom units or neural circuits but there is also a subsequent problem of defining consciousness so that it can be the home of holistic powers such as reasoning and the home of simple qualities such as the perception of the quality of redness. Now, the perception of red whilst being very physically dependent upon physical substrata is nonetheless never identical with such substrata.
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts or, perhaps more accurately the parts are less than the sum of the whole.

Finally I would like to recommend two impending events. Tomorrow our resident Welsh genius Dr. Glynn Samuels will be giving a lecture entitled “The World suffered and the world explored”. This will be the opening lecture of a series of four on Religion, Philosophy, and Education. The first lecture is open invitation in the lecture hall but the following lectures will require a signing up process. I believe there are only eighty places available. The second event will be a series of seminars given by Dr. Harold Middleton on “The Psychological aspects of the world suffered and the world explored”.

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part One: Humanism and the new human agenda.

Hits: 318

Humanity, Harari argues, is in the process of recreating itself during the twenty-first century. It is no longer threatened by the kinds of catastrophe that have haunted mankind for tens of thousands of years namely, famine, plague, and war. These are problems, it is claimed, that are fading into insignificance because man, with his pragmatic/scientific approach to problems has largely eliminated them as global threats. Harari concedes firstly, that there are still hundreds of millions of people on the earth living below what is regarded by civilized countries as the “existence minimum”, secondly that there is still the risk, however small of locally restricted infections(Ebola–responsible for 11000 deaths). He must surely also admit to there being the risk of a conventional war in some regions of the globe and also to the fact that this possibility has probably marginally increased since his work was published. We are in agreement, however, that insofar as the humanist view of these matters is concerned there has largely been significant progress in world affairs.

The difference between the humanists perspective and that of the authors is that the humanist is, in spite of what they see to be the slow march of progress, acutely aware of the fact that there are many important respects in which man is not living up to his potential. The humanist is aware that in this disenchanted world, there is a great deal of suffering and injustice which cannot be addressed by the mechanisms and methods that have brought about the changes in our physical well-being and health Harari refers to. The humanist is aware improvements have been made in the material quality of our life by knowledge of general biological, medical and political facts such as that bacteria and viruses cause disease, famines can be avoided with a better political organization, and even conventional wars have disastrous consequences for everybody. But the humanist is also acutely aware that these achievements have not been characterized by a corresponding level of psychological contentment: a fact that probably has its explanation in the “mythical” Apollo’s two challenges for humanity and the humanist, namely “nothing too much” and “know thyself”. The claim, for example that the peace we are experiencing today is not merely a temporary respite from war but is rather a peace based on the assumption that war is almost inconceivable today, may manifest a misunderstanding of what might transpire in the future if Apollo’s warnings of “nothing too much” and “know thyself” are not heeded. Ignorance of both of these ethical imperatives was certainly among the causes of the two first world wars of the last century and just because 70 years have elapsed with a manifestly downward trend in the statistics of violence this in itself is not cause for celebration or the announcement of new human agendas. The global forces that are operating in global development (and ethics and knowledge in the Aristotelian sense are two of these forces) are involved in an unseen war the outcome of which is uncertain because outcomes from this kind of conflict of global processes are measured in millennia rather than centuries(causing Kant to tentatively suggest that the conflict will be resolved in 100,000 years).

Harari in an attempt to explain our “good fortune” claims the following:

“We have managed to bring famine plague and war under control thanks largely to our phenomenal economic growth, which provides us with abundant food, medicine, energy, and raw materials. Yet this same growth destabilizes the ecological equilibrium of the planet in myriad ways, which we have only begun to explore.”(p23)

Not to mention the effect on our psychological equilibrium that Freud was beginning to register in his consulting rooms at the end of the nineteenth century. Apollo must be heaving a melancholic sigh at the sight of “too much” and “Ignorance of oneself”.

This work by Harari formulates a definition of humanism that inexplicably includes a desire to become divine. This is a misunderstanding of what key humanist thinkers such as Aristotle and Kant have had in mind when they spoke of the divine. Both thinkers through reasoning(neither believed in revelation) arrived at the conclusion that our reason was the sign of the divine in us in a finite form(Kant referred to what was holy about our will). Our finitude necessitated observing imperatives such as those uttered by Apollo or found in our religious texts. These imperatives were not, however, orders which we blindly obeyed but rather prescriptions for which there were good reasons to obey that we could fathom if we led the life of contemplation that both philosophers recommended. The finite could never become the infinite and anyone possessing the desire to actually become divine would for these thinkers have been a sign of their insanity.

So, given our “good fortune” and the fact that three of the major threats to humankind are no longer global threats, what will humankind use its cognitive capacities to focus on in the future?:

“What else will humanity strive for? Would we be content merely to count our blessings, keep famine, plague and war at bay, and protect the ecological equilibrium? That might indeed be the wisest course of action, but humankind is unlikely to follow it. Humans are rarely satisfied with what they already have. The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more. Humans are always on the lookout for something better, bigger, and tastier. When humankind possesses enormous new powers and when the threat of famine plague and war is finally lifted, what will we do with ourselves?…humanity’s next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness and divinity.”(p23)

Harari has an inkling of Apollo’s “nothing too much” recommendation but no clear conception of normative values to assist in the interpretation of the phenomena he discusses. The conception of normative value we need to appreciate if we are to evaluate the phenomena discussed correctly comes not just from the mythical figure of Apollo but also from Aristotle, Kant and their followers. The imperative mode of normative discourse proclaims what ought to be the case. Apollo probably saw countless examples of the hubris of man all around him and his imperatives were explicitly designed to mobilize the normative knowledge of the wise men of the community to lead flourishing lives instead of the lives of a restless pursuit of a cluster of desires that were multiplying out of control. This normative knowledge is necessary if a correct diagnosis of the human condition is to be recorded. Apollo might have been mildly surprised that our hubris had in fact infiltrated one of the branches of our knowledge to such an extent that it had produced weapons of mass destruction that had actually been used for the annihilation of non combatant civilians but he would also have been able to point to his imperatives as the reasons for this state of affairs.

Of course, it is a fact that humans, in general, crave more and more if the culture around them does not normatively via the use of imperatives and reasoning regulate this vicious multiplication of desires. But facts are not themselves regulative in this situation. That is, it is not true that just because this is how humans, in general, behave that this is how they ought to behave. Normative knowledge is what regulates this states of affairs and allows humankind to know the facts about themselves but transcend these facts with what Harari refers to as wise judgment and behaviour. Speculating upon what excesses and deficiencies will lead to in terms of the cause-consequences frameworks of the businessman and the scientist, will merely ignore the role of the normative(the ethical) and the role of knowledgeof the good in the bringing about of happiness as a result of leading the flourishing life.

Humankind will seek after immortality Harari argues because death is no longer an ethical telos at the end of life but rather a technical problem which science(wearing the same white coats they wore whilst splitting the atom) will eventually “solve”. Fear of death or the survival instinct(the wish not to die under any circumstances) are equated and perhaps those are the only alternatives if one regards the human condition as primarily determined by its biology. There is, however, a psychological level above that, which may even wish to die peacefully or be prepared to even die violently by one’s own hand. The one level is related to the other and the relationship is complex, far more complex than is acknowledged in this work. This notion of levels does not stop here but reaches up to the social and political conditions of our existence. Reducing the human condition to its biological substrate, of course, enables one then to regard death as a scientific problem to be solved. It also enables one to view the acceptance of death as a result of leading a full life which has been, as the Bible puts it, “full of years”, as well as those committing suicide by their own hand, as anomalies to be explained by the physiological sensations these groups of people feel.

Of course one needs more than a primitive utilitarian theory to explain what is going on in the complex human relation to death but this is what we are provided with by Harari. He cites Bentham’s Psychological theory of being ruled by two sovereign masters, pleasure and pain. Harari concedes that the happiness principle which subsequent utilitarians have extracted from Bentham’s pleasure-pain rule at some point will have to admit that happiness is determined by expectations. Yet, contrary to the humanist position that peoples expectations are real and determining factors of almost everything important that we engage in, Harari wants to regard these expectations as subjective and reduce them to our biochemistry:

“On the biological level, both our expectations and our happiness are determined by our biochemistry, rather than by our economic, social or political situation…We never react to events in the outside world but only to sensations in our own bodies. Nobody suffers because she lost her job, because she got divorced or because the government went to war. The only thing that makes people miserable is unpleasant situations in their own bodies…people are made happy by one thing and one thing only–pleasant sensations in their bodies.”(p40-41)

Firstly one ought to note that there is a difference between situations where expectations are embedded in a cognitively structured situation such as education where one is learning much because of the expectations of the teacher and emotional situations such as those described by Harari. Emotions are, as we have learned from William James, producing psychological effects from physiological disturbances. But not everything psychological is caused by a physiological disturbance. The “psychological” use of Knowledge, for example, is related to the truth which in its turn refers to an object and not the sensations which the objects cause to occur in us. Normative knowledge, i.e. knowledge of what we ought and ought not to do is based on action and its intentions, and not on the kinaesthetic sensations accompanying action or sensations(if there are any) connected to the formation of intentions.

Harari rightly points out the transitoriness of sensations:

“The bad news is that pleasant sensation quickly subside and sooner or later turn into unpleasant ones.”(p42)

This is the “fault” of evolution it is claimed because our biochemistry is attuned not to our happiness but rather to our survival. Let us be clear here about the nature of our criticism. It is not being denied that underlying everything we do is a physiological substrate. Humans are, as Piaget pointed out, sensory-motor systems. Piaget was influenced both by Aristotelian assumptions(being a biologist himself) and Kantian Philosophical Psychology that distinguished between that which happens to man (which involves sensations and sensory experiences) and that which man freely does (involving the sensory-motor system). This means for example that action involving the motor system can regulate the sensory system. The role of thought in this process is not sensation-related but rather related to the objects of action, that is to the reality one is intending to change. Aristotle and Kant, both believed that what we do is subject to an evaluation system much more complicated than the survival imperative and they also believed that this evaluation system is more a matter of thought and its objects than the private sensations of individuals. It is also worth pointing out in this case that were emotions to be based only on sensations and not also the behaviour elicited, third-person descriptive language about them would not be possible, as Wittgenstein and many other philosophers have pointed out.

Harari then argues that if it is true that happiness is essentially a biochemical matter then “the only way to ensure lasting contentment is by rigging this system”. We could also, it is argued, send electrical signals to the brain.

There is a then a brief discussion about the efficacy of Buddhist meditation and its supposed goal of merely reducing our craving for pleasant sensations. The following is the conclusion:

“At present humankind has far greater interest in the biochemical solution. No matter what the monks in their Himalayan caves or philosophers in their ivory towers say, for the capitalist Juggernaut, happiness is pleasure. Period.With each passing year our tolerance for unpleasant sensations decreases, and our craving for pleasant sensations increases. Both scientific research and economic activity are geared to that end.”

So, the new human agenda is going to be determined by the capitalist juggernaut and the norm-free scientist who has never probably even heard of the mythical thousand-headed monster of the ancient Greeks whose heads keep multiplying in accordance with the growth of the desires of the monster.

These scientists will be engaged on re-engineering the mind of Homo Sapiens and at this point, we will achieve the status of gods. Homo Sapiens will become Homo Deus. This is inevitable it is argued because, if we apply the brakes to this process, the economic systems of the world will collapse based as it is on a logic of endless growth and an endless number of projects. Apparently Eugenics the favourite project of the Nazis will also make a comeback. This in spite of the fact that it is claimed that we study history in part in order to shake ourselves free from its “logic” based on the assumption that the past must be like the future.

Here is a postmodernist reversal of the value of History that , for the philosopher, is a means of learning the lessons of the past in order to make progress in the future–not the progress we saw in the last “terrible century(where the scientist and economists took the reigns) but the long slow progress that allows us to evaluate the assumptions and ideas of the scientist and economist using the ideas of Aristotle, Kant, and their followers. Shaking ourselves free of this logic will only result in “too much” and “ignorance of ourselves”(Apollo)

In this discussion, it is clear that Humanism is a straw man erected for the purposes of the impending bonfire. It is not true as is claimed that the projects of humanism have been a striving for immortality divinity and happiness. The humanism of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein all acknowledge the essential finitude of man, they all acknowledge an inevitable death and a long, long period of time before mankind as a species can achieve lasting happiness. The humanist is not an atheist nor is he a blind believer in the popular idea of God. He is a believer in blind justice which does not distinguish between classes or races in the dispensation of justice. He is a believer in knowledge and ethics both of which are steered by reason and both of which are global processes required to achieve a global community: in other words, he believes in norm defined progress. He believes in History and the human power to shape historical forces. The humanist is not a desperate pessimist or a reckless optimist, he is a man leading a contemplative reflective flourishing life. (For Harari it is these beliefs that place our humanist in an ivory tower along with his philosophical colleagues).

INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY COURSE: Aristotle Part 6 ( Productive Sciences: Art and Tragedy)

Hits: 375

Jonathan Barnes in an essay entitled Rhetoric and Poetics in the Cambridge Companion to Aristotle argues the following:

“An art is a body of knowledge, practical in aim but systematic in organisation, in which particular theorems and precepts are shown to follow from a relatively small set of fundamental truths.”

This may be an over-theoretical account of a realm of human activity which resembles more the realm of practical science than the realm of theoretical science but it has the advantage of manifesting the relation of art to truth which is often forgotten in the hasty retreat to the realm of experience which is a key concern of the arts. Aristotle insisted upon a threefold distinction of sciences: Theoretical, Practical and Productive. But he did not envisage that the practical and the productive sciences would have no connection with the truth.
The human activity of Art, is an activity of mimesis or imitation. Art is imitation Aristotle argues, not of external nature but rather of mans mind, in particular his character, emotions and actions. But why does one desire to imitate? Because firstly,there is both an instinct to imitate demonstrated in the fact that humans distinguish themselves from animals partly in the fact that they learn from other humans by imitating them and secondly because we take delight in imitations. But what then is the telos, the purpose of these mimetic productions? The creation and appreciation of art must be related of course to the flourishing life and its explorations of regions of our mind that seek for understanding with universal intent. The idea of the good object is obviously of major significance in the arena of artistic activity and must be related to both its intellectual and emotional aspects. “Universal intent” here obviously refers to organising our experiences such that we connect emotions and actions that should be connected and differentiate between emotions and actions where there are real differences. Such organisation also entails an understanding of the role of the subject and the role of the object in this process of trying to fathom the depths of the mind. If we are to believe Psychoanalysis, at the bottom of these depths lie the shipwrecks of our experience scattered on the ocean bed and the connection of these fragmented experiences are often not real or as Freud put it, in accordance with the Reality Principle. Death trumps life in such scenes of the unreal.

According to Adrian Stokes in his essay “The Invitation in Art”:

“Structure is ever a concern of art and must necessarily be seen as symbolic, symbolic of emotional patterns, of the psyche’s organisation with which we are totally involved……Patterns and the making of wholes are of immense psychical significance in a precise way even apart from the drive towards repairing what we have damaged or destroyed outside ourselves……in every instance of art we receive a persuasive invitation…we experience fully a correlation between the inner and the outer world which is manifestly structured. And so the learned response to that invitation is an aesthetic way of looking at an object.”

The common element tying all three sciences together is , according to Jonathan Lear in his work on Aristotle, the desire to understand. Man is not satisfied by facts alone, Aristotle claims, he seeks the justifications for these facts, man wishes to know both what and why. The Why could be the principle which would be revealed by the four kinds of explanation outlined in the Metaphysics.

Hylomorphic theory has been haunting aesthetics from the time of Aristotle up to and including the Critical writings of Adrian Stokes. In this theory we have a theory of how the complex human being is teleologically driven in a process of actualisation/development where powers build upon and integrate with other powers beginning from the level of the biological moving to the level of self consciousness via perception, memory and language and terminating in the telos of the actualisation of the potential of rationality in the spheres of practical and theoretical reasoning. This process will obviously involve the holistic organisation of the sensible and intellectual parts of the mind that occurs in symbolic aesthetic encounters with symbolic aesthetic objects. The Desire to understand these parts of the mind is for Aristotle part of the idea of the flourishing life. In a discussion of the representation or imitation of terrible events like death Aristotle points to the interesting fact that even if pity and fear may be involved this occurs under an all encompassing attitude of the desire to learn something from these represented events. Indeed this may be the “mechanism” of the famous Aristotelian “catharsis” where it is insisted that pity and fear are purged or purified. The suggestion here is that the situation of these negative emotions in a positive context transforms them into positive elements of the experience.

