A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: The Age of Reinterpretation, Part One( Andronicus of Rhodes, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Boethius)

Hits: 31

Professor Brett claims that at least insofar as Science and Psychology are concerned, between the deaths of St Augustine in 430 and St Thomas of Aquinas in 12 74, there was very little meaningful activity to speak of. This may not be an accurate historical description of the activity of this period given the fact that there is an argument to be made for at least one meaningful and major shift in Philosophical thinking, namely that from Neo-Platonism to Neo-Aristotelianism. This shift had implications for the domain of Philosophical Psychology and the concepts of the Will, Cognition, and Consciousness. In defense of Brett, it should, however, be remembered that he wrote his work in the 1920s and that the significance of Aristotle’s Philosophy was still in the process of being fully appreciated. After a decline from the halcyon days when men spoke of “The Master of those that know”, “The Teacher of all our teachers” and simply “The Philosopher”, (with a little help from Kantian and Wittgensteinian Philosophy)we may only today be in the process of restoring Aristotle’s reputation to its rightful place in the realm of Philosophy.

We shall however follow Brett in his classification of this period as “The Age of Reinterpretation”:

“A great deal happened between the death of St Augustine and the death of St Thomas, but it cannot be seriously maintained that much happened which was of any great importance to the history of Science in general or Psychology in particular. The papacy emerged as a temporal power and heralded an age of politicians, administrators, and systematisers. The spirit of Gregory entered into the thought as well as into the action of the Church. Occasionally, as in the case of a St Francis or an Abelard, the spirit of adventure or of criticism returned to challenge the institutions and learning now hallowed by tradition. But in the main, it was an age of reinterpretation, adaptation, and endless wrangling over minor questions.”

As was pointed out in line with previous comments and objections relating to Brett’s underestimation of the importance of Aristotelian thinking, this was certainly an age of reinterpretation of Aristotle and his significance for thought not just in the arena of Philosophy but also in the realms of culture and education. Brett also, however, makes an interesting observation in relation to a shift that seems to be occurring from the authority of critical discussion of a canon of individual thinkers to the authority of schools and institutions. This, if true, amounts to a significant reinterpretation of the concept of authority which may in its turn partly explain many anomalies in the development of Philosophical Thought.

At the beginning of this period extending from the death of Augustine when the Vandals were besieging the gates of Hippo, an Ecclesiastical Council had been called by Emperor Theodosius 2nd because a conflict of interpretation of the Bible had arisen between the patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria, two of the Cosmopolitan centres of the World at the time. The dispute was over whether Mary, the putative mother of Jesus, was a human being with human nature and if so how such a being could have conceived of a divine being like Jesus: the so-called issue of divine incarnation. This issue, having arisen in the context of dualistic assumptions was unsurprisingly resolved Neo-Platonically by insisting that Christ was a Being that must have possessed two natures, an earthly human nature, and divine god-like nature. This satisfied the delegates from Constantinople but not those from Alexandria who were hoping for another decision. A second Council meeting was convened and in this, it was decreed that a Being can only have one nature: the so-called doctrine of monophysitism. This, of course, was motivated by underlying Aristotelian concerns which saw the contradiction lurking in the decision from the first Council and it signified an interesting challenge to the prevailing Neo-Platonism of the time. This phenomenon was probably not assessed in these terms because it also signified a deeper conflict, from the Christian point of view, between pagan philosophy and Christianity. To the extent that Aristotle was recognized as lying behind this, it was due to the fact that his work had always been regarded more skeptically than that of Plato’s because of his naturalistic commitment to monism and the sources of life. This particular drama was merely the continuation of another drama played out during the lifetime of St Augustine when another conflict between Aristotelianism and Christianity had arisen when a Welsh Ecclesiastic named by the Romans Pelagius shockingly questioned the doctrine of Original Sin. Pelagius proposed the principle that there is a sense in which one must choose to be sinful: a notion that is more in accordance with the contrary assumption(to that of Original sin) that human nature is essentially Good. This view spread like wildfire and was especially embraced by Eastern Theologians. St Augustine did his best to limit the influence of this position by declaring it heretical. This position was not, however, formally ratified by the Church until the Council of Orange in 529 long after his death but just a short time after Justinian became emperor and began to deal with the “threat” of pagan Philosophy to the Christian faith. These two “incidents” testify to the growing influence of Aristotelian Philosophy. This, in spite of the difficulties both religious and linguistic of translating his works accurately into Latin.

Neo-Platonism had managed to subsist side by side with Christian dogma because of a shared belief in a dualistic metaphysics. Plato’s Philosophy, however also shared with Aristotle a belief in human reason and the “form of the Good” which Religion was skeptical of. Plato, however, did not, as did Aristotle, believe in the essential mortality of the soul. Aristotle’s denial of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul in the name of the principle of life which claimed that life was a journey towards its own extinction probably marginalized his role in the theological/philosophical debate about many metaphysical, ethical, political and psychological issues. Up to and perhaps including the time of Boethius, Greek texts could be read in the original but that skill was on the wane as Latin became the language of communication and academic discourse. After the death of Boethius Greek texts, with the possible exception of Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s Organon( The Posterior Analytics was probably not included). Although the Latin language was almost universal in the West we should remember that St Augustine died in 430 at a time when the Vandals were besieging Hippo just 20 years after the Visigoths had sacked Rome. The fall of the Roman Empire was approaching and there was no sign of the advancement of the cause of the City of God.

Boethius was born a few years after the fall of the Western Empire. Many historians regard this event as the beginning of the so-called “Middle Ages” for which the reasons given range from the influence of Christianity on the Roma Psyche to the pressure of the influence of the Barbarians(Vandals, Goths, German tribes etc) from the North and West. Without wishing to deny the importance of these psychological and external influences, we are suggesting a third factor, a real causal role for the influence of Ideas, a factor that both Plato and Aristotle would agree with. Gibbon, the historian, pointed to the declining of moral virtue among the Romans and this is undoubtedly a correct observation but it is a phenomenon which in its turn must have a cause. The cause in question could hardly be Christianity as such(the so-called “turn the other cheek mentality”). Perhaps a more fitting causal candidate would be an assumption or assumptions of Christianity such as the dualistic theory of the Good, invoking as it does the view of man as a “fallen being” more inclined to sin than to virtue, living in a Manichaean world where evil is a real presence. In relation to such a state of affairs, the Platonic and Aristotelian explanations would merely refer to the absence of the Good. St Augustine, we should remember embraced a Manichaean division of the city into earthly and divine elements and this pagan form of dualism was still a major cultural influence during his time. Recall again the fact that the Vandals were poised for attack outside the gates of Hippo while St Augustine was writing his work “The City of God”. It is tempting to speculate on whether the work is pointing a finger at the weaknesses of a dualistic account of the Good. Later Philosophers like Kant would in such a discussion emphasize the logical nature of “ought-statements”, emphasize that is, the logical nature of an ought statement which is temporally oriented to the future and to the changes in the world to be brought about in the future in accordance with both an idea of the good and a good intention: making the suggestion the good is somehow concretely real in the present situation contentious, to say the least, (Evil similarly becomes an abstraction, but a negation of this abstract “Good”). Much human discourse is, of course, naturally directed to this future state of affairs and the relation of our ideas to what we intend to bring about. What this discussion draws attention to is the possible claim that a dualistic account of the Good might have played a part in the so-called “moral decay” of the Roman spirit Gibbon claims to have observed (Whether this dualism is Christian or pagan(Manichaeism)). This might have been a defendable state of affairs had there not existed a monistic/holistic theory of the Good such as that presented by Aristotle. In this context, we are reminded of Heidegger’s observations on the nature of the Latin language, namely that it is not an academic language like Greek. It is rather, Heidegger insists, a language of imperialism and conquest. The most magnificent image of the above two discussion points is the image of the Roman God, Janus who, we recall has two faces oriented in different directions. Hannah Arendt in her work “Between the Past and the Future”characterizes the spirit of Janus correctly in terms of the synthesis of the view of the past(the backward historical glance) and the future(the forward-looking eschatological glance). In her work on St Augustine, however, she chooses to focus upon the backward-looking historical glance which seeks after the origins and beginnings of things rather than the forward-looking ends toward which much of our discourse and many of our actions point. She points to the mental faculty of the memory and claims that it is associated with the search for explanatory origins which Romans, in contradistinction to Plato and Aristotle, believed had a first beginning in time. Aristotle’s commentary on such a state of affairs would reject the ideas of beginnings and endings of time and see the face staring backwards as rather staring into the eternity of elapsed time. The Romans given their history(and their language) would see the face oriented toward the future as concerned with the future of the next battle(Janus means “gateway” and was therefore placed at the city gate through which the troops marched off to war and through which they returned in victory and defeat). Obviously, the wished for victory was not in accordance with the “turn the other cheek mentality” of the Christians. Neither is it in accordance with the Aristotelian forms of future-oriented teleological explanation relating to eudaimonia, or the flourishing life.

Janus, of course, is an excellent image of dualism and its application to the life-world and time of man and perhaps there is a synthesis of the future and the past that can be made sense of in the Aristotelian theory of time and its relation to the life-world of man, the rational animal capable of discourse. Insofar, however, as the Roman interpretation of the image of Janus is concerned, there is no categorical form of rationality to be used to ensure the outcome of a war and furthermore where war is the preferred form of life for a nation, only superstition can regulate the activity. This superstition was reflected even in the rituals adopted for leaving and returning to the city and these rituals were attributed to the fantasied desires of Janus.

An Aristotelian interpretation of this image would also refer to time but not in terms of dualism. For Aristotle Time is the measure or number of motion in terms of before and after. The faces, that is, refer to the demarcated aspects of the passing of time into the before and after. It is only, Aristotle argues when two different nows have been demarcated that conscious awareness of the passing of time occurs. Time is that which exists between the nows, just as the infinite continuum of a line is formed by the demarcation of the points forming the beginning and end of the line: here the length of the line is analogous to the duration of time between the “nows” that have been pronounced. The external world is also required in order to assist in the measurement of all the activities in the life-world, for example, the regular motion of the earth turning on its axis or the regularity of the orbit of the earth around the sun. On this interpretation, the two faces exist in the present( in the middle of the line or a distinct point somewhere on the line). Obviously, not any kind of motion will do since regularity requires repetition which in turn suggested to Aristotle that circular motion was the best standard of measurement. He assumes that this form of motion has always been present and will always be present and therefore belongs to those things in the universe which are permanent and eternal. In terms of our historical awareness, say of the fall of Rome, the Aristotelian account, would maintain that the number of times the earth has revolved around the sun would measure the time elapsed between then and now. There is an argument that circular motion cannot be truly infinite because that would require that each part of space traversed would have to be different from any other that had been traversed but this is probably not the kind of perfection imagined by Aristotle which requires the circumscription of the regular motion in a relatively proximate space: any other notion of an infinite linear motion would not meet the criterion of “regulating” our experience. This line of reasoning entails that there cannot be, as the Roman conception of time and history would appear to require, a first origin in time which is not itself “in time”: anything in time requires a “before and an after” as well as a spatially circumscribable motion in space. An absolute beginning in time would suggest that the analogy we proposed earlier, namely that of a linear infinite continuum, is the real measure of time, which also conceivably could come to an end in the future. Is it toward this end in the future that one of Janus’s faces is oriented towards? This spatialization of time has also left its trace in our modern world with the replacement of Aristotelian circular clock faces by digital clocks where the recurrence of the same numbers denotes the circularity of the regularity of time.

Needless to say, there was no Greek equivalent for Janus in their house of divinities. For Aristotle, the future-oriented face would have symbolized a very peaceful gaze searching for eudaimonia, or the flourishing life and given that he regarded a flourishing city-state as necessary for actualizing this potential for man, perhaps the gaze is also searching more objectively for this future city-state. Aristotle distinguishes himself from Plato in this conception of a perfect state. Plato we know, at least in his Republic, required the presence of warriors, to keep order and to fight wars whereas Aristotle would have argued that a flourishing city would be one which best met the reasonable needs of the citizens and used their powers of reason and creativity to best effect for the common good.

If we now turn our gaze forward toward St Thomas and the Arab interpretations of Aristotle, what do we see? This is what Brett sees:

“Scholasticism has become a byword to designate quibbling over the details of a system whose basic assumptions are never seriously challenged. Gone was the bold speculation of the Greeks: gone, too, was the intense concern over ways of living which characterised the philosophy of the Stoics, Epicureans, and early Christians. For the schoolmen or the Arabs wisdom lay in the past: Aristotle was the great philosopher. Averroes and Aquinas disagreed on many points but their disagreements were mainly concerned with the correct interpretation of Aristotle. The task of the thinker resembled that of the administrator. Ideas, such as the hierarchy of Church officials, had to be welded together into a secure and final system that would resist strains from within and corruption from without. Everything had to be sifted, cross-examined and put in its appropriate place. Patient logic was applied to all the details: only the basic assumptions were logically unassailable because divinely revealed.”

Firstly, Aristotle’s Philosophy does not encourage a preference for forms of explanation rooted in the past unless the circumstances require that kind of explanation. (He was probably the first Philosopher to refuse the power of tradition and systematically submit his predecessor’s thoughts to a regime of criticism). The circumstances would refer to firstly, the kinds of change involved(substantial, qualitative, quantitative, locomotion), seondly, the principles of change, namely that there is something or state the change is from and something or state a change is towards and finally something which endures through the process of change. Wisdom, for Aristotle, was connected to the kind of explanation one gives to questions that are being asked about phenomena. If for example, one is asked to explain an action that no one understands, for example, if one is asked to explain why one gave all one’s money to charity and gives an explanation in terms of the needs of others being greater than one’s own, then the needs of others being met are obviously something that lies in the future and not in the past and the above is a typical example of a teleological explanation. Oracles often made prophecies that involved teleological explanations, e.g. “nothing too much” and this was picked up in the Aristotelian account of virtue in terms of the golden mean. Virtues obviously contain teleological components or as Kant would claim they involve “ought statements”. Wisdom, for Aristotle, did not necessarily lie in the past. Indeed given his account of time the past only acquired significance once an “after” has been designated, Brett’s designation of the reason why Aristotle was gaining in importance in this era may have been insufficient. Aristotle’s Philosophy was a principle-based philosophy. It was never systematic in the sense construed by Brett in the quote above. If Aristotle’s Philosophy was systematic it was not the system of an administrator. The relation of principles to each other do not resemble the relation of a hierarchy of officials. Aristotle’s ideas had logical relationships to each other and to the extent that scholastic philosophy paid attention to this logic against the background of his hylemorphic theory is the extent to which they too could be regarded as Aristotelians. Revelation would, for Aristotle, not be a supernatural phenomenon beyond what it meant to say or think that one’s processes of inductive observation and deductive reasoning led to an “understanding” of what one was thinking about. Introducing the idea of divine understanding in these contexts would for Aristotle merely obscure what is being understood from a human point of view(the point of view of a rational animal capable of discourse).

One can, of course, wonder how Aristotle’s Philosophy managed to survive the onslaughts of Christian disdain for over a thousand years up until the time of St Thomas of Aquinas. Part of the answer lies in the continuous activities of the Peripatetic school in the Lyceum until it was closed by Justinian in 529 and part of the answer may lie in the translations and commentaries of two leading Aristotelian scholars, Alexander of Aphrodisias(the last of the major figures of the Peripatetic school) and Boethius(the last of the Roman Greek-speaking scholars). It should be bourne in mind, however, that Peripatetic scholars since the time of Andronicus of Rhodes were forced to engage dialectically with Stoic, Epicurean, Neoplatonic and Christian scholars. The reactions and interactions between these streams of scholarship were not easy to map. There was obviously a close relation between Aristotle’s ethical/political writings and the Practical Philosophy of the Stoics but there was considerable disagreement over the compatibility of Stoic determinism and Aristotelian Metaphysics. This disagreement centred upon the significance of the role of Stoical “assent” and whether it was “determined causally” or rather a self-centred free and new beginning implied by the Aristotelian principle of life. Aristotle, as we know, claimed that the principle of life resides in the “form” of a living body that possesses a number of potential and currently active powers, some of which he regarded as “mental”. He would not have denied that physical insults such as a spear in the heart or in the brain would suffice for the principle to cease to function permanently and thereby he agreed that there would be what he called material and efficient causes responsible for mental activities such as “assent” or “acting virtuously”. This admission, however, he would have regarded as compatible with an insistence that the better explanations of mental powers and activities would involve what he called formal and final causes that would invoke nonphysical variables.

Some commentators claim that the scholastic tradition of “interpreting” the works of Aristotle began with Andronicus of Rhodes who used the sound exegetical principle of explaining Aristotle with reference to Aristotle’s own principles rather than those of Neoplatonism or Christianity. Andronicus used this strategyto distinguish Aristotle’s works from those of his pupils and also to place the works in a pedagogical order that is still used in collections of Aristotle’s works today. Alexander of Aphrodisias was the last of the Peripatetic scholarchs to continue using the above exegetical principle as a counterweight to the weight of Roman Culture and the Universal ambition of the Latin language (both of which appeared to favour the dualism of Neoplatonism and Christianity over the categorical and logical monism of Aristotle). Alexander’s commentaries and general writings contributed to the role of Aristotelianism in what we are referring to as the “Age of Reinterpretation”. His writings were translated into Latin and therefore engaged with the prevalent Neoplatonic Christian, Stoic, and Epicurean texts. Many of his commentaries are now lost but his best-known commentaries on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the Soul, Sense Perception, Prior Analytics, Topics, and Meteorology have survived.

Boethius continued the Peripatetic tradition of writing commentaries on the works of Aristotle, in particular on Aristotle’s “Organon”. He is not mentioned by Brett in his work but he deserves mention for four reasons. Firstly, he was, as we mentioned previously, the last of the Greek-speaking scholarchs in the Roman World. Secondly, because of his commentaries. Thirdly because of his Socratic fate- protesting his innocence throughout his imprisonment and up to his execution. Fourthly because of the work he was writing whilst awaiting execution: “The Consolation of Philosophy”. Bertrand Russell in his work “The History of Western Philosophy” classifies this work as Neoplatonic and this may be questionable. The work unquestionably has an air of a Platonic dialogue about it but here are definite Stoical ethical themes and there are even suggestions of Aristotelian themes relating to the theoretical and practical divisions of Philosophy. This latter suggestion is even today the subject of controversial debates.

The Consolations of Philosophy begins with Boethius sitting in his prison in Pavia, regretting his misfortune after having been elevated to one of the highest administrative positions in the government of Theodoric. A Lady representing Philosophy visits the prisoner. She is wearing a tattered and worn garment with the representation of a ladder bearing greek lettering upon the top and bottom of the ladder: on the top is the Greek Theta(standing for theoretical divisions of philosophy), on the bottom is the Greek letter P(standing for the Practical divisions of Philosophy). She is the bearer of some philosophical works and she casts aside the books of Poetry on his bedside table. Boethius is manifestly by turns depressed and indignant. In response to this, she presents arguments illustrating the illusory values of material fortune and compares fickle fortune to divine providence which lies behind the mystery of the spiritual and ethical government of the world. She conceives of herself as bringing medicine to the sick spirit of Boethius: “The times call for healing rather than Lamentations”(H R James translation).

This is reminiscent of Plato’s Symposium in which Socrates in one of his speeches evokes the memory of one of his teachers, the Lady Philosopher, Diotima, who he represents as giving him a philosophy lesson in relation to the concept of Love and the Being Eros who has been conceived of as a God. She reminds Socrates of the parentage of Eros, namely a poverty-stricken mother and a resourceful father and she also claims that this is not the circumstances of a divine being. indeed she pictures Eros as padding about our cities barefooted in the search for spiritual sustenance of various forms. The moral of her tale is also significantly related to the origin of the word Philosophy(lover of wisdom). Much time has elapsed between the two works and between the lives of Socrates and Boethius and the lessons learned from the two Ladies appear to differ. Socrates learned to love Philosophy whilst Boethius learns instead to be consoled to his fate. Of course, Boethius, having served as a minister in Theorodic the Goth’s government, would have knowledge of his king’s paranoia and the kind of death that awaited those who aroused his wrath. There would be no sipping from a cup of poison and gentle slipping away from the world for him. His was to be a Gothic death at the hands of a sovereign who believed that Jesus did not have a divine nature. Boethius was subsequently regarded by many Christians as a martyr and was venerated as St Severinus. He left little of ecclesiastical value behind him but his commentaries on Aristotle earned him the title of the first of the scholastic Philosophers. His final work “The Consolations of Philosophy” was popular for centuries.

The schools of Athens and Alexandria were still active at the time of the death of Boethius. Two or three years after his death the Emperor Justinian came to power and the Schools in Athens were closed in 529 probably because of the conflict of pagan doctrines with Christian dogma. In the following 270 years, the Roman Empire continued to diminish in territory and power but dualistic views of Christ and the Soul still overshadowed the hylemorphic monism of Aristotle. Indeed, even the doctrine of Christ possessing a single will was condemned by a Council under the influence of Maxim the Confessor in 649 AD in Rome and again at a Council held in Constantinople in 681.

Life and Society outside of the Roman Empire were also changing. the prophet Muhammad died in 633 and a wave of conquest swept over the world that included the capture of Carthage as well as the defeat of the Gothic Christians. Charlemagne managed in 768 to drive the Muslims back to the Pyrenees and expanded the Roman Empire into a Holy Roman Empire embracing all the Christians of Continental Western Europe. He established a school for scholars where Alcuin of York is supposed to have resurrected the writings of Aristotle in Latin, though in the context of the Christian scriptures.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: St Augustine, De Civitate Dei and De Civitate Terrena(The City of God and the earthly city): Arendt, Aristotle, and Kant.

Hits: 175

Existentialist philosophers such as Heidegger, Jaspers, and Arendt have argued that we are thrown into the world and two questions immediately surface as a response to such a claim. Firstly, which world are we thrown into? This question arises because for Augustine there are two worlds: De Civitate Dei(the City of God) and De Civitate Terrena (the earthly city) and when the Day of Judgment arrives these two cities will be divided. Secondly, and relatedly, if, as the Bible suggests our existence is the beginning of a story, does this fact of being created(thrown into the world from our point of view)take precedence over the end of the story, namely the expectation of our inevitable death. In other words, if the focus is on the remembrance of the constitutional beginning does this reverse the polarity of the world for those whose lives are dominated by an anxious expectation or fear of death.

Much of course depends upon the context these questions are posed in. It is doubtful whether Aristotle’s work played much part in the intellectual development of St Augustine perhaps because of Aristotle’s acceptance of the existence of prime matter and its formless infinite essence which actually permits the conceiving of an infinite number of possible worlds each of which is constituted of the actualization of different forms. Self-knowledge and knowledge of God were in one sense inextricably intertwined in Aristotle’s metaphysical account of Man and his relation to Being. This account poses the question “What is man?” and responds to this question with a hylemorphic theory that condensed itself into the definition of man as a “rational animal capable of discourse”. The presence of the term “animal” may, of course, have caused Augustine to dismiss Aristotelian theory in favour of a dualistic theory which separates animals from man because it was man and not the animals whose lives(psuche) were created by the breath of God in accordance with some divine logos. It was probably blind belief in the literalness of the account of the creation of man in the Book of Genesis that was responsible for the fact that it was Plato’s more dualistic account of the relations of the soul to the body and the intellectual world to the physical world that caused a state of affairs in which Platonism was the Philosophy of choice for the religiously inclined. This in spite of the fact that we see in the Timeaus a Platonic move in the direction of the work of “the worldly” Aristotle.

But it ought to be remembered that St Augustine himself was the product of a spirit of an age in which many different schools of Philosophy and sects of religion were proliferating and competing for attention and supremacy, including Gnostic sects such as Manichaeism. Manichaeism was a dualistic theory that believed two bipolar forces were engaged in a struggle for control of the world: the force of Good and the force of Evil. St Augustine, for a period of time, embraced this Persian variation on a Gnostic theme just prior to being his being inspired and converted to Christianity by Neo-Platonic writings and the Bishop of Milan in 387 AD. The ideas of St Paul were then destined to mingle with the Platonic theory of forms. The co-mingling of these ideas from different universes of discourse was regarded as inconsistently eclectic by Hannah Arendt in her evaluation of St Augustine in her later works, including “The “Life of the Mind”.

St Augustine was neither Greek nor Hebrew. He was essentially a Roman-inspired by Romans, e.g. Cicero. He was also bewitched by the language of Latin( regarded by Heidegger as an “Imperial” language of power). For example, he attempted to juxtapose an idea of free will with what Arendt called the greatest of his academic sins, the belief in predestination. A notion, incidentally, not entirely inconsistent with being “thrown into the world”(with one’s human powers). Combine this with a view of time in which memory of the past plays a more significant role in the life of man than future expectancy and we are beginning to see a philosophical psychology forming that will have troubling implications in the future. A philosophical psychology very different to that of Aristotle in which the question of the existence/essence of man is transposed from the Aristotelian “What is man?” to the Augustinian question “Who is man?”. The former of course requires rational theory whilst the latter requires only memory of beginnings. From an Aristotelian or Kantian perspective, the transposition is a move toward ambiguity and confusion: it is a move away from philosophical psychology toward a more “scientific ” form of Psychology.

Ambiguity and confusion are not however present in the Augustinian dualism of the carnal and the spiritual will which in turn are connected to a dualism of earthly love(cupiditas) and spiritual other-worldly love of God(Caritas). The man who loves in this spiritual way is, of course, an inhabitant of two worlds: De Civitate Dei and De Civitate Terrena. He is at home in the former world and a “stranger” in the latter. What prevents this dualism from degenerating into Manichaeism is a Platonic commitment to the overarching role of the knowledge of the Good: a conception which regards evil as the absence of good and therefore as in some sense logically dependent upon the good. Unsurprizingly a dualism of selves is also involved in this account. Arendt, in her earlier work “Love and St Augustine”(p30) comments upon this latter dualism in the following way:

“The “good” of which man is deprived and which he therefore desires is life without death and without loss. Good as the object of love(as desire) is nothing but the manifestation of this “good”. By anticipating eternity(the absolute future) man desires his own future self and denies the I-myself he finds in earthly reality. In self-hatred and self-denial he hates and denies the present, mortal self, that is, after all, God’s creation. The criterion of right and wrong in loving is not self-denial for the sake of others or of God, but for the sake of the eternity that lies ahead. From this, it follows that man should not love in this life, lest he loses in eternal life…..To love God means to love oneself well, and the criterion is not God but the self, namely the self who will be eternal.”

The spiritual self loves God the best and will, therefore, dwell in eternity with this gender-neutral Being. The above discussion orbits around “who” the self of self-knowledge is and it has undoubtedly been influential in setting the terms of many debates in contemporary Philosophical Psychology. Arendt, in the above passage, it should be noted is herself evolving in her work toward a future position in works entitled “The Human Condition” and “The Life of the Mind” : a position that has much in Common with the Greek Philosophers for whom the resolution of the enigma of the flourishing life was resolved with the idea of areté, virtue(doing the right thing at the right time in the right way). This resolution, for her, was best manifested by human action in public space for the sake of a common good: a position that does not necessarily exclude one’s own welfare or the welfare of one’s neighbour. This might be construed as a move that takes us into the spiritual realm as defined by Arendt and perhaps by Augustine: a realm of discourse in a universe of pluralistic agents and concerns reasoning about “the good” as best they can, given that they have limited knowledge about the Civitas Dei and themselves. Pluralism is, of course, a key Aristotelian political category that was used to criticize the uniformity of life in Plato’s Republic. As Arendt’s work moved away from her dissertation on Augustine and towards her work entitled “The Human Condition”, we find her attempting to move away from what Kant called the principle of self -love in disguise and Augustine regarded as love of the earthly world in which the self and the present is dispersed in the many activities of the Civitas Terrena. The love we encounter in Civitas Dei, on the other hand, is a love of God which is absolutely devoid of the more conditional goods we find in the Civitas Terrena. The Spiritual life for Arendt, similarly, takes place in a city in which three kinds of human activity are ruled not by rationality and reason but by action in a public space: action that is inspired by one’s conscience. The other two types of activity, labour, and work, appear to be more Aristotelian than Platonic and appeal in the case of labour to the physiological and biological rhythms of the body and in the case of work, a pluralistic dispersion of the self in a manifold of activities in a world we love and fear to lose. In the Republic the freed prisoner who becomes enlightened once he understands the form of the good is persuaded to return to the realm of shadows in the cave(Civitas Terrena) thus bringing light in the form of knowledge to Civitas Terrena. The light may be extinguished however as was the light of Socrates in the Athenian Agora. In the same vein, we may reflect on the extinguishing of the light of Jesus. One of the consequences of these historical lessons may be a reluctance to engage epistemologically with Civitas Terrena. It is not absolutely clear that either the Platonic commitment to Reason and rationality or the application of the Aristotelian hierarchy of “forms of life” can be available to Augustin in virtue of his commitment to divine love or Caritas in the context of man’s being a question for himself. The transposition of the question “What am I?” to “Who am I?” in the context of both dualism and an extreme commitment to interiority(“go not forth: withdraw into your own self: in the inward parts of man dwelleth truth”) is a problematic transposition. Add to this the usurpation of the methodology of Reason in favour of Divine spiritual love or Caritas and we are in the midst of a dualistic theory of knowledge that Professor Brett in his “History of Psychology” characterizes thus:

“The work of St Augustine id dominated by aims which partly assist and partly retard his inquiries. As a philosopher, he seeks for truth, for knowledge that is without presuppositions and wholly certain and this he finds only in inner experience. In the writings of St Augustine, we find a second influence, the theological bent, which employs revelation as the guarantor of truth. Knowledge is, therefore, divisible into two main classes according as it is derived from revelation or from introspection. In the sphere of metaphysics, the nature of inner experience is made the starting point for the construction of a metaphysics of knowledge, and this is Augustine’s main interest. Subservient to this is the life of the self, the nature, origins, and faculties of the soul: which also attract the attention of Augustine for reasons both philosophical and theological. For the study of psychic life, the power of accurate introspective observation is supremely valuable: throughout the work of Augustine we find this power exhibited in a remarkable degree.”

