Even if it was the case that for many hundreds of years Aristotle was referred to as “The Philosopher” and the “Master of those that know”, his teacher was Plato and his alma mater was the Academy. We do not know enough to be certain but a fair conjecture would be that Socrates did not have a navigational star or mentor in his philosophically formative years as a young thinker. We do witness in the Symposium Socrates being given a lesson in methodical argumentation(philosophy?) by Diotima and in these early moments of Philosophy it may have occurred to Socrates that a reliable method of questioning and argumentation are necessary prerequisites to leading the examined life. It is of course a tribute to the love of demonstrating excellence in the public realm of the ancient Greeks that we are able to today to bear witness (via preserved texts that have survived millennia) to the importance of discussion and debate in the life of the polis. Gilbert Ryle in his work “Plato’s Progress” suggests that Plato might have composed his elenctic and dialectical dialogues for competitions attached to the Olympic games. If so there must have been relatively large audiences which is another tribute to the Greek mind and culture that was the womb of such activity.
We have been made aware via the works of Plato and Aristotle that there is a body of knowledge which it is important to communicate and learn as part of being a citizen in a polis. For Plato this was a body which can be written down as well as performed in arenas reserved for such purposes. Plato, more than Socrates, perhaps was concerned with the search for a theory which could explain the mysteries and puzzles brought to the attention of the public via such forums. Philosophy seemed to Plato to be the natural home or theatre for the kind of investigation we are presented with. Out of this womb of Greek Culture and the theatre of theoretical investigation the Aristotelian quintuplets of metaphysics, ethics epistemology, aesthetics and political Philosophy would eventually be born. As we know Socrates thought of himself as some kind of midwife in the process of bringing philosophical offspring into the world. His method of elenchus was probably modeled on a public method of competitive argument called dialectic, which was a form of a verbal duel between two people. A questioner asks an answerer what Ryle terms “conceptual” “ what” questions and the answer is only allowed to respond in the affirmative or the negative in the name of defending a thesis which is the theme of the interrogation. The questioners task is to entice from his opponent an answer that is not compatible with the thesis the answerer is defending. An audience judges the competition. It is not to difficult to see how such an action could be the source of many of the aporetic philosophical problems both Plato and Aristotle attempt in their various ways to provide solutions for. If this is true there might have been two sources of the dynamics of Greek Philosophy: dialectic(eristic and elenchus) and the recorded thoughts of the great thinkers.
Ryle’s “Plato’s Progress” has this to say on the relation of this rhetorical activity to such issues as they are taken up in Aristotle’s work “The Topics”:
“The Topics is a training manual for a special pattern of disputation governed by strict rules which takes the following shape. Two persons agree to have a battle. One is to be the questioner, the other answerer. The questioner can, with certain qualifications only ask questions:and the answerer can, with certain qualifications only answer “Yes” or “no”. So the questioner’s questions have to be properly constructed for “yes” or “no” answers. This automatically rules out a lot of types of questions, like factual questions, arithmetical questions, and technical questions. Roughly, it only leaves conceptual questions whatever these may be. The answerer begins by undertaking to uphold a certain “thesis”, for example, that justice is in the interests of the stronger, or that knowledge is sense perception. The questioner has to try to extract from the answerer by a series of questions an answer or conjunction of answers inconsistent with the original thesis and so drive him into an “elenchus”. The questioner has won the duel if he succeeds in getting the answerer to contradict his original thesis, or else in forcing him to resign, or in reducing him to silence, to an infinite regress, to mere abusiveness, to pointless yammering or to outrageous paradox. The answerer has won if he succeeds in keeping his wicket up until the close of play. The answerer is allowed to object to the question on the score that it is two or more questions in one or that it is metaphorical or ambiguous. The duel is fought out before an audience…The exercise is to have a time limit.”
The above form of dueling is one form upon which the Socratic method of elenchus may have been modeled. During per-Socratic times and during the time of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle the above form of elenctic interaction went under the name of “eristic”. Now it is important to note that the above form of elenchus differed from the Socratic method in one very important respect. The aim of the Socratic method was primarily pedagogical, i.e primarily aimed at getting his interlocutors to acknowledge some truth about justice or themselves or both. Whereas the dueling parties engaged in eristic are primarily seeking victory and prestige, via the winning of a competition. In spite of this fundamental difference, we should recognize that eristic presupposed considerable powers of reasoning. Yet it should also be remembered that the Sophists used this form of dialectic for financial gain, thus turning something essentially pedagogical into a solipsistic narcissistic secondary art form. Socratic elenchus whilst not aiming at victory over one’s interlocutor did, unfortunately, have the secondary effect of humiliating ones opponent, largely owing to the fact that Socratic refrained from exposing his own assumptions and knowledge in the light of the discussion. He has some idea of what justice is but is reluctant to expose it to his interlocutors. Plato may be registering his concern over this fact in the Republic when he allows Socrates the lecturer(was this a part of Socrates’ repertoire or was this a literary creation by Plato?) to expound on the theory of forms, the allegory of the cave and the waves of change that need to sweep over a polis if it to avoid ruin and destruction. This after 4 displays of elenchus in relation to Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus and Glaucon. In the lecture that follows everything is laid open to the eyes including hidden assumptions noble lies and even justifications for infanticide. Ryle points out as so many other commentators have, that the conception of Philosophy Plato has changes in significance between the early and the late dialogues. In the work of the Republic, we may be witnessing the dialogue in which the shift actually occurred.
Indeed it may also be necessary to point out that the shift from eristic to the Socratic method in itself may also signify a shift in the conception of the nature of Philosophy.
