Twentieth Century Psychology: The History of Psychology(Brett and Peters)

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This is the final essay in a series of essays on Brett and R S Peters’ work “The History of Psychology”. In the opening essay on the Philosophy of Man Peters pointed out how throughout the ages there has been a tendency to focus on the data or the subject matter of a collection of different kinds of inquiries occurring in the name of religion medicine and philosophy. This subject matter , of course, very quickly proliferates and demands ordering if the impression is not to be one of total confusion.

In 1870 Psychology unilaterally declared its independence from Philosophy and Religion and decided to focus on the scientific method as a means of uniting a chaotic field of data or subject matter. This move incorporated a commitment to observation and a resultant suspension of the “psychological” practical attitudes involved  in calls to action and the evaluation of action which was the concern of Aristotle’s practical science. Psychology reduced the circumference of the circle of its concerns to a  theoretical reasoning  that committed itself to what Brett called “observationalism” and introspection(a psychological mechanism which turned observation inwards).

The twentieth century, it is maintained, was largely obsessed by observationalist assumptions and reactions to observationalism such as behaviourism. Initially upon the declaration of independence, the definition of Psychology accepted by many leading researchers was “The science of consciousness” but it was then discovered that consciousness could not be observed and could not, therefore, fit into the theoretical scientific framework of being manipulated or measured as an experimental variable. The “scientific” response to this was to  redefine Psychology as the “science of behaviour” and this move merely further reduced the circumference of the investigative circle and much that was of interest in the Philosophy of man was ignored.

The Medical model also played its part in the development of Psychology through the reciprocal influences of Psychiatry and Freudian Psychology under the heading of technologies of cure which sometimes steered and sometimes were steered by theoretical views of diagnoses. The concept of development played its part in influencing the direction of Psychology by both focusing on animal research and child development. Simultaneously the social sciences with its tendency to highlight the role of the social environment in the development of the individual also contributed to a rich mixture of ingredients. One of the responses of the behaviourists to the introspective musings of subjects in “experimental” situations was to discard what people were saying and concentrate instead upon what was being done: behaviour. At the same time the medical model, operating in what Brett called the technological therapeutic mode was emphasizing a moral treatment of patients that demanded that the Doctor listen to his patients both for the purposes of diagnosis and for the purposes of treatment. This ethical focus was probably a consequence of the need of Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis to view humans holistically if the practical problem of restoring man  to health was to be solved. Freud’s initial training was in the Physiology of the brain. This was complemented with a medical training because, as a Jew, he could not look forward to a well-paid research position at Vienna University. Both of these largely theoretical educations proved to be inadequate to solve the kind of problem Freud was faced with in private practice. He was forced to resort creatively and experimentally to  various “technologies” such as hypnotism in order to address the complex symptoms of his patients. But Freud was also a man of culture and we know he was familiar with the writings of Kant and this perhaps prevented him from engaging in the various forms of quackery that was a sign of the times. Paradoxically it was probably Platonic, Aristotelian and Kantian Metaphysics and Transcendental Philosophy that turned this Physician into a leading figure on the world stage in the 20th century. Popularly, he became famous for his idea of “the unconscious” but this was probably only one of a number of innovative concepts he formed in his 50 years of theorizing. Ernest Jones, Brett points out, thought very highly of the Freudian distinction between the primary and secondary process of the mind working in accordance with different principles: the pleasure-pain principle and the reality principle respectively. Freud’s background in Physiology and Biology led him to formulate a theoretical idea of “instinct” and this together, in turn,  with his philosophical interests enabled him to construct a complex hylomorphic concept of instinct as constituted of the elements of “aim”, “object” and “source”.This complexity was of course not appreciated when criticism of his thesis of the sexual etiology of neurosis became almost universally accepted. The more superficial ideas of an organism being merely a bundle of instincts gained much traction at the beginning of the 20th century. In his seminal work, “The Interpretation of Dreams” Freud published the results of his adventures of reflection into the realm of wish-fulfillment which reads very differently to his other more technical works where we are clearly in the realm of action. The Interpretation of dreams  is almost like a hermeneutic work of interpretation operating on a mythical world, except for the famous chapter 7 on the psychical apparatus that  brings us back into the real world of action. In Kantian terms dreams are phenomena that happen to us and are distinct from the things we choose to do, and there is no obvious route for Kant from the realm of fantasy to the realm of the real world. Freud claimed that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious but what many of his critics fail to see is that the road leads in the other direction to the world of reality and action, and Freud’s work actually allows us to journey on that road connecting these two different “cities” of the mind. Our minds begin their life dwelling in the city of the primary process ruled by solipsistic wish fulfillment and anxiety and life in this city is obviously problematic. The contrast of the solid city built of choices and real actions leading to real consequences is stark. These are Brett’s words:

“However, whatever the right sort of description for such goings on which Freud called the primary processes, Freud saw clearly that they require a different sort of description from that which we give for processes explaining actions or performances. For we explain these in terms of the ends which people have in mind and their information about means to ends, which falls under rules of efficiency and appropriateness. To act or to perform a person must have a grasp of causal connection, of time, of external reality, and of logical contradictions. Such standards are the product of ages of convention, adaptation, and conscious experimentation. This inherited wisdom is handed on from generation to generation, as what Freud called the secondary processes begin to develop out of the autistic amalgam of the child’s mind. A wish, to be transformed into a reason for acting, has to have logical and causal connections, together with standards of social correctness, imposed upon it, to that what is wished for, the objective, can be connected with acts that lead up to it. It is interesting to note that Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics distinguished “wish” from “choice” roughly along these lines.”(R. S. Peters)

The analogy of two different cities obviously breaks down with the concept of the unconscious which actually is a concept on the boundary of the physical and the psychological. Ricoeur noted that this  part of Freud’s theory is more physiological and relates to the “energetics” and physical mechanisms of the body such as the leaving of memory traces by ideas that pass in and out of consciousness. Freud discovered that not all of these traces give rise to memories which can be retrieved in the way memories normally are. Some of these traces are of ideas that at one time passed through consciousness and require special techniques or circumstances before they are able to “surface” once again in the realm of consciousness: techniques such as hypnosis or free association, and circumstances such as dreaming or narcosis. Why one might ask do these “ideas” nor naturally “surface” in consciousness under the appropriate circumstances? Freud’s answer is that something or some force is preventing this natural process from occurring. There is, in other words, a repressing force operating in the mind distorting its natural function. Freud also acknowledged tendencies of the id which are not conscious and have not been formed by the egos defense mechanisms. Examples of traces that are prevented from expressing themselves in consciousness are  “the traces left by experiences in early childhood–especially those involving wishes of which we feel ashamed”. In his later theorizing, Freud introduces “agents” into his topographical model. The Ego, for example, is the outer face of the id that negotiates as best it can with three masters: firstly it meets the demands of the external world instrumentally finding the best means to the ends which meet these demands, secondly it meets the demands of the id, sometimes defensively, thirdly it meets the demands of the superego and its demands that certain standards of behaviour and judgment be maintained.. This latter agency of the super-ego is obviously an introjection of mechanisms of society which regard “norms” as necessary for the ordering of relations between men in society. Here we are obviously dealing with the attitudes I referred to in the beginning of this essay. The final third wave of Freud’s theorizing provided us with a picture of the workings of a “silent” instinct that wreaks havoc in society: the death instinct that manifests itself defensively as aggression and this was for Freud the final piece of the puzzle depicting the contours of human nature. A number of patients with sadistic-masochistic tendencies were flying beneath the radar of Freudian theory and until Thanatos entered the arena of theoretical explanation these patients were paradoxes for Freudian theory. The superego obviously contained more than a little of this aggression as well as containing the influences of our closest relatives and friends as well as the influence of social institutions.Many everyday transactions in the social world are in Freudian theory, given technical labels which refer to a network of descriptive and explanatory concepts. The theory proposed that conflicts in early childhood can centre around organs and operations of the body and that the failure to resolve such conflicts might result in personality distortions which have been famously described in personality type theory.

R S Peters spends much time on describing and commenting on Freudian theory and feels it necessary to say the following in conclusion:

“If any justification is necessary for spending so much time on presenting Freud’s theory as a whole it is to be found in its overwhelming importance and influence in twentieth century Psychology. It combines the purposivism of other theories with the stress on the unity or wholeness of the personality which purposive theories have often neglected. It has been illustrated by more empirical material than any other theory and is richer in causal genetic hypotheses. In fact, there are enough speculative hypotheses in Freud to keep a generation of psychologists going in the endeavor to state them precisely and to test them. The stress on “the unconscious” and the importance given to early childhood experiences was revolutionary when we consider the theories in the field at the end of the 19th century. The only respects in which Freud was a child of the 19th century were his Darwinian approach, his vague metaphysical leanings derived from Schopenhauer, and his conception of “ideas” as dynamic mental entities which he inherited from Herbart.”(R. S. Peters)

Interest in the development of the child and personality types gave rise in the twentieth century to an industry of attempts to “measure”  the abilities and personality of children and adults. Educationalists became interested in intelligence testing. Testing and experimentation also continued in earnest with different animals. Psychometrics became a part of many Psychology and Teacher training courses at Universities and Colleges. Everyone became technically interested in the “instruments” of Psychology and the conceptual aspect of psychological investigations was marginalized. Statistical studies aiming at proving causal relationships between variables soon gave way to studies using probability theory to calculate correlations between variables, especially in those studies in which a conceptual understanding of the variables and their contexts were lacking.

The Social Sciences also played an influential role in mobilizing researchers. Marx’s Economic theories lent themselves well to a theory of value which continued a tradition begun by Hobbes and  Hume, a tradition that attempted to separate value from the realm of objectivity in favor a psychological fallback position which attempted explanations of social phenomena in terms of the invariable psychological(subjective) characteristics of individuals. Hobbes, for example had attempted to “deduce mans social and political behaviour from basic psychological postulates about self-preservation which were themselves presumed to be deducible from physical postulates about matter in motion”. Hobbes wonders whether life can be anything more than the mechanical movement of springs and gears. This value-phobia inhabited even the thinking of those social scientists who rejected the psychological approach and like Marx regarded the concepts of class, nation and the collective to be far more useful for social analysis than the needs and wants of individuals. The Philosophical notion of a prescriptive set of concepts possessing objectivity and truth  and subject to the laws of logic was a thin crescent moon in the starry heaven of academic ideas. Peters points to a publication  by Charles Cooley entitled “Human Nature and the Social Order” which he claims was very influential in America, the home of social psychology:

“Its main theme was that human personality is a social product and that most of our beliefs and attitudes are socially acquired. The “social order” thus determines the individual personality. Kantian objections were conspicuous by their absence in this zone of debate.”

Peters points out insightfully that this discussion only had one direction in which to go and that was toward a description of human automata. This environment also made it difficult for Freudian ideas to persist and Freud bashing became a favorite past-time of many American academics. Even Malinowski’s serious objections to the Freudian Oedipus complex was overshadowed by a general lack of interest in Freuds theories. The condition of the existence of his theories depended upon insisting  upon a link with social anthropology.

The overall impression of Peters is that during the 20th century there emerged a proliferation of “schools” of Psychology all operating on either different assumptions or with different methods or with  different concepts and that this has in no small measure contributed to what many philsophers regard as the “conceptual confusion” in the subject.

 

 

Darwin and William James “The Inroads of Physiology and Biology”: The History of Psychology(Brett and Peters):

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“The influence of biology proved to be the most far-reaching of all influences coming into psychology from outside the philosophical, religious and medical traditions from which psychology, in the main has developed. But its full influence did not make itself felt until the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century when men who had been trained in Darwinian Biology started to study man in the same sort of way as they studied animals and to use the same sort of explanatory hypotheses for human behaviour. There was, however, a transitional period before the rise of various schools of psychology in the 20th century when the biological outlook exerted a correcting rather than a radical influence on the old tradition of “idea” psychology.. The systematizers, Ward , Stout and James, for instance, though strongly influenced by biology were what we would now call “philosophical psychologists”. They were interested primarily in traditional topics like the relationship between perception and conception, the self, and self-consciousness, the association of ideas etc…..stress on conation, on plasticity and adaptability, and on function was beginning to replace the old interest in cognition, faculties, and structure. But Psychology remained predominantly introspective. The mind rather than behaviour remained the centre of interest: the difference was that a more biological account was given of mental processes.”(Brett and Peters)

The latter half of the 18th century was a period of intense activity in the sciences including some interesting research on the brain in which memory, for example, was explained as  “the persistence of impressions on the brain substance”. Cartesian dualism surprisingly dominated psychological discussion and the physiological “vis nervosa” was distinguished from the soul or psychic force. In Germany the notion of “Lebenskraft” was influential and the concept of development was the focus of much theorizing. The Sciences were beginning to assemble themselves into a series of ascending steps beginning with physics reaching through chemistry, physiology,  biology to psychology. Functionalism supplemented the materialism of the day and was interwoven with the activity of the will.  Bichat, for example in the spirit of functionalism defined life as “the complex of functions which resist death”. The dualism was almost Platonic: man was a divided being composed of natural forces functioning mechanically . and the spontaneous force of a conscious will. Hughlings Jackson’s reflections   advanced the scientific position that the real “organ of the mind” is the body and  claimed that the nervous system of the body is representative  of three levels of evolution: impressions and movements(sensori-motor), these representations are then re-presented in a larger integrated context: finally at the highest level there is re-re-presentation in terms of thought and volition. Even in this case we encounter the assumption of dualism and consciousness is assumed to be a mere effect or accompaniment of the neural processes we are dealing with. Towards the end of the 19th century, the issue of feelings becomes controversial and two debates occurred, relating firstly, to lower feelings and their connection to sensation and, secondly, to the relation of higher feelings to moral and aesthetic ideas. The former in a dualistic context, claims that the increase or decrease of intensity of sensation produces differences that are felt and this leads inevitably to a theory of unconscious “feelings”. Hartmann disagreed with this and asserted categorically that feelings can only exist in consciousness. He concedes also that all feeling is to placed on a pleasure-pain continuum. All qualitative differences of feeling are actually differences in accompanying sensations or ideas which can shift in levels of awareness.  A key shift in emphasis occurred when  Horwicz in his work “Analysis of Thought” claimed that  Feeling is “always accompanied by an impulse to act”—-“sensation is always incipient movement”. the mental space that is thus created allows a possible choice of movement to be represented in the light of an anticipation of represented consequences. This thinking process comes to an end when the agent inclines himself to one action. Thinking, on this view, is a stream of representations controlled by feeling and a striving toward action. Horwicz realizes that abstract and scientific thinking is compromised in this position and claims that even the search for the causes of a sensation is related to the positive feeling of pleasure and the driving force of desire to experience pleasure. Kant, in contrast, had attempted to unify practical consciousness by reference to the will and reason in relation to an ethical standpoint. Horwicz attempts the same task by the use of feeling: a new basis, but arguably a basis manifesting the most inner and private of phenomena accessible, one presumes only to introspection. Darwin’s writings had obviously tuned the European mind into the theme of the emotions and the so-called “peripheral theory” of Lange and Sergi began to emerge and was developed and elaborated upon by the Americal Physiologist William James. These thinkers focussed on the order of events in an emotion  and claimed that the idea of a bear, for example, is not the cause of emotions “as a match might be said to cause a fire: but along with the “idea” there is a total organic reaction which makes the “idea” itself a uniquely personal event, and wields it into that concrete psycho-physical process called experience”. Brett argues that this position is in harmony with Kant’s insistence on allowing the subjective to be part of, for example, his transcendental deduction and also allowing it to play such a prominent role in the critique of judgment:

“..for Kant leads the modern school of thinkers who insist on a) giving to feeling an independent position and b) regarding it as the subjective complement of the objective processes(sensation, ideation)”(Brett and Peters)

In England Spencer had been propagating for Psychology to be treated as a natural science and then partially deserted that position with his “two aspect” theory which retained an inductive approach to the phenomena of Psychology. Among the consequences were strange terminological inventions such as “cerebration” which were used for processes of thinking. In this context consider Dr Irelands famous quote:

“Cerebration!–what a name for thought! When the liver secretes bile one does not say that it hepatates, or when a man breathes we do not say that he pulmonates”

The above of course  is an example of a technical or technological relation to language which was to cause problems at many different levels for the discipline of psychology during the next century.

With Spencer, the life of the mind was divided: into inner and outer activities. Darwin’s work was in the spirit of Aristotle and introduced the spirit of deduction into an atmosphere of induction, an atmosphere where all the energy of researchers was devoted to the collection of facts without any thought concerning the problem of how these facts should be ordered. Darwin’s theory of change regarded Nature as infinitely and ceaselessly productive, a process in which every change was an experiment directed by the processes of random variation and selection. It became clear now that there should be a general biological treatment of mental functions and the lives of animals and children were especially relevant to such investigations. His view of emotions also had great effect: replacing the focus on consciousness with a focus on habit. Consciousness came to be regarded as a consequence of the process of evolution. Darwin’s position implied a rejection of  dualism in favour of Aristotle with a Spencerian twist, namely :

“The cooperation of the physical and psychic factors which this theory employs is explained by giving to the body a capacity for producing certain movements, and to the intelligence a power of selecting, and so finally establishing some modes of action in preference to others.”(Brett and Peters)

It was clear that Darwins theories would provide more insight into the study of life and also that a platform was provided for the union of physiological, biological and psychological viewpoints. But the fruits of this union had to wait for the works of Bain and Ward. It is at this point that we first begin to see the beginning of a new attitude to the problems of the theory of mind in particular and philosophical psychology in general. Spencer had talked about induction and associationism but Ward sought for a deeper method and a deeper unity. Ward argued that the phenomena of psychology are not specifically inner as opposed to outer but are rather :

“certain distinct characteristics of conscious individual life. These characteristics must be assigned to a subject or an Ego. A sequence of “states” has no inner unity and could not know itself: there is an agent as well as an action, and in addition to knowing, feeling and doing we must admit that which knows, feels, and does.

This agent  is equivalent to the total state and processes of consciousness and further:

“Every distinguishable element of the mental life is, therefore, a phase of its activity: it is no more separated from its phenomena than the moon is separated from its phases: the subject is the knowing, feeling and doing in their own living unity.”

Wards Psychology is one in which the material of presentations is largely given but the life of consciousness involves attention in relation to these presentations plus a voluntary direction of attention onto “motor presentations from which result changes in the field of consciousness” Again in this we can see the trace of Kant the scientist. There is a large primitive mass of undifferentiated intuitions out of which we differentiate sensible and conceptual entities, all of which constitute the antecedents of knowledge. The matter is form-ed(hylomorphism) and here we hear echoes of Aristotle. But it is the activism of the German school which is mostly the driving force of Ward’s theorizing:  the active organizing subject is responsible for  the unity of experience:

“they are not transcendental principles of mind regarded universally, but organic principles of individual conscious existence. Time and space are the first of these organizing principles: unity, identity, resemblance, difference comes next: the higher intellectual categories come lates(substance, cause etc)”

Ward thus rejected associationism and the building up of the whole out of the synthetic activity of combining parts. According to Ward only ideas are capable of association. his treatment of emotional and conative action is in terms of firstly, natural selection and secondly in terms of human purposive selection which also takes effect at a very early age was an advance in thinking.  Purposive movement differs from reflex movement in that the former are “selected, purposive, and capable of reinforcing the emotion as a whole”. Feeling is retained as an important element of the theory and purposive movement as is the case with all intellectual activity is actually steered by desire and feeling. Ward also prefigured James and Freud in insisting that “life and growth belong to the mind as truly as they belong to the body.