The stage is hereby set for all the forms of solipsism we encounter in modern Philosophy and Theology. The search is on for the principium individuationis. We will confine ourselves in the inner cave of our Will and regard the external world as a perceptual/imaginative affair where the nature of matter is only to be understood via the controversial mechanism of revelation. Of course, matter for St Augustine subsequent to his Neo-Platonic readings and his baptism and conversion is no longer attributed to the process of creation by the evil forces in the world. It is rather a result of the process of creation by divine activity but our relation to matter via revelation remains problematic. It is also problematic that knowledge via introspection is construed as a form of observation. This commitment to such a dualistic methodology also raises a question in relation to the soul/body issue which remains hopelessly mystical in the framework of dualism. As we mentioned previously, Aristotelian hylemorphism and its characterization of a two-substance relation to a framework of different kinds of life-principle governing the life forms of different organisms is conspicuous by its absence. Psuche, for Augustine, is simply a substance derived from divine activity. Brett has the following to say on this issue:

“The soul was created by God at the time when the body was created. Its creation and its birth are distinct events: as nothing was created after the 6 days of creation. The soul must have been created then. The breath of God by which Adam became animated or endowed with anima, was the act by which the soul was transmitted into the body….the body he(St Augustine) regards as wholly dependent upon soul so far as its life is concerned: its  vegetative functions are not possible without soul, and the body itself has importance only as the medium of sensation and as that which the soul must rule.”

The assumption of a dualism of substances is apparent but becomes more so when one considers that at death the Biblical metaphysicians claimed that the two substances can un-mingle and become separate substances again. Aristotle would have questioned this dualistic account and it was to combat all forms of dualism or its half brother of materialism that Aristotle formulated his hylemorphic metaphysics. For him the body and the soul are unseparable as the shape of the wax is inseparable from its material. Death, insofar as hylemorphic metaphysics is concerned is defined in terms of the absence of the power of the body to move any longer. The “part” of the soul, if that is the correct expression to use here, that is directly involved in the movement of the body, is the will. The relation of this willing part of the soul to the part that contemplates truths known by reason is ambiguous and unclear in the Augustinian system. Neo- Aristotelians and Kantians would probably, in contradistinction to dualism, claim that the will’s function is to bring about the reality or truth of what was actively desired or intended. Even in Plato’s work the “knowledge of the good” mitigates what can be construed as a dualism of physical action and contemplation.

Brett completes his analysis of St Augustine by using modern psychological terminology such as “consciousness”, object of attention” and “selection”:

“This is the first point at which we see how Augustine makes the Will the most important element in life. The simplest act of apprehension involves some degree of Will, for in it are compounded three elements: the mind is conscious of itself(memoria), aware of many possible objects of attention (intelligentia), and selects one with which it identifies itself (voluntas). The world for St Augustine is the place of countless voices, voices of nature calling to the soul: but only those are directly heard toward which the soul exerts itself in the will to attend, and more than all these is the voice of God whose eternal presence is an external appeal to the human will.”

Presumably the voice presents itself in both introspection and via the mysterious process of revelation and the soul being a substance can only have its essence revealed not in an act of apprehension(introspection) but also in some experience of revelation. The Will is related to God via Caritas or the spiritual form of love. Complete knowledge is impossible for the soul until it is capable of this spiritual form of love for God which is also used in one’s relations to one’s neighbour. All knowledge is primarily knowledge of God and secondarily knowledge of the spiritual self under the aspect of Caritas. Brett summarises the position clearly:

“In this exposition, we recognize Platonism penetrated by Christian mysticism. For Augustine, the activity of the mind presents a mystery to be contemplated and studied but not to be solved. He realizes (after Plato) that the turning around of the soul is the essence of education, but he thinks it is not enough to face the light: the eye can see what it does not know, but the mind does not so much as see that which it is not forced to see. If this is true of the mind, it is still more true of the spiritual eye. In the physical world seeing is believing: in the intellectual sphere belief is the condition of seeing. The soul cannot see before it is cured of its diseases, and therefore knowledge is impossible before the soul is in a fit condition. For knowledge is not like gold or silver: these we may know without having: knowledge we must have as part of our very being. The beginning of true knowledge then is not learning, but the will to learn, the disposition to exert the inner force…This disposition is really given by the grace of God: it is a mystery: but Augustine indicates a way of attaining knowledge, namely submission to authority by which he that would learn becomes fit to learn.”

Presumably the above requires acts of contemplation and perhaps this is a manifestation of submission to God’s authority: submission to a Being we know so little about and whose presence we intuit at the very best of times through a glass darkly. This in its turn suggests that we must travel in a circle of believing in order to understand and understanding in order to believe: a journey without a clear view of our destination: ” a mystery to be contemplated”! The interesting beginning of this journey is “the will to learn” given to us by another mystery, the grace of God which the above exercise of dialectical reasoning fails to reveal the essence of. Kant interestingly decries the usefulness of dialectical reasoning which in his view inevitably ends in a cul-de-sac of contradiction. In Kant’s view, to take one example, there is no resolution to the antinomy concerning whether the world has a beginning in time or not. There is, however, a form of philosophical contemplation which for Kant is revelatory of the power and freedom of the human soul to know the good. This “revelation” occurs in the domain of the soul concerned with willing when contemplation of the essence of the rightness of its past, present or future action is at issue. In this form of contemplation Kant argues that if I can will that the maxim or principle of my action can be thought to become a universal law then the action contemplated is/was/will be virtuous. there is nothing mystical about such acts of contemplation and there is further nothing problematic about the idea that a good will is the universal foundation of all virtuous action(defined by Aristotle as doing the right thing in the right way at the right time). Even Kant’s idea of God loses its mystery when he claims that the idea of God is the guarantor for the belief that a virtuous life will be in some non-materialistic sense, a flourishing life. It is, of course, something of a mystery as to just how this consequence follows from its conditions but it is a mystery that the religious man understands. This understanding moreover brings with it a spiritual form of contentment with his existence that transcends all earthly forms of suffering. This is probably what Plato and Aristotle would have thought of as “contemplating the form of the good”. The strength of the Kantian account also points to a weakness in the account of Augustine when it comes to his discussion of the relation between the earthly city of Babylon(De Civitate Terrena) and the spiritual city of God(De Civitate Dei). Introspection and revelation appear, in different ways, to remove us from the spheres of public and political judgment and action, whereas the kind of ethical contemplation of Kant (applying the test of the categorical imperative to all ethical action) appears to transport us to a very objective kingdom of ends containing the flesh and blood bodies of men implementing and obeying laws in an ethical spirit which meets the requirements of the type of practical reasoning involved in the application of the categorical imperative. Furthermore, there is a distinct element of realism in Kant’s proposed Kingdom of Ends. A conceived state of affairs that, according to Kant will take one hundred thousand years to actualize and manifest itself. For Kant, in contrast to St Augustine, there is no God choosing souls to love him, no divine policy of predestination, and no unnecessary substantification of souls with problematic relations to their own bodies. Kant’s view of the body is hylemorphic as is his view of the soul which he would not have regarded as a spatio-temporal continuity(principles have spatio-temporal application and continuity in that application but not materialistic continuity.

St Augustine, as we know, denied that the soul is in any sense “in time”, since it is eternal and immortal. Yet immortality suggests continuity of some kind. What kind of continuity does Augustine imagine is operating here? Brett characterises the matter thus:

“Augustine believed in the immortality of the soul. Time, he said is only the extensive measurement of experience, a distentio animi. The soul is not in time but time is rather the form in which the soul is presented to itself. There is consequently no difficulty in the idea of immortality, so far as time is concerned. The real problem is to find some reason for this continuous reality of the soul. Augustine finds it in the fact that reason is truth, and truth as such is not in a class of things to which change or corruption has any relevance. As we, in fact, say now, change is a category of the mind and not a category under which the mind can be brought. In fact all our ideas of things are forms of reason and when true are eternal. The soul which has(or is) eternal truth must itself be eternal.”

There is not much that Kant would be opposed to in the above account. Aristotle though would probably object to change being characterized solely in terms of the category of the mind. He would insist that change is real and Perception of change is testimony for such a position. Both would, however, accept that reason and truth, insofar as they are the aspects under which thought occurs are continuously real and have no material spatio-temporal existence. Both would also agree that principles insofar as they are necessarily products of reasoning and truth are eternal and immortal in the sense that they are not materially related to the categories of “being-in-time” or “being alive”. Rather, Principles are “unconditional” in the Kantian search for all the conditions of existence of spatio-temporal phenomena. Reason, in other words, is the power the mind has to arrive at the totality of conditions of phenomena as well as the unconditional “ground” of these conditions. Such power belongs, at least as far as Aristotle is concerned, to the human being as a holistic entity defined in terms of “rational animal, capable of discourse”. Our psychological powers, as opposed to our physical powers, are attributed to the soul and are manifestations of principles, or in Kant’s terms, these principles are the unconditioned “ground” of the totality of conditions relating to the exercise of such powers. The relation of the physical powers of the body such as sensation and perception to the powers of the soul such as imagination, discourse and reason is what a Neo Aristotelian or Neo Kantian philosopher would regard as an aporetic question with no simple solution only so long as one continues to conceive of the soul or mind as some kind of substance, rather than as a principle of explanation. Neo Wittgensteinians such as P.M.S. Hacker also regard the human being or person as the logical bearer of the above powers. He discusses this matter thus in his work “Human Nature:the Categorical Framework”:

“What, then, is the relationship between the mind and the body? The mind/body problem is insoluble. For it is a hopelessly confused residue of the Platonic/Augustinian/Cartesian traditions. It cannot be solved: but it can be dissolved. The mind is not an entity that could stand in a relationship to anything. As we have seen, all talk of the mind that a human being has and of its characteristics is talk of the intellectual and volitional powers that he has and of their exercise. The body that a human being is, the living organism, has and exercises those distinctive intellectual and volitional abilities that we speak of when we speak of peoples minds. But the body that a human being is said to have when we speak of human beings as having beautiful or athletic bodies, is not the kind of thing that could be said to possess intellectual and volitional abilities…. These characteristics are not the kinds of thing that could make up their mind, recall things to mind, or change their minds.”

Hacker goes on to compare the above relation not with the principle and what it regulates or the unconditional in relation to a totality of conditions. He uses an allegory of a word (insofar as it has a set of usages) to the phonemes it is composed of. The former is the holistic phenomenon conceived in terms of the usages of the word concerned in discourse of various kinds.

Wittgenstein, as we know, complained about St Augustine’s theory of language, suggesting that perhaps it was behind the misconception of language as composed of a set of names that he had presented in his early work “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”. Wittgenstein’s later work rejected his earlier theory of the meaning of language in favour of a theory that focused on the actual use of words and sentences in various forms of discourse. Each form of discourse was like a game we play with rules which we learn to use when we acquire language in our childhood. These language games are embedded in very Aristotelian sounding “forms of life”(human activities). Amongst the grounds, Wittgenstein had for the repudiation of this aspect of his earlier work was the accusation of postulating a solipsistic linguistic soul and one is left wondering whether this “power of projecting” the language structure of what appeared to be a private language user was also a result of the influence of Augustine.

St Augustine’s account of the relation between the soul and the body proceeds via the relation of the sensations the body experiences and the truth about reality that those sensations “reveal”. Brett characterizes St Augustine’s position in the following way

“The mind strives to see the truth. In sensation it sees truth through the body, which is the only way of apprehending some truths.”

On this kind of account, sensation and perception are intellectual powers that play an important part in the “revelation” of the nature of the physical world. This creates a possible defensible realm for the knowledge of external material objects. Augustine goes on to insist, however, that the experience of “externality” is a delusion. Brett summarizes this point thus:

“Knowledge is always of an object and seems to keep the object away fro the observer: in perception there is an outer object, and science is no more than a system of such perceptions. But the perceptions themselves are not outside us:they are really ourself in action, and they illuminate themselves until the inner light increases or breaks up the darkness of ignorance. At that point man became conscious that the relation to outer objects is unsatisfactory. What a man knows truly he makes part of himself….. After science with its delusion of externality, comes wisdom: here knowledge reaches its highest development, but the nature of man is still not wholly formed:so long as the reason is a dry light it is partly abstract but when the will identifies itself with the known, when Love is added to wisdom, every element in mans nature is fused into a unity, the unity is complete and the development is finished.”

So, the Will involved in the love of God has the final word. The introduction into this account of the important role of the Will anticipates the Wittgensteinian later picture of language as active. It also anticipates the Kantian emphasis upon practical reasoning and its close relation to what he called the noumenal soul or mind as well as the relation of theoretical reasoning to the Truth. the problem with the Kantian position is of course to give a clear account of the relationship between practical and theoretical reasoning given the conviction that Kant had that, in dealing with practical matters we are also dealing with the Truth . The difference between the Kantian and Augustinian accounts is that firstly, for Kant the practical form of reasoning is not just related to oneself and ones neighbour but also to the ethical and universal principle of the categorical imperative: and secondly that for Kant, the attitude of mind characteristic of ethical action was not Love but the more psychically distanced attitude of Respect.

Insofar as religious attitudes are concerned Kant does discuss the concept of a holy will(the supremely good will) in relation to Respect but it is important to remember in this context that the ethical philosophy of Kant is characterised by Kant as autonomous and organized by the principle of freedom rather than the idea of God . Kant, however, sees a place for Religion for explaining the relation of leading a good life in accordance with the categorical imperative and the human expectation of a consequence in the form of a flourishing life. Freedom, for St Augustine, insofar as it is construed as the power to cause oneself to spontaneously begin something new and unique, is denied to man and reserved for God who is free to choose those souls whose destiny will flourish during their bodily lifetimes. The awkward logical consequence of this aspect of Augustine’s thought is that it seems that the earthly city is a divided city. There are those that dwell spiritually in the city of God whilst simultaneously dwelling in the earthly city, the “predestinates” as Bertrand Russell calls them in his work “The History of Western Philosophy”. Those who are not yet or cannot ever be predestinates, are “reprobates” in Russell’s terms. Religion and the earthly city seem to be involved in an “unholy alliance”. The opposing Kantian view of unethical activity in the earthly city is that the law will blame any reprobate for their unethical activities: i.e. the individual will be held responsible because of the principle of freedom which claims that every individual is free to choose their actions. This for Augustinians would be a form of Secularism that rejects predestination and all its implications. With reference to the Philosophy of Aristotle it is important to point out that in contrast to the Kantian form of secularism, religious attitudes were well 9ntegrated into the Greek city-state system. These attitudes were encoded in the law and everyone expected the gods to be respected in the Agora. Kant, in contrast to St Augustine, avoids a religious eschatological end or telos in favour of an earthly cosmopolitan world free of bureaucratic religious institutions, which simultaneously manifest respect not just for each other but more abstractly for the rule of law and even more abstractly the idea of God.

The major obstacle in the path of Cosmopolitanism is of course Wars between nations which Kant views as anathema to cultural development. It is therefore somewhat surprising, in this context, to note that St Augustine actually formulated the concept of a just war and criteria for its fulfillment. For Kant wars were unethical but inevitable given the fact that Reason was only potentially present in the species of man and until this potentiality became actualized the antagonistic nature of man would have to learn by the experience of the wasteful and destructive forces of war. Kant, in response to this state of affairs, did, however, suggest an institution that might help in the prevention of war and war-crimes, namely a United Nations with an international legal system and law courts. This seems initially to be the dream of an idealist until one is informed of the fact that Kant thought that the Cosmopolitan state of affairs he envisaged was ca one hundred thousand years in the future.

St Augustine also theorized about the nature of Time. Time, he insists has been created by God and therefore must have a beginning. This is in marked contrast to the account of time we find in Aristotle which is infinite with no beginning. Augustine’s account is however more related to Philosophical Psychology than it is to epistemology, metaphysics or the philosophy of History. For Augustine human time is characterized thus:

“There are three times: a present time about things past: a present time about things present: a present time about things future”(Confessions xi 20,26: xi 28,37)

The past, argues Augustine, is in itself unreal, and exists only from the perspective of a present memory of what has happened to me and what I have done. The future too, is also unreal and exists only from the perspective of an expectation of what will happen to me and what I want to do. The latter mode of action relates to our desires and contains the key to ethical action because it is in the name of Caritas that I love God and am forgetful of my solipsistic wants and wishes. The state of Caritas is only achievable by predestinates who hope to emulate the divine state of mind of God. Such a state involves, of course, transcendence of any human conception of time.

Augustine appears to be asking us to hope for immortality and in so doing transcend human nature. Arendt however undermines the future aspect of human expectation(which includes the expectation of death):

“it is memory and not expectation(for instance the expectation of death as in Heidegger’s approach(that gives unity and wholeness to human existence. In making and holding present both past and future, that is, memory and the expectation derived from it, it is the present in which they coincide that determines human existence. This human possibility gives man his share in being “immutable” “(Arendt, Love and St Augustine B: 033 192)

In an interpretative essay included in the above work Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelins Stark made the following comment on the above quote:

“Arendt also notes that the return to the Creator through imitation “is not a matter of Will and free decision: it expresses a dependence inherent in the face of createdness” …Mans dependence relies exclusively on remembrance–memory is the “space” between past and future in which the “questing search” for the Creator takes place. Memory is equated with consciousness defined as a fundamental mode of dependence and cited as proof of the gap between essence and existence and the fact that God is both “in” and “outside” man” “(p168)

It has been clear throughout this discussion that there are characteristically two worlds for St Augustine: the divine fabric of the world of God and the world created by the efforts and desire(love for the earthly city) of man. The first is an atemporal entity and the second is necessarily temporal with all the accompanying disadvantages. the above quote points out that God is both inside and outside of man and this provision ensures that this dualism is not problematic although the relation between the two worlds appears to require further explanation. It is in this connection that St Augustine’s philosophy of History emerges as questionable. There appears in this account a more problematic dualism between a linear history of existence evolving toward unique and unrepeatable events and the Platonic/Aristotelian conception of universal and cyclical forms that constitute the continuous oneness and goodness of Being. The former is present in his tendency to use the Bible as a source for the linear approach. Obviously there is one and only one unique and unrepeatable creation, one and only one coming, departure and resurrection of Christ and these perhaps demand the operation of the epistemological mechanism of revelation if we are to understand these events for what they are. This approach, however also requires the epistemological mechanism of introspection if my memories of unique events and uniquely related events are to become a part of my understanding. And yet we also find in Augustine the aspect of a progress toward an eschatology with a universalistic end in the oneness and goodness of Being.

In Civitas Terrena there is a universalistic eschatology that will end in a Day of Judgment in which those that have had the grace to renounce their selfish desires will be saved and those with more worldly bodily related desires will be damned. History, for St Augustine is clearly, then, both a history of Civitas Terrena and Civitas Dei: the result of which will be a separation of the City of God from the city of man.The Day of Judgment will obviously be conducted in accordance with the forms or principles of virtue in general and justice in particular.

So, paradoxically, Augustine eschatology is rational and universal in nature but the rationality involved evokes Aristotelian and Kantian ethical principles. There is also more than a hint of the Platonic allegory of the Cave in the vision of the liberation of souls who through a combination of earthly work in search of the divine Caritas find their way out of the realm of the shadows and darkness into the divine light of Bring.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Neo-Platonism and Plotinus

Hits: 70

Plato took upon himself a synthesizing role in relation to the Pre-Socratic philosophical positions of Parmenides, Heraclitus, Materialism, and Sophism. The strategy of Plato favoured the position of Parmenides but obliged itself to provide explanations of the world of material flux and change. Some commentators mistakenly saw in Plato the presence of a dualistic assumption that divided the world of thought from the sensory world without the means to reconcile the two supposed opposites. In fact Plato had provided in his dialogue, the Republic, a metaphysical explanation for the relation of the physical sensory world and the world of thought. The world of thought possessed the logical character of the oneness and goodness of Being expressed in the Form of The Good, whereas the physical sensory world possessed the character of the flux and change of the many. The latter world was not however hermetically sealed from the world of thought but was in the relation of “participation”: the oak tree we experience, for example, was an entity that could come into existence and pass out of existence in virtue of the relation it had to the eternal changeless form of an oak tree in the realm of the oneness and goodness of Being. We should also bear in mind that Platonism was itself a Philosophy in the process of evolution or development from the earlier open-ended Socratic dialogues in search of essentialist definitions to the middle more theoretical dialogues featuring the Theory of Forms and finally to the later dialogues including “Parmenides” and “Timaeus”. The Theory of forms from the middle period faced a crucial argument to the effect that it lacked a logical justification given the fact that the forms were many and thereby differed from the oneness and goodness of Being: the theory that is, lacked metaphysical justification. The Timaeus resolved this issue by claiming that the Forms were emanations from the Parmenidean oneness and goodness of Being in a derivative realm Plato referred to as Mind or “The Intellect” which actively worked with the Forms: this is the realm of the activity of the Demiurge. Souls in turn then “emanate” from the Intellect(the highest activity of life). Soul contains then two principles, firstly a power of reason that can understand and contemplate the forms and a material principle of desire for material ends. This latter principle defines the non-contemplative activity of the soul in terms of a deficiency, a want for something it does not possess. When engaged in this mode of change the soul uses the cognitive and action systems at its disposal to achieve the ends desired. Cognition, however, best expresses the Forms of the Intellect although affective states also “image” the activity of the Intellect in virtue of a cognitive recognition or consciousness of the affection. Cognition cannot however directly reveal the oneness and goodness of Being as evidenced by the need for Plato in the Republic to use allegories to symbolically represent this realm. The difference between the activity of the Intellect or Demiurge and the activity of the Soul is that the former activity is internal to itself and the latter requires some external end to achieve a state of quiescence. This internal activity of the Intellect is characterized as contemplation and to the extent that the Soul is capable of contemplation of the Forms is the extent to which it is capable of participation in divine activity, thus moving closer to the ultimate oneness and goodness of Being. It is necessary to point out that on this account the external material concrete world is the least real of all the philosophical entities being discussed in Plato’s theory. This physical material world is also by definition the least Good of all the entities that have been caused to exist by the oneness and goodness of Being. Matter only becomes evil when it impedes the divine contemplative activity of the soul from contemplating the forms.

The above was largely the position adopted by Plotinus(born ca 205AD, died, ca 271AD) and communicated in his teachings some 600 years after Plato. It appears that he was also further convinced that the writings and teachings of Aristotle were sophisticated elaborations upon the Platonic position, even if there were problematic deviations such as the insistence that the forms were, in some real sense “in” the external physical world. Life forms of various kinds, for example, were on Aristotle’s account, potentialities actualizing in accordance with the principles of their kinds. For Plotinus these life forms all emanated from the oneness and goodness of Being, they revealed the “workings” of Being through the Demiurge and its divine thinking. In this arena of description and explanation, there is obviously a risk of a dualistic characterization of reality without appeal to these higher realms of Thought and Being. It is not clear whether Aristotle would have accepted all of the details of the above account but it is clear that it is not merely knowledge of the Form of the Good (as presented allegorically in the Republic) that is the prime mover in the system. Aristotle believed that one approached the oneness and goodness of Being through Theory and not allegory. He believed that is that our knowledge of 4 kinds of change, in reality, can be explained by four kinds of explanation of these changes which will appeal to three principles. This is, amongst other things, how we human souls have “access” to both the activity of the Demiurge and the oneness and goodness of Being. This account of Aristotle is perhaps an elaboration upon the Platonic insistence accepted by Plotinus that Being can only be characterized negatively, in terms of what it is not, which for many created the impression of its non-existence or even an impression that statements relating to the meaning of Being were contradictory. This impression was less likely to occur whilst the term “aletheia” (unconcealment) was an important element of the theoretical account, because it strongly suggests that Being can be accessed or be “discovered” in a process that seems to be more related to the ancient concept of “meaning” rather than our modern conception of truth that appears to acquire a relation of correspondence between the dualistic elements of thought and material reality. Aristotle is an important contributor to this debate about the nature of Being because he claimed that Being had many meanings and the theorizing about these meanings appeared to be best investigated by the logical principles of identity and non-contradiction.

Thinking of the Forms which would in logic be regarded as necessary truths implies that the negation of these truths could not be possible in this realm of meaning for the simple reason that it is not possible to think contradictions. Contradiction, therefore defines or circumscribes the limits of thought. Human souls, as we know, sometimes believe we are thinking about something even when we possess contradictory beliefs or when we regard the compatibility of two forms as impossible or contradictory. This testifies to our finitude and the fact that we are mixed beings composed by the Demiurge of thought and material. We only approach the level of contemplation once we rid ourselves of all contradiction and can finally in a contemplative state mean everything we think. If we are further able to mean everything we say we embrace the Logos of the divine. Heraclitus, as we know believed he had achieved such a state.

Brett, in his characterization of Plotinus’ commitment to what he regarded as Neo-Platonism insists that whereas Plato conceived of the oneness and goodness of Being in terms of practical human activities, Plotinus turned his back on the world of change and human activity and attempted instead to describe and explain the state of timeless meditation which all humans should strive to achieve:

“The atmosphere of Neo-Platonism is at once more impersonal and more subjective. Plato diffuses an atmosphere of practical activity, and thinks chiefly of the good life as a system of human activities. Plotinus, the founder of Neo-Platonism turns his eyes away from the world of change and action to the inner life of timeless meditation. For Plato the world that lies beyond the senses was a justification of human effort: it was primarily an answer to those who saw in life nothing but ceaseless change that made effort vain and progress only a synonym for process. For Plotinus the supersensible is the spiritual world of the mystic…… The mysticism of Plato ends with insight into the reality of life: the mysticism of Plotinus begins from that point, abstracts the reality from life and views existence as a state from which man strives to flee that he may depart from it and be with God.”

The mystic state for Brett, combined with the term “subjective” minimises the role of theory in both Plato and Plotinus. The term “subjective”, for example, is loaded with scientific materialistic assumptions to the effect that Being is material, concrete objective reality best “discovered” by the scientific method and its activities of observation, measurement, and experiment. Modern Science, that is, retreated from philosophical description and explanation and reversed the polarity of Platonic and Aristotelian theorising on the grounds of the reduction of Being to the two Aristotelian categories of “Quantity” and “Relation”: ignoring the two other fundamental categories of judgment namely Substantive Judgments and Qualitative judgments which are about substantial and qualitative aspects of Being respectively. Qualitative change we know was later in History to be in its turn reduced by empirical and analytical Philosophy to primary and secondary qualities in the spirit of the reversal of the polarity of Platonic and Aristotelian Philosophy. Primary qualities were “objective” essentially quantitatively and relational and secondary qualities were “subjective”. It is not, however, beyond the realms of possibility that this process of the abandonment of Platonic and Aristotelian theorizing about Being was compromised by Plotinus’ tendency to focus on the state of contemplation in abstraction from the “activity” of the soul in both its thinking and acting. Brett also wishes to place some of the responsibility for Plotinus’ drift toward mysticism and subjectivism on the shoulders of Plato:

“The change hinges upon the interpretation of Plato. If emphasis is laid upon Plato’s idea of the body as the tomb of the soul: if contemplation is valued before action; if the whole process of education is regarded exclusively as the liberation of the soul, the origin of Neo-Platonism can be seen at once. The divergence of Neo-Platonism lies mainly in the metaphysical view of intellect s a cosmic reason. The Stoic doctrine of universal reason had been really veiled materialism: nevertheless, its “pantheism” only required a fresh interpretation of reason to emerge as a theory of all-embracing intellect.”

Brett is here omitting the influence of Aristotle in the intervening period between Plato and Plotinus.This together with his projection of the prejudices of materialistic science upon the metaphysical(“first principle”) aspect of this discussion needs also to be borne in mind. The idea of cosmic reason was embraced by Aristotle as part of a comprehensive theory that could in its turn be used to respect scientific concern for describing and explaining a change in quantitative and relational terms(subjective-objective were “relational” categories). This Aristotelian theory stretched from the Oneness and goodness of Being which was Primary Pure Form, all the way down to a position of pure primary material. Primary Form on this account can in no way be correctly related to the relational term of the “subjective” or the consciousness of a being who introspects upon its own “contents of consciousness”. Aristotle is in his theory characterizing a great chain of Being which includes the Forms and the soul and the material of the body of the soul as well as the material of the external environment of the soul. This “metaphysical attitude” of Aristotle can not meaningfully be characterized as “psychological”. It is rather a philosophical position arrived at through the various philosophical methods of elenchus (Socrates), dialectical reasoning as well as logical reasoning and explanation. The Metaphysics of Stoicism may well be problematically materialistic as Brett is suggesting in that its notion of causation was unnecessarily deterministic and this might in a sense follow from the limited view of causation we find in Plato who appears to believe the idea of “formal cause” suffices to describe and explain everything that needs describing and explaining. Aristotle criticized this position and elaborated upon the role of causation in description and explanation in terms of his famous “four causes” schema. Recent scholars(Jonathan Lear) have pointed out that the Greek word “aitia” is connected to knowledge and explanation. Jonathan Lear, therefore, writes about the four different fashions of characterizing cause in descriptive and explanatory contexts.