A dialectic of the Socratic kind, i.e. the Socratic method, was aiming at the truth and knowledge and taking a position in the battle of pro and contra reasons in relation to a thesis. This was clearly a development of eristic. We should also note, however, that Socrates himself was accused of trickery(a common complaint in dialectical “duels” and even in modern debating) in his argumentation by at least two interlocutors(Euthyphro and Thrasymachus) and we find him characterising what he is doing as “barren of offspring”, as “maieutic”, in spite of the fact that his method distinguished itself from that of eristic, and that it was in search of a quarry best characterised in terms of a definition. Socrates’ elenctic method was in that sense both teleologically and formally rigorous. It was probably the case that behind the formulation of Socrates’ questions there was an awareness of structured assumptions and their logical consequences. The dialogue of Plato’s Republic clearly adds a dimension to this Socratic rigor and underlying structure(The theory of Forms). The method, assumptions, explorations and subsequent definitions were now in the lecture of Socrates forming themselves into a theory of a world of things, artifacts, souls, cities, and Gods. Socrates in the later books of the Republic is exploring the world in a different manner which commentators identify with the Philosophy of Plato. The world was now being subjected to a questioning that demanded answers that would fit into some kind of system. Dialectic becomes logic and demands systematic reflection of a Parmenidean rather than Heraclitean kind: reflection upon that which endures through change, reflection upon that which is the principle that determines what a thing is in its nature and also ultimately a principle that determines what the soul is in its nature. These changes also signify an increased concern with the general ideas of Truth and The Good.
The major theme of Ryle’s book “Plato’s Progress” suggests that Plato’s progressive path led from eristic and dialectic where the emphasis is upon negatively defending a thesis by not abandoning it in the face of counterargument if you are an answerer, or aiming to destroy a thesis or force a defender to resign, to the formulation of an aporetic question which demanded systematic resolution via theoretical justifications. In this phase, we also see in the later dialogues of Plato a concern with the history of a problem, something we have not encountered before.
Also in this work, Ryle fascinatingly suggests a hypothesis that Plato was sued for defamation of character by a group of the leading figures criticized in his dialogues. The suit, Ryle claims, cost Plato his fortune and resulted in some kind of ban on Plato teaching eristic dueling and dialectic to students under 30 years of age. We can note that in the Republic Plato still believed dialectic to be important as a prelude to understanding the ideas of justice and the good and the true and this becomes part of the training of potential rulers when they are over the age of 30. Plato may well have abandoned the theory of forms in his late thought but retained the view that the true and the good were timeless standards by which to evaluate thought, action, and forms of life. From some points of view, it is a credit to Plato that he positions the Good as the highest standard of evaluation in Philosophy thus indicating the important role of practical reasoning.
Socrates’ progress moved in a line leading from investigating the physical world in a “What is this in its nature” frame of mind, sifting through physical phenomenon as numerous as the grains of sand in a desert. He went in search of answers that would fall into the category of Causality and in the spirit of Heraclitus and Anaxagoras. The latter influence led to a change in the direction of his investigations. “All is mind” was the new assumption and Socratic investigations began to search for parts of the mind (soul) and meaningful forms of life. This journey required developing the method of elenchus. This method led to the form of life Socrates characterized as “the examined life” which in the mind of Socrates was infinitely superior in terms of the criterion of self-sufficiency to the wealthy or powerful forms of life so attractive to everyone. For Socrates, these latter forms of life were so filled with Heraclitean flux, change and reversals of fortune because of an unhealthy dependence on ever-changing elements of life which we all know is going to end. The examination of forms of life and the question of the meaning of life raises the question of death. In the dialogues of Crito and Phaedrus, we find Socrates sitting in his cell awaiting death by execution. He reasons that however one regards death it must be a good and therefore nothing to be afraid of. This in itself suffices to praise Plato’s emphasis upon the standard of the good which ought to be used to evaluate all forms of life and even death. The event of Socrates’ execution thus might have provided Plato with the inspiration to formulate a theory of forms in which the form of the good is the supreme form. Another key Philosophical relationship, that with Aristotle, perhaps beginning from a joint sojourn in Syracuse may have subsequently led Plato to abandon the theoretical forms in favor of practical laws. Plato’s work “The Laws” is not an elenctic dialogue but rather a lecture and constitutes Plato’s second attempt to create a Callipolis. Plato speculates about a small hypothetical city called Magnesia run by a Nocturnal Council that has responsibility for the cities laws. This council of wise men, paradoxically, contains no philosophers but only officials trained in maths astronomy, theology and law. Many of the Republic’s “constructions” and “social restrictions” are present. Families and marriage are encouraged but procreation of children is determined in accordance with some mysterious eugenic standard and excommunication is the penalty for adultery.The recommended relation of citizens to God is also set out in the Laws which is a school text licensed by a powerful Minister of Education who sits on the Nocturnal Council. This text has the purpose of reinforcing the belief in God and his goodness. Heresy and impiety are illegal. The interesting question here is whether Socrates would have been permitted to live in Magnesia and live his examined life subjecting other citizens to bouts of elenchus. Socrates is no longer the prime mover in Plato’s later dialogues/lectures. At approximately the same time as he was composing the Laws which he was rewriting until his death, Plato was engaged in a project of religious and scientific significance—the composition of a work called “Timaeus”. This dialogue sees Socrates as the witness to a lecture on the history of the universe. Here the Demiurge of Anaxagoras organizes the initial indescribable chaos into an order containing the good and the beautiful. There are recognizable Aristotelian aspects in the 4 elements and prime matter, with life emerging at a certain stage of the creative process from prime matter. There are also non-Aristotelian elements such as an atomism in which differently shaped atoms explain the different elements. Space is somehow involved in the transformation of the elements into more complex forms. This narrative includes an account of our bodily organs and bodily functions such as perception, in a manner very reminiscent of Aristotle. We also encounter in this dialogue/lecture a listing of diseases of body and mind evoking the spectre of Freud especially given the fact that we know it was the work of Plato which was the inspiration for the final phase of Freudian theorizing about a stoical mind located on the terrain of the battle between Eros and Thanatos. The impression we are given is that Plato is moving away from his earlier Socratic commitments,and the later theory of forms, in an entirely new direction which reminds us of Aristotle. There appears to be a form of hylomorphism emerging to reconcile the world of ideas with the physical world and the soul with the body. Anthony Kenny in his work “Ancient Philosophy (Vol 1 of his New History of Western Philosophy) points out that Plato’s work the “Timaeus” became Plato’s most influential work up to the period of the Renaissance:
“Plato’s teleological account of the forming of the world by a divinity was not too difficult for medieval thinkers to assimilate to the creation story of Genesis. This dialogue was a set text in the early days of the University of Paris and 300 years later Raphael in his “School of Athens” gave Plato in the centre of the fresco only the Timaeus to hold”
In this Fresco we find Plato pointing upward to the heavens and Aristotle pointing ahead of him. Was Aristotle pointing to the natural and social world or was he pointing to the viewers of the future? One can wonder. There have been many interpretations of this constellation of Philosophers from the school of Athens. The predictions of things to come is also found in Plato’s dialogue /lecture “Parmenides” in which the central character Parmenides produces a very Aristotelian criticism of the theory of the forms in the course of a dialogue with Socrates. In this dialogue it very much looks as if the master of elenchus is being given a dose of his own medicine. At the close of the dialogue, Parmenides, probably seeing in the position of Socrates more than just a trace of Heraclitean thought compliments Socrates upon his powers of argumentation, at the same time suggesting a more thorough training whilst Socrates is still young. Parmenides suggests that Socrates should not attempt to rest with premature conceptions of justice beauty and goodness in case the truth about these standards is lost because this will have the consequence that the multitude will cease to believe in the existence of these ideas.