Stout takes Ward’s theory further into the territory of consciousness. Consciousness, for Stout, has three fundamental modes of functioning: thinking feeling and willing. His characterization of these modes, however, is not functional and is more reminiscent of  the characterization of different attitudes:

“the matter given to consciousness is the sum of presentations: to each presentation there is a possible reaction in one of three ways. If the presentation is referred to an object, and regarded only as significant, we are said to think: if we find ourselves in an attitude of liking or disliking, we have the volitional or conative mode: from this arises pleasure or pain(the third mode)… In reality, then, only two modes are fundamental: we either think or will…Thought and will are operations by which the creature strives to regain its lost equilibrium.”

This last thought concerning the equilibrium of the organism recalls the early work oF Freud who suggested an energy regulation principle and a pleasure-pain principle was involved in this work of balancing the consciousness of the individual. “Thought is the creatures way of satisfying its needs”(Brett and Peters).

James carried on in this spirit and introduced the term “stream of consciousness” against the background of a solid physiological and almost positivistic orientation toward “the study of the phenomena and conditions of mental activity”(James’s definition of Psychology). He believed that experience could not throw light upon itself and was committed to Lotze’steachingss about the difference between knowing something and knowing about something:

“In a certain way, one only knows vision by seeing: but sciences are not immediate experiences, and a chapter on vision must describe the eye and its functions simply because the greater knowledge toward which men strive is attained by this particular circumnavigation…..To say that physiology throws no light on mental processes is very true: the fundamental error is in asking physiology to explain something which has previously been made inaccessible, instead of taking all the facts as capable in some degree of being explained by all others.”

James then also explains the psychologist’s fallacy which in essence amounts to believing that if one has an idea of a year that one also has an idea of its 365 days. Of course, the object “year” has 365 days but the “idea” of a year does not. James and Freud, it is reputed, were the only two psychologists Wittgenstein studied carefully.  This example reminds me of the Wittgensteinian discussion of a painting of a kettle with steam coming out of the spout. Wittgenstein asks whether it makes sense to claim that there is water boiling in the kettle.Here too the distinction between object and idea is being debated.

James weaves introspection  into his otherwise “scientific” account but there are elements of mysticism and there is also a nod in the direction of Freud:

“I cannot but think that the most important step forward that has occurred in psychology since I have been a student of that science is the discovery, first made in 1886, that, in certain subjects at least, there is not only the consciousness of the ordinary field with its visual centre and margin, but an addition thereto in the shape of a set of memories, thoughts, and feelings which are extra-marginal and outside the primary consciousness altogether, but yet must be classed as conscious facts of some sort, able to reveal their presence by unmistakable signs. I call this the most important step forward because, unlike the other advances which psychology has made, this discovery has revealed to us an entirely unsuspected peculiarity in the constitution of human nature.”

With these reflections, I bring the 19th century to a close and will move on to a discussion of 20th-century Psychology. Bretts work came out in 1921 but Peters who abridged the three volumes wrote a chapter on 20th-century Psychology. This chapter will be the subject of the next thread.

The Disappearance/Reappearance of the first person and Transcendental Logic in Philosophy and the Philosophy of Education

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Cogito ergo sum: “I think therefore I am” was the result of the Cartesian search for the first principle of Philosophy and although Kant picked up on the premise of that “argument” if such it be(“I think”), Philosophy and therefore philosophy of education after Kant’s influence waned, focussed more on the conclusion: the existence of the subject. This in spite of the fact that the most convincing argument Descartes produced for his first principle was an “epistemological” argument namely, that If I should try to doubt that I am thinking I cannot do so without thinking. Now I am not sure that this is an epistemological argument because the intuition of thinking seems to be an after effect of the thinking(admittedly a closely connected after effect).  Thinking rather appears to me to be a transcendental condition of the experience or intuition.

What I wish to begin to explore in this article is whether this transcendental condition is related to the grammatical structure of the first person. Wittgenstein counseled us to ask how we learn a word if philosophical disputes arise connected with the concept the word expresses but he does not talk about the conditions under which we learn the word “I” as far as I can remember. Kant, however, does take this issue up in his work “Anthropology”. Kant, the transcendentalist, points out that  children  before they learn the use of the word “I” call themselves  the name that other people call them, that is, they use their name  in (perhaps accidental)accordance with the rules of a proper name which are probably connected to citeria of  uniqueness such as Born in Demo Alopece, Athens in  470/69 BC into the family…etc. At some point probably around 2-3 years the child feels a unity of consciousness within itself which needs characterization  by the first person pronoun “I”. Logicians have probably misleadingly called  “I ” a “shifter” because of their obsession with the idea of ostensive definition and the role of such definition in naming. “Socrates” would be, according to Kripke, a rigid designator referring necessarily to that object given  by the criteria specified by a set of definite descriptions: the man born in…the man born at the time….. The term “I ” cannot designate rigidly in the way in which a name can, therefore the term “shifter”. By the time logicians are thinking in this way, the transcendental “I think” or the grammatical form of the first person has disappeared from mainstream Philosophical discourse. In my previous essays on the Post Kantian history of Psychology, I mentioned some of the factors responsible for this transformation of the philosophical landscape since Kant. Ludvig Wittgenstein initially a leading thinker in the kind of logical thinking instantiated by Kripke et al, relatively quickly joined the critics of his own earlier work and began to realize that Philosophical logic had replaced transcendental logic for no good reason. In his later work, we find Wittgenstein arguing for a concern for language which is no longer analytical but more anthropological and communal. Behind Wittgenstein’s “we say” is “we think” and many of his discussions with himself in his work “Philosophical Investigations” are in accordance with the ancient Socratic definition of thinking as “talking or discoursing with oneself”. Wittgenstein’s style therefore reaches back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and further on in History to the more systematic transcendental treatment by Kant. Wittgenstein’s dialogical approach was  very effective in providing convincing arguments against behaviourism, functionalism, pragmatism, materialism, naturalism, scientism, logical atomism, logical positivism, consequentialism and instrumentalism: all of which had shifted into the vacuum created by the displacement of transcendental logic and the grammatical case of the first person. This looks a very abstract point but this is only so as long as one does not see the connection between transcendental logic and metaphysical and ethical investigations which deal with reality and the value of reality respectively.

My first contact with Wittgenstein’s thought was via a Philosophy of Education course at Exeter University in England during the 1970’s given by a lecturer who had substantial contact with Wittgensteinian Philosophy in Cambridge  both directly with the master and  with the initial inner circle. Philosophy of education became as a consequence of the influence of Wittgenstein’s thought a fermented keg of discussion confined to 5 Universities of which Exeter was one.  The ingredients of this fermentation were Platonic, Aristotelian, Kantian and Wittgensteinian and the key thinkers spreading ideas in Philosophy of Education were R. S. Peters,  Paul Hirst, and Richard Pring. This latter figure is particularly interesting because he has been relatively active until recently in the field of education. His work “Philosophy of Educational Research” is a work that is  highly recommended to those who are interested in the topic we are attempting to discuss in this article in particular for its consistency with the ideas of the 1970’s in England. If we are right in our reasoning, this period of the 1960’s/70’s in England may have been the beginning of the restoration of Hylomorphism, Transcendental Logic and also the beginning of a broadly Humanistic revival of spirit in Europe.

But let us begin at almost the beginning, with Aristotle. In an earlier article on political identity we  discussed the criteria of personal identity and referred to the central concept of continuity as a logical concept derived from Aristotle’s theory of change. Four elements were involved: continuity of the body(the actual material of our body is changing and dying), continuity of memories in our memory system (we have forgotten many early memories but some of the memories we have probably had some relation to other memories which in their turn were related to other memories which in their turn might have been related to the early memories we have forgotten), continuity of the social system(social structures are disappearing and appearing in accordance with some kind of continuity principle) we are embedded in, and continuity of the political system we have perhaps created in our lifetime with our political judgments decisions and opinions. Memories are individual memories and are memories of other individuals. Social institutions are composed of individuals and their memories de facto and in virtuo in the form of the books of a library: history is embodied in monuments and buildings and street names etc. Similarly with political institutions, there are living individuals writing books for libraries  and reading books from libraries: Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Kant’s Political Philosophy. In this latter context individuals form new political parties, change the direction of a party etc. The political element incorporates formally  (logically) the social as material which in its turn formally incorporates memories of individuals and individuals bodies as material. This logical connection of elements is only possible with the kind of matter-form formula which we encounter in Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory: form and telos  provides both the organizing principle and the end toward which  the underlying material substance is actualizing. We can also see in this  matter-form formula  the logical relation of wholes to parts which is  mentioned in Aristotles “Prior Analytics”.

There does not seem to be any difficulty in holistically characterizing what a person is in this kind of context and most commentators see the advantage of the hylomorphic view over the kind of view which suggests that the person is a complete  collection of facts. Facts are facts because they inhere in different categories. How are we to differentiate them if not by a theory of the categories? Categories are ways of thinking about reality. Now there has been enough controversy about such issues to realize that the categories at best allow us to glimpse reality as if through a glass darkly. Kant helped to tidy the discussion up by claiming that categories determine kinds of judgment which direct our relation to reality in different ways.  For Wittgenstein, Judgment, of course suggested something we do, i.e. conceptual  judgments emerged from  forms of life which embed language games as justifications of what we do. Different forms of life justify different judgments. This initially looks like a formula for relativism but this is not the case  because  Wittgenstein is not comparing judgments at the same level, i.e he is  not claiming that  a categorical form of life and thinking gives  rise to categorical judgments in one community can be compared and contrasted with a categorical form of life and thinking giving rise to a different categorical judgment in another community. He is rather claiming that if one community for example believes that happiness is the end  for which ethical action aims and another  community aims at duty as the good this is not a contradiction but a choice of a categorical view of the good over an instrumental view. On another level, Wittgenstein points to categories of language to distinguish between kinds of judgment. The language game with pain in “I am in pain” is categorical because it does not make sense to doubt that I am in pain(cf Descartes, it does not make sense to doubt that I think) but there is between these two language games of “I am in pain” and “I think” a fundamental difference. In the former case we are in the Kantian realm of Sensibility,(The Wittgensteinian realm of sensation) in the realm of events that happen to me,  and in the latter we are in the realm of activity, the realm of what is done. In the former case I learn the expression in connection with primitive behaviour such as  falling and skinning my knee: my teachers teach me to say “I am in pain”  and this replaces my  screaming in pain. In the latter case there is also undoubtedly some behavioural base which will be substituted by the words “I think”, perhaps the behaviour  in question might be that of an exclamation upon being struck by a thought, e.g. thinking of something I just exclaim that something. The major difference between the two cases is that in the former the question as to why one is in pain, reference will be made to a cause whereas in the latter case the question as to why one is thinking something or doing any activity, reference will  be made to a reason(and of course depending on the type of activity the reason may be an instrumental one, “because it makes me happy” or a categorical one, “because everyone ought to do what I am doing if one is to treat people as ends in themselves”).  In the case of the reason for thinking something we might in fact be reasoning in a series of premises culminating in a conclusion.

These are first person cases of different kinds and different language games will be embedded in different patterns of activity or forms of life. Even second person responses to our first person avowals will differ accordingly. In the pain case there will be sympathetic reactions and in the thinking case there will be more cognitive reactions and perhaps even a long discussion, i.e. in the thinking case the discussion with oneself will be replaced by discussion with any possible second person and both will be testing their understanding of each other in terms of the truth of the statements, the reasoning being used  and the conclusions drawn.  A major difference between the sensation case and the thinking case is that in the former one can engage in observing the course of ones pain but in the latter that is not a possibility because pain is a phenomenon and thinking is not: “although there are phenomena of thinking, thinking is not a phenomenon.”(Wittgenstein). What is the role of language in this context? Wittgenstein often refers to the first person plural case “We say…… and Stanley Cavell in his “Claim of Reason” asks the provocative question “and what gives anyone the right to speak for  or on behalf of others”. He might well also have asked “What gives anyone the right to “think” on behalf of others”: or what gives anyone the right to claim something is true and expect acceptance of the truth of what is said. This is the normative aspect of our discourse with each other and with ourselves when we are thinking: the truth is what ought to be acccepted and understood. Cavell points out we certainly are not appealing to empirical research or the process of voting or counting hands.  There are phenomena of talking but talking is not a phenomenon, Cavell seems to be arguing. Grammatical remarks  are  first person collective remarks and they transcend experience. Connections can also be made to the idea of the self being transcendental, being that is, as Aristotle would characterise the soul, a principle of experience and activity.

Post Kantian Philosophical Psychology, Herbart,Schopenhauer, Fechner and the History of Psychology(R S Peters and Brett)

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“Kant rightly declared that the mind must be regarded as a structure regulated by principles which are ultimately its own activities. Before Kants time the psychologist was not unlike a physiologist who tried to explain digestion, without any reference to the organism, as a process by which various foods introduced into the stomach analysed themselves and distributed themselves conscientiously to their appropriate places in the organism. It was Kant who first saw that such a procedure was wrong and that we must start from the mind to explain the ideas, not from ideas to explain the mind”(Brett)

“Psychologists have, in most cases recognized this merit in Kant, and all the modern work founded on the conception of the unity of consciousness is indebted to Kant. But for the rest Kant belongs to the logicians rather than the psychologists, and his theory is more important for discussions of validity than for the study of the mental structure.”(Brett’s History of Psychology)

The Copernican Revolution of Kant further means that the receptive faculty of the mind which receives sensations has no meaning apart from the formative activity of the higher spontaneous thinking centres. Brett goes on to point out that perhaps Kant failed to take into account the fact that a sensation which is related to another sensation might modify that sensation: “after a great heat a moderate warmth seems chilly, and so through all the senses: there is a kind of self arrangement which is not the work of the mind”

Brett accuses Kant of being the propagator of the view that  the higher regions of the mind or thinking processes alone organize conscious life but quickly admits that the Categories of the understanding, according to Kant, are the “indispensable preliminary activities of consciousness”.  These categories obviously play the role that forms do in Aristotelian hylomorphism and Brett poses the question many critics of Aristotelian hylomorphism have posed over the centuries: the question of the importance of Psychology. Martin Heidegger in his work on Kant, suggested that Kant missed an opportunity to found his critical work on the psychological idea of the imagination and one should remember the following:  that the above  criticism of the importance of the psychological predates Heidegger.

Herbart was one of the first post Kantians to attempt to restore the idea of the soul to the world of phenomena: the soul for Herbart was “a multitude of independent  ideas and activities”(Brett). Herbart’s point of departure is mathematics and the natural sciences  and his aim, according to Brett is to “reduce consciousness to simple elements and their combinations” This attempt to restore the idea of the soul, ultimately leads to the position of  abandoning the idea of the soul altogether although this was not the case with respect to Herbart’s reflections. The most interesting feature of Herbart’s account is his emphasis on the soul being the agent manifest in all its activities and not the place where events just “happen”. Brett claims that it is with Herbart that Psychology becomes empirical. I am not sure that this is an entirely appropriate analysis. As long as the agent is not defined as an object seen from the perspective of the third person there would seem to be a retention of some of the spirit of  Kant’s position. The abandonment of reasoning for the empirical scientific method, however, was certainly not in accordance with the Kantian Copernican revolution. Indeed Brett’s description of Herbart’s account of the relation between consciousness and its ideas cannot fail to remind one of what is later to come in the name of phenomenology:

“Phenomena are in perpetual flux: in other words, the most obvious thing about consciousness is its perpetual tendency to change: even though we try to retain one presentation, it slowly dwindles in our grasp. This general fact gives Herbart his starting point. By an idea we mean the outstanding point, the summit or peak on the surface of an ever heaving-consciousness. If we imagine a light shining on a sea of rising and falling waves, the analogy may assist us to grasp Herbart’s conception of “arches” and “summits”. Every single idea travels, as it were, on the path of a semi-circle, from a point below the level of consciousness upward to its zenith: it then goes down again and gives place to another. This process continually goes on: it is the business of psychology to find its laws.”(Brett)

The problem with Herbart’s active conception of the soul is that “the only active quality ascribed to the soul is the tendency to preserve itself”. And with this thought, Herbart’s reflections move away from phenomenology and back to the basics of science: consciousness and the expenditure of energy of the organism. This energy regulation principle, already present by implication in Aristotle’s reflections on the soul was to be later used in Freud’s Scientific Project.  Freud, of course, abandoned this attempt to reduce the qualitative to the quantitative in his later theorizing.

Herbart interestingly also claimed:

“to have provided a psychology especially applicable to education.It was the interest in mental growth and in the union of right thinking with the right feeling that led Herbart to understand how closely the qualities of character  depend on the complete fusion of knowing and feeling in one indivisible state of mind, evolving into the kind of clearness which is only attainable through self-expressing actions.”

The essential feature of mental growth is characterized in terms of apperception. or the Kantian “I think” or the “I will” but the “I” of consciousness is still characterized in terms of scientific Psychology. He applied these ideas to ethics but neglected the Kantian concepts of reason and freedom believing along with Plato that the temper of the community determines the temperament and character of the individual.

Schopenhauer is the post Kantian who  converts the self into the will and defines it in terms the Psychologist will find difficult to accept:

“As some had declared the “Thing-in-itself” to be the organism, Schopenhauer declares it to be the vitality resident in the organism”. His view is thus biological, where it is not merely metaphysical: when he proclaims his own originality he is justified if we think only of modern tendencies, but in everything  but its language and its excesses this view is a restatement of Aristotle’s doctrine of the fundamental conation, persisting through all the scale of organic life, variously combined with and modified by corresponding degrees of conscious realization”(Brett)

Schopenhauer restored the will to modern thought but the whole trend of his analysis Brett argues is  toward “the fundamental  impulses of animal nature”, although there are moments in his account when Schopenhauer stands where Kant stood. Herbarts influence was to prevail over Schopenhauer’s forlorn attempt to restore Kantian Psychology.

Fechner’s interest turned more to physics and aesthetics than mathematics and he actually wrote some valuable works on electricity. But there are also elements of mysticism in Fechner:

“lying in bed on the morning of the 22nd of October 1850, he saw the vision of a unified world of thought, spirit and matter linked together by the mystery of numbers. So it was, perhaps, that Pythagoras saw the quality of sound transformed into measurement!”

And yet there is something of the spirit of the age in Fechner’s vision. He tries to unite the psychical and the physical and with him Brett argues:

“The centre of controversy shifts to the question, How much of the inner life actually enters into this sphere of measurement and quantity.”(Brett)

By the time this question was raised, Kant’s voice has been lost and there is only a very faint echo of the answer to this question “Hardly anything at all” This is not to deny that mental states do not have physical equivalents but the key question becomes “Are the limits of our knowledge of this relation confined to correlation?”  But correlation between what and what? How can there be a correlation between a principle and that which it is a principle of? This post takes us to the psychology of the 20th century which will be the subject of the next thread.

