The Third Centrepiece lecture from “The World Explored, the World Suffered: the Exeter lectures”

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“And at the end of all our explorations we shall arrive at the beginning and know the place for the first time”

“Let us start at the end of the Philosophical journey, ladies, and gentlemen, with what some doomsday prophets would say is the end of Philosophy: the Philosophy of Wittgenstein. Some have called him the greatest of the philosophers of this century and he might have been prepared to wear this particular crown of thorns in his earlier work where his logical atomism relegated all value, all aesthetic, ethical and religious value from the world constituted of facts. In his later work, however, he has been humbled and offers us some pictures of a part of a landscape that he admits he will not be able to form into a complete philosophy. So let us begin. At the beginning of the Second World War, just after the death of Freud, Wittgenstein has this to say:

“Why is the soul moved by idle thoughts—since they are after all idle? Well, it is just moved by them (How can the wind move a tree, since it is after all just wind? Well, it does move it and do not forget it.)”

This is the philosophical idea of psychogenesis that Freud believed played a role in mental illness. Freud was one of the few Psychologists Wittgenstein would study, perhaps because both believed that surrounding the heart of our understanding was madness, the cure for which was therapy. And what greater madness can there be than war, ladies and gentlemen. War, for both these philosophers was the product of idle thoughts not engaging with the everyday life-world of the context of involvements, and the everyday understanding of language. War, is the product of a childish resistance that refuses to engage with others. Wittgenstein believed that no distress can be greater than that which a single person can suffer:

“one human being can be in infinite distress and require infinite help”.

This is why he was inclined toward the religious. Religion promised the possibility of infinite help if one kept ones part of the bargain and believed and opened ones heart to God in one’s distress and remorse. This may seem to some to be the result of a childish form of love but the child does approach others with an open heart, something that adults seem not to be capable of. Perhaps adults cut themselves off from each other because opening our hearts and minds will not reveal very attractive content. Perhaps we suffer from a form of blindness and cannot see another’s soul, perhaps there is no means of talking about the relation another person has to his soul. It is not easy to see what relation each soul has to its life as a whole or to its own death. When someone dies we do not see the anxiety, depression and remorse the individual felt characterized their life: we are conciliatory and round off the edges of his life in sympathy because we understand how difficult it is to live and understand ourselves. We need to understand that our motives are not always transparent and that sometimes we may believe that our motives for doing X are virtuous but after internal exploration we may well discover they are born from cowardice or indifference or greed. We need this childish open-hearted honesty if our narcissism is to be destroyed, for only then can religion, like the sea, seep into every nook and cranny of our personality. Wittgenstein did not subscribe to the mental illness model subscribed to by Freud and would have preferred a more neutral personality-change model. And no model can have more detrimental effects on an education system run by the state, than that of the mental disease model. The state has historically handled mental illness poorly. First by incarcerating thousands of women in state institutions, with no treatment at all in the late eighteen hundreds, and then by placing its faith in science and incarcerating patients indefinitely in institutions, administering medicines designed to remove the more uncomfortable symptoms such as hallucinations: and finally in desperation when that clearly failed, releasing schizophrenic patients to a fate of homelessness on the streets. But what model does run our current state-run educational systems? All the above measures seemed to aim at reducing suffering. This is, according to Wittgenstein, the aim of education too, which is, to reduce the capacity for suffering. Here is something he wrote in 1948:

“Nowadays a school counts as good if the children have a Good time. And formerly that was not the yardstick. And parents would like children to become the way they themselves are (only more so) and yet they give them an education which is quite different from their own suffering really is out of date.”

You may recognize the medical “Hippocratic” model of reducing suffering at the root of all state run activity. In this regard Wittgenstein points to the industry of Bach, one of my favorite composers, and points out the “logical” or “grammatical” relation of industry to humility and suffering. Bach could really listen to music with the ear of an exploring sufferer and produce it for the hands of suffering explorers too. I personally cannot hear what I hear in Bach in very much of our popular music. Bach in his music is like the tightrope walker who is so high up in our cultural heaven supported by almost nothing but a little thread which seems impossible to walk upon: and yet he is up there moving across the space of our cultural sky. It’s almost as if he has wings. This is why Bach’s music is religious music, ladies and gentlemen. When one reads the Bible one gets the same feeling from the way the language is used. It is used like music, coming from writers who suffer infinitely, moving across the heavens with the greatest of ease, as graceful and as purposeful as an angel: the words of Solomon, the words of Ecclesiastes may sometimes land to the sound of softly flapping angels wings, but mostly these words are like the swifts flying on their secret missions.
And in 1949, a few years before his death, Wittgenstein points out that If Christianity is the truth about being in the world then all the philosophy about it is false. One year prior to his death he also remarks that if Gods essence is said to guarantee his existence, then this indicates that God’s existence, the philosophical question par excellence, is not the issue. What then is the issue? Suffering and how to live heroically yet humbly in the shadow of religion is Wittgenstein’s tentative answer. He claims that life led in the right way, with the right upbringing and experiences of suffering, can lead you to a belief in God or force the concept of God upon your thinking.
I wish now to speak less anecdotally and more theoretically about Wittgenstein’s view of religious language and the religious form of life. I will draw here upon the ideas of our colleague, Donald Hudson’s work.
Learning a language, in general, is learning to play a language –game in which action and language occur in intimate relations with each other. We need to be trained in order to understand the rules and the point of the game in much the same way as we are trained to play chess. Language games have two important logical characteristics: firstly they are part of an activity or form of life, and, secondly, what is done in the language –game always rests on a tacit presupposition On the first point Hudson engages in a thought experiment and asks us to imagine a lion-like form of life in which the lions talk as human beings yet carry on behaving exactly as lions. Imagine, Hudson, asks, a lion exclaiming “Goodness! It is already 3 o clock” but continuing to lounge about and sleep as lions are liable to do. These words would be a prelude to urgent action for a human being but, Hudson argues, we would not understand these lazy lions even if they could speak. The words, isolated from action as they are here, lose all their meaning. Hudson then gives an example of a tacit presupposition in the language game of science in its talk about the moon. The moon is spoken of as a continuous existent and yet our experiences of it are discontinuous: it is tacitly presupposed that our discontinuous experiences of the moon are sufficiently valid grounds for claiming the continuous existence of the moon. Now in discussing religious beliefs, we should not expect the religious man to reason about his beliefs in the same way as the scientist does about his theories. A man believing in the Last Judgment may act every day against the background of the fear or promise of such an event. Is this not then reasonable? Does not the practical belief seem to be stronger than any hypothetical scientific belief? The scientist has his world-view and expects that every event has an explanatory cause in a systematically uniform world in which moons continuously exist. But surely, we would want to claim, a worldview such as the Christian one cannot amount to explaining merely what individuals do in their daily lives. It surely must be able to understand and explain global phenomena such as mass starvation. No Christian would accept the explanation that mass starvation occurs because God does not care whether his creation starves or has food. Now perhaps not every Christian would be able to immediately understand or be able to explain this phenomenon, but we would certainly expect understanding and an explanation of the phenomenon of world starvation from a Christian theologian. The type of explanation we would expect would be something along the following lines: mass starvation is due to human selfishness which is a consequence of God creating man with reason, a free will and a sense of what is good, all of which can then be used to persuade men or let them persuade each other to do something about the phenomenon in question.
Finally, on this issue of the existence and essence of God, let me turn briefly to Kant and his work “Religion within the bounds of mere Reason. According to this work:

“The nature and intrinsic limits of thought and human knowledge preclude any demonstration of the existence of God.”

And further:

“non-existence cannot be demonstrated either.”