The Arts are divided by Aristotle into two categories: those associated with material such as paint, stone etc and those associated with “voice”: the former being spatial objects and the latter temporal objects which, include the use of music which is suggestive of various uses of language. The use of language however is not demonstrative as is the case with the theoretical sciences but rather the artistic use of language is in accordance with a technical process designed to instrumentally bring about an effect which given our instinctive delight in imitations must be related to the experience of pleasure. The pleasure involved would seem, however, to be a contemplative reflective pleasure and presumably not the kind of pleasure that we might get at the technical creation of a table for a particular use. Such an act of creating a table will not require the kind of systematic knowledge required for the production of an art object. This is connected to the fact that tables are generic objects whereas art-objects have a uniqueness condition tied to their creation. A table can be an imitation of another table but an imitation of another art object merely encourages a negative judgment and a loss of interest in the object. Also a table is not symbolic of anything else as is a classical image of a man in a classical pose of serenity. Such classical images symbolise the importance of the contemplative or reflective life as well as the importance of the independent self sufficiency of ideal humans in an ideal world. Both of these aspects are so important to the Aristotelian ideal of the flourishing life. One imagines obviously a connection to Philosophy and a reflective use of language in accordance with the slow measured music of self sufficient independent argument. Contrast this with our modern art which Stokes claims issues from a depressive anxiety reaction to the loss of good objects in an environment dominated by gasometers and towers. All one can aesthetically do in such an environment is to ignore or accept the offending objects. The invitation of such objects is very different to that of the environment containing the Parthenon. Stokes , in this context, quotes the writings of Renoir’s son:

“We know that in Renoir’s opinion the ugliness of buildings towards the end of the nineteenth century and the vulgarity in design in articles in common use were of far greater danger than wars.”

Renoir himself says:

“We get too accustomed to these things and to such a point that we do not realise how ugly they are. And if the day ever comes when we become entirely accustomed to them, it will be the end of a civilisation which gave us the Parthenon and the cathedral of Rouen. Then men will commit suicide from boredom, or else kill each other off, just for the pleasure of it”(Renoir 1962)”

Impressionism, Stokes claims was a response to the aesthetic poverty of the streets of our cities and the desire in art to shock its audience thereafter stems, he argues from a response to a disjointed chaotic environment. Such reflections lead us to the inevitable conclusion that art must be a kind of therapy for both artist and appreciator. A thought echoed in his account of the catharsis of the emotions of pity and fear in our appreciation of tragedy.

Stokes is drawing attention to an aesthetic tragedy in the process of cultural evolution: a tragedy of which we are largely unaware given the momentum of the transformation of the physical transformation of our urban environments. What is the cause of our failure to use the knowledge we have had access to since Aristotle? Is the desensitising of the aesthetic aspects of our mind the major factor or it the case that we are witnessing the same relativism in this arena as we have witnessed in the ethical arena where the assumption of “utility” has trumped the idea of an actualising process that acquires its identity from a telos or end in itself which is unconditionally valuable. The Good aesthetic object and the good ethical action share an attitude toward tragedy which requires us to learn from them both. “Man desires to know” Aristotle claims in the Metaphysics. What can we know about tragedy after reading Aristotle’s “Poetics”?

Aristotle’s definition of tragedy is:

” the imitation of an action that is serious and complete, and which has some greatness about it. It imitates in words with pleasant accompaniments, each type belonging separately to the different parts of the work. It imitates people performing actions and does not rely on narration. It achieves through pity and fear, the catharsis of these feelings.”

A serious and complete action requires attention to both plot, character and thought. In the former the plot must tie all the elements together into a whole in which events occur “because of each other” and not merely in a reported narrative of ones life “after one another” There must be a beginning, a middle and an end in which there is space for the development of the plot where a good character as a result of a flawed action of considerable magnitude experiences a reversal of fortune and towards the end a recognition of what has happened and its causes and consequences. The plot shall not be too long but be of a magnitude which can be taken in by the memory. The beginnings and ends of tragedy should not be arbitrary but appropriate. The middle of the plot must be necessitated by the beginning and necessitate its end. The final cause of the tragedy is its cathartic effect upon the emotions of fear and pity which naturally arise as a consequence of what we are witnessing. The term catharsis obviously has medical connotations and one often forgets that the medical intention of purging was healing and this was the argument Aristotle made against the objection of Plato to the arousal of such emotions. The pleasure that supervenes upon the learning of what there is to learn in the tragedy occurs not in a frenzy of emotion but rather in the calm after the storm..

The resemblance of this process to what goes on in psychoanalytical therapy has often been mentioned. Sir David Ross in his work on Aristotle has the following to say on the process of catharsis:

“The process hinted at bears a strong resemblance to the “abreaction”, the working off of strong emotion, to which psychoanalysts attach importance. There is some difference however, to what they try to bring about in abnormal cases Aristotle describes as the effect of tragedy on the normal spectator. Do most men in fact go about with an excessive tendency to pity and fear? And are they in fact relieved by witnessing the sufferings of the tragic hero? That we somehow benefit by seeing or reading a great tragedy, and that it is by pity and fear that it produces its effect is beyond doubt: but is not the reason to be found elsewhere. Is it that people deficient in pity and fear because their lives give little occasion for such feelings are for once taken out of themselves and made to realise the heights and depths of human experience? Is not this enlarging of our experience, and the accompanying teaching of “self-knowledge and self-respect” the real reason of the value which is placed upon tragedy?”

The above refers to Aristotle’s learning process in the arena of ethical action. The arrival at the golden mean via a process of inductive trial and error learning is here applied to our emotions and their regulation. One can almost imagine that the terminal response imagined by Aristotle of the audience of the tragedy is well depicted in those sculptures of men in a state of contemplation. The reference to “abreaction” is perhaps only apt if it refers to the mental effects of the talking cure on anxiety levels once the troubling traumas or wishes are subjected to transformation in the memory by being consciously talked about. Catharsis in psychoanalysis differs from catharsis in art in that the former process is happening to the hero of the tragedy and the latter is happening to a disinterested spectator who is not viewing or conceptualising the chain of events as a particular series of events happening to a particular person but more generally and hypothetically: namely, “if someone does this kind of action is done then this kind of fate is the inevitable consequence”. Kant referred to this as “exemplary necessity” in his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment.
The cathartic process of a patient involves a learning or “recognition” which increases ones own sense of self awareness that one cannot speak with a universal voice about. The cathartic process involved with tragedy on the other hand justifies the use of the universal voice because of the involvement of “exemplary necessity”.

Our modern tragedy of course is related to the failure of our present day culture to be able to speak with a universal voice about itself. Culturally, i.e. politically, ethically and aesthetically we appear to live in a disenchanted tragic world in which the voices of Aristotle, Kant and Freud and their followers are drowned out by the collective contradictory voices of the popular mythical thousand headed monster. The knowledge spoken of at the beginning of this lecture is no longer being taught. There are no rescuing heroes anymore and there is no catharsis for anyone in such circumstances, only disenchantment.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Ten: Intelligent Design

Hits: 300

A genetically engineered fluorescent green rabbit and a mouse with an ear on its back are cited as examples of the presence of intelligent design as a principle of life forms. Evolution, it is argued, as a biological limit and explanation comes to an end in the twenty-first century. This so-called principle of intelligent design is of course “scientific” intelligent design which raises the obvious question as to whether this is in accordance with the philosophical concept of intelligence.

William James argues in his work “The Principles of Psychology” that the concept of intelligence is a descriptor of the “way” an intelligent life form does something or solves problems. His citation illustrates the principle of the freedom humans possess in choosing how to act. A magnet attracts iron filings but if you insert a cardboard strip in between the magnet and the strip the filings will never reach its goal. On the other hand, if Romeo is attracted by Juliet but her family places a fence between his goal and himself, he will find a way to eliminate the obstacle of the fence and find a way to his goal, Juliet. Intelligence, then, does not refer to any particular goal but rather to the way in which we achieve that goal that will include thinking critically about how to solve the problem. The iron filings when it reaches the magnet without any intervening obstacle is not intelligent.
In the light of these reflections one can wonder whether the use of the word “intelligent” in this principle of intelligent design is an appropriate term to use in relation to the insertion of genes into organisms that do not naturally possess these genes. If rabbits needed to be found in the dark or mice were hard of hearing then, of course, these feats of “engineering” would be motivated and may deserve the term “intelligent”. Indeed it seems difficult to even say whether there was any point to the “goal” that was achieved considering that no natural processes were involved. On the contrary, these experiments appeared to require the disruption of natural processes. Of course, these “experiments” are revealing of the practical reasoning capacities(or lack thereof) of the scientist. The whole process positively reeks of the lack of intelligence of earlier “experiments” such as the splitting the atom which managed to produce a weapon that could destroy humankind in a world war(One must admire the consistency of Science: if the universe began with a Big Bang human life might as well end with a little bang). There is, as has been pointed out on a number of occasions, nothing in the scientist’s assumptions or methodology that will enable him to evaluate whether just because something can be done, it ought to be done or ought not to be done. The author has on a number of occasions used the term “imagination” in relation to nations, human rights etc which are intelligent “creations” of moral and political agents respecting the processes of cultural evolution from families to villages to city-states to nations. For Aristotle, this process(up to the level of the city-state) was both organic and intelligent. It is exactly because science lacks the “tools” and concepts to describe the process of cultural evolution that Freud was forced to resort to mythology and its “Intelligent ” theory of what is important to mankind. Since the ancient Greeks it has been observed that as soon as one divides a whole into its parts, its parts inevitably become opposites that somehow need to be reconciled again. The “Intelligence” of the early Greek thinkers is revealed in the thoughts of those who had succumbed(as Socrates finally did) to the axiom of Anaxagoras that “All is mind” and everything that is not mind are finite things shaped from an infinite medium of substances and opposition processes(hot and cold, wet and dry). This could be sustained theoretically because of a logic of the values of the finite in its relation to the infinite. Human minds are the principle of the carving of the manifold of finite things and processes out of the infinite mass of possible matter, energy, and experience. Here you will find no “imagination” of singularities such as the big bang where no laws of nature were operating because there was no time in which they could operate. For the Greeks and their way of thinking there may have been a Big Bang but something caused it and there was a time before the Big Bang when the conditions for the Big Bang were assembling themselves . The medium for this scenario was the infinite One, about which nothing could be said or thought. This idea can be found in some religions and mythologies. Freud’s use of the Platonic opposites of Eros(the creative force of life) and Thanatos(the destructive force of life) in an arena where the outcome will be determined by this infinite One or Ananke was an attempt to inject the philosophical spirit into his barren scientific hypotheses relating to the well being of his mentally ill patients. Nothing is said in this work by Harari of the miserable record of Science in the arena of mental illness. It took Freud and a number of other humanistically inclined therapists to clean this particular mess up. Even after the theorizing of Freud it is still a question as to whether the “scientists” dispensing their medicines today know what the goal is for those who are mentally ill. Remember this work “Sapiens” has maintained that ideas about the meaning of life are “delusions”. Women, of course, made up the largest number of the victims of “science” and its barren venture into the realm of mental illness during Freud’s era.

In this final section of the book, there are experiments suggested that bear the quality of schizophrenic hallucinations: the resurrection of Neanderthal man, the end of Homo Sapiens when the final singularity of our lives arrives at that point when all the concepts that make our lifeworld meaningful have become irrelevant:

“Anything happening beyond that point is meaningless to us”

The author here is imagining the scientific success of the creation of a race of Gods(another “experiment”?).

The problem with believing that almost everything of value is imagined is that almost anything can be imagined and value disappears in this process. Whatever criticisms one wishes to bring to bear on the process of mythical thinking it manages to preserve a world of value. The Freudian picture of the battle between the life-creating forces and the aggressive destructive forces is an apt one to apply to the history of science, and by history, I do not mean the virus the author takes it to be but rather that philosophically based intelligent narrative of the existence and value of things. One can imagine something good and under the influence of the dialectical logic of the opposites imagine the bad is an opposite that can never be related to any object that is good. Something that is good cannot be bad at the same time in the world of the imagination. These are two different things. And yet the mature ethical outlook of those leading flourishing lives is that there can be wholes that are both good and bad in different respects. Indeed these opposites are united in the wholes that are the source of different kinds of good once the explanation for what is imagined bad has been given. Psychoanalysis is the domain for this philosophical discussion of the holistic attitudes housing the practical reasoning concerning the good and the imagination of opposites that seem to demand the functioning of different instincts: the life instinct controlling what is good and the death instinct manifesting death and destruction. Object relations theory operates in accordance with this logic of the wholes, the parts, and the meaningful life and replaces the role of myth in the task of the explanation of value.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Nine: The Meaning of life

Hits: 320

The Industrial revolution, Harari argues :

“..opened the way to a long line of experiments in social engineering and an even longer series of unpremeditated changes in everyday life and human mentality. One example among many is the replacement of the rhythms of traditional agriculture with the uniform and precise schedule of industry. Traditional agriculture depended on cycles of natural time and organic growth. Most societies were unable to make precise time measurements, nor were they terribly interested in doing so. The world went about its business without clocks and timetables, subject only to the movements of the sun and the growth cycles of plants.”)pp394)

These experiments in social engineering dominated by the scientific methodology and scientific materialistic assumptions decoupled from both religious ethical theories and the ethical theories of philosophy that led to the concept of human rights eventually resulted in the bizarre totalitarian “experiments of Hitler and Stalin. What exactly is meant by an experiment relating to human mentality, however, is not clear. Is the suggestion being made that the Industrial Revolution changed our mentality? If so, Science, which was a precursor and one of the theoretical conditions of the industrial revolution must have been a contributor to this change. Does Harari mean that we shifted to a state of discontentment because of the new disenchanted world we were forced to live in?

In practical terms, prior to the Industrial Revolution, the institution of care was the family which was:

“also the welfare system, the health system, the education system, the construction industry, the trade union, the pension fund, the insurance company, the radio, the tv, the newspapers, the bank, and even the police.”(pp399)

What the family could not deliver was left to the local community. Did this produce a general mentality or was it the case that there was merely a generalized attitude toward the family that caused Aristotle, for example, to characterize the family as the fundamental political unit of the society? According to Aristotle the family is not sufficient insofar as the needs of the individual is concerned and for him, the meeting of these needs motivated the association of families into villages. Even villages cannot meet the complex needs of the human individual and this in its turn necessitates association into a city-state which can meet even man’s more luxurious needs. For Aristotle, it is the city that best provides the conditions necessary for Eudaimonia, the flourishing life.

Psychoanalysis was the psychological theory that truly examined the development of the emotions and personality in the context of the family but it also extended its theorizing to examining “civilization and its discontents” ending in a question as to whether all the work involved in building a civilization is worth the effort. Freud’s analysis reached back into ancient Greek philosophy for its overarching powers or capacities of Eros, Thanatos, and Ananke. These three mythical “figures” shape the battlefield of civilization and the mentality of the individuals who are subject to fate as a consequence of the psychological powers of the life instinct and the death instinct(manifested partly in aggression). Freud’s theory, as we know moved from resting uneasily on quantitative considerations relating to energy distribution and the experience of pleasure and pain to the realm of meaning which better characterized analytical discourse. He refused to acknowledge that the world should be purified of its myths, although of course, he led one of the battles against religion in the name of “scientific psychology”. Later on in this work, Harari is going to speak of delusions. In the light of the hallucinatory wish-fulfillment connotations of this term “delusion” in psychoanalytical theory, we will return to Psychoanalysis when considering Harari’s claim. We will also return to Psychoanalytical theory when we consider the role of art(compared with science) in the shaping of our civilization.

The collapse of the institutions of the family and the local community was motivated by Harari in the following manner:

“Life in the bosom of family and community was far from ideal. Families and communities could oppress their members no less brutally than do modern states and markets, and their internal dynamics were often fraught with tension and violence–yet people had little choice. A person who lost her family and community around 1750 was as good as dead. She had no job, no education and no support in times of sickness and distress. Nobody would loan her money or defend her if she got into trouble. There were no policemen, no social workers, and no compulsory education…..All this changed dramatically over the last two centuries. The Industrial Revolution gave the market immense new powers, provided the state with new means of communication and transportation, and placed at the government’s disposal an army of clerks, teachers, policemen, and social workers. At first, the market and state discovered their path blocked by traditional families and communities who had little love for outside intervention. Parents and community elders were reluctant to let the younger generation be indoctrinated by nationalist education systems, conscripted into armies or turned into a rootless urban proletariat.”(pp401-2)

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, in 1781 Immanuel Kant wrote his first major work, “The Critique of Pure Reason” that pointed to the displacement of the idea of God with the idea of Freedom. This is, of course, a more positive observation in relation to the change of “mentality” of individuals: mentality here probably refers less to states of consciousness or moods of the individual and more to the individual’s attitudes. On Kant’s theories, this social change was a positive phenomenon although he was already pointing out the inadequacies of the nation-state in relation to human rights and war. Just over one century, well into the era of the Industrial Revolution, Freud begins to address the issue of the mental health of citizens of nation-states just at the time when they were embracing an “expansion at any price” business and marketing policy. His work “Civilisation and its Discontents” was a kind of judgment on the mentality of modern man living in his relatively modern industrialised nation-states. Freud’s individual cases however very often exposed the shortcomings of the family and it was partly his work that contributed to the later movements that consequently thought in terms of the right a child has to a non-oppressive or brutal upbringing. Thanks to Freud’s work children too could free themselves from oppression and repression. But Harari claims:

“..the liberation of the individual comes at a cost. Many of us now bewail the loss of strong families and communities and feel alienated and threatened by the power the impersonal state and market wielded over our lives. States and markets composed of alienated individuals can intervene in the lives of their members much more easily than states and markets composed of strong families and communities…..The deal between states, markets and individuals is an uneasy one. The state and the markets disagree about their mutual rights and obligations, and individuals complain that both demand too much and provide too little. In many cases individuals are exploited by markets and states employ their armies, police forces and bureaucracies to persecute individuals instead of defending them.”(pp403)

Insofar as states and markets interfere with the human rights of the individual there should be no doubt that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. The medium of the market is finance and those who have finances to invest are obviously favoured over those that do not but this is not a matter of human rights or justice as long as the state has provided everyone with equal opportunity in the form of education etc. States have signed the universal declaration of human rights and are subject to sanction if their citizen’s rights are systematically violated. Some people may feel alienated by not being able to be active investors or by being unjustly treated but in the former case where the middle class capable of active participation in the investment market is growing and where there are more and more opportunities for education, this is clearly an improving situation. These are clear examples of the progress we are making. Feeling alienated in such a context may be a signal for one to contact one’s therapist for a diagnosis. Harari argues that this alienation is the result of millions of years of living in families and communities: a result of evolution. We have become alienated individuals, he claims. He does not see what Kant already saw in the American and French revolutions that the individual is being freed from his chains. He further argues that the market is putting chains on our ideas of romance and sex and here again he underestimates the power of freedom and knowledge to recognize and criticize the kind of stereotyping that occurs in the advertising world. There are dangers for the youth of the day but educational systems are well aware of this problem and tailor their messages accordingly.