Immanuel Kant and the History of Psychology(Brett and Peters)

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Kant’s Philosophy divides neatly into the two realms of the natural world and the ethical world and although the discipline  of Psychology was only to officially announce its declaration of unilateral independence in 1870, the move toward separation may have begun with the Kantian Copernican revolution and the thinkers that reflected upon Kant’s Philosophy. Kant leveled such devastating criticism against metaphysics that of the three ideas of reason: God, Freedom, and the Soul, only Freedom survived his onslaught. The idea of God becomes dependent upon the idea of Freedom and the Soul disappears in favour of the concept of self-consciousness whose essential nature is defined by an act of the “I think”. But immediately that is said one has to also recognize that Kant believes that there are two kinds of selves operating in the arena of philosophical reflection, firstly, a noumenal self which is presupposed by experience but which can only be known in a segment of that experience: namely, moral action. Secondly, in Kant’s theoretical writings the natural sciences are then linked to the phenomenal self which post Kantian epistemologists and scientists  attempted to study as part of their reflections on the nature of this divided  subject.There are two levels of description involved in this latter theoretical project, namely empirical description and mathematical description which rely on the observational method of science and the logical method of mathematics.

In his earlier work, Kant was a rationalist and believed in the soul until encountering the work of  Hume who astutely pointed out that whenever we reflect upon our experience we never encounter a self or a soul but only a phenomenon, for example,  someone experiencing something or someone doing something.  This self, Kant argued, can be studied empirically by psychology, or what he called Anthropology, under the heading of “what man makes of himself”. Some critics have accused Kant of constructing a Psychology without a soul but that does not seem to be a just accusation. Kant is merely claiming that the soul is an idea in consciousness which can never be given in experience because this idea is equivalent either to the substratum or the totality of experience. Kant was with this complex move the first philosopher to systematically recognize the limits of metaphysical thinking.

Psychology, or Anthropology, as Kant would prefer to call it is wholly empirical but it could never be a science Kant argued because mental phenomena are in the flux of time and therefore incapable of measurement. Given the Copernican revolution and the conviction that knowledge is not solely the product of ideas which arise out of experience but is rather a structure regulated by the minds own activities, we can see how self-consciousness is a holistic idea with its own essential unity. The mind of the self is, Kant, argued made up of a receptive component which receives sensations from the outer world but even here there is a structuring activity of the mind present in the form of space and time which are a priori “forms of intuition” as Kant called them. The actual contents of the mind are as Aristotle would have argued, complex products of formed experience: there is no pure experience of pure matter coming from the outside proceeding inwards. Whatever comes from the external world will be shaped at the very least by the structuring features of space and time. Space and time were not acts of reason but rather capacities of the receptive part of the mind which Kant calls Sensibility. The mind is in fact divided into three “regions” sometimes called “faculties”(but not as far as I can remember, by Kant): Sensibility being the psychological part of the mind most connected to the body and through the body the external world, Understanding operates as a further shaping agency of the mind and is defined as a system of  categories which assist in the forming of logical judgments that  firstly,  relate principally to the totality of experience   and secondarily to the substrate(space and time and sensation). These categories are products of a thinking consciousness(“I think”)  and “are the necessary and only forms of all thinking”. This region of the mind is that which generates the truth function capacity of the mind and is still related to experience but in ways which are convoluted and partly psychological (via the shaping operation of  Sensibility). It is this truth-functional region of the mind which has a necessary connection to sensibility by placing it under its sovereignty: to such an extent that when I see lightning strike a tree at a particular place and a particular time I inevitably think “It is true that the tree is being struck by lightning”. Notice that this is not a necessary logical truth of the kind “Every time trees are struck by lightning we think that it is a fact that they are struck by lightning.” Obviously, the sensible/psychological part of the mind can dominate this environmental transaction by producing a fearful trembling or a fearful emotional response, which of course is a less rational response and that at first might seem as if it damages the universal case for seeing the world under the aspect of the true. Yet it does not do so for truth is a normative concept which basically amounts to claiming that one ought to see this under the aspect of the truth or to take another essence specifying example, “one ought to tell the truth when you promise to do so at a trial”. The concepts of promise and truth are logically intertwined. What does normative mean in this context? Only that we ought to view the scene under the aspect of the truth which obviously does not imply that I am doing so or will do so. The fearful emotional response might even have a representational content–a picture of an angry God, and if this is so this testifies to the presence of the synthesis of the imagination operating upon the content of sensory experiences. The imagination is named so because it works in the realm of images. Truth from the perspective of theoretical reason is, according to Kant the concern of natural science in its attempt to explain events in the natural world. The categories are thought to be a set of synthetic apriori judgments which constitute science. There are quantitative judgments that connect events and things in terms of mathematical unity plurality and totality or number which is connected in not easily expressible relations to time and space. There are dynamic judgments or ways of thinking that relate to the existence of objects, their reality, negation, and the limitation of a reality combined with the possible criticism of a negation. Relational and modality judgments more clearly than the other categories of thought take us into the realm of metaphysics and this confirms Kant’s commitment to the belief that metaphysics is a science but it also covers the principle of causation which is so important for organizing judgments of experience and scientific theory. Nature is defined as  “the whole object of possible experiences”.Judgments of experience are objective and deal with the necessary and categorical connection between things and events in contradistinction to judgments of perception where the connections are subjectively yet logically contained in the thinking subject. The difference between objective and subjective being the difference between the perceptions and intuitions organized by the concepts of the understanding or not. “The room is warm”  “I was frightened by the lightning” would be examples of subjective judgments of perception. There is here no expectation “that I or any other person shall always find it as I do now”. These judgments do not intend an objective reference but only the connection of two sensations in me. In the judgment of experience, I connect my perceptions or intuitions in consciousness in a general categorical way such that the connection is valid in general for any being using their consciousness in this manner. Perception becomes experience by the subsumption of that perception under a concept of the understanding and by the concept is meant the category which determines the form of judging that is to be used by the judging consciousness to determine or understand the “form of the perception or intuition. These concepts of the understanding are then transformed in the thinking process into judgments and there is a table of 12 of these ranging from singular, particular subjective judgments up to the categorical and apodeictic. Now here is the important conclusion that should be drawn from this discussion of natural science: Anthropology or Psychology can never become a Science because a science must be mathematical. Mathematics belongs principally in the domain of the category of the quantitative which requires a quantitative standard that could operate on the material it is applied to. Kant is clear that the part of consciousness which belongs to the realm of thought is not the kind of material that can be measured quantitatively or ordered in mathematical relations. Thought functions in the domain of reality,

Now here is the important conclusion that should be drawn from this discussion of natural science: Anthropology or Psychology can never become a Science because a science must be mathematical. Mathematics belongs principally in the domain of the category of the quantitative which requires a quantitative standard that could operate on the material it is applied to. Kant is clear that the part of consciousness which belongs to the realm of thought is not the kind of material that can be measured quantitatively or ordered in mathematical relations. Thought functions in the domain of reality, negation and limitation, (thinking something about something). It can have conditions and so the category of causal conditions may certainly be relevant in explaining how particular thoughts or kinds of thought come to be but this relates more to the substrate of thought than to outlining the totality of relevant conditions. The “I think” implies that I think something but it probably also implies some notion of self-consciousness which raises the thinking above that of the psychological realm of sensibility and its organizer, imagination. Thinking, that is, occurs at the fully mental realm of understanding and reason. Psychological states of consciousness are continuous and can be objectified by breaking the continuity into discrete units but self-consciousness is intentional and has a logical relation to the truth. O’Shaughnessy has the following to say on this important point:

 

“Self awareness necessitates awareness of truth. Thus, a child who regularly makes the sound “hungry” as a way of getting food, only thereby manifests self-consciousness and knowledge of the fact of its hunger, when it knows the sense of “I am hungry”, which consists in knowing it is true that he is hungry. Indeed, for any thinking language user to know any proposition is true, is for it to know that “P” is true. Self-consciousness requires that all knowledge, including that of the inner world, be for the self-conscious creature under the aspect of truth.”(Consciousness and the world)

O Shaughnessy continues to make another important point, namely that self-consciousness is only one, though perhaps the most fundamental of a circle of properties which constitute consciousness.

This dovetails neatly with the claim that Kant makes in the Anthropology, namely that when the child learns to use the word “I” correctly there is a dawning of a new kind of awareness of the world.

 

Now the criticism that Brett levels at Kant is the following: Kant’s  outlook was limited to the operations of reason. This is not an appropriate criticism given the fact that Kant sees three different aspects of the mind namely sensibility, understanding and reason and as can be seen from the argument above the categories are clearly functions of an understanding consciousness. Brett further goes on to argue that Kant thought that the higher powers of reason are the sole organizers of conscious life. Kant stands accused of ignoring the lower operations of consciousness, the sensible/imaginative psychological operations of the mind, but it is clear that this too is not a valid argument. Kant quite specifically argued in his work “Anthropology”  that the senses are not in any way an inferior form of consciousness but on the contrary are analogous to the people in a state who are ruled by a government who can affect the people but that in turn the government can be affected by the collective will of the people.  In the second book of the Anthropology Kant discusses feelings which are in one sense inhibitors of  reason(high levels of anxiety  can, we all know, inhibit the learning process), but in another sense the feelings of pleasure and pain can be united by the understanding to the ideas of good and evil and so “produce a quickening of the will”. This is quite aside from the positive contribution of aesthetic forms of consciousness to the leading of a flourishing life with a happy outlook onto a boundless future.  Indeed the psychological sensible aspect of consciousness becomes even more manifest when Kant takes up the way in which consciousness practically reasons about the ethical decisions that are taken in life. For it is here that the self as noumenon, as a metaphysical thing in itself  is revealed as bearer of the form of consciousness most defining of our human nature, namely the ethical form of consciousness which he then contrasts with what he regards as the empirical theories of Psychology which one could as well retrieve from the pages of novelists such as Fielding. This historically served as a challenge to future psychologists who were preparing the ground for a science of behavior which would become a source of knowledge about man. It was clear to Kant that moral action was sustained by a particular kind of reason for acting that should be characterized in terms of the universality and necessity of the maxims or principles one had for one’s action. These cannot be of the kind: “Whenever lightning strikes trees I am frightened ” because according to Kant that would fall under the heading of something that happens to man rather than the heading of what man intentionally and self consciously does. Intermediate between emotional responses and moral action fall instrumental actions on principles of happiness and practical reasoning, e.g. “Accumulating money makes me happy therefore I will take every opportunity to accumulate as much money as possible by any means possible”. This according to Kant is the principle of self-love in disguise and if it involves using people as a means to an end without according them the dignity one owes to them, then it is clearly  neither universal nor necessary but a product of the sensible region of the mind responding in accordance with the category of causation to cause events which result in the accumulation of money. That is, this behaviour quite rightly falls into the domain of the scientific, in virtue of the means-ends relation being cause-effect relations, and may be quantifiable. One should in this context of the quantification of action, however, remember ancient Greek warnings to the effect that feeding one’s desires merely creates a desire for more and this hardly seems a mathematical relation.

It was clear to Kant that moral action was sustained by a particular kind of reason for acting that should be characterized in terms of the universality and necessity of the maxims or principles one had for one’s action. These cannot be of the kind: “Whenever lightning strikes trees I am frightened ” because according to Kant that would fall under the heading of something that happens to man rather than the heading of what man intentionally and self consciously does. Intermediate between emotional responses and moral action fall instrumental actions on principles of happiness and practical reasoning, e.g. “Accumulating money makes me happy therefore I will take every opportunity to accumulate as much money as possible by any means possible”. This according to Kant is the principle of self-love in disguise and if it involves using people as a means to an end without according them the dignity one owes to them, then it is clearly  neither universal nor necessary but a product of the sensible region of the mind responding in accordance with the category of causation to cause events which result in the accumulation of money. That is, this behaviour quite rightly falls into the domain of the scientific, in virtue of the means-ends relation being cause-effect relations, and may be quantifiable. One should in this context of the quantification of action, however, remember ancient Greek warnings to the effect that feeding one’s desires merely creates a desire for more and this hardly seems a mathematical relation.

Indeed the psychological sensible aspect of consciousness becomes even more manifest when Kant takes up the way in which consciousness practically reasons about the ethical decisions that are taken in life. For it is here that the self as noumenon, as a metaphysical thing in itself  is revealed as bearer of the form of consciousness most defining of our human nature, namely the ethical form of consciousness which he then contrasts with what he regards as the empirical theories of Psychology that  one could as well retrieve from the pages of novelists such as Fielding. This historically served as a challenge to future psychologists who were preparing the ground for a science of behavior which would become a source of knowledge about man. It was clear to Kant that moral action was sustained by a particular kind of reason for acting that should be characterized in terms of the universality and necessity of the maxims or principles one had for one’s action. These cannot be of the kind: “Whenever lightning strikes trees I am frightened ” because according to Kant that would fall under the heading of something that happens to man rather than the heading of what man intentionally and self consciously does. Intermediate between emotional responses and moral action fall instrumental actions in accordance with principles of happiness and practical reasoning, e.g. “Accumulating money makes me happy therefore I will take every opportunity to accumulate as much money as possible by any means possible”. This according to Kant is the principle of self-love in disguise and if it involves using people as a means to an end without according them the dignity one owes to them, then it is clearly  neither universal nor necessary but a product of the sensible region of the mind responding in accordance with the category of causation to cause events which result in the accumulation of money. That is, this behaviour quite rightly falls into the domain of the scientific, in virtue of the means-ends relation being cause-effect relations, and may as a consequence be quantifiable. One should in this context of the quantification of action, however, remember ancient Greek warnings to the effect that feeding one’s desires merely creates a desire for more and this hardly seems a mathematical relation.

Moral action reveals the self as a thing itself with causa sui properties, i.e. the self-causes itself to think and act morally and this occurs in the realm of the noumenal and in the realm of what some analytic philosophers would call the ought-system of concepts. What one does is what one ought to do and what one actively does not do one does because that is what one ought to do. It is in this context that one demonstrates ones freedom from being externally caused to do what one does in contrast to internally and freely choosing to do what one ought to do or ought not to do. The good will is the free will. The good is what one ought to do. I ought not to accumulate money using people in an undignified manner to achieve the end of accumulating capital. This is the maxim of my not doing what my desire tempts me or causes me to consider doing. According to Brett this falls in the realm of the prescriptive in contrast to the realm of descriptive whose task is to describe what I, in fact, do, perhaps in accordance with the principle of causation. In this latter case, the reality of what it is possible to do falls on a continuum of possible action and encourages talk of efficiency and the causal framework which accompanies it. Here it might be possible to measure degrees of efficiency in a similar way to hitting the outer ring of a target with one’s bow and arrow  Thie rings of a target seems to measure the efficiency of an attempt to hit the bullseye. Emotional responses can also be measured scientifically when the issue is a standard which the body is measured by, e.g. one’s pulse rate: the lightning hits the tree and my pulse rate goes up to 150. The object of the emotion can also be related to this, lightning sends my pulse up to 150 whereas watching an exciting rugby match only increases my pulse to 120. We need both a constant variable and a comparison object if knowledge is to be generated in such a context. But there is no continuum of experience from the first person perspective in deciding whether or not to steal someone’s money ergo there can be nothing mathematical ergo, according to Kant, this realm of the mental cannot be the object of science. Now the normal scientific response to this is to claim that only the descriptive third-person perspective is objective and everything from the first person perspective–the perspective of the “I” is subjective. In a sense this is true but in a sense this response ignores the logic of the condition and unconditioned. The self is both the condition and in itself unconditioned(being causa sui, cause of itself) of self-consciousness. This logical requirement is the metaphysical basis of freedom. This is reflected in the Kantian rejection of the appeal to descriptive concepts in the relativisation of morality in which for example it is claimed that because Jack broke his promise to Jill to pay the money he owed her, this is sufficient grounds to question the universality and necessity of the moral duty that we ought to keep our promises. This type of reasoning confuses the realm of descriptive discourse with the realm of prescriptive discourse. “Promises ought to be kept” is the norm or prescription by which to measure how to judge what happens when Jack fails to keep his promise just as when someone murders someone at a bus stop we do not claim that this jeopardizes the universality and necessity of the law “We ought not to murder”. Of course as Kant maintained we can characterise one and the same action from both the point of view of practical reasoning and the principle of freedom(the first person perspective) and the view of theoretical reasoning : the principle of causality or determinism, the descriptive (the third person perspective) but it is important to realize that   this is merely the expression of  the old Delphic prophecy that it is difficult if not impossible to know oneself.

Religion, Psychoanalysis and Philosophical Psychology

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The Philosophy of Religion in the 20th century managed two major offensives against what many have regarded as the global force of secularism and one or both of these offensives may turn out to be the decisive territorial gain for religion ensuring its position in the globalizing processes leading to Cosmopolitanism. The Philosophers behind these offensives were Wittgenstein and Ricoeur. They both represent the challenges of Hermeneutics and Philosophical Psychology to the secularization process. They also, I would argue, represent the presence of philosophical cosmopolitan imperatives in the multi-dimensional globalization process.

Popular commentators on the subject of the decline of the authority of Religion have claimed, perhaps prematurely, that God is dead (although no one has actually seen his body). The postulated first cause of all things, it is argued, is no longer efficacious in the world of mobile phones, television sets, computers, driverless cars, robots cutting the lawn, robots hoovering the house, internet diagnoses of physical and mental diseases etc. The major causes involved in what is hopefully an accidental death are 1. The claim of Kant that God was just an idea in the mind. 2 The claim of Darwin that man who was supposed to be made in the image of God in fact evolved from the animal kingdom in accordance with the mechanisms of random variation, natural and sexual selection. 3. The claim of Freud that religious belief may have neurotic and psychotic characteristics, i.e. that the idea of God in man’s mind is not an idea one finds in a healthy mind.  4 Economical systems that seemed to have done more for the poverty of billions of people than divine assistance could ever manage(God died from an extended period of inactivity).

It might also be of interest to point out that in the secular process, the human being seems to have disappeared or receded into the background in relation to the jungle of equipment functioning in accordance with the law of economic/technological efficiency. If a robot/computer can replace a doctor and a psychiatrist and win chess games against chess masters then what hope is there for priests, teachers, philosophers and the rest of us ordinary mortals? Well, as was suggested above there is hope and it comes from Philosophy in general and Philosophical Psychology in particular.

Let us, however, examine more closely the so-called causes of God´s accidental death. Firstly let us remember that Kant was a religious man(as is the case with both Wittgenstein and Ricoeur) who he did not attend Church regularly. Indeed, although his ethical system was logically autonomous in relation to religious authority, this system still needed God, (the idea in man’s minds) to produce the good consequences of a good or flourishing life which otherwise might not follow from pure and good intentions. The philosophical conclusion of Kant’s  argument is that both God and “the good” might be logically related ideas in man’s mind, indeed, they may even be identical. This idea of the good being necessary for man to lead a meaningful flourishing life goes, of course, all the way back to Plato and Aristotle.

Darwin’s ideas initially threw the religious world into a state of ferment for a time but theologians soon realized that all that was needed to survive the Darwinian storm was to claim that Evolution is a process proceeding in accordance with divine laws of creation. God’s invisible hand was steering the process and the mechanism of random variation was not a real mechanism but an illusion of mans fragile and ethically flawed mind. The embarrassing facts of the creation scene in the Bible needed re-interpretation and some scholars began to argue that one should not interpret everything in the Bible literally. Reading the creation scene metaphorically and symbolically could allow space for the existence of mechanisms of natural and sexual selection functioning in accordance with the expression of God´s will.