The interesting question to ask in this context is whether Plotinus subscribed to the Stoic view of deterministic causation or whether he would have regarded the Aristotelian view as more accurate. in this context we should also remind ourselves of the fact that a revered teacher of Plotinus in Alexandria, Ammonius Saccas, was both an expert in Platonic and Aristotelian Philosophy. Saccas saw in Aristotelian Philosophy a natural continuation and sophistication of Plato’s Philosophy.

Plotinus’s position is problematically characterised by Brett in the following manner:

“This Neo-Platonism is therefore no mere reproduction of Platonic doctrine. It is to a large extent an independent construction by reason of the new standpoint adopted. Plotinus has a new idea of the rational life as something distinctively subjective. Out of this arises his virtues and vices: for it leads to a deeper view of thought and at the same time makes impossible that trans-subjective use of thought on which he builds a metaphysics not unlike the vagaries of Gnosticism.”

Subjectivizing Plotinus in this way is indeed problematic. Is Brett really suggesting that Plotinus decided to ignore the great chain of being argumentation contained in both Plato and Aristotle in favour of an idea of the “subjective” that was not in currency at the time? We also know,by the way, that when virtues and vices arise out of a subjectivity thesis, ethical relativism is the inevitable consequence: a consequence which both Plato and Aristotle would have dismissed as a misunderstanding of the nature of ethics.

Brett, as we pointed out previously ignores the resemblance of the Platonic position to that of Aristotle’s and this raises a question about the validity of categorising Plotinus as a Neo-Platonist. Perhaps, then, the litmus test of the correctness of Brett´s categorisation lies in Plotinus’ view of the soul and its relation to the external material, world. In a section entitled “The Activities of the Soul” we find the following account of sensation –the link between the external world ad the soul:

“Sensation is defined as the reception of forms in the matter which accompanies soul. It is the process by which forms are placed at the disposal of the soul. Knowledge is always an activity of the soul: sensation as such is not knowledge but a condition of the attainment of knowledge about material things. The independent character of the soul appears still more clearly in the sphere of knowledge. The soul uses the organs of sense as its instruments: it is itself unaffected: external impressions are made upon the sensitive soul by objects, but these impressions involve no self-recognition, no consciousness. The impressions are stored in the affective soul until the cognitive soul turns toward them and chooses to behold them. Plotinus here modifies the Aristotelian tradition. He deprives the senses of any function but that of transmitting forms which are the potential objects of cognition…When the soul exerts its activity and turns towards the things of sense, it perceives: this action may be described as facing toward the external world.”

It is not exactly clear how Brett conceives of this modification of Aristotle’s views especially in relation to the role of the senses and sensation in knowledge. Brett goes on to point out that Plotinus accepts Aristotle’s accounts of sensation, imagination and calculative reason and he also points out one crucial difference between the two accounts. Plotinus, unlike Aristotle, anticipates the role of the brain in this process. Another difference concerns the use by Plotinus of the so-called introspective method to arrive at the idea of self-consciousness lying at the intersection of the experience of objects and the unity of a soul which in its activity admits of no distinction between subject and object.

For Plato, there is no ontological difference between the changes in the world occasioned by the perceptual activity of the soul of the particularities of the world and the activity of a contemplating subject which is unchanging and universal and good in itself. The difference between an Aristotelian account and a Platonic account of the nature of the particularities in the external world is that these particularities, in the case of Plato, “participate”(in some sense) in the forms they are temporal representations of and, in the case of Aristotle, living particularities embody one form actually and other forms potentially. For Plato the particularities of the external world and the body(the different organs of the body) are in terms presented by the Republic instantiations of the “Many”, whereas thought in terms of the forms and their connectedness in the Intellect is instantiation of the “One”. The particularities are ever changing and belong to the world of Becoming existing separately in a differentiated world discriminated by sensation. the Soul, according to proof in Plotinus(Ennead 4,7,(2)) belongs on the other hand to the world of thought and Being. The body is composed of the material particulars: earth, air, fire, and water or compounds of them. Short of being organized by an internal principle or a form, these elements, even if they should occupy a shape in space, they will be merely accidentally juxtaposed have been brought into such a state by external processes. Such material will feel no sensations nor experience memory of sensations but will only be in a state of continual flux from moment to moment. If, for example, we are speaking of the juxtaposition of a number of grains of sand in a desert, this spatial unity will be disrupted by the first desert wind. Such temporal unities will not be able to contemplate the beauty of existence or the injustice of the dispersion of unity. Plotinus likens the soul to a musician and the body to the strings of a harp that would not be plucked unless in accordance with the principle of a melody that guides the movements of the fingers of the musician. These points and arguments are Platonic and Aristotelian and with the exception of Brett’s points relating to the brain, self-consciousness, and introspection, there seems to be little that is new. There is no doubt that Plotinus probably acknowledged that we humans have an awareness of what we are doing and thinking but this awareness must have taken the form of knowing what one is doing and this knowing must surely have been non-observational. Introspection, of course, has been many things to many theorists but in all its non-Cartesian forms, it has been connected to some kind of internal observation of the self(which possesses the kind of unity, principle or form that cannot be observed). The modern Scientific subjective-objective distinction is also often introduced into the debate with no awareness of its reliance on a materialistic assumption. This in its turn is anathema to the implication of Platonic and Aristotelian positions which maintain that principles on the thought end of the chain of Being are responsible for explanations of the kinds of change and activity associated with human Souls. In the metaphysical terms embraced by Plotinus, it is clear that the oneness and goodness of Being is the cause and explanation of the Intellect and its creative activity in relation to the forms. This intellect or Demiurge, in turn, is the cause or explanation of life forms such as Souls that are embodied and organized materially in various ways. The Soul is therefore obviously related in various ways to matter, the last entity in the chain of Being. In other words, material is the least organized and most chaotic of all the entities in this chain for which the oneness and goodness of Being is the source of all explanation. Science, of course, as we have noted, reverses the polarity of explanation and locates the source of description and explanation in the events of the external material world. This in spite of the fact that the very idea of what constitutes an event is in question even within the scientific community.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition and Consciousness: Early Christian Fathers(Clement of Alexandria)

Hits: 89

Cosmopolitan cities seem to be able to diversify and intensify human life, culture, and society in unexpected ways. Adrian Stokes, writing about the general conception of the Renaissance as a rebirth of pagan and classical forms remarked that this exciting period, (embracing a large number of cosmopolitan centres), is better conceived as an intensification of all forms of life, culture, and society. The Arts, Science and Philosophy and all forms of explorative human activity re-emerged just two centuries after the reintroduction of Aristotelian Philosophy into the cultural arena(Latin had become the language of Academia and Aristotle after having been banished to the wilderness by the Church was suddenly in favour). The Renaissance is also the perfect Platonic image of an emergence from the darkness of the so-called “dark ages” in which the dialectical battle of the giants of Platonic dualism and materialism suddenly produced a kind of Aristotelian synthesis in all regions of human life. Synthesis was the order of the day where earlier unities, both theoretical and practical had fallen into fragments. Aristotle’s recipe for the construction of a large middle class(a synthesis of the rich and poor) was back on the agenda of cosmopolitan cities. The recipe focussed unfortunately on the material conditions of the middle class rather than the ethical and political formal conditions relating to virtue and education. Art used Science and questioned Religion politely and Science forged ahead with its program of investigation building the Empire of influence which was to come. The seeds were being sown to question the influence of Philosophy in general and Aristotle in particular. Aristotle had in his politics argued on both grounds of experience and academic grounds for the formation of an educated virtuous middle class that would synthesis the best ideas of democracy and oligarchy into a constitutional form of government that would serve only the common good and not the interests of any particular powerful group in the polis. His was a philosophical vision of a flourishing life for all the citizens of the polis. He, of course, meant something more than the Hobbesian materialistic/scientific conception of a middle class striving for economic prosperity and commodious living which at the beginning of the modern period was to override Aristotelian political and ethical wisdom. It is interesting to note in this context that the spirit of synthesis did not sufficiently combat the forces of materialism and dualism as was evidenced in the Philosophy of Hobbes in England and Cartesian dualism in France. Both movements, for obvious reasons, criticized Aristotle perfunctorily thus re-creating the fruitless dialectical debates between the materialists and the dualists that preceded the reemergence of Aristotelianism prior to the Renaissance. These philosophical discussions were to rage for over 150 years before materialist Empiricism and Cartesian dualistic rationalism was synthesized and transcended by the Philosophy of Kant. Kant’s Philosophy embraced a number of Aristotelian assumptions relating to philosophical psychology, epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics in order to produce what many commentators called “a brilliant synthesis of empiricism and rationalism”. Kant. we should also recall was a citizen of Königsberg, a bustling cosmopolitan centre, and it is not particularly surprising to find Kant arguing on both ethical and political grounds for a global cosmopolitanism regulated by an institution similar to the UN that was formed after the second world war. We cannot go into the arguments in detail here but suffice it to say that Kant embraced a number of concepts and principles from the Aristotelian theory of change and hylomorphic theory thus continuing a tradition of thinking about the world born in the bustling cosmopolitan centre of Athens.

Alexandria was also a bustling cosmopolitan centre of activity. The times that Clements of Alexandria lived through were also times of questioning in particular in relation to the issue of the relation of knowledge and faith. The second century AD must have been experienced by both intellectuals and the populace as “Renaissance-like”, ie. they must have witnessed, for example, an intensification of all forms of Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Judaism, Christianity and last but not least the various flourishing sects of Gnosticism. Clement responded to this cultural chaos as a synthesizer. Professor Brett characterizes the man and his work in the following way:

“Some regard him as Platonic: others emphasize the Stoicism of his attitude: to some he appears an amorphous collection of doctrines. The evidence seems to support none of these views: for while the language of Plato, the ideas of Stoic writers, and the vagaries of Philo, jostle each other in every passage: there is an independence which rules them all–he has the disregard of a true believer for the niceties of expression: his eagerness to state his belief seems to break out into each and all of the possible types of formula: salvation and resurrection are the theme which make the language of philosophy seem meagre and elementary.”

We should remember that the above words were published in the 1920s during a period when both Gnostic and Aristotelian academic scholarship was in its infancy. Indeed Gnostic Scholarship at the time of Brett’s writings appeared to focus upon principally the Christian critial view of Gnosticism that was, in fact, emerging during the time of Clement. Gnosticism regarded the God of the Old Testament(OT) as the equivalent of the Platonic demiurge. The demiurge was supposedly the designer of the forms matter would take in a process of creation begun by a higher God. Matter had no form or principle of organization and was therefore chaotic in its nature. The Demiurge was provided with the principles or forms to be used in this design process by the higher divine unknowable thinking God and did the best that could be done with chaotic matter and the divine spirit, given the essentially instrumental nature of the task. The Demiurge is therefore not wholly good and we see this in the OT when Adam is lied to in relation to the consequences of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam ate the apple and was not destroyed as was promised. Adam and Eve multiply and out of their kin is formed all the peoples of the world but the Demiurge selects the Jews as a “chosen people” and punishes and rewards them in what to many Gnostics has seemed arbitrary and whimsical given their view of the utilitarian demiurge. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, for example, must have seemed to many Gnostics to be divine Justice and proof that the Demiurge had failed to create a world in which the forms could liberate the divine spirit in man. Many Gnostics at this point began to see man as superior to the utilitarian demiurge. The myth of the Garden of Eden now receives an almost philosophical interpretation and Eve’s actions receive a more central and sympathetic interpretation, celebrating the free, exploring, adventurous spirit of man shaking off the chains of an arbitrary authority(Perhaps this was connected to the discovery of the Gospel of MaryMagdelene testifying to Mary being the first witness of the resurrection). After Adam and Eve eat the apple they become aware of a new principle of knowledge and are punished by the Demiurge for disobeying his commandment. Man emerges from this (in the eyes of the Gnostics), as a questioning, knowing and thinking being superior in nature to the instrumental utilitarian demiurge: The eyes of man are now seeking for the divine agency the Demiurge is serving. The resurrection of Jesus celebrated by the Eucharist of the communion relies on the mysterious Christian belief in transsubstantiation, a belief not accepted by the Gnostics because of their belief that the resurrection was not an actual reincarnation but merely a symbolic event intending to point to the continuing existence of the spirit of Jesus. For the Gnostics, the resurrection does not necessarily point to another world beyond this but can symbolize instead a human rebirth within the course of human life: a rebirth that occurs in the form of an awakening from a materialistically inspired life as if from a dream.

Clement, disagreed with elements of this gnostic position and adopted the Stoic view of the appetites of the body, not viewing them as evil as the Gnostics but rather viewing them as indifferent and dependent upon the nature of the will responding to the call of the appetites. Clement agreed, however with the Gnostics that the Will, is not a “fallen” will: it is good because its source is in not the Demiurge but rather the divine agency the Demiurge serves.

Clement is, in many ways a Renaissance-like figure synthesizing many positions into his own and we agree with Brett’s judgment that his importance has been underestimated in the area of Psychology. We are arguing here, however, that Brett in his turn has underestimated the work of Clement because he has not understood the Philosophical importance of many of his ideas.

In his work entitled “Paedogogus” Clement claims in Socratic and Aristotelian fashion that sin is involuntary(because the will is good) and can be removed or redeemed only by the wisdom of Logos or the true word(see the Gospel of St John, the gospel the Gnostics most identify with). Sin is, insofar as Clement is concerned, very much concerned with knowledge and not so much concerned with evil intention, thereby confirming the Gnostic/philosophical interpretation of the myth of Adam and Eve in “Paradise”. This entails that philosophy is at the very least a necessary condition of leading the religiously inspired life but philosophy is clearly insufficient for Clement because the love of God (the master of the Demiurge) and faith in his existence is also required if one is to be truly “saved”. Clement claims in his work the “Paedogogus” that Christ is the incarnation of “logos”(the true word or explanation) and the task of man initially is to imitate the life of Christ until the “awakening” occurs and man is free to rationally choose the true way him/herself. The awakening is also construed Platonically in terms of a transposition from a world of shadows in which we are imprisoned in an enlightened world. Yet reading Clement one cannot also be reminded of Kant’s ethical claim of the importance of a good-will as well as the Kantian psychological distinction between the active will(embodied in the things we do, the actions we perform) and passion(the things that happen to us).

There are other clear signs of the influence of the Gnostics in Clement’s work. He claimed that women can also be mediums of the transmission of the true word of the Gospels and their narratives of the life of Christ. Although he would have been less than sympathetic with the Gnostic divine trinity of father, mother, and son.

Another important influence upon the work of Clement was not just Platonism but Greek Philosophy in general which had been cast into the wilderness by religious authorities. Brett elaborates upon this influence in the following quote:

“Knowledge and action are so closely united in the doctrine of Clement that the solution of these questions must begin from a statement of the rational activities. The higher reason has a power of choice on which depend the search for empirical facts, instruction, and complete knowledge. Thus the progress of the soul is made dependent on the will to know. At first, there is complete ignorance and the individual is placed in a world of desires and imaginations with no guiding light of reason. Hence the commission of sins. For want is natural to man: and from want arises desire which leads to sin: vain imaginations also lead astray. In both cases the moral guilt arises from the fact that the will gives assent: only by this act of will is sin constituted, and therefore it is just in the fact of sin that freedom is demonstrated. On the other hand, the will is not essentially sinful: it is from God and must be good: so that the cause of sin must be looked for outside the will. Clement finds the cause in false images, snares, and delusions that mislead the soul…Sin is the triumph of darkness over light, of ignorance over knowledge. The way of salvation, then, can only be the way of knowledge.”

Some Gnostics, of course, would argue that if the will is good and sin comes from the outside then there is nothing to feel guilty about, i.e. the culture of sin as guilt would have been a mystery for the pure Gnostic for whom the end was enlightenment. Yet Clement does interestingly claim that the foundation of all mental life is assent to truth which can only take place via an act of the will. This clearly synthesizes knowing and acting in the mind in a way that had not occurred since the Philosophy of Aristotle where approximately the same account was presented in the framework of a biological account of the mind that we will not encounter again until the work of Freud and O Shaughnessy in the modern period.

O´Shaughnessy’s “The Will: a dual aspect theory” is a fundamentally naturalist account of the biological life of the mind that sees one half of the mind(the willing half) to be composed of desire, intention, and act and the other half(the knowing half) to be composed of sensation, perception, and knowing where knowing involves not just assent to the truth but also the capacity to justify the power or capacity of knowing that is exercised. The two halves are integrated with each other and consciousness is involved with both halves. Cognition aims necessarily at an external manifestation of its knowing in a demonstration of its knowledge and action is conducted with the intention or preparedness to learn from the consequences that flow from the action. It is quite fascinating to see that the Philosophical Psychology of Clement was very similar to this(without the scientific component of “naturalism”) and it is equally fascinating to see the resemblance of Clement’s ideas to those of Immanuel Kant, in particular to Kant’s account of the will which also ended in an appeal to faith as the final tribunal of justification for acts of will in domains of action where the consequences are uncertain. Clement’s appeal to freedom also preempts the Kantian concept which founds an ethical system that appeals to the good will and good intention as defining for the essence of ethical action. Kant, as we know was religious but he demanded that his ethical system be autonomous and he placed his faith more in the concept of freedom than in the concept of God, which he also appreciated had a place in the life of mankind.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Philo, Early Christian Fathers(Paul and John), and Gnosticism.

Hits: 58

PHILO

It has often been observed that the Hebrew and Greek traditions occupy different difficult to reconcile dimensions of our cultural heritage. It has been claimed that the roads leading from Jerusalem and the road leading from Athens into our modern cultures are different parallel roads without intersection points. Alexandrian Jews, however, seriously question this early hypothesis partly perhaps because they were Greek speakers and sought in the writings of ancient Greek Philosophers confirmation of the articles of their faith. Professor Brett has this to say:

“The Egyptian Jews appear to have formed a mixed society mainly Hellenic in manners and language, but still thoroughly Jewish in temper. For this community the Greek version of the Septuagint was made somewhere about the year 250 BC. Into the disputes on the nature and authority of this translation, the version of the Septuagint, there is no need to enter: it is sufficient to remark that it was a version not wholly free from innovations. Even if there were no self-willed theorists among the translators and no direct intention to give the Scriptures a Stoic or Platonic colouring, there must have still been many an instance when the change from Hebrew to Greek words involved a change of atmosphere that amounted to a change of doctrine.”

This piece was written of course long before it became clear to scholars that there were translation difficulties with even the translation of Greek philosophical terms into Latin because the Latin terms carried cultural commitments to the Greek terms that were not shared by the Greeks.

The Book of Wisdom ascribed to Solomon, to take one example of the difficulties of translation, involved preachings by Ecclesiastes that appeared to traditional Jewish scholars to contain a number of mistranslations. Philo’s position in this debate was that there were aspects of Judaism that needed correction by Greek Philosophy and there were also aspects of Greek Philosophy that needed reinterpretation in terms of Judaic wisdom in relation to the doctrine of the eternal life of the soul. Such eclectism would have seemed to Aristotle to be a form of madness but as we know Aristotle’s philosophy at this time was conspicuous by its absence. Philo’s preference for a Platonic form of dualism ranging over the mind-body problem and the reality-appearance problem essentially ignored Aristotelian solutions to these problems. in Philo, as in Plato, we also encounter a penchant for allegorical illustrations in his interpretations of the Scriptures.

The Creation Myth of the Old Testament(OT) involving the image of God breathing into the body of man is a central image for Philo from which follows in almost Pythagorean spirit a hierarchy of beings living in a world in which the very air is inhabited by spirits that are divine and can in their turn “fall” from divine grave and inhabit human bodies until the moment of their salvation is nigh and they can be restored to the kingdom in the heavens. Prior to divine inspiration and the entering of these spirits into their bodies, humans lead an animal-like existence steered solely by their appetites and their senses.

Brett claims that the Stoics have influenced Philo but the influence is probably more complex than Brett envisages in the following quote:

“From this point, Philo develops the Stoic aspect of his doctrine. All things that exist have power of some kind: at its lowers level there is the power of self-conservation called Habit, which is found in motionless objects such as stones. The next degree is the power of growth, which is a higher form of self-conservation, found in plants, for example. The third level is that of soul-life where we find perception, representation of ideas and impulse. The common element in this scale is spirit, in the sense of air… Man, as last created, sums up all these forms–he has the various forms in his bones(analogous to the rocks of the earth) his hair and nails (analogous to the plants) and in the sensitive soul. Man is this a microcosm: he has a material organism illuminated by the mind just as the macrocosm is a vast organism illuminated by the sun. The study of man and the study of the universe can be conducted on parallel lines, and to some extent, the knowledge of man is a knowledge of God”

Brett had earlier pointed out that the Stoics had simplified Aristotle’s 4 cause schema of explanation into two and reduced the idea of the actualisation process( a process of development) to a kind of monism(reminiscent of Spinoza’s Substantialism). We can also see in the above quote an echo of Spinoza’s conatus, a power that things possess to preserve themselves in their existence. The thoughts of the Stoics, characterizing the Platonic dualism of thought and extension as aspects of an infinite substance from which everything originates is a position that is only distantly related to the thought of Aristotle. The Stoic system of classification is not that of Cartesian thought and extension but rather a dualistic system of action and passion which in its turn indicates an ontological commitment that everything that is real is so in virtue of either being capable of action or capable of being acted upon. We can already see that, in this transformation of the thought of Aristotle, the idea of form or principle has disappeared as has the idea of chance. The Stoic substance, even if it includes the will as part of a deterministic substance leaves no space for free choice in human voluntary action. Mental activity, as we know from the Stoics is also reduced to knowing and feeling and the Aristotelian notion of deliberation connected to phronesis(the power of reasoning practically) is also conspicuous by its absence. In the Stoic investigation of the powers of the mind, we encounter a confusion of the power of the imagination with passive sensation. We also find “principles” or regularities such as the association of ideas masquerading as principles of reason. The positive result of this opening up of gaps between perception, imagination, and reason, is that we encounter in this account the first indications of a concept of self-consciousness. This concept was a bridge between experience and reason. There is an argument for regarding this moment as one of the moments of a beginning of our modern “cognitive psychology” that was later to become obsessed with the so-called “subjective” perspective of the individual. This notion of the self-sufficiency of the individual and his experience was, of course, a result of the notion of self-sufficiency Aristotle discussed in relation to phronesis or practical reasoning.

We argued in the previous chapter that Stoicism was not a self-centred ethical philosophy given its commitment to the role of conscience and duty tied to its telos of a cosmopolitan man but it is clear from the above discussion that the Stoics were in the throes of building an alternative skeletal frame of philosophical psychology that would later in its turn be transformed and used with a vengeance in the creation of Modern scientific Psychology. Philo’s work was supposedly influenced not just by Stoic materialism(substantialism) but also by Platonic Psychology of the Spirit. Plato’s influence is also encountered in Philo’s hope for an enlightened(sun-like) spiritual inspiration as sometimes occurred in dreams which may symbolically represent in their images the invisible powers that hold our world and our universe together. In Philo, we see an advanced spiritualization of our rational powers as a stage in the abandonment of rationalism but there was in this process, however, an anchor in the Ethical law of Moses that probably prevented an Epicurean drifting into the straits of relativism. We find, however, no attempt to seek to articulate in any detail the role of the will or self-consciousness in the process of replacing man’s rational power.

The question that arises as a consequence of this developmental process of the substitution of reason for spirit is, what the early Christian Fathers will do with this cultural inheritance.

THE EARLY CHRISTIAN FATHERS

ST Paul and St John

One could detect in the writings of Philo echoes of Aristotle even if the ideas were significantly distorted because of Stoic materialistic and deterministic assumptions and also because his doctrines were given a baptism in a cauldron of what Brett called “Lofty passions” striving to understand a God that was perfectly rational. In Philo Philosophical Psychology was illustrated with a Platonic form of allegorical thinking in “symbolic pictures”. For Philo, the road to salvation is not the road taken by travelers arguing over the truth of statements but rather the road taken by travelers seeking divine signs of the invisible in the visible experience of the surrounding landscape. St Paul, we know traveled the road to Damascus and had such an experience of the invisible that spiritually transformed him. Writing after such a spiritual transformation Pauls writings have very little, if any, Aristotelian content. Paul clearly distinguishes between the mind controlled by reason which for him fails to survive the death of the body and the soul as immortal spirit related to God not via knowledge but via a “moral vision” that presumably can only be explicated by “symbolic pictures”. A moral telos was, of course, the theme of Plato’s Republic but the constituting mechanism was not a moral vision given in symbolic pictures but rather an idea of the Good arrived at and defended via various methods of reasoning. The constituting mechanism of spiritual conversion or salvation via symbolic pictures appears to lack the power or capacity to universalise the object of the pictures and this ensures that the writings of Paul at best are dedicated to achieving individual salvation, ie. they contain recipes for individual action and judgment tied to individual revelation or vision in a spiritual mode. This mechanism would have been obscure for those living at the time of Aristotle who was beginning to become suspicious of those that experienced visions. For the Plato of the Republic his three famous allegories of the sun, the divided line, and the cave symbolized two realities: the physical sun and the mental idea of the good. These allegories differed significantly from the allegories we find in myths and the Bible in that they are embedded not in narratives concerning the origin and destiny of the universe and man but rather threads of argument woven together for the purposes of revealing to us humans the meaning of Being. This latter use of language is an advanced form of use compared with that which the passionate religious soul uses in his efforts to understand himself and his world.

Paul Ricoeur has analyzed, for example, the confessions the religious soul makes of his own defilement, sin, and guilt and the analysis reveals that this use of language concerns what man considers sacred: symbolic confessions of evil denotes, according to Ricoeur the experienced disruption, fault, or breach in mans relation to what he regards as sacred. Ricoeur, in the context of a discussion of the symbolism also refers to Hegel’s teleologically oriented philosophy of religion, and claims that symbols reach out to the future destiny of man that will be revealed by a world spiritual meaning.  Ricoeur also discusses how symbols reveal an archeological dimension that takes us back to the origin of mankind and the origin of meaning. Was the origin connected to acts of creation of the universe and man by a supernatural being? Was there a first man, like Adam who after receiving the breath of the creator failed to follow his law thus accounting for all future evil in the world? This is one message of the OT which with this myth of what happened to the first man lays the groundwork for an individualistic interpretation of the spiritual life of man. This, of course, is a very different spiritual outlook to that of the Greeks for whom mankind began not with an individual but with a race of men, that, in order to live successfully together required laws of their own making emanating from the rational part of their mind( the only effective means of controlling the spiritual and appetitive aspects of mans mind). The New Testament(NT) Gospels testify to a continued individualization of man and the continued absence of reason in their accounts of the psychology of man. The NT, however, appeals to something new and unique in its words:

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”(John 1:1)

Language, the medium of communicative action, is brought into the discussion but the above words whilst being assertive and expressive of a kind of truth that is spiritual, are not argumentative. John continues at 8:32:

“And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Jesus avoids any confusion by clarifying that what is being referred to here is not truth in any sense suggestive of academic truths about the external world but rather truth in relation to the individual salvation of all of his listeners. His was a message urging his audience to heed and obey the word of God if they desired to be free of the bondage of their own personal sins. It should be pointed out, however, that whether or not there is an academic argument for the idea of the Good in relation to the idea of Freedom, the rational investigation of these terms is not on the agenda of either the OT or the NT. This is somewhat surprising given the fact that one of the grounds for a discussion of the relation of these two terms is a Philosophical Psychology that has identified the individual will as an important element of action. The explanation for this state of affairs, however, lies with two factors: the abandonment of rationality and the Stoic connection of the will to the will to survive.

The way in which language is used in the NT in combination with the above two factors overshadows the accumulated wisdom of Philosophical Psychology. The telos of reason or rationality of the individual is, as was the case in the OT, replaced with the theological goal of the salvation of the individual through individual works( in the spirit of faith in God and the words of his prophets). With the absence of reason and the consequent devaluation of the importance of knowledge in the sense of epistemé, a vacuum of justification emerges that is filled with powers of mind such as the Imagination and its connection to the Emotions. Juxtapose the Imagination with Language and we are confronted with the “symbolic pictures” referred to by Brett. These pictures may, of course, be factually true(true descriptions of the life of Jesus, for example) but the symbolic structure of these “pictures” place these descriptions in a realm of meaning where the descriptions also refer to the intended relation of man to the sacred. As we know, however, even the mere factual descriptions of the life of Jesus have been a matter of controversy ever since the discovery of alternative Gnostic Gospels. This is an issue of knowledge or epistemé or truth about the external world and probably unrelated to the kind of inner truth or insight that Jesus was referring to in John 8:32. The Gnostics as we know promote truth perhaps in a wider sense but definitively in relation to an inherited and transformed philosophical psychology. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, for example, claims that Jesus also said the following:

“Jesus said, “if you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you”

The idea of something within having such destructive power reminds the modern reader of Freud’s death instinct, Thanatos, that is biological in origin but also responsible for war and all forms of human aggression. This in turn is reminiscent of the position that Freud adopts in his “Civilization and its Discontents” where all of Culture is a battlefield in which the giants of Eros and Thanatos struggle for supremacy. A more potent image of ” world spirit”, conjured up more or less on the eve of the second world war is difficult to find.