Perhaps, Plato might argue, Parmenides should have been at the centre of Raphaels fresco pointing forward to the future.
In an article entitled “The Rise and Fall of the Socratic Problem” written by Louis-André Dorion in the “Cambridge Companion to Socrates” there is the suggestion that there is a contradiction between the assertion that the soul is divided into parts and the assertion that akrasia is a real phenomenon: the phenomenonon namely manifested in a person saying that they knew that what they were doing was wrong but they were forced to do it anyway. The contradiction is assumed to arise because akrasia places in question the idea of one unified active agent striving to obtain the good. If this is true then it would seem impossible for an agent to know the good and not do what they know to be good.
Now Socrates is supposed to have argued that the phenomenon of akrasia is incoherent, although given the current confusion of the identity of the historical Socrates with the identity of the Platonic literary creation of the Socrates of the dialogues, we might well wonder whether we can talk about Socrates at all anymore. Perhaps one should instead describe Socrates by saying “There is an x such that x exists and x insisted the phenomenon of akrasia is incoherent”? But should we succumb to the suggestion that Historians of Philosophy have not known what they have been talking about when they discussed the views of the Philosopher Socrates? Now if any if these comentators/historians had insisted that Socrates had argued that the soul is divisible into three parts, then it is acceptable to question such an attribution. We do know that these words were uttered by Socrates in the dialogue entitled “The Republic” but the suspicion of many philosophers is that by this stage of the proceedings of the Republic, Socrates had become the mouthpiece for the coming theory of forms which most commentators believe we have no reason to attribute to the historical Socrates. Knowing the historical Socrates as we do there is also, it has been argued, every reason to doubt whether the very practically minded historical Socrates could espouse any advanced theory about the reality or existence of everything. The limits of his theoretical speculation on one account seem to have Socrates searching for general definitions of general concepts. Many commentators point to Aristotle to support this picture of the Historical Socrates but I will provide evidence in part 2 of this section to suggest that though it is correct to believe that it was Plato and not Socrates who wanted to divide the soul, Socrates was at least as wide-ranging in his speculations about the world as Aristotle was, at least in relation to ethical, political and religious matters.
Now whilst we believe “The Republic” to be a key document in this discussion relating to the identity of the Historical Socrates” we also believe there is less reason to doubt the veracity of the dialogue entitled “The Apology” than many have claimed. If one believes that Plato respected the identity of his mentor in the Republic as we believe he did then there is also every reason to believe that this was also the case in “The Apology” which is probably the most historical of all of the dialogues given that it was tied very tightly to a historical event important to Athens and to the whole Ancient world. There are many claims in this dialogue made by Socrates in his defence of himself and Philosophy which were made exactly because they were common knowledge in Athens. The Delphic Oracle’s prophesy “that no man is wiser than Socrates” if incorrectly reported by Socrates at his trial would have sealed the philosopher’s fate and would have resulted in an overwhelming vote to convict and probably further ensured a rapid dwindling of interest in the exploits of a “boaster”. The reports of what Socrates did subsequent to receiving the news of the oracle’s prophecy was also public knowledge and this would certainly seem in the average mind to be explained by Socrates´relatively humble interpretation of the meaning of the prophecy(that he should try to find someone wiser than he himself). Engaging in such a practical response to the prophecy also testifies to the practical intent of Socrates’ philosophical questioning and his development of the method of elenchus.