Freud’s ideas, similarly, when one reads his texts closely may lead one to the conviction that when Freud claimed that a belief in God had the hallucinatory qualities of a schizophrenic delusion, he may have been talking about the way in which some people or even most people relate to God. Blindly rattling off one’s prayers or performing religious rites do remind one of the obsessive compulsive’s repetitious attacks on the world but these repetitions also remind one of the healthy actings out of children who are trying to control the environment that is causing them so much anxiety. Worshipping an invisible figure in public can seem strange, and Freud explains it partly in terms of the defense mechanism of displacement caused by excessive anxiety: a mechanism which substitutes a real ambiguous punishing/forgiving father figure with an equally ambiguous invisible father who promises relief from one´s suffering if one plays the game of religion.  The second part of his explanation involves returning to the origin of the religious belief system as communicated to believers in civilization. Primitive wishes in response to a primitive feeling of helplessness provide the temporary relief we need from the burden of existence in fragile civilizations. Freud may well himself have been ambivalent toward even mature attitudes involving religious conviction as some commentators have claimed but I am sceptical of this description for a number of reasons, amongst which are the following: he claimed to be writing the Psychology Kant would have written if he had interested himself sufficiently in psychological or anthropological matters. Freud did not definitely say that man would never be guided by his reason and place his hope and faith  in some reasonable future probably because he was reluctant to present himself as a prophet for fear that mans destructive instincts may, as a matter of fact, overshadow his constructive instincts(Freud, died in 1939 at a time when the existence of civilization was threatened ideologically. He may have suspected that the time might come when civilization would be threatened by the power of weapons of mass destruction)

Perhaps if Freud had lived in another time and another place, England or France, for example, we may have seen him launching the offensive against a wave of economic/technological  or secular globalization(his comments in his work “The Future of an Illusion” and his remarks on  the USA certainly suggest he would have been one of the ideologues at the forefront of demonstrations against the way in which market economics has dominated all other globalization processes). He certainly attempted to transform psychoanalysis into a global movement in the name of science(sic).

Paul Ricoeur, after Freud’s death, wrote both about the confession of evil in the religious context and the confessions one could witness in the psychoanalyst’s clinic. There appears to be a “symbolic function” of language which takes us far beyond the purview of the scientist in his pursuit of a certain kind of explanation. He like Wittgenstein believed that the route to the understanding of what Aristotle called being qua being needed to proceed more circuitously to its destination via language. Many commentators have commented upon the “confessional” nature of Wittgenstein’s posthumous work, the “Philosophical Investigations”.

In Ricoeur’s work “the Symbolism of Evil” it is claimed that the confession of evil is of interest for the philosopher because it is an utterance man makes about himself. A confession is an act of religious consciousness but as yet is not Philosophy until it becomes an object of reflection. Myth, for Ricoeur, is not,as is the case with Freud, an expression of a primitive helpless mind filled with fantasy-laden wishes. It too has a symbolic function which is expressive of the power of discovery and revelation in the realm of Being. It reveals the bond between man and what he considers sacred and important. “Evil is the crisis of this bond”.  The experience of sin, according to Ricoeur is the ground upon which the feeling of guilt occurs but:

“The experience of which the penitent makes a confession is a blind experience, still embedded in the matrix of emotion, fear, anguish. It is this emotional note that gives rise to objectification in discourse: the confession expresses, pushes to the outside, the emotion which without it would be shut up within itself, as an impression in the soul. Language is the light of the emotions.”

A myth is obviously partly a traditional response to suffering and contains elements of a lamentation about that suffering but it is also a language with a complex relation to being, the self, time, and imagery. That is why it has a non-confessional narrative structure. A confession of ones suffering occurring in the realm of the symbolic does not necessarily have to be embedded in a narrative structure. It has a cosmic and ethical/psychological significance. Both myths and confessions require philosophical interpretation and hermeneutics, according to Ricoeur, is the reflective instrument required for this work. In a paper given at a conference on “Hermeneutics and Tradition” Ricoeur points out that time is lived and used in two different ways. Tradition transmits symbols and myths and hermeneutics interprets myth and symbols. Interpretation, he argues keeps a tradition alive. “Every tradition lives by the grace of interpretation”. Ricoeur then points out that these two temporalities intersect in a third profound temporality which constitutes the elusive field of “Meaning”. Symbols live in this sphere of the relation of a physical literal meaning to a figurative, spiritual ontological existential meaning. A symbol always says more than it says and therefore is in constant need of interpretation. According to Ricoeur the study of the time of symbols would be a much more important philosophical pursuit than, for example, the interpretation of myths. He points out in support of his thesis that a myth can never exhaust the semantic constitution of the symbol. Insofar as the symbolism of evil is concerned Ricoeur has the following to say:

“The symbols embraced by the avowal of evil appeared to me to fall into three signifying levels: the primary symbolic level of stain, sin, and guilt, the mythical level of the great narratives of the fall or the exile, and the level of mythical dogmatisms of Gnosticism and original sin…….It appeared to me…that the store of the meaning of primary symbols was richer than that of mythical symbols and even more so than that of rationalizing mythologies.”

Much more can be said about the relation of the confession of the patient seeking a cure in relation to the confession of the religious man seeking salvation but let me now turn to Wittgenstein’s arguments and their claim to restore the lost object of religious discourse to the house of Deus absconditus in our robotic secularized cities. Firstly, the language of religion is not a factual language, nor a language of observation, cause, and effect. It is a language game and as such, according to Wittgenstein, it is embedded in a form of life in which the participants operate with tacit presuppositions: Not the tacit presuppositions of a science in which for example it is assumed that the heavenly bodies which are only subject to infrequent observation nevertheless enjoy a continuous real existence, but rather the tacit presuppositions relating to the activities of a soul, for example:

“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 thought played a role in mental illness. Freud was one of the few psychologists Wittgenstein studied: perhaps both thinkers believed that surrounding the heart of our understanding was a kind of madness or soul blindness, the cure for which was therapy.  But Wittgenstein probably did not subscribe to psychoanalysis as the sole route to understanding the human condition for he turned to a higher power for his succor, namely Christianity. One year before his death we find Wittgenstein reflecting upon God and suffering and suggesting that if Christianity is the truth about the human condition, then all the philosophy about it is false. He rejects the concentration on the argument that  Gods essence guarantees his existence and claims that if one leads one’s life in the right way a belief in God will naturally condense from the cloud of suffering that surrounds man. Donald Hudson, a religious philosopher, and commentator on Wittgenstein’s work, points out that we should not expect the religious man to reason about his beliefs in the religious language-game in the same way in which the scientist reasons 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 reasonable asks Hudson? Does not this practical belief system seem to be stronger than any hypothetical belief system any scientist can produce? The scientist has his set of commitments and expects that every event which occurs has an explanatory cause in a systematically uniform world-view in which moons continuously exist. The scientist is building a system of knowledge which does not know what to do with transcendental truths.  Wittgenstein  realized this from his earlier work but let us conclude with a quote from Kant’s “Religion within the bounds of mere Reason.”:

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

And further on:

“non-existence cannot be demonstrated either”

How then are we to interpret the avowals of the suffering souls of the Psalms or the suffering patients in secularized psychiatric waiting rooms? Surely their cries are not just facts being stated, the effects of causes or the consequences of observations? surely the realm of Hope and Faith that Kant referred to is the home of their language games? Surely their cries are symbolic?  Surely these cries are relating to how the soul believes the world ought to be.

 

Aristotle and the History of Psychology(Brett)(Philosophical Psychology)

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The History of Psychology, according to Professor Brett,  is the history of  a number of traditional inquiries amongst which are included The Rationalist tradition which includes both Plato and Aristotle, The Religious and ethical tradition, The Observationalist tradition, and the Medical Tradition. Brett also discusses the emergence of the theme of self-consciousness(Kant and Neo Kantians), what he calls the theme of the gateway of method, and theme of the  reinterpretation of authority  followed by the theme of the challenge to authority. This is a broad spectrum of concerns and can explain the controversies that arise whenever someone suggests a “reduction” of Psychology to one or two of these traditions/themes.

Aristotle is regarded as a Rationalist but  Brett does not observe what has subsequently been noted by Aristotelian scholars, namely,  that his thought would have something to contribute to each of the traditions, and the themes mentioned above. This essay attempts to show the breadth of  Aristotle’s interests and indicate how these interests correlate with the  breadth of concerns of the above traditions/themes. The theme concerning authority is particularly significant given the fact that Aristotle was regarded as “The Philosopher” for centuries and a “reinterpretation” of his work was needed by the religious authorities before a challenge to his authority could be mounted.

Brett is also eager to point out Aristotle’s deficiencies as a scientist even after pointing out that he differed markedly with Plato in his approach to reality by extolling the virtues of observation, methodological classification, and experimentation. Apparently, Aristotle’s fondness for definition was supposed to be a residue from the Platonic theory of forms according to Brett but what he then continues to say about Aristotle’s  hylomorphism does not quite amount to devaluing a commitment to definition.

Since matter, space and time must be infinite for Aristotle and the infinite can neither have a beginning nor an end, any chunk of finite matter must have a principle of organization which forms it into the kind of thing it is. Now there has been a great deal of philosophical discussion relating to whether there are natural kinds or not and Aristotle has been accused of adhering to the position that these natural kinds just occur in nature without any further explanation. This is not the case because we know he  believes that the infinite is formed into these natural kinds by a principle which is constitutive of the essence of that thing. The essences of things Aristotle believed shall be given in a thing’s essence -specifying definition.

The   theoretical framework  of Aristotle  also includes:

a)4 kinds of change that occur in the world,

b)three principles of change which ensure that we can make sense of the fact that something retains its identity throughout a process of change as long as that change does not destroy the identity of the thing in question, and

c) four different kinds of explanations of the change that occurs to the environment whether it be global change or the local change of the behaviour of a thing in the environment.

Amongst the 4 kinds of changes that were referred to, Substantial and Qualitative change were obviously more philosophically significant than Quantitative or Relational change.  This was Aristotle’s objection to the Pythagorean claim that the real qualities of things such as the sound of harp strings were to be related to the underlying mathematical lengths of the strings.  The latter mathematical relations, i.e. according to Pythagoras, explained the former qualities of the sounds that we qualitatively identify and appreciate.

This claim was certainly true of the harp strings but according to Aristotle, this state of affairs could not necessarily be generalized to all substances and qualities. The harp’s creation brought a substance into being in accordance with all the teleological qualities that a Harp requires. The quantitative knowledge relating to the length of the strings is, of course, part of the process of making the harp and in Aristotle’s terms part of the efficient and material causes of the harp.  The separation of quantitative changes from qualitative and substantial changes was a revolution in thinking which began with Plato and actually upset the Pythagorean attempt to universalize the ideal of mathematical thinking in nature. Modern quantum theory disregards the Aristotelian revolution when it insists that events in the sub atomic universe are to be explained by a mathematical formula which works but no one knows why it works.

The idea in the mind of the maker of the harp is , for Aristotle, not a quantity but  a form, one of the three forms which are communicated in his composite world of matter and form, the other two forms being 1. the biological form of reproducing  the species  to create another individual related to me and 2. the forms of knowledge that are communicated from teacher to learner: these last forms will probably include the form of the good, the form of justice and the form of beauty.

Finally, Aristotle’s definition of human nature as a rational animal was revised in a later work to “man is a rational animal capable of discourse” and part of what Aristotle means here by “rational”  are: 1. the theoretical knowledge of the world. and 2. the ability to plan one’s life by imposing some kind of life-formula upon my desires and wishes as well as 3. the ability to regulate communal desires and wishes via one’s understanding of the role of laws in the construction of the communal flourishing life. These plans and formulae are continually subjected to a critical reflection process which will determine whether they are right and wrong, whether they have achieved their purposes.   The composite of a man includes his animal nature and the relation of this aspect to man’s rational nature requires understanding Aristotle’s view of the soul.

This is the complex theoretical framework which he used for both biological and political science research in his Lyceum. There was no discipline of psychology at that time but there was much talk about the concept of the soul or psuche.(as distinguished from the physical animal-like body). Brett refers to Aristotle’s definition of human nature(rational animal capable of discourse) as not being “scientific” because it embodies no causal reference. Brett is using “causal” in some narrow linear scientific sense which works best when applied to the physical world of a billiard ball reacting with another billiard ball. For Aristotle “cause” means “explanation”(“aitia”) and both rational and animal have a complex conceptual relation with each other which is reminiscent of the relation of the soul(psuche) to the body. But there are largely 4 assumptions about the soul which are being used in Aristotle’s reference to the 4 kinds of change, three principles and 4 causes and these are:

  1. “Soul” is co-extensive with “life”. This is what the term “soul” means
  2. The soul is the actualization of a body furnished with organs.
  3. The movements of such a physical body are to be explained in terms of its soul. The soul is a form or a principle and is not the sort of thing therefore that can be moved
  4. There are levels of soul which form a hierarchy where the lower form is a necessary condition of the higher and the higher transforms the lower. The levels are the vegetative, which correspond to plant life, the animal level corresponding to animal life and the human corresponding to human life which incorporates and transforms both these lower “levels” of soul.

So life is the first power or capacity of the physical body and power builds upon power: language, for example,  builds upon the powers of memory and experience(in which we come to know or to see man as a man) and is in turn built upon by the power of rationality which eventually learns to think theoretically and systematically about the world(if all the conditions of this actuality are met along the way). Reason has also a practical dimension referred to above when  we impose plans or formulae upon our individual desires  and wishes(efficient causes of action) and we understand and pass laws which regulate our societies. These latter two capacities are intimately linked to the ethical concepts of right and wrong, standards of correctness  which add an achievement or areté -aspect to action

The soul moves the body but cannot itself be moved therefore it  is nothing physical but rather it  is able to move the body because thought in the form of intention or reason can move the body. But thought has an end built into itself and is experienced as a coming to rest rather than a movement. We come to rest in the very performance of the activity. So the form of transmitting thoughts from learner to teacher is not like that the relation between the builder building a house and the house that is built. In this example the house is an external end to the activity. In thought, on the contrary, the end is logically internal to the activity. The “telos” of the learner learning is logically tied to the activity of the teacher. teaching.

“”Seeing” and “remembering” are also so called achievement “verbs”. When we speak of them we speak of a standard that has been attained and are not making reports about movements in our soul(mind) or body. Similarly with action: action is not a movement because movements just happen without being right or wrong:  that is action is not a term of the same logical type as movement. Action also internally and logically contains its end. It has been planned and thought about. This is why the end of an action is necessary to explain the movement one makes in trying to achieve that end. These ends are also further evaluated in terms of whether they are right or not. The plans, formulas or  maxims are regarded as intelligent or not  either in relation to the circumstances or to other higher purposes such as the meaning of ones life.

Seeing and remembering can also be components of knowledge and both Plato and Aristotle are in agreement that our desire to understand the world is best manifested in the knowledge we have of the world. The process of acquiring knowledge, however, is multilayered and multi-faceted. The best account of this process can be found in Jonathan Lear’s work on Aristotle entitled “Aristotle: the desire to understand”:

“Man is not born with knowledge but he is born with the capacity to acquire it. But the world must cooperate with him if he is to exercise that capacity. Man starts life with the ability to discriminate among sensory phenomena, an ability he shares with other animals. His soul retains a record of its sensory encounters. Through repeated encounters with items in the world, our sensory discriminations develop into memory and then into what Aristotle calls “experience”. Experience Aristotle characterizes as “the whole universal that has come to rest in the soul.” From repeated perception of particular men, we form the concept of a man, and the knowledge that this thing which we see is a man is experience. If the universal, or concept, were not somehow already embedded in the particular, we could not make the transition from bare sensory discrimination to knowledge of the individual… Because the universal is embedded in particulars, a persons first explorations among particulars will lead him toward a grasp of the embodied universal. Having acquired experience, or knowledge of individuals, we are able to formulate more abstract forms of knowledge, the arts and sciences(technai and epistemai). Each stage of cognitive development is grounded in the previous stage…..”

Kissinger, the New World Order and Isolationism: Kant, the Old World Order and Globalization.

Views: 171

“By the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century. Wilsonianism seemed triumphant . The communist ideological and Soviet geopolitical challenges had been overcome simultaneously. The objective of moral opposition to communism had merged with the geopolitical task of resisting Soviet expansionism.”(Kissinger 1994)

“”The absence of both an overriding ideological or strategic threat frees nations to pursue policies based increasingly on their  national interest. In an international system characterized by perhaps 5 or 6 major powers and a multiplicity of smaller states order will have to emerge much as it did in past centuries from a reconciliation and balancing of competing national interests.” (Kissinger 1994)

“Both Bush and Clinton spoke of the new world order as if it were just around the corner. In fact it is still in a period of gestation and  its final form will not be visible until well into the next century- Part extension of the past, part unprecedented, the new world order like  those which it succeeds will emerge as an answer to three questions: “What are the basic units of the international order. What are their means of interacting? What are the goals on behalf of which they interact?”(Kissinger 1994)

I believe Kissinger’s book on Diplomacy to be one of the best works written on the subject because it implicitly acknowledges a political and ethical philosophy which is conspicuous by its absence in many other similar works. Kissinger is correct in his formulation of his three questions  but he pays scant attention to perhaps “the two political events of the twentieth century” which may answer his question concerning the basic unit of international order, namely the formation of the United Nations and the European Peace Project. He points out how the US  was a polyglot formation of many different European nationalities and that the Soviet Union was an empire containing many Eastern nationalities. He does not emphasize this point but these seem to the Kantian political philosopher to be precursors to both the United Nations and the European project in the sense of their  manifesting a disbelief in the unit of the nation state(See my earlier post on the Pathological nation state)

Kissinger goes on to point out that:

” No previous international order has contained major centres of power distributed around the entire globe. Nor had statesmen ever been obliged to conduct diplomacy  in an environment where events  can  be experienced instantaneously and simultaneously by leaders and their publics-“(Kissinger 1994)

Kissinger then asks the Aristotelian and Kantian question: “on what principle shall  the new world order be organised. His answer is unfortunately narrow and suburban::

“..can Wilsonian concepts like “enlarging democracy” serve as the principle guides to American foreign policy and as replacement for the cold war strategy of containment? Clearly these concepts have been neither an unqualified success nor an unqualified failure. Some of the finest acts of  20th century diplomacy had their roots in the idealism of Woodrow Wilson: the Marshall plan, the brave commitment to containing communism,   defense of the freedom of Western Europe and even  the ill fated League of Nations and its latest incarnation, the United Nations”(Kissinger 1994)

It is clear from these quotes that Kissinger does not place any faith in any unit of international order which does not naturally grow out of the historical units of the nation state. He points to Americas victory in the cold war but simultaneously reflects on the fact that their power to influence has decreased and regretfully and nostalgically  reminisces on Wilson’s desire for universal collective security. Kant had pointed out at the end of the 18th century that this would not be possible without an organisation like the UN.