One of the Gnostic texts discovered near Nag Hammadi: the “Testimony of Truth” gives a controversial interpretation of the Myth of the Garden of Eden( an interpretation incidentally that Aristotle certainly would have approved of.) The interpretation views the whole series of events through the eyes of the value of knowledge and the speaking serpent in the Garden. The Serpent does not use symbolic pictures but probably something resembling an argument to suggest that knowledge is necessary for the future development of Adam and Eve. God is accused of being malicious and holding grudges. Unsurprisingly, this text and many others were regarded as the blasphemy of heretics by many members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The Serpent convinces Eve who convinces Adam. The kind of knowledge at issue here is not clear but it is probably not epistemé. It is probably more akin to the kind of knowledge the Delphic oracle challenged man to acquire, namely self-knowledge which according to Gnosticism is the path to divine knowledge or knowledge of God.

Pagels in her work “The Gnostic Gospels” quotes the Gnostic Teacher Monoimus:

“Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as a starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says “My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body. Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate…If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.” (p18)

This is clearly a matter of intuitive knowledge or what some have called insight acquired via experience subjected to a kind of self-observation or process of introspection. Beyond these recommendations the kind of investigation required for this voyage of self-discovery is obscure and the problem, from the Christian point of view, with these so-called secret Gospels, is that they transpose the theme of salvation through repentance of sins into a philosophical/psychological theme of enlightenment from illusion. Pagels suggests that this recommendation sounds more Eastern than Western but there is an argument to be made that we are on Platonic terrain. Pagels does, however, in the context of this debate raise an interesting hypothesis relating to the possible influence of the Brahmins who conceive of God as Logos or the light of discourse. The Gospel of John could well refer to this Eastern position or alternatively, it could refer to an awareness of the role of the language of sacred texts in the conversion or salvation process of individuals. One might wonder If it is the case that the Platonic ascent from the darkness of illusory images deep inside the cave to the enlightenment provided by the knowledge of the forms or principles of all existence might also be a constituent feature of understanding that language can be used to instrumentally communicate wisdom and knowledge. If this is the case then one might also wonder why the Aristotelian arguments against the Platonic theory of forms in the context of dualistic philosophical psychology and metaphysics were not considered as an extension of the Platonic rationalist position. One answer to this question is that the weakness of the theory of forms and various dualistic assumptions sufficed for many thinkers to abandon rationality as a power of mind and justificatory principle in favour of what Brett called the “lofty passions” or what we refer to as “spirit”(which of course is also a Platonic aspect of the soul). What is at issue in this abandonment of Rationality is not merely an academic affair relating to Academic areas of knowledge such as Mathematics, it is rather the issue of a form of life, the so-called examined life, which Plato argued in the Republic was a superior form of life to either the wealthy or political/spiritual life that both ultimately depended upon circumstances outside of themselves for their happiness. The Philosophers of the Republic, armed with the idea of the Good would have no attachment to the desires of the bodily appetites of the wealthy man or the desires of the spirited warlike man who fails to acknowledge his mortality and its meaning. The desire for understanding of the meaninglessness of external goals in the face of death was an essential part of the examined life that Socrates illustrated in his relation to his own execution by the Athenians. In his cell before his death we encounter no “lofty passions or emotions manifested by his accusers at his trial: only a steadfast stoical acceptance of the inevitable, an attitude that could only exist in someone who had responded with the entire spectrum of his intellectual and spiritual powers to the challenge of Delphic oracle to “know thyself”.

Socrates’ declared agnosticism over the issue of whether after his death he would continue to exist in any form may have been repeated again in the Gnostic doubt about the resurrection of the carnal body. The issue of death obviously brings man to the brink or limit of one’s self-knowledge. The fate of the physical body must have been clear for all but the ceasing to exist of one’s consciousness, the medium in which we conduct our investigations into all phenomena including death must have presented itself as the mystery of mysteries almost on a par with the mystery of the nature of God’s existence. Much more could be said about the role of Gnosticism in the History of Psychology but let us for the moment rest our case with an acknowledgment that until its historical origins are clarified we can only guess at the ultimate significance of this issue in this debate. Pagels suggests that Gnosticism may have been politically outmanoeuvred by the orthodox Christians. If this is the case then the connection of Gnosticism with the Hellenic influences becomes a victim of the realm of political Spirit in the political realm which is a far cry from the spirit of Eros in the NT that associated itself with the emotion of Love.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: The Stoics and Epicureans(Critique and Commentary of Brett’s “History of Psychology”)

Hits: 110

The abandonment of Aristotelian Rationalism occurred over a long period with many modifications along the way. The general political climate of this change was one of militaristic expansion on a scale never seen before in Europe beginning with Alexander the Great’s Empire building conquests followed by a second wave of Roman Conquests. It almost seemed as if the Platonic concept of spirit and Eros emerged during this period as more relevant to the needs of the times, transcending even the Hebraic concept of Laws and commandments laid down(in an instrumental “Spirit”) in literary texts in the name of justice. These texts were, of course, not like the texts of the works of Plato and Aristotle, to be perused because they manifested knowledge and wisdom as values in themselves, but were rather rhetorical devices designed to recruit and convert the minds of readers to the cause of personal salvation. The Gospels of the New Testament were similarly rhetorical yet somewhat less judicial and dogmatic: more concerned with the “spirit” of love and the universal ideal of the brotherhood of man living in a kingdom of God’s making. The New Testament was definitively a move away from the academic knowledge and wisdom of Plato and Aristotle. The Gospels narrate the life story of a simple “wise” man who himself uses stories and parables to lead lost souls to the path of salvation. In these texts we can find tales of the miraculous: virgin births, bringing the dead back to life, wandering stars etc punctuating a chain of events leading to a dramatic tragic end for this simple wise man who comes to be dubbed “the son of God”. In these texts, we find little concern for the essential natures of things or the rational justification of one’s belief and actions. Indeed what we instead find is the continuation of an abandonment of the achievements of Aristotelian Rationalism that began with the death of Aristotle. The understanding aimed at in Biblical texts was in no sense theoretical or even practical in the Platonic or Aristotelian senses. Literature in its rhetorical form had swamped both the academic fields of science and Philosophy. It cannot be denied that this literature contained words of intent but it was still the case that the primary intention of the text was instrumental or what Kant would term “technological”: a means to achieve a “spiritual” end largely disconnected to the categorical ends of Philosophy. A spiritual form of “other-worldly” justice transcended the rational principle constituted justice argued for by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The brotherhood of man- kingdom could not be achieved via military or economic means or even via academic ideas but rather via literary and rhetorical texts containing the “good news” of the Gospels. This phenomenon, it was assumed would be constituted in the private reading space of the individual with the aid of ceremonial and clerical “services” conducted in the “spirit” of the symbolic. We in our modern world can certainly recognize how real “news” has supplanted knowledge in the sphere of our everyday lives and how it has transformed consciousness from an externally oriented power into an internal self-obsessed attitude.

This movement toward the instrumental, rhetorical and technological use of language and thought had actually begun earlier in the Pre-Christian era. It is in this period that we see the two schools of Stoicism and Epicureanism emerging from the golden age of Socratic, Platonic, and Aristotelian Philosophy and Science. Professor Brett has this to say about the period in question:

“The death of Aristotle marked the end of an era. The Speculative restlessness of the Greeks declined like their city-states. Their theories were welded into successive philosophies of life, just as their states were welded into successive empires. Speculation for its own sake gave way to symbolic pictures which served to reinforce ways of living. Policies for living rather than theories about living commanded the interests of philosophers. The Stoics and Epicureans were preoccupied with the attainment of individual self-sufficiency as a substitute for the much-lauded self-sufficiency of the old city-states. Life had become something to be endured rather than enjoyed: the problem was how to endure it best. How could the individual fortify himself against oppression, revolution and social change? The Stoics advocated integrity of character, devotion to duty, humanity towards fellow sufferers, and the rigorous discipline of the will: the Epicureans sought an escape from the hazards of life in cutting down the possible sources of misery….they put forward different forms of individualism one of which reached its culmination in Kant, the other in the English Utilitarians.”

These are interesting observations indeed even when viewed from our modern perspective. Symbolic pictures, and products of the imagination replaced rational argument and the discipline of critical theorizing, Brett argues with considerable insight. No real philosophical analysis of the role and significance of pictures in our lives was undertaken until Wittgenstein introduced the criticisms of his own picture theory of meaning from his 1922 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. in this criticism, he maintained that pictures do not have an obvious determined meaning but rather can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Pictures are essentially ambiguous. Elisabeth Anscombe in her commentary on Wittgenstein’s theory of meaning uses the example of a picture of two stick men in fencing position with stick swords. She points out how the picture can be used to illustrate either how to stand or how not to stand. A picture of a man with a walking stick on a hill can either depict a man walking up the hill or sliding down the hill.

The above quote by Brett suggests insightfully how the concentration on, or obsession with individual self-sufficiency may have come about as a result of the loss of feelings of security connected with the Greek city-state. What we have seen subsequent to this loss may also be related to a positive phenomenon of the search for the next stage of communal life which may have to occur in a nation-state if mans potential is to be fully actualized. The actual forms the nation-state were to take after 1648 certainly paid scant attention to the theories and practical suggestions of Aristotle and even less and briefer attention to the political and ethical writings of Kant: these forms as we know resulted in two world wars and a number of uses of weapons of mass destruction in the twentieth century(signifying, according to the writings of Hannah Arendt, either a, or, the failure of the nation-state system). Life under other forms of government larger than the city-state had certainly proved to be problematic as predicted by the Greek city-state philosophers.

The suggestion by Brett that the Epicurean and Stoic responses to the loss of the city- state were similar, is, however, deeply problematic and overlooks a number of differences. The Stoic position, like the position of Kant, culminated in a far-sighted vision of the development of communities or societies, a position that posited the actualization of an ideal of a cosmopolitan man that transcended the relativistic consequences of individualism. This ideal for Kant lay one hundred thousand years in the future during a time when reason would be embraced by all the men of the species, thus acknowledging the limitations of all forms of community and life up until that time. Both Kant and the Stoics fixed upon the only realistic attitude to cope with such a state of affairs, namely the devotion to duty that Brett mentioned above. In neither of these positions is there any logical room for the relativism of an individual -based ethics as there is in Epicureanism which had its roots in both materialism and sophism. Here the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain was the perfect theory for an animal satisfied with the status quo of his communities and forms of life. Epicureanism was a philosophy that cannot see or explain the large-scale changes that were on the horizon of the times. The suggestion in Brett is that this position led to that of English and American Utilitarianism and the continued and sustained antagonism between these positions and the deontological position of Kant ought to have caused Brett to pause before issuing the judgment that the Epicurean and Stoic positions are similarly individualistic. Epicureanism and Utilitarianism are undoubtedly rugged individualistic philosophies and they would seem to allow, for example, a drug addict to continue his addiction to his inevitable death without any ethical intervention. For both the Stoics and Kant, allowing this suffering to go on without any ethical attempt to place the individual in the restricted environment of a drug rehabilitation program, would have been a dereliction of duty, a violation of the categorical imperatives insistence that suicide by someone incapable of using their rational powers is a form of practical contradiction of the meaning of life. There is no freedom principle operating in Stoic ethics because it too shared a form of commitment to determinism and a form of materialism(different to the Epicureans) but for Kant the freedom of the individual does not stretch to allowing that individual to remove a fundamental condition of his freedom, namely his life, without a good reason(the kind of reason only a wise man could give): especially not in the circumstances envisaged where the continued use of drugs have impaired the agents ability to use his powers of reason. Of course, the problem of people killing themselves with technologically produced drugs was not a problem during Stoic or Enlightenment times, at least not on the scale we experience today in our so-called modern societies. The Opium wars against China in the 1800s was a testament to the Epicurean and Utilitarian commercial spirit of Post Kantian times that dominated English politics and ethics and these wars and this spirit would have been odious to both Stoical and Kantian moral positions. This is not to deny the political problem of what a government ought to do in the face of such individuals who are jettisoning their rationality on the road to suicide. The question “Does a government have any responsibility or duty in relation to this scenario” is not easily answerable. Utilitarian or early non-Kantian liberalism would formulate the question thus: “is it the duty of the government to interfere coercively in the freely chosen life of the individual?” The reason the question is not easily answerable has nothing to do with the freedom of the individual but rather with the political fact that in Kantian political philosophy the individual is in a sense the government in our representative democratic systems and acting against himself might seem paradoxical. But, in fact, it is not in the least paradoxical, given the Greek model of the rational part of the soul governing the irrational part. Modern Liberal government tends to function on the principle that the law is used to regulate human activity only in circumstances where social or moral regulation ought to occur in the relevant social or moral community but for some reason does not. If, for example, there is literally no family or village community the addict is in some sense a part of, then one can on these principles wonder whether the responsibility or duty to act falls on the government. The status quo of our modern world allows the drug addict to kill himself if that is what he is determined to do. In Kantian ethics the position would appear to be clear: the responsibility is on anyone who finds themselves in contact with the drug addict to persuade them and/or help them to register in a drug rehabilitation programme. Is this then a contradiction between one system(the political) allowing the individual to kill himself, and another system(the ethical) trying to prevent him from so doing? It is probably more a sign of the respect the political system has for the ethical and moral systems of the community of human beings.

It is not clear how the addict would be regarded by the Church. It is clear on a strictly creationist theological position that the addict is being careless with the life and live body produced by Gods breath, if the Old Testament creation story of man is to be believed but if the addict denies that he is committing suicide this suggests that he is not quite conscious of what it is he is doing. The case in some respects seems to be different from that of someone putting a gun to their head or wading into an ocean to drown themselves. Whatever the grounds, the religious sanction is clear: the drug addicts life has been given to him and his therefore not his to dispose of if and when he pleases. There is in this system no space for the wise man weighing up all the arguments(which may include dying for one’s family or city or country or to avoid some greater shame) to decide that there is no further point to his life continuing. The Epicureans, on the other hand, would on the basis of their pleasure-pain principle (the two sovereign masters of man) have no problems agreeing to the act of self-centred suicide if the balance of pains outweighed the pleasures of the individual. This kind of self-centred hedonic calculus would not be sanctioned by either a Stoic or a Kantian account that indeed resembled the Stoic position which in its turn in certain respects resembled Aristotelian virtue theory. This is, of course, another reason to refuse to acknowledge any significant relation of similarity between the Stoic and Epicurean positions. Connected to the position of acknowledging the differences between the two positions is to see Epicureanism as the inheritor of the relativism of the Sophists at the same time as seeing Epicureanism as the father of the individualism of the modern age and modern life. A modern life is obviously, worth less when measured by a modern hedonic scale that somehow can justify the taking of an invaluable human life if painful consequences can somehow be seen to outweigh the sheer pleasure and wonder of living: as if these two different dimensions of our life can be measured on the same scale. On this unilinear scale life is not a gift from God or anyone else but rather a utility to be measured scientifically or symbolically pictured in our literary texts. On this account, my life is a possession to do with whatever I wish, dispose of, if and when I please. The modern art form -film- is filled with symbolic pictures of heroes without a cause sacrificing their lives in a scientific and literary vacuum similar to the vacuum created by the absence of reason that reigns in the world of the addict.

Brett then falsely equates individualism with humanism in another quote in which he seeks to exaggerate the similarities and discard the differences between the Epicurean and Stoic positions:

“Stoics and Epicureans alike are absorbed in the problem of the life of feeling: they acknowledge openly that mans whole being is concentrated in his passions and their thoughts centre upon the fact, whether they preach restraint or justifying indulgence. This is the new focus, the humanism of the new era.”

This is, to say the least, a contentious characterization of the Stoic school of Philosophy which is celebrated for its commitment to logic, knowledge, and cognition as distinct from “feeling and passion”. The reason why the Stoic preaches restraint, namely to be worthy of a flourishing life, might indeed be not worth the effort on the Epicurean (or Utilitarian) hedonic or “feeling” calculus since the pain might very well “outweigh” the pleasure. Yet surely one might wish to argue feeling must have some relation to our judgments! According to Kant’s Third Critique, “The Critique of Judgment” one can indeed speak cognitively about a feeling if that means “speaking with a universal voice” in the hope for assent in relation to others possessing the same feeling. This state of affairs appears to arise when the “cognitive” faculty of the understanding and the pre-cognitive imagination find themselves in some kind of harmonious relation to each other. No conceptualization is involved in this state of affairs but Kant insists that insofar as aesthetic judgment is concerned there should be a suitability-for-conceptualization of the form of the material involved in the judgment. There must, of course, also be involvement of what Kant calls the form of finality of our cognitive faculties: a form of finality that does not universalize the object of the judgment but rather universalizes the subject of the experience. My judgment is, for example, that everyone experiencing the harmony of the faculties of understanding and imagination caused by a landscape or work of art ought to find the experience beautiful and pleasing. There is, of course, no suggestion of any connection of this experience with pain in the context of a hedonic calculation.

It should also be pointed out in this context that the Stoical topoi of Physics and Ethics do not rest the case of their regulating principles on the feeling of pleasure or happiness. In both cases there is, on the contrary, an external question as to whether the truth-oriented beliefs involved are worthy of assent or dissent, whether that is, the concepts involved are truth and knowledge constituting or alternatively the conceptualization of actions in relation to the virtues of the flourishing life. It is clear in both these cases that we are dealing with conceptual justification connected to the assertibility of positions and the universalization of these positions. The Stoics in this context definitely manifested an epistemological commitment to justification by argument in terms of external criteria or standards which in turn entails that if one is possessed by passions this is caused by mistaken judgments concerning what is good and evil. This is clearly a break with the Aristotelian position which is more developmentally oriented towards a more inductive process of steering a middle course between two extremes of excess and deficiency: a process more in accordance with a dialectical form of logic in contrast to that pure deductive form of logic prized by the Stoic logicians. The Stoic position is however reminiscent of the Aristotelian biologically based definition of the human being in that it emphasises our animal nature, perhaps even more than Aristotle did. The Stoic position does not begin with biology however. It begins with the physics of the Cosmos and life emerges from this physical framework in accordance with certain deterministic principles. Human life reveals itself on this account not to be pleasure seeking or pain avoiding creatures but rather beings concerned with the constitution and preservation of our own nature. Our survival in an indifferent world pursuing its own telos will be related to whether or not we deserve to survive. This position clearly diminishes the role of feeling favoured by the Epicureans, in favour of a will to survive that includes a will to preserve one’s own offspring, a more complex task then is the case with other species of animal because of the fact of premature human birth and a long human childhood. This de-centring from ourselves for long periods of time is the beginning of the constitution of an ethical position which the Stoics characterize in terms of a series of concentric circles extending from the circle of our family, including our children to other people in close proximity or more distant proximity to ourselves and perhaps outward to everyone who shares this Cosmos with us. The circles are subject to two forces. Firstly, The indifference and perhaps consequent hostility of the forms of the Cosmos moving outside and affecting the development of the individual and, secondly, the forces moving outward from the individual to one of the outer rings of the system of circles manifested in the wise virtuous cosmopolitan man leading a flourishing life. Here we see an interesting interplay of what the Stoics regarded as the topoi of Physics and ethics. We can also detect the Stoic influence in Kant’s philosophy in the inscription we can find on his grave in Königsberg:

“Two things fill the mind with new and ever-increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me”(Critique of Practical Reason)

The Physics of this situation could perhaps be manifest in the near sun worship we encounter in the allegory of the cave from Plato’s Republic that acknowledges not merely the role of the sun’s light in the development of our eyes and perception but also its role in in the creation of optimal temperatures for the creation and sustainability of life on the little orb that orbits the sun in the greater Cosmos. Placing the will at the centre of this system was a master stroke in the development of Aristotelian philosophy and allowed Kant to formulate the good will as the fundamental and absolute good in his ethical system.

The Epicurean system with its commitment to a materialistic view of the Cosmos would have been rejected by both Platonists and Aristotelians although it has been argued that given the fact that the Stoics saw God as the determining centre of the fate of men, a thought that would be especially alien to the philosophy of Aristotle that respected both randomness(chance) and determinism operating in the events of a changing Cosmos. After the advent of Kant’s philosophy, we can now clearly see how determinism prevented the Stoics from explaining the relation of an individual will to the idea of freedom: a will that strives towards not just life and survival but towards a quality of life manifested in the flourishing life. Both Kantian and Aristotelian ethics would maintain that reason is the only road leading to this destination of the flourishing life. The Epicurean and Utilitarian principles of happiness and pleasure are regarded from the Kantian perspective as principles of self-love in disguise, principles attesting to the fact that the will of individuals acting in accordance with such principles remains within the inner concentric circle of self-interest. The combination of determinism and a form of materialism is however also present in the theories of the Stoics and this is elaborated upon in Kenny’s “New History of Western Philosophy”:

“God, according to the Stoics, is material, himself a constituent of the Cosmos fuelling it and ordering it from within as a “designing fire”(p307)

this is, indeed, a far cry from the Aristotelian conception of God as thinking about thinking or as primary form as opposed to primary matter. Paradoxically this materialistic truth-oriented deterministic conception of God, the divine, leads eventually to the Roman practice of divination which we suspect to be a very different practice to that of the universalization wise thoughts from their oracles. The Romans of course, thought self-centredly that all roads lead to that concentric circle formed by the polis of Rome and they sought in a very modern manner to exercise power over as much of the world as they could conquer, thereby ensuring, they hoped, their survival. This exercise of Empire building did not as we now know, succeed in achieving its materialistic ambitions through the exercise of its military might. The reason for this failure is due to the fact that power and war are fundamentally self-centred forms of activity, thereby violating the first principle of ethical philosophy that demands universal intent in all forms of ethical action.

There is, in Stoicism, very little reference to Aristotelian Metaphysics and more of a concern to transform Aristotelian epistemology to meet the attacks of the growing horde of skeptics and Cynics. In such contexts there is no reference to Aristotelian “First Principles” , “Form” or hylomorphic theory. The consequence for Stoicism is a very historical shipwreck on the rocks of materialism and determinism. The ship of Stoicism was, however, to be restored to seaworthiness by the ethical Philosophy of Kant that rejected both the relevance of materialism and determinism.

The absence of Justification in Modern Ethics: Aristotle, the Stoics, Christianity and Kant.

Hits: 114

Jonathan Lear in his excellent work “Aristotle: the desire to understand” points out that we moderns living in our modern world do not have resort to the kind of Universal justifications that we used 300 years ago under the auspices of Religion. According to Lear neither do we approach ethical issues as the Greeks did in the Ancient World by recourse to actively (through complex deliberation procedures), seeking the reasons for our actions and activities. Lear also claims that there are fundamental disparities between the Aristotelian and Kantian ethical positions. He claims that both philosophers would have found each other’s positions fundamentally flawed.

In relation to Lear’s first point, there is agreement that we moderns are generally not attuned to any particular kind of justification. Indeed the position we find ourselves in may be more serious. Under the auspices of a science that is theoretically obsessed by observation and experiment, we are inclined to believe that there is no universal justification for ethical behaviour: there is only a kind of subjective commitment which commands only accidental agreement. This position would, of course, for the Greeks, be anathema. Witness the bitter exchanges between the ethical relativists of the time and Socrates. Ruling groups ruling in their own interests was decisively dismissed as a form of justification by Socrates in book one of the Republic. Plato combats relativism with his theory of the forms in general and the form or idea of the Good in particular. Aristotle is clear that there can only be one universal end or “justification” to strive towards in one’s active life and that is a flourishing life: a life that all who are exercising their rationality must share. The route to this life for Aristotle was via the intellectual and moral virtues which amounted to the rational agent both deliberating correctly and then doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. It is not clear that Kant would have disagreed with any of these Aristotelian points. Lear translates “eudaimonia” as happiness but it is not obvious that this is always the best translation of Aristotle’s intent: a better translation might be “the flourishing life”, in which case Kant would probably agree that this is an important end if and only if the moral agent is worthy of the flourishing life: had, that is, lived his life virtuously. Kant’s ethics, like Aristotle’s, is also intimately bound to a (political) life of freedom in a cosmopolitan world without wars: a fact that Lear does not recognize. In other words, there is much that these two philosophers, parted by a period of 2000 years, would agree upon and that is due to the fact that Kant built much of his critical theory from the same anti-materialistic and anti-dogmatic rationalist commitments we find at the foundations of Aristotle’s metaphysics. There are differences of course and these may be due to the fate of Aristotelian thinking at the hands of Christianity. Lear claims that Christianity brought with it the focus upon intention at the expense of action. One could, that is, have a good heart but not be in any position to exercise one’s goodness because of the circumstances one was born into or finds oneself in. This is a correct observation but is not a fundamental characteristic of ethical action. In Aristotelian terms, the Christian is engaging in a deliberation process with all the complexity presented in Aristotle’s theory without finding the circumstances in which to perform his virtuous deeds. He may not be doing so autonomously and both Aristotle and Kant would object to this feature of the deliberation process and condemn it for being in some sense involuntary deliberation. Kant saw the need to claim ethical deliberation be free from dogma and authoritarian indoctrination but was able to retain his faith in a religious/philosophical God that functioned in a manner very similar to Plato’s idea of the Good from the Republic and also very similar to the Aristotelian God continually contemplating the essences or forms of the world. When we contemplate in a state of faith we are also capable of contemplating essences. This is particularly the case in our contemplation of ethical “forms” where the idea of God is evoked to ensure that we feel happy about being worthy of happiness as a consequence of our virtuous intentions and actions. The idea of Freedom, for Kant, however, in many ways replaced the religious idea of God and this signaled the Enlightenment’s conviction of the importance of political society in the developing of our rational potential(an idea he shared with Plato and Aristotle). Kant’s vision of a Cosmopolitan world suggests that he was not impressed with the idea of the nation-state set forth in 1648 (The Treaty of Westphalia) and this is a major difference between Kantian and Aristotelian ethical/political theorizing. In his eyes, the nation-state may have been a necessary stage on the road of our ethical and political evolution but it was not by any means the terminus of the process. Individuals need to find themselves in political environments where they are free to organize their souls in a manner appropriate to an imagined state of affairs in which each subject/citizen exercises their judgment in approving the laws of their community as mirroring the rationality of their own thoughts about the law. This for Kant was a state of affairs one hundred thousand years in the future which would replace the authority of the commandment system of religious systems: a state of affairs in which the organization of the souls of the citizens was absolutely in accordance with the demands of rationality. The formulations of the categorical imperatives also provided us with a description and explanation of fully ethical forms of behaviour which were logically universal and could function as logical justifications of the forms of virtuous behaviour Aristotle discussed in his ethical theory. Lear regards the categorical imperative morality of Kant as being all too formal but omits to mention the second very descriptive and concrete formulation: “So act that you can treat people never merely as means but also as ends in themselves”. This is very concrete in its description of how one ought to act towards one neighbours and others, and could easily be seen to be a consequence of Aristotle’s virtue theory. Kant and Aristotle would have agreed on how to use logic to clarify many of their ethical positions, in particular, the justification of ought statements such as “We ought to keep promises” in terms of seeing the world under the aspect of “the good” which entails knowing the universality of ought statements. For Kant, the fact that many make promises which they do not keep is irrelevant to the universality of what we ought to do. For him,  as for Aristotle, there were people whose souls were not sufficiently organized to understand the kind of universality involved in ought-statements . The argument, for example, that it is acceptable to break ones promise to another because many other people have in fact broken their promises to others, would indeed be a poor argument in both the eyes of Aristotle and Kant. The higher level argument that one person breaking their promise is sufficient to compromise the universality of “We ought to keep our promises” would also be dismissed as a confusion of the universality connected to theoretical reasoning with the universality connected to practical reasoning. Both Kant and Aristotle were very clear about the distinction between intellectual virtues and moral virtues.

We need however to investigate further the influence of Christianity upon the development of thought from the Greeks to the time of Kant and the influence of all these factors on our “Modern world”. In order to do this, we need to trace the development of attitudes and theories immediately after the death of Aristotle and before the time that Christ’s teachings became influential. Professor Brett in his “History of Psychology” has this contribution:

“The death of Aristotle marked the end of an era. The speculative restlessness of the Greeks declined like their city-states. Their theories were welded into successive philosophies of life, just as their states were welded into successive empires. Speculation for its own sake gave way to symbolic pictures which served to reinforce ways of living. Policies for living rather than theories about life commanded the interest of philosophers. The Stoics and Epicureans were preoccupied with the attainment of individual self-sufficiency as a substitute for the much lauded self-sufficiency of the old city-states. Life had become something to be endured rather than enjoyed: the problem was how to endure it best. How could the individual fortify himself against oppression, revolution and social change? The Stoics advocated integrity of character, devotion to duty, humanity towards fellow sufferers, and the rigorous discipline of the will: the Epicureans sought an escape from the hazards of life in cutting down the possible sources of misery. ….They put forward different forms of individualism one of which reached the culmination in Kant and the other in English Utilitarians.”

This looks like an account of the collapse of a belief in any form of universal good and it is certainly true that we can detect in our modern age the influence of an Epicurean individualism unsupported by any belief in the soul or character or any belief in the will and what it ought to do in the name of duty. The Stoic view of life and its connection to the Aristotelian theory of the organization of the soul, however, retained some universal commitment to universal ideas in what we today would call the ought-system of concepts in which we will to do what we ought to do. Kant incorporated many of the ideas of the Stoics into his ethical theory but he also integrated these thoughts and ideas with the categorical and universal aspects that can be found in Aristotelian metaphysical and ethical theory. There is no substance to the claim that Kant was committed to some kind of relativistic individualism or the kind of consequentialism embraced by the Epicureans. There is much to be said, however, for the view that the individualism of the Epicureans led directly to the consequentialist Pursuit of happiness doctrine of the Utilitarians. Bentham’s “two sovereign masters of pleasure and pain” was directly criticized by Kant in much the same terms that we can find in Plato and Aristotle.