Plato’s division of the soul into parts, on the other hand, was both theoretical and mathematical and strangely atomistic given the dualist and idealist nature of some of his assumptions. Aristotle would have opposed this materialistic or mathematical division of the soul into its parts and was more inclined to think in terms of the rational and non-rational aspects of the whole person that he assumed to be the true subject of philosophical examination. Aristotle also clearly distinguished practical reasoning from theoretical reasoning, practical science from theoretical science and ethics from epistemology. All of these were distinguished from each other by the kind of principles which guided the reasoning and investigative processes conducted in their name. Indeed Aristotle’s conception of the soul was that of a substance or form which in his thought system was something more akin to a principle and could not, therefore, be something which could be divided either mathematically or materialistically into parts. Aristotle suggests that in ethics the agent is capable of rational and irrational action in the name of a principle guiding reasoning in the ought system of concepts but he would definitely not agree with substantification of the principle and insisting that the rational action can in some sense like a charioteer control the irrational forces dwelling in a persons body. This would be for him the worst kind of metaphysics and psychology. We do find Aristotle picking a quarrel with Socrates over the phenomenon of akrasia: the phenomenon of an agent knowing that X is the good/right thing to do in circumstances C but mysteriously choosing not to do X. Aquinas, for example, was supposed to have known that it was wrong to steal pears from a strangers pear trees but did so anyway. How do we correctly describe and explain this phenomenon? Aristotle claims that Socrates failed to acknowledge the phenomenon of someone having knowledge but failing to use that knowledge, i.e. failing to allow that knowledge free play in the arena of the action to be considered. What we are witnessing in this phenomenon, according to Aristotle is not full-blown practical knowledge which must issue in action in a unified agent but rather a belief which may be held theoretically: a belief such as “yes it is wrong to steal pears generally but these circumstances are particular to me and to my action and suffice for me to regard this as an exception to the rule,” i.e. the rule was not to be used in these circumstances. But surely it might be argued that some ought premise must be behind the stealing of the pears and that these premises must be true: “one ought in certain circumstances to feel the thrill of doing forbidden things”. One can clearly see here the presence of feeling in this arena of action and the absence of practical reasoning. There is a kind of technical reasoning involved of carrying out the task of stealing efficiently which in its turn involves a kind of selection from differing acts of efficiently stealing the pears but this is not practical reasoning in Aristotle’s sense of the phrase. The contrite thief in these circumstances typically argues without contradiction that he knew that one ought not to steal the pears but because he needed to experience this thrill of doing what is forbidden he ignored what he ought to have done morally in favour of the ought of his appetites, in favour of the pleasures and pains of the situation.
Yet for Aristotle obeying the ought premise related to one’s feelings in this context is a clear breach of rationality in relation to the unity of agency required to lead the examined or flourishing life. We can also recognize this form of reasoning in Socrates’ discussion of the issue of akrasia.
Part of the problem of correctly understanding this situation occurs when we divide the agent into a rational part and an irrational part and imagine a conflict in the form of that which occurs between a master and a slave or an angel and a devil. There is for Aristotle one agent for whom the knowledge of it being wrong to steal pears is present in the knowledge/belief system but is not used and there is another different phenomenon of another different agent for whom the knowledge is both present and active. These agents could only be the same person if some kind of actualizing process occurred in the first agent a process that allowed the latent knowledge to become active at some later time in the agent’s arena of action.
It is interesting to note in this discussion the difference between the teacher Socrates and his pupil Plato with respect to the historical conditions necessary for the production of ethical and otherwise instrumental involvements which in their turn are necessary to lead the examined life in the context of a city or totality of life involvements. Socrates in the early books of the Republic outlines the process of the emergence of the principle of specialization critical to the final account of justice. The emerging of the simple community in the course of Socrates’ account is on the foundation of the condition that everyone in the community works with the craft or work-activity which best suits their ability and refrains from any activity which interferes with the activity of others engaging in their respective specializations. Socrates describes this as his healthy city and is clearly reluctant to go on to describe justice in what he calls the “fevered” city which requires a military and philosophical presence to ensure the provision of conditions to lead the examined life. Plato in depicting Socrates in the early books of the Republic in this manner is clearly respecting the integrity of his teacher and yet two things from the earlier dialogues are clearly missing from this account: firstly, the presence of Socrates famous “voice of conscience” operating in the individual soul and secondly, the presence of rulers passing just laws to regulate irrational activities in the city. In the “healthy city” of Socrates, one’s conscience would be the principle or the law which ensured for example that one would keep one’s promises or not steal the pears from our neighbors’ pear tree. We would not do what we ought not to do because of our practical principle based knowledge. The laws would regulate the activities of those agents who did not know what was wrong and what was right.
How would Socrates describe the situation in which there was no corrective voice telling us that for example we ought not to murder the neighbour that has wronged us? Socrates’ favoured image is an image of someone thinking about doing or not doing something, a thinking which is, to use Aristotelian language, not actualized. What we have here is an image of living in a divided house which cannot easily house contradictory values. It would be, to take an extreme case, like living together in the same house as a murderer which in Socrates’ view would be sufficient punishment for him to say that irrespective of what the law and its punishment system says about this phenomenon, that one should never respond to evil with evil. One would have to live with a value that one did not respect. In this connection we find the otherwise reticent Socrates giving the moral advice, “Resist not evil”. This is obviously a recommendation on the individual level to abandon the commonly accepted lex talionis principle which in itself has two different inconsistent formulations. In the first formulation one claims an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and here we can easily see how such a principle can easily escalate to a murder for a murder. Socrates is clearly against this formulation or definition. The second formulation would insist that a just punishment must be proportionate to the crime committed and there might be a sense in which Socrates might accept this when one considers his remark that we should in our lives get what we deserve. It is, however, doubtful whether Socrates would have, in the name of the advice “resist not evil”, agree that a state had the right to murder a murderer, much less murder someone for doing philosophy in the marketplace. In spite of this fact we see Socrates prepared to accept his fate at the hands of the laws of Athens. Given the facts that Athens had provided the legal framework for his birth, upbringing and education it would not be giving Athens what it deserved if Socrates had conspired to escape the sentence of death. Had he escaped he would have continued to live in a divided house and this would in his view have been to refute the Delphic prophecy that he was the wisest man in Athens: Living with himself in such a divided state of value would be a refutation of the oracle’s challenge to each man to “know thyself”. This reminds one of a prophecy from the Bible hundreds of years after the death of Socrates, namely that the truth will set one free. It is sometimes claimed that the ancient Greeks did not realize the importance of the idea of freedom in their philosophizing and their discussions of justice. It certainly is true that the idea of freedom is seldom mentioned in Socratic discussions but insofar as the idea of “choice” is definitely referred to many times in Aristotelian discussions this seems to be a questionable judgment in relation to Aristotle’s discussions of justice. It is even questionable in relation to Socratic discussions of ethics and justice. It would seem to be more accurate to claim that the idea of freedom was not thematized but was operational in Socratic discussions of justice and ethics. In this context it would be appropriate to say that one is free to choose what one ought to do and also to choose one what ought not to do by choosing to live the examined life. This picture is somewhat clouded by the biographical information that we have of Socrates seeking assistance from his daimon when it came to making difficult decisions. Here we have an image if a man submitting to the power of the demiurge to lead him in the right direction. He would not have needed this voice to advise him what to do in the case of murder where it is doubtful whether the thought of murdering Thrasymachus would have even occurred to him but he certainly seemed to need the help of the demiurge in the decision of what to do in relation to his indictment. We as moderns celebrate our freedom from the demiurge but struggle for example to correctly characterise the state of mind of mass murderers like Hitler, Eichman and the Nazis, and Stalin and his henchmen.