“In the absence of a potentially dominating power, the principal  nations  do not view threats to the peace in the same way: nor are they willing to run the same risks in overcoming those threats they do not recognize”(Kissinger 1994)

Clearly Kissinger sees the UN project to be flawed, partly perhaps because of its reluctance to fight globally for its values in the way in which the US has. America will, Kissinger predicts be the  greatest and most powerful nation well into the 21st century but it will be a nation with peers and become a nation like others but it is moving into uncharted waters and History cannot be its guidebook. Wilsonianism he is convinced  is no longer relevant.

“Curbing the power of the central government has been the central concern of Western political theorists, whereas in most other societies, political theory has sought to buttress the authority of the state. Nowhere else has there been an insistence  on expanding personal freedom…The society, and in a sense, the nation, preceded the state without having to be created by it. In such a setting political parties represents variants of an underlying consensus, today’-s minority is potentially tomorrows majority. In most other parts of the world the state has preceded the nation. It was and often remains the principal element in forming it. Political parties, where they exist, reflect fixed, usually communal identities: minorities and majorities tend to be permanent. In such societies the political process is about domination, not alternation in office, which takes place, if at all by coups rather than constitutional procedures.”(Kissinger 1994)

Kissinger goes on to say that our Western democracies presuppose a consensus on values. In America the single most important value is freedom to live as one wishes. This is not the European Kantian idea of freedom which recognizes necessary limitations imposed by  the pluralistic life styles of modern communities and pursuing happiness collectively and ethically  rather than as a collection of psychologically motivated individuals. Kantian reflection on the universal values required for our collective projects arrived at a universal ethical theory which then gave rise to the conviction that human rights were universal. This way of thinking has always been ambiguously regarded in the US  especially in those historical instances where it is clear that  leaders have  very often  put American interests first and human rights second. It remains to be seen what will happen if Kissinger’s prediction  actualizes itself : if, that is America finds itself in a world of equally powerful peers.

Russia’s domination has been limited by two factors: the anticommunism which is prevalent throughout Russia but also anti-imperialism which is present especially in  the new non Soviet republics. What is going on in this region of this world is very different to what is going on in the West. Russia never had an autonomous church, it missed the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Age of Discovery, and modern market economics. Experiments in the introduction of market economics has usually resulted in failure and a wish for the good old days of communism, allowing  the communist party on occasion to achieve 90 % of the vote(1995). The major problem for the new world post Wilsonian order, according to Kissinger, is the integration of Russia into the international community.. But he does not mention the difficulties that putting America first has caused in the world. He does not mention how this is related to the individual putting themselves  first. Or how this  compromises  the universal and collective project of  ethical values  which involves  so much more than the often materialistic concerns of the individual. Previously Wilsonianism, the bearer of  the Kantian humanistic world view that the ethics of the individual and the politics of the state were isomorphic, had sustained the hope of cosmopolitanism but subsequent isolationism brought with it a disbelief in universal ethical  aims

Kissinger notes the tendency for leaders of the US  to come from the South and the West,regions of America with the least emotional and personal  contact with Europe. President Trump is of course from New York  but he carries on the post modern attitude of political detachment from the concern of Europe for its security and development.  He carries on along the path of individualism and the individuals uncertain psychological relation to his community.

Peruse these words written in 1994:

“In the years ahead all the traditional Atlantic relationships will change. Europe will not feel the previous need for American protection  and will pursue its economic self interest much more aggressively: America will not be willing to sacrifice as much for European security and will be tempted by isolationism in various guises. In due course Germany will insist on the political influence to which its military and economic power entitle it and will not be so emotionally  dependent on American military and French political support.”(Kissinger 1994)

The future of the European Project, which incidentally Kissinger does not believe in, the United Nations, which he also believes to be flawed, and the deeper processes of Globalization in accordance with Ethical universal values which lay masked behind Woodrow Wilson’s largely academic view of politics, is uncertain in the wake of the rising tide of isolationism and populism which appears to have the power once again to  submerge the accomplishments of the Enlightenment and Greek Political Philosophers.

But Kissinger believes that the 21st century will be marked by a seeming contradiction between fragmentation and Globalization:

“On the level of the relations among states the new order will be more like the European system of the 18th and 19th centuries than the rigid patterns of the cold war. It will contain at least 6 major powers–the US, Europe, China, Japan, Russia and possibly India–as well as a multiplicity of medium sized and smaller countries. At the same time international relations have become truly global for the first time. Communications are instantaneous, the world economy operates on all  continents simultaneously. A whole set of issues has surfaced that can only be dealt with on a worldwide basis…”(Kissinger 1994)

Yet  nowhere can we read in his work about the possibility that the academic political vision of Wilson, imitating poorly the Enlightenment ethical and political messages of Kant, might contain the recipe for the success of either the UN or European peace            projects.

Shakespeare and Globalization: the fragile unity of history, poetry, and politics

Views: 117

Alan Bloom in his excellent work “Shakespeare’s Politics” regrets the passing of the time when university lecturers could count on students who were familiar with a canon of great works that  they held up as a standard by which to  shape their lives:

“The role once played by the Bible and Shakespeare in the education of the English speaking peoples is now largely played by popular journalism or the works of ephemeral authors. This does not mean that the classic authors are no longer read: they are perhaps read more..than ever before. But they do not move: they do not seem to speak to the situation of the modern young.”

Bloom puts this fact down to the lack of a common understanding of principles. By way of emphasizing the modern lack of understanding of principles, he points also to how figures like Marlborough claimed to have formed their understanding of English history from Shakespeare as a counterpoint to the modern confusion expressed by the quote below:

“the result is not only a vulgarization  of the role of life but an atomization  of society, for a civilized people are held together by its common understanding  of what is virtuous and vicious, noble and base.”

Bloom wishes to make Shakespeare the theme of philosophical reflection and the source of inspiration for the search for the solution to moral and political problems. Shakespeare could write in the way in which he did because, Bloom argues, he wrote before the University was atomized:  before Poetry was separated from Philosophy, Psychology from Philosophy, Politics from Philosophy, Philosophy from History etc Philosophy once moved city states but no longer does so whilst poetry and popular songs can move nations. The imitators seem to have supplanted the originals.

Shakespeare, Bloom claims,  moved the English into an understanding of the political framework of their lives which affected everything then as it does now. Moreover, Shakespeare’s cosmopolitanism anticipates Kant’s Political Philosophy which is very aware of the history of politics .

Shakespeare was dismissed as a Philosophical poet by T S Eliot because he failed to fit the mold of Dante or Lucretius and neither of these latter writers could be regarded as Philosophers. But Eliot’s poetry as brilliant and unique as it was requires a dogmatic Catholic Philosophy for its structure so perhaps this is not the best standard by which to measure the greatness of Shakespeare’s poetry. For this is the nub of the problem: to evaluate the quality of Shakespeare’s work.

Wittgenstein is puzzled by Shakespeare and asks himself in his work on “Culture and Value” whether Shakespeare is more a creator of language than a poet. He suggests that because of this uniqueness Shakespeare should be regarded more as a natural phenomenon than a literary phenomenon (as Eliot was). He also says that Shakespeare is like a dream where both language and world are created. This impression is I suppose a result of the fact that Shakespeare’s plays are intended to be re-created in the dream space of the theatre. We sit in the dark, awake and hear Richard the seconds monologue after the losing of his kingdom:

“Of comfort let no man speak. let us talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs. Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. Let us choose executors and talk of wills. And yet not so–for what can we bequeath. Save our deposed bodies to the ground. Our lands, our lives, and all, are Bolingbroke’s. And nothing can we call our own but death….. For Gods sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories about the death of kings. How some have been deposed, some slain in war. Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed. Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed: All murdered–For within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of a  king keeps Death his court…. How can you say to me– I am a king?”

The language and the world fit seamlessly together, like a panoramic landscape. Here Shakespeare is like the linguistic alchemist conjuring up images of loss and discontinuity which fit together into a picture of a universe of sadness.Shakespeare is also the monarchist whose views of kings and government may still reside in the minds of Englishman today reverberating in their bones whenever there is news of the Royal Family. He was not a supporter of Republics as his plays on The Merchant of Venice and Othello testify. Both are situated in the prosperous Republican city-state of Venice. Things did not go well for the Jew and the Moor living as they did in a universe of sadness created by a political misunderstanding of the social forces that operate beneath the surfaces of important events. And yet in the middle of this universe of sadness, out of the tearful mist, Venice appears in all its grandeur and we dream that we are there. We follow the Jew and the Moor to their fates. And in Venice, there appear the bearers of strange customs and traditions from other lands. Images within images These strangers were real men with real characters and real burdens to bear and demanded, therefore, the cosmopolitan sympathy we feel for all men. Was it living in a Republic which was responsible for their fates? We know Venice went the way of Athens and the city states of Greece. The Renaissance witnessed a resurgence of Republicanism once the memory of the fate of the Roman Republic faded sufficiently to seem sufficiently unreal. Venice was striving to be a modern Republic. Yet, Aristotle had claimed in his “Politics” that as long as a Community was constitutionally sound and virtuously run in accordance with a principle of justice which ensured the common good, it did not matter whether the ruler was a monarch or a group of citizens. There was a proviso however which might be problematic. The monarch would have to be as wise as the wisest philosopher because of the complexity of the task of ruling men.Aristotle was a believer in pluralism and manifold forms of life thriving in the state. This in itself would seem to require some system where representatives for these forms of life could bring their knowledge to bear on the task of government. Political reality for Aristotle appeared to be multi-perspectival and require an understanding of a number of perspectives if lawmaking was not to disadvantage one group at the expense of another. So although there is a remote possibility that one man could have the wisdom to rule in such circumstances it was highly unlikely. Richard the second’s fate may be a testament to this fact. The problem with Republics is that they seem to be founded on an act of violence which is often not only murderous but breaks up the continuity of life. Some lawmakers believe continuity to be the very condition of life, hence the great respect for common law in England. Shakespeare appears to side with this belief in the common law of  England. Now, Kant became very excited when he heard of the French Revolution and Kant was influenced by Aristotle and the Stoics which must be one of the ethical positions most loved by the Englishman who sees in the monarchy the continuity of all political life, remaining the same as governments come and go. But the French revolution did not start or end well and Napoleonic troops were in Königsberg very soon after the demise of Kant. I am not at all sure though,  that Kant would have been against a symbolic presence of a monarchy without any lawmaking responsibility. The Merchant of  Venice brings in another dimension of religion, of , as Bloom put it “other-worldliness”  into the Shakespearean wheel of fire. The Judaic God appears to be an extreme God to the Christian, vengeful, judgmental and not appearing to understand the creatures he created very well at all. So the presence of a Jew in the Republic is just as much of a test of the breadth of the pluralistic spirit of Venice as was the presence of a Moor. Neither are parasites on the society and both appear to be performing functions necessary for the prosperity and security of Venice. Bloom believes this test of tolerance was not directly addressed by ancient political thought but I think he must be forgetting Aristotle’s arguments for respecting pluralism. Shylock, of course, represents one of the most puzzling aspects of Globalisation, namely the commercial trading spirit which in a sense appears to frown upon veering from the middle path into extreme forms of life.Venices prosperity was due to this commercial spirit. It is also fascinating, and a testament to Shakespeares almost infallible ability to pierce to the very heart of all mysteries that he should choose to make the law the centre of the dispute between Shylock and Antonia, his Christian adversary. The Old Testament talks about 10 commandments or laws and the new testament only two, which presumably will imply at least the ten found in the old testament and many more other laws. The old testament thunders its laws out from Mount Sinai that “Thou Shalt Not” and the new testament meekly suggests that love is enough: love God above all and love thy neighbour as yourself. Which of course Shylock does not obey in his dealings with Antonio who also is not entirely blameless in the affair. The New Testament claims to capture the spirit of the law and the moral of the tale seems to be that Christianity was not just new but better. Shylocks respect for the law is admirable but it turns out to be a dogmatic respect. What is fascinating with Shakespeare’s choice of these two themes of the Jew and the Moor is that if one looks some hundreds of years into the future to our recent “terrible century”(the 20th century) we will see that Antisemitism and Racism were elements of Hitlers totalitarianism, Hitlers attempt to found a thousand year Republic which thankfully only lasted 12 years. What message emerges from the fate of the Jew and the Moor apart from the fact that commercial Republics require more than an antipathy toward monarchy and a commercial spirit. The Merchant of Venice and Othello are both tragedies,  not mere historical accounts, which means that Shakespeare’s poetic intent must have been to attempt to cause an awareness of our common humanity which of course did not seem to be present in Venice. Such awareness has obviously to preceded institutions which will guarantee the equality of men. Indeed, I believe that not mere awareness but philosophical awareness is required before institution building can begin. This was provided, in my opinion, by Kant’s moral and political philosophy which provided a secure ethical foundation for equality and human rights. Kant’s vision even extended to a suggestion of a United Nations to ensure the implementation of human rights. In Othello, of course, the theme is love. Not Christian love but the love of a more secular and unstable kind. We should remember in connection with the theme of love that it is a Christian concept with global intent. Christianity has always maintained that love is all you need for globalization, all you need to turn all our relations to each other into a brotherhood of man. More is needed of course, but it is nevertheless a good beginning. Some say that the presence of Iago in Othello is the presence of the devil. He is a materialist, loves money and uses deception to achieve his aims. If all citizens were like him, a government would, of course, be impossible. Only more sophisticated deception can outperform deception. This brings us back full circle to the claim that all politicians must trust(love) their citizens, i.e. brings us back to the need for politicians to be humanistic liberals.

Our Philosophical knowledge of man and the History of Psychology(Brett and Peters)

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Professor R S Peters published an abridgment of the three volumes of Professor Brett’s “History of Psychology” in 1953(revised in 1961). The original volumes were published between 1912 and 1921.   The subject matter of Psychology has historically been very differentiated and that differentiation does not appear to be organized in any obvious way. This fact has led some commentators to question whether there is any specific subject matter which Psychology is about. Many 20th century  Philosophers have complained about the conceptual confusion inherent in the theories and claims of Psychology and pointed to specific regions of confusion. So when a History of Psychology is written by a philosopher and an abridgment attempted by another philosopher it certainly deserves attention. Peters tried to impose a philosophical framework on Brett’s work. Many myths are exposed on this journey of abridgment and some of these are the construction of scientific superstition. The myth of privileged “data” accumulating under different headings and science cautiously making generalizations about this “data” makes a very large assumption that one can approach nature with a mind like an empty wax tablet upon which nature can impress its form. Peters points out in his abridgment that no one individual can “begin” acquiring knowledge. We all are part of a long tradition:

“The very language we speak incorporates in a condensed form all kinds of assumptions about things, people, and situations. We take things for granted that our ancestors discovered by trial and error: we can neither avoid nor dispense with our social inheritance which is handed down in the form of countless traditional skills and assumptions.”(Peters, 1961)

The above quote quite categorically adopts the view that at some point we began our epistemological journey with assumptions that are very general, We do not “construct” them from particulars. We take our assumptions with us in our dealing with things, people and situations and learn to differentiate between them and to particularise them. Apart from this we also have interests in and attitudes towards our world and these assist in generating expectations and assumptions which in turn provoke the asking of questions when frustrated. There is no such thing Peters, argues as a  presupposition-less inquiry. With all this in mind, one can maintain that subject matter is not the key differentiator of Psychology from other areas of inquiry. What is more adequate to this task would be to differentiate one tradition from another by constructing their respectively different traditions of inquiry: that is from establishing their history. So Peters claims:

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

Three major traditions are of interest and probable sources of psychological inquiry: religious investigations, medical investigations and philosophical investigations into the nature of man. In all three types of inquiry, the investigations take into account what people say about their own actions and feelings. Peters introduces an interesting philosophical distinction between three types of questions: questions of theory, questions of policy and technological questions.

So generally, if we wish to talk in terms of disciplines these are characterized in terms of the way these disciplines go about answering questions. This way includes the integration of expectations, attitudes, and interests in relation to the aspects of reality these disciplines are concerned with. Peters  then draws an interesting distinction between two of these three elements  and claims there is a clear and logical distinction between two types of statements: statements which  involve expectations and statements which involve our interests and attitudes:

“If a person says that iron expands when it is heated he is describing what he expects to observe but if he says that swords ought to be beaten into pruning hooks he is expressing an attitude towards the use of iron, or prescribing a course of action. Descriptions are answers to questions of theory: prescriptions are answers to questions of policy.”

Prescriptions  are related to “interests, attitudes, and demands”:

“They cannot be confirmed or falsified simply by lookings at things or situations. The man who says that peace is better than war cannot be refuted by being made to look at swords as well as pruning hooks or by being taken from his husbandry to watch a battle. The wrongness of killing people is not revealed to us by simply watching a battle. People can agree on their expectations of and assumptions about things people and situations, yet they can at the same time differ radically in their attitudes to, interests in and demands of them. And if they disagree with such questions of policy there is no agreed procedure for settling the dispute.”

Technological questions are questions about the means one should employ to achieve a particular end. An engineer builds a bridge to meet certain specifications. He creates the required states of affairs in accordance with general assumptions about temperature, expansion and material stresses and a description of initial particular conditions. Questions related to health and happiness are technological questions, questions about the means to achieve a particular end.

These three types of questions succinctly demarcate Philosophically the arena of psychological questioning. Since 1870 and the secession of Psychology from Philosophy these three types of inquiry have been favoured: the scientific the technological and the prescriptive. The philosophical or self consciously reflective dimension of psychology diminished in importance. That dimension in which  so called “second order”  questioning occurs which wishes to examine our assumptions  and which require a reflective level of self-consciousness of one’s own activity and a reflective awareness of how we use  language in these areas of inquiry:

“If a moral philosopher attempts, like a moralist to recommend a way of life or a new conception of society, he does so in a second order manner by redefining words like”justice”, “good” and “natural” or by concentrating on certain procedures for deciding on “rightness” or “wrongness” like looking at the consequences of actions or paying attention only to peoples motives.”(Peters 1961)

Philosophical concerns were once vitally important to psychological investigation and the history of psychology. Many of the mental concepts philosophers have reflected upon such as “reason”, “will” “desire” “conscience” have subsequently been converted into first order concepts by the anxious desire of the scientist to convert the thinking about activity into the activity itself. As a consequence, many scientists dismiss these concepts because they seem to suggest a first order activity of introspection(internal as distinct from external observation) thus confounding the entire reflective process which was not observational but connected to establishing a logical justification for the assumptions involved in the activity. Sever this philosophical dimension from psychological questioning and we will very quickly produce the conceptual confusion Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty and many other analytical philosophers have pointed to.

But what would be an example of a psychological investigation which took into consideration a reflective philosophical approach? Toward the end of the 18th century, Kant actually produced a text book for a discipline which he termed “Anthropology”. This work was designed to facilitate the political task of preparing the citizen for a cosmopolitan existence. Philosophy,  for Kant, was a cosmopolitan affair which could be characterized by 4 fundamental questions: What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? and What is a human being? This last question is the concern of Anthropology specifically but there will be a relation to the first three questions too. The Anthropology claims that investigations into human nature can take two forms: either physiological(what nature makes of man) or pragmatic(what man as a free acting being makes of himself or can and should make of himself). Physical anthropology is scientific and based on observation or introspection. Kant is rightly suspicious of this latter line of investigation because of the difficulties of the fact that the very act of observing changes the behavior that is observed(presumably introspection also changes the activity it is relating to). If this is correct it is an amazing indictment of the experimental psychology project that was to be launched in the next century almost a hundred years later. The freedom of the will is not a variable that can be controlled or manipulated. It is incredibly difficult if not impossible to grasp the essence of human nature. But almost paradoxically Kant does think that we can profitably pursue the line of investigation suggested by pragmatic philosophy, namely,  the question of what man can or should make of himself.