It is for the above reasons, ladies and gentlemen that knowledge about, or of God, is not possible and that we are left with faith guided by moral, practical reason. This faith assists us in moving toward what Kant called the summum bonum or the highest possible good in the world. This involves striving for the perfection of our own character and experiencing happiness in direct proportion to the goodness of that character.
It is important to point out that Kant is not here merely making epistemological points but is also hinting at a metaphysical framework. Mathematics and Science are only on a sound theoretical footing as long as they do not claim to be true of Being or reality as such: as long, as they claim to be discovering the truth of what appears to the observer possessing theoretical knowledge. Kant’s argument, is that all our experience is structured by basic forms of sensibility and/or categories of thought. Neither space nor time characterize reality as it is in itself, but characterize the receptivity of the sensible faculty of our minds. Furthermore, objects as they are experienced must, in accordance with scientific assumptions, be subject to causal determinism, i.e. no one can experience any change in the world which does not have a physical observable cause. That is how the world must be organized for the scientific observer. If determinism is a universal principle, however, we are immediately going to have a problem characterizing the free will of moral agents, which are not causally determined entities. The resultant paradox of both being in accordance with and not being in accordance with the theoretical demand of determinism is resolved by Kant’s distinction between the self as a phenomenon obeying deterministic causal laws and the self as a noumenon which is free from determinism. Similarly we do not experience God as a phenomenon to be experienced but only as a noumenon free from determinism. God has not been caused by anything, he is his own cause: he is the explanation of himself. The thematic question of religious belief is “What can I hope for?” thereby situating religious phenomena squarely in the field of aspiration, in the field of what ought to be striven for: a good will , a hope for salvation. This is not necessarily the same thing as the theological doctrine of Original Sin which is a highly theoretical claim about the human condition and certainly not compatible with the idea of a free agent with individual responsibility striving for the good, striving for what it ought to do. But what then of what Kant calls radical evil. How can he account for this phenomenon? Firstly he tends to speculate about this matter in terms of the will rather than behavior. An action with good intentions might conceivably have what is regarded as evil empirical consequences, but unqualified goodness is demanded of the will which is capable of noumenal deeds: capable namely of adopting principles of action which are in accordance with the categorical imperative. Such noumenal deeds can be corrupted and a deviant will is thus possible. It is important not to underestimate this possible corruption. We speak of people as good even if we experience deviations from the good, as illustrated above by our speeches at their funerals. The dead person may have felt acutely remorseful and guilty at the memory of their deviation from the good, he may indeed have felt his life as a miserable failure because of a few deviations and yet we, with our knowledge of the human condition round off these embarrassing edges and call the dead person a good man. What we are engaging upon here is nothing less than what Kant would have called “ a deduction” of the idea of a justification of a human being who is guilty of deviations but has through hard work with his character transformed his will into one that would please God. This hard work is enormously demanding and leads to a complete transformation or rebirth of the person. Kant says the following:

“The distance between the goodness which we ought to effect in ourselves and the evil from which we start is infinite, and, so far as the deed is concerned—i.e. the conformity of the conduct of one’s life to the holiness of the law—it is not attainable in any time”

For Kant it is progress along this infinite continuum which counts as good. There is no alternative for Kant given the fact that deeds in the noumenal sphere of our existence escape cognition. But strictly speaking the progress of the will, no matter how far it has come, in its infinite work toward the absolute good, may yet regard its work as a failure. The role of God enters here in the form of his good will and grace: if man has done everything he can, then God imputes righteousness gracefully to us. But what about our empirical societies, is there hope that they too will progress infinitely toward the ideal of a kingdom of ends? Indeed, is not the empirical state of affairs the following: that the growing awareness of cross-cultural and ecological awareness has left us with a lack of conviction in the supposed work for progress: that the individual in such circumstances will feel that there is no hope of producing good consequences in these circumstances. Kant would respond in two ways to this state of affairs: firstly he would insist that moral action is not instrumental, is not a means to an end but rather it is an end in itself: secondly, and relatedly, he would insist that this is not a knowledge issue to be calculated in terms of means and ends but rather a matter of faith that one’s action will constitute progress toward the good.
Finally Kant discusses whether the above very complex metaphysical reasoning could serve as the foundation of an actual ethical community of the form we find in a church. Kant realizes that some form of public experiential condition is needed. There is needed, he argues, some form of historical faith in authority or leadership grounded in actual historical conditions laid down, for example, in the Bible, ecclesiastical literature and historical practices. The historical account of the journey of the Jews and the life of Jesus Christ are obviously important in this respect.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, the world explored is the world suffered actively in the mode of an active faith, reasoning about the world as a whole. There is of course a melancholic air to both exploration and suffering which will always be the case until this untethered buoy with its tolling bell finds a safe harbor and safe shelter: the finite promised waters in a sublime infinite sea of suffering.”

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The First Review of The World Explored, the World Suffered: The Exeter lectures

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Top customer reviews
Ravana’s hammer
5.0 out of 5 stars Very worthwhile reading
January 7, 2018
Format: Paperback

I just finished this book, and I find myself feeling “post-partum”. It is a deep, philosophical meditation on human existence, and is not a “light read”. Prior knowledge of Philosophy, while not required, is helpful. What is required is the desire to grapple with the philosophical questions. The author synthesizes the thinking of Wittgenstein, Kant and Aristotle into a beautiful and quietly melancholic view of the world in the context of a story of people whose lives exemplify that view, and require that view. He moves between clear expositions of the basic questions in Western Philosophy, questions of purpose and meaning in life, the nature of aesthetic judgement and its relationship to truth, the nature of tragedy, to the struggles of individuals living out those very questions. What comes across clearly and unobtrusively in this work, is that the author knows these struggles. It was written from the heart, as much as from the mind.

The Second Exeter centrepiece lecture by Glynn Samuels from the book “The World Explored, the World Suffered:The Exeter lectures”