The philosopher we usually immediately think of in relation to the search for essence specifying definitions is, of course, Aristotle but a cursory examination of the method of elenchus should also lead our thoughts to Socrates. There are always moments of the method which can be characterised as the search for the nature of something. It is almost as if the moral of the method of elenchus is the normative imperative: “Ask of everything what it is in its nature.”. Socrates’ interlocutor is asked to give a general definition which inevitably fails to specify the essence of the matter that is being discussed, whether it be piety or poetic inspiration or courage or justice. Socrates points out a contradiction: sometimes it is something which follows from the negation of an assumption that Socrates’ interlocutor is making. There is much in this method that reminds us of Aristotles general search for essence specifying definitions and it is a relatively easy matter to pick out the differences between the first generation Philosopher Socrates and his third generation critic, Aristotle but the difference is not in our opinion sufficient to deny a thread of continuity that connects these two philosophers. If this thread is as thick as we believe it is then this should in its turn suffice to establish with more clarity the contours of the figure of the Historical Socrates.
A. Kenny in his work referred to above “Ancient Philosophy” examines the similarity of the above discussion of the Historical Socrates versus the literary creation of Plato to the difference long noted between Mark and Johns gospel accounts of the Historical Jesus. To some it almost seems as if these two different accounts identify different people and concentrating on the differences to the exclusion of the similarities can easily create the impression that a once public figure is in fact a creation of someones literary imagination. Xenephon’s account of the character of Socrates creates similar doubts about the identity of the Historical Socrates but only if one ignores the evidence of Aristotle, the key evidence of the Apology and the early books of the Republic.
The seminar room was packed. Robert and Sophia sat in the front row with their notebooks at the ready. Glynn and Jude sat at the rear. Harry drew a deep breath and exhaled before beginning:
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the first seminar in the series of the elective “Psychology and Education”. There will be 3 lectures in total.
The title of this course, requires an introduction because it is not obvious what “Psychology” actually is, i.e. it is not obvious what the term means. What is clear, is that many of the thoughts I will be talking about have their origin in other universes of discourse. That said, let’s begin at the beginning and note firstly, that the word “Psuche” in Greek is the etymological root of “Psyche”, which does not exclusively mean “mind” as some commentators have stipulated. The Greek expression has a broader meaning which is going to be important in characterizing the central question or questions the subject is concerned with. Psuche means life. You may wonder, ladies and gentlemen what is meant by life, i.e. what the Greeks were thinking about when they used the expression. The Greek classical narrator, Homer, apparently used the expression to refer to what was lacking in bodies strewn lifelessly on a battlefield. This has been misinterpreted over the ages in two directions. Firstly certain very concrete interpreters thought that it meant “breath”: the dead soldiers were no longer breathing. This was obviously in a sense incorrect, yet life surely cannot be the name of a simple biological phenomenon involving an exchange of gases necessary for activity: surely it must in some sense refer to the activity of living itself in a broader sense. Secondly, some more abstract interpreters thought that “psuche” must refer to some spiritual substance that was no longer present in the bodies of the soldiers, namely, their souls. These interpreters were of course armed with a particular theory about reality as a whole which divides it into two entities, a physical entity like the body which breathes, senses, and moves, and a mental entity which in some curious fashion is able to have experiences even when separated from a physical body. One needs to be in some sense conscious if experience is to be possible, it was argued, and thus was born the idea that Psuche meant something like “consciousness”.
In this respect “Anthropology” would have been a more apt name for the subject matter of Psychology. The term, Psuche, interpreted as “Life” or “Consciousness”, appears to be unable to convey the whole of what we are studying, namely, the human being living a human life. “Anthropos” in Greek means “human” and “Logos” means “study” or “systematic investigation”. If we move forward ca 2000 years, a tradition of studying man in a holistic spirit as man-in-society grew up in the German academic literature culminating in a work entitled “Anthropology” by Immanuel Kant. Kant’s work, followed one of the major currents of the stream of Enlightenment thought, and not only studied the human in his human Aristotelian context—his society— but also studied the human being as the proper holistic object of study in the light of the humanistic conviction that the subject of God cannot be studied other than as an idea in man’s mind. God as a theoretical idea had, on Kant’s account, become a hypothetical projection of man’s thinking processes and reasoning. And on this latter issue of man’s thinking processes, and the investigation of the human being, here is a quote, in illustration, from Kant’s preface to the work in question:
“All cultural progress, by which the human being advances his education, has the goal of applying this acquired knowledge and skill for the worlds use. but the most important object in the world to which he can apply them is the human being: because the human being is his own final end…..A doctrine of knowledge of the human being, systematically formulated(anthropology), can exist either in a physiological or in a pragmatic point of view.—Physiological knowledge of the human being concerns the investigation of what nature makes of the human being: pragmatic knowledge is the investigation of what he as a free acting being makes of himself, or can and should make of himself.”