The understanding of Globalisation and History: Aristotle, Kant and “Modern Times”.

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Globalization and History would seem to be necessarily intimate companions for Humanistic Liberalism. Yet this is only the case if one understands both of these terms philosophically. Globalization interpreted economically in terms of the management of a country’s resources in the spirit of the management of a household where benefits and burdens are distributed, will fail to provide any principle of significance explaining important changes in our macro-political environments. The reason for this state of affairs is not always obvious.  Some commentators claim, on the contrary,  that  economics is about the principles behind the distribution of money in a context of exchange, which has nothing to do with the household but rather with all types of interested parties transacting in an economic region defined as narrowly as a city-state or as broadly as an economic union of countries. These principles of exchange can either materialize the medium of money or scientize it. Both of these possibilities detach the exchange from its ultimate telos or end which according to Aristotle and Plato would be the thriving of a self-sufficient community. In this process of detachment from fundamental intentions we see the technique of reduction in operation: the reduction of the teleological causes and essence specifying or formal causes to what Aristotle called the material and efficient causes. Final causes of actions are, as suggested above, related to intentions, relate to what one wants to do or ought to do or both and these provide the value of the action or the good we attach to it.  Material and efficient causes are naturalistic and both reduce a holistic activity to some of its conditions.

Globalization is a philosophical and holistic value-laden idea and only history will help to reveal its import. The history of Aristotelian metaphysics since its inception has involved the attempt of the modern mind to rid itself of the Aristotelian value-laden view of the world.  Part of  this endeavour  relates to the attempt to theoretically  characterise the activities of man, financial and otherwise,  in terms of the mechanics of science and the calculations of mathematics. This theoretical position tempted  many to side with European modernists such as Hobbes and Descartes who both intensively opposed Aristotle’s holistic theory of change. The mark of the modern mind, it was argued is to err on the side of scepticism when it comes to evaluating metaphysical reflections on the world in general and human action in particular. These modernists both attempted to bracket our understanding of the hylomorphic theory of Aristotle. There were defenders of Aristotle then as there is today but they were overwhelmed by the energy and vigour of the youthful scientists, all of whom were eager to replace the conceptual understanding we have of the world with a toolbox of pragmatic techniques and a pocket book of theoretical/mathematical calculations. Were these phenomena the cause or the consequence of the abandonment of the Ancient Greek view of the world? A view of the world which could plainly see how ethics, politics, history, poetry, religion tragedy science and mathematics all could be characterized satisfactorily in accordance with a metaphysical theory of change. It must have seemed extremely unlikely during the time of Aristotle that the Humanities disciplines would be “colonized” by mathematics and science.  Paradoxically, it might be the case that the primary target for modernist skeptical philosophy after the Middle Ages was not Aristotle but rather that bearer of authority par excellence: Religion. As we emerged from the Middle Ages Religion was itself in the throes of responding to internal protest of its own which in England, in particular, was to result in the dissolution of the Monasteries and a revolution of the social and political life of the country. Prior to these events, Aristotle was the philosophical authority and that his philosophy should have been enveloped in a tsunami of anti-dogmatism is, of course, a testament to both the fragility of Philosophy and the human mind. The Emperor Justinian had, in the 5th century AD closed all non-religious schools thus depriving philosophy of any institutional medium for the preservation and development of philosophical thought.  Platonic thought still thrived under the auspices of the Church because it found space for an ancient mythical conception of the afterlife. Plato’s work was translated into Latin by a translation industry largely run by the Church. Insofar as Aristotle was concerned, Church authorities could not find anything but a non-religious mystery behind a concept of the soul or mind which seemed to require dependence upon a body for its existence. Without any institution committed to the preservation of  Aristotle’s texts, many works were lost until Thomas of Aquinas found a means of rehabilitating “The Philosopher” to the church through the construal of the essence of human nature in terms of its ability to love and serve God. Considering the obvious fact that the Aristotelian God and the God of the theologians were obviously very different beings this was an amazing feat of hermeneutics, aiming as it did at some kind of synthesis. Aristotle indeed had left space for God in his surviving lectures as a thinking being whose acts of creation became very much more mysterious in comparison to the God who created the world in 6 days by acts that sometimes look all too human. The divine aspect of our minds, presumably implanted in us or transmitted to us during the moment of creation, of course, explain how it is possible for us to have a conception of a perfect being but it does not explain  Aristotle’s presentation of the human as an autonomous being leading a life largely independent of  his putative creator. Such a being possess a capacity of his own for the creation and understanding of his world via a tradition of philosophizing which stretches from Heraclitus, Parmenides to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and forward to the Stoics. All this was naturally “neutralized” when Aquinas clipped Aristotle’s wings with his synthetic hermeneutics in order for these otherwise dangerous ideas to be domiciled under the eaves of the church. Aristotle’s ideas became institutionalized as the power of the Church was growing in Europe. But another “global” process had survived amazingly outside of any medieval protective institutions and that was connected to the “naturalistic” ideas of the pre-Socratic philosopher’s materialistic search for the elements and constituents of the physical world. These ideas were to find a “home” in the theorizing of  Heraclitus and his very compelling idea that the physical world was continually and forever changing. Parmenides was possibly the first to oppose this position and insist upon the idea that something must remain the same to bear change if one was to have any understanding of that change whatsoever. The world was one and unchanging, according to Parmenides.  Plato reinforced Parmenides’ position with his own and produced a theory of forms or ideas which would explain both permanence and change. Aristotle saw logical problems with Plato and his dividing the world up into the dualistic alternatives of what is to be explained and that which did the explaining. But perhaps the key cultural event happened prior to Plato and contributed to the death of Socrates, namely the loss of the war with Sparta which signaled to the world that Athens with its unique political, legal and cultural characteristics, was not a possible unifying agent among the disparate city states of  Greece. Indeed, one could argue that Alexander, Aristotle’s pupil, was more influenced by Sparta than his teacher’s global-cultural message when he embarked on his empire building adventure. We do see, however, in the aftermath of conquest how Alexander demonstrated the influence of his teacher in the respect he showed for the traditions and cultures of the peoples he conquered. This respect testified to the importance placed on virtue rather than the honour and power based value system so characteristic of Sparta.As we know both Aristotle and Alexander came from Macedonia. Alexander’s military solution to the problem of providing global unity for a number of disparate world elements was, of course,  a far cry from the rational model of rhetoric and argument which was so specific to the Platonic and Aristotelian academic institutions which sought after an intellectual unity of disparate ideas and even disciplines. The word university, of course, originates from the Latin but the meaning  applies to something global if we are thinking in terms of action or something holistic if we are thinking in terms of knowledge and belief systems. The term “university” could well have applied to Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, both of which had lectures for the public and more specialist based lectures for the purposes of the advancement of knowledge through research. The first Italian, French and English institutions were, it is claimed modeled on clerical and monastical institutions but it is interesting to see that right from the beginning the works of Aristotle were important, presumably because of their systematic and global intent. If the Academy and the Lyceum were the wombs of modern universities it is fascinating to follow the differentiation of disciplines and wonder whether this differentiation process was the beginning of a process which sought to focus on differences rather than systematic unity. This unity was provided by the philosophical method of argument and counterargument in search of necessarily valid assumptions and logical consequences. This was the method which aimed at the systematic understanding of the world as a systematic whole which we see in the works of Aristotle. As mentioned earlier the sciences, themselves were the result of the differentiation process mentioned earlier but these disciplines very early were focussing not on organizing the results but on collecting information or data which could serve as evidence for any generalizations made for the purposes of theorizing. This  method of observation and experimentation was perfectly in accordance with Aristotelian research into the constitution and function of living organisms. However, during the 1500’s an interesting Platonic twist to this tale occurred: the mathematical measurement of the physical world began to become an important part of scientific method. In religious terms Galileo was the figurehead of this movement. his measurements and calculations amazed the secular world but probably shocked the clerical authorities who had only relatively recently in their view clipped the wings of Aristotelian philosophy. Even looked upon from an Aristotelian point of view this development must have been of concern because the thinking God of Aristotle was now in the process of being replaced by the primary physical reality of the “natural philosophers”.  Another  Platonic twist in this philosophers tale came of course with the philosophy of Descartes who believed in the dismantling of the Aristotelian system in favour of a mathematically based search for a first philosophical truth which he was convinced  he had found in his Cogito ergo sum “argument”.  The search, as was the case with Plato, ended in a dualism of the mind and the body which Aristotle had contested already back in the time of Plato. Prior to this event, there were secular protests against the authority of the church in Europe in 1517(The Reformation), resulting in the dissolution of the monasteries in England in 1536 which brought in its wake the curious consequence of the banning of the teaching of scholastic philosophy in English Universities.  Somehow, curiously enough both Aristotle’s natural writings and his holistic metaphysical hylomorphism had receded into the background of debate in favour of the search for conceptual distinctions in the spirit of a rationalism Aristotle would have argued against. Perhaps it was this  secular blow which emboldened Descartes and Hobbes later in the 1600’s to share the task of dismantling Aristotle’s philosophical system.  But even during this time Philosophy and Science had not finally quarrelled. Indeed, we should remember that Newtons “Principia” was sub-titled “natural philosophy”. But it was probably around this time that  Science began to authoritatively declare that those parts of philosophy not relevant to the investigation of the natural world should be deemed to be “non-scientific”. This created a division between natural kinds of explanation and humanistic kinds of explanation, or perhaps it just manifested the Platonic dualism between the natural physical world and the world of ideas which had been lurking in the shadows of the Church for some time. Aristotle’s view that there was only one world in which there were 4 kinds of change, 3 principles and four kinds or types of explanation was at this point lost, at least insofar as the institutions of the Universities were concerned. Pursuing Science as Newton did merely encouraged dualistic positions which neatly divided our holistic world into a world of things and relations, points and lines and a realm of ideas about these physical and abstractly intuited entities. This dualism passed into common sense which had already been primed by the ideas of God and the afterlife. In this process, “philosophical” support and not merely mythical authentication had been provided for a worldview Aristotle would have thought indefensible. Newton-inspired Hume to do for the mind what Newtons natural philosophy had done for the physical world but Hume could only arrive at conventional habitual thought processes to explain even such important physical principles as the principle of causation. He could not even authenticate that relatively holistic idea of the self that unifies the perceptions and ideas of the mind. Here we are witnessing the logical consequences of the fragmentation of the Aristotelian worldview. Hume was an important landmark in the process of the scientising of the mind and his exhortations to commit all metaphysical works to the flames laid the foundations for an empirical reduction to physically observable, measurable,  and calculable atomistic evidence of everything to do with holistic entities such as the mind and the self. This regressive process was miraculously arrested by  Kant, a philosopher of the late enlightenment. Kant restored a non-physicalist non-materialistic theory of the mind by talking in terms of a theatre of the faculties of mind: the sensibility, understanding, and reason, in which experience was both constituted and regulated. He subjected the metaphysics of scholastic philosophy to severe criticism but insisted that Hume was wrong in his estimation of the role of metaphysics in philosophy. He maintained that both the study of physical nature and morals had metaphysical dimensions that transcended the physically experienced, observed and measurable world. The most interesting question to pose here is whether Kant’s theories are Aristotelian in spirit or whether it is a re-emergence of a more Platonic form of rationalism. The argument against this latter interpretation is given in the second and third critiques where action and feelings respectively are examined philosophically. Action, Kant is arguing, basically is a mental entity embedded in rational structures of belief and desires which have purposes that aim at the true and the good. For Plato action would be an event occurring in the physical world and would not have any rational connection to the idea of the good. Kant arrested the regressive process temporarily until Hegel systematically misunderstood him and Marx in his turn systematically misunderstood Hegel, thus providing the modern conditions necessary to unleash the idealistic and materialistic forces which would almost destroy the womb of all culture: Europe. There was a moment in the culture of Europe which also attempted to arrest the regressive forces leading us into what Arendt would call “this terrible century” and it was paradoxically not directly philosophical. I am referring to the work of that genius Shakespeare which seems so seamlessly to continue the heritage of the classical world of the Greeks. I will examine this in my next lecture.

Montesquieu, Arendt, The Principle of action, Existentialism, Loneliness and Totalitarian Government.

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Montesquieu and Hannah Arendt claimed that the law is negative, it tells you what you ought not to do but not what you ought to do(Kant’s categorical imperative in the realm of ethics focuses on what we ought to do)  So governments are defined by a principle of action defining what is valued in the sphere of the public space that political acts occur in. Montesquieu considered monarchies, republics and tyrannies which appeared to be the alternatives available during the 1800’s. The Principle of action, then, has the task of defining ultimate values for a particular people/government. Monarchies, Montesquieu argued, value honour, Republics value Virtue, and Tyrannies value fear. Hannah Arendt takes up this thread in order to analyse totalitarian forms of government which according to her are an original and unique form of government which emerged during the last century and manifested itself most clearly in the Nazi and Stalinist regimes in Germany and Russia. Now on Montesquieu’s analysis, we probably would have to characterise these latter regimes in terms of the characteristics of tyranny and these seem not to do justice to the world wide consequences we experienced at the hands of totalitarian regimes. Tyrannies, for example, were destined to destroy themselves from within in a relatively short period of time and the fear we witnessed in such regimes at least had some relation to principles of instrumental action. citizens of these regimes should not criticise government for fear of their lives, otherwise they were allowed to  exercise their freedom in the available political space. Arendt points out that this is an inadequate analysis of totalitarian forms of government which did not merely adopt an irrational principle of action but rather abandon the very concepts of action and freedom and  adopted an attachment to so called Darwinian laws of nature or Hegelian laws of history. These laws were in the process of shaping man to be a different being to  the being he thought he was, namely, valuing freedom, pluralism and democracy. Their tool was “terror”. A terror which destroyed the public political space which existed between people, a public space, viewed as the medium by which to achieve political goals which made reference to individuals and their differences. Totalitarian governments believed in the laws of nature(The Aryan race was the chosen race, the one destined to inherit the earth) or the laws of history(Communism will replace democracies  because of its superior political values) and the citizens involved in these “shaping” processes did not need to understand what it was which was bearing them forward to their destinies. The only public political space belonged to the head of the government and he used it as whimsically as he pleased because even he did not fully understand where the process was headed. Totalitarian government must have its source in one individual for only then can some form of continuity be guaranteed. Of course, this continuity could be absurdly irrational. Stalin’s supporters could suddenly be assassinated en masse if Stalin happened to change his mind about a government policy. The laws and ethics of the Weimar Republic could be ignored if the Fuhrer chose to ignore or even reverse their principles. With the disappearance of the ethical demands that people make upon each other, on command of the totalitarian leader, it was a short step to commanding the illegal murder of a whole once chosen but now corrupted race(the Jews). Underlying global movements of Anti-Semitism could dominate the public space and receive justification via the “truths” of the laws of nature and history, which for Hitler were one and the same. For the communist regimes, the underlying global movements of distrust for Capital and the capitalists, turned the laws and ethical principles into laws and principles not governing races but rather classes. Insofar as the working class was the only creator of value in the society their destiny was to inherit the power over the society and dominate the public political space which, when nation states, the servants of capital,  withered away, would create a global communist society. The most irrational political principles and outcomes were suddenly possible and even probable under the banner “anything is possible”. Only the leaders acted as if they knew what was going to happen and the resulting consequences of their policies. The Russian form of totalitarianism in fact engaged more directly with one of the major irritants of democracy, namely the accumulation of capital that does not work for the people who helped the capitalists to accumulate their wealth and which,  because of this fact was making large numbers of working people superfluous to the economic needs of the country. This according to Arendt was one of the major factors behind colonisation which was merely the attempt to use this accumulated capital in other countries where labour was cheaper and this use was of course merely to  accumulate even greater amounts of capital.

Hannah Arendt has an interesting analysis of the conditions necessary for totalitarianism to succeed apart from these structural economic factors which she touches upon. A man is naturally and ethically a being that thinks in solitude, i.e. he is what Arendt calls a two-in-one soul: two voices conversing about what is to be believed or done. His political and community identity is important to him because these two voices make him feel like a divided and dualistic being. It is the public space where the voices find the expression which enables the citizen to identify the values his inner conversation is striving toward. The citizen acquires his identity, and a sense of community is established among friends and kindred spirits who identify this being with two voices as one unified being, possessing one set of values. All this work is done in the public space and it is this which is destroyed by totalitarianism. The condition for this to occur is that masses of men must not be engaging in this inner conversation striving toward the truth and values and manifesting itself in the public space. Their souls are not engaging in this inner conversation, they are lonely.  It is the role of education, of course, to install this inner dialogue in us all. If that education is predominantly scientific this conversation is truncated in its form and the lonely search for the truth of the laws of nature and history is the norm. Once this has happened, and it happened in Europe, the major condition for totalitarianism exists. Humanistic voices both within and without fall silent. The universal habit of reading good and difficult to understand books of humanistic significance is, of course, a natural agent provocateur of this inner and outer conversation. Education is also another agent provocateur of this inner conversation which encourages manifestation in the political public space and should be the source of these good and difficult works of human significance. But is not our public space filled with conversations on facebook, linked in, and social media? But these conversations are not challenging difficult to understand affairs. They are rather superficial events. covering up an incredible existential loneliness most of the time. We need a Freud of the internet, an interpreter of human behaviour which can diagnose loneliness behind all this furious finger tapping and be flicking in relation to our mobile phones and computers. There is difficult to understand material on the internet but it is not that difficult and most of it does not require the dedication required to understanding Kant or Aristotle or Wittgenstein. Indeed I would go so far as to claim that even the Bible with its narrative structure and parables are beyond the understanding of most of the younger generation. Something has gone seriously wrong with our educational systems if this is true.

Freud, Philosophy, Humanism and Science.(Philosophical Psychology)

Views: 125

Freud’s writings over 50 years corrected themselves and changed systematically from a clinical/scientific approach in relation to the analysis of patients with mental illness to a more philosophical approach to the individual, society and culture. I use the word “systematically” to demarcate the fact that in the move from his earlier approach to his later theorising there is no contradiction. Indeed although Freud systematically moves toward a Platonic view of the psyche I would argue that Freud’s theories are more Aristotelian, i.e. in many of his comments such as the ego contains the idea of the body, the ego is composed of precipitate of lost objects, there is a hylomorphic foundation working. Now I am not sure that Freud was familiar with the works of Aristotle but we do know that he was a vociferous reader and that he was very familiar with the works of Kant and even claimed on one occasion in his later works that his Psychology would be the Psychology that Kant would have written had he interested himself in the area. We know Kant wrote a work entitled Anthropology and this work had clear Aristotelian affiliations.