Imagined communities, Harari argues are communities of people who do not know each other but imagine they do. He gives as examples kingdoms, empires and churches. But he also claims that the nation is an imagined community in which we imagine a common past, common interests, and a common future:

“Like money, limited liability companies and human rights, nations and consumer tribes are inter-subjective realities. They exist only in our collective imaginations, yet their power is immense..”(p406)

These realities have been brought about partly by historical processes and physical factors that have nothing to do with the power of my imagination, for example, living in the same geographical territory for a long period of time under a government that both in one sense stays the same and in another sense changes. It is not even clear that we imagine in any sense the people we do not know. Is that even possible?

Many examples of the progress of our existence are discussed including the reduction in human violence both in a state context and in a community context. States no longer invade each other after the second world war(with a few exceptions) partly because of what the author calls Pax Atomica: the guarantee of mutually assured destruction if the countries in question possess atomic weapons of mass destruction. This is, it is argued, “real peace and not just the absence of war”

The question that naturally emerges next is “Are we happy?” The author admits that this is not a question historians discuss. Perhaps not. But insofar as there are ethical assumptions operating in history is there not therefore indirectly a concern with happiness? The difficulty of answering this question is related to its ambiguity, i.e. related to the fact that happiness is a term that means many different things. Harari to some extent acknowledges this:

“most current ideologies and political programs are based on rather flimsy ideas concerning the real source of happiness. Nationalists believe that political self-determination is essential for our happiness. Communists postulate that everyone would be blissful under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Capitalists maintain that only the free market can ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number by creating economic growth and material abundance and by teaching people to be self-reliant and enterprising.”(p422)

Harari asks whether scientific research could contradict these assumptions and admits that there are few studies looking at the long-term history of happiness and also that both scholars and laypersons only have a vague idea of what happiness is:

“In one common view, human capabilities have increased throughout history. Since humans generally use their capabilities to alleviate miseries and fulfill aspirations, it follows that we must be happier than our medieval ancestors, and they must have been happier than Stone Age hunter-gatherers. But this progressive account is unconvincing. As we have seen, new aptitudes, behaviours, and skills do not necessarily make for a better life. When humans learned to farm in the Agricultural Revolution, their collective power to shape their environment increased, but the lot of many individuals grew harsher. Peasants had to work harder than foragers to eke out less varied and nutritious food, and they were far more exposed to disease and exploitation. Similarly, the spread of European empires greatly increased the collective power of humankind by circulating ideas, technologies, and crops, and opening new avenues of commerce. yet this was hardly good news for millions of Africans, Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians…Power corrupts..and as humankind gained more and more power it created a cold mechanistic world ill-suited to our needs.”(pp423)

Counterarguments to this position are presented and we finally arrive at the crux of the matter which is that humankind ought to use their powers and capabilities ethically. Harari puts the matter thus:

“Philosophers, priests, and poets have brooded over the nature of happiness for millennia, and many have concluded that social ethical and spiritual factors have as great an impact on our happiness as material conditions. Perhaps people in modern affluent societies suffer greatly from alienation and meaninglessness despite their prosperity. And perhaps our less well to do ancestors found much contentment in community, religion and a bond with nature.”(pp425)

The ethical factor will contest the primacy of happiness related as it is to desire rather than reason which determines how we use our capacities and powers. The discussion of happiness as the product of material factors such as health, diet, and wealth is rightly seeing that happiness is the consequence of a kind of activity of man but is wrongly identifying that activity in materialistic terms. It is as, the Greeks and their followers and Kant and his followers claim, a product of rational/ethical activity. What it is that determines whether or not one is going to lead a flourishing life is the worthiness of the agent experiencing the happiness or flourishing life.

The worth of the agent will not be determined by the power of his imagination but rather the power of his practical reasoning in the sphere of ethical action.

The idea of a person’s worth is not a subjective inner state but rather an objective universal matter to be determined by either virtue theory or Kantian deontological ethics. The definition:

“happiness is “subjective well-being.”

is subjectivizing an entire area of philosophy, namely, practical reasoning.
Having defined the flourishing life as something subjective we are then asked to attempt to “measure” this subjective well being by questionnaires which reveal that money brings happiness but only to a point: that family and community have more impact on our happiness than money or even our health. Apparently, the freedom which we value, according to these studies, is working against us because we may freely choose our spouses but they, in turn, may use their freedom to leave us. The outcome of this long and meandering discussion is that questionnaires do not reveal causation but can only speak about the correlation of variables. The cause of happiness it is argued is chemical:

“determined by a complex system of nerves, neurones, synapses and various biochemical substances such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.”)pp432)

and then the following incredible statement is made:

“A person who has just won the lottery or found new love and jumps from joy is not really reacting to the money or the lover. She is reacting to various hormones coursing through her bloodstream, and to the storm of electric signals flashing between different parts of the brain.”

This is, to cut a long story short according to Wittgensteinian analytical philosophy, a confusion of the object of our state with its cause. It is true that, in a sense, the brain structures and chemistry are, to switch to an Aristotelian objection, material causes of our states but these do not enter into the consciousness of these states that is rather directed towards its teleological objects such as the money it has won or the person one loves. So, for Aristotle the confusion is between the different types of explanation or “causes” that can be used in relation to the phenomenon to be explained.

The author returns to a more philosophical account when he cites some research which seems to suggest that happiness is not related to desire or pleasure but rather :

“consists in seeing ones life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. There is an important cognitive and ethical component to happiness.”(pp438)

In the ensuing discussion, however, it is suggested that any meaning which people ascribe to their lives is delusional!:

“So perhaps happiness is synchronizing ones personal delusions of meaning with the prevailing collective delusions.”(pp438)

Psychoanalysis is the “science”(in the Kantian sense) of the states and processes of our mind and provides us with our best account of delusional states and processes. In this account, it is very clear that the delusional states of mind which schizophrenics, for example, experience, are primitive dysfunctional affairs in which there is an inadequate relation to reality. Suggesting that all ideas of a flourishing life or the meaning of life are delusional is a popular use of the term that undermines its more objective meaning. Of course one of the “mechanisms” of the schizophrenic’s delusional state of mind is the “imagination” that other people, for example, are listening to their thoughts. Given that for this author human rights, money, the nation-state etc are figments of the imagination the whole account risks falling into a kind of psychological reductionism that serious psychologists such as Freud manage to avoid.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Eight: The creed of greed in a disenchanted world.

Hits: 366

Max Weber claims that the Enlightenment creed of reason has failed to replace traditional religious world-views that once gave meaning and unity to life. All it has managed to do, Weber argues, is free us of our superstitions, prejudices, and errors and create what he describes as ” a disenchanted world”: a world in which we solipsistically and selfishly pursue materialistic goals that have freed themselves of more universal value perspectives.
Thomas McCarthy the translator of Jurgen Habermas’ work “The Theory of Communicative Action” has the following to say about the Enlightenment:

“The Enlightenment’s belief in progress rested on an idea of reason modeled after Newtonian physics which, with its reliable method and secure growth was thought to provide a paradigm for knowledge in general. The impact of the advance of science on society as a whole was not envisioned in the first instance as an expansion of productive forces and a refinement of administrative techniques but in terms of its effect on the cultural context of life. In particular the belief –for us today, rather implausible–that progress in science was necessarily accompanied by progress in morality, was based not only on an assimilation of the logics of theoretical and practical questions but also on the historical experience of the powerful reverberations of early modern science in the spheres of religion, morals and politics. The cultural rationalization emanating from the diffusion of scientific knowledge and its emancipatory effect on traditional habits of thought–the progressive eradication of inherited “superstitions, prejudices, errors”–formed the centre of an encompassing rationalization of social life, which included a transformation of political and economic structures as well.”

Habermas’ response to this modern “disenchanted” state of affairs was to–as he saw it–shift the centre of gravity of theory from the explorations of the powers of consciousness to an exploration of the powers of action and language or communicative action. Communicative action aims at a consensus as a result of mutual understanding in our common lifeworld. The problem is that there are also steering media in a society which attempt to coordinate actions. Habermas characterizes this state of affairs in the following manner:

“the transfer of action coordination from language over to steering media means an uncoupling of interaction from lifeworld contexts. Media such as money and power attach to empirical ties: they encode a purposive-rational attitude toward calculable amounts of value and make is possible to exert generalised strategic influence on the decisions of other participants while bypassing processes of consensus-oriented communication. Inasmuch as they do not merely simplify linguistic communication but replace it with a symbolic generalization of rewards and punishments, the lifeworld contexts in which processes of reaching understanding are always embedded are devalued in favour of media steered interactions: the lifeworld is no longer needed for the coordination of action.”(Volume two of “The Theory of Communicative Action”, p183)

Money and Power are steering mechanisms of the systems of economics and Politics. Habermas is continuing a long tradition of philosophical criticism of these instrumental tools of money and power stretching from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and their followers to Kant, the Enlightenment Philosopher and his followers to those modern Philosophers attempting to build upon the structures that have been constructed by the aforementioned thinkers. Habermas’ only contribution to engaging with this tradition is via a modernist Philosophers criticism of Kant that falsely equates Kantian theoretical philosophy with a Cartesian or empirical epistemology of consciousness. This in spite of the fact that Kantian theoretical philosophy clearly criticized both the epistemological rationalism of Cartesianism and the empirical epistemological tradition of Hobbes, Hume et al. Kant’s metaphysics transcended any and all epistemological approaches with its logical insistence on the principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason. Metaphysical and Transcendental logic are the real accomplishments of this Enlightenment Philosopher. The Metaphysics of action have an Aristotelian hylomorphic structure that has not been addressed by either of the above epistemologically oriented traditions of Philosophy. Habermas’ criticism is however not primarily philosophical but more in the tradition of social science: Systems theory, Weber and Talcott Parsons being important reference points. A systems environment colonizes the lifeworld and turns it into an almost technological/instrumental arena. Insofar as there is a cultural “system” functioning in accordance with the “mechanism” of a trust in knowledge such a decoupling of lifeworld and system cannot occur because here, it is argued, use has to be made of the “resources of consensus formation in language”. Habermas does not argue this but it is almost as if language itself is a systematic “steering mechanism” rather than something organically embedded in a lifeworld with diverse functions amongst which are of course its rational use. The idea of rationality being a value in itself is regarded in modernist and post modernist discourse as contentious from both theoretical and practical perspectives. In practical perspectives, Habermas seeks to replace this idea of logical rationality with an idea of strategic rationality that necessarily gives rationality both an instrumental and causal structure This violates a crucial Kantian distinction between instrumental and categorical reasoning. The tactic that seems to be operating here is a reduction of the categorical to the instrumental on the grounds that the categorical does not really exist: it only possesses a subjective form. Such a logical move would not of course have been possible if the Cartesian and Hobbesian “counter revolutions” had not created a fictitious “Inner world” inaccessible to observation or any public means of access.

“Communicative action” might be a perfect technical disguise for the rhetoric used in ideological exchanges where the aim is “systematic” persuasion.In the light of such a claim, the most reliable perspective on the role that science plays in this unholy alliance between money, power, and science comes from Hannah Arendt’s work “The Origins of Totalitarianism” in which she has the following to say on this topic:

“Few ideologies have won enough prominence to survive the hard competitive struggle of persuasion, and only two have come out on top and essentially defeated all the others:the ideology which interprets history as an economic struggle of classes and the other that interprets history as a natural fight of races….free public opinion has adopted them to such an extent that not only intellectuals but great masses of people will no longer accept a presentation of past or present facts that is not in agreement with either of these views. The tremendous power of persuasion inherent in the main ideologies of our times is not accidental. Persuasion is not possible without appeal to either experiences or desires, in other words to immediate political needs. Plausibility in these matters comes neither from scientific facts, as the various brands of Darwinists would like us to believe, nor from historical laws as the historians pretend, in their efforts to discover the law according to which civilizations rise and fall. Every full fledged ideology has been created, continued and improved as a political weapon and not as a theoretical doctrine…Their scientific aspect is secondary and arises from the desire to provide watertight arguments, and second because their persuasive power also got hold of the scientists, who no longer were interested in the result of their research but left their laboratories and hurried off to preach to the multitude their new interpretations of life and world….The blame is not to be laid on any science as such, but rather on certain scientists who were no less hypnotised by ideologies than their fellow citizens.”(p159)

Could it be that the very attitude that Harari praises: the hypothetical attitude that, in professing its own ignorance and refusing the certainty of the moral law, made the scientist more susceptible to the arguments of these times? Can we be certain that murder is wrong when it is so commonplace in the animal kingdom, wars and primitive societies? Perhaps our system of moral convictions constitute only a hypothetical theory awaiting further evidence that might prove its falsity? Perhaps life is a struggle for survival, red in tooth and claw? The Philosophy of Science of Aristotle and Kant would reject this hypothetical observation-based relativism, but as we all “know” science to its own satisfaction, has conclusively “disproved” the validity of these theories via the empirical revolution and its economic and technological benefits(are these part of the system of rewards and punishments Habermas referred to in his discussion of the steering media?). Habermas’response to our modern dilemma is to stir and shake a cocktail of empiricism, social science and speech theory with a twist of systems theory.

Harari is in agreement: Money and power steer us blindly unless we are persuaded by the communicative action of influential ideologists. Arendt describes the period immediately after the end of the first world war as a period after a devastating explosion that had destroyed the world as we knew it. There was no longer anything to be certain of except perhaps that we cant be certain of anything ever again. This was the perfect environment for the steering media of money and power to “colonize” what was left of our lifeworld. Hannah Arendt points out how Imperialism was preparing for the advent of totalitarianism in the three decades prior to the first war from 1884 to 1914. Amongst these preparations was the challenge of the bourgeoisie to the nation-state and its inability to provide a framework for the further growth of the capitalist economy. The ensuing struggle for power was indecisive. The nation-state with its institutions resisted “the “brutality and megalomania of imperialist aspirations”(Cecil Rhodes’s desire to colonize even the planets). The bourgeoisie pointed to the obvious fact that trade and economics had already involved every nation in world politics. In the resultant “communicative action” there was no quiet and reflective weighing of philosophical ideas of justice and morality but only a restless desire to get what one wanted whatever the cost.

Harari points to the creed of growth and places a positive spin on what Arendt has described and explained in her philosophical and historical reflections:

“Money has been essential both for building empires and for promoting science”(p341)

It has certainly never been essential in Philosophical activity. The paradigmatic attitude of Philosophy toward this “steering mechanism” is to acknowledge its existence in the lifeworld but firmly limit its influence in accordance with the more important virtues that structure our life in society. Socrates pointed out, for example, that the medical doctor’s primary concern is the good of his patient and payment for his work is only a secondary concern. This “institution of care” begun in ancient Greece is still with us today. No doctor will refuse to treat someone whose life is in danger at a road accident or in an airplane. The doctor is a breed of ethical scientist. He may be ignorant of many things including what to do about viruses but he is not ignorant about what needs to be done when his patient’s lives are in danger. The nation state obviously supports such ethical institutions. To the extent that the nation state was seduced by the businessman’s persuasive arguments the concept of “expansion” became political despite the fact that conquest and empire building had very few political arguments in their favour. There were political parties and movements, however, that were more than ready to push this concept to its limits.