During the Middle Ages and even during the Enlightenment, the idea of the Homeric/Platonic soul as capable of surviving to have experiences after the death of its host body had miraculously disentangled itself from the Aristotelian arguments proving such a conception to be impossible. But another current of the stream of Enlightenment thought, namely science, was operating beneath the surface of academic events and although the assumptions which enabled science to achieve its successes were primarily Aristotelian, it had distanced itself from Aristotle’s metaphysics in general which regarded matter and the material world as infinite and his conceptions of formal and final cause in particular. For Science, the universe could be divided up and reduced to either its material components, whatever they turned out to be, or it could be divided up into all of the possible physical facts, some of which would include reference to the causes of facts. On this latter conception, science collects facts for the book of nature like the zoologist collects butterflies. That is to say, science measures the quantities of things which it assumes is the only way of investigating an infinite homogeneous continuum. Blue is reduced to a certain number on the nanometer scale and red is characterized in terms of another number on the scale: the qualitative difference between red and blue is subordinated to a quantitative frequency of light. These operations of dividing and quantifying which were promising great technological consequences were already, prior to the Enlightenment, serving to diminish the value of humanistic studies which, following Aristotle, were striving to understand the essence of phenomena rather than their causes. So whilst Kant was in the process of undermining the theological-metaphysical God, he was doing so in an environment that would succeed not only in undermining Aristotle’s metaphysics but also the Kantian transcendental metaphysics itself. Both of these are needed to academically understand the essence of Humanity. The non-Kantian, Cartesian idea of consciousness, for obscure reasons which remain to be investigated, prevailed as the major influence and concept requiring explanation. In 1870, some 70 years after Kant’s lectures on Anthropology were published, science launched a major attack on the city-state of Philosophy and in the ensuing battle colonized a suburb of the Humanities which it gave the name “Psychology”. There would no longer be transcendental metaphysical discussions of the human being: man was to be investigated with the empirical method of experimentation and observation: the true road to knowledge. Wundt in Germany defined this new subject as “the science of consciousness” and proceeded, in accordance with the principle of reduction, to reduce all conscious phenomena to the elements of sensation and feeling. Wundt failed, however, to conduct successful experiments demonstrating the usefulness of his definition of psychology. These experiments also failed to justify the concepts of “sensation” and “feeling” in theories about “consciousness”. Science analyzed the resultant chaos it had created and determined that the problem was that no one had ever, or ever would be able to, observe consciousness: and that what was needed was a more tangible, less metaphysical, less transcendental entity which could be observed.
Thus was born the next definition of Psychology: the science of behavior, and the school of behaviorism which was to dominate discussion for decades to come emerged at the beginning of the 1900’s. The subject matter of Anthropology and the possibility of the birth of the subject called Anthropology had been successfully blocked by these developments. These are the reasons that I could not call this course “Anthropology and Education”: no one would have understood why it was not called “Psychology”. The reason I am able to call the course “Psychology and Education” is simply that most people have a general idea of the general intentions of education as a practical activity and expect that such an activity must incorporate knowledge of how human beings learn and develop through such an activity. They believe that there must therefore be a subsidiary study of the conditions and consequences surrounding the learner’s role in this process. I certainly believe that these are two of the essential questions psychologists should be seeking to provide answers to, namely the questions of learning and development. There are, however, other broader questions which Kant’s Anthropology highlighted that as a matter of fact may be more holistically relevant than anything this so-called discipline of “Psychology” has been able to produce. This is not to deny that there have been “psychologists” if you prefer this term to “anthropologists”, whose reflections have proceeded in the spirit of Aristotle and Kant, and I will refer to these figures in the course of the lectures. Basically, Kant believed that satisfactory answers had to be given to 4 fundamental questions if one was to philosophically understand the world: What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope for?. What is a human being? The answers, of course, had to be logically consistent with each other. Kant comments in his work, “Anthropology”, on Descartes’ reflections concerning our mental faculty of memory. Descartes, according to Kant, speculates on the causes of the phenomenon, rather than the phenomenon itself, wandering about the traces of memory in the brain. Kant admits in this speculative process that in reflecting in this way Descartes has ceased to become the one who remembers. He has, rather, become one who observes a remembering process and all that can be observed in this respect are the cranial nerves and fibers involved:- the phenomenon of remembering has disappeared. Kant quite rightly claims as Aristotle would have, that this kind of speculation is a waste of time. And yet it is this scientific endeavor that has come to dominate our speculations about memory even today. There is a lesson for us all here: do not underestimate the power of science, for it has the power to persist in any area of investigation in spite of providing explanations of something different to that which it should be explaining.