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Glynn opened his notes: “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Today is the second of three lectures entitled “The World Explored,the World Suffered”. We talked about the restlessness of the human soul during the last lecture. Today we are going to ask the question: “What forms can this restlessness take if it seeks to express itself cathartically in Science, Art, Philosophy, and Religion? Firstly some remarks about “the World”. Science has altered its character over history, ladies and gentlemen. During Pre-Socratic times Science and Philosophy were united, both were born of “wonder in the face of existence or being”. Modern science and perhaps much of modern philosophy have lost this spirit of exploration and both are skeptical in relation to this very basic characteristic of what Heidegger called our being-in-the world. Modernism doubts everything and needs to obsessively consult the external world piecemeal for the establishment of every idea and, as a consequence, is thereby thrown into the attitude of trying to construct the world from a pack of theoretical constructs. Are the cards arranged like this?” is the question each scientific age now asks itself and the truth about Being-in-the-world is lost. Wonder is replaced with observation and manipulation. The truth about Being-in-the-world and the truth about the questions of Being is lost. We are lost. We look at the cards and accept the hand we have been dealt, instead of asking, why these cards? Why this kind of card? Why this kind of idea? Our restlessness is transformed into an anxiety-laden activity where we shuffle the cards every generation and are stimulated at the new combination. Heidegger claims we are “thrown” into this world, dealt a hand by a mysterious dealer, ladies and gentlemen, and that our theoretical representations and dealings with the world are inauthentic. At the same time we dwell in the world we live in most intimately in our practical dealings with it. In our dealings with things, we manipulate and use what is “ready-to-hand”. In our concern we thrust aside our theoretically interpretative tendencies that conceal our concerns. We call these entities with which we are concerned “things” and perhaps thereby take a theoretical leap into the unknown. The scientist is a magician, ladies and gentlemen, and one has to be skilled to detect his sleights of hand, especially when he is shuffling his self- constructed cards. Notice how this leap away from Being or reality is a leap away from the fundamental reason for our pre-Socratic wonder in the face of the world. It is a leap away from value, ladies and gentlemen. Let us ask ourselves, “What keeps the craftsman at his task?” A theoretical representation of the house he is building? Is this his concern? Surely he thinks more broadly and more deeply. Does his activity not stretch along a series of interconnected thoughts about the form of life of being human or being-in-the-world? Does it not stretch away from the bare material house along a chain of practical operators we designate linguistically in terms of the expression “in-order-to”? This chain formally refers something to something else along the chain until we come to rest perhaps in “Eudaimonia” if we are Aristotelians, or in the attitude of “a boundless happy outlook onto the world”, if we are Kantians like Dr. Sutton. The builder, ladies and gentlemen does not see the structure he is building as something merely geometrical with its 4 rectangular walls. What, for example, has the hammer the builder is building with, got to do with the rectangularity of the walls? The hammer’s nature is to be, as Heidegger puts it, ready-to-hand. The hammer needs to be used to reveal its nature and if it is thought about, it is done so, circumspectly, in relation to an action structure it is embedded within. If it is looked at, observed theoretically, then this is a different kind of concern which will have a different purpose altogether. The scientist may observe for example that the shaft of the hammer is made of wood as is the house, and think of the biological, chemical or physical properties of wood. For the true craftsman, however the wood may set into motion a process of thought ending in a forest of trees stirring his wonder: The woods for him may be a sublime place to be visited with appropriate clothes and a transcendental attitude: a place to be explored with the senses. When houses are mass produced, the hammers’ value is diminished as is perhaps the “value” of the house. We are not, of course, talking of economic value, which quantifies away the quality and substance of things possessing real transcendental value. The magnificent work “The peasant’s shoes” by van Gogh is a sensory presentation of the truth of this matter. The work of art reveals to an observer, the world of the peasant and the world of work which perhaps Socrates imagined in his healthy city: the city without luxury, without soldiers, without Philosophers. Work and a natural philosophical and religious attitude was all that was required. These attitudes connected its things and activities teleologically, into a system of ends Heidegger would have called a “world” or “being-in-the-world”. All these things and activities do not stand out and present themselves for observation unless something goes wrong. If the hammer does not work or the walls of the house fall down, then these things emerge from this world of activity and present themselves for inspection or observation. The condition of the builder building his house, of course is that the hammer and the walls do not present themselves in the above way and interrupt the activity. Notice how the world is divided, ladies and gentlemen. It is not divided theoretically or mathematically where one begins by imagining a theoretical “substance” or “thing” that can be divided, shaped and moved, remaining constant throughout all of these types of change. The world is a network or totality of equipment where each element has a means-ends or instrumental relation to the beings that use the equipment. The hammer when used is primordially understood in a way described by Gilbert Ryle as “knowing how” which, is contrasted to “knowing that” but is also contrasted to the observational mode of encountering hammers that do not work and walls that fall down. We are not conscious of using the hammer but we are pre-consciously aware of what we are doing. The world of Descartes, the mathematician and Philosopher, ladies and gentlemen is a theoretical world to be explored mathematically and scientifically. His physical world is a theoretical world of res extensa where literally any division, and shape, or any type of movement measurable or observable within the confines of science and mathematics is possible. In this curious world of the mathematician, the infinite can be capable of infinite change. For the practical man this theoretical world will be an image of a world, the mere shadow of the real practical world of equipment. This is, then, not a human world, ladies and gentlemen, nor can it be a religious world, even if for Descartes God guaranteed the truth in a system which had , on these assumptions, to remain forever hypothetical. Only God could know the truth in this system ladies and gentlemen. Only God could guarantee that we are not all dreaming and being deceived by an evil demon. Let me just say that there are theoretical ideas of God such as we find in Aristotle that are based on res cogitans rather than res extensa but let me also say that Aristotle was no dualist and you will find no reference to evil demons in his work. Descartes’ philosophy, ladies and gentlemen announced the coming of the modern secular scientific and technological age. Kant, in attempting to correct Descartes, wound the clock back to the Greeks (and here I do not completely agree with Heidegger’s view of Kant) but to no avail, because Kant’s ethical and religious worldview was nevertheless rapidly overwhelmed by “modernism” and “individualism”. For Descartes it is the quantitative modifications of the physical world which are the primary fundamental phenomena upon which everything and every quality of a thing is built, including the hammer, the house, the peasants shoes, the sublime woods, and even ultimately the thinker, ladies and gentlemen, whose brain, according to Descartes, becomes the meeting point of res extensa and res cogitans. “Value” in such a secular, scientific world, ladies and gentlemen, has to have a special “stamp” imposed upon it by the subjects experiencing it. The woods are not sublime in the view of the scientist but are regarded as so by the person so absorbed, and this attitude is no more generally valid than the attitude of the horseman, riding through the woods whose thoughts are elsewhere on the road ahead and the house at the end of the road, or indeed, to take another example, the attitude of the driver of the machine that cuts down trees in accordance with a quantitative schedule written down on his order sheet: an order sheet which in its turn was written by a supervisor who did not think about the trees as such but only of the amount of capital they would generate for the company. Hail be to king Oeconomous! Whereas, ladies and gentlemen, I want to say that there is a very great difference in value between the absorbed contemplator, contemplating the sublimity of the woods, the machine-driver cutting down trees and the horseman riding for home. This analysis is not complete, however until we ask the question “Who is thus absorbed, in these activities of contemplating the woods, destroying the woods or riding for home?” Shall we be modern and give the answer: “the Cartesian substantial consciousness?” We can, I hope, immediately reject this Cartesian theoretically constituted consciousness in favour of practically constituted “existence”, in favor of a practical “I”. The builder builds a house for a practical “I” to live in. The hammer belongs to a very practical carpenter. But these beings enjoy a different mode of Being or Reality to the network of means and ends that they both help to constitute and are part of. The theoretical “I” stands apart from Others, is separate from Others, in a solipsistic world of its own. In Heidegger’s “Being-in-the-world-together”, on the other hand, I and the Others stand equally and practically together constituting a practical network. Others may present themselves as different when they appear in a landscape but as soon as they pick up a hammer, go into a house, ride through the woods, stand amazed at the sublimity of the woods, go into a church, sit enthralled at what is being said in the house of God: as soon as these things happen, the Others become my brothers and sisters and I adopt an attitude of humanistic solicitude toward them. But it must be emphasized, ladies and gentlemen, that I am concerned about Others in a way I could never be concerned about a hammer or a house. This latter type of concern, or attitude of solicitude can become corrupted by the forms of life we lead: for example, the horseman nearly knocks his brother down in his furious ride to reach the house. Here he sees his brother as something that gets in his way, an obstacle to overcome. He has devalued his brother: not shown his forbearance for his brother. Our Being-with-one –another in the world ought to be a being- for- the- sake- of- one-another. This Being-with- one-another can be compromised by our theoretical attitudes that separate us into individuals with our own cogito, our own interests, desires, and needs. Once this happens we need to travel a road of self-knowledge in order to re-discover this primordial attitude of Being-with-one-another which came so natural to the Greeks and the Christians. One of the deficient modes of being- together- with- one -another occurs when we see all people around us as a means to our ends. This narcissistic or “Individual” me which cannot grasp what I have in common with my brothers can be theoretically characterized by Psychology as an individual “I” defined by a set or properties one of which may be narcissism. Such a theory, however, can never bring the individuals back into the practical network of value that unites them. Society is not a totality of individuals, united by a set of theoretical properties but a brotherhood of brothers or a siblinghood of siblings or a fellowship of friends united by a set of practical concerns about goals, duties and rights. We are thrown into this burdensome world, ladies and gentlemen, and this is reflected in our states of mind or moods that become defining for how we see the world. We need to master our moods, ladies and gentlemen because, according to Heidegger, there is a basic fundamental mood that reveals the world as it is for us. We need to master our moods because there are bad states of mind or bad moods which will disguise from us the nature of the world and neutralize the value of work, walks in the sublime woods, and other people. According to Heidegger it is only when our senses belong to an entity whose kind of Being is Being-in-the-world possessing a state of mind or mood which cares for the world, that things can reveal themselves to us in the world as something to be valued. A good mood is not a dominating state of mind, ladies and gentlemen, it submits itself to the world: a bad mood, ladies and gentlemen, seeks to dominate the world, perhaps as the modern scientist seeks to dominate the physical domain: a bad mood can sometimes seek to destroy our woods or “inadvertently” in a more complex context, provide the weapons of mass destruction. Between moods that submit themselves to the world and world-destroying moods, there are moods of contemplation in which we impose the categories of substance and its properties, action and its properties, upon the passing show. Twentieth-century fashions looked to logic to replace epistemological approaches to philosophical problems. The logic of grammatical subjects and predicates, the logic of theories of types and descriptions provided context independent statements which theories would attempt to give an account of. This state of affairs was meant to attempt to solve the problem of the existence of the world that needed to be inferred from sense data in the mind or logical theories. According to Heidegger the world is not a hypothesis or an assumption. Being–in-the-world is our original situation from which everything else follows. Equipment networks for Heidegger are the background against which everything else stands out. The work of the later Wittgenstein moves in this direction when it refers to language-games embedded in forms of life. Here the forms of life form the background of the world. Psychology relegates moods to secondary phenomena subservient to representation and willing. Phenomenological research tries to restore moods and emotion back to the practical phenomena they were in the Philosophy of Aristotle. In the Phenomenology of Scheler, for example, , actions can have their own “sight” and their own “interest”. Phenomenology is a philosophy born at the beginning of the century, conceived by the spiritual “father” of Heidegger, Edmund Husserl. It maintains in its reflections upon language, that underlying our interpretations of things is a context of “involvements” which provide the cognitive content of these interpretations. Everything has “meaning” and this meaning can be disclosed. In the statement “The hammer is too heavy” we do not discover “meanings” but rather we discover an entity like the hammer and its relation to the ready-to-hand context in which it is involved. The predicate “too heavy” then is a narrowing or focusing of attention that characterizes this specific hammer. Thirdly, this statement communicates this state of affairs to others and the state of affairs is shared with others who may have no direct involvement in the state of affairs. This statement can then be passed along in an unending chain of communication. Interpretation in itself does not need to be linguistic or theoretical but can be purely practical as when a carpenter tries to use a hammer which is too heavy, lays it aside for another which is lighter. But of course talking about things is a mode of being together. In language we communicate our understanding of the possibilities of things that we project upon them, and we can also communicate our state of mind or mood. But just as primary, ladies and gentlemen, is the fact that in language or discourse we listen-to, we are open-to, ideas and other people. Indeed our very being- in- the- world is constituted in and through the activity of listening to others. Man shows himself to be the being that listens before he reasons ladies and gentlemen. Hence, Aristotle’s definition of “rational animal capable of discourse” replaces the earlier simpler definition of “rational animal”. It is in listening-to, or reading, that all true explorations of the world and our place in it begin. We listen or read in order to explore, and to know that we are not alone. Language is therefore not a repository of words to be used ladies and gentlemen, but rather something we use with solicitude, with care: the same attitude we reserve for human beings. That we speak and listen are not properties of a theoretical Psychological “I”, but rather