The teachings of Christ were in no sense theoretical and appealed only to the individuals relation to God and not to universal argument. He exemplified the simple practical man with only his faith and belief. Nothing was mentioned of the history of theoretical thought or the theoretical thoughts of other thinkers in Christ’s teachings. There are of course assumptions about human beings but it is a total mystery as to where they originated from or indeed exactly what they were. We know that the Jewish- Alexandrian school played some part in the choosing of these assumptions. With the advent of Christianity, however, we encounter an almost complete substitution of the spiritual for the rational. Knowledge was no longer man’s province: it belonged to an all-knowing God who inspired prophets with his messages for the human race. There was no reference to the importance of the state or community to provide man with a higher quality of life. There was a reference to a universal “brotherhood of man” but it is unclear whether if one was not a Christian one could become a part of this “universal” brotherhood. It certainly did not appear to be a cosmopolitan brotherhood. The primary commandment was “love God above all else”. There is no mention of the role of knowledge or the importance of knowledge except in relation to “Knowing God”. Much of the Greek world was dismantled by Christianity. It is therefore not surprising that the idea of God was diminished in importance in favour of the idea of Freedom in Kant’s metaphysics of morals.

The Enlightenment philosophy of Kant attempted to row the philosophical boat back to the Greek shoreline but Kant’s Philosophy too was rapidly overcome by the practical individualistic spirit and theoretical scientific spirit of the Enlightenment. Our Modern World contains the threads of Greek and Kantian thought and these were revived by the work of the later Wittgenstein, the work of Heidegger(to some extent) and the work of Arendt(also to some extent). The consequence is that ethical thought in accordance with categorical universalistic dimensions had all but disappeared in the twentieth century and it is no coincidence that this was the century of two world wars and two mass annihilations of civilian populations via the use of weapons of mass destruction. The disappearance of the idea of justification might, then, be more important, than one might suspect.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Aristotle.

Hits: 74

Aristotle’s scientific work, according to Brett in his work “The History of Psychology”, is best characterised in terms of a methodology of observation and classification and a search for a definition that expressed the essence of whatever it was that was being studied:

“Explanation of the behaviour of a thing consists in referring to the essential properties of the natural kind or class of things to which it belongs, each class having its characteristic and invariant ways of behaving. Why do bodies fall or smoke rise? Because it is part of their essence to seek their natural places on the earth or in the heavens. Why do men make laws? Because rationality is part of their essence. Things do what they do because they are what they are. This is true but not very illuminating….Aristotle….substituted the logic of classification for Pythagorean mathematics as the key to the ground plan of nature. Qualitative distinctions were for him irreducible. Quality, not quantity was the basic category of reality.”

There is much that is problematic with the above characterization of Aristotle’s scientific work. Firstly, the search for definition referred to above was only a part of a wider search for explanation that for Aristotle was four-fold because he believed there are four kinds of explanation or four ways of explaining the nature of something that together constitute the knowledge we have of any object studied. Three kinds of explanation(final formal and efficient “causes”) all reveal the form of the object and one explanation, (the “material cause”) describes the particular material that is the bearer of “the form”. Material per se is just particular material and only identifiable in terms of the(universal) form it takes. This explanation-system is the epistemological aspect of Aristotle’s wider attempt as a “Scientist” to metaphysically or systematically study the world as a whole. Aristotle’s metaphysical position is embedded in his thesis that Being or Reality has many meanings amongst which one will encounter the category of the Substantial that is, as a matter of fact, as much a basic category of reality as the qualitative. The Substantial, for Aristotle, is of course not a property of a thing but rather something more like the principle of that thing’s existence. A substance is, according to Aristotle not dependent on anything else for its existence. Substantial change, for Aristotle, concerns the generation of substances (the bearer of all properties). The substantial principle of man, for example, is his rationality which manifests itself not just in the act of passing laws(the act of bringing laws into existence) but also in the theoretical activity of understanding the world as a systematic or metaphysical whole. Both of these types of activities are logically related to man’s essence and his form, and these claims are surely both true and illuminating. Furthermore, there is a conflation in much of modern science between the contexts of discovery and the contexts of Explanation/Justification. In the former when we discover qualities or measure quantities or relations, we answer “what” questions but once discovered we can also use qualities, quantities and relations in contexts of justification to answer “why” questions(“Why did the building collapse”, “because it was unstable”). In these kinds of explanations, qualities etc. begin to function like principles, giving reasons for the occurrence of events transcending their use as mere reports of observations or classifications.

Insofar as the claims relating to body’s falling and smoke rising to their so-called “natural places” are concerned these claims may be unhelpful characterizations of the Aristotelian idea of “final cause” or teleological explanations that in fact cannot be arbitrarily isolated from other types of explanations.

Brett continues the above line of inquiry by claiming the following:

“So few deductive consequences follow from saying that man is a rational animal because it is merely classificatory and incorporates no causal assumption.”

This is an unilluminating characterization of Aristotelian reflection on the essence and form of man that will definitively claim it to be substantially true that the formal, efficient and final causes or explanations are involved in any animal being a human form of an animal. There appears to be a fixation in the above quote on a perspectival view of “definition” that regards Aristotelian definitions as analytic truths constructed in an ivory tower far from the fields of observation and classification. Such a view believes there to be a realm of synthetic truths that alone can give us access to the truth about the world we dwell in. Aristotle did not divide truth up in such a radical fashion and like Kant would have insisted in response to such radical divisions that there are intermediate forms of truth(synthetic a priori truths) such as “Every event has a cause” that transcend experience and the context of discovery. Aristotle would have thought of such truth as substantial-truths belonging to the context of explanation/justification. Brett also claims that when we ask why men make laws that we do not want to be told that this is because he is a rational animal capable of discourse (which would be Aristotle’s complete definition of human being). We do not want, that is, to be given a barren analytical definition devoid of causal terms. This is obviously a position that rejects the entire metaphysical and epistemological apparatus of Aristotle’s theory without engaging it directly in the context of counterargument and justification. This is also a position that attempts for no good reason to reduce Aristotle’s fourfold explanatory schema to something simpler. Indirectly we are told that Galileo “consciously discarded” teleological causes” in favour of:

“Explanations in terms of the functional dependence of variables which had far greater deductive possibilities than Aristotelian explanation by recourse to qualitative classifications.”

This type of explanation must have been an exciting prospect for psychologically inclined scientists during the 1920’s when Brett’s work “The History of Psychology” was completed. Today almost one hundred years later this excitement, to say the least, has waned and it is commonplace for philosophers to evoke Aristotelian, Kantian, and Wittgensteinian objections to theories based on variable manipulating and measuring experiments that very often fail to produce evidence of causal relations between the variables. Brett complains that Aristotle in his conceptual reflections tells us what we already know. This complaint, as a matter of fact, is often leveled against the “functional dependence of variable” approach as is another more serious complaint that this kind of experimentally based theorizing often falsely posits causal relations where there none. Obviously, this counter-argument requires a more extensive critical discussion than can be offered here.

Brett, inspired by Galileo, then goes on to claim that Aristotle failed to make any “empirical contribution” to Psychology because of his limited grasp of the modern scientific method. We should remind readers in the context of such claims that Aristotle was one of the first empirical investigators of biological phenomena, using observation, classification, and dissection to build his biological theory. Brett does, however, reluctantly admit that Aristotle’s “conceptual contribution” to Psychology helped to provide arguments against materialistically inclined investigations:

“which included a demonstration of why mechanical types of explanation will never be of much use in Psychology.”

Brett appears to be unaware of the philosophical objection to his position which would claim that Causality is a conceptual category of thought, a cognitive attitude that we must adopt when investigating phenomena(that can be isolated from a whole and divided into causes and effects) in both the contexts of discovery and the contexts of explanation/justification. Causality can also, contra the view of Hume, be observed as is the case when we observe a builder building a house. This division, however, of psychological wholes into cause and effect may actually be a form of mechanization of the field of investigation that Brett complains is useless. After complaining about Hobbes and his mechanical theories Brett goes on to outline 4 of Aristotle’s metaphysical holistically-oriented assumptions presented in books one and two of De Anima:

“a)That soul is co-extensive with “life”

b)That soul is the actuality of a body furnished with organs

c) That the movements of such a body are to be explained in terms of its soul but that the soul itself is not moved.

d)That there are levels of soul which form a kind of hierarchy, the lower being a necessary condition of the higher, but the higher transforming the lower.”

Psuche is the Greek term discussed here and Brett displays in this discussion a lack of awareness of the hermeneutic difficulties in translating a foreign remote language. In 1943 we find, for example, Martin Heidegger in his lectures on Parmenides, claiming that psuche as a term is untranslatable by just any language. Latin translations of key Greek terms, he argues, have been particularly problematic and hindered serious research for centuries. Brett characteristically transforms this issue into an issue about definitions and writes:

“Aristotle insisted on the widest possible definition of “soul” and returns to the old Pre-Platonic pre-rationalistic view that soul is virtually the principle of all life”

The crucial term in the above quote is the term “principle” and this alone should suffice to reject the idea that Aristotle was merely attempting to define the term psuche. Identifying this term as denoting a principle is an important precursor to using the term in explanations that may or may not be encapsulated in definitions. Brett later retreats somewhat from this position when he claims that the soul is a species of “form” but again insists that Aristotle is attempting to classify the soul. In this discussion, however, he acknowledges the difference between the kind of explanation (involving principles and laws) that explains why physical bodies fall, orbit, etc, and the kind of explanation we require in Psychology:

“We can treat a man as a body and explain his movements in terms of physical laws if all we wish to explain is why he falls to the ground at a certain rate: for in this respect he is no different from a stone. But we distinguish jumping off a cliff “on purpose” from descending on top of a landslide. Jumping is something we do, whereas being swept away by a landslide is something that happens to us. The movements involved in jumping and slipping require a different sort of explanation”

In this specific discussion Brett, however, fails to connect the role of teleological explanation in particular and conceptual explanation in general to the specification of what, as he put it, is done “on purpose”

In relation to Aristotle’s claim “that the soul is the actuality of a body furnished with organs” we find Brett surprisingly evoking the category of substance that he had systematically avoided in his earlier discussion of the qualitative being the primary category of reality. In this context there is reference to the relations between matter and form as well as actuality and potentiality:

“The soul, therefore, must be substance in the second sense of form. It is the form of a natural body which has life in it as a capacity. Such a substance is actuality in the first sense. Body is dunamis or potentiality in relation to this capacity.”

The concept of “final cause” is finally acknowledged as important insofar as its relation to rationality is concerned: reason, it is argued, imposes a formula upon the efficient causes of desiring and wishing. This formula imposes the terms of means and ends as well as areté (doing the right thing in the right way at the right time) upon our desires and wishes. Brett then paradoxically, after having questioned the substantial category of reality and teleological explanations, claims:

“Surely Aristotle here indicated the sorts of concepts which are absolutely indispensable for accounting for anything which we call human action.”

Human action is obviously a rational power or potentiality connected conceptually with many other powers such as perception, memory, imagination, language as well as desire, wish, and reason. Given the interconnection of this schema of “powers”, the futility of a materialistically inclined behavioural account of action can immediately be appreciated. Psuche is a principle that moves the body,  and thought and consciousness is the medium in which such movement is initiated. Psuche also possesses powers or potentialities which are capacities to do certain things and it is absolutely absurd to postulate that capacity is something that can be moved or move. Brett has no difficulty in pointing out this logical objection in relation to capacity but not in relation to Psuche- the principle. Thought is in no sense a spatial entity. It has an essential relation to temporality and insofar as thought can then be said to possess parts, they would have the serial unity similar to that of a number. A thought occurs in a time and comes to rest in that time in accordance with its category and telos. If the thought is a belief it will aim at the truth and if it is an intention it will aim at the good action. The point of origin of such thoughts is in the soul. In a certain sense, the concept of action appears to be logically connected to the reason that regulates the action in relation to the rules of successful performance leading to an end. In other words, action is a value-laden concept in the way in which the concept of behaviour is not. This might account for the fact that it is behaviour and not action the contemporary Psychologist prefers to study: behaviour is easier to isolate as a variable and thus easier to manipulate and measure. The conceptual framework of action and its connection to a matrix of powers or capacities makes this task of observation, isolation, manipulation, and measurement much more difficult, if not impossible.

The conceptual framework of action forces us also to recognize the hylomorphic aspect of Aristotle´s theorising in which both plant-like and animal-like functions contribute to the constitution of the human psuche. These functions will take different forms in different forms of life. The human psuche differentiates itself from other life forms through its possession of the powers or capacities of thought, discourse and reason. The form of life of a human being, therefore, will be very different to that of a higher ape. As we are no doubt aware, modern biology beginning with Darwin refused to acknowledge this significant difference between the higher apes and man that both Aristotle and Christianity insisted upon. In the Aristotelian account, powers build upon powers but the power of discourse accounts for much of the significant difference. This together with the way in which all powers are integrated into the life of man accounts for the superior form of life man leads in comparison with the life of higher apes. These powers, in turn are situated in a wider framework of relations necessary for man to lead the good life. This framework begins with the cosmos and the constitution and connections of the divine heavenly bodies. The cosmos provides the conditions necessary for life of various forms and in particular for its highest human form that constructs city-states in order to lead the good life. The city-state, according to Aristotle organically evolved from the village and the family and the form of its existence is the final litmus test for the good of the individual:

“the life of the individual is the proximate universal by which we judge the standard of conduct or practice in the case of the individual, so the individual’s life is a universal that comprehends many species. The psychological functions embracing as they do the whole individual life are valued according as they further its excellence more or less.”

It is not certain that this paraphrasing of the power of the individual in terms of psychological functions is not essentially going to confuse the issue of what the good life or good city-state are in their essential constitutions. One of these so-called psychological functions is, according to Brett, sensation, which he claims is a discriminative faculty that perceives differences. and there follows a discussion of the subjective/objective distinction that is used throughout this work: a distinction Aristotle would have rejected as theoretically otiose. Aristotle’s account of the senses refers to his matrix of form and matter, and sensation in that context is regarded as a form of knowledge caused to come into existence by the motions that are assimilated by the sense organs and the body. These motions are then transformed by the sense organs into “knowledge” of qualities such as black, white, sweet, sour etc. The “form” of the black object becomes an element of the above knowledge state, received by the eye. The object has the power to influence the sense organ and the sense organ has the power to assimilate the form of the object. The form of the object is assimilated by the organ in “the act of sensation”. Brett then inserts into this discussion the modern idea of consciousness together with his earlier subject/object distinction:

“in all sensation an objective stimulus is the cause of a change which precedes through a medium into consciousness.”

These terms of subject/object and consciousness are not terms we can find in Aristotle’s writings but a stimulus proceeding through a medium into consciousness suggests passivity on the part of the subject rather than an “act”. If this is the case then it would seem to contradict the earlier assertion that psychological theorizing ought to be about what a subject does rather than what happens to him/her. Later, Brett refers to activity on the part of the sense organ but this is activity that is caused to happen by an external cause and may not as a consequence fall into the category of a human psuche causing itself to do things. The major difference between these two types of change is a metaphysical difference between things that cause themselves to do things(activity) and things that cause other things to become active. Even Kantian Philosophy in the context of such discussions claims that all representations in the mind be they intuitive or conceptual, are accompanied by an “I think”–an active process of thought. The experiencing of black, then, could be a passive affair in which the subject passively experiences(senses) blackness or it can be an active intuitive affair in which the blackness is intuited to be spatial, to be out there or enveloping me. The latter involves a cognitive attitude toward the blackness the former does not. This “I think” however should not be confused with the Cartesian Ego that stands in some relation of epistemological certainty to its own thinking and in some kind of opposition to the objects of representation. This Kantian “I think” is, on the contrary, an Aristotelian holistic idea of a continuously enduring Subject brought into existence by an act of generation and destined for ruin and destruction at the end of its life and who during the course of its life actively “reasons” about or “contemplates” true beliefs and good actions.

According to Jonathan Lear in his work “Aristotle; the desire to understand”:

“We are not satisfied to know, for example, that the heavens move in such a way: nor will we be satisfied to know a vast array of such fats about the phenomena. We want to know why the heavens move that way, why the phenomena are as they are. We are after more than knowledge, we are after understanding.”(p6)

Only principles provide us with that understanding and enable us to systematically connect and thereby understand phenomena and the facts about them. Thinking desires both knowledge and understanding and the human begins according to Aristotle, his contemplative life by being in awe of the heavens prior to the search for the principle(s) that explain why they are as they are. The state of awe and wonder subsides when we achieve the kind of understanding provided by explanations of the phenomena in terms of principles. This kind of explanation is, according to Aristotle, possibly more “scientific” then the kind of investigation that dedicates itself to accumulating the “facts” about the heavens. Both kinds of investigation are important but they are to be distinguished: the concepts and methods used in the context of discovery are significantly different (and yet related in some ways) to the concepts and methods that are used in the context of explanation/justification. Reason is obviously involved in both contexts. It is like the light of the fire in the cave and the light of the sun that transforms night into day. For Aristotle, man is the subject of awe and wonder and the claim in the context of explanation that he is the rational animal capable of discourse is an illuminating claim, especially in comparison with the chaos of accounts of man provided for us over the last 150 years since Psychology detached itself from Philosophy in order to make “progress” in the field of the knowledge of man. Brett is a disciple of this “new science” and wishes to place Reason “Inside” of man:

“For Reason is with Aristotle, as with Plato, a light within:it guides the footsteps of man on the daily paths of life, it illuminates the dark places of nature: in it is the birth of art, and it becomes ar last divine and immortal.”

For both Aristotle and his teacher Reason was something that brought light to the world and both would have thought that the attempt to place reason within man, and not in the discourse in the agora, or in the laws of the Callipolis was an unnecessary spatialisation of something that is a potential power that is only actualised under the right circumstances whether that be in the mode of theoretical belief or practical action and whether it be the beliefs and actions of the individual or of institutions such as the judiciary and religious temples. Reason is what we use to achieve a deeper understanding of the world and ourselves, an understanding that is so much more than the accumulation of the totality of facts about the phenomena we are studying. Reason stands mysteriously outside of the “inner”: a term so necessary for the scientist once he divides phenomena into the (inner)subjective and the (outer)objective.

Lear points out in the context of the above discussion that the term epistemé as used by the Greeks transcends the modern subject-object distinction that is so often used in epistemological discussions:

“Aristotle uses epistemé in two ways: first to refer to an organized body of knowledge, like geometry: second to refer to the state of the soul of a person who has learned this body of knowledge.”(p7)

Lear goes on to interestingly argue that the psuche (or soul or mind) is organized by this knowledge to such an extent that we, for example, call someone with knowledge of mathematics , a mathematician not just because they have something “in ” their souls non mathematicians do not have but rather because they are capable of using this power on occasion to help us understand the world through their mathematical proofs and explanations. Epistemé, for Lear, as for Martin Heidegger, is related to Being or Reality in a deeper way than the mere understanding that explanations provide. Reality itself, for Aristotle and Heidegger, reveals itself to those that systematically understand the world that may yet remain a mystery after the Mathematicians explanations come to an end. Heidegger criticizes Aristotle, as Lear does not, for talking about the many meanings of Being but failing to focus on its nature as presented by the idea of Aletheia (unconcealment). Heidegger’s comments may not apply across the board of all of Aristotle’s positions. For Aristotle, it is clear that there is a region of the systematic understanding of the world that is fundamentally reflective, i.e. concerned with the challenge of the Oracle to “know thyself”, something that can only be achieved in the “attempt” to understand understanding. For it can only be an attempt given the fact that for Aristotle, this self-reflective path leads to the first principle of all things, namely God. Our attempt to understand understanding thus is an attempt to understand God. Knowing thyself on the path of such reflection requires acknowledging man’s place in the great chain of Being. Part of this process involves understanding how Plato in particular regarded the Polis as related to the revelation of man’s nature and the unconcealment of Being(Aletheia). The Callipolis for Plato was literally a divine construction built with the divine part of ourselves that enlightened the Cosmos like a sun. Kant too saw the connection of the actualisation of (divine?) Reason in man in a vision of a Cosmopolitan world some hundred thousand years in the future: a world in which cosmopolitan men roam the earth and wars are a thing of the past. The period of one hundred thousand years rests upon an analysis of man himself that observes that man is only potentially and not actually rational and therefore although he needs a master cannot tolerate having an actual master deciding his fate. Kant then reflects upon the necessity for a universal philosophical education that will transcend this master-slave conception by making man a master of himself.

Brett’s scientific psychological account, having placed reason inside man, continues with the following reflection:

“The rational creature is conscious of the principle as well as of the impulse, and so becomes the subject of voluntary as well as of impulsive actions…there are in him the desires of the beast united with a reason that is godlike: in the relation of these two are contained the problems of the psychology of conduct.”

Lurking in the background of these reflections is, of course, the desire to isolate variables and connect causes and effects whether it be in the arena of impulse and the emotions or the arena of what he calls “conduct”.

Emotions obviously play an important role in man’s existence both for reasons of survival and for the achievement of what Psychologists call “the quality of life” which in their eyes can be achieved by the scientific regulation of pleasures and pains. Brett, in this context, refers not to action but pure movement and claims that sense images are exciting causes. The imagination is as a consequence of its role in the conjuring up of sense images in their absence, evoked in desire and anger to the specific exclusion of thought and reason:

“Desire has an emotional quality because it begins in the pain of want and ends in the pleasure of satisfaction. Anger, fear, and courage are types of feelings which are allied to Temper or the spirit of resistance: anger arises from the sense of wrong and seeks after revenge: fear is consciousness of danger with prospect of ultimate disaster: while courage is the consciousness of danger accompanied by assurance of successful resistance. The remainder come under the general heading of Wish, and are attitudes of mind accompanied by imaginations of good or evil whether for oneself or for others. As wish is concerned with good and evil, the presence of the images of good and evil in each of these states justifies their position under this head.”

It appears from the above quote that, at least insofar as The Wish is concerned thought in some form(“imaginations of good and evil for oneself or others”) must be involved and this in turn surely means that the wish is amenable to the influence of reason. It should also, however, be recalled that the emotions in general, can also be pathological states and processes requiring “cathartic” treatments. The emotions of Pity and Fear, for Aristotle, were not necessarily pathological formations but they also required what amounts to (almost) medical intervention by poets using literary techniques(processes of thought) for their catharsis. The exclusion of thought to the benefit of imagination by Brett does not quite fit the phenomena we are confronted with in this field of inquiry.

Mental illness obviously interferes with both our sense of reality and our attempts to lead successful virtuous lives. Excessive fear and insufficient courage, if part of our characters, may be pathological conditions requiring education and sometimes therapy. Such therapy follows the principle outlined in the Greek oracular pronouncement “Nothing too much” and also the Aristotelian Principle of the golden mean. The imagination obviously plays a part in the formation of pathological states which are the results of sensory images and processes and not reason. Psychoanalysis attempts to use reason technically to bring about a therapy that enables patients to, if not understand themselves, at least accumulate facts about themselves of which they were perhaps unaware. Brett does not, however, mention Psychoanalysis in this context in spite of its obvious relevance. He continues instead to speak of conation, a notion which for him is related to behaviour or pure movement in a way which is difficult to understand:

“At its lowest level, conation is the immediate impulse to pursue or avoid. When this impulse is subjected to deliberation it is raised to the level of choice: for choice is rationalized impulse or conation based on rational deliberation. Thus a movement must be the outcome of two distinct processes according as the ultimate imagination which gives a picture of the end is the result of sense processes or of reasoning.”

The idea of freedom and someone being set free by rational deliberation obviously arises in relation to the above reflection but the insertion of the “picture of the end” may be a mischaracterization of the very universal thought about the end. This “picture theory” of psychological reflection takes us in the opposite direction to that of the required search for universal principles of action and emotion.

In the above quote it is a relatively simple matter to discern that he has divided the whole of action-in- a- context into the parts of cause and effect whether it be the division of impulsive movement, sense images, and imagination or the division of conduct into the elements of reason and imagination. Such division is obviously dictated by scientific method which demands the identification of independent and dependent variables. It is this kind of illegitimate division of a holistic complex of parts that also then demands a further division into what is subjective and what is objective. Both kinds of division would have been rejected by Aristotle in the context of practical action and practical reasoning about that action. The example we find Aristotle using in this context is that of a builder building a house, an activity that looks on the face of it as if it can be divided into two, namely the activity of the building and the completed product of the house. Aristotle also discusses another two activities, those of a doctor treating his patient and a teacher teaching his students and here it is perhaps not so easy to conceive of creative artistic activity and a completed “product”. One thing is absolutely certain and that is that in his descriptions and explanations of these three activities we encounter no attempt to isolate the holistic complexes of the builder building, the doctor doctoring, and the teacher teaching into independent and independent variables.

It is rather the form or principle of the change from, for example, there being an empty plot of land to there appearing a house built upon the land that Aristotle focuses upon. He reflects upon materialistic explanations that relate only to the material used in this process of change and comments that following the journey of the materials from the quarries and the woods to their manipulation by the builder(efficient cause) to the final finished product will never fully explain the change we have witnessed. For that, he argues, we would need to understand how the psuche is endowed with knowledge of the principles involved in building the house: for this understanding, we need to resort to explaining how the formal and final causes interacted with the material and efficient causes. The name for the knowledge that the builder has is techne(an instrumental form of knowing which utilizes tools in a context of equipmental involvements) but it is not certain that this “artistic” knowledge suffices for the theoretical knowledge the doctor and teacher require for the exercise of their professions. In these two situations, we may need to refer to epistemé. In the case of the doctor the telos or final cause is the health of the body of the patient and in the case of the teacher, for Aristotle, it is the health of the student’s soul that is at stake. In the latter case, we are definitely dealing with epistemé because at the end of the teaching the student must grasp the principles that are being taught, be they scientific, mathematical or philosophical. In this latter case the metaphors of “material” and shaping” are strained but we do say that we are forming these young minds if we are teachers.

It should not be forgotten that abstract and concrete forms are being transmitted in the polis. For the benefit of the polis the light of these forms enlightens the dark aspects of the polis as Plato’s sun enlightens the darkness of the Cosmos. Besides the transmission of concrete forms such as buildings(so important to the polis), built by citizens for citizens and the abstract forms of epistemé there is a third realm of forms whose transmission is vital to the polis, namely that which is produced as the consequence of sexual reproduction, namely children. Children will ensure the continuity of building, doctoring teaching and governing and thereby if this is done virtuously (in the name of aretè) hopefully ensure the continued existence of the polis.

Having divided action and conduct into parts we then see the consequence of such division for ethical understanding. Brett claims the following:

“..desire and wish and will are all harmonious in the complete character. This, as an ethical ideal, implies that the true good and the object of all from the psychological standpoint, the goodness and badness of the end, is not of primary importance. The question that belongs to Psychology is that of unity or coordination of impulses, not the question of the rightness of intention.”

So, we see the intentional ends of the house, the welfare of the patient, and the successful education of the student are not of primary importance for Brett as they are for Aristotle. This is an astonishing conclusion and appears to leave the realm of practical and theoretical reasoning curiously determined by hypothetical considerations. This we must point out is entirely inconsistent with the Aristotelian position. Brett continues his tactic of division and divides particular action from any universal to which it might belong and he ominously further claims that only rarely does the means and the ends of action form what he calls an “ideal unity” What does he mean here? That houses are not successfully built, patients only rarely cured and that teaching only rarely results in learning? This, of course, would seem to follow if intentions are merely subjective and the pure physically described movements what is truly objective. This is not, however in accordance with the logic or metaphysics of Aristotle who regarded intentions as the embodiments of the forms or principles of house building, health after treatment, and knowledge and wisdom imparted by teaching.

Our world is a world composed of principles and not the totality of facts or variables of the scientist.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Plato

Hits: 135

Brett in his work “The History of Psychology” claims that Plato continued the epistemological tradition of the Sophists and Socrates and he also added that Plato ended up in a position that the Sophists and Socrates would not be sympathetic with. We argued in an earlier essay that it is misleading to place the Sophists and Socrates inside the same pair of brackets simply because there is clearly a natural and spontaneous antagonism between the assumptions of these two positions. It can also be argued that Platonic Philosophy is a natural and logical continuation of the development of Socratic philosophy and a prototype for his pupil’s Metaphysically based hylomorphic theory. Furthermore, Plato’s work is indebted to Parmenides, a fact that is underestimated in many classical and modern accounts  including A Kenny’s “A New History of Western Philosophy”:

“But while the (Platonic) realm of the Ideas is unchanging, it is not uniform or homogeneous like Parmenides Being: Being is undifferentiated and single, whereas there are many different Ideas in some kind of relation to each other. They appear to be hierarchically ordered under the Idea of the Good, which appears to trump any notion of Being(Republic 6, 509b). No doubt the other Ideas owe it to the Idea of the Good that they are ideas at all.”(p207)

The passage in the Republic that is referred to above(6,509b) follows:

“Therefore, say, that not only being known is present in the things known as a consequence of the good, but also existence and being are in them besides as a result of it, although the good is not being but is still beyond being, exceeding it in dignity and power.”

Parmenides Idea of “The One” would actually have been a better comparison point for Kenny. Plato has not replaced “The One” by “The Good” but probably believed that they are in some sense logically identical in the way that Christians later came to identify God and “The Good”. The One, according to Parmenides includes both Being and not Being in very much in which the Idea of the Good includes the idea of the not Good.