 

Now we also know that Freud did not have much time for the philosophers of his day who were much influenced by the concept of consciousness that had been developing since Descartes “epistemological revolution” in Philosophy. Some commentators superficially believe his opposition was grounded simply in Freud’s “re-discovery” of the realm of the unconscious mind but I believe his opposition ran deeper. That is, I believe that in spite of his claim to be a “scientist” we see in his later work, if I am right, that the metaphysical hylomorphism of Aristotle was steering his choice of concepts and his famous three principles of psychology: the energy regulation principle, the pleasure/pain principle and the reality principle. From a Kantian point of view he was working in the area of the mind Kant thought of as sensibility, in the area of self -love, but Freud’s theories have a grasp of the function of understanding and reason which is also, I would argue, Kantian. His reasoning, of course, falls into the arena of practical rather than theoretical reasoning much of the time but we should really pay attention to the Freudian mechanisms which are psychologically causal, e.g. repression, identification, sublimation, projection, all of which fit very neatly into the very practical idea he has of the reality principle. There is also his unique contribution to psychology in the form of the primary and secondary processes of the mind which are intimately connected to his three principles.

His idea of “object” is clearly Aristotelian, rather than scientific in the narrow sense, and not just backwards looking to the causes of physical events but teleological, forward looking to the end which an action is striving toward. Now there are speculations in some of his later works such as Civilisation and its Discontents which seem unscientific because unverifiable, e.g. the band of brothers thesis. He sketches a Hobbesian scenario of a state of nature in which all are at war against all and even the band of brothers kill the tyrannical father but regret their action and establish a rule of law and perhaps the dawn of self-consciousness, to move civilisation forward.Now these are his “scientific speculations”: looking backward for the causes of phenomena and perhaps he does so without sufficient care for marshalling the totality of facts. I am not saying that this is necessarily so, because even today I do not believe we are anywhere near accumulating the necessary facts which would allow us to pontificate one way or the other but I do think that those commentators that fixate on the Oedipus complex and see this scenario as the blueprint of his speculations in this domain are reading Freud too narrowly.

 

Freud bashing in the name of science has become a professional activity for some academics and a hobby for many others who have views of science that in the urge to purge our thought of all things metaphysical and ethical would in Freudian, Kantian and Aristotelian terms be regarded as “epistemological” in a pejorative sense. The sense that has dogged Philosophy through all the modern “isms”: positivism, naturalism, materialism, pragmatism, behaviourism, utilitarianism.

 

Freud bashing is just of a course a part of the sport of humanist bashing and all that it requires is a very limited knowledge of a methodology which applies only to one aspect of our world and a willingness to colonise the domain of the humanist with this limited methodology and wonderful technological inventions, e.g. the invention of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, television, computers, and robots.

Modern Times and Representative versus Direct Democracy

Views: 127

Aristotle and Plato were very sceptical of the democracy of their day. For Plato it was the second worst form of government, tyranny being the worst. For Aristotle, democracy was a perversion of the forms of government seeking the common good. According to him, the democracy of the day, which was a direct democracy, served the good of the poor often at the expense of the good of the city state. It paled in comparison with the constitutional form of government he suggested which would serve the interests of the city as a whole. We should also remember in this context(Ancient Greece) that we are witnessing both in practice and in theory the beginnings of systematic thought and practice in the realm of politics. There was, for example, a fragile realisation,  that perhaps religion(derived from “ligare” which means to bind or connect according to St Augustine) had something in common with the law which also was a mechanism of binding or connecting people. In both cases, the binding or connecting mechanism was related to obligation, an ethical concept. Being connected together entailed obligations on the citizens or members of the community. Philosophy was just emerging as a critical force and the ideal of an individual reasoning his way to the idea of the good or from the idea,  to its political and logical consequences , was only being suggested by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

Indeed one of the problems with the Greek direct democracy of the time is that it failed to respect the law. Plato’s characterisation in the Republic is a chilling account because it points to phenomena we are witnessing today. When parents are ruled by their children and teachers are ruled by their students and when murderers can walk free in the agora after having been sentenced in the courts we see a city in disarray. Indeed it is in this environment that a member of the oligarchy will point out the disarray and promise a better future for all, probably well aware that he is not being truthful. An oligarchy according to Plato and Aristotle is marginally a better form of government but it will not unite the city. It will rule in the interests of the few, the oligarchy, which is often corrupt and will pass laws in its own interests. Indeed the problem that both Plato and Aristotle saw was the pendulum like polarisation of political rule between these two types of government. When the Democrats were in power they would as a matter of pride repeal the laws of the oligarchs and vice versa thus preventing an appreciation of the binding and connecting function of the law as well as removing the motivation of being obligated to anything. Plato’s response to all this was to point to the philosophical role of the idea of the good which the philosopher with his training in mathematics and dialectic can develop a full awareness of.

There were no institutions of education to speak of during this time so it was natural that Plato should come up with his famous formula in order to avoid misery and tragedy and ultimate ruin in the city state: the city will not flourish, he argued until kings become philosophers or philosopher become kings. Aristotle saw the difficulties of such a proposal in its fixation on kings or an upper ruling class and suggested a constitutional/representative form of government in which the middle class would steer a middle path between democracies and oligarchies adopting the best aspects of each. This middle class would through its practical wisdom over eons become motivated by knowledge and ethics. The institutions it would develop would be in accordance with the Greek concept of areté which means both excellence and virtue. The democratic practice of electing political officials by lottery would be replaced by a meritocracy where people with the requisite knowledge and ethical character would be appointed. Both Plato and Aristotle shared the Greek suspicion of the wealthy life as an ideal of the good life not just because of the inevitable corruption of the spirit such a life entailed but because the Greeks were very aware of the different principles needed to rule one’s private household and family(oikos) and the city state(politikos). For them, our modern political obsession with economics would have been a perversion of politics.In Hannah Arendt’s terms, there are important distinctions between types of activity which operate in accordance with different principles. Labour is the kind of work that was typical for the household and was cyclical and biological in nature, serving our survival needs. Work was an activity in which one produced results in the public domain in accordance with instrumental standards: a good house, a good treatment from the doctor etc. Action was the type of activity typical of politics and it was aiming at Aletheia, a Greek word, in this context, for the disclosure of the truth about the common good. Work and labour were inappropriate forms of activity for the political arena.

 

Anyway the moral of this Greek tale should be obvious. Both in the case of the election of the current President of the USA and Brexit we can see a return to the concept of direct democracy. In England, it was the referendum about an issue that neither Aristotle nor Kant would have hesitated to venture an opinion upon. The “experts” on both sides plus the media coverage literally did not know what they were talking about. This can be seen in the opening of the negotiations in Brussels where one hundred experts from the English side are attempting to clarify the British interpretation of what is entailed by the decision to leave Europe. In the USA the system of the primaries and the intense media coverage momentarily turned the country into a direct democracy. There were promises made that could never be kept and there were lies told which were believed because all the Greek requirements had been met. There stood the oligarch/tyrant promising better deals from the artisan of the deal. There was the promise to undo most of the work of the previous democratic president, the promise to put America first. There we could witness the three-word slogan chanting, Make America great, build the wall, lock her up, USA. It all felt very uncomfortable and we were only at the beginning of the process. The process has now been going on for 6 months and though there are a number of accusations of breaking the law and not acknowledging the independence of the law from the executive branch of government laid down in the Constitution, there is still extensive support from the Republican party the tyrant represents. Thankfully there are many many people that recognise what is happening and are speaking up courageously. There is a chance that hopefully, we are witnessing misery but not tragedy or ruin just yet.

Political identity and Common Sense

Views: 84

The identity of  limestone, gold,  a plant or a bird is a rather pedestrian matter unless one wishes to scientifically explore the constitution and function of the material that composes these items. If one wants to know what these things are in their nature, the analytical method of dissecting something into its parts is unquestionably the route to understanding the objects identity, even if that “dissection” is as abstract as the division of  Gold and limestone into their chemical elements. The ability of these objects to remain the same through change will be primarily a question of the constitution and function of the material they are composed of.

The identity of a human being cannot however be reduced to the constitution and function of their physical matter/body although this material identity will certainly be a part of the story of that human being: of how they came into existence, where their bodies moved during their lifetime, what those bodies did and  how they ceased to exist. I would maintain that what those bodies did  would be very difficult to characterise  without reference to non material , non functional  characteristics: characteristics we normally  call mental or “psychological”. Personal identity requires perhaps two or three types of non material component which if we are to understand them requires a conceptual method rather than a scientific one. The method must relate to the non observational form of awareness that we have of ourselves and our actions. Action,indeed, is one of the central pivots of the account of personal identity  because it is quite clear from both a Philosophical and common sense point of view that our destinies are shaped by what we choose to do, how we choose to act. This concept of destiny is crucial to the way in which we characterise personal identity  for two reasons: one classical and one modern. The classical reason is Aristotelian: we are fundamentally ethical beings and ethically we seek to lead and have led(after death), flourishing lives. The modern  reason comes from the Analytical Philosophy and the work of O’Shaugnessy(The Will: A Dual Aspect Theory). O’Shaugnessy claims that a fundamental aspect of being human is to posses a mind which is temporally oriented toward the future. Combining this with the classical reason we could say that one of the characteristic properties of the mind is its teleology, that  is, that it is directed toward an end or a “telos”. The teleological explanation of action or the mind is one of the 4 kinds of explanation Aristotle refers to in his Metaphysics. The scientist, of course, thinks of this aspect of the mental as “psychological” and this is a term O Shaugnessy uses. His use of this term, however, does not correspond with the idea that the scientist has of the “psychological”. For the scientist polarises the realm of explanation into the objective and the subjective and praises the objective and blames the subjective for not being objective. In  Aristotelian and  Kantian accounts  the psychological is divided into what is empirical and related to subjective experience whereas  the objective is related to the philosophical or the  conceptual . There is that is that which is subjectively psychological and that which is objectively, philosophically, or conceptually psychological. This distinction illuminates the reason why science cannot talk sensibly about the realm of ethics because this  falls within the realm of the philosophically or conceptually psychological. Ethics and politics for both Aristotle and Kant are intimately related to this realm of the philosophically or conceptually psychological which Kant preferred to call “anthropology”.

Plato maintained, and Aristotle probably agreed that there is a fundamental analogy between the way in which we conceptually characterise the minds or souls of the person and the way in which we characterise the nature and  essence of the state. In modern terms we would say that the Political must be characterised in terms of the conceptually or philosophically psychological.

Hobbes attempted to apply the Scientific method, concepts and explanations to the  political world and  was unable to provide  an account which allowed room for ethical  or human values.  Hobbes, that is, gives us a good material account of the body politic but  significantly fails to help us to understand the non substantival “substance” of the political world. For him the actions of a man or a state are just like the mechanical working of springs and cogs in a watch. The ultimate political consequences of such a materialist metaphysics is encapsulated in his quote that “Covenants without the sword are just words”. Covenants that are written down are  to be defended with the sword because words are “psychological” in the sense that the scientist understands the term(not in the sense in which the philosopher understands the “conceptually psychological”). Words are just behaviour for the scientist. For the philosopher action is a concept which incorporates behaviour as characterised by the scientists but also incorporates another aspect which refers to the role of consciousness or non observational awareness in the process. Words are actions and political words are political actions. The best account of the difference between mere behaviour and action occurs in Hannah Arendt’s work “The Human Condition”. She differentiates between three levels of human activity: labor, work and action. Labor  is that which typically is automated, almost machine-like/instinctive and is repetitive cyclical and habitual requiring little or no thought. Work is typically characterised by  activity which requires more thought and judgment , and is therefore more psychological because it is instrumentally directed toward the fabrication of something which can physically stand in the world as a result of the activity. We speak of a house in different terms to the way in which we speak of a consumer goods produced by labor in a factory,e.g. a box of corn flakes whose lifetime is to be probably measured maximally in terms of months. There are also works of art which are the result of value-judgments which are more complex than those which are involved in the building work that results in the building of a house. But above these two forms of activity  is action, and Hannah Arendt thinks that political action is one of the  paradigmatic forms of human action.

Political action is of course going to be crucial to the idea of political identity which I wish to discuss. Political action is twofold: there are words and the actions which are based on the words, namely the voting for the passing of laws. Now, if Hobbes is correct and words are nothing without swords then we will not understand what is happening in a political debate. Nor will we understand what Hannah Arendt has to say concerning political action. For her political action is fundamentally teleological. The point, that is, of political debate and deliberation is to seek the truth, is to reveal the political truth of the issue one is discussing. This is done by coordinating complementary and conflicting viewpoints not into a compromise but into a synthesis of thesis and antithesis. This process may require that each synthesis becomes a thesis and is confronted by an antithesis until a final synthesis is arrived at and the law is voted on and passed into law. Now this process cannot be characterised  by the methods, concepts and explanations of science. The kind of  explanation required to characterise it is conceptual or philosophical. Even the application of the law cannot be characterised in scientific concepts. Take the example of the thief who is caught and prosecuted for the stealing of a car. Thinking like a true scientist he will try to defend himself by claiming that he could not help himself. The theft “happened to him” because his mother left him when he was 6 months old, his father became an alcoholic, he played truant from school and became involved with criminals, needed money to pay his rent: therefore he stole the car. The judges response to this is in terms of the philosophical conceptual psychological point of view. He will claim that the psychological is divided into two aspects: that which happens to one(in accordance with the principle of causation) and that which one does. Whenever one decides to do something  one overrides what has happened to one because of the value of what one is doing. Confronted with the events of his life the criminal ought to choose what is right(not steal the car) and ignore what is wrong(steal the car). In ethical terms the judge will claim that the criminal is “free” to choose what is right: he is not an animal directed by causal factors such as instinct. The self consciousness humans enjoy enable them to transcend causal  agencies with their ideas of what is right and wrong. Determinism reigns in the physical world of the scientist but not in the human world of the politician and the judge. The way in which the judge thinks about human action is the way in which the politician ought to think about human action: in conceptual terms, in terms of the ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

In talking of the politician and how he self consciously and ethically ought to think about human action we are now raising the question of political identity. The Politician belongs to a party and relates to the manifesto of his party in an analogous way to the way in which the judge relates to the written law the politician is responsible for. Written law of course takes three forms: criminal law, civil law regulating contracts, and law regulating governmental distribution of benefits and burdens in the society. The action of promising is central to the second two forms of law which are not regulated by the sword as is criminal law. These latter two forms of law are fundamentally humanistic and ethical  entities and Kant’s categorical imperative is central to analysing what is involved in these cases.  So ethics is a central aspect of the politicians identity. What he promises(as distinguished from that he promises) is related to the party manifesto and central  value system. An important part of personal identity is the Aristotelian idea of continuity. A persons identity is what stays constant throughout change. Similarly a party’s identity depends upon the continuity of its value system(what it promises) as well as its substance(its relevance to the idea of a future flourishing society).

Common sense, for both Arendt and Kant is the name for what was referred to above as the process of coordinating compatible and conflicting perspectives which in its turn is a natural result of the pluralism of our modern societies where a manifold of forms of life thrive and prosper. A political party  identifies itself with a set of perspectives  instantiating a set of values which typically conflicts with the set of values other parties choose and this is an important aspect  of a party’s  identity.  These values can change and we characterise this in terms of its shifting position on the political spectrum. It has, for example been observed that  parties traditionally placed on the right or left of the spectrum have moved into the political middle ground to compete for the votes of the growing middle class. If there are more than two or three parties competing for the middle ground it becomes very difficult for the voters to identify the difference between the parties: the political identity of the parties is not clear. The voters are confused. This of course is the natural consequence of chasing voters instead of initiating them into ones value system. If ones value system(workers rights) becomes antiquated there may of course be no choice but to formulate a new value system(human rights) but this is a difficult business and can not be done without thinking philosophically about values, and of course counting the people to whom the new approach appeals

All parties, of course have to, on universal ethical grounds, make and keep the promises they make. This looks simple and obvious but common sense often points to the phenomenon of politicians promising to do things which for various reasons do not get done. When mistakes like this occur and the issue is an important one , one does not meet with confusion  but rather with ethical indignation. This is a powerful political force. If the society is undergoing significant change(increasing climate consciousness, increasing automation, increasing corporate dominance, movement from a manufacturing to a service economy) and a large percentage of voters are left behind in this process this ethical indignation will become a highly emotional affair and be dominated by fear and impulse. Voting will not be positive and for anything but rather negative and against something and if someone in the political sphere begins to speak the language of these voters they will find themselves in power irrespective of whether they are competent politicians or not . Here common sense will not reign. The rules of politics will be changed. Promises, for example will not need to be kept(we are all against the same things)and there is a danger that serious politics will have difficulty in re-establishing itself in such an environment. Understanding the concept of political identity is therefore essential in such circumstances.

Expecting the unexpected: the UK elections and the absence of the middle ground

Views: 129

Following the UK elections called by Therese May  has been a strange experience. The policies of the left and the right were clearly recognizable but with the exception of one policy which may have accounted for the unexpectedness of the result of the election, namely the pork offering of tuition fees to students, the middle ground was almost unoccupied.

Tony Blair, it has been argued modernized the Labour Party and made it electable by moving policy orientation to the middle ground and Corbyn’s unpopularity with his colleagues has been partly due to the fact that he has deliberately wanted to abandon Blair’s colonization of the middle ground and re-explore the territory of the left.

Cameron’s cataclysmic mistake of calling a referendum over the Brexit issue of course was a contributory factor to the phenomenon of Corbyn and the recoil of his successor May from the middle ground. In spite of Blair’s efforts, the British middle class was simply not large enough to ensure the continuity of commitment to the European project which is so much more than its economic dimensions. The youth, especially the students,  hopefully the middle class of the future,  largely stayed home for this Brexit election, trusting in the older middle class to ensure their futures. They were, however, galvanized into action  by Therese May’s call for an election perhaps partly by being let down by the older generation and partly by the promise of the pork of tuition fees but on a deeper analysis perhaps partly by the thought of  the consequences of Therese May’s so called “hard Brexit”, following closely on the heels of years of austerity politics.

Indeed the hung Parliament which resulted and the inevitable  chaos which follows, perhaps another possible election looming on the horizon, may bring something good in its wake, namely  a second referendum on Brexit which will be needed if the EU refuse to budge on the 4 freedoms principle.  This second referendum seems impossible at the moment given Corbyn’s commitment to Brexit after having fought a poor campaign to remain. It will indeed take a dynamic leader to bite the bullet and argue for a position which runs counter to the wishes expressed in the first referendum. The Remain/Leave campaign was a strange series of events, the form of which violated  one of the first philosophical assumptions  of politics, namely to expect the unexpected. Each side was categorically stating the anticipated consequences of an enormously complex process in a fragile environment in which literally anything could happen to falsify their predictions. The impression that the campaigners knew what they were talking about  was created  by rhetorical arguments which much of the time verged on propaganda: indeed the campaign created its own populist dynamic and forced people to choose between two different castles in the clouds constructed in the imaginations of the campaigners.

In relation to this point there is also an ethical  principle that Psychologists use when conducting experiments on volunteer subjects namely  the informed consent principle which entails that the subjects must  be given full information concerning what they are about to undergo in the experiment. In the light of the experience we had of the Brexit campaign, can anyone honestly maintain that  Brexit is anything more than an experiment and that we the subjects have been given necessarily incomplete  information?  The leave campaign were appealing to the maxim that anything is possible for the British people if they put their hearts and minds into it.  The remain campaign were pretending to be able to predict the unpredictable future and pointed to a dark and dismal future. No middle ground appeared to be possible. This in itself ought to have raised suspicions since political institutions are dialectical in their very nature.