constitutive aspects of our human nature or being-in-the-world with others. But, ladies and gentlemen, here comes the reason why we have to read and to listen very carefully. We are thrown into a world where the meanings of things are either not apparent or where things said are only half meant or not meant at all. This is a world in which one could get lost, ladies and gentlemen. A world in which interpretation might lead into a labyrinth of meaninglessness: in this labyrinth we will find the scientist, the psychologist, and the social scientist, down in the Platonic cave, hunting for they know not what, hunting for nothingness in the dark. But in this world one can hear if one listens carefully, and one can understand if one reads about the essential characteristics of the world which makes this world of ours, a real world. The chalk I have in my hand has perceptual characteristics: grayish, white, relatively solid, a thing with a definite shape. These seem to be the mathematical/scientific properties of the chalk: but, for the practical understanding this piece of chalk has an essence, namely a piece of material that can be used up after writing on a blackboard. After it is used up it has no theoretical properties at all. Does it not exist, therefore, because it does not possess the above theoretical properties or does it not exist because it has been practically used up in the act of writing on the blackboard? The essence of the chalk seems to reside more in the practical act than in these theoretical properties: the chalk is used up in practical acts situated in our life-world of which this lecture hall is a part. And yet these acts are a something rather than a nothing: they have being or reality. The chalk is a thing in a context of involvements that include the student reading its traces and understanding what was written, perhaps even after the chalk that was used to leave its traces itself has disappeared and all its theoretical properties are nothing. Heidegger writes about the darkening of the world bearing down upon us and perhaps it will reach into this institution when chalk writing on a blackboard will no longer be understood. Here I am thinking of the mathematical logic of Professor Russell. Attempting to reduce all objects and acts to their logical theoretical form is an important mistake, if one can call it a mistake at all. It is not of the order of misunderstanding the use of something like a hammer but more like not being able to relate to other human beings spiritually: as beings which have intrinsic value. Now, no one can accuse religion of not being able to relate to human beings spiritually. The language of religion is spiritual: it does not settle for the facts or express facts in isolation, but rather relates to something of value underlying the facts. It is not a fact that religion preaches the brotherhood of man but rather a statement that expresses the nature of our relation to man as a relation of solicitude and care: a statement which is true yet value-laden. It is an expression of an ontological mood. So, for a modern man, Christ dying on the cross is a fact but for a Christian this event expresses symbolically the essence of man’s life, or the mood of life in general. The picture of this event is perhaps the most terrible, horrible event that the mind could conjure up: this event of the good man, dying in such a cruel way. Be not mistaken, ladies and gentlemen, this is not one man dying because of a betrayal for thirty pieces of silver. This event symbolizes all of mankind on the cross. This is the symbol of the darkening of the world after which came quite naturally the dark ages. The Renaissance supposedly designated the awakening of the spiritual in man until Descartes came along to put a nail into God’s coffin with his mathematical individualism and radical skepticism. Then came the Enlightenment, but it is an open question as to whether Kant put another nail into Gods coffin. I don’t believe he did cause problems for religion, but will not fully give my reasons for thinking so during this lecture. The language of religion, ladies and gentlemen, is not Latin, it is Hebrew. Latin translations of Hebrew and Greek, as we know have been problematic. The word that we know in English as “substance”, is the Latin translation of “Being” or reality. The word the Greeks used was paraousia that designates the presence of an essence or a homestead standing and revealing its essence. We have, through unfortunate Latin translations misinterpreted the Greek term phusus that refers to the spontaneous unfolding of something essential which lingers. Physics, as a consequence of Latin mistranslations, has fallen under the spell of the Latin translation substance that is more easily interpreted as something material endowed with mathematical characteristics. The essent, for the physicist is self- evidently given, a datum that can be discovered by an observer equipped with scientific instruments and mathematical theories and concepts. The essence becomes an object to be observed, or to be acted upon with measuring instruments. The essence of man and language have disappeared into this labyrinth of confusion and perhaps all we have left is the historical event of the death of Jesus to talk about. Perhaps all that is left to do is to explore and suffer the significance of this event. An event, instead of a world, is all we have to speak about in the house of God: in the house of a Deus absconditus. In this house we show we care about metaphysical matters. Sitting and waiting for mass to begin, the metaphysical anxiety we feel in the face of our death is transposed into a Stoic calm. The storm that is coming over the horizon is on our minds when we talk collectively about death. Out in the street we talk idly about death as if it were an accidental event and try to forget about it as quickly as possible. The storm of another person’s death is an event like any other that will pass away in history. Neighbors congregate around a dying friend and predict he will soon be well: they administer tranquillizers. In our everyday talk about death we anxiously pretend that there is no cause for anxiety. But then we find ourselves in church ladies and gentlemen where the truth is up there on the altar for all to see. No tranquillizers for Jesus. The claim that he suffered for us means that his death was not a mere historical event but an event of solicitude and care. We should “know” that we are going to die, disintegrate into the nothingness of dust: we should as Heidegger claims: “find ourselves face to face with the “nothing”, of the possible impossibility of our existence”. If we do, we become free to meet this impossibility we will never experience, resolutely, with the stoical spirit of a Socrates or a Jesus. We will of course need a clear conscience if we are to accomplish such a feat of anticipating resolutely what is to come. Aristotle, ladies and gentlemen as you know, spoke of every activity and inquiry as aiming at the good. For him the world was not a merely totality of things or events or facts about things and events: it was a totality of involvements with natural things and human beings that manifested value in the form of friendship, concern, solicitude, and care. For Aristotle we also have a relation to God when we contemplate the good, the true and the beautiful and for Kant we have commitments to both humans and God. One cannot help but recognize that the values referred to are in the realm of the possible and the realm of the “ought”, and that one can in fact be bored with existence or tired of existence or wish to destroy existence without these facts being a basis to abandon what we ought to be committed to and care for. This terrible modern century with two world wars and the dropping of two atomic bombs on civilian populations and the threat of nuclear holocaust is only 75 years old. One wonders what is in store. One wonders what on earth is coming next. If ever a talking cure was needed it was needed in this terrible century. If ever there was a humanistic voice needed in the wilderness of our modern times it is now, during this century. The voice began to whisper its concern about humanity during the end of the last century, paradoxically in the name of science, and in defense of the immoral treatment of mentally ill patients. And as the patients confessed in the consulting rooms of this humanist named Freud, it became apparent that science did not have the resources to do the work of diagnosing the causes of complex mental phenomena. Freud, after flirting with scientific materialism turned his attention to Plato and mythology in order to interpret the phenomena he encountered in his consulting rooms. We may wonder how Jesus knew his life was not going to end well after having raised his voice in the name of humanity and brotherhood. He was tagged “the King of the Jews” and given a crown of thorns. Freud was never openly tagged in this way but to the scientist he presented a challenge to the throne of science by abandoning materialism and physical causation. He transformed the current dogma of somatogenesis (mental illness has a physical cause in the brain) by a critical doctrine of psychogenesis (mental illness has its origins in our minds ). He was never openly tagged but was made to wear his crown of thorns. Now I am not a fan of Dr. Freud because of his attacks on visible religion but I can see how he might have thought that the confessions of someone who can listen and understand could take the place of a religion grown weary of listening to unimaginative, almost ritualistic prayers, of a religious institution wearily offering unimaginative ritualistic formulas in response to the anxiety of modern man. I can see how Freud might have thought that religion embraced a set of beliefs that were driven by fantasy or wish rather than the reality of how the world ought to be. Freud was a great emblem of this terrible century, being both a sufferer and a deep explorer of the human condition. The time of the prophets may be long gone but it is ironic is it not that he and Einstein were asked to diagnose the causes of war on the eve of the war to end all wars. The language, of religion, ladies and gentlemen is not a factual language, nor a language of observation, cause and effect. It is the language of poetry combined with the language of myth: neither language is well understood, although we incorrectly believe we understand the language of poetry more than we do the language of myth. Myths may be the only clue to pre-history that we have and it may be defining of myths that we cannot connect the events narrated with either the time of our history or the geographical space of our world as we define it today. Religious texts, ladies and gentlemen, explore the relation between man and what he considers sacred: between man and that which threatens this sacred bond, namely, evil. The confession a man makes of his faults is symbolic and is in need of the kind of interpretation that is required to understand the language of religious texts. The confession is not simply an emotional exclamation of pain, ladies and gentlemen, it is rather a cry for righteousness and justice: a cry from an emotional complex of anxiety and fear which is being operated upon by an ought-system of concepts emanating from the conscience of man. Freud called one part of the mind the superego in recognition of the fact that it assists the ego in its work of transforming the id and its cauldron of appetites into a life force capable of creating an Aristotelian flourishing life. Psychoanalysis ladies and gentlemen, is the secular inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. It aims to transform our childish narcissism into a deep thought about, and love of the world, which will make a Temple of our societies. So, in place of the God that has absconded from our secular cities, we have analytical interpretations of our cries for help. In Heidegger’s terms, the cry is analogous to the cry in the wilderness where the appeal is to be returned to civilization, to the context of involvements with people and things. The call of conscience is a call to be able to experience fully what one ought to be able to experience: work and love, which by the way happen to be the two criteria for a healthy ego that has successfully transformed the cauldron of emotion of the id into a life force This healthy ego also has successfully transformed the commanding cruel captain of the superego into the gentle man of peace, no longer aggressively accusing its host. It would seem that man enters into the ethical world through fear and not love, if Freud the prophet is to be believed. Once having returned from the desert to his context of involvements, love makes an appearance on the condition that the spirit did not die from the terror of the desert. It is the spirit on the verge of dying which cries out “How long O Lord must I endure?” “Hast thou abandoned me?” Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, the spirit of man is an enigma because much of its history completely escapes narration. But the narrative of the sea ladies and gentlemen, is the sea as it threatens or purifies and baptizes in accordance with its moods. Indeed the sea is narrative of the natural order and this is not as pressing a matter as the narrative of man confessing his faults. And if science has anything to do with the construction of this narrative of the sea there will be no reference to its role as elemental purifier. The scientist will do with the waters of the sea as he does with the desert: he will measure the depths, calculate the winds and look to the moon to explain the motion of the waves: he will count the sands of the desert, measure the heights of the dunes and look to the winds and the sun to explain all shape and motion. This world of science is a world in which everything follows the laws and nothing breaks the laws, on pain of the law not being a law. In the ethical world of the suffering man, suffering is a symptom of having broken some commandment or law that governs the flourishing life. Ancient man carried this symbolism into the natural order and explained the flood in terms of broken divine commandments or laws. The threatening or purifying flood was predicted and it was a vengeful phenomenon. The sufferer did not love God enough, it was claimed. The secular Plato might well have said “If you do not love the world and knowledge of the world enough you will be punished and suffer.” The unjust or evil man must suffer: that must be the logic of the ethical world and everyone seems able to intuitively understand this. But not everyone understands that we need more than knowledge to understand the terrible event of a just man dying on the cross with his crown of thorns. He has done nothing to deserve his fate in the ethical order of things. So why has the ethical system abandoned him thus? It is because his death is his sacrifice on behalf of all sufferers. He is the savior and our salvation. There just is no other reasonable interpretation of this event. And where was Deus absconditus, while Jesus was saving the world? Robert raised his hand “Heidegger’s major work was called “Being and Time”. If I have understood what has been said in previous lectures on Kant, time is an internal structure of our minds. This surely cannot be Heidegger’s position given what has been said in your lecture today. Can you say something more about time?” “It is the mood which prevails in our practical network of involvements. Things matter and have significance in this mood. A mood is not something inside an individual but rather the name for the spirit in which things get done. This for Heidegger expresses the significance of past for us. We are assimilated by this spirit or mood that is most definitely outside of us. As a result of this assimilation I then presently articulate the world by focusing on an element such as a pen and begin writing an essay which in its turn articulates the world by showing how it has been divided up and put together again both in action and in discourse or language. This in its turn is embedded in a network of possibilities. The essay makes me think in a new way about something and explores the possibilities of the world. This is the future tense of Heidegger’s project.” “So time is measured more realistically in the act of writing an essay than in the orbit of the earth around the sun or the earth spinning on its axis-“ “Yes, being-in-the-world, is in one sense a better measure of time than staring at the movements of large bodies in linear or angular motion. In another sense however it is good to know when the light is going to disappear so I can make my way home in the light, or when in the year I can sow the seeds for the wheat crop. The calculations made in relation to the motions of these large bodies then become significant for the beginning and endings of activities but perhaps the activities themselves are actually, when totally absorbing, approaching a feeling of timelessness, expressed in our saying afterwards “Is that the time? Where did the time go?” This in turn, suggests that time becomes more important the more conscious we become of it, especially when things do not go as planned or intended. Our time is up I see. Thank you for your time ladies and gentlemen.