“Growth” is an economic reality argues Harari. From 1500 up until today, the total production of goods and services have expanded from 250 billion dollars to 60 trillion dollars. The economic pie has increased in size, and credit, Harari argues is the main driver of economic expansion. The modern scientist with his prejudice in favour of induction and its role in the growth of knowledge through the accumulation of observations also believed in “growth” and quantitative progress. The bank giving its businesses credit and the scientist both trust in this growth and progress principle. The bank has a revolutionary theory of mankind which Harari traces back to 1776(the era of the Enlightenment):

“The belief in the growing global pie eventually turned revolutionary. In 1776 the Scottish economist Adam Smith published “The Wealth of Nations”, probably the most important economics manifesto of all time. In the eighth chapter of its first volume, Smith made the following argument…an increase in the profit of private entrepreneurs is the basis for the increase in collective wealth and prosperity. This may not strike you as very original because we live in a world that takes Smith’s arguments for granted…Smiths claim that the selfish human urge to increase private profits is the basis for collective wealth is one of the most revolutionary ideas in human history..revolutionary not just from an economic perspective but even more so from a moral and political perspective. What Smith says is, in fact, that greed is good, and that by becoming richer I benefit everybody, not just myself. Egoism is altruism.”(p348)

I am not sure that Smith is claiming everything Harari says he is claiming here but let us comment on Harari’s commentary. Now interrupting one’s holiday to attend medically to someone having a fit on an airplane is disrupting one’s holiday and may give rise to the urge not to help the patient. But this urge is not to be indulged but rather denied if the doctor is to do the right thing here. A community of doctors giving in to their private urges at the expense of the lives of their patients would not be a lifeworld most of us would wish to be a part of.
The above argument is very typical of our modern period. Take something morally questionable like greed or egoism and reverse its polarity(because we can never be certain of anything can we? We must admit our ignorance must we not?) and then find some argument that will appeal to the personal desires of the mob and persuade them that the very negation of what they thought to be true is really true. It is of such stuff that our modern revolutions are made of. The logical conclusion of this kind of thinking is that this greed can result in devastating consequences for the finances of the world as was the case of the Lehman brothers crash in 2007 for which no one was held legally responsible: this state of affairs prompted an economic criminal emerging from prison just after the crash to say “I see greed has become legal while I have been away”.

Capitalism colonized our lifeworlds and what was left of Ancient Greek institutions and ideas: it also colonized the Enlightenment Philosophy of Kant that provided a counterargument to Smith’s revolutionary thesis. All of these things were submerged in a mainstream popular movement that Harari describes well:

“Capitalism began as a theory about how the economy functions. It was both descriptive and prescriptive–it offered an account of how money worked and promoted the idea that reinvesting profits in production leads to economic growth. But capitalism gradually became far more than just an economic doctrine. It now encompasses an ethic–a set of teachings about how people should behave, educate their children and even think. Its principal tenet is that economic growth is the supreme good because justice, freedom and even happiness all depend on economic growth.”(p351)

Now whilst the characterization of Adam Smith is questionable, this description of a theory of how capitalism functions and how this theory has colonized the arena of our ethical beliefs and convictions is certainly accurate. Not only has this “new ethics” colonized our everyday lifeworlds it has also brought about significant historical events. Harari describes brilliantly how “companies” using this “new ethics” contributed to the building of empires with mercenary armies and engaged in the disgusting practice of buying and selling human beings in the service of the supreme good of economic growth as characterized by economic theory. Toward the end of the chapter the author raises a controversial question:

“much like the Agricultural Revolution, so too the growth of the modern economy might turn out to be a colossal fraud. the human species and the global economy may well keep growing, but many more individuals may live in hunger and want.”(p372

Capitalists respond in two ways to this. Firstly, the capitalists have now created a world that only capitalists can run. Communism, the only serious alternative has failed miserably to demonstrate that it can run societies. These kinds of society, Harari argues, “are worse in every way”. Secondly, we need to trust the Capitalist a little longer. Soon everyone will be satisfied with their slice of the pie:

“true, mistakes have been made such as the Atlantic slave trade and the exploitation of the European working class. But we have learned our lesson, and if we just wait a little longer and allow the pie to grow a little bigger everybody will receive a fatter slice”(p372)

Weber talked about our disenchanted world and the above quote is an excellent example. Compare the above image from the bakery with Socrates great speeches about justice and virtue, or with Kant’s writings about the awe and wonder we experience in the presence of the starry heavens without and the moral law within. These great moments in our intellectual history do now seem to be part of a lost world which we are mourning for in silence against the background of the promise for a little more pie from the bakery.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Seven.

Hits: 316

The section entitled “the Marriage of Science and Empire” raises immediate normative issues for the philosopher searching for an analysis of the anomalies of the modernism and post-modernism eras of our History. This work certainly falls into one of these two categories. Having said this it must be added that this is one of the most interesting chapters of the book and it provides a great deal of empirical explanation relating to the material and efficient causes of the phenomena of these periods.

The author begins by pointing out that British exploratory expeditions beginning with Captain Cook’s in 1768, were in the habit of transporting scientists of various kinds to conduct both inductive scientific investigations in new and strange environments and to verify more deductively structured theories which predict the existence of events, objects etc that have not yet been observed. Harari does not in this discussion make the traditional philosophical distinction between Science in the context of Discovery and Science in the context of Explanation. Indeed his talk in the last chapter of “new knowledge” appears to highlight the observational activity of the scientist at the expense of the theoretical activities of thought and reason.

Harari reports how the causes of diseases like scurvy that had been responsible for the deaths of large numbers of sailors were discovered on the voyages of exploration. Experiments on different groups of sailors were conducted by Lind in 1747 and these proved the efficacy of citrus fruits, an old folk remedy. Cook apparently saw some kind of relation of citrus fruits to sauerkraut and took both these foodstuffs on his voyage and did not lose a single sailor to the disease. According to Harari, this event was of historical significance for the British control of the oceans of the world and the transportation of armies that would help build the Empire. This expedition laid the foundation for the conquest of Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, events that had devastating consequences for the indigenous peoples of these areas. Harari refers to the comfortable alliance of Science and empire building with more than just a hint of normative criticism:

“The corpses of the last Tasmanians were seized in the name of science by anthropologists and curators. They were dissected, weighed and measured and analyzed in learned articles. The skulls and skeletons were then put on display in museums and anthropological collections. Only in 1976 did the Tasmanian Museum give up for burial the skeleton of Truganini, the last native Tasmanian who had died a hundred years earlier.”(P310)

The justification of Normative criticism, of course, requires the kind ethical theory that science cannot provide. It is clear from the above that the scientists of the time were on a blind search for the facts even if observationalism was the guiding “philosophy”. There are historians(Hannah Arendt) who seek to minimize the normative criticism of this period of History by claiming that the British Empire was acquired in a state of absent mindedness in which the intentions were good. Harari partially acknowledges this in his remark that whilst the evil deeds could fill an encyclopedia, the achievements of the era could fill another encyclopedia. So in the end, even he agrees that using his infrastructure of Science and his normative free view of history we can justify neither the blame nor the praise that has been leveled at the British of this period. The words from the work of the earlier Wittgenstein that “The world is the totality of facts” naturally emerge here in spite of the fact that they were written in 1922. Wittgenstein finally abandoned this position and one of the reasons for his change of mind, was the consequence that the philosophical importance of value judgments was significantly diminished. His earlier work was a part of the “scientific revolution” against the work of Aristotle which he then needed to retract in his later work in order to justify normative discourse. By this time(1951) the global centre of power had shifted towards Europe and was already shifting westwards towards the the “New World”, the USA. Harari asks the salient question “Why Europe?”, and gives the answer:

“The global centre of power shifted to Europe only between 1750 and 1850, when Europeans humiliated the Asian powers in a series of wars and conquered large parts of Asia. By 1900 Europeans firmly controlled the world’s economy and most of its territory. In 1950 western Europe and the US together accounted for more than half of global production whereas China’s portion had been reduced to 5%. Under the European aegis s new global order and global culture emerged. Today all humans are, to a much greater extent than they usually want to admit, European in dress, thought and taste. They may be fiercely anti-European in their rhetoric, but almost everyone on the planet views politics, medicine, war, and economics through European eyes, and listens to music, written in European modes with words in European languages. Even todays burgeoning Chinese economy, which may soon regain its global primacy, is built on a European model of production and finance.”(p312)

In partial answer to this question of “Why Europe?” the author cites military-industrial-scientific factors that matured faster in Europe. Science for the philosopher is more than observation-experiment and technological innovation in the context of discovery, but we should reiterate this is not the position of the author of this work. Industrialization obviously occurred much faster in Europe than elsewhere and the economic and political consequences were significant. The author talks of the development of railroads, the steam engine, and machine guns as examples of the first wave of the revolution:

“The Chinese and Persians did not lack technological inventions such as steam engines(which could be freely copied or bought). They lacked the values, myths, judicial apparatus and sociopolitical structures that took centuries to form and mature in the West and which could not be copied and internalised rapidly….The Chinese and Persians could not catch up as quickly because they thought and organized their societies differently.”(p 314-315)

Values finally appear as an important factor in the attempt to answer this question. Ethical values are implied in the working of the judicial apparatus. Observation-experiment and the manipulation of variables are largely irrelevant to the context of justification in the realm of law. It would be absurd to claim that the system is searching for “new knowledge”, new laws and new experiences. Values emerge but immediately subside into obscurity and Harari points to European capitalist and scientific behaviour underlying key technological innovation, regarding this as the legacy of European Imperialism. It is noted that between 1500 and 1950 the Far East and the Muslim world did not produce “minds as intelligent and curious as those of Europe”, “did not produce anything that comes even close to Newtonian physics or Darwinian biology.”

What is not mentioned, is the context of these scientific works, a context, namely, of the agenda of justification of theories that we inherited from the Greek philosophers. These theories emerged as a consequence of a critical spirit just as important as the spirit of curiosity and exploration seeking for new experiences. It has been claimed by philosophers, for example, that Oxford university have never ceased to teach Aristotle since its inception when Aristotle was the major thinker dominating the university syllabus. The work of Darwin obviously surfed on the wave of Hobbesian anti-Aristotelianism in spite of the respect that Darwin had for the biological works of Aristotle. Darwin was probably aware of Aristotle’s ethical and political works and famously manifested his modern ambivalence to some of these ideas by refusing to defend his work from ecclesiastical attack, leaving that task to Thomas Huxley. The same ambivalence was probably behind his initial reluctance to publish his work during his lifetime. Darwin was not an Imperialist, he did not want to conquer the world with his ideas. The mentality of conquerors shared the mindset of the technological innovators. Both conquerors and innovators, argues the author, admit their ignorance but not in a Socratic manner where one knows what one does not know, but nevertheless knows for example that the kind of instrumental reasoning manifested by conquerors and tyrannical rulers is not the kind of reasoning that will reveal the essence of justice or the good. Rulers who rule instrumentally in their own interest do not possess the kind of normative knowledge needed to justify just actions. Instrumental reasoning is not only used by imperialists, it is also the mindset of technological innovators, Heidegger, for example, has argued. Instrumental reasoning for Heidegger will never reveal the real concern of our curiosity which seeks a metaphysical understanding of the nature of being in general and our own being in particular: a variation on an old Aristotelian theme. It is possible that the continuity of this kind of metaphysical curiosity is that which accounts for the power of scientific and Historical explanation. Given the ethical orientation of the metaphysics of action this historical continuity of variations on a theme is also responsible for the stability of our political and legal systems that the author claims lie behind the way in which our societies function. Historical knowledge is also informed by this metaphysical spirit in which categorical assumptions and explanations provide the framework for the having of new experiences and discovery of new events and knowledge that has always been a part of the British and European mentality. It is this spirit which it is necessary to understand if one is to correctly interpret the following observations:

“When the Muslims conquered India, they did not bring along archeologists to systematically study Indian history, anthropologists to study Indian cultures, geologists to study Indian soils, or zoologists to study Indian fauna. When the British conquered India, they did all of these things. On 10th April 1802 the Great Survey of India was launched. It lasted 60 years. With the help of tens of thousands of native labourers, scholars, and guides, the British carefully mapped the whole of India, marking borders, measuring distances, and even calculating for the first time the height of Mount Everest and the other Himalayan peaks. The British explored the military resources of Indian provinces and the location of their gold mines, but they also took the trouble to collect information about rare Indian spiders, to catalogue colourful butterflies, to trace the ancient origins of extinct indian languages, and to dig up forgotten ruins.”(p332)

It was, for example, a British officer named Rawlinson that eventually managed to decipher the Sumerian cuneiform script by using a knowledge of Modern Persian to understand the ancient Persian the script was using. Rawlinson is described as a modern European Imperialist and one wonders whether this is a fair description of this feat of interpretation that enabled us to understand “the bustle of Sumerian bazaars, the proclamations of Assyrian kings, the arguments of Babylonian bureaucrats”. In education one, as a result of the influence of Ancient Greek philosophy, is accustomed to acknowledging a distinction between understanding something in order to do something else, i.e. understanding the structure of the atom in order to construct a bomb. This is a very different attitude to seeking understanding just for the sake of understanding itself in the way Pythagoras did in relation to his mathematical investigations. The Imperialist and the technologist uses knowledge instrumentally, the educated man like Rawlinson seeks knowledge as a value in itself.

“another notable imperialist scholar was William Jones. Jones arrived in India in September 1783 to serve as a judge in the Supreme Court of Bengal. He was so captivated by the wonders of India that within less than 6 months of his arrival he had founded the Asiatic Society. This academic organization was devoted to studying the cultures, histories, and societies of Asia, and in particular those of India. Within two years Jones published his observations on the Sanskrit language, which pioneered the science of comparative linguistics. In his publications, Jones pointed out surprising similarities between Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language that became the sacred tongue of Hindu ritual, and the Greek and Latin languages, as well as similarities between all these languages and Gothic, Celtic, Old Persian, German, French, and English…Jones’ study was an important milestone not merely due to his bold (and accurate) hypotheses, but also because of the orderly methodology that he developed to compare languages. It was adopted by other scholars, enabling them systematically to study the development of all the world’s languages.”

William Jones was undoubtedly an educated man and one wonders why one would wish to focus on the the obvious fact that “Knowledge of Linguistics was necessary to understand ancient languages” and interpret this in terms of instrumental necessity rather than logical necessity. Of course, the Europeans knew their empires very well, in the same way as they understood their own countries very well as educated people are wont to do. So what makes this an act of Imperialism? This superior knowledge, according to the author brought obvious practical advantages. Normative judgments of blame involving the term “imperialism” require an attribution of evil intentions. The educated man concerns himself with knowledge of principles that have a value in themselves. What is the evidence for assuming that such neutral or good intentions were not in play in the desire to understand the origins of Sanskrit? Of course one can observe the misuse of this research which came afterward (in the Nazi misappropriation of this research in their “biological” thesis of the superiority of the Aryans). Does just this fact of the observation that one thing came after the other mean that the original intentions of the research were evil? There is some kind of causation linking these two events but it is not an ethical link in which evil intentions generate evil consequences and good intentions generate good consequences. One cannot reason back from an evil consequence to an evil intention without asking oneself exactly how the intention should be correctly described and whether the relation to the consequence is an ethical relation. One thing following another in time in accordance with one’s observations is not sufficient to logically and ethically unite these two events into one ethical activity. What is at issue here is a scientific view of ethics which claims that what makes an action ethical is its consequences. This challenges the traditional “old” view, a more philosophical Aristotelian and Kantian account in which the reason given by the agent of the action in the form of his/her intention is what ontologically defines the action, is what gives the action its ontological identity. Both of these philosophers have produced decisive arguments against consequentialism. Even Aquinas in the spirit of Aristotle acknowledges the complexity of human reality when he claims that if consequences are linked in terms of the one coming after the other then it is conceivable that one consequence of an action could be good and the one following it could be bad which is exactly the case with the Sanskrit example. The scientist will, of course, (indoctrinated by a materialistic theory of mind), dogmatically claim that intentions cannot be observed because they are “in”someone’s mind. The mind, however, is not a spatial container although it is often analogically characterized as such. It is, according to Aristotle, the form of the mind that is embodied in actions and speech and observers can certainly observe actions. In simple actions like the hailing of a taxi across the road by the raising of my arm it is clear that this is intentional and this might be occurring whilst the person hailing the taxi is thinking anxiously about a speech he/she is about to give.

The question to ask here is whether the Imperialists actually had Imperialist intentions, whether they actually intended the exploitation and oppression of conquered populations. Inhabiting a sparsely inhabited continent like Australia that had no organized government to defend its borders is not clearly an ethical matter. Kant has claimed in his moral writings that the earth belongs to no one. Marking the boundary of one’s territory clearly signals ones intentions to inhabit and work the area and to the extent that indigenous peoples who did this were removed from the area they inhabited this is clearly only illegal if there is a government to pass laws to that effect. We are dealing here with what Thomas Hobbes called a “state of nature” in which life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short up until that point when men form governments to regulate their lives together. For some political philosophers, it is at this point that human rights are established. This has been the verdict of history too. There were large numbers of stateless people in the world prior to the second world war and there were no governments or a united nations organization prepared to defend their rights. All the countries that are members of the UN have signed documents which state the conditions under which they have responsibility for the human rights of people in their territory and in external territories(asylum rights). They have made promises in their applications to be a member of this organization and whilst they are members they have a duty to honour their commitments. This line of reasoning is behind the position in Political Philosophy which reasons that a right only exists if someone(a government, the United Nations) has a duty to protect it. This political position assumes a Kantian ethical position in which intentions play a decisive role in contradistinction to consequences.