This area of reflection is right at the heart of the philosophical endeavour and it is not surprising therefore that instead of arguments for his position Plato produces three allegories amongst which is the allegory of the Sun in book 6 of the Republic where Socrates is arguing the following:

“Therefore, say that what provides the truth to the things known and provides the power to the one who knows is the Idea of the Good. And as the source of knowledge and truth you can understand it to be a thing known: but as far as these two are–knowledge and truth—if you believe that it is something different from them and still fewer than they, your belief will be right. As for knowledge and truth, just as in the other region it is right to hold light and sight sunlike, but to believe them to be the sun is not right: so, too, here,to hold these two to be like the good is right, but to believe that either of them is the good is not right”(Republic 6 508e)

This passage is highly suggestive of two facts that run contrary to the claims of Brett and Kenny, namely that Plato is very much concerned with Metaphysics and Ethics and their relation to epistemology. The line of development of the philosophy of the Sophists, therefore can not be seen to run through either Socrates or Plato. This is reinforced by appreciating the next link in this chain of continuation, namely the Philosophy of Aristotle that is equally antagonistic to the relativism and “scientific” pragmatism of the Sophists.  We also fail to find any commitment to subjective individualism of the kind one encounters in Sophist philosophizing in the Philosophy of Aristotle.

At least two other dialogues testify both to the metaphysical commitments of Plato and to his proto-Aristotelian positions in Politics and Science. In “The Laws” for example, Socrates has been replaced by an anonymous Athenian as the leading protagonist, and Philosophers have also disappeared from the government of the ideal Callipolis of Magnesia. Laws are no longer Parmenidean unchanging entities and even the best of them are open to reform. The Metaphysics of change has caused several waves of change that appears to have swept the Republic into the sea. Education is now the foundation of the political system and this can be seen even in the demand for pedagogical explanations of the laws as well as in the need to prevent impiety which sanctifies not only a proto-monotheistic Aristotelian God but also the human race.

“The Timaeus”  is a late work of Plato’s which deals, in metaphysical spirit, with the history of the Universe and life forms. In the beginning was chaos until the soul was infused into this “living chaos”. Life was, it is argued, present in some form in the chaos. It is clear that Aristotle’s matter/form distinction is anticipated in this work. In Raphaels “School of Athens” we find Plato holding this work whilst pointing upward toward the Good Creator. Form and principle for Aristotle are synonymous and although it is the case that Aristotle’s work the  “Metaphysics” opens with the claim “All men desire to know” much of this work is devoted to the answering of so-called aporetic questions, an activity which despite the claim that Being has many meanings, clearly is in search of the first principles of Philosophy.

Aristotle was also a significant figure in biology. The Timaeus provides a description of the body that must have clearly interested and Inspired Aristotle. Plato’s account is that the organism is embedded in a process of creation that is driven by a final end or telos. It is, for example, claimed that this creation process:

“divided the veins about the head and interlaced them about each other in order that they might form an additional link between the head and the body, and that the sensations from both sides might be diffused throughout the body.”

Plato is here, rather surprisingly, given his earlier arguments against materialism, giving us a material account of the body. He goes on to speak of Perception in terms of the motion involved in both the objects and the processes of activating the organs of the subject. Plato also surprisingly embarks on a discussion of the desire for nutrition as a fundamental activity of the composite body-soul. The soul part of this complex apparently has two creators: the rational part of the soul being the creation of God and the lower irrational part(also divided into two parts) the creation of the demiurge. Thus is created a hierarchy of soul functions that we also find in Aristotle’s reflections on the soul. Desires arising anywhere in the hierarchy can in principle affect any other part of the hierarchy. The soul, too, begins its life in chaos and spends its life attempting to establish a state of equilibrium: a state that is always unstable because of a fundamental dependence upon the ever-changing Heraclitean external world. Out of this initial chaos at, birth sensation emerges as the organs in general(including the brain) and the organs of perception, in particular, establish relations with each other and with the external world. The sentient parts of the organism are obviously a key to the successful relationship with the external world. Sensations of pleasure and pain are caused when the “motions” a particular organ is subjected to suits its receptivity function: pain arises when the organ is “irritated” by the external stimulus. These thoughts display a dual aspect approach to the person: firstly the organism is viewed as an object surrounded by an external world in flux and secondly, the organism is under the aspect of a causa sui of motions and activities in the world. Brett has this to say on this topic:

“From one point of view man is an organism in contact with the world around him, and he must, therefore, be studied as an object among objects, from another he is the centre of a world which may or may not have its objective counterpart, a world of ideas which must in some degree be subjective. In discussing perceptions we take up the cognitive aspect of man’s life and all that we should now call subjective, in a sense hardly appreciated by Plato.”

Brett is espousing a scientific notion of subjectivity that is not in accordance with what Parmenides and modern followers of Aristotle and Kant would call “The Way of the Truth” which must include the truths or knowledge we possess of man and his perception of and reasoning about the world. R. S. Peters in his edited version of Brett’s work, “The History of Psychology” discusses the scientific error of confusing thought about an activity with that activity itself, preferring a description of the activity to an explanation for the activity. In the context of this debate, sensations are certainly something caused to happen in relation to the  body of man, but under another aspect when a man perceives(pays attention to these sensations) he does so in accordance with ideas that partially determine the object of his perception. This latter perspective is clearly expressed in a number of Plato’s works: the physical oak tree that one may perceive “participates” in the idea or principle of the oak tree(i.e. what it is that makes the oak tree the oak tree that it is). Scientific objectivity assumes a beginning of knowledge in particulars and charts an ascent into the realm of generalization whereas Plato’s view is clearly that whatever the nature of the origins of knowledge, the general cognitive attitude associated with knowledge is that which understands particulars in terms of general ideas or “forms” or principles. A principle is a generalization and belongs to the category of the universal: a principle is categorically related to its particulars. This is to be contrasted with scientific hypothetical generalizations that for example relate particular causes to particular effects. The major problem at issue, of course, is how to characterize the category of universal ideas. This issue is often mistakenly described in terms of causation, i.e. in terms of how it is that we come to acquire these ideas and Plato clearly ventured into this territory in his work the Timaeus. Aristotle’s attitude toward these two aspects of investigation(man, the object, man the agent) is more complex and more transparent. Aristotle via his theory of change characterized four different kinds of explanations, two of which are concerned with man the object and two of which concerned with man the agent. Aristotle in his discussion of this “how” question related to the acquisition of knowledge couched his account in terms of the soul and its power to abstract from the differences between particulars that are experienced, thus focussing on the active agent rather than the passive object of this learning process.

Metaphysics is a holistic study and encourages the division of wholes into parts only if the parts retain important characteristics of the whole(in the way that characterizing man as a swarm of atoms does not). It is this relation of the parts to the whole that permits logical investigations to arrive at knowledge that cannot be reasonably doubted. If the soul is a principle the question that naturally arises is whether a principle can have parts that have characteristics of the whole. Both Plato and Aristotle believe this to be the case and are in agreement that there are logical arguments for dividing the soul into parts. The Republic contains an argument by Socrates to the effect that if the soul did not have parts the fact that a soul could both want to drink some water because they are thirsty and at the same time not want to drink the water because it might be poisoned, would be a contradiction. It is not a contradiction because the soul does have at least two parts. This same reasoning can be applied to generate a soul composed of three parts: Reason, Spirit, and Appetite. This logical reasoning is not moreover academically isolated from the world of experience. We can all see, Plato argues, forms of human life in which one of these parts dominate. In the wealthy man’s life, we can see the presence of the virtue of temperance or the vice of superfluity. In the spirited man’s life, we can see the presence of courage and ambition. In the life of the reasoning man, we can detect the presence of the virtue of wisdom. Plato’s allegory of the cave and the allegory of the divided line illustrate these forms of life by using a cognitive scale of imagination, belief, hypothetical mathematical knowledge, and categorical philosophical knowledge. Science, Plato would argue in defense of himself against the accusation of resorting to the subjective that the subjective belongs to a lower form of life that the philosophical-metaphysical knowledge required by the examined life led by the wise man. Science, in response, can always redescribe the abstract categorical in its own concrete hypothetical terms, and this is certainly happening when it comes to the interpretation of certain key judgments relating to the soul. One such judgment is the claim that the soul is immortal. We pointed out earlier the debt that Socrates owed to Anaxagoras and the categorical metaphysical claim that “All is mind”.  Many commentators have difficulty in understanding, for example, what is meant by “soul” or “mind” as these terms occur in the reflections on immortality by  Socrates in Plato’s Apology and the dialogue of the Phaedo. Kenny in his “New History of Western Philosophy” has the following to say on this issue:

“Socrates in Plato’s Apology appears to be agnostic about the possibility of an afterlife. Is death, he wonders, a dreamless sleep or is it a journey to another world to meet the glorious dead?…. The Platonic Socrates of the Phaedo, however, is a most articulate protagonist of the thesis that the soul not only survives death but is better off after death.”(p214)

In interpreting the passages in these dialogues Kenny, unnecessarily concretizes or reifies the soul instead of examining the possibility that a better interpretation of psuche is to regard it as a principle. The Timaeus characterizes the soul in terms of a hierarchy of functions all interconnected. The lower parts of the hierarchy are obviously connected to bodily desires and appetites and these are supposedly regulated by the principle or rule of temperance. Kenny, also, arguably, insufficiently appreciates the use of allegory or metaphorical language in the characterization of the whole and the relation of these parts to the whole and to each other. He claims, for example, in response to this quote from the Phaedo:

“Thought is best when the mind is gathered into itself, and none of these things trouble it–neither sounds nor sights nor pain, nor again any pleasure–when it takes leave of the body and has as little as possible to do with it.”

Kenny makes the following claim:

“So philosophers in pursuit of truth keep their souls detached from their bodies. But death is the separation of the soul from the body: hence a true philosopher has throughout his life been craving for death.”(65C)

One can no more separate a principle explaining the behaviour of a human being from the body producing that behaviour than you can separate the law of gravitation from falling or orbiting bodies: or if you believe you can separate the principle from the matter than  this merely calls  for a metaphysical theory explaining the nature of this separation. Of course, it is the case that one can argue that Plato owes us more of an explanation for the relation of this principle to our human activities of perceiving, imagining, believing, knowing, reasoning etc. One can, however, perhaps better appreciate Aristotle’s replacement of Platonic allegory with theoretical explanations and justifications.

The words “another world” occurred in an earlier discussion and the question we need to ask in this context is: “if this is a metaphysical expression what is its meaning?”. One response to this is to deny that the statement is metaphysical. When Socrates died there is a sense in which he continues to survive in at least two non-metaphysical respects. He is, in a sense present now in this discussion and perhaps will be present forever in discussions in the future. His physical ancestors might also be with us. This world we now live in might for Socrates have been the other world Socrates was metaphorically referring to. It is also the case that it is not at all difficult to imagine Socrates in the company of Homer, Parmenides, Heraclitus Anaxagoras etc. as well as all the great philosophers that succeeded him. Of course, there is no sense in which Socrates is actually here with us and that is because we believe that he is dead and also that death is the end of that body which was sustained by the principle of Socrates. We still, however, have access to the principle of Socrates via our thought about him and our reflections on his philosophy. That he is not actually or concretely here and now present means that what is meant by his reflections is that he is imagining himself to be dead and imagining “another world”, a very reasonable metaphor in the circumstances.

In the dialogue Phaedo, Simius and Cebes felt that the Greeks of their time would reject the idea that the soul could survive the body. In the light of the above reflections, the cognitive attitude of these Greeks is probably founded upon the belief that the absence of activity in the current perceptible world entails the absence of the principle responsible for that activity. It does not entail that this principle can survive in some concrete form in the discourse of others about Socrates. Claiming, as some do, that Socrates that because Socrates was “imagining” another world and that this was, therefore, “subjective”  is not a helpful characterization of the cognitive attitude involved in this context.

For Plato, there are intermediate soul functions between the passive receptive functions associated with sensations and the more advanced functions that actively think about these affections. These intermediate functions include mental powers such as memory, mental association, emotion, and imagination. Emotions apparently are caused by violent motions or stimuli. Stimulation of sensation to the extent that the organ is well adapted to the stimulus produces a state of equilibrium or pleasure and these are the states we generally want to experience. These are referred to as “complete states”. They are recorded in memory, which produces ideas/desires for the purposes of recollection or repetition. these can be simple ideas such as the idea of water when we are thirsty or more complex ideas such as that of  “warm drink”. These states are obviously connected to cognitive states and attitudes because we know what we want. Brett has this to say on the issue:

“The body never has knowledge, however indispensable an instrument it might be to the attainment of knowledge in some cases:and therefore naturally the body is not the seat of desires or emotions. The soul, when affected by desire is in a condition essentially painful: for desire is consciousness of incompleteness. But there is no desire totally devoid of pleasure, for desire is a tendency to greater perfection, and that in itself, is pleasant.”

Needing or wanting may have its roots in the body but the consequent conscious desire is that which satisfies this corporeal need or want. The object that satisfies this desire, namely,  involves conscious reflection on a former experience. The mind recalls this object by means of an idea. In the “Way of Opinion,” there are false opinions that attempt to unite ideas that ought not to be united. Correct opinion unites ideas correctly but the result is not understood as part of the system of ideas it actually belongs to. It is this latter understanding that is involved in the “Way of the Truth”. In this hierarchy of functions, then, sensation and feeling(emotion) are obviously not at the level of knowledge in relation to the Way of the Truth because knowledge involves a systematic relation of ideas to each other. It is this systematic relation of ideas that is the foundation for the logical truth making relations established by the highest of the soul functions, namely Reason. The wise man, it should be emphasized, is the man who has perfected a large number of powers in the hierarchy of powers and this can be seen by those who know in the contemplative and examined form of life he leads. The wise man grasps and understands the ends of life that are embedded in a human nature that generates the goods of the virtues at various levels of the hierarchy of the soul’s powers. This final integration of the parts of the soul is expressed in the Greek term areté(virtue) which is the mark of the wise man who does the right thing at the right time in the right way. The wise man knows that his time will come to an end: he knows that is,  that in accordance with an ancient prophecy which has been confirmed by everything he knows, he will die. He furthermore knows and has reasoned his way to the conviction that there will be no further life after death. Death is a final end for all living things. He knows he can imagine another world but it will not be filled with bodiless spirits. The world he imagines will be filled with living things that will die and his presence will be metaphorical, something like a presence, but not a living breathing presence: it will be an imagined presence based on reasoning. When his religious friends tell him that he can expect another life after this one he knows that they are not actively using their imagination, their imagination is rather being used by a primitive desire or wish not to die. He knows they are phantasising

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Part two The Sophists, Socrates and the Consciousness of method(Brett’s History of Psychology)

Hits: 157

Brett has a view of the Enlightenment which is distinctly Hobbesian/Humean and this is revealed particularly in his characterization of  Sophism:

“For the Sophists interpret their age in trying to restore the individual and assert his rights, and this element is common to all enlightenments, seems to furnish the peculiar flavour of their work.”

Brett then attributes this idea of a “self-determining agent” to Socrates and places him at the end of a line of Sophists which we assume must include Thrasymachus, who is generally regarded as one of the foremost figures reasoning in a manner Parmenides characterizes as “The Way of Opinion”. 

The most famous exchange between Thrasymachus and Socrates occurs in book 1 of Plato’s “Republic”. The topic of exchange is Justice and Socrates is in search of the truth and a definition. Thrasymachus inserts himself into the discussion aggressively and agrees to provide a definition that appeals to the popular status quo of governments that in fact in the name of justice pass laws that are in their own self-interest: a position that for Parmenides is a case of journeying along the path of opinion. Socrates subjects this attempt at a definition to a dose of elenchus and expresses surprise that Thrasymachus has perverted the course of the discussion by claiming that actions that are clearly unjust on any reasonable definition should be regarded as characterizing the essence of justice. Thrasymachus accuses Socrates of trickery after having made the announcement that Socrates does not have the resources to defeat him in open argument but Socrates eventually traps Thrasymachus in the jaws of a contradiction that relies on the assumption that all acts of justice require knowledge if they are to fulfill their intentions. If then, a strong government working in its own self-interests passes laws without knowledge, it is possible that the consequences that ensue might well turn out not to be in the interests of those that have passed the laws. Elenchus is a form of dialectical reasoning that is designed to arrive at the truth without contradiction and Thrasymachus probably believing that he has been tricked,  only participates sporadically and peripherally through the rest of the dialogue.

Earlier in his discussion of the Pre-Socratics Brett accused Plato of epistemologizing Philosophy. In relation to this point, it is certainly the case that the Republic is claiming that it is “knowledge of the good” which determines whether or not the rulers of a city-state will cause that city-state to fall into ruin. This hardly appears to be a controversial judgment or indeed anything to do with an individual self sufficiently correctly and justly acting in accordance with   Hobbesian “principle” of self-interest.

Brett continues his account by complaining about metaphysics and its endless generation of speculative hypotheses: 

“the eternal  circling of thought around the apparently unknowable”.

The above might be a comment not just on metaphysics but also on the way of opinion that produces a manifold of hypotheses in every so-called line of interest or tradition of inquiry.  Brett claims that metaphysics is in need of Sophism in order to “emancipate the intellect” of man.  From what do we need to emancipate man? The definitions of Socrates? Perusing the Platonic dialogues can it not be said that it is precisely the method of elenchus in search of a definition which revealed the essence of the subject of inquiry that enabled the mind to organize the proliferation of hypotheses in accordance with principles?

Placing Thrasymachus and Socrates in the same class of philosophers runs contrary to Plato’s characterization of these two antagonists as dialectical opponents. Brett does then admittedly claim that he is only referring to some of the Sophists and he specifically names Protagoras in the same breath as he characterizes Sophism as having ” arrived far enough on the road of development to demand some scientific explanation of knowledge”.

Socrates and Protagoras were contemporaries and in the Platonic dialogue entitles “Protagoras” we find Socrates arguing that virtue is not an instrumental/technological matter: it is not “scientific” in that sense. If to take the example of medicine, one is ill, one consults an expert, a doctor. In matters of virtue such as justice, on the other hand, Socrates argues that we do not need an expert, because we all understand the principles of the good that are involved. Protagoras’ immediate response is an appeal to mythology: Epimetheus whose task it was at the origin of living things to give man the powers he needed to survive, apparently forgot to give man any powers at all. Prometheus, his twin brother attempted to correct his brother’s error by stealing fire and practical(instrumental?) reasoning from the Gods. The race of man was notwithstanding these gifts on the brink of extinction thus forcing Zeus to intercede and send Hermes with the further “gifts” of shame and justice. To supplement this account that actually supports Socrates’ account as much as it does his own, he argues that we do not hold the ugly, the dwarfish or the weak-minded responsible for their actions because they cannot help not understanding what justice is. Protagoras adds a second argument that points out we do attempt to teach people who are unjust or irreligious and we expect them to learn what they do not know but need to know. Parents instruct their children and teachers continue this instruction. Not everyone, however, has the capacity to learn this skill(which Protagoras equates with learning to play the flute) and this it is claimed is evidence for the fact that what appears to be a part of human nature is not.

Socrates, as a result of the above argument, surprisingly appears to change his position and agree that virtue can be taught which is a position that must follow if the virtues are knowledge. Protagoras, on the other hand, believes that virtue can be taught because it is like a craft. But Socrates in other dialogues argues that although there is a sense in which knowledge can be learned it might not be possible to teach knowledge unless the right kind of mental work is done by the learner. This becomes clear in the dialogue of the Meno when Socrates via a series of leading questions “teaches” a slave boy the Pythagorean theorem. In relation to this accomplishment, Socrates means to establish that he did not impart this knowledge but the slave boy in some way using Socrates’ questions as a guide somehow “recollected” the Pythagorean principle from another and better world. It is difficult to interpret what is meant here but one suggestion is that the world of mathematics was being evoked in Socrates’ questions and the slave boy understood what he ought to in that world in order to answer Socrates’ questions. What this appears to illustrate is that the world of mathematics is an area of knowledge requiring understanding, a different kind of knowledge compared to that involved in the learning of skills. In the latter case the “measure” of the learning, to use Protagoras’ term is the production of an external object ” as a consequence” of the kind of knowledge involved. What Socrates appears to be objecting to here is that this kind of physical consequential knowledge is very different to the mental “understanding” of a principle in an area of knowledge(a different and better world).

In Plato’s “Republic” Glaucon, Plato’s brother, is not happy with the outcome of Socrates’ use of elenchus in the discussion with Thrasymachus. He insists that Socrates has not proved that knowledge of the good is necessary if one is to lead a flourishing life. He demands that Socrates prove that “The Good” is not just good in itself as Socrates has been trying to prove but that it also has good consequences. This then seems to be a logical culmination of discussions in earlier dialogues. Indeed Glaucon appears here to be the bearer of the mantle of Sophism and this demand appears to be the logical consequence of all the earlier exchanges between Socrates and the Sophists. Glaucon prior to this demand had argued that people only respect and follow the law because they are afraid of the consequences. Were they to possess the quality of invisibility and thus the impossibility of detection they would commit the most heinous crimes. Socrates, it is important to note here does not object to Glaucon on the grounds of truth, rather he merely claims that this behaviour based on a fearful reaction does not constitute “knowledge of the good”. It seems rather, to be following the Protagorean principle that virtue is the art of calculating or measuring the consequences in accordance with the pleasures one naturally seeks and the pains one naturally seeks to avoid. Modern scholars, in Socratic spirit,  regularly accuse Protagoras of being a relativist, especially in relation to his claim that man is the measure of all the things that are and of all the things that are not. This has not prevented ethical theorists from embracing consequentialist positions that have ignored the earlier Socratic objections and later Kantian objections that would appeal in the name of knowledge of the good to the understanding of the good intention. For Kant, it is the good intention that binds the “measure” to the chain of consequences that might flow from any action. It is indeed difficult to “measure” ethical circumstances such as the soldier throwing himself on a hand grenade about to explode. He saves some children but loses his own life. Obviously, any reasonable calculation would reveal the former to be a good consequence and the latter to be a bad consequence. The question that arises from such a “calculation” is: “Does the action, then, possess both characteristics(of the good and the bad) simultaneously? Or do we need recourse to the knowledge of the soldier to resolve this matter, the knowledge namely that he knew firstly  of the consequence of saving the children and desired that  and he also knew secondly of the consequence of the loss of his life and he accepted that(on the grounds of his own complex understandable reasons). We praise this act as virtuous because we know about his “knowledge of the good”. Contrast this with Glaucon’s “fear of the consequences”: a soldier fearful of the consequences would refrain from the action but would not be praised for preserving his own life(praising a soldier for such behaviour would be an example of an “inversion of values”). 

According to the Socrates of the Republic( The Socrates that Plato uses to convey his own theories), then,  it is this knowledge of the good that unites all the virtues into “One”. Aristotle  also felt the need to address Protagoras’s  relativism, The Epistemological  aspect of Protagoras’ philosophy is as Aristotle  puts it in  his Metaphysics:

“all beliefs and appearances are true”( IV 5 1009 6-9)

What this amounts to is that when A believes p to be p, it must be p and when q appears to be p, it must be p. This is clearly a violation of the Principle of Non-Contradiction which does not, by the way, deny that something can be p at one point in time, and q at another point in time. This possibility is explained by Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory in which the potentiality of q appearing to be p at one time but at another time revealing itself to be the q it actually is: here q is actually q in Aristotle’s First Philosophy.

Given the above discussion, it is unclear why Brett wishes to praise the Sophists for as he puts it “ushering in the spirit of scientific tradition”. This case only holds water because he paradoxically includes Socrates(who was no relativist) in the class of Sophists. The bonding together of these antagonists produces unnecessary complications unless one wishes to maintain that Science is not concerned with definitions that obey the principles of contradiction and sufficient reason: unless, that is, one wishes to in some sense claim that Science itself is hypothetical and relativistic). Brett does seem to focus on Science in the context of discovery and generally ignore the contexts of explanation and justification. Certainly, if one confines oneself to this context of discovery it is reasonable to point out that hypotheses might even contradict one another in this process. This suggestion is strongly supported by statements such as :

“The truth seems to be that there are no methodological recipes for being a  successful scientist”.

A curious statement given that methodology in the form of systematic observation, experimental manipulation, and measurement of variables in the search for causes is what is commonly taught in all science courses. Characterizing this matter in the form of a “recipe” is also a kind of Freudian slip because a recipe is obviously a kind of tool in the hands of a craftsman(the cook). Insofar as Protagoras is concerned, his “recipe” for investigation consists in the demand that we always check or “measure” every statement against the experience of Man. This is obviously good advice for particular causal statements but it might not be relevant if one is dealing with the essentially  conceptual statement “All events have causes”( the principle one uses in all scientific investigations). If Protagoras is suggesting that we verify the above in terms of the experience of Man it is not clear whether that can be done given the fact that it is a condition for the investigation of the experience of man. This, in other words, is the region of science best referred to as the context of justification.

Brett referenced enlightenment periods in his introductory remarks and  Kant is the philosopher par excellence from the Age of enlightenment. He argued forcefully in his “Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals” for recognising a fundamental logical difference between the use of instrumental and technological reasoning used by, for example, craftsmen, and  the kind of categorical reasoning used for the understanding of a world “measured” by the true and the principle of non contradiction. Kant’s critical philosophy in many important respects supports the Socratic and Aristotelian positions and rejects the positions of many of the Sophists. For Kant, the instrumental good and the categorical good are obviously in some way related but they are distinctly different in that the latter has a universal and logical character and the former has a hypothetical and causal structure. Causal structures of action can tolerate, for example,  that one effect of a cause can be ethically bad(losing one’s life) and the effect of that effect be good(saving the children) thus permitting the judgment that the effects of a cause can be both good and bad. Categorical reasoning does not tolerate the above relativistic characterisation. As we noted instrumental reasoning is certainly possible in the context of discovery in Science and a corresponding hypothetical cognitive attitude is certainly appropriate in such a context. Once, however, we reach the level of a definition of a phenomenon this ought to be a categorical dimension in which the definition must be necessarily true and free of contradiction.

The above might explain why Kant could comfortably write about the Metaphysics of material Nature and the Metaphysics of Morals in the same categorical tone. Kant’s work on the  Metaphysics of material Nature discerns two levels of scientific activity that are independent of experience, namely the transcendental and the metaphysical. The Kantian would have no difficulty integrating the categorical justifications of the categorical imperative with the categorical justifications of Science, for example, “All events must have a cause”.  Regarding  Science in a verificationist experience based spirit as Brett does makes it impossible to generate an ethics congruent with our understanding of the good. Faced with such a prospect there are, of course, two alternatives: One can either relativize ethics or one can try as Kant did focus on the contexts of explanation and justification in ones characterization of Science. Some commentators would claim that our modern age has chosen the former of the two alternatives.

Brett’s final judgment on Socrates is that he impeded the development of the Science of Psychology and he goes on to  praise Aristippus for his contribution to what he calls the theory of cognition:

“In the sphere of cognition, he recognizes only the subjective state, the inner movement of which we are conscious and from that deduces the proposition that all knowledge is subjective, the thing remaining unknown and only the effects of its action being perceived. this seems clear from the fact that things appear differently to different people or to the same people at different times…he saw clearly that feelings as feelings have in themselves no distinctions of better and worse.”

Brett regards this last statement, namely that feelings are what they are, and not what they ought to be or not ought to be, a “psychological truth”. On this account, a man’s relations to his feelings can only be studied by recording their occurrence historically. At every time T if there is a particular feeling it is recorded. This is one possible consequence of the above psychological truth. There is here no context of justification, only a descriptive context of discovery in which the subject discovers the next feeling in a Heraclitean flux of sensations.  What has happened to the building block of knowledge in this account, namely thought? If Socrates is famous for anything it is surely nothing to do with his sensations that are only rarely recorded in Plato’s dialogues but rather everything to do with the systematic manner of his thinking: the way in which the Socratic  method explains or justifies his thoughts and the way in which thinking links up to what we ought and ought not to do and believe.  Indeed the very concept of thought we have inherited from our knowledge of Socrates via the stylus of Plato is that of talking to oneself, a dialogue with oneself which includes the context of discovery, as well as the contexts of explanation and justification. Plato’s dialogues are records of Socrates’ thoughts whether they be facts, explanations or justifications.

In support of this, Hannah Arendt points out in her writings about the Eichmann trial that the evil we attribute to this man might be relating to his inability to think in terms of what he ought or ought not to have done. Eichmann was not a man like Socrates who pursued truth, explanation, and justification. Socrates, argues Arendt, would not have murdered anyone, let alone millions of people, because his inner voice or daemon would not have allowed him to live  in peace with a murderer given the fact that the soul is structured in terms of the part that decides to do  things and the part that determines whether what has been decided, ought or ought not to be done . The self in conversation with itself also refers to the myth described in Protagoras regarding Hermes and his “gifts” of shame and justice(the “tools” of the Freudian superego). Arendt’s work was met with a storm of controversy from the Jewish community(Arendt was herself arrested by the Nazis for being Jewish) because it was not believed that the cause of evil was as banal as the absence of thought. This thesis is not difficult to believe if one possesses a clear picture of the nature of thought and its power.

The above appeal to Aristippus reminds one distinctly of Brett’s earlier account of Science as a story that has not yet proven to be false: a story is a recorded sequence of events. Is this a consequence of  Brett’s conception of part of the cultural inheritance from the Enlightenment : a good story about an individual?

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition and Consciousness: Part One The Pre-Socratic Thinkers, Brett and Heidegger.