Youtube Interview Transcript

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Interviewer: Michael R D James has recently published a book entitled “The World Explored, the World Suffered: The Exeter lectures”.(November 2017) It is the first volume of a Trilogy which aims at introducing the reader into the world of Academic Philosophy via the medium of a fictional setting of human drama and tragedy.

Can I begin this interview by asking this question. A large number of Philosophers thoughts are taken up in the book but Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger Merleau-Ponty, and Wittgenstein seem to figure more prominently than the others.Why?

Michael: Yes I think that is a correct observation although there are extensive references to Socrates, Plato, Schopenhauer, Arendt, and Ricoeur. The reasons Aristotle Kant and Wittgenstein are central figures is to do with the training I have received at the three different universities that I have studied at, and a current conviction that these are the most important figures in philosophy. Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty are interesting figures in themselves but they occupy a central role in the book only because of the character of Glynn Samuels.

Interviewer: The cover of the book depicts Plato as the central figure appearing out of the mists of the milky way and Aristotle and Socrates as his wingmen so to say. Why is this?

Michael: I think the Swedish expression “Vintergatan”, “the Wintry street” is, by the way, far more poetic than our English expression “the milky way”. In answer, to your question, however, the Greek world and Greek consciousness I hope, permeate all of the lectures in the work and Plato is in the popular mind the symbol for that world and that consciousness. I believe actually that Aristotle was the better Philosopher although Plato was the more popular figure because he embedded his Philosophy in the art form of the dialogue, which I believe used to be one of the areas of competition in the Olympic games. Having said that Aristotle was taught by Plato and could only see as far as he could, philosophically speaking because he stood on his teachers shoulders.

Interviewer: You have chosen unusually to embed Philosophical lectures in the form of a fictional drama. Why?

Michael: Because as the Delphic Oracle prophesied, knowledge of the self is so difficult to acquire. We, humans, appear to be moving toward a difficult to discern goal or telos and there are at least two aspects to this process: knowledge of the world and knowledge of our role in creating everything that is human about this world. The story of this development is a complex one but trying to explore this complexity without some kind of narrative structure would seem to me to be a formula for isolating Philosophy in an ivory tower on an academic campus far removed from the hustle and bustle of life.

Interviewer: I would like to ask about the Political Philosophy lecture which is one of a series given by Jude Sutton as part of his Philosophy of Education course. Does this lecture connect in any way to the what I presume is an underlying theme of the importance of International Education?

Michael: Yes indeed it does and you are right to suggest that the importance of International Education is an underlying theme of the work. Jude Sutton gives voice to a political position that I would characterize as Humanistic Liberalism: a position that is bound up with Kantian Ethics and Political Philosophy. The Kantian idea of a Kingdom of ends requires a cosmopolitan regime and a view of human rights that is transnational or international..

Interviewer: Harry Middleton is the third lecturer giving a series of lectures in your work, He is what one might call a Philosophical Psychologist in the Continental tradition of Philosophy but he also takes up William James and Freud in his lectures. He seems to be something of a hybrid.

Michael: Freud and William James according to secondary sources were the only Psychologists Wittgenstein is reputed to have read with interest. Yes, Harry is more of a hybrid character than Glynn Samuels who also in many peoples eyes walks a theoretical tightrope. Both of these lecturers manifest the spirit of the search for integrated knowledge which Alec Petersson, the first Director of the Internationa Baccalaureate program was engaged in. His agenda was partly to obtain a unified theory of knowledge, whether it be to use the language of the 1970’s a coat of many colours or a seamless robe.

Interviewer: You mentioned a tightrope in your last answer. Let me read you a section from your work “the World Explored, the World Suffered”: Glynn Samuels in his lecture on Wittgenstein, Religion and Philosophy of Education has this to say:

“Wittgenstein points to the industry of Bach, one of my favourite composers and points out the relation of industry to humility and suffering. Bach could really listen to music with the ear of an exploring sufferer and produce it for the hands of suffering explorers too. I personally cannot hear what I hear in Bach in very much of our popular music. Bach and his music are like the tightrope walker who is so high up in our cultural heaven supported by almost nothing but a little thread which seems impossible to walk upon: and yet he is up there moving across the space of our cultural sky. It is almost as if he has wings. This is why Bach’s music is religious music, ladies and gentlemen…the words of Solomon, the words of Ecclesiastes may sometimes land in our minds to the sound of softly flapping wings, but mostly these words are like the swifts flying tangentially on their secret mission.”