The author produces a number of examples of new rulers in India who it is claimed were concerned only with enriching themselves. It is not clear from the text whether the author believed that this was encouraged or sanctioned by the British government and it is in this context that he claims :

“Due to their close cooperation with science, these empires wielded so much power and changed the world to such an extent that perhaps they cannot be simply labeled as good or evil. They created the world as we know it, including the ideologies we use in order to judge them”(p337)

It is not clear what the author means by ideologies but one suspects that they are not connected to what he would regard as the “old” knowledge of the good which comes from the Philosophies of Aristotle and Kant that eventually gave rise to the objective idea of human rights so important in the world today.

It is, however, admitted that science can be used for “sinister ends”:

“Biologists, anthropologists and even linguists provided scientific proof that Europeans are superior to all other races, and consequently have the right)if not perhaps the duty) to rule over them.”(p337)

What did this so-called “proof” look like, one wonders? Philosophically, it is quite clear that the relative concepts of “superior and inferior” are constructs of what Philosophers call the “naturalistic fallacy”. The so-called “proof” moves from the acknowledgment of a number of facts(so-called is-statements) to an ought statement, namely that a particular group of people “ought to rule”. This realm of value judgments is a realm that science and its concern with observation and collecting the totality of facts is something that as Wittgenstein claimed “must be passed over in silence” because the assumptions do not allow anything to be said. The problem is that scientists want to use their assumptions in an area they cannot be used in and consequently end up producing “proofs” of the above kind that incidentally proved very useful for Hitler and Stalin. Wittgenstein in his early work at least had the academic honesty to stay silent on the issue of values and he realised in his later work that he needed to abandon his “scientific” assumptions if he was to say anything meaningful in this area of Philosophy. Hitler and Wittgenstein apparently attended the same Gymnasium school. The Postmodernist form of this “scientism” is the contention that human rights are a figment of our imagination and science and culture are viruses that care nothing for their hosts.

“Culture” or “culturism” is also discussed in the above context:

“There is no such word, but its about time we coined it. Among today’s elites assertions about the contrasting merits of diverse human groups are almost always couched in terms of the historical differences between cultures rather than biological differences between races. We no longer say, “Its in their blood”. We say “It’s in their culture” “(p338)

So according to this, we should pass over in silence all comparative judgments based on our knowledge of what is good and what is not. We shall not, for example, think it is meritorious to have learned to build railroads before the Indians and then use this meritorious skill to improve the infrastructure of India (exactly because their culture did not possess this instrumental and scientific knowledge). We should not have used the skills we historically acquired in order to map out the area of India for the purposes of government, law, and defense.

This, of course, does not necessitate historicism as Marx’s theory did but culturism does remind one of the Marxist view of the historically determined fate of the proletariat that only historical laws could rectify. The cultural difference between classes is blamed for many of the ills of society. This is a position which is at least as divisive for a society as racism. What this brought to our attention is the fact that looking blindly for differences rather than for what humans have in common leads to divisions that cannot be reconciled without conflict. Elevating this thinking to the cultural/national level results in the same deterministic difficulties that can only be escaped by reference to the importance of the Kantian idea of Freedom. More controversially, such an idea perhaps presages a globalist community that has a duty to validate the idea of the equality among nations, thus actualizing the idea of the universality of human rights which may be part of the globalization project. Hannah Arendt claimed that Imperialism and its ambiguous spirit of “Expansion” was not sufficiently controlled and formed by the nation-state and that one of the results was the totalitarianism we saw in the 20th century. If this is true then the will to extend one’s activities beyond national borders may have positive as well as negative consequences.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Six “Uno Sola Ochiata”

Hits: 255

On several occasions in this work, it has been suggested that the infrastructure
of history and biology has been unable to provide adequate accounts of the complex holistic phenomena that are being discussed. This chapter at the beginning of a section entitled the Scientific Revolution, “The Discovery of Ignorance” interestingly focuses its attention on a negative, namely ignorance, rather than the positive of knowledge. This is a tactic of many relativists and postmodernists. Knowledge for the Greeks was defined as “justified true belief” and the telos or the endgame of knowledge was “holistic”, an attempt, that is to say, to perceive the world in the realm of thought, “uno sola ochiata”, at one glance. The impression of this work “Sapiens” is of a series of fragments which one approaches linearly and consecutively and if the aim of the work is to present humankind uno sola ochiata then the work has singularly failed in this task.

The term “uno sola ochiata” comes from a work by Adrian Stokes entitled “Art and Science”. The term arises as part of a larger discussion of the relation of these two branches of our knowledge in the 1500’s(the date the author of “Sapiens” sets as the beginning of the Scientific Revolution). The historical time period is that of the Renaissance, the rebirth of man’s holistic consciousness of the project of understanding and knowledge. Interestingly the historians who named this period like those that named the period of the “Enlightenment” did not share the flair for the dramatic of those historians who see revolutions under every stone of history. The Renaissance, according to Adrian Stokes, a reputable art historian, involved an intensification of all forms of cultural and exploratory activity that had been discontinued under the auspicious bureaucratic eye of a church that had refused to explore the physical and human world with what we moderns would call an open mind. Religious dualistic justifications had been called into question in Aristotle’s work and religious authorities refused to translate Aristotle from the Greek until Aquinas could “domesticate” the Aristotelian ideas to the satisfaction of church authorities. This process of domestication, however, was not to the satisfaction of serious Aristotelian scholars for whom the definition of knowledge as “justified true belief” required an intensification of all forms of human activity if it was to be understood completely and holistically. The Renaissance, then, could be seen as the rebirth of an Aristotelian attitude toward the past, the present and the future: it was a Proto-Enlightenment period. Aristotle had no difficulty integrating Art and Science, Religion and Philosophy, Rhetoric and Politics, Physics and Metaphysics in his Philosophy. His thought processes surveyed the world, uno sola ochiata.

Let me illustrate this point with a dispute between the painter Giorgione and a group of sculptors who claimed that the art of sculpture was superior to the art of painting:

“The phrase(uno sola ochiata) occurs in a story Vasari tells about Giorgione and some sculptors on the subject of the Colleoni statue(at the time of its unveiling?). The sculptors claimed their art to be superior because a statue could show all aspects to anyone walking around it. Giorgione replied that painting was superior in just this respect because all the positions could be apparent in a painting for one glance, for una sola ochiata, instantaneously, without perambulation. And he proved it by a picture he then painted a nude in a turning position. Clear water before the nude, polished armor to one side and on the other a mirror, reflected more aspects.”(Volume 2 “the Critical Writings of Adrain Stokes”, p202)

Such an attitude toward revealing the aspectual multi-dimensionality of physical objects in a physical world was also presented in architecture, in the Tempio at Rimini, for example, and in another painting of the Three ages of man by Giorgione that represented the same man as a boy, a man and an old man on the same canvas. What Giorgione and the Quattro Cento artists were drawing attention to here was an attitude which in thought was promised and made possible by Aristotle’s Philosophy. It was this attitude that was being reborn in a world teeming with fragments and contradictions needing integration into understandable Humanistic wholes. Northrop Frye in his theorizing about the act of reading texts suggests a thought-equivalent of una soal ochiata when all the events of the narrative read are present in the mind of the reader completing his reading. Is this a kind of pre-conceptual understanding of what Art is about?

Harari opens with a story of the life of a Spanish peasant who falls asleep in 1000 AD and awakes again 500 years later and he claims that the world would be totally unfamiliar to such a man. This might be true but only if we assume that he was unaffected by the desire to understand his world. Had, instead Aristotle fallen asleep in the Lyceum and awoke in a modern school building where the pupils were surfing on their computers and mobile phones while the teacher was talking about a biological problem related to evolutionary theory, the outcome of this fantasy would have been clear. The former Spanish peasant may have felt forever estranged in his relatively similar situation whereas I would wish to maintain that it would not be very long before Aristotle understood pretty much everything that was going on around him. It would not take him very long to take in the whole of the Modern Greek culture uno sola ochiata(once he had mastered modern Greek), exactly because he knows what knowledge is and what ignorance is and because there is an Aristotelian core operating in the continuity of History. He would look at the laws, talk to the politicians and University Professors, spend all his days at the library catching up with Science, History, Philosophy, and Literature.
The Literary landmark of the so called Scientific Revolution was according to Harari, Newton’s “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” which claimed that the book of nature was written in the language of mathematics. The events of physical nature were quantified in accordance with what Kant, a follower of Newton, would call metaphysical and transcendental principles, thus justifying the term “philosophy” in what otherwise was essentially a scientific Tractatus that inspired many attempts to apply these essentially physical principles to areas of investigation requiring more Aristotelian formal and teleological kinds of explanation. There was a universalism expressed in this work but it was not necessarily a scientific or mathematical universalism. Newton’s “Principles” focussed on only two out of the four kinds of Aristotelian explanation(material and efficient “causation”)

Two other technological landmarks are discussed. The landing of a space vessel on the surface of the moon might have sent an anticipatory subjective shiver down the spine of the capitalist Cecil Rhodes who wished that man could colonize the planets in the spirit of capitalism and colonization, but it certainly, objectively, was a clear signal that almost anything was possible to achieve in the sphere of technological innovation. If this was not sufficiently self-evident we are taken to the concluding moments of the Manhattan Project and the testing of the atomic bomb that provoked Robert Oppenheimer to utter the words from the Bhagavad Gita: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”. Words which were to haunt the scientific community long after the dropping of two atomic bombs on the civilian population of two Japanese cities soon after. The universal message of science driven technological innovation was that man had entered the gates of the sub atomic world within the world and there was nothing which he could not master. The power of life was dwarfed by the power of the splitting of an atom and the political decision to drop the bomb on civilian populations. The share price of life fell on stock-market of knowledge. In a sense Harari is right to claim as he does that capitalism is a contributory factor in the unholy alliance of science with technology against more humanistic forces and simultaneously an expression for globalization processes. These scientific-economic instrumental anti-humanistic sentiments were used very skillfully by totalitarian leaders and President Truman, and Harari’s description of viruses aptly characterizes these utilitarian sentiments. Heidegger pointed to the essentially instrumental nature of technological activity and the relation of this instrumentalism to a scientific materialist linear principle of causality. This is a complex attitude that uses the scientific strategy of resolution-composition that divides up wholes into parts and an experimental method that mirrors this structure mathematically by isolating variables and dividing them up into dependent and independent variables in the search for the magic relation of causality. In the humanistic field of education it is not unusual to hear the complaint that the results of the experimentation in this area seldom proves causation and one has to instead settle for basing ones judgments on correlation. In a field demanding holistic solutions to holistic problems, this is obviously less than satisfactory. This, of course, fits in with the claim that the scientific community is collectively aware of its ignorance and is, therefore, a much more credible alternative in epistemological pursuits to, for example, dogmatic religion. A distinction between old and new knowledge is made which disregards the philosophical definition of knowledge as justified true belief. The defense of this position claims that the hoi polloi believed it to be true that the world was flat and thought that they could justify this fact with their observations: because of this incongruence with reality what they thought to be knowledge was not knowledge at all. According to the philosophers, the conflict being referred to here is one between the false belief relating to the flatness of the world and the knowledge that the world has the shape revealed by the observations of astronauts orbiting the earth. Science is not dogmatic it is claimed by Harari but dogmatically ignores the philosophical definition of knowledge on the grounds that it is searching for “new knowledge” much as man was searching for “new experiences” by flying to the moon.
So much is almost admitted when Harari claims on p283 that:

“Mere observations, however, are not knowledge. In order to understand the universe, we need to connect observations onto comprehensive theories.”

The difference, Harari claims, between the old religious theories and modern scientific theories is that the former use stories to formulate their theories and the latter (Newton) used mathematics. The philosophical character of Newtons theories seems to have escaped the attention of the author. He is not immune, however to the subsequent philosophical debates that limited these theories to certain kinds of motion and change in the physical world. Acknowledging this with reference to more complex aspects of reality (the human sciences) he points to the use of statistics which as we claimed above might work in the instrumental world of economics where measuring the quantities and movement of money are important(in the world of the calculation of widows pensions for example) but clearly does not work in the categorical holistic field of education where the variable of homework is so intimately intertwined with a great number of other variables that it is impossible to make categorical causal judgments regarding its role in relation to the academic results of pupils. There seems, that is, no way to divide the continuum of education up into logically quantitative yet discontinuous events.

The best argument provided for the usefulness of statistics is that it is part of basic university requirements in a number of subjects, including psychology. At the same time, the argument is made that most people find modern science “difficult to digest” because of its mathematical language. This language often, it is argued, contradicts common sense. We should not worry too much about this because the author claims “knowledge is power” and even if:

“Presidents and generals do not understand nuclear physics..they have a good grasp of what nuclear bombs can do.” (p288)

So we can disregard the categorical philosophical definition of knowledge in favour of the thesis that “knowledge is power”. This “tool” theory of knowledge stemmed from Francis Bacon’s “revolutionary” idea of linking science and technology. Wars use science: QED. The author claims that so called “old knowledge” cannot prove its positions and that is correct on his terms if instrumentalism is the standard of proof of “new knowledge”. A more nuanced philosophical discussion such as that conducted by Jurgen Habermas in his work “The theory of Communicative action” would, however, point to a confusion in the identification of knowledge with power. Both, he would claim are steering mechanisms of human activity and judgments but power is an instrumental tool used by the political system whereas knowledge is not just a tool but also a telos or aim of the cultural system of society.

The author, Harari, quotes Jesus as saying that “the poor will always be with us” and points to the latest findings from the sciences of agronomy, economics, medicine, and psychology to confirm the claim that poverty can be eliminated. It may be that Jesus did not intend the above remark as a prediction but rather a rhetorical strategy to reorient a disciple’s critical attitude toward a woman who was intending to do a good deed in giving alms to a poor man. The philosophical “science” of hermeneutics would be better able to resolve the exact meaning intended by the above biblical words that would seem to me require a less dogmatic interpretation. Even if the authors interpretation can be sustained which I believe it cannot be, erecting a straw man to represent “old knowledge” rather than engaging with the theories of the iron men of philosophy(Aristotle, Kant etc) is a puzzling strategy for a work that is attempting to give us an account of the world-building activities of humankind. There is, however,an Oz-like atmosphere over much of what is said in this chapter.

The chapter concludes with the problem of death and the so-called “Gilgamesh Project”. An ancient Sumerian myth claims that Gilgamesh suffered from hubris and was determined not to die but was eventually forced to recognize the truth that when the gods created man they created a being that must necessarily die. Upon learning this Gilgamesh is forced to accept his mortality. The “new knowledge” we have of the success of science in the treatment of disease and investigation of genetics, the author argues, does not entail this acceptance:

“How long will the Gilgamesh Project–the quest for immortality– take to complete? A hundred years? Five hundred years? A thousand years? When we recall how much we knew about the human body in 1900, and how much knowledge we have gained in a single century, there is cause for optimism. Genetic engineers have recently managed to double the life expectancy of Caenorhabditis elegans. Could they do the same for Homo Sapiens? Nanotechnology experts are developing a bionic immunity system composed of millions of nano-robots, who would inhabit our bodies, open blocked blood vessels, fight viruses and bacteria, eliminate cancerous cells and even reverse aging processes. A few serious scholars suggest that by 2050, some humans will become a-mortal (not immortal, because they could still die of some accident), but a-mortal, meaning that in the absence of fatal trauma that their lives could be extended indefinitely.”