Hits: 142

Philosophy itself has a long history of seeking to follow the prescription “Ask of everything, what it is, in its nature”. This question has been high on the list of priorities in its own investigations of the soul, self, or person and very early on in the history of this inquiry the inimitable Greek philosophers convinced themselves and everybody else for centuries that the path of reason and truth and the search for  laws or principles of human nature were the necessary constituents of any serious investigation. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were in agreement that the investigation into the nature of man should not be so-called “content-driven” inquiries similar to those initiated by some of the Pre-Socratic thinkers, especially those inquiries that were undertaken by the more materialistically inclined investigators. Socrates is an interesting figure to refer to in this context because he began his philosophical investigations into the search for natural explanations for difficult to explain phenomena. Upon reading a work by Anaxagoras Socrates is reported(by Plato) to have turned his back on natural inquiries and begun his search for knowledge of the good and of the self. Anaxagoras is reported to have claimed that “All is mind”  and this was the first step on the road to Socrates’ conversion from the investigation of nature to the investigation of the realm of ideas and their relation to reason. The difference between the early and late investigations of Socrates is best illustrated in the scene of Plato’s dialogue Phaedo in which Socrates claims that the explanation for his plight of being incarcerated is not to be found  in the material movements of his body causing  him to  move to prison  but the explanation is rather to be found in the realm of ideas, in the reasons for his actions. Any investigation of this matter, if it was needed, would, therefore, focus upon what the person or his mind does, in,  that is, what is decided, what is willed as revealed to us in a context of explanation constituted of our cognitive attitudes and desires.

Brett in his work “The History of Psychology” claims that there are different categories of explanation. R S Peters in his abridged one-volume edition of the work has this to say on this issue:

“What we call Psychology is just an amalgam of different questions about human beings which have grown out of a variety of traditions of inquiry.”

Brett in his work actually claims three such broad  “lines of interest” but it should be remembered that the third and last volume of this work was published in 1921 at a time when Psychology had only ca 50 years earlier detached itself from Philosophy. These “great lines of interest”  are, firstly, the essential questions raised by Psychology, secondly, questions raised by the medical profession and thirdly, the questions raised by the theologians and the Philosophers. Placing theologians and philosophers inside the same pair of brackets does, however, raise some questions about the criteria that Brett may have used to define a ” line of interest”. Theology and Philosophy have certainly been asking different kinds of questions about the nature of man ever since Socrates used elenchus on the theologian Euthyphro in the Platonic dialogue of the same name. The reluctance or refusal of the Church to translate Aristotle’s works into Latin is probably another event suggestive of the difficulty of conflating theological and philosophical traditions of inquiry. Given these objections, it can reasonably be claimed that there are at least four lines of interest and that Philosophy can claim to be a unique line of interest/inquiry. Philosophical events after the publication of Brett’s work such as the rise of Analytical Philosophy of Science in general and Logical Positivism in particular also argue for a differentiation of philosophical from theological questions. on the grounds of a rejection of metaphysical explanations. Brett’s position interestingly rejects that there is some unique kind of object of interest or subject matter that defines the realm of Psychology.

R S Peters embellishes Brett’s account by making a point about the role of language in the activities of these “lines of interest”. Peters claims that in the tradition of thinking about man, language contains a background of ages of inductive reasoning about man’s nature. Language by this means has also shaped our assumptions and interests.

Perhaps in the light of the considerable developments we have seen in Psychological investigations in the twentieth century, there is a case for claiming that there are also a number of traditions of inquiry within this discipline, ranging from biological theorizing to Humanistic theorizing. There is, however,  an important philosophical distinction to be observed in this discussion and this is the Kantian differentiation between events that happen to a person and events initiated by the will of a person(when a person does something). R S Peters focuses upon this difference by drawing attention to the distinction between questions investigating the facts(what is the case) and questions investigating what ought to be the case, what we ought to do. The latter investigation moves us into a different universe of prescriptive discourse wherein we refer to judgments of appraisal and attitude, a very different universe of discourse to that wherein facts are described and even used for explanatory purposes. There is indeed a relation of relevance between these two universes of discourse(what is the case, and what ought to be the case) but there is no straightforward deductive relationship. This is a paradoxical relation from the scientific point of view considering the uncomfortable philosophical claim that it is the ought judgment which determines the interest and attitude we bring to bear on investigations into physical reality rather than the observations of physical reality solely determining the cognitive attitude we form of that reality. What is being referred to in this discussion are two different contexts: the context of justification and the context of discovery. The prescriptive ought judgment, for example, “One ought not to murder any other person” is the universal justification for the particular judgment that  “A ought not to have murdered B”. There is a confusion of the logical relationship between these two judgments when one places these judgments within a scientific context of discovery in which discovering the fact that A has murdered B suffices to prove the falsity of the universal generalization “One ought not to murder anyone”.

Prescriptive questions fall clearly into the domains of both Ethics and Philosophical Psychology and these are both ancient concerns and modern philosophical concerns. Many oracular judgments, for example. “Know thyself”  and “Nothing too much” were formative of the view that Ancient Greek Philosophy had of the appraisals we make and the cognitive attitudes we have formed of human beings and their activities.

The difference between ancient concerns and later philosophical reflection upon these concerns is that the latter involves asking a second-order type of question which asks, for example, whether the justification for the judgment “one ought not to murder anyone” is an appropriate justification. This request for a justification of a justification led to the type of critical philosophy that Kant argued for in which different formulations of the categorical imperative provided this second order justification of the justification. In the first formulation, we are provided with a universal law that motivates attitudes, judgments, and actions. the second formulation refers to a universal condition of the dignity of man and the third formulation refers to the legislative understanding of critical self-conscious citizens. It was obvious to Kant that scientific observation and the experimental manipulation and measurement of variables in the context of discovery have no place in the investigation of answering ethical questions. Kant would also claim that such a context of discovery would have only a limited role in the process of the formation of cognitive attitudes relating to what Plato and Aristotle called “The Good”.  Reference to the context of discovery would, for example, require the separation of a holistic meaningful unity of means and ends(which both must be good in the same sense) into two separate elements related by a causal mechanism for which a principle or law must be “discovered”. This position transforms ethics into a technological affair in which one of the elements must somehow justify the other: either the means must justify the end or the end must justify the ends. This kind of discussion does not take us to the critical self-conscious level that Kant claims is characteristic of ethical reasoning. In response to this accusation, ethical theories appeal to artificial procedures such as the capacity we possess for “introspection”. Another “mechanism”, even if it is psychological, unfortunately, does not answer the logical and conceptual questions posed at this second-order level.

There is much to be gained, then, in the application of critical philosophy to theories and claims made in all four lines of Interest/inquiry. This will involve examining the logical consistency of theories that involve the conceptual adequacy of factual claims as well as the adequacy and self-sufficiency or propositional explanation and justification. In this process it is important, however, to respect a natural categorical Aristotelian and Kantian distinction between what we human beings are in our essence(Aristotle’s  De Anima, Kant’s Anthropology) and what we ought to do in order to express that essence(Aristotle’s Ethics, Kant’s Practical  and Moral Critique’s). These metaphysical investigations predated those systematic scientific investigations that  R S Peters argues began with Darwin’s “Origin of the Species. It can, however, be argued that Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory helped us to comprehend the importance of our animal nature in the attempt to understand the concept of consciousness that emerged shortly after Darwin’s reflections at the moment when Psychology detached itself from Philosophy.

In this study, we intend to construct a philosophical commentary and critique of Brett’s “History of Psychology” using the investigations of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein, O Shaughnessy, Paul Ricoeur, Hannah Arendt, and P M S Hacker.

The Pre-Socratic Thinkers

Brett denies in the Introduction to this topic that Science is a “body of knowledge” that was formed by a “scientific method” and further claims that:

“It is more in keeping with the history of thought to describe science as the myths about the world which have not yet found to be wrong. Science had its roots partly in primitive pictures of the world and partly in primitive technology.”

We need, in evaluating the above quote, to remind ourselves of the fact that these thoughts were published in 1912, a period in which modern science was developing in many different directions yet still in its infancy given the fact that the Enlightenment Philosophical Kantian view of science was being disregarded as being “metaphysical”, a term which eventually became synonymous with “the mythical”. The Context of Explanation was regarded as generated exclusively out of the process of the context of discovery in which we discover “facts” and “generalizations” that go beyond the given facts. It was around this time that Bertrand Russell was constructing the concept of sense data as part of his logical/epistemological account of experience and as part of his professional refutation of the idealist philosophical position he had embraced earlier in his career. In short, this was a period in which the inductive context of discovery took precedence over the context of explanation and justification. It was a skeptical period in which dogma was identified with metaphysics and science adopted a hypothetical pose connected more with imaginative language than categorical reasoning. This was the state of affairs in which Brett made his claim that Science and myth were closely aligned. Kant would have categorically rejected such a position on the grounds that a product of the imagination may well be a part of the context of discovery as well as the art of storytelling, but it is not a faculty of mind directly involved in the propositional truth-conditional process of reasoning. 

Brett continues in his introduction to point to an interesting account that charts the development of speculative inquiry where..

“It is an interesting fact that detailed speculations about man were the last to emerge in the history of science. the heavenly bodies, the objects remotest from man, were the first objects of scientific interest. Speculation advanced slowly through the realms of the organic until the nineteenth century, detailed observations of animals paved the way for detailed and systematic observation of men.”

This is, from one point of view, an interesting example of collective amnesia, probably caused by an obsession with the context of discovery and observationalism. Brett appears to have forgotten, in these reflections upon the Pre-Socratic thinkers, the reflections of Aristotle and his detailed observations of animals including his discovery of some of the criteria for the classification of different forms of animals and different species. The phenomenon of Aristotle is particularly instructive insofar as we can clearly see its systematic structure in, for example, his 4 kinds of change, three principles of change and 4 kinds of explanations of change. We can also see how this structure is applied in very different ways to investigations involving the animal psuche and the human psuche respectively. This clearly indicates that animal forms of life and human forms of life demand different kinds of concepts for their description and explanation. One of the key differences being that human forms of life essentially instantiate the self-conscious activities of reflection upon the rightness and wrongness of human activities. Criticism, praise and blame are important aspects of the rational nature of man. At this reflective level, theoretical conceptual thought has a fundamental teleological aspect aiming at the truth in the realm of belief. Practical conceptual thought is similarly teleological, aiming at the good in the realm of action. One could of course, in the spirit of the hypothetical, conjecture  or imagine that animals can engage in self-conscious activities, imagine that they can  think and speak about the world in the way human beings do as one can also imagine superhuman divine beings demanding the attention and activity of humans being devoted to “divine causes”. Such feats of imagination, however, whilst being typically human will not compete with the activities of reason required for the bringing about of the Aristotelian teleological end of “Eudaimonia”, or the Kantian teleological end of “Freedom”. But what end, then, do these feats of imagination achieve? Kant in his “Critique of Judgement” speaks of the purpose of the imagination being to relate to the faculty of the understanding, preparing the materials that we experience aesthetically or intuitively for possible conceptualization. Myths and stories like the imagination aim teleologically at the pleasure which ensues when the faculties of mind of the sensibility, imagination and the understanding are in harmony. Myths and stories are essentially descriptive and only incipiently have explanatory power. The experiences described in these narratives are organized in accordance with what Freud referred to as the Pleasure-Pain Principle: a principle that regulates the emotions or what Kant calls the sensible aspects of our mind. Science, on the other hand, is concerned with the classification of experiences, the formulation of true judgments about phenomena in both conceptual and propositional terms, the principle of causation and the use of the faculties of the understanding and reason to arrive at the formulation of natural and moral laws.

Brett points out the futility of beginning the story of Psychology with the early Greek Cosmological inquirers and their attempts to answer a materialistically inspired question relating to what things are made of. Heraclitus, who is mysteriously only cursorily mentioned by Brett,  and Empedocles, who is mentioned at length, both wrote about the psychological elements of love and hate and Heraclitus’s fragments indicate a reference to a use of logic. For Heraclitus so-called opposites such as the road up and the road down are logically the same road and the continual change of the physical world demand an understanding of logos, the uniter of opposites.

Brett claims that

“The typically Greek contribution to the rise of science was, therefore, the speculative spirit and the love of argumentation.”

He argues interestingly that the spirit of speculation was lost in the Middle Ages and medieval scholastic discourse was instead dominated by the love of argumentation. Given the Cultural domination of Religion in both the East and the West it is not particularly surprising that a dogmatic attitude accompanied the scholastic love of argumentation, an attitude that detached itself from the perception of our constantly changing Heraclitean world. This attitude was more Platonic than Aristotelian. Aristotelian hylomorphism was predicated upon the search for what we can know about the changing world. An interesting fact to present in this context is the fact that the Church refrained from the translation of the works of Aristotle into Latin until ca 1200 AD thus placing Plato’s philosophy in a superior position of influence. This was undoubtedly a contributory factor to the dogmatic speculations of the scholastic philosophers of the medieval period. This historical fact could also account for the amnesia of Brett in relation to  Aristotle and his complex hylomorphic theory about man, a theory certainly grounded in systematic observation of the human form of life. The Aristotelian worldview with a man in a central position belies Brett’s claim that the cosmological materialistic view dominated speculation and observation until the advent of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution precipitated a wave of what Brett referred to as  the “detailed and speculative observation of men.”

Brett’s minimalization of the role of Aristotle in his “History of Psychology” is probably due to firstly, an inadequate Historical view of Greek Culture and secondly to the phenomenon of Latinisation of Greek Philosophy via the Latinisation of the Greek language.

Our understanding of man quite rightly may, in the end, be more Parmenidean than Heraclitean because Parmenides is the first philosopher to write about “The One”  in terms of the goddess, Aletheia. Aletheia, according to the continental philosopher Martin Heidegger is the Greek term for truth that he translates as “unconcealment” and contrasts it to the Greek term for “the false” which is “pseudos”. Pseudos is in turn translated by the Latin “falsum” which carries the meaning of “bringing to a fall”. Heidegger, in his essay on Parmenides, points to the fact that this “bringing to a fall” is in the realm of the essence of, “domination”, of overseeing. Verum in Latin has no connotation of bringing out of unconcealment and simply dogmatically means  “to be not false” and thereby leading us once again into the domain of domination, the domain of the imperial dogmatic command. Pseudos, on the other hand, according to Heidegger’s translation is..

“dissembling. Dissembling  lets something it sets out and sets up appear differently that it is “in truth”…(and) also unveils and hence is a kind of disclosure”(p44 “Parmenides” trans André Schumer and Richard Rojcewicz,1992)

Heidegger believes that the Latinisation of Greek thought as a critical element in world-historical development has produced many consequences for many aspects of our understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit. In its place, we have not just the dogmatic militaristic imperialism of the Romans but also a Christian imperialism embedded in an ecclesiastical structure under the dogmatic command of a perfect Pope. Christian Imperialism includes ecclesiastical dogmatic interpretations of the teachings of Jesus Christ and ecclesiastical financial domination.

When the idea of “the false” actually dominates the meaning of the idea of “the true” we are confronted with an example of the infamous “inversion of values” that Hannah Arendt referred to in her work “The Origins of Totalitarianism”. The Militaristic dogmatic imperial Nazis and Communists sought to build world-empires not based on revelatory ideas but rather on an experience of “bringing to a fall”, an experience of domination. This conflated in an insidious way the epistemological function of a consciousness responding to Being or what  Parmenides called “The One” with an instrumental/ethical function of consciousness: this latter function is decisive for relativizing the Parmenidean idea of “The Good” we find in Plato’s Republic. Parmenides identified “the Good” with the True” in a way which precluded the relativism we encounter in the modern period that began with the Cartesian silence on ethical issues and continued with Hobbesian instrumental materialism. Kant’s Philosophy temporarily synthesized these positions integrating epistemological, metaphysical and ethical issues as a response to the modern cocktail of dogmatic rationalism and skeptical material empiricism. This very Greek Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelian synthesis, however, was rapidly undermined as the Enlightenment was swamped firstly by Hegel’s dogmatic idealism and then subsequently by a materialistic scientific-economic empiricism. The Modern Period was very much defined by this tsunami. Heidegger’s claim, then, that this whole process probably began with the Romanization of Greek Culture and the Latinization of the Greek Language is a plausible explanation for what many philosophers including Hannah Arendt and Jurgen Habermas have called our “modern malaise”. 

Brett registers something of the above debate in the following claim:

“Parmenides had laid hold of thought and meditated on its nature, as Heraclitus had directed his attention to perception. Thought has a permanence which perception seems to lack: it has a stationary character in comparison with the qualitative changes of perception; it is more akin to Being, while perceptions are akin to Becoming. These are metaphysical rather than physical notions, and their influence,  as seen in the works of Plato, spend itself mainly upon theories of knowledge. Ideas about the constitution of man and of the soul are found in the fragments  attributed  to Parmenides but their importance is somewhat discounted by the fact that  they come in what  is called by Parmenides the Way of Opinion.”

Brett goes on to point out that Parmenides regarded man’s constitution as a mixture of elementary qualities and man’s mind a mixture of what Aristotle later would call matter and form in which mans thoughts are related to his bodily constitution. We see in the above quote the absence of reference to  Aristotle’s synthesis of Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato and this might be a consequence of the failure to recognize the influence of the Romanisation of Greek Culture and the Latinisation of the Greek language. Heidegger’s thesis, of course, was not known to Brett given the fact that this thesis was first delivered in the dark days of  1942-43 in Germany. Much has also been made by Heidegger, and modern theorists, of Nietzche’s claim that “God is dead” and the characterization of man in terms of “will to power”. The chains of religion have been cast off and in the process, the Bible(this work of prophets, our ancient thinkers) was reduced to  “stories” contradicted by scientific “discoveries”.

Consideration of  the above Heideggerian thesis and his pupil Hannah Arendt’s condemnation of the modern age as being the womb of totalitarianism opens up a logical/metaphysical “space” for a cognitive attitude towards The History of Philosophy and The History of Psychology that seeks to restore a “thread of tradition” running from Greek Culture via the Enlightenment and onward to a modern enlightened attitude toward globalization. Such a space would supplement,  or neutralize the claim that globalization is principally driven by economic and scientific factors.

Both Descartes and Hobbes rejected the Metaphysics of  Aristotle and attempted to fill the ensuing philosophical vacuum with epistemological discussions of human nature and ethics. The above quote of Brett’s places the blame for the elevation of epistemological inquiry over other forms squarely on the shoulders of Plato thus minimizing the Platonic view of man as a fundamentally ethical being possessing a mind in need of regulation by Reason and Philosophy.

Brett rightly also refers to Parmenidean speculation that sensation must belong even to inorganic beings because, his argument goes, if this were not the case sensation would emerge sui generis with the advent of life and be inexplicable. This paradoxically places Parmenides in the materialist camp and it might be the case that Plato’s Philosophy was an attempt to move away from this position without falling into the bottomless pit of Becoming espoused by Heraclitus. Brett’s account of the position of Parmenides also includes, however, thoughts that Aristotle would develop in his theories :

“Mind is the product of the material constitution of the body, and the activities of mind, the thoughts vary in relation to the different constitutions  of men.”

Different thoughts vary with different constitutions is one implication of the above quote. This assumption is embedded in various modern Psychological personality coordinate systems. In one system (H Eysenck)we are presented with a longitudinal axis of stability-neuroticism and a latitudinal axis of extraversion-introversion. The theory is basically a coordinate system that will find a position for every individual. The philosophical assumption in this context is the general or universal position that an organ system of a particular kind is requisite for thinking, feeling etc to occur. The above coordinate system requires an individual to answer questions that of course require thoughtful answers. In Aristotelian terms, the above empirical constitutionally based personality theory would address the so-called materialist-cause of thought or thinking. The above theory proposed by Eysenck also appeals to factors such as the genetic determination of the constitution of human, animal, and plant life.

The above example illustrates well the relation of historical assumptions to present theorizing. Parmenides in his philosophical “poem” writes about “The Way of Truth”  and being led by the goddess of truth in search of the indivisible and holistic “One”. This, according to Heidegger is an expression  of a relation to Being or Reality in the spirit of what he called “unconcealment” (aletheia), a relation very different to the relation to Being expressed in the so-called “Way of Opinion” instantiated in the above claim of  Parmenides that mind is the product of the material constitution of the body.

Modern Psychology dwells in a world of variables, in particular in an environment where variables are manipulated and the effects are observed and measured. The Philosophical issue involved is, of course, historical and the question to raise is “Why has Modern Psychology embraced the assumptions of materialism/observationalism and the interpretative methodology of statistics(The Way of Opinion) rather than a principled approach as is instantiated by the theorizing of Freud (The Way of Truth).

This is, of course, a complex question and requires an understanding of a philosophical view of history. Heidegger’s view is that History is popularly conceived of as motion, events, and processes which happen and through which something comes to pass. This is a linear causal view that at best produces a history that is defined as the totality of facts about the past. Heidegger adopts a teleological view reminiscent of the teleological “cause” or “explanation” we encounter in Aristotle’s Metaphysical theory of change when he insists that History is more concerned with destiny and the transmission of essence or potential in an actualizing process. Man, for Heidegger, is the being for whom his very being is an issue and that issue involves unconcealment or the revelation of the Being of beings. This unveiling is the essence of the Parmenidean and Aristotelian concepts of Aletheia. Heidegger points to how, in the absence of this understanding, even great Historians such as Jacob Burckhardt resort to what he calls “the balancing of the books”: facts are given positive and negative weights and conclusions such as  Spengler’s the decline of Western Civilisation are produced from this method. Here too Biological assumptions lie behind the “calculations”. Spengler balanced the books of the facts and arrived at the telos of decline where the more cautious philosophical position would be that the end is uncertain for the West.

History, for the modern philosopher, has a meaning which is being revealed as part of the Way of Truth rather than the Way of Opinion Spengler has chosen. History must provide us with the Zeitgeist of an age. In relation to this search for the spirit of the modern age, Heidegger continues his account of the transformation of the idea of the truth. As we saw aletheia was Latinised  into Veritas and this, in turn, was transformed by medieval scholasticism into  “adaequatio, rectitudo,, and iustitia:

“and from there, to the modern certitudo. to truth as certainty. validity and assurance…The result of this transformation of the essence of truth which has prevailed for centuries in the Occident, is the event of the conversion of the essence of untruth, from the Greek pseudos to the Roman falsum …The correct use of the power of judgment is determined in reference to what assures mans self certainty.”(Parmenides p57)

This takes us to the gates of the Modern Period and the Philosophy of Descartes and Hobbes who himself objected to Cartesianism on materialistic grounds reminiscent of the Parminedean “Way of Opinion”.

Returning to Brett’s account of the Pre-Socratics we see him referring to Empedocles and his physiological theory of the relation of the blood to intelligence and thought. In perhaps what was one of the first  theoretical reflections upon consciousness we also are given an account of consciousness in terms of the temperature of the blood: sleep ensuing when the blood cools. We appear here to be  only incidentally in the realm of thought. Brett takes us closer to the realm of thought and the Way of Truth in his discussion of the work of  Anaxagoras:

“He finds from observation that men attribute actions to reasons, and this is sufficient to justify the assertion that reason is the starting point of the activity which has put in order the chaotic mass of original matter. Reason in this way becomes an immanent force that makes for order, itself pure and unmixed but the cause of all mixture, a power inherent in some things, and ruler and organizer of all.”

Yet Anaxagoras, too, gives his promising reflections a biological twist claiming that plant life is capable of reason and knowledge thus nullifying the suggestiveness of the above thoughts.

Democritus, the atomist and Pythagoras the mathematician/mystic that claimed that reality has a mathematical form and also believed in the transmigration of souls, are also mentioned as representatives of a scientific perspective.

This section concludes with an account of two Pre-Socratic thinkers who are classified as representatives of the medical perspective: Alcmaeon and Hippocrates. Alcmaeon claims that sleep is caused by the blood moving into the larger blood vessels. He also claimed that the soul is immortal and divine like the sun. Hippocrates is the more interesting figure, however. He believed that mental activity was intimately related to its physical substrate in such a way that a healthy body produces an intelligent soul: contrariwise, an unhealthy body can cause mental derangements. The brain is also an important part of Hippocrates’ reflections. Brett characterises  these reflections in the following way:

“Within the body, the brain occupies the most important place. From it proceed all the veins of the body:they spring up from this root and grow downwards branching out to various parts of the body. Here is the seat of intelligence: into the brain lead the various passages of sense, eyes, nose, ears.–If the brain receives a shock loss of speech, sight or hearing may follow: from wounds to the brain paralysis and death ensue.”

Brett fails to mention anything relating to the famous Hippocratic oath in this section and he also registers his disappointment with the way in which  dreams are characterised in one of Hippocrates’ short essays. Dreams, Hippocrates argues, belong to a special class of phenomena requiring interpretation and knowledge of a special science. Dreams can signal the presence of morbid conditions within the body because:

“There seems to be the idea that the soul discovers in sleep what in the waking state goes unnoticed. This amounts almost to the idea that a latent consciousness comes to the surface in dreams.”

These ideas are treated perfunctorily. Brett  claims these speculations to be wild and inaccurate characterisations of the proper causes of dreams. Hippocrates’s reflections on the brain surface again and again throughout the history of Psychology and Medicine most notably in Freudian times where we find, Charcot, for example  making similar claims in the name of Psychiatry. The science of the knowledge of dreams also resurfaces with Freud’s reflections on the interpretation of dreams in the book with the same name. 

In these Pre-Socratic medical thinkers accounts we see again the dialectic between the way of opinion and the way of truth. A dialectic  that will require the philosophising of Socrates, the dialogues of Plato, and the critical historically oriented reflections of Aristotle before a systematic synthesis worthy of the name “Psychology” can emerge.