So, Religion and Education do not sit comfortably together in our modern secularized societies. How do you think the character of Glynn contributes to your message of finding common ground between these two areas of discourse?

Michael: The above passage comes immediately after a quote from Wittgenstein one year before he died. Wittgenstein in that quote is regetting that the schools of the time(1949) seemed to be more concerned with the children having a good time and pretending that suffering was out of date. Remember that all the “Greats”, Aristotle Kant and Wittgenstein were sympathetic to religion and appreciated its good intentions. For me and for Glynn, the Religion of the Philosopher must find its way into education and education needs to search for a way to address practical religious questions more actively.

Interviewer: Can I ask you to name the fictional authors that have influenced you and can you also say something about their influence.

Michael: Lawrence Durrell is the author I have read and re-read the most during the past 10 years. His Alexandrian Quartet is a masterpiece and allows the reader to “live” in Alexandria in a way that leaves memories about the place and people as if you had actually lived and worked in the city itself. The people and events are seen through the eyes of 4 characters and a process of “triangulation or “quadrification” occurs which gives one a very real impression of the people and the time they live in. Shakespeare has also been a regular source of inspiration because of his effortless unification of prose, poetry and theatre, as has been Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Laurens van der Post, and V S Naipaul. Given my admiration for Shakespeare T S Eliots poetry has haunted me since I studied him at school. Other poets like Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost, W B Yeats have also occupied me periodically. But Lawrence Durrell has always been the star in the sky of literature that I have tried to follow.

Interviewer: The first chapter of the work is about ships, the sea, deeply tethered bouys, and you say on the first page that you “began to look upon the sea as a teacher, with respect”. You speak also of a calm sea as a dreaming sea and “the rising of the tide of the level of your consciousness”. The sea then makes its appearance in many metaphors and images throughout the work. Why?

Michael: You tell me. The sea feels like a part of me. Powerful waves and tidal changes of considerable magnitude are the norm in Cape Town. High tide in Cape Town would probably feel like a tsunami to someone not used to such sound and fury. At every high tide I almost expected the sea to turn the streets of Sea Point into canals. I think I had pictures in my mind of Venice before actually knowing that the city existed.

Interviewer: Is that why Venice is connected to suffering?

Michael: Perhaps.

Interviewer: What is the significance of the title “The World Explored, the World Suffered”. For you, these seem to be tied almost logically together rather than be the names for separate independent activities.

Michael: Yes that observation is correct. The fate of Socrates alone ties these two activities irrevocably together but Aristotle that explorer of the human spirit par excellence also had to flee Athens and died within a year of escaping. Kant, the philosopher that never left Königsberg, speaks several times about the melancholic haphazardness of everyday life. Freud’s mood is even darker than this as is Schopenhauer’s. I think the title reflects the response of many philosophers to our secularized world. The character of Glynn Samuels appears to the character Sophia to be the most stable probably because he builds religious walls around his life and prepares for the secular siege with the wisdom of all ages and the wisdom of all kinds of text.

Interviewer: The final lecture that Jude Sutton gives is the one he enjoys the most: the lecture on Aesthetics. He talks about the creation of a film of the “terrible events of this century” and he compares this anxiety laden venture with Giorgione’ss Quattro Cento landscape entitled “The Tempesta” where a storm is looming in the background of figures who are pursuing their everyday lives without concern for what is coming on the horizon. Sutton refers to Adrian Stokes and his hope that psychoanalysis will help us understand the good object in general and the beautiful and the sublime in particular. Love emerges as a theme of the lectures for perhaps the first time. Can you say something about this observation?

Michael: Yes, the quotation you refer to comes from Stokes’s essay on Michelangelo, perhaps the greatest of the Italian explorers and sufferers. The quote connects love to the oceanic feeling, the feeling of being at one with everything in contrast and connection to the feeling of the singularity of people and things. Stokes suggests that both Art and love stimulate these attitudes in us. In visual art, this is accomplished via the medium of space in which we are simultaneously enveloped but by an art object that singularly stands out like a rock in the sea. Jude Sutton goes on to discuss the work of Shakespeare and categorizes him as a Quattrocento writer embracing the suffering of man in a medium of a Stoic calm in the face of the storm. Stokes is a disciple of Melanie Klein’s but I can detect in this lecture the present of Freud and his principle of Ananke, or neccesity, looming over the hustle and bustle of life. I suppose my message is that love requires a considerable amount of Stoicism and if Art is like love than this means that our greatest artists should be at least Freudian Stoics if not Kantian Stoics.

Interviewer: Looking at your author page on Amazon and reading the first chapter of your book suggests that this novel is autobiographical. Is it?

Michael: Yes, there are some biographical events which lie behind some of the content but the work is a work of fiction. The drama and tragedy are not the focus but the medium for the message.

Interviewer: And what would you say is the message of the first book of the trilogy?

Michael: That life is a difficult business for most of us partly because of our divided human nature and partly because of the difficulty humans have in befriending one another in a philosophical spirit of fellowship. Our institutions seem to need a spirit of fellowship if they are to function as they should. Educational institutions try forlornly to address both the question of our questionable natures and our relation to our neighbours and other citizens but the attempt is not very impressive when one considers that it is more than two thousand years after the beginnings we were provided with by the Academy and the Lyceum.The spirit of fellowship, for example seems to me to be very rare in this world of ours but one encounters it occasionally.

Interviewer: Your characters mention several times throughout The World Explored that we read in order to know that we are not alone. Is this significant for the message of your trilogy?

Michael:Yes, we read, write and listen to music produced by exploring sufferers to know that we are not alone. There is something almost sublime in reading the words of the Great Philosophers. It a bit like a timeless eavesdropping at their study doors in Athens, Königsberg or Cambridge.

END

The World Explored, the World Suffered: The Exeter lectures. The Centrepiece Lecture

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The World explored, the world suffered: The Exeter lectures is the first part of a trilogy and is a work of philosophical/ educational fiction(Published in November 2017). Its fictional component is composed of a middle-aged Romeo-Juliet drama which ends with two deaths in Venice and a youthful adventure that takes Robert, the narrator from trauma in South Africa to a teacher training institute in England where he discovers Philosophy and befriends an alcoholic lecturer who had once studied under Wittgenstein.
The educational component is composed of a series of lectures on the philosophy of religion, psychoanalysis, aesthetics, ethics, the philosophy of natural science, human science and mathematics, philosophical psychology, political science, philosophy of education. Three different lecturers deliver a series of lectures, the educational intention of which is to introduce the reader to the world of Philosophy and the world of Education seen through the eyes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Kant,Hegel, Marx, Tolstoy, Schopenhauer, Freud, William James, Wittgenstein Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau- Ponty, Arendt, Quine, Cavell, Paul Ricoeur, Brian O Shaughnessy, R. S. Peters, Paul Hirst, Peter Winch, Hudson, Adrian Stokes, T S Eliot, Julian Jaynes.
The book attempts to take the reader on a philosophical journey from curiosity to commitment and it is hoped that the trilogy will serve as a general introduction to Philosophy for all who are curious about the eternal Philosophical questions such as “What is the nature of Reality?” “Is God merely an idea in our minds?” “Is the soul a function of the body?” What is Justice?” “What is ethics?” “What is the role of Education in the life of the individual and society?”How should we characterize the feeling of the sublime?” “How shall we characterize the feeling of the beautiful?” “What properties do great works of Art possess?” What is the philosophical role of Psychoanalysis?” “How shall we philosophically characterize the role of language in our understanding of the world?” “What is the meaning of life?”

Life, for the central character and philosophical explorer of the book, Jude Sutton, was ebbing to its conclusion prematurely and his best friend Glynn Samuels, a religious Welsh follower of Heidegger, Freud and T S Eliot could do nothing but play the part of the spectator of a Greek, Shakespearean tragedy, watching the spectacle unfold to its inevitable conclusion. He could do nothing but express his admiration for his friend and his suffering at his friend’s misfortune in his lectures.