We appear to be hypnotized by the magic of science, ladies and gentlemen. The phenomenon investigated disappears by a sleight of hand, too fast for our eyes to follow, and hey presto!, something else takes its place. Of course, we reason, this something has to be identical with the phenomenon we started off requiring an explanation for, because this is what we have been told. Magicians can also be hypnotists, ladies and gentlemen. This method of characterizing everything we experience from a third person or observationalist perspective, is a methodological demand that is especially problematic when it comes to characterizing human activity, especially in the case of the relation of my own first-person perspective to my action. If I am doing something, my attention is usually directed outwards toward what I wish to accomplish. If I want to neutrally “observe” what I am doing, that involves involuting my attention onto the action itself as if I am a third person trying to work out what is being done, i.e. the role of the observer is usually the role of the questioner who is trying to find something out. When I am reaching for a piece of fruit I am not normally in the situation of waiting to see why my arm is moving toward the fruit bowl, rather I know from the first person perspective what it is I am going to do: changing perspective in mid-action is guaranteed to destroy the intentional fabric of the action and if such a change of perspective occurs I will no longer know what I am doing. Furthermore, considerations of measuring the speed of movement of the arm or measuring anything else in this situation will be irrelevant to what I am doing. When science gets involved in psychological phenomena such as memory or action the result is usually comedy, tragedy, or magic. How should the psychologist investigate memory then? According to Kant the investigation should be from a pragmatic point of view. But what does that mean? It may mean asking what role memory plays in the life of a person. Consider the war veteran home from a traumatic term of service at the front, having witnessed the most horrific events. We can ask what role memory is going to play in this state of affairs. Were it to be just a question of leaving traces in the brain, a matter of creating protein templates, memories would just physically form and that would be the end of the matter. The templates would just be a totality of facts about the war and the subject would be a walking part of history sharing his memories at dinner parties, pubs etc. But the mind is normatively structured, ladies and gentlemen. People ought not to experience such terror. The mind is structured for the good: what is not good or evil will probably create a terror-filled mind, an unbalanced mind. The psychologist treating such a patient will not be surprised to learn that the patient does not sleep or eat, that cars backfiring in the street place him back at the war-front in a state of terror. Now such a patient may find that his lust for life has been lost and for most of the time he sits passively like an observer, waiting for things to happen to him, instead of actively living a good and flourishing life. Freud treated such patients, ladies and gentlemen, with a theory that scientists have been lining up for generations to call “unscientific”. Well, if his theory is not scientific then all I can say is “Good!”, because if it was scientific the patient might have been left observing his life go by for the rest of his time. After all, is this not the attitude the scientist wishes people to adapt to everything they experience! All I can say is that what we need is an account containing Principles of Anthropology which can explain how memories which are normally constructive of flourishing lives can play a destructive role in a life. What I am raising here is the question which Anthropology requires an answer to, namely “Why do people do what they do?” As we have seen above this question carries with it a need for an explanation as to why the traumatized war veteran cannot any longer strive for what is good in life and needs help to extricate himself from the passive attitude which leaves him terrorized. The war veteran may not of course be conscious of what is wrong with him. In talks with his psychologist he may invoke a list of symptoms: unable to sleep because of nightmares, nausea, unspecific anxiety, irrational responses to cars backfiring and loud noises, depression. He has “observed” all of these “facts” but he cannot say what is wrong with him. If he is a self-conscious being as I have claimed we all are, should he not be aware of what is wrong with him? This is the kind of question that troubles the “unscientific” psychologist like Freud to such an extent that he spent 50 years trying to find adequate explanations which will fully explain the different forms of mental illness. I am not saying that Freud was right about everything in the field of mental illness or indeed that his theories of man in society cannot be improved upon. Freud was an archeologist rather than a believer in teleology as far as man was concerned. In exploring the theoretical idea of society he takes us back to the mythical band of brothers who, in a Hobbesian state of nature, kill their father who they experience as a tyrant. As the understanding of what they have done sinks in, and the prospect that anyone assuming authority for the community possibly awaits the same fate becomes clear for all concerned—the brothers form a pact and regulating social existence by law seems the obvious response to the dilemmas and paradoxes of living in a state of nature. Such a narrative contains within it a conflict view of man’s relation to the civilization he has created. His instincts are regulated by both Eros and Thanatos, the life and death instinct, and both of these need to be regulated by forces of civilization which seemed to resemble the defense mechanism of repression. And in a famous work with a marvelous title, “Civilization and its Discontents”, Freud asks whether all the effort involved in civilization-building is worth it. He wonders whether, given the fact that we all appear to be enslaved to hedonism, and demand hedonistic satisfaction from cultural activities, a flourishing life is at all possible. Apparently at the age of 75 when most men are fully occupied with the task of staying alive he was still reflecting on the organization of civilization and predicted that from his perspective the future outcome of this organization, might be one which the individual will reject rationally. According to Freud, the psychological mechanisms we see operating in the arena of culture are repression, frustration, sublimation and rational rejection. The kind of life that was possible in such circumstances was one that submitted to the cultural equivalent of the reality principle—Ananke—The life of resigning oneself to a state of affairs one was powerless to change through rational rejection. Rejection is transformed into a smoldering acceptance as Eros, the life instinct, ebbs away and we grow older less than gracefully. There is no comfort of an ethical or religious form of life. For Freud the latter form of life was infected with defense mechanisms which manifested itself in obsessive rituals, childish wish fulfillments and anxieties. The former lifestyle according to Freud was initially going to be subjugated to an authoritarian and sometimes cruel superego (which itself is the result of a defense mechanism Freud refers to as identification) until the point at which the ego could take non-defensive control of the whole structure of the mind including the primary processes of the id. Returning to the theme of self- consciousness it appears on this account that becoming self- conscious is not something which appears out of the blue of existence one fine day, but rather requires considerable effort and work as well as perhaps a non-hedonic form of love which loves a person for themselves. I accused Freud of being more of an archeologist than a follower of the teleological view of the human spirit, but there is a latent negative teleology in the possibility of a strong ego that resigns itself to a civilization that might not be worth the effort. In this work, man is not merely a hedonist in relation to the life instinct, Eros. He is a wolf in relation to the death instinct, Thanatos. The vision of the Stoic bearing life’s miseries with a stiff upper lip looms large. The ego, Freud claims is the repository of lost objects which have been invested with value and as such the ego needs a mourning process before equilibrium once again reigns in what Freud calls the “psychical