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

Hits: 93

Jude coughed to attract attention and began:

“The bad man can be a good citizen in a good state, this was the conviction of both Plato and Aristotle, even though they had fundamentally different conceptions of what constitutes the good state. Plato’s idea, as a consequence of watching Athens put his teacher Socrates to death, was that Philosophers will not wish to be ruled by people who did not know how to rule and that they, therefore, should bear the burden of government themselves together with a warrior class that protect the city walls from outside attack and internal disorder. The warrior class would be educated in the form of the beautiful to have a disinterested attitude towards their duties and the philosophers would be primarily educated to understand the form or the idea of the Good. It is interesting that in this formula the idea or form of the truth was not the highest idea and this may have been due to witnessing the failure of Socrates in his attempt to influence the opinions of his jurors and judges at his trial by appealing to the truth. Clearly using the idea of what was true via the technique of elenchus, did not work satisfactorily, and such a historical failure of Philosophy required a re-thinking of its strategy. Socrates used the dialectical method, a method of dialogue between two interlocutors or friends when what was needed was the art of persuasion or rhetoric: a technique that is a more public form of address to a multitude of listeners. Rhetoric was required because public life in Athens was competitive, even to a degree antagonistic: the limits of its reach were the city-walls, the laws, the good and justice. All such ideas were what one should appeal to when, as Hanna Arendt put it, “the chips are down”. Making a mistake in one’s philosophical strategy in such situations will result in a good man being put to death. One can but reflect on whether the penalty for such a mistake should be death. Aristotle possibly shared more with Socrates than he did with Plato in believing that there was a higher form of life than bios politikos: namely, the contemplative life or bios theoritikos. The state could not in his opinion force the citizens into one mold representing one form of life. The fact of inequality, of the plurality of a number of different forms of life, had to be respected. Aristotle was a pluralist and believed the communal/social force should be individuals forming friendships, because, being thrown together as one is in a state “no one should be without friends”. For Socrates, the search for the truth was guided by the fact that when the soul thinks, it is in dialogue with itself and its goal is not to contradict itself. For both Socrates and Aristotle, this mechanism of obeying the law of non- contradiction ensured that friends in dialogue with themselves and others could achieve “the good” in all their inquiries, activities and choices. For Aristotle, the contemplative life was, therefore, the best life. We have seen how important Aristotle has been for education. Our fundamental desire is to understand the truth, to see the world under the aspect of the truth and to act in accordance with what is both true and good. In order to do this, we need to understand metaphysics and the kind of explanations that provide us with normative and descriptive justifications of what we take to be the facts. Here is the fundamental pedagogical justification for the fact that we spend upwards of 12 years in school, in a peaceful environment where knowledge is pursued, not just for personal gain but because it is good in itself. Both Socrates and Aristotle were able to emphasize the importance of the ethical by this idea of the two-in-one self that is engaged in a dialogue with itself. How, they would ask, could anyone commit a murder and then live together with a murderer for the rest of one’s life? This is something one ought not to do in one’s life because of the obvious tragic personal consequences, irrespective of whether one gets indicted for the crime or not. But what if I find myself in a situation where the passions are running high and I am threatened? What should I do? Socrates is stoically determined on this point. One should resist evil. However high the passion for so-called justice, one should realize that hurting or punishing a bad man does not make him better.”
Sophia raised her hand:
“But surely our institutions of justice make sense, surely criminals must get what they deserve?”
“Yes, my dear, I agree with you and so would Socrates. The murderer and the thief and the slanderer do get what they deserve, will have to live with themselves until they die. They all get life sentences, living a contradiction.”
“An Economics major raised their hand:
“Assuming that they know what they have done is wrong. What do we do with those citizens that do not have the requisite knowledge?”
“They steal a car, and they are put in prison to think about what they have done. Ignorance of the law is no excuse in the eyes of the law. If the murderer in his actions believes that “murder is wrong” is a universal law, and consequently makes an exception of himself, then he does not believe that “murder is wrong”. He does not, that is, believe that murder is universally wrong. Perhaps he believes it is a doxa, an opinion. He is sent to prison to contemplate the universality of the proposition “Murder is wrong”. He may also of course neither know the universal “Murder is wrong” and also not know that what he did was wrong at the time of doing it, as might be the case with someone psychotic following a voice ordering him to kill. If this is the case we put the person concerned in a mental hospital until his voices cease to force him to do criminal things. But it should be pointed out here that the proper account of why such events occur would be a kind of psychoanalytical one or a psychological one which would clearly show that the moral development of the person concerned was interrupted by abnormal factors. Abnormal factors such as the case of the thief who stole the car referring to his mother leaving him, his father becoming an uncaring alcoholic, his education failing, he himself becoming involved with drugs etc. The moral of this tale is that the legal system is there for those circumstances in which the moral system breaks down: it is not a moral system in itself.
But let us continue with Socrates and Aristotle. Socrates’ conflict with bios politikos was in trying to show how the philosophy of bios theoretikos was relevant to the state. Aristotle’s response to the putting to death of Socrates was to refuse the task of taking responsibility for the state and when the time came for him to be falsely accused he disregarded the law and left Athens. His defense of this action would probably have been on moral grounds. This refusal by such a great mind was groundbreaking and meant that Politics in its turn would always keep a suspicious eye on Philosophy. Of course, Aristotle theoretically investigated what makes a good constitution. He replaced Plato’s descending spiral of states from the one good Republic down via timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, to terrible tyranny, with an idea of a plurality of good states that ruled in accordance with the unifying idea of the common good. The plurality of evil states ruling in the interests of particular classes or particular individuals for their particular interests divides the state into irreconcilable parts. Aristotle’s Kallipolis or perfect state was less of an idealist construction than Plato’s Republic. He believed that the perfect constitution was a result of applying the principle of the golden mean to the present existing forms of state. The perfect constitution would embrace the best aspects of oligarchies and democracies and avoid the deficiencies and excesses of both forms of organization. Democracies, as we know from subsequent historical development in modern times would become better than oligarchies because they possessed a larger middle class that shunned the deficiencies and excesses of the Greek form of democracy. Both Plato and Aristotle were convinced that class division in the state would fatally wound the state and prevent it from becoming a unified community. By the time we come to the nineteenth century and Marx with his materialistic “science of society” we see how the roads taken by politics and philosophy diverge considerably. In Marxist theory, the laboring class was to be given preferential treatment on the grounds of their exploitation by the bourgeoisie and that class’s ownership of the means of production. Arendt interestingly points out that the more serious criticism of the bourgeoisie was their obsession with the dictum “expansion for expansion’s sake”. Aristotle’s solution to the rich-poor conflict, namely the growth of a middle class that will ignore perspectival interests and develops the state for the common good, is largely ignored in Marx’s conflict theory. Man becomes animal laborans in work and the necessities of living shift into focus at the expense of the love of the good and friendship. The state is predicted to wither away, to be ultimately destroyed by the revolution in which the ultimate nihilistic outcome is to be ruled by an administration: to be ruled by nobody. The Greek idea of bios theoretikos and thought has been replaced by an almost biological conception of work and thoughtless nihilistic action. Aristotle reflects on the origins of the state by referring to an evolutionary theory involving 1. The individuals that come together to build the unit of the family ruled by oeconomos, 2. Families uniting in the name of the common good to form a village, 3. Villages uniting in the name of the common good to become a city-state which can self-sufficiently meet all the needs of a city in accordance with the standards of the truth and the good laid down by Philosophy. This idea of the natural evolution of the city-state is usurped by Marx in favor of an economic materialism which functions at one level biologically in a crass struggle for survival and at another instrumental functionalist level where the end is the destruction of the state. The analysis of how this came about one can find in Hanna Arendt’s work “The Promise of Politics”.
I want to finish on an optimistic note by looking at the Enlightenment’s role in the development of Political philosophy. Kant’s political vision is, as we all know, cosmopolitan but this does not necessarily involve the dissolution of the state. It requires the creation of an International Human Rights institution, similar to the United Nations we have today, based on a Kantian view of the individual’s human rights, and possessing a mandate to prevent war and restore and maintain peace in the world. Kant’s starting point here is to point out that insofar as the individual is concerned we cannot hope for too much since reason is not universally present. Hopefully, however, if the enlightenment theory of Progress is correct, our societies will become enlightened after a period of approximately 100,000 years, when reason will be universally present in the species. The major ethical problem is, of course, installing the idea of the good in every consciousness and the good as we know extends from being friends with everyone to not murdering anyone. The self- evidence of the latter is probably evident to almost everyone but I am not sure that the self-evidence of the former is that certain. Well, in both cases it is the individual as an adult that is the source of his actions and the individual is, as Arendt puts the matter, a two-in-one, or, as we would characterize it someone capable of thinking in the sense of engaging in discourse with oneself. There is not much to think about insofar as murder is concerned since this is so naturally repugnant, but what about the wealthy man, like Carazan, who has a history of using other people for his own ends in order to make money. He has no friends because everyone knows his modus operandi. How would this discourse manifest itself if it did not naturally occur within him in the normal course of living?
“As the love of man grows cold within him he increases his prayers and religious activities”.
Kant talks about the dream of such a man, Carazan, who dreams that the Angel of death comes for him one night after he completed calculating his profits for the day. Carazan instantaneously was made aware that nothing more could be added to the good he had done in his life and nothing subtracted from the evil he had committed. The Angel of death rejects the wealthy man’s prayers and religious activities because of his evil disposition towards man and pronounces a sentence upon him. Because he has lived his life alone he shall live throughout future eternity alone, far removed from men and their home. Carazan found himself speeding through space leaving all the planets and stars behind him until all light was extinguished. He realized that the journey he had commenced could continue tens of thousands of years and he would still be confronted with an infinite stretch of time and space before him. His eyes useless, he thrust out his hands to desperately reach out to reality and awoke. From that moment on Carazan learned to esteem mankind and he longed for the company of even those miserable beggars he had turned from his door.
This is the outcome of the mechanism of inner dialogue or thought, which Kant believed was more efficacious than religious or political persuasion. Anyone whose soul has been ruled by bodily greed will be at odds with oneself. Such is the power of the soul, and the implication of such internal dialogue. Plato did not believe in this kind of Socratic dream where Carazan himself experiences the contradiction in his life. Plato, on the contrary, believed that somehow the idea of the good installed in the community would suffice to make him into a good citizen. Having to deal with men like Carazan before his conversion induced in Kant the feeling that life was burdensome and he often referred to the “melancholic haphazard nature of life”. He produced his philosophy in response to this condition. But there was another dimension to his melancholy: wars and natural catastrophes in “culture” were painful to witness but necessary to stop man sinking back into a life where the animal-like satisfactions of the body would brutalize their souls. Society and life in it appeared to him to be insane and he, like Aristotle refused to take responsibility for this state of affairs and wrote no work on Political Philosophy. That the Enlightenment could pass by without a serious work on Political Philosophy in the spirit of Aristotle or Kant merely prepared the stage for the entrance of Marx and the Politics of power. Kant’s philosophy and all philosophy, according to Marx, appeared too contemplative, too theoretical. The time had come for man to cease thinking about the world and to begin to change it. Economics and political power were moved from the periphery to the centre of the stage of world affairs. The Marxist change would sweep the world clean. It was science and the invitation was given to the political leaders of the world to begin a bizarre experiment of social engineering, which would destroy the old reflective values and install the new values connected with action.
The language of the law permeates all of Kant’s work and is very appropriate to the spirit of Kant’s contemplation. He uses the concept of “Critique” in all three of his major works” and “Reason” in two of them. The language of the law and legal activity appeared to Kant, as it would have to Socrates, to mirror the language and activity of philosophy insofar as both were searching for the truth and meaning. The law of course differed from philosophy in that its activity was called into play in order to pass judgment on particular events such as x murdering y, or x stealing a car. The judge with his knowledge of the law and a jury with their common sense watch proceedings as would spectators in a theatre as the various actors play their roles in the legal process. Was there a murder? Did the defendant commit the murder? Why did he do it? These are all part of the passing show. The plot ends with the judge passing sentence, the final act of criticism par excellence.
Robert raised his hand
“What is the relation between the law and morality? There would appear to be a problem with maintaining that, even if the law is to some extent related to morality, the law seems to be an older form of social regulation that does not exactly rely on the autonomy of the critical spirit. Yet if we cannot justify an action in terms of the critical attitude of individuals what principle can there be? Can society provide a principle of order?”
“There is a political problem relating to the legitimacy of authority which in its turn is related to the question of the principles of order in society. It is true to say that man lives in society, it is nevertheless not clear what this actually means. The first thing to realize is that although we intuitively are convinced that we can see and identify men perceptually, what we mean by saying man lives in society is not the same kind of thing as when we see and say that woodpeckers live in trees, for example. In this case, we can perceptually identify both woodpeckers and trees and the truth conditions of such a statement are self- evident, partly because this is a perceptually based factual statement. In contrast, the principles that bind a number of individuals together into a society are principles of value or normative principles. These rules or principles constitute firstly, the rights and duties that these individuals have toward one another, secondly, the ends they pursue in their various social activities, and thirdly the ways in which it is legitimate to pursue these ends. In order to understand these issues, it is necessary to strive to make sense of the assertion that we are rule following animals because we are rule-constituting animals. Chess is the game it is because of the rules that constitute it and, in a sense, these rules are arbitrary, they could be other than what they are, but one should also point out that, if they were, we would be playing a different game. We might, for example, think that the rules are too complex to remember and invent a simpler game whereby a piece can only be taken if another piece is diagonally adjacent to it and every piece can move only one square at a time. The rules or principles of life in a simpler civilization than ours would be much simpler. There might or might not be a principle that murder is wrong. It is important to realize here that the members of a society share a commitment to the complex principles we live by because they are practically rational and do not result in practical contradictions. An example of such a practical contradiction would be the making of deceitful promises in which we make use of other people’s assumptions that everyone tells the truth. These assumptions are then used to intentionally say something false, which may be to one’s advantage. As you will see we are once again raising ethical questions about actions which must be more than a movement of the body: actions must relate to man-made standards which in their turn relate to human forms of life over time and their decisions concerning them as well as the criteria involved of either meeting those standards or not. Benn and Peters in their work entitled “Social Principles and the Democratic State” maintain that it was only in the 17th century that man managed to separate thought about the physical world from thought about the human and social order. They believed this occurred because man began to speculate more critically and thinkers needed to give reasons for their speculations or their beliefs. This translated into our thought about action where it was realized that actions are constituted by their intentions and the reasons we give for acting. This marked a fundamental shift in our idea of authority and both science and morality emerged as autonomous bodies of thought which eschewed the authority of judges or police. Man came of age and was expected to be his own judge, take responsibility himself for his actions. The law then became a back- up system swinging into operation when the social and moral system broke down and individuals did not take the responsibility expected. The law no longer was the backbone of the state but became a peripheral set of muscles supporting the moral backbone of man. That man was a rule constituting and rule-following animal already became apparent in the social practice of following the rules and norms that were associated with different roles in society. Being a father and a husband involved following rules that constituted a set of rights and duties as well as a set of goals and means to achieve them. With the emergence of autonomy and critical reasoning in the fields of science and morals came an increased conscious awareness of the universal character of some rules and norms. These were more substantive and allocated a different level of respect but this respect for what was substantive was by no means universal because the rise of individualism also brought with it a selfish spirit of acquisitiveness: the pursuit of power and a striving for honour. Life became a competitive struggle from which a middle class emerged based on the virtues of thrift, efficiency, hard work, individual effort, and initiative. Benn and Peters have a striking image of Protestant man making his own lonely and weary way up the hill of salvation. There occurred as a result of these changes a loss of the sense of security and kings stepped in to attempt to make up this loss. The nation-state emerged and the law became the state’s method of maintaining control, providing the much longed for a sense of security. The critical spirit, however, did not accept the institution of this new authority and controversies over the legitimacy of the state’s power raged. Freedom was suddenly the idea on everyone’s minds when Kings like James 1st maintained that his command was the law of the nation. The critical spirit naturally asked the question “Was the arbitrary command of a sovereign the same thing as the authority of a law that had derived from tradition and custom over centuries of living together?” Commands are authoritative utterances for which no reasons are given. Was the king a de facto or de jure authority? There are reasons behind the law. Reasons embedded in the hurly-burly social forms of life of men living together over long periods of time. Benn and Peters draw attention to the underlying historical conditions supporting the position Wittgenstein would have adopted. As Benn and Peters point out, ladies and gentlemen, this cultural development over a long period of time via the path of Christianity heralds back to the well-named Golden Age of Greece, in particular to the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle where the critical spirit was born and thrived for a short period. Socrates et al insisted that an individual should not blindly accept the command of authority but rather should accept only those rules, principles and norms that he himself could argue for. Authorities obviously disagreed and laws could be unjust. All of this ladies and gentlemen had been brewing for some time as increased trade continually brought different societies with different norms and beliefs into contact with each other. In the Enlightenment period in particular man began to proclaim with Kant that practical reasoning united all men and cosmopolitanism was a positive philosophical force. This was a re-emergence of an old Stoic cosmopolitan idea of a world citizen obeying a natural law. Men were equal, proclaimed the Stoic, whatever appearances might otherwise suggest. Promises ought to be kept, life and property ought to be respected even if appearances suggested otherwise. Moral principles and norms were universally applicable and had to be rationally accepted by the individual. The Stoic position was a development of Socratic and Aristotelian political and ethical reflections and it developed further as Alexander the Great with his conquests demonstrated the impotence of the city-state to cope with the force that was pushing for cosmopolitanism. There is much of the Stoic position minus the cosmopolitanism in Freud’s mature position.
Robert raised his hand:
“So, the Kantian practical idea of freedom might be a reflection of the critical attitude of society which had been developing since the 17th century?”
“Yes, we can, for example, see in Descartes skeptical method a rejection of authority as a source for opinions and justifications of action: one can also see in his method the reflection of a radical individualism which rests in the certainty of the individual’s awareness of his thinking activity.”
Sophia raised her hand:
“You mentioned Protestantism but what relation did Christianity have toward this wave of cosmopolitanism.”
“A very substantial one indeed. The concept of the brotherhood of man from the very beginning was undermining the idea of the nation-state. It was also incidentally undermining what many regarded as its driving force, namely economics. The event of Jesus throwing the moneylenders off the steps of the Church may have had a wider significance than many attributed to it.”
An Economics major asked
“Socialism also proclaimed an interest in internationalism. Is it, at least in this respect, the government of the future?”
“If it abandons Marxism and begins to pay attention to the growing educated middle class who have always had cosmopolitan commitments.”
Jude realized that it was time to stop and paused to collect his thoughts. His tone changed and seemed to be strangely out of character with what had been said before:
“ In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, education, is also a kind of tribunal in which teachers or examination boards judge whether the act of learning has succeeded in its task and with less than one week remaining of term I very much suspect you are all going to participate in this process of a blindfolded woman walking around the campus with a sharp sword. I sincerely hope you will treat this poor blind lady striving to find her way about justly.”

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

Hits: 241

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: 261

The following lecture 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 later 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, appears here to confuse 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 we 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 that 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 that 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” that is discovered and “old knowledge” that 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”, in other words, 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 is the case. 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” that 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. There is the suggestion that mortals paradoxically desire to live forever. In this context it might be useful to consider the biblical words “full of years” and its suggestion that when men are full of years death appears to be a natural end to a natural process

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 in the critique 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 in the critique.

Essay number eight indicates the ease with which scientists can be hypnotised by ideologies and Habermas’ “Theory of Communicative action” is evoked again in the critique 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 by the critique 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: 224

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 in 1949 “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 that 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 positions 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 flood waters finally 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 his work “Consciousness and the World”. In terms of the “thread of tradition” leading from Aristotle to Kant and thereafter to the work of the later Wittgenstein, much of what O Shaughnessy claimed about “experience” in the above work is consonant with the later work of Wittgenstein and the predecessors on the thread, namely Kant and Aristotle. Indeed his work is even consistent with what we have earlier referred to in this work as the two most fundamental imperatives issued by the Greek oracles in the name of Apollo: we are urged by these oracles to act in accordance with the principle “Nothing too much” and we are also urged to “know ourselves”. O Shaughnessy interestingly connects self-knowledge to consciousness and claims that this conscious self-awareness we have in our waking states is a necessary condition of viewing the world under “the aspect of the true” and rationally

Harari has claimed that a “cognitive revolution took place ca 70,000 years ago. An interesting question to ask in this context is whether he believes that this cognitive revolution was connected to consciousness as conceived above in terms of a self-awareness that is knowledge oriented. We questioned Harari’s conception of this “cognitive revolution” 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(a researcher into the origins and nature of consciousness) 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 that are skill related 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, the American pioneer in the field of Psychology and Consciousness, 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 which 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 where many other capacities are also involved. 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(but perhaps the voices they heard were from gifted individuals who possessed a more or less developed form of the narrative ability). 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. He uses both phenomenological arguments and etymological evidence, pointing out that hearing, as something experienced has not merely a cognitive significance but also a subjective significance such that to hear someone say something in imperative form is to be inclined to obey. The etymological evidence investigates the root of the word obedience in a number of prominent languages. The word originates from the Latin obedire which in its turn is a combination of “ob which is to face someone and audire which is to hear them.
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 the work mentioned above, “Consciousness and the world” by Brian O Shaughnessy that 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-conscious being is acquainted with a general framework of the world which include individuation rules and explanations. There is, according to him, a tight circle of properties constituting the kind of consciousness possessed by self-conscious beings. These include the properties constituting the knowledge orientation of consciousness, namely the knowledge of self, time and the world as well as a rational capacity.

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 and knowledge 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 with metaphysical consequences: if by metaphysics is meant the Aristotelian search for first principles.

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 extensional and only secondarily intensional. This means, O Shaughnessy argues that the core of perception in not interpretational and what is seen need not be seen “as” anything initially. This 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 in which there are non-interpretational mental objects side by side with mental phenomena that are interpretational. The stream of consciousness here has consciousness as its condition.

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 in the human form of self-consciousness 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, In the course of a search for first principles, 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 of consciousness 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 but three separate events: the lightning striking the tree, the sight of the lightning striking the tree, and 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 believes that the conception of consciousness that has arisen in this tradition is like a virus infecting all scholars in almost every field of investigation interested in the human condition. For him, it is quite clear that consciousness is a biological phenomenon connected to life. He appears in this respect to be a modern Aristotelian. 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 much to say on the powers of animals compared to humans. Humans, according to Hacker is a result of the evolutionary process which produced a two-legged biped capable of locomotion and possing as a consequence the powers of speech and possibly, as a consequence of these and other important biological facts, the powers of rationality both theoretical and practical. Our knowledge includes a knowledge of good and evil and feelings of guilt and shame which are properties of the soul we possess. We share with animals the capacity of attention, perception and the states of consciousness of feeling contentment hunger, thirst, and pain. Animals can become conscious of these feelings but they are not capable of self-consciousness which entails the capacity or the power to reflect on everything we experience, everything we do or undergo. Animals can think about their behaviour, but we humans have a wider scope of thought which can reach further into the past and future. This power is expressed in our imaginative storytelling and our aesthetic activity. The scope of human thought also makes us historical beings with an autobiography and an awareness of our eventual death. Out of all of this emerges our gods and myths, our stories about the gods. Much of the difference between us and animals Hacker attributes to the fact that 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. O Shaughnessy, however, would be somewhat more sympathetic to the Cogito argument of Descartes and the idea of consciousness it presupposes which includes a certainty relating to one’s present experiences.

What needs to be done philosophically is the detailed 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? We need to investigate and chart the properties of the realms of the vital, the psychological and the mental and relate them to the principles they depend upon. Freud and his three principles, the energy regulation principle, the pleasure-pain principle, and the reality principles may be relevant in such a discussion.

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: 242

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 terms of gathering the experiences of man and all knowledge of his life and communal existence that reveal a meaning or what he calls an “intrinsic truth”.

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”. Here he claims that the so-called phenomenological method is an inquiry which is based on our experiences of the world that is determined not to categorize us as biological, psychological or sociological objects woven into a tapestry of causes. Merleau-Ponty insists that we are the first-person, conscious source of the phenomena of the world. Phenomenology commits itself to description rather than the types of explanation we are familiar with in the philosophies of Aristotle and Kant.

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 comments about Husserl 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 agrees that phenomenology seeks to understand what an image is in terms of its relation to thought but he perhaps places even more emphasis on the question of what affect the predominance of the imagination has in the life of those for whom this is true. He also wonders what role imagination as such has in the life of man, the so-called “rational animal”.

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 fulfillment 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. This position is countered by the analytical tradition of Philosophy that has close connections with Kantian thought. Here it is maintained that the imagination can, in fact, play a cognitive role in our lives through the imagination of hypothetical states of affairs such as “Pierre is in the café”(when he is not). Here, thought is directed to the category of the possible which reality reveals not to be actual and this, in turn, brings about the subsequent judgment that “It is false that Pierre is in the café”. Here the analytical philosophers clearly see a theoretically cognitive role for the imagination.

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.”(Sketch for a theory of the emotions, 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 by reiterating that emotion is an act of consciousness which has a relation to the entire world. Both agree that the dualistic division of man into what is physical and what is psychic leads inevitably to the dead-end question of which is the cause of the other. Better to ask, Marleau-Ponty insists, what emotion means in man’s lived relation to the world.

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 in the essay “Phenomenology, Language and Sociology”. Husserl, he claims, is opposed to two aspects of the traditional theory of induction. Firstly the aspect with respect to which we, in reflecting upon a group of facts and abstracting a common character regard this abstraction as something essential. Husserl quite rightly regarded this with skepticism and in doing so found himself in agreement with Aristotle, a state of affairs he might not have been completely comfortable with. Aristotle’s view of this inductive process was more conceptually oriented and involved an abstraction of a concept from an examination of “states of affairs”(not facts, as was asserted above, which are already conceptualized phenomena). Secondly, the aspect of Classical causal induction was also rejected by Husserl. This has been described as a process which enables us to pick out from a number of antecedents the factor that is responsible for causing the phenomenon we see before us. Both Aristotle and Kant would have supported this aspect of induction but Husserl claims that this characterization is not coherent.

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 we 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 concretize 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: 268

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: 266

Philosophical Psychology is the arena of focus of much of Harari’s account of the history and future of mankind and yet there is little acknowledgment 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(archaeological or 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 the 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 judgments. 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 organized into a system of categories which in turn organize 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 organizes the field of imperative judgments governing action into three categories: the categorical imperative, the instrumental imperative and the technical imperative: a system reminiscent of the Aristotelian account of judgments. 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 organized. 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 are 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 criticizes 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 asphyxiation 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 a 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 characterizes 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.”(William James Principles of Psychology, P8)

This conclusion then leads to a 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 artifact 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 candle’s 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 actualization 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 abstract from those differences. Experiences are formed into memories in accordance with the various interests of life. The result of this organization 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 organization 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 argue Aristotle, are the same for all men as are the things which produced these affections. The internal organization 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 organized 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 one’s practical preferences and desires. Apart from obscure references to the lives of philosophers and saints, there is no acknowledgment 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 deckhand 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 again…” (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 is 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, emphasizing and accentuating that and suppressing as far as possible all the rest. The item emphasized is always in close connection with some interest felt by consciousness to be paramount at the time.”(p139)

Again James emphasizes 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 in-equilibrium.

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 facts 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 moves 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 judgment 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 individual’s 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 barrelfuls.

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 a 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 unrealized 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 judgment 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 organize 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 conceptualizing where concepts are selected for combination or separation in the search for the 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 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 are 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 judgment 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 parceling 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 conceptualize 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 a 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 conceptualizing time by clocks and calendars. For example, the passage of a day can be marked out in relation to the earth’s 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 a 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. The 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 man’s 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 much of what occurs in this section of the work is Wittgensteinian in its very core. The Industrial Revolution is associated with a new form of mentality and a social re-engineering project that revolutionized the form of life that was common in pre-industrial societies. Industrial factory workers were linked like cogs in a machine the one machine depending upon what is done with another machine to the extent that if one machine operator was not on station to keep the chain moving, activity was significantly disrupted. Schedules and timetables dominated everyday activities and spread to schools and many institutions of society. Clocks and watches became important tools of everyday life in contrast to agricultural communities where the natural rhythms of daylight and weather conditions were activity regulators. Moving forward to our modern societies Harari points out that one household may own more clocks and watches than an entire medieval country. This was 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, the 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, the 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 paralyze 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 flashes 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 one’s 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 the 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 actualized 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 universalization 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 realizes 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 realizes 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 in comparison 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 recognize 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: 290

New Religions are going to emerge from research laboratories. Thus sayeth Harari. Silicon Valley will be the birthplace of a techno religion that transcends humanity and creates a new kind of man that has become a superior man or a Nietzschean superman:

Just as medicine is going to transform itself from an archaeological 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 have 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 that technology will not want to listen to the above cacophony of voices but will instead attempt to control them by controlling our biochemical systems. We will not waste our time talking or listening to our patients if we are psychologists or therapists but will instead prescribe chemicals from the dispensary. This approach has helped millions of patients, it is claimed whose lives have been ruined by humanistic therapies.

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. Claiming that talk based therapies have ruined lives does somewhat call into question earlier claims relating to the power of stories to shape desire and lives.

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, we may justifiably question the position of the author that we can choose our desires:

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 that ethics, freedom, humanism or an angry god played no part in the victory of capitalism over communism:

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, worried that democratic mechanisms no longer work and all government has become a bureaucracy.

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. Being human has no advantage it is claimed over being a chicken given the obvious fact that data processing systems are in the same way superior to us as we are to chickens.

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: 277

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 cannot 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 spiritualization 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. A teleological explanation is however very much tied up with our conceptualization 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 in order 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. This narrating self also spins a plot from its stream of consciousness that might be fictional, containing omissions, and changing continually to such an extent that one plot may be contradicting another.

The author goes on further to suggest that the self is a result of an imaginary story that we tell ourselves that selects items which give me images of who I am and what I am doing with my life. Lives can be lived comically tragically or religiously but in the end, it is argued, everything is an imaginatively based story which the author seems to be able to distinguish from the truth in some fashion in a way 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 that 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 claim that:

“The free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms.”(P354)

…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 was successful because it makes a lot of sense from a variety of different perspectives to treat the individual as having a value(that appears largely instrumental). Militarily, of course, the value is quantitative and instrumental: hands are needed to pull triggers and push buttons.

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. Algorithms are going to take over the world, they will own things and employ people in the way gods did over 5000 years ago.

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. The Google algorithm will help us make choices in the supermarket, in the polling booth and the marriage market:

“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 they will behave no differently to the elites of history in relation to focusing upon the needs of the poor: they will focus on themselves.

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: 402

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 in the same way someone knows what to expect when one knows that we are rational animals capable of discourse(the knowledge of future necessities). 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 a claim that the so-called “death of God” has not led to any large-scale social collapse(depending upon whom one asks?)

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 science, 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 “colonised” 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 “schematised” 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 claims that the same feelings that were the ground of a commitment to one person could then be the foundation of a “new” commitment to another person. Modern man, argues Harari, justifies marriage in terms of feelings rather than holy scriptures or divine commandments.Why? Because it is argued paradoxically that the lesson we have learned from Humanism is that something is judged as bad only if it causes someone to feel bad.

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 during the medieval period God was the source of everything valuable in the spheres of politics, ethics and aesthetics.

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: 427

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, it is claimed that in pre-modern times people believed that there was a grand cosmic plan for human beings and was this plan that provided life with a meaning at the expense of power over their lives. Humans were merely strutting on the world stage like actors.

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 of this kind of activity:

“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: 322

“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 characterize 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 causes it, or it causes. Philosophical theory has been concerned with action theory for over two thousand years not through the activity of storytelling but through the activity of theorizing 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 that verges on science fiction. It is again insisted that it will be difficult to tell the difference between fiction and reality but on this occasion, science will somehow dedicate itself to strengthening intersubjective myths and help people to live in their mythical virtual worlds.

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 in which it is maintained that there is a resemblance between the voodoo belief in invisible spirits and pseudo causal connections( sticking a pin in a doll causes a man in the next village to develop a headache) and the invisible germs used by the medical man to explain disease(and perhaps headaches). Apparently, Harari claims, there is nothing supernatural about the claims of voodoo.

The observation of the action of causality in the one case and not in the other is the obvious ground for calling the physicians germs and diseases “natural” and the voodoo priests spirit “supernatural”. Postmodernists often operate with a Humpty Dumpty theory of meaning where words mean what they want them to mean and this would be an appropriate comment to make in relation to the above use of “supernatural” where mere invisibility is taken to be the defining criterion. 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 anthropomorphizing 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 relationship 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 response of 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 characterizable. Popular images of devils and demons merely confuse the issue and turn 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 conceptualized 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 symbolize 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 man’s 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 lawmakers 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 civilization 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 man’s 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 actualize 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 fetus can be kept alive without undue suffering outside of the womb is a dual argument and rests on the judgment that the fetus 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 judgments 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 fetuses 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 in which it is claimed that judgments conceal putative fats which may be fictions within their meaning. Harari claims that the unverifiable statement “human life is sacred” contains within it the putative fact that “every human has an eternal soul”
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 one’s 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 points to the fact that the truths of science and religion clash but he then proceeds to claim that neither really care about the truth and for this reason there is room for cooperation and compromise. Religion will cooperate because it is more interested in order than in truth.
An amazing closing statement. We see again the postmodernist 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 postmodernist 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?