It is difficult to know exactly what to say about this kind of speculation filled with hypotheticals. No one would question the usefulness of not dying prematurely. We all understand the wisdom of the Biblical words which suggests that one should be “full of years” before we die, and the extent to which science can help to prevent a premature death would to most people be a valuable contribution to their lives. A question that arises for those who are full of years is whether these individuals would wish to have their lives extended indefinitely. The universal generalization “All men are mortal” that is being discussed here may refer to the fact that those individuals who are full of years and do not wish for life to be unnaturally extended are obeying a normative universal that men who are full of years know that they ought to die. The life instinct is, of course, a biological instinct but even an instincts power may fade over long periods of time and transform a wish to live. into a wish to die. If this is the case then the wish for immortality is merely a young man’s dream powered by a life instinct that will after a long period of time lose its motive force.
Perhaps as there is more and more to experience in the world the term “full of years” may change its meaning from four score years and ten to 8 score years and ten but this would still be in accord with the universal generalisation “All men are mortal”, which is knowledge of the most ancient kind.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part five

Hits: 246

The Chapter entitled “The Secret of Success” makes an interesting claim that the move toward the telos of globalization is due to historical processes or forces. Three mechanisms are postulated:

“Commerce, Empires, and universal religions eventually brought virtually every Sapiens on every continent into the global world we live in today. Not that this process of expansion and unification was linear or without interruption. Looking at the bigger picture, though, the transition from many small cultures to a few large cultures, and finally to a single global society was probably an inevitable result of the dynamics of human history”.(p264)

Harari raises the issue of determinism in his subsequent discussion of how and why it was that Christianity took over the Roman Empire and claims that whilst historians seem to have no difficulty describing how this process occurred they have considerably more difficulty explaining why it occurred. He distinguished between these two questions in the following manner:

“What is the difference between describing “how” and explaining “Why”? To describe “How” means to reconstruct the series of specific events that led from one point to another. To explain “why” means to find causal connections that account for the occurrence of this particular series of events to the exclusion of all others. Some scholars do indeed provide deterministic explanations of events such as the rise of Christianity. They attempt to reduce human history to the workings of biological, ecological or economic forces. They argue that there was something about the geography genetics or economy of the Roman Mediterranean that made the rise of a monotheistic religion inevitable. Yet most historians tend to be skeptical of such deterministic theories. This is one of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline–the better you know a historical period, the harder it is to explain why things happened one way and not another.”(265-6)

The above explanation of the difference between describing how something happens and explaining why it happens does not clarify the issues raised relating to what philosophers refer to as the logical status of “future contingent” statements. Describing is obviously something one does in accordance with the principles of judgment that are operating at a conceptual level and where the correctness of one’s judgments are determined by the correct use of the criteria for the concepts one is using in one’s description. These criteria will inevitably use various categories of being that may or may not include causation linking events together in a narrative-like structure that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This narrative structure will largely be composed of what one takes to be the facts. We can see how history has an important descriptive role in our knowledge of the events of the past. Explanation however, is at another logical level. It presupposes “something described” and gives a “reason” for the fact or facts as presented. Here a logical structure supplants a narrative structure and we do indeed find reference to explanatory theories in many historical texts. Justification will not be at the conceptual level composing individual judgments (did these happenings meet the criteria for a revolution?) but rather at the level of the relation between judgments. The role of “causation” here will not be solely restricted to what Aristotle refers to as the material and efficient causes but will include the more complex formal and final cause that arise in logical structures where justifications are not merely at the conceptual level but at the level of combinations of claims that produce an argument for a conclusion. The claim that Christianity took over the Roman Empire is a descriptive judgment. Asking the question why it succeeded is a reasonable question to ask but it is probably not a question we can answer definitively as yet. We may need first to establish its role in the bringing about of globalisation, for example. But we are, if Kant is right, only at the beginning of the process of globalization and whilst its ethical essence was clear to him (but not for the author of the work “Sapiens”), and whilst Kant regarded the end of this process as necessary, many historians regard the end of this process as a future contingent and adopt an unfinished narrative attitude towards Kant’s claim. What for Kant was a future necessity is for historians a future contingent except perhaps for that small tribe of historians who believe that some states of the world are predictable and not chaotic. Plato, Aristotle and Kant all believed that logical explanation transcended a fact retrieving narrative but that narrative would not, to take a philosophical/historical example, ever reveal that man is not essentially a potentially rational animal. This, for the philosophers is a future necessity and transcends the workings of the imagination so important for this author. Philosophically one cannot imagine a human being that did not possess a rational potential. One can of course imagine a man that is factually not rational: an insane cannibal for example, but the explanation for why this man is an insane cannibal will presuppose what he lacks, namely rationality. The explanation will presuppose a potential that did not actualise for a number of reasons. Without this presupposition we are left with chaotic narratives of such phenomena.

The issue being raised is determinism and Aristotle rejected determinism insofar as future contingents were concerned but he did not reject determinism for his theoretical explanations. Human beings are necessarily rational animals capable of (non-post modernistic) discourse. Four different kinds of explanation will fully explain why anything with an essence has that essence it has. A human being rationally discussing with himself or others the reasons for a future action or a future judgment and carrying out that action or making that judgment is a “causal” sequence. These are not examples of a material cause related to a material effect. One of the forms of explanation(or “causes”) relates to a human action that according to Aristotle is to a large extent “determined” by the final cause or intention of the action (and to some extent by material and efficient and formal causes). Voluntary action is “chosen”. The Emperor Constantine could have chosen a number of religious cults as the religion which would unify the Roman Empire but he chose Christianity, Harari, argues. One can wonder whether Constantine’s choice was “rational” because his choice helped to convert Christianity into a so-called “universal” religion. Did he fully understand what he was doing? We no longer have access to his thoughts but we do have access to documents recording his actions and thoughts. If those documents contain direct or indirect proclamations of the future importance of Christianity, it would be a valid historical judgment to claim that it was his intention to create a universal religion. In such a case the choice was fully voluntary and the intention of the action explains why it was performed. Could we say before the choice that the factors to determine the action were present in the mind of Constantine and that the outcome of his action was already determined before it happened? Constantine is not available to answer any questions that might arise concerning his intentions as recorded in the documentation relating to this choice so it is conceivable that there was something in this situation that would speak against the judgment that Constantine had the intention to convert Christianity into a so-called “universal” religion. In the end, the evidence may be incomplete and the status of the judgment has to be regarded as “hypothetical”: i.e. it is “possible” that his intention was to create a “Holy Roman Empire” but we do not know. To the extent that determinism decrees that only material and efficient causes are the ” real” causes of change is the extent to which Aristotle would disagree with such forms of determinism. The bones and muscles pushing the quill belonging to Constantine that signs decrees relating to the institutionalization of Christianity are material causes of such an action but they are of no particular interest for the historian. In this form of material reductionism, the cause-effect relation requires two separately perceptually identifiable events that can be related. Intentions as reasons for doing x are not known observationally. Such intentions are as Anscombe pointed out known non-observationally. Aristotle Kant and many modern followers would, therefore, argue that for every fact there is a justification or explanation that is in a sense a “cause”. Future contingents such as whether or not there will be a nuclear war are literally situated in a field of thousands of variables all of which may not be known or knowable at a particular time. Categorically saying either there will be a war or there will not( cf Aristotle’s example there either will or will not be a sea battle tomorrow) is assuming first that we can have complete knowledge of all the variables and also that we can have knowledge of the very large set of consequences that follow from such extensive knowledge. There is moreover more than a reasonable doubt about whether this is the way our minds naturally work (computer programs begin by defining the field of variables that will define the scope and limits of the program).
There is a strange passage in the book which claims that the more knowledge one has the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way rather than another because, it is argued, the future is a fog. Insofar as future contingents are concerned the future is a fog but this does not suffice to destroy the deterministic position that one can in principle explain why there was not a nuclear war when it has become a fact that a war was avoided (The Cuban Missile Crisis). The people at the time might not understand the reasons why there was not a war but it does seem somewhat paradoxical to insist that after the work of historians has been done we will still find ourselves in the middle of a fog. And yet this is the position of the author:

“History cannot be explained deterministically and it cannot be predicted because it is chaotic. So many forces are at work and their interactions so complex that extremely small variations in the strength of the forces and the way they interact produce huge differences in outcomes. (p267)

This is classic post-modernistic thinking. Aristotle in our position today would gesticulate towards the tens of thousands of history books we possess and challenge us to find the four kinds of explanations if we wish to cease to live in a fog about our past. There are satisfactory descriptions of the facts in these books and satisfactory explanations and justifications of these facts. We should bear in mind that Hobbes and Descartes were the originators of the modernist rejection of Aristotle. Post Modernism needs to reject not only Aristotle but Kant and his Enlightenment position as well. Rejecting Aristotle for scientific reasons is just about understandable if not justifiable but rejecting both Aristotle and Kant for “chaos theory” is not coherent:

“Not only that, but History is what is called a “level two” chaotic system. Chaotic systems come in two shapes. Level one chaos is chaos that does not react to predictions about it. The weather, for example, is a level one chaotic system. Though it is influenced by myriad factors, we can build computer models that take more and more of them into consideration and produce better and better weather forecasts. Level two chaos is chaos that reacts to predictions about it and therefore cannot be predicted accurately. Markets, for example, are a level two chaotic system. What will happen if we develop a computer program that forecasts with 100 percent accuracy the price of oil tomorrow? The price of oil will immediately react to the forecast, which would consequently fail to materialize.”(p268)

Because everyone, it is argued will rush to buy oil and the price will rise. Buying oil is a future contingent and not a past fact so it is difficult to immediately see the relevance of this example of history being a level two chaotic system. It is not even certain that there is in principle any difference between a computer program that predicts weather patterns and a program that predicts prices. All a programmer would need to do in this situation is define a future buying pattern variable (based on empirical data) that calculates the likely buying response and the likely responses to that. The field of variables would, of course, be much larger than those defined in a weather system program but in principle, there is no significant difference since we here are dealing with quantitatively definable variables in both cases. An exact cost prediction might be impossible but a range prediction might be.

Harari, to support his chaotic suggestion of levels of chaos points to what “people” living in Constantine’s time(the hoi polloi?) would do in the face of the suggestion that an esoteric Eastern sect religion was about to become the official Roman Religion. They would, he claims laugh such an oracle out of the room. The Greeks which are conspicuously absent in this entire account of the history of mankind let the oracles operate in temples and the hoi polloi would laugh at them at their peril(35,000 visitors a day journeyed to Delphi from all parts of the Mediterranean). Postmodernists are modern populists and anyone (the people) saying just anything seems sufficient to count as an argument against the best-argued positions exactly because the people referred to above do not understand what a good argument or good history is and their opinion is as good as anyone else’s.

This ethical relativism is confirmed in the quote which follows shortly after a claim stating that we do not study History to make predictions but rather to understand that something other than what happened could have happened:

“Different cultures define the good differently and we have no objective yardstick by which to judge between them.”(p269)

The assumption is that the yardsticks provided by Aristotle and Kant and the generations of Aristotelians and Kantians over thousands, or hundreds of years have obviously been proven to be inadequate by theorists who believe for no good reason that both the future and the past are foggy.

Relativism is often accompanied by anti Humanistic theories and we see this unholy alliance in this work too:

“There is no proof that history is working for the benefit of humans because we lack an objective scale on which to measure such benefit.”(p269)

Anti-humanistic theories take many forms but this one uniquely compares our cultures to viruses living parasitically upon host bodies, caring nothing for them and sometimes even killing them. Relativism allows anyone to say anything so one cannot say anything about this except perhaps to agree with Aristotle that such descriptions and claims become like the meaningless noise of grasshoppers in the trees.

This chapter concludes with a discussion of memetic theory, postmodernist theories of discourse and game theory and these are called upon to prove that

“the dynamics of history are not directed towards enhancing human well being.”

Auspiciously, the author then illustrates this argument by referring to the Scientific Revolution that began around 1500. History and the scientific revolution, it is argued cares not for human happiness and well being, both proceed blindly on an uncaring path, indifferent to the fate of the human species. They are viruses. Aristotle would have agreed with this verdict insofar as modern science and chaos theory is concerned but would have contested this point of view insofar as history was concerned. He would have claimed that the essential function of history was to understand the past and use this understanding to philosophically attempt to understand the future.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part four

Hits: 324

In a section entitled “The Law of Religion” Harari argues from a definition of religion which is as follows:

“…a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order”

In defense of this definition, it is claimed that:

“today religion is often considered a source of discrimination, disagreement, and disunion. Yet, in fact, religion has been the third great unifier of humankind, alongside money and empires. Since all social orders and hierarchies are imagined, they are all fragile and the larger the society the more fragile it is. The crucial historical role of religion has been to give superhuman legitimacy to these fragile structures. Religions assert that our laws are not the result of human caprice, but are ordained by an absolute and supreme authority. This helps place at least some fundamental laws beyond challenge, thereby ensuring social stability.”

The Kantian Philosophy of the Enlightenment situated religion squarely in the matrix of an ethical based humanism based on the concept of freedom and this account, in contrast to Harari’s work, fully explains why religion has been a great unifier of humankind in spite of its factual errors and sometimes faulty assumptions about the nature of the physical world. “Religio” means binding together and the way in which this binding occurs has been the theme of philosophical Psychology since its inception in the metaphysical system of Aristotle, the first philosophical biologist, and the first systematic unifier of the areas of science, ethics, politics, religion and philosophical psychology. Aristotle’s philosophical psychology discusses a range of psychological powers and in this discussion, the nature of the imagination is clearly distinguished from the powers of language and reasoning that are operating in the arena of norms and values. Aristotle firmly relates the rational activity of lawmaking to the stability of our social orders and he claims that the extent to which the laws do not create the desired stability is a failure of rationality that may be related to a failure to eliminate imagined equalities or inequalities.

The presence of the term “superhuman” used by Harari above is loaded with reactionary anti-religious assumptions. It is not a term we will find embedded in myths or religious documents which are our only access to early mans beliefs and consciousness of fault. Paul Ricoeur in his work on “The Symbolism of evil” explores the latter dimension philosophically. Whatever one scientifically believes about myths it remains the case that they are the objectification in a discourse of the anguish associated with fault and the awe associated with beliefs that are embedded in man’s relation to what he once considered sacred. The language we find in myths is not a factual structure in which the meaning of the terms is related directly to physical states of affairs. It is rather a language of value in which a manifest meaning is related to a latent meaning of man’s relation to the sacred. We encounter here a structure of double meaning requiring acts of interpretation to clarify. Myths and religious documents are not merely records of what man believed but rather also expressions in the imperative mode of discourse relating to what we ought to believe or how we ought to act. This imperative mode is nevertheless universal,that is it relates to all men in a real relation to the sacred object whether it be a God, gods, or a desired state of understanding. Ricoeur’s work is of particular interest here because of the claim of the author of “Sapiens” that Humanism is a modern religion. If we use Ricoeur’s work as a guide in this matter we will clearly see that Philosophical Humanism follows Kant’s and Aristotle’s lead in retaining a place for the divine, the sacred, or holy in ethical and political reflections. This move acknowledges there is a rational core in religious discourse that cannot be attributed to the fragile acts of the imagination. Ricouer’s work testifies to the fact that this rational core has survived the bureaucratisation of religion, romanticism, and scientism’s attempts to reduce everything non-material to the “Subjective” and the more general post-modernist onslaught on practical rationality. The ideas of the sacred and Freedom are not figments of the imagination but real holistic ideas that bind communities together into holistic entities by pointing to what man ought to do in the realm of norms and values. This indicates that philosophical humanism has a very different conception of norms and values to the definition in this work which risks dehumanizing the human and subjectivizing the role of the rational in what Ricoeur refers to as the human beings desire to be and effort to exist. Reference to the superhuman order is the work of an imagination that has dismissed the value of practical rationality we find in the works of Aristotle, Kant, and Ricoeur.

An interesting historical analysis of religion begins with an account of animism as the dominant belief system of hunters/gatherers:

“When animism was the dominant belief system, human norms and values had to take into consideration the outlook and interests of a multitude other beings, such as animals, plants, fairies, and ghosts. For example, a forager band in the Ganges valley may have established a rule forbidding people to cut down a particularly large fig tree, lest the fig tree become angry and take revenge. Another forager band living in the Indus valley may have forbidden people from hunting white-tailed foxes because a white-tailed fox once revealed to a wise old woman where the band might find precious obsidian. Such religions tended to be very local in outlook and to emphasize the unique features of specific locations, climates, and phenomena.”It was pointless to try to convince inhabitants of some distant valley to follow the same rules”(p 235-236)

The above reflection discusses a very old, not to say an ancient form of religion that was not sufficiently substantial to have universal ambitions. It is not clear how this earlier form relates in Harari’s account to the forms of organized religion containing universal ethical norms and values.

Harari dates the Cognitive Revolution to 70,000 years ago and claims that it was at this point that fictive language emerged. This is not in accordance with current prevailing linguistic and psychological/anthropological theories. Julian Jaynes in an article entitled “The evolution of language in the Late Pleistocene” published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science” offers an interpretation based on current evidence and brain research that suggests insofar as language is concerned fictive language comes relatively late in its evolution. First come the stages of modifiers, then the stage of imperatives. The first sentence with a noun and predicate modifier probably occurred between 25000 and 15000 BC. Jaynes argues:

“this period corresponds, I suggest, to the invention of pottery, pendants, ornaments and barbed harpoons and spearheads, the last two tremendously important in spreading the human species into more difficult climates.”

There is another serious question as to whether the cognitive operation of following rules is possible before the later stages of the evolution of language: this may have only been possible at the so-called “age of names” sometime between 10000 and 8000 BC. It is this age of names during the the Agricultural Revolution that is conditionally necessary for narratives to begin and this would seem to be necessary for an awareness of fictive language to be possible. What level of awareness is required for the establishment or following of rules? Rules in Wittgenstein are connected with the mastery of techniques and rational agreements. Could Hunters and gatherers before 10000 and 8000 BC be said to be “Masters” of any technique? One wonders here whether Harari is projecting relatively advanced mental states onto relatively primitive behavioural patterns. Prior to the systematic functioning of language, the medium of cultural transmission, according to Jaynes is the imitation of someone else’s behaviour. This cannot be construed as following a rule which requires a level of consciousness beyond that required to follow a command by someone or imitate their behaviour.
The use of the linguistic shifter “I” comes even later than the age of names and signifies an even higher level of consciousness in which first-person avowals become possible, a use of language that may be necessary for the operation of following a rule. The avowal “Now I understand” may be necessary if one is to be able to follow a rule and this cognitive level may also be necessary for the understanding of fictive language.