Below is the central lecture given by Glynn Samuels, the lecture has the same title as the book:

“Ladies and Gentlemen! How does man relate to the world? What is he that he is capable of posing a further question for every answer he gives himself? Why is the mind of man so restless? Thanks to science we know why the sea is restless. Indeed the behavior of all the other elements, earth, air, and fire have been captured in our observations and equations. Science in this very restless century has explored the outer regions of the heavens and the inner structures of the smallest particles in the Universe: particles that are invisible to the human eye. However, in a series of operations reminiscent of the unpacking of a sequence of embedded Russian dolls, it looks to me as if an inevitable limit has been encountered even for the eye equipped with various forms of microscopes and telescopes. If this is true, does this signal that we have come to a resting point in Science especially insofar as the exploration of the Natural physical world is concerned? Are we detecting a winding down of the activity that occupied the geniuses of Einstein and Bohr? Have the microscopes been packed and moved off to other kinds of laboratories for the study of other kinds of things? Will we now be eagerly awaiting the results from clinical laboratories whose experiments save lives? The Frontiers of Science may have been moved to Chemistry, Biology, Medicine and the Human Genome, but the methodology is the same. Penetrate the phenomenon, reduce it to its smallest components and measure these in a myriad of ways. What will the result of all this activity be, ladies and gentlemen? Will we find a gene that explains my tendency to eat porridge in the mornings or will I read a book one day that tells me that it has now been established that mankind uses all his genes in his choice and eating of porridge? Dr. Sutton in his lecture last year attempted to map out the transformations in our intellectual landscape brought about by Science. He reviewed the developments of science in this century and arrived at the conclusion that though we have only completed 70 years of the cycle, this century may well come to be known by historians as “the century of terror”, counting amongst its “happenings” two world wars and the dropping of two atomic bombs on civilian populations. He asked the thought-provoking question: “on whom should we place our bets for the future: Einstein or Wittgenstein? I believe in that lecture he gave very cogent and persuasive arguments for believing that the processes of philosophical thinking are more to be trusted than the processes of scientific “thinking”. A colleague of Einstein once wondered what would have happened if Einstein had used his talents and genius to study the question “What is life?” as if he was to science what Christ was to Christianity. A famous psychologist who met Einstein at Princeton University thought there were contradictions in Einstein’s theories. There certainly appeared to be un- Christ-like practical contradictions in Einstein’s personal life. I am skeptical about the reasoning of Einstein’s colleague, ladies, and gentlemen because he was placing his faith in the science of Biology to investigate the gift of life. Biological investigations, I wish to maintain, need to be conducted holistically and philosophically, within an Aristotelian framework of Change: kinds of change, principles of change and causes of change. The concepts of matter and form, potentiality and actuality, the actualizing process, genus and species need to lift the level of reflection above the so-called “material causes” relating to why we choose to eat porridge in the morning. The question of the meaning of life, ladies and gentlemen, is a philosophical question, but it also a religious question. Even the great Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God: the God who ordered the world harmoniously in terms of principles and adequate ideas that man could theoretically understand. We heard in last year’s lecture that Wittgenstein too believed in God and the religious attitude, perhaps because he believed that no other attitude could bring peace to his restless soul. The sign of a great man, ladies and gentlemen may not be in the work that is immediately published, but rather in what happens to the entire history of thought once the published ideas have been assimilated, in our culture. Will these ideas still permit a judgment of the culture, a judgment urging necessary change? Dr. Sutton showed us how he himself through the work of Wittgenstein could understand Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant and all British Philosophy in greater depth. He demonstrated that philosophical texts are not atoms or particles in the cultural world but something more akin to living, breathing beings working together to build and maintain our culture in accordance with holistic principles. Man is a curious being, ladies, and gentlemen: he has intuition, intuition for the connection of things and the relation of parts to a whole. He is, as Professor Heidegger so perceptively maintained: a being for whom his very being is an issue. Heidegger also believed that the philosophical issue of the nature of his own existence was being addressed by the poets and their writings. The poets’ words, ladies, and gentlemen are drawn up very carefully, and with great effort, from the well of suffering- not only the well of their own suffering but also the very deep well of the suffering of the world. To fully understand the cathartic effect of the poet’s words we may need to recall Dr. Sutton’s lecture which referred to the Copernican Revolution of the work of the later Wittgenstein which in his words “shed the philosophical light of the sun on the role of language in our understanding of the world and each other.” T. S. Eliot had the following to say about some cathartic uses of language: “…..Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden Under the tension, slip, slide, perish Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place Will not stay still. Shrieking voices Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering Always assail them. The Word in the desert Is most attacked by voices of temptation The crying shadow in the funeral dance The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.” You may guess to whom these shrieking voices belong. Partly, to the manipulators of our diminishing dolls whose language has been atomized to the point at which one no longer cares for humanity in the way the religious man, the poet or the philosopher care. Consequences are not arguments, ladies and gentlemen. The consequences of medical science are indeed valuable but it is important to note that they are the result of the deep cultural process, which, in spite of the scientific method, inhabits the habitats of the universities. In relation to this deep cultural process we intuit the purpose of engaging in the search for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. We do not seek knowledge because it pays or gives us something. Restless eyes look for payment, for reward. These are not the eyes searching through the pages of books fighting the good fight that Eliot referred to in East Coker of the Four Quartets: “The fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again.” There is hostility in restless eyes searching for a reward. An ancient religion and these restless explorers par excellence may have played a role in the Crucifixion of Christ. The restless eyes and minds of this century, ladies and gentlemen are engaged on the project of culturally crucifying religion and everything spiritual. We are, as Aristotle said, ladies and gentlemen, social beings, we absorb language and attitudes: like impressionable children. There is no longer any “easy commerce of the old and the new” to quote Eliot again. We have learned from Wittgenstein’s Philosophy that two of the essential characteristics of language are its Communication and Truth functions. Heidegger, in an essay entitled “The Work of Art” talks about how artworks can be revelatory of the world we are attempting to understand. The poet is conceived as an artist using words in a world revelatory manner. He is searching for the moods of the restless sea, the moods of the restless world. The world of Eliot was measured by a time older than chronometers, the time of a tolling bell of an untethered sea buoy responding to the swell of an infinitely restless sea. Who of you believe that this phenomenon can be caught in the torn nets of science being sewn together by the wives of old mariners who have missed the morning watch whilst the mariners themselves are searching the sea for what is inside of themselves or nowhere. Religion is world revelatory, ladies and gentlemen, it shows itself both in the commerce of the world and in the explanations and justifications of the most important aspects of this commerce. The world is laden with hidden values that reveal themselves, if and only if, one learns to look in the right way and with the right attitude. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is revealed or brought from concealment. Heidegger uses the term aletheia for this process. Truth begins with the Transcendental Aesthetic of the poet in his rendering of the spirit of place in the rhythms of time. It flourishes further in a Transcendental Logic of the categories of existence revealed in language. In the sea of meaning out of which the island of truth arises we find castaway life forms living in flux. Religious truth, ladies and gentlemen interprets life holistically. It can see a handful of dust particles without fear and trembling. It can calmly survey the end of the world of things. It can ask coolly and clinically “Is this handful of dust a part of the corpse we buried so long ago?” The religious eye is not afraid to dwell in the pages of old manuscripts and is not afraid to lift its eyes to the heavens and celebrate the divine in the human. It is not afraid to embrace humanity as a whole. In the beginning this embrace was carefree but time has taught us a lesson: that Care is tinged with the mourning for aged lost friends and relatives, ancient forms of life and forms of thought. Or if one wishes to change the key of this sung lament from Heidegger to Freud, the ego has a heart of darkness within, a heart composed of the memories of lost objects of the past. No one can live during this period, during this century, and not feel transformative processes shaping our world into something we know not what. Aristotle believed that every human process aimed at the good but this terrible century has allowed the skeptic to flourish. Where will it all end? In Eliot’s rose garden or in Kant’s Kingdom of Ends, or perhaps in Eliot’s waste land, where the cultural attitude will be shared by a few lost souls whose eyes will never dare to meet lest shared sorrow about lost values releases an infinite flood of tears, making life impossible. In the agony of such existence what comfort can there be other than in Religion, Philosophy, Music and Poetry?”

There are two more lectures in his series of three lectures on the themes of exploring and suffering. These lectures complement the exploratory lectures of Jude Sutton who is sublimating his suffering with alcohol and what it allows to rise to the surface from the depths of his losses.