Extremes with an excluded middle, in the realm of practical reasoning, are theoretical  and assume that the alternatives are either entirely true or entirely false. This assumption assumes  a position of certainty which we very rarely encounter in practical contexts. Indeed  theoretical reasoning in Science does not even aspire to the certainty of logic and truth and rests its case on its endless method of observation and experimentation in the court of the hypothetical judgment.

But the really interesting point to make was that at the time of the Brexit campaign the majority of MP’s in Parliament were for the UK remaining in the EU. Now if we were as was  maintained, a representative democracy, then surely these MP’s were elected  as our representatives, our lawmakers and their expert opinion should have forced Cameron to pause before unleashing the dogs of the referendum?

In a relatively short period of time the Conservative party have learned the value of not gambling on the expected in the much simpler processes  of a referendum and a premature election. It will indeed be interesting to see how the historians record these two events. If there is philosophical justice in the world the cause  of  both events will be recorded as “in the interests of the Conservative party but not in the interests of the country”.

Aristotle saw clearly the dialectical structure of human action and human institutions and also saw a continuity between ethics and politics which many modern politicians fail to appreciate. His concept of the Golden mean involved navigating a course of action in the middle ground between two extreme alternatives: a brave man does not rush into battle like a bull in a china shop or refrain from doing what ought to be done in battle like a coward. His rationality curbs his foolhardy impulses and irrational fears and Aristotle thinks of such a considered choice of action as golden, as worthy of praise, as rational. The two choices of the Conservative party to hold a referendum and a premature election were born of impulsiveness and fear and were therefore on his account, irrational. The electorate may have sensed this fact and consequently withdrew their previous levels of support. For Aristotle there was another political reason to favour the middle ground and that was because of a dialectic he was witnessing and we are still witnessing in our political arenas today, namely, the conflict between the rich and the poor on the battlefield of economics. Only a middle class, argued Aristotle would be able to stop the inevitable political divisiveness of such a conflict. The middle ground of such  conflict would not perhaps paradoxically concern itself with ekonomos which the Greeks thought to be a purely regulative activity that  should be restricted to the running of households. The middle ground for Aristotle would be ethical and not economical but unfortunately  he did not elaborate upon what this entailed and perhaps we have only become clear about this issue since Kant gave us a clear account of our ethical duties and Hannah Arendt gave us a clear account of the human condition and its political constitution. For Kant the essence of  ethical judgments, which we can be certain of, is that they are imperatives, which differ from declaratives in that they do not state what is the case which is the province of the declarative statement, but only what ought to be the case. This certainty is based on intentions which are embedded in acts of practical reasoning that are purely logical and universal. The ethical judgment  par excellence for Kant was that it is our duty to keep promises. The argument for this was in terms of the logical consequences of failing to do so, namely that the very human institution of promising would be abandoned if it became a universal practice that people did not keep promises. Now Arendt, though not in agreement with everything Kant said, thought that many of our human and political institutions are founded upon the premise that  promises ought to be kept and that this was an important feature of the stability of our world which provided the framework for everything important in our society. Aristotle would of course regarded the act of promising in accordance with the ethical judgment that promises ought to be kept, as a virtue, and he would no doubt have thought of his ideal of the middle class as possessing all the virtues necessary for a flourishing life.

If the above reasoning is correct then it may be that one of the deep processes of globalization is this movement away from extremes and toward the middle ground, away from a primary focus on the economical and toward a focus on the ethically grounded political activities that will provide us all with a flourishing life. Also if the above reasoning is correct the middle ground is that which is quite often occupied by the  students who absented themselves in the Brexit referendum which in turn is an indication that the middle class in England is still too small to accomplish complex global goals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cosmopolitanism, Globalization, Human Rights and Immigration.

Views: 131

Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy is systematic. It ranges over all the traditional divisions of philosophy and integrates them into a systematic whole. He brings metaphysical considerations concerning man and the cosmos to bear on ethics, political philosophy epistemology, aesthetics and religion. The resultant product is a Philosophy that rivals Aristotle’s in its scope and reach. Kant had the ability as did Aristotle to see a simple phenomenon woven into an integrated system  of  propositions: touch one strand of the complex and the reverberations would resonate harmoniously and holistically throughout the system producing a sound as beautiful as the sound of pure knowledge.

I have argued elsewhere that Kant’s Enlightenment philosophy provided the ethical foundations for human rights. It can be further argued that Kant’s  article on a universal history provided the blueprint for the organisation which would, after the second world war, become the United Nations, the champion of universal human rights. Kant did not only have ethical arguments for the existence of human rights, he also had arguments that  are difficult to classify  and which enable one to embrace the phenomena of  globalization and immigration, positively, from a philosophical perspective. One of Kant’s basic arguments is that every human being on earth possesses a right to roam the earth and pursue their peaceful activities and the consequence of this cosmopolitan and global right is the right of everyone to expect hospitality wherever they may roam. In an earlier essay I spoke about how Kant  viewed the nation state as pathological(as did a number of other philosophers) during a time in which  it was not yet clear that the European nation state system in Europe would bring actual devastation to the world. Devastation firstly,  in the form of two world wars and a holocaust, and secondly, in the form of threatened catastrophe on a scale never before witnessed or even imagined:  post war nation state alliances and enmities would  for a long period of time  promise  to  outdo the malevolent social engineering  project of the Nazi’s with a nuclear holocaust which would threaten the very existence of the world. That this latter phenomenon did not occur, in my view, may have been attributable to a deep process of globalization, a cosmopolitan  attitude towards and knowledge of the world and its people which Kant expressed in his Philosophy: an attitude moreover, that  can  be defended with logic and sound and systematic argumentation which has philosophical consequences and that  reverberate and resonate over the whole extent of our thought about everything, including the  right we have to roam the earth.

The level of self consciousness of the first trekkers  leaving Africa is unfathomable so we do not know whether, when man encountered man in these sparsely resourced  environments, he did so in a spirit of hospitality or fear. Hobbes envisioned life in this kind of state of nature as being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Locke, to the contrary,  envisioned life in a state of nature to be relatively peaceful but politically  problematic owing to the absence of law to regulate disagreements. Given the fact that one of the benefits of the nation state was to produce a rule of, and a respect for, the law it would seem that even if these early encounters of man with his fellow men were fearful, the rule of law in a  more modern community would appear to make such a response of fear, otiose.

So, I am genuinely puzzled by the obviously fear based responses of both politicians and large numbers of people to immigration that we are seeing the world over. The first migrants  from Africa took considerable risks  and showed remarkable courage  in their decisions to leave what they knew behind, however, sparse and poorly resourced their environment must have been. These first trekkers were the builders of our first small communities. There is an obvious correlation with their willingness to brave dangers and the subsequent skill and competence they demonstrated in creating and maintaining their small settlements.  There is also an obvious correlation between the asylum seekers we see risking their lives in rubber rafts and our early ancestors. If one examines the statistics in immigration friendly countries, such as the USA of past years, Britain after  the collapse of the British Empire and Sweden in recent times  there is clear statistical  and experiential evidence of the considerable benefits that have accrued to the countries in which immigrants have come to settle. There are of course short term adjustment problems where life as one  knew it may be to some small extent disrupted  for a period of time, but the Chinese are supposed to have wisely claimed (in response to the question why they did not resist  large numbers of immigrant settlers) : “In three generations they will be Chinese, so why bother about the fact that they are not Chinese when they arrive?”  The statistics and general experience in both the USA of the past  and Britain support this claim.

There is no doubt that in Kant’s Philosophy there is an ethical obligation to help people whose lives are in danger. Asylum seekers must be given asylum irrespective of ethnic or religious denomination. The second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative claims that we have a duty to treat people as ends in themselves and this demands as a consequence not just hospitable behaviour but also justifies the right to asylum that has been universally agreed to by the members of the UN.

Kant would not claim that there is any difference in principle in relation to the freedom of movement of peoples involved in the European project. Treating people as ends in themselves requires that one is hospitable to strangers. The European project is a Kantian project, an Enlightenment pilot-project. Today freedom of movement in Europe, tomorrow freedom of movement on a cosmopolitan scale. The logic of cosmopolitanism requires that the European eventually be hospitable to the non European stranger who appears on  their doorstep.

The Kantian Philosopher believes that this ethical argument is the primary argument for globalization. But has it not historically been the case that commerce has been the driving force of globalization?  It has certainly been a superficial force. To the extent that our self interest has driven commerce, the philosophical  analysis of this phenomenon would suggest that self interested commercialism and the desire to expand ones sphere of self interest over the whole world is not in the spirit of Kantian cosmopolitanism. This commercial spirit on the contrary, was one of the roots of  in imperialism which did not know what to do with the discovery that the mere accumulation of capital as an aim seemed to make the working man superfluous, an entity to be exploited for the end of the accumulation of capital. Hannah Arendt provides compelling arguments which suggest a connection between this anti-humanistic spirit of commercialism and the emergence of totalitarian governments last century.

There  are deep processes of globalization which populism, in its ignorance or  misunderstanding of the systematic arguments of Philosophy, does not understand. Quite simply the populist politicians, whether they be British, European, American or Swedish, do not know what they do not know.  They concentrate upon the divisions or differences between people  rather on the systematic truths which unite them. This is why there is so much discussion about who is telling the truth and who is lying, why there is so much discussion about real and fake news. Real, objective Ethical Truths relate to  cosmopolitan rights and the rights that unite  all occupants of the earth. The shadowy arguments of populist politicians focus on  national and cultural differences and fear of  change, fear of the deep ethical process of globalization. This process of ethical globalization, for them  is not  an ethical matter, it is rather a natural  destructive phenomenon which requires national  defense measures. This fear of something which is not of itself fearful is of course a pathological feat of the imagination which reveals itself in all talk of  building walls or defending borders or expelling aliens. This is the talk of the ignorant prisoners imprisoned deep in Plato’s cave, a deeply disturbing fearful   incoherent babbling which is paradoxically, claiming to know something.

 

The Meaninglessness of Terror

Views: 98

So Stockholm is the latest scene of what is beginning to look like a  5 act Shakespearean tale. The whole city  locked down, people staying in hotels, walking home in what at times looked like a Great Trek, major television events cancelled, frenetic social media activity with all manner of response from the sublime to the superfluous(telling asylum seekers to go back to where they came from). And for what? For terrorism whose aim is to disrupt the peace and freedom of people who have absolutely nothing to do with the cause the terrorists claim they are fighting for. The question becomes: what kind of  play are we witnessing, a tragedy, a comedy, a soap opera? Of course there were tragic consequences  of the action in Stockholm but actions are defined by their intentions. If the object of terrorist action are people who have nothing to do with what is going on in the Middle  East this scene is not tragic it is meaningless. Witness the actual consequences (barring the tragic loss of the victims and their families), strangers meeting and spending the evening together in bars or in hospitable homes. What did the terrorists imagine would be the actual consequences? Well I am sure if they imagined people actually coming closer together, societies actually  bonding more tightly together because of  their action, they might well wonder themselves what the point of their action is.

I have written elsewhere in this blog about my amazement at the reaction of the USA(and Russia) to , relatively  speaking a handful of poorly armed terrorists.  This “War on Terrorism” response is trickling down  to all levels in the world. The amount of media time spent on this issue  at all levels is quite disproportionate to its magnitude. This fact indicates that the terrorists actions and speech acts do not meet  Aristotle´s definition of a tragic action which is an action of a certain magnitude. ISIS deliberately waits over 24 hours before taking credit for the acts because we overreact  for approximately 24 hours to  the events which occur. Compare this event to the bus accident with school children this week, a really tragic accident with approximately the same number of casualties(3 children) and compare the amount of attention given. In my mind the cause of both events are equally meaningless, if the cause of the bus accident turns out to be mechanical failure without any negligence involved.

The Pathological nation state and the European Project

Views: 78

“Things of this world  are in so constant a flux that nothing remains long in the same state.”–(John Locke).  This was written 300 years ago and  could be  an accurate description of our current states of  political affairs. Philosophically, this suggests that Political theory ought to be at the very least a  theory of  social and political change which of course will require some kind of relation to historical knowledge. Historical knowledge manifests our  more significant social and political memories. Such memories and the narratives embodying them are a key not just to the identity of individuals  but also to the identity of peoples.

The Problem of personal identity presupposes continuity of our memory which is  one of the criteria of personal identity along with secondly, the criteria of the continuity of our physical body, and Aristotle would add two further criteria, namely,  the continuity of our social institutions(such as language) and the continuity of our political institutions and processes. Aristotle claimed in this context that  a good man needs a good state to be good and this echoes a Platonic assumption that the personality of the good man requires living in a society with just institutions. In the Republic Socrates attempts to define justice by reference to the harmonious relations of the parts of the soul of a good man. His interlocutors think this psychological or anthropological approach is inadequate and Socrates is forced to appeal to  a Platonic Kallipolis or fully functioning  just state in order for his argument to have any chance of achieving what it set out to do. The Socrates of Plato’s Republic  is well aware, however, of the fragility of even a perfect state and the risk of its degeneration  into the pathological  forms of  a military style Spartan state, and the even worse pathological forms of oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. For each of these forms of state there is a corresponding type of personality. For Plato and Aristotle, in other words, there is a fundamental logical relation between  our descriptions of personal identity and our descriptions of state identity.

Plato  would not have agreed with Churchill in his judgment that Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other kinds, principally because the democracy that Churchill was referring to was a form of government very different to the direct democracy that the Greeks founded and tried to perfect, and in the process testing the scope and limits of personal freedom to their utmost. The Greeks discovered that direct democracy does not work because there needed to be a representative and  constitutional structure which translates the power of the people into something which benefits everybody, or something which benefits what they referred to as the common good. Aristotle saw clearly that the essential nature of this power of the people embodied a pluralism which logically could not be transformed into the perfect unity which Plato was seeking . The only form of government which could deal with the problems posed by pluralistic forms of life in the State was what Aristotle  called the constitutional form that  evolved naturally from families forming villages and villages forming cities. The idea of a nation state may have been  a pathological idea for Aristotle. He must have been more than surprized when one of his pupils, Alexander the Great embarked on his Empire building project.

Our modern ears are not tuned to the chords of Aristotle’s thought but it is interesting to note that at least three other major Philosophers  of different periods, may have seen the fundamental limitations of the nation state: Kant. Hannah Arendt and Paul Ricouer. Kant’s  enlightenment ideas on this issue are to be found in his political/historical writings in which he prophetically at the end of the 1700’s sketches out the blueprint for a United Nations as a means of dealing with the pathological war like  nature  of  empire builders and nation -like conglomerations. The reasoning we find in these writings follows directly the revolution in ethical theory that his categorical imperative brought about. Maxims of action could be universalized, he argued, thereby reversing a philosophical prejudice in favour of theoretical reasoning that had prevailed since Aristotle’s philosophy had lost  its influence in the  cultures of the world. Kant’s ethical theory  also restored freedom in the social and political worlds and demanded as a consequence respect for  an individuals human rights which we all know is one of the major supporting columns of the United Nations along with a desire for universal peace. As suggested  nations states as such  did not exist during the Kantian period. When they did come into existence they bore all the characteristics of the nation-like conglomerates which Kant found to be pathological formations. Nation states  were largely a creation of the 19th century and  their pathological nature only became evident after the second world war for most of us(Freud saw this much earlier with his eagle eyes).

Hannah Arendt discusses this phenomenon at length in her work “the “Origins of Totalitarianism” but for the purposes of this essay her work on the trial of Eichmann is more pertinent reading. She refers to Eichmann’s personality as “banal”: his speech peppered with clichés and superficial description. He was, she suggests a product of a “scientific” education and a populist culture which believed that it was capable of everything it set its mind to do with a race of supermen at its disposal  determined to put Germany first and make Germany great again. Eichmann referred to Kant in his defense and I suppose this puts him in a league above some of the contemporary populists presently strutting on the world stage. Arendt died in 1975 and was spared the details of the current resurrection of populism but her writings suggest that she would not have been particularly surprized by the phenomenon.

Paul Ricouer died in 2005 and also missed the current American anti-globalisation and British anti-European brand of populism.  He did, however,  witness the problems with the nation state in the context of anti-European movements and he did address this very interesting philosophical question of the  identity of the nation state. He, like Arendt, points to the problems nationalist movements pose for the natural pluralistic diversity of  conglomerations of populations  and suggests that history and tradition in itself is not sufficient to constitute a state. Ricouer was more critical of Kant than Arendt  and would probably have been prepared to accept a Hegelian teleological interpretation of  tradition and history: an interpretation which characterises the flow of history dialectically in terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis: capitalism, communism and humanistic liberalism. More importantly Ricouer  implicitly embraces an Aristotelian model of state identity when he proposes his philosophical response to the globalizing forces  of public and political life: forces which  involve commerce, technology, ecology and national security  He too believes that state identity has a similar structure to  an individual’s  personal identity.

Ricouer  claims that the globalization forces referred to above  in the political system produces fragility. Counteracting   forces  are therefore needed to create a new form of  European political  authority. He suggests that religious institutions, institutions concerned with knowledge and learning , including schools and universities, should engage with this problem by trying to build opinion for a new political authority. He also suggests three mechanisms or models that can be culturally used in this process  of cultural evolution.  Firstly, a model of linguistic hospitality involving the translation of texts and discourse from other European  cultures, secondly  the exchange of cultural memories of norms, perspectives, customs and traditions of other European nations and thirdly a mechanism or model of  secular forgiveness which is seen in the operation of the law in its intention to heal the injured and compensate the victim of selfishness or aggression.   This third  model or mechanism is more than an echo of the Socratic appeal not to return evil for the evil done to one by outsiders.. This category transcends that of individual rights and the law and resembles a Buddhist gift which one can ask for but cannot demand.

Ricouer has also written one of the greatest  books written on Freud, in which he points out the  strength and limitations of psychoanalytic categories in the explanation of cultural phenomena. Freud, who was asked by the League of Nations to write a discourse on War well before the second world war began, reasoned himself into a position in which the discontents of civilization should adopt a stoical attitude of resignation to the imperfections of their societies. This, according to Freud is the only wise avenue of approach to the question relating to how the individual “bears the burden of existence” and bears the burden of our imperfectly constructed States.

Culture, in Freud’s view is the battleground of two mighty instincts, the life instinct of an individual  which unites people  into families, villages and cities, and the death instinct  which   can only be deciphered at the level of   the  relation between people where forces work  conservatively to repeat the patterns of the past obsessively. These same forces work to  prevent wider and wider associations, sometimes  by destructively  dissolving existing constructed relations on a limited scale, or on a global scale in a world war. The life instinct, Eros, Freud argues , ought  in a perfect world, to triumph over the death instinct, Thanatos. The stoical attitude  appears to be an attitude one adopts whilst one observes the battle of the giants on the cultural scene. Freud  does not presume to even guess the outcome and stands in the shadow of Kant who was absolutely certain on moral grounds that Reason would prevail and a cosmopolitan kingdom of ends would be created as a consequence. Ricouer stands either in between these two positions or alternately to the right of Kant if one  believes the mechanism of forgiveness to have