Animism began to weaken during the agricultural revolution, Harari argues and animated rocks, springs, ghosts, and demons gave way to a polytheistic collection of gods:

“While the king in his capital city sacrificed dozens of fat rams to the great war god, praying for victory over the barbarians, the peasant in his hut lit a candle to the fig tree fairy, praying that she help to cure his sick son.”(p237)

We can see a difference in the conceptualization of life forms in the above example. Animals and natural phenomena are “mastered” during the agricultural revolution and the result is a consciousness of the difference between the kinds of existence of physical phenomena and animal forms of life. Polytheism then develops into a stage on the way to monotheism where there is an acknowledgment of a power superior to these gods(Fate, Moira, or Ananke?).
It would be pointless to ask such a power for a victory in a local war because it has no concern with the human desire to be or human efforts to maintain themselves in existence. Kingdoms and Empires may rise and fall in the purview of this power. Such events are ephemeral and whilst undoubtedly events of significance such significance might not be what we think it is because of the span of infinite time.

Local and regional gods waned in importance possibly because of the cognitive awareness of the inefficacy of “deals” with the god of war. The humanist will see this as a natural progression in an awareness of ones own active responsibility. If one wishes to win a war, acquire knowledge of how wars are won and prepare accordingly. This is not Harari’s position who praises polytheism in the following terms:

“Polytheism is inherently open-minded, and rarely persecutes “heretics” and “infidels”. Even when polytheists conquered huge empires, they did not try to convert their subjects.”

Harari rightly points out that monotheists saw other monotheists as heretical or as infidels and responded very often in violent terms but does not explore the possibility that there were a number of reasons for this states of affairs. Harari points out that polytheism also gave birth to dualistic religions that divide the empire of the world into two: the good and the evil but he does not explore how this dualism infected monotheism to the extent that this battleground of the good and evil was fought by “us vs them”. He points out how difficult it was for monotheists to accommodate the assumption of dualism. The God of monotheism was a god of order and order cannot be produced on a battleground that seeks to divide up the empire of the world into two camps. The monotheist Aristotle believed in a God of order who was necessarily good and conceived of the fight between good and evil as an activity, in some sense “aiming at the good”. There cannot be a battle therefore between what is good and what is evil, there can only be a battle between what is “good” and what is “evil”. This is the message of humanism but for Harari Religious humanism would be a kind if contradiction which it clearly is not.

Harari points to the phenomenon of the emergence of religions during the first millennium BC that was characterized by a disregard of gods: Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Stoicism, Cynicism, and Epicureanism:

“These creeds maintained that the superhuman order governing the world is the product of natural laws rather than of divine wills and whims. Some of these natural law religions continued to espouse the existence of gods, but their gods were subject to the laws of nature no less than humans, animals and plants were…Gods could no more change the laws of nature than elephants can.”(249)

For the humanist like Aristotle it is not the case that his idea of the divine was subject to the natural laws(the laws of physics?) It is, however, not out of the question that for Aristotle there is a conceptual identity between laws of change and the divine.

There is a very interesting discussion of Buddhism in which the central figure is as Harari says is “not a god but a human being” who sought explanations behind the various forms of human suffering:

“He saw that men and women, children and old people, all suffer not just from occasional calamities such as war and plague, but also from anxiety, frustration, and discontent, all of which seem to be an an inseparable part of the human condition. People pursue wealth and power, acquire knowledge and possessions, beget sons and daughters, and build houses and palaces. Yet no matter what they achieve, they are never content. Those who live in poverty dream of riches. .. Even the rich and famous are rarely satisfied. They too are haunted by ceaseless cares and worries, until sickness old age and death put an end to them. Everything that one has accumulated vanishes like smoke.”(p249-50)

The restless mind seeks to escape suffering and can do so this work argues only be putting an end to one’s craving or by training the mind to stoically accept reality as it is, accept i.e. Fate, Moira, and Ananke. It is not clear what exactly is meant here in the above account of Buddhism. If it is the case that the desire for enlightenment is motivating all our activity and our restless activity then is this also a fire that must be put out? If so, this position entailing as it does rebirth whilst the fire continues to burn, as we know is the motivator of the reincarnation thesis and this Harari says nothing about in his evaluation of this “religion”.

The most startling claim in the book is contained in a section entitled “The Worship of Man”:

“The last 300 years are often depicted as an age of growing secularisation in which religions have increasingly lost their importance. If we are talking about theist religions, this is largely correct. But if we take into consideration natural law-religions, then modernity turns out to be an age of intense religious fervour, unparalleled missionary effort, and the bloodiest wars of religion in history. The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural law religions such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism, and Nazism.”(p254)

Humanism is not on this list but it might be implied by liberalism. If so, we are being asked to regard Humanism, Capitalism, Communism, and Nazism as “religions”. This is the clearest consequence of the failure of this work to include a consideration of philosophical ethics in its reflections upon the history of mankind. It is clear that the idea of “the good” and the “Sacred” are being bracketed in the production of the above incredible members of the category of “religions”. The question is whether any restless activity craving change of any kind does not qualify for membership of the above very tenuously constructed class. The problem arises because of the separation of the idea of god and the good from so-called “laws of nature. The failure to recognize the conceptual connections between these notions which have been discussed by Philosophers for over 2000 years merely exacerbates the problem. Harari does not care much for the cognitive structure of language that stops one using just any term for any phenomenon one wishes to name and in that respect, his work falls clearly into the niche of postmodernist writings. Here is an example of this same kind of carelessness:

“If it makes you feel better, you are free to go on calling Communism an ideology rather than a religion. It makes no difference.”(p255)

There are no clear boundaries between these concepts, he claims, but he does not motivate the abandonment of a number of long traditions of inquiry that would insist on the difference between a political system and a religion, between a system of monetary distribution(capitalism) and a religion. This conceptual ambivalence is puzzling: it is not as if Harari is advocating for the importance of religion.

Finally, Harari claims that humanists believe that humans are the most important thing in the world and the supreme good. This may or may not be an acceptable account depending upon whether the limitations of human rationality that all humanists share an awareness of is included in the account. More contentiously Harari divides humanism into liberal humanism, social humanism(Communism?) and evolutionary humanism(Nazism).
Totalitarianism was characterized by Hannah Arendt as an ideology which inverts the good into evil and vice versa. Hitler and Stalin were mass murderers and placing them in the same humanistic category as philosophical humanists such as Aristotle, Kant, and Ricoeur is an example of both postmodernist and totalitarian thinking. From a postmodernist viewpoint, this would be a fine revisionist view of history, philosophy, and language.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part three

Hits: 346

The title of this book is ” a brief history of mankind” but there are major historical omissions that probably relate to:
a)a limited view of the role of Philosophy in our History and
b)a limited view of philosophical politics.
The Ancient Greek contribution to ethical and political universalism is mysteriously conspicuous by its absence in this account as is the Kantian account of the universalism and objectivity of the moral law that turned out to be the moral argument for universal human rights. The following quote illustrates this point:

“The first millennium BC witnessed the appearance of three potentially universal orders, whose devotees could for the first time imagine the entire world and the entire human race as a single unit governed by a single set of laws. Everyone was “us” at least potentially. There was no longer “them”. The first universal order to appear was economic:the monetary order. The second universal order was political: the imperial order. The third universal order was religious:the order of universal religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Merchants, conquerors and prophets were the first people who managed to transcend the binary evolutionary division “us vs them”, and to foresee the potential unity of humankind. For the merchants, the entire world was a single market and all humans were potential customers. They tried to establish an economic order that would apply to all, everywhere. For the conquerors, the entire world was a single empire and all humans were potential subjects, and for the prophets, the entire world held a single truth and all humans were potential believers. They too tried to establish an order that would be applicable for everyone everywhere.”

Aristotle is reputed to have claimed, (in the name of political philosophy, which does not aim at military conquest but rather emphasizes the role of knowledge of truth and the good in the flourishing life), that the Greeks “armed” with their political philosophy could rule the world. It is not clear whether Alexander the Great was attempting to instantiate this Aristotelian belief but Jonathan Lear in his work on Aristotle focuses not on belief but rather on the desire we all universally possess to understand our world. Lear argues that this is the telos of rational human activity. If he is correct, it is a short step to propose that this might be the basis of all human and political activity everywhere. Knowledge and understanding of the truth and the good are not the primary concern of merchants or conquerors but it is the concern of prophets even if the approach of the prophet very often clashes with philosophical ideas of justice. We are all familiar with the Platonic dialogue “Euthyphro”in which Socrates contested an action done in the name of the “holy”, arguing that it was “unjust”. There is, in the desire to understand, a concern with abstract knowledge that we will not find in the activities of merchants working in their markets or conquerors building their Empires. Socrates began a tradition in Philosophical reasoning that attempts to achieve an understanding of the truth and the good in all areas of activity. He also emphasized the perception and understanding of differences between, for example, fact and fiction, myth and religion, the wealthy life vs the examined life. This spirit was again embraced fully by Kant in his Enlightenment Philosophy in which knowledge of human nature, ethics, and political philosophy are central concerns in the formation of the idea of the Cosmopolitan citizen. The interesting question to ask is why Harari in a work on mankind chooses to ignore such an important part of the history of mankind. It might even be the case that the philosophical view of universalism is the most important mechanism driving the world in its global or cosmopolitan direction. The kingdom of ends for Kant was neither a market nor an empire nor a purely religious phenomenon, although we find that in Kant’s kingdom there is room for a belief in God grounded not in mythology but in ethical understanding and reasoning.

In a section entitled “The New Global Empire” there is some historical comment on nation-states but not as much as one would have expected. It is correctly pointed out that mankind has spent most of its time living in Empires. The nation-state is a relatively recent phenomenon and Harari also rightly takes the position that the signs are that we are heading in the direction of a new global empire. Nationalism exploded in our faces during the last century that Hannah Arendt described as “this terrible century” and she also argued that nationalism, capital, and military expansionism contributed to the emergence of a new form of totalitarian government based on class and race that set the world on fire. There is no mention of this aspect that religious prophets and philosophers may claim to have foreseen. Arendt quotes the story of Cecil Rhodes expressing a wish to colonise the planets as an illustration of the excesses that drives capital searching for investment and men searching for their fortunes. This aspect of capitalisms insatiable desire for greater and greater accumulation is not mentioned in Harari’s sweeping historical account. The argument presented for the new global empire is however, occasionally philosophical with a biological twist:

“As the twenty first century unfolds, nationalism is fast losing ground. More and more people believe that all of humankind is the legitimate source of political authority rather than the members of a particular nationality and that safeguarding human rights and protecting the interests of the entire human species should be the guiding light of politics. If so, having close to 200 independent states is a hindrance rather than a help”(231)

Pragmatism and instrumentalism also make an appearance:

“….The appearance of essentially global problems such as melting ice caps nibbles away at whatever legitimacy remains to the independent nation states. No sovereign state will be able to overcome global warming on its own. As of 2014, the world is still politically fragmented, but states are fast losing their independence. Not one of them is really able to execute independent economic policies, to declare and wage wars as it pleases or even to run its own internal affairs as it sees fit…States are obliged to conform to global standards.. “(p231-232)

Philosophers would in this context refer to global understanding and the importance of knowledge of the truth and the good in naming the underlying mechanisms of the global transformation we are witnessing. These are the tools of the progress we are now seeing after the terrible twentieth century and its economic and political excesses. After excess comes the inevitable return to the golden mean, Aristotle would argue. Kant specifically claimed that this progress away from excesses was not toward a world government because such a government would inevitably be tyrannical and be forced to tyrannize minorities. We know he suggested an organization such as the United Nations where countries would participate voluntarily and cooperate for the common good. Such an organization is indeed an embodiment of the global understanding of the importance of peace in the world and vitally important if Progress is to continue unhindered. But we should also bear in mind that this march of progress is a slow affair and we should not expect the instantiation of the ethical and political notion of a perpetual peace in the world in the next one hundred thousand years. The golden mean is even in historical terms a long way beyond the historical horizon and unfortunately, in this work, we get no indication of the time scale for the emergence of the new global empire or the reasons why states feel obliged to conform to global standards.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari)Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part two

Hits: 354

Yuval Noah Harari has this to say in his chapter “Building Pyramids” by way of comparing the acts of imagination that lay behind the building of the pyramids and the acts of imagination that he claims constitute our idea of Human Rights:

“Homo Sapiens has no natural rights, just as spiders, hyenas, and chimpanzees have no natural rights….A natural order is a stable order. There is no chance that gravity will cease to function tomorrow, even if people stop believing in it. In contrast an imagined order is always in danger of collapse, because it depends upon myths, and myths vanish once people stop believing in them. In order to safeguard an imagined order, continuous and strenuous efforts are imperative. Some of these efforts take the shape of violence and coercion. Armies, police forces, courts and prisons are ceaselessly at work forcing people to act in accordance with the imagined order.”(p125)

Harari does admittedly qualify this extreme Hobbesian position by saying that belief in the objects of the imagination is also needed for the establishment of order. Once again we see the distorted results of a bi-polar characterization of the world in terms of myths and facts. What is needed to correctly describe the above state of affairs is a whole universe of discourse with large numbers of interconnected concepts possessing logical relations to each other and an Aristotelian/Kantian Philosophical psychology that will recognize imagination to be a power that principally is connected to our powers of perception and emotion but can also be connected to two powers that radically transform its function: namely,the powers of language (discourse) and reason. This latter system of concepts and human powers are behind why we believe in both gravity and human rights. There are , however, it could be argued, many more reasons to believe in the existence of human rights than the existence of gravity and whilst there is absolutely no reason to doubt the existence of the latter as a law, there may be philosophical reasons to doubt one or more of its underlying assumptions: the claim that space is curved for example for some philosophers may contain a contradiction forced upon us by a belief that space has real mathematical properties. Is this latter belief a result of the mathematical imagination? Could it be a myth? If so the bipolar division of our experience of the world into imaginative myths and real facts is otiose. What is puzzling is the fact that Harari in his determination to avoid using philosophy in the infrastructure of his argument is providing old discredited philosophical pictures of our social and political realities. Hobbes we know was passionately anti- Aristotelian for no good reason. He also talked about violence and coercion as means the state can use to bring about the order in society. The Aristotelian/Kantian picture of a man being a rational animal capable of discourse bringing about the order in society by educational processes using argument and logic is systematically undermined in this work firstly, by the simplistic distinctions of the imagined and the real and secondly, by bipolar accounts of belief and knowledge.

Echoes of the Hobbesian picture of a middle-class businessman seeking to lead what he called a commodious life are present also in the following continuation:

“It does not take much to provide the objective biological needs of Homo Sapiens. After those needs are met, more money can be spent on building pyramids, taking holidays around the world, financing election campaigns, funding your favourite terrorist organisation,or investing in the stock market and making yet more money…”(125-6)

Aristotle was the first biologist and embedded his biological theory in a philosophical theory of immense scope and complexity that included four different kinds of explanations for all physical social and political change in the world. This theory was built upon a view of man as attempting to fulfil his potential as a rational animal by the systematic and rational use of discourse aimed at shaping minds. Aristotle would have seriously criticized the need-based commodious life of the Hobbesian middle-class businessman that Harari provides a sketch of above. Bi-polar explanations may satisfy such a Hobbesian man or the man Harari claims wishes to please his wife by building a pyramid for her. It is important to note however that such bi-polar explanations are not exactly educational, i.e. they do not shape minds. Arguments and explanations shape minds in the Aristotelian universe where the ideal is the middle-class man whose mind is shaped by educational argument and discourse: for example, by the middle class man who leads an examined life that might include taking a holiday to a)further ones knowledge of the different forms such an examined life might take and b)to communicate one’s knowledge of the world and one’s culture. For Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the life of the wealthy man failed to actualize the potential of such a man to lead a flourishing life and whilst they may have agreed that imagination played a large role in his life they would have pointed to failures on the part of such men to submit their beliefs to a tribunal of rational, critical, scrutiny. Such a scrutiny may reveal a belief in myths such as that making money can shape one’s mind or that the gods are smiling upon such activity, but such myths cannot be compared to the reasons someone influenced by philosophical reasoning may give for their belief in the importance of knowledge and human rights. The distinctions between what is a good reason to believe in something and a myth, completely disappear in this part of Harari’s work. The distinction between the CEO OF Peugeot who faces the tribunal of his shareholders every quarter with his power point presentation and the leader of a political party who faces with his arguments the tribunal of critical discussion of his/her ideas every day also disappears in this bi-polar conceptual environment.