The book is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

If you wish to peruse the lectures which figure in the following two volumes of the trilogy, you can do so via my blog situated at:

http://www.michaelrdjames.org

My author page is at :

https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B077JVNXCV and at

http:/www.amazon.com/author/mrdj

Michael R D James

PISA and the limitations of measuring the abstract operations of the mind

Views: 167

Pisa is an international school assessment system run by the OECD, an organization whose primary interest is the economic development of countries. It is administered to 15-year-olds in the areas of Maths Science and reading skills. Many countries believe this to be a significant measuring instrument of how well one’s whole school system is performing, including, incorrectly in my opinion, at Gymnasium level. Swedens performance until recently has been deteriorating in relation to other countries but in other international tests in the area of the social sciences, Sweden has maintained its relatively high ranking. This raises two questions. Why the difference in performance in the social sciences? Are the assessments in the PISA tests valid indicators of levels of knowledge or are they more focussed on a collection of high-level skills? I ask this latter question because of Germany’s experience of also falling in the rankings of PISA and receiving criticism as a result which demanded the restructuring of their school system. Germany refused this analysis and mysteriously rose in the rankings a few years later. What happened? Well, apparently they taught their students how to take the PISA tests. A process which did not take very long and produced the desired results. This confirms my conviction that PISA is assessing high-level skills and not abstract knowledge. I do not for one moment deny that there are problems with the educational systems all over the world because of the global educational reform movement(GERM) but PISA is a distraction, forcing us to talk about the symptoms and not the cause of the problems. In my opinion Finland’s educational system has been the least affected by GERM(but, they may be showing signs of infection in their latest school reform package). Conversations with Finnish people about why Finland do so well in the PISA tests emphasize the principle that the system is very good at detecting weak pupils very early and providing them with very qualified assistance. Also pupils with high levels of abstract knowledge, as a matter of fact, find it easier to perform well on concrete high-level skills so, this might be the case with both German and Finnish students. I find it very interesting that PISA does not attempt to test in the humanistic/social sciences areas because it is in these domains that one can most clearly see the difference between high-level concrete skills and abstract knowledge. It is also interesting that the test is administered to 15 year olds and not to older Gymnasium students where of course this distinction between abstract and concrete operations is more evident. PISA has responded to the criticisms of their reading tests as being too- skills oriented, too concrete, with a document that promises more complex scenario based texts for the 2018 tests which will be testing comprehension of more general themes. We will see if they manage to test abstract logical skills in this humanistic area. I believe this argument above supports my general thesis that what is problematic in the Swedish gymnasium is a lack of the development of abstract operations in the humanities subjects This would explain the experience of university lecturers in the humanities who are asked by the students for more and more help with their assignments.
 
But why the difference in performance in the non-Pisa tests for the Swedish “grundskola” pupils? I am investigating this but one possible avenue of exploration is that the high-level concrete skills of these non-PISA tests are more suited to the kind of high-level concrete skills which are taught in the Swedish Grundskol.

When Humanistic voices fall silent(Philosophy of Education)

Views: 79

Recent changes to the Swedish Gymnasium School Curriculum indicate that politicians are succumbing to a number of different non-educational agendas  to change what is taught and the way it is taught in schools. In the last  two rounds of changes we saw the disappearance of Philosophy from  2 of the national curricula for the Gymnasium school.

We have also seen a very determined commitment via legislation to the introduce   “scientific” research into schools. This determination is matched by a curious ambiguity as to exactly what constitutes “scientific” research. John Hattie’s work is mentioned in several contexts in the communications of Skolverket(The Swedish  National School Authority) and if this kind of approach to education is what is meant we may be witnessing a paradigm shift of significant seismic proportions in the Swedish schools’ system.

This is all the more interesting in that there is another even more radical  paradigm shift  occurring in the Finnish Educational system. The Finnish authorities are experimenting with  thematic or what they call “phenomenon” teaching. According to Siv Saarukka, a Finnish expert in this field, the Finnish authorities have been very influenced by a work, “The Fifth Discipline” written by a “popular” expert in the management of learning organisations, Peter Senge. This is an amazing revelation from a country that is very near  the top of the Pisa(OECD-inspired) world school system rankings. This surprise ranks with that of the management consultancy report commissioned in England  around 2000 in which  the language used in the report to talk about teachers was no longer humanistic as it had traditionally been for well over a century. The language rather was associated with  a psychology of business which  drew upon the practices of the business world that revolved around  business processes, products and productivity. The final estimate of the damage caused to the English educational system from this report by the consultancy  firm (HayMcBer), has yet to be estimated.  We do know that the report cost the British taxpayer 4 million pounds. “The Fifth Discipline” is a book written very much in the spirit of Hay/McBer’s  report and is as completely devoid of the rigour of academic and philosophical argument  as is  all  “popular” literature of this kind.

Perhaps, in their favour,  the Swedish authorities can be admired for resisting the temptation toward populism which is currently causing problems on a global scale. Science is at least an academic pursuit, it might be argued.   Let us try to put this Swedish strategy into some kind of context.   In the  1920’s,1930’s, and 40’s in England  Europe and the USA, Science spawned the Philosophical movement we call “logical positivism”. Logical positivism suddenly disappeared after the war as a  movement although, to this day there is no doubt the odd positivist tucked away in some academic corridor or other. Logical positivism was very quickly construed by even its supporters as an anti-humanistic movement and English positivists like A J Ayer admitted that the position was untenable under considerable academic pressure.

After the second world war, there were also a number of commentators who felt that it was largely the absence of a sufficiently strong humanistic influence in educational programs which allowed global totalitarian forces to be unleashed earlier in the century. This discussion led to an academic revival of Humanistic Liberalism in English Universities in the 1960’s and 1970’s which began to talk in earnest about Education. Teaching certificates were supplemented with B.ed degrees and many such degrees had Humanistic Philosophy of Education components which viewed Science, Scientific Psychology, and Psycho-metrics as of peripheral concern to educators. During this discussion, out of which the International Baccalaureate program was born, it was acknowledged that the heavy emphasis on Scientific subjects in Europe  at the expense of the Humanistic subjects in the German and Russian educational curricula  were responsible firstly, for  the absence of humanistic attitudes in many of the more disturbing events of the second world war and secondly, perhaps  the absence of humanistic attitudes also played a part in the  intransigence of the   parties involved in the cold war and the threat of a nuclear holocaust. In the light of this, it is also, to say the least, not surprizing to find Sweden wishing to combat populism by trying to make schools more academic but it is surprizing to find Sweden wishing to follow the route that Germany and Russia once followed in the dark days of the last century. It is not being maintained that Science is not an important part of our lives. What is being maintained is that(according to Richard Pring in his essay  “Education as a moral practice”) there are two narratives that define the dialogue that is taking place in the classroom between the teacher and the pupils. The one dialogue is the historical one that has taken place in all subjects, including the sciences, where voices firstly, join each other in a historical chorus over time  and in agreement over important issues and secondly, where voices engage in scholarly yet friendly criticism of important ideas which might be mistaken. The second dialogue is that between the teacher as the representative of these historical voices and the pupils who are deciding whether or not to enter into the cultural arena in which voices of all ages have talked about almost everything it is possible to imagine. The pupil, of course, must be met on common ground but the moral message of this second narrative is to initiate the pupil into the  “Holy”(R S Peters) cultural arena  where it is realized how fragile our civilization is: how it might rest upon this kind of educational dialogue.  When humanistic voices fall silent, ways of life are lost and  tigers and lions enter the arena. To think that Science alone can hinder the fragmentation or atomization of our society  is dangerously naive. Experimentation has its place in those fields which can be neatly divided into  variables which can be measured. But how do we measure a desire to kill Jews? In the same way I suppose as you  measure anything else. The Nazi’s were famous for strictly measuring and keeping meticulous records of their measurements. Is this anything else than distasteful, even if historians will be able to, in their turn, use this documentation for a narrative which very few of us will read with pleasure. Since I have mentioned business and its “populist” character let me consider an epistemological rather than an ethical objection  to Science rampaging  over our educational field. There is a famous business experiment done in a factory  in which management consultants were let loose in an environment where productivity was very low. After much analysis  and  observation it was decided that the lighting was too bright and should be reduced. Expectations ran high in the experimental group and the productivity miraculously increased. A triumph for science and business! Alas it was not too long before productivity went down again and the gurus were called back in. After analysis and observations it was decided that the lighting was too  bright and it  was reduced. Productivity increased! Is this an argument that light is not an independent variable? Mayo tended to explain the result in terms of human association and human variables which are notoriously difficult to manipulate and measure. Experienced humanistic teachers will point to how the two above mentioned pedagogical narratives naturally produce an expectation that the subjects or pupils will curiously follow and appreciate the respective dialogues. I use the term “naturally” because were the teacher to instrumentally use this fact about pupils expectations causally to produce a calculated effect, this will be humanistically an example of doing the right thing for the wrong “reason”.

The National School  Authority also talk of “established practice” as another possible means by which to achieve the sought-for academic environment. No one really knows what this means. If it means what I have referred to above as humanistic practice then it is about time that the National Schools authority came out and clarified the confusion over this issue. It would also greatly enhance the strength of the humanistic voice if Philosophy was returned to its rightful place in every curriculum.