apparatus” (which includes our neuronal system) before mental life and the life instinct can resume its work and its loving. In the psychoanalytic literature there is this wonderful image of a triangle where the life instinct narcissistically and hedonistically makes its demands on reality. Reality being what it is, with its lack of concern for humanity, and being resistant to change, frustrates the demand, and the final closing of the triangle involves a wounding of desire, and of course a wounding of the ego, or in James’s language, a wounding of Romeo We are all the wounded soldiers of civilization, ladies and gentlemen. We will not find in Freud the flourishing life of Aristotle, the Kingdom of ends of Kant or the life after death of popular Christianity. We will only find a city of Romeo’s in mourning. We can, of course, wonder about the parts of the person such as the id, ego, and superego and we can wonder about the role of sexuality in the development of the individual. At the same time it should be emphasized that Freud had read Kant and he claimed that Freudian psychology is the psychology Kant would have wrote if he had concerned himself with the subject. Was this a reasonable claim, ladies and gentlemen? I think the claim is partly justified when one bears in mind that, in Kant, we find the mind of a person divided into firstly, its receptive capacity where a small number of the conceivably infinite continuum of possible sensations from the external world are actually experienced as a manifold, and secondly the mind manifests its spontaneous or productive capacity where a rule is provided to organize the manifold. The mind, that is, is divided into receptive sensibility and the active conceptual activity of the understanding, which both contribute to forming the cognitive function of the mind. Abstract concepts and concrete sense impressions combine to form our judgments that are truth claims. Apart from referring to the reality principle Freud did not discuss in any detail the conscious cognitive function of the mind but in his discussion of the affective and practical functions of the mind he did provide an important distinction between primary and secondary processes which we will refer to later in the course. One should also not forget the considerable role that the developmental psychology of Piaget played, in our attempt to understand the person and the persons relation to the society. For Piaget, there were fundamentally three stages of moral development, egocentric, transcendental and autonomous morality. Egocentric stage behavior blindly makes its demands and strives in accordance with a hedonistically or narcissistically oriented judgment system. Transcendental stage behavior refers to the judgments of authorities and the tendency to think of such authorities as externally compelling the individual to conform to external norms. Finally, autonomous stage moral behavior is individually based on an internal awareness of rules that will bring rewards to the individual. Here there is an interesting distinction between conventional morality where there is no role to criticize the rules, and autonomous morality where criticism is built into the structure of the mind. Let me conclude by returning to Kant’s anthropology and his stages of development. There is firstly a stage of development where the child is principally passive and learning what to do is primarily imitative. The second stage occurs when the child begins to experience itself as a centre of control for its own activity and a rudimentary form of egoistic self -consciousness is formed. In a third stage the child learns to abstract from the differences between authority and the individual and abstract from the differences between different individuals in order to develop a morality where everyone is equal and free to pursue their own route to a flourishing life.
Now education, ladies, and gentlemen, is concerned with the optimum development of the individual in a learning environment, and it is concerned with getting the individual to share the vision of what constitutes a flourishing life. It bears an ancient message from the gods and Philosophy: that only knowledge will be adequate to the task of developing a rational self- consciousness and a society all can flourish in. I would like to end with a reflection on Plato who is said to have begun systematic psychological reflection. For Plato, philosophical knowledge was needed to run the perfect Republic which would then in its turn form the philosophical citizen who would lead the most flourishing life the Greeks could imagine. Failure to run Plato’s Kallipolis in accordance with philosophical knowledge would result in society spiraling downward via a number of political forms containing correlating psychological character-types to the worst form of tyranny in which the tyrant will meet a tragic end and the society would end up tragically consuming itself. Here we see a fascinating suggestion that our psychological profiles will be determined by what kind of society they inhabit which in its turn will be formed by the quality of philosophical knowledge involved in the decisions and laws of the society. The whole system is teleological and normative ladies and gentlemen and perhaps you can now see why I believe that Psychology, insofar as it willed its detachment in the name of science from a Philosophy which examines all things in accordance with their essential nature, cannot deal holistically with the phenomena of self -consciousness, the flourishing life and the flourishing society. In the next lesson, I wish to deal with the kind of phenomenon that Psychology might be able to investigate, namely the origins of self- consciousness. Civilization has been “evolving culturally”, as we say, for a considerable amount of time since the mythical band of brothers brought the law into man’s hearts, formed cities and defensive protective walls around these cities. Surely one would claim, that it must have been at this moment that consciousness was formed. I attended a seminar some years ago in Washington on the work of a psychologist who claims to believe that the event of the forming of self- consciousness into a unity is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to this event, we lived in societies, not in discontentment because that presupposes the knowledge of self- conscious beings who are fully aware of the conditions of their existence: we lived, rather, in conditions of subservience ladies and gentlemen because we were not fully aware of an alternative form of life. We were similar to children, captives of the Kantian transcendental stage of moral development. We were not fully self- conscious. We were aware of what we could lose if we did not obey the law but we did not see its relation to our very limited form of life. Julian Jaynes, ladies, and gentlemen claims, as William James, another American psychologist before him, that the core of the person lies in his brain and the seat of his consciousness lies in the cortex region of his brain. He has been impressed in particular by the fact that the two hemispheres of the brain seem to be performing two very different psychological functions. He has further been impressed by the fact that language may have had a command-control function prior to its being used to autonomously narrate stories about self- conscious individuals. In this “transcendental” state, moments of anxiety caused by problems we do not have the psychological resources to solve enslaves individuals in the lower strata of society who are controlled by hallucinated voices of either individuals higher up in society or the internalized voices of dead individuals we called gods or God. Our consciousness, at a particular point in our history, was bi-cameral he claimed, split into a commander and a follower. I will follow this suggestion up in more detail during the next lecture.”
Philosophical/Educational Journal. “The World Explored,the World Suffered”. Contents:
1. Religious contemplation of the human condition surrounded by a sea of infinite suffering, Freud, Bach and Wittgenstein.
2, First lecture from “The Birmingham lectures” by Harry Middleton: The Philosophy of Man: The History of Psychology
3. Introduction to Philosophy: The Historical Socrates.
“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.”
“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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5.0 out of 5 stars Very worthwhile reading
January 7, 2018
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
My author page is at :
https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B077JVNXCV and at
Michael R D James