Justice and human rights are inextricably linked so it is no surprise to find Harari in his chapter entitled ” There is no Justice in History” claiming that justice is an imagined order that historically has been neither neutral nor fair. The problem with this reasoning is again that this simplistic infrastructure of history plus biology does not enable one to make historically and philosophically established distinctions between social and political structures. Harari points out that Hammurabi’s code was hierarchical, in particular in those parts of the code where the law specifically refers to the social classes of the superiors, the commoners, and the slaves. He also points to the American Constitution which although saying that all men are equal was accompanied by continuing hierarchical social practices of owning slaves. A modern political analysis would philosophically establish that the intention of the constitution was clearly egalitarian and its role was to signal to the social system that discrimination and oppression ought not to occur on the grounds of colour creed or wealth: a wealthy white Christian ought to stand before the law and ought to be viewed in the eyes and principles of the law in exactly the same terms as a poor black Muslim. This may not always work in practice because judges and juries are people who allow their prejudices to cloud their understanding of the law but this does not permit the degradation of the reasoned body of doctrine we call the law into a figment of the imagination. The problem here does not lie with the law or our concept of the law but with the individuals and social processes enforcing the law. Equating this body of doctrine with myth is confusing individual and social practices with political ideals. Laws do not work immediately on individuals and social practices, rather, they work at the pace of history which is a quicker pace than evolution but at a slower pace than many critics imagine or wish for. The American civil war was fought over the Enlightenment idea of the dignity of all men that had been argued for Philosophically somewhat later in the 1780’s and 1790’s by Kant using the idea of a moral law. The American civil war did not immediately enforce the Kantian moral law that was based on the teleological assumption that all men are ends in themselves and were, therefore, to be valued equally and respected equally. This moral law amounted to saying that they ought to be valued and respected which does not actually logically entail that they are. It does not, either, on the other hand, logically warrant the claim that there is no ground for engaging in the desired behaviour. The moral law is one of the foundations of our modern legal systems in Europe where wealthy white Christians and poor black Muslims stand accused and are subjected to the same neutral regard and assumption of innocence. Notice that I am not denying that social practices involved in the implementation of the law sometimes disobey the moral law or the intention of the laws of the land. But also notice we do not, as a consequence of our disappointment, change the law because it, as a matter of fact, is not universally applied in all cases. We attempt to correct the social processes causing deviations from its universal application, and we continue to do so sometimes with social and sometimes with political processes. Martin Luther King used social processes to force an alteration of laws that were in fact not in accordance with the moral law or the US Constitution and he used a combination of moral and religious argumentation to do so. So, one civil war and one civil rights movement has undoubtedly improved a social situation that is still dysfunctional. What we are witnessing here is the slow rate of change of social processes in accordance with the Kantian and philosophical idea of “progress”. Kant wisely spoke of a future state of affairs as the kingdom of ends” and claimed that such a kingdom would take one hundred thousand years to establish. What is occurring here is a process of change that is not evolutionary(taking millions of years) or historical(taking hundreds of years) but something in between. Such processes bear witness to the fact that the rationality of the species of homo sapiens will take a long time to fully actualise. That it was however a telos guiding our activities was never, however, doubted by Kant or by Aristotle. In the light of such considerations the title of this chapter “There is no Justice in History” is paradoxical or at the very least unnecessarily ambiguous.

Social processes may well contain contradictory activities but it is difficult to fathom how the political ideas of equality and liberty are contradictory. Firstly it is important to note that equality does not mean “equal with respect to every characteristic”: something “equal in every characteristic” to something else would be identical with that thing and the two hypothetically postulated things would, in fact, be one. The idea of equality is related to a social and a legal context. In the social context it refers to equality of opportunity and in the legal context, it refers to equality in relation to the way in which the law treats two individuals of differing characteristics(the wealthy white Christian and the poor black Muslim). Harari claims the following in relation to this debate:

“Unlike the laws of physics which are free of inconsistencies, every man-made order is packed with internal contradictions. Cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions. For instance, in medieval Europe, the nobility believed in both Christianity and chivalry. Another example is the modern political order. Ever since the French revolution, people throughout the world have gradually come to see both equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. Yet the two values contradict each other. Equality can be ensured only by curtailing the freedom of those who are better off. Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably shortchanges equality. The entire political history of the world since 1789 can be seen as a series of attempts to reconcile this contradiction.”(p182)

Kant did not see any contradiction once one recognizes the necessary distinctions between the absolute values of freedom and equality embodied by a moral law that respects the absolute value of the dignity of man and the relative values of a French aristocracy defending its class related privileges. Richer than..or poorer than… are obvious relative values and can best use the quantitative instruments of the mathematician and scientist to measure the differences. No such instrument can be used to measure the dignity of man which is a concept that does not behave like a variable looking for a value. The dignity of man is an ethical idea, an idea that cannot be quantified. Harari is in the above quote confusing a state of affairs with a conceptualisation of a state of affairs. The concept of liberty is not the concept of every man doing what he wishes to do. It includes, as Kant pointed out, a limiting condition related to equality, namely that we can do what we wish to do as long as what we wish to do does not encroach upon another mans liberty. There is no contradiction in such a linkage between the concepts. Such a linkage is conceptual and the very foundation of our very rational ideas of governmental authority and human rights. That there are states of affairs in which men wish for no governmental authority to be exercised over their lives is a fact but that does not make the concept of government authority a myth.

“Sapiens, A brief history of humankind”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part one

Hits: 426

This is an enthralling and interesting book taking us on a journey across enormous spans of time with a minimum of infrastructure of History and Biology. The timeline given at the beginning of the work sketches both the enormous scope of this work as well as indicating its enormous limitations.
13.5 billion years ago Dr Yuval Noah Harari claims matter and energy “appeared” together with atoms and molecules. Earth it is claimed formed 4.5 billion years ago with the first organisms appearing 3.8 billion years ago. 2.5 million years ago saw the emergence of the genus “Homo” with “Homo Sapiens developing around 200,000 years ago in East Africa. All of these are scientific claims and one presumes that these are facts in spite of philosophical concerns about the grounds for saying that matter and energy appeared at these dates. Is this a description of what the scientist imagines must be the case because of a host of facts or is there some calculation which would tell us the time of the emergence of matter and energy from some primeval source? If there is a “proof” that the universe began to exist at some point in time and everything “exploded into existence then Philosophers would be able to free themselves of the antonymy of the claims that the universe has always existed versus its coming into existence ex nihilo without a cause that itself must have had a cause. It is not as if it is possible to believe the one or the other because even if there is a scientific proof or calculation it is made on the assumption of a kind of causality that appears to be contradictory. Imagining this ex nihilo form of causality is indeed a feat of scientific imagination which the philosopher believes may not be cognitively possible. Indeed it may be the case that the Philosopher is more inclined to believe that nothing significant can be said about the beginning of the universe exactly because it is logically possible that the universe has always existed in some form or another and the dramatic event imagined by the scientist is merely a change for which there is a cause. Aristotle would of course probably have insisted that some kind of unknowable cause or telos could well be operating along with other kinds of cause(material, efficient, formal) With events as vast as the size of the infinite universe it is of course almost impossible to estimate or guess what such a telos might be. It becomes easier with the emergence of life where one can survey the possible telos of the end of all life because of the ability of the logical imagination to conceive of a world without life and a world where life forms begin to exist. Life, this great biological concept, according to Aristotle must be conceived partly teleologically because its essence or formal cause must include the end of the condition that allowed it to come into being. There are of course also the material and efficient causes of life which are the concern of the scientist to chart (without the use of any ex nihilo concept of “cause”)

Dr. Harari places several “revolutions” on his timeline, the first of which is “The Cognitive Revolution”( 70,000 years ago) that he associates mysteriously with the emergence of the language of fiction and which he claims “kick-started” history. Two of the characteristics of the use of language are its abilities to claim what is true as well as the ability to claim things that are false or fictional. Harari puts a premium for some reason on the latter rather than the former power in spite of the fact that the former might have been the “original intention”, namely to say something or proclaim something that is the case. Both powers are dependent upon one another but it does seem somewhat perverse to emphasize a secondary power at the expense of the primary power. If Julian Jaynes is right and the original source of language is exclamational, a shout of warning, there has to be something which the shout is about(a present danger) if we are to make sense of this otherwise instrumental form of communication. Jaynes claims in his work “The Origins of Consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind” that “narratisation arose as a codification of reports of past events but that it required a number of previous stages of the language. Julian Jaynes speaks of exclamational shouts and possible modifier functions of language(40,000 bc) to indicate the nearness or distance of the tiger and the development of this to nouns(25,000-15000 bc)and the commanding of actions. Names for people, argues Jaynes came late around 10,000-8000 bc. This is probably the key to narratization because it does seem to be a logical requirement that one has a name for a thing before the thing can be imagined in its absence. Jaynes points to the Natufians at Eynan and the burial practices dating from 9000 bc in towns (of about 200 people) in contrast with their ancestors who were hunters living in caves. This is around the time of the second revolution, the so called Agricultural revolution in which wild species of wheat were domesticated and cultivated. But Jaynes insists that no narratization was as yet possible because that required a more complex cognitive skill of forming in ones mind an analogue self in which they could “see” themselves in relation to others. This required in Jaynes’s view an advanced form of mental development in which individuals could begin to plan their futures, a skill involving an analogue I that could do action x or action y. Jaynes thinks that this is the moment of the advent of consciousness which he dates very late , certainly after the 1470 bc earthquake and eruption of Santorini. The guiding influence of this period Jaynes argues, are the hallucinated “voices” of God operating in the context of a rigid hierarchical structure that often collapsed when unusual events demanded unusual actions requiring perhaps a more methodical and reasoned form of consciousness.It is only at this point a long time after 70,000 years ago that we can indeed begin to think of a cognitive revolution involving narratization and intentional historical record. Dating the Cognitive revolution from 70,000 years ago when it probably occurred well after the start of the Agricultural revolution is therefore probably misleading. A command and control form of language with a putative source in the procession or pantheon of Gods was probably occurring for most of this period when there was no linguistic condition for the truth or falsity of these utterances. The procession of dead kings or Gods(the memory of a dead king, according to Jaynes) begins to become a more historically structured phenomenon after writing was invented but this was an event a long time after 70,000 years ago, the so called beginning of the revolution. The word “revolution” is an interesting one in this context. One can wonder whether it is a purely cognitive matter as T S Eliot suggested when he claimed that at the end of all our explorations we will return back to the beginning and know the place for the first time. Or we can move back in time to that age of intellectual exploration par excellence and reason with Kant that revolution has to do with the kind of change that is “progressive”. History, for Kant, in other words is “teleological” and aiming for a better future. It is not as Harari appears to suggest a bare record of the facts moving toward a totality of facts. History is a value-laden cognitive adventure that has its roots in the ancient Greek ideas of what is good and what is Just: the formal and final causes of Aristotle. This brings us to a major limitation of this work. There is on this timeline nothing from the ancient Greek world that launched our investigations into reasoning and consciousness, the basic elements of any so-called “Cognitive revolution”: basic elements of the so-called “intelligent design” of our societies and world order. The date 70,000 probably refers to the migration of Sapiens from Africa due to what Harari refers to as new ways of thinking and communicating(caused by genetic mutations affecting the functions of the brain) that enabled them to 1. displace the Neanderthals from their place of supremacy in the Middle East and Europe and 2.cross the sea to Australia and 3. the invent boats, lamps, bows, arrows, and needles and 4. speak a new type of language . There is a strange discussion of Peugot and the Stadel lion found in the Stadel cave located in Germany dating from 32000 years ago. The figure is of a lion-man and this is evidence as far as Harari is concerned of the ability of the human mind to imagine things that really do not exist. This object seems to symbolise the presence of what Harari refers to as the “fictional” narrative language referred to earlier. These new linguistic skills, it is claimed, enabled Sapiens to gossip for hours on end(the “gossip theory”)and enabled the organisational group to increase in size to ca 150 individuals. This theory plus the exclamation theory are valid accounts, Harari concludes from a discussion that makes absolutely no reference to Philosophy of language or linguistics. Fiction, Harari argues enables man to imagine things that do not exist collectively. It enables us to transcend the limitations of the gossip theory. The traditional philosophical view that the sizes of the group increased due to the teleological needs of the individual and group and paradoxically, the rule of just laws is not even mentioned. Somehow Harari, the scientist and historian who should be guided by facts and objective values and needs resorts for his explanations instead to Mythology and Religion. These two ares of human activity are in contradistinction to philosophers who believe that religious thought transcends mythology with its proclamatory functions of language embodying judgments of what the community values.Paradoxically Peugot enters this discussion because, as Harari claims: “Modern businesspeople and lawyers are in fact powerful sorcerers”. The fact that the average life span of a company is 30 years may support the sorcerer theory but the inclusion of lawyers in this category is an astounding view of the nature of the validity of law in the process of holding communities together since the time of the Code of Hammurabi. Apparently some lawyers have taken to calling joint stock companies “legal fictions” on the grounds that they are not physical objects but have legal rights. This is not the controlled use of language that we expect from legal thinkers and we are not far from asserting that because we cannot “see, hear touch, measure a human right” it too must be a fiction. If one is working with a primitive non-philosophical theory of language one should not be surprised at such paradoxical conclusions. If something is not a fact, it must be a fiction is the “logic” of this discourse. What other logical alternatives are there? Well, there are literally thousands and it is extremely puzzling to be confronted by an either /or theory of bipolar extremes for such a complex area of discourse. Aristotle would not have made such a logical mess of describing non physical states of affairs.He would not have thought of Athens as an imagined entity without reality.

Harari uses History as a part of the infrastructure he needs in order to move beyond the limiting confines of Biology when it comes to discussing the issue of the forces and powers that enable large communities to exist as unities. Again, paradoxically, given the total absence of Philosophy in this discussion, it is argued that it is the ability of Homo Sapiens to play games that enable them to transcend their biological limitations. Aristotle formulated a hylomorphic theory that enables the species to integrate the biological life of the body firstly with the imagination of the emotional spirit and secondly the truth-functional and rational essence of our cognitive nature. This is a more panoramic view of the arena of mans existence which does not constrain us to speak either in terms of facts or in terms of fictions/games.

Our actions historically evolve in terms of our cognitive powers that for Aristotle include perception, memory, language, emotion, imagination, and reason. Imagining on its own as a mental function can certainly weave a fabric of fantasy around a carved man-lion and tempt us into believing that the people who made this object are much like us. According to Jaynes’ more philosophically based theory, the people who carved this object were not conscious and were not aware of the difference between reality and fiction. If they could speak to us we probably would not be able to understand them.

Harari also mentions evolutionary psychology in his attempts to “get inside the heads” of our ancestors in order to understand our present-day social and psychological characteristics.

Wittgenstein is a philosopher one can use to try to understand why we should not try to get into someone else’s head if one wishes to understand them. The final justification for him is what we(groups of humans) do. Writing was invented around 3000 bc and at the same time, we see the emergence of the first Egyptian kingdom and the Great Akkadian empire comprising more than one million subjects. Are these two facts merely accidentally related or is there some kind of causal relation between them? Could it be that proclamations of laws in writing (and not something going on in individuals heads like imagining entities that do not exist) are necessary conditions for the existence of real kingdoms and empires? Is it really tenable to argue that the myths people believed in played a larger role in the maintenance of kingdoms and empires than the laws that regulated peoples judgments of each other? If Jaynes is correct in his assumption that gods are just dead past kings then are not their judgments just as real as the present day kings who apply their judgments in their legal systems?

Harari uses the example of the Code of Hammurabi in order to illustrate human cooperation in groups. The code was dated from around 1776 bc and used as a model for all legal codes in coming generations. It was used to regulate the largest city on earth at the time, Babylon. Reference was made to previous gods who laid down the framework for the code:

“to make justice prevail in the land, to abolish the wicked and the evil, to prevent from oppressing the weak”

There is no need to describe these beings as imagined entities that do not exist, just because they are previous dead kings. This code is very hierarchical and places monetary values on the lives of women and slaves. Jaynes referred to the instability of hierarchical theocracies that often collapsed when reality became too difficult to deal with. According to Harari, these proclamations are associated with imagined entities and cannot, therefore, possess any different status to the Proclamations we find in a document(The American Constitution) created during 1776 AD in which it is claimed that all men are created equal in the eyes of God. Men have evolved argues Harari, therefore they cannot have been created. The document is therefore fictional. The problem with Harari’s bi-polar one-dimensional theory of human cooperation is that one cannot see the law of progress operating between the two codes, especially in terms of the idea of the good and justice. The American Declaration of Independence sufficed to hold millions of citizens together for hundreds of years. Harari basically objects to the Constitution on biological and scientific grounds. One cannot measure happiness, he argues, only pleasure, and we, therefore, cannot regard this as anything more than something inside someone’s head. Aristotle had no difficulty in characterizing conceptually what happiness was and laid down the axiom that in order to be happy a rational language using animal must use his power of rationality. Man, according to philosophical thinking, is not yet collectively happy, but that is because rationality is in the process of installing itself in the species. It is in thoughts such as these that we see the integration of Philosophy, Biology, History, Psychology, Epistemology, Physics and Metaphysics: something we cannot see in the very limited infrastructure of Biology,evolutionary psychology, and History that Harari attempts to use in his attempts to characterise Aristotle’s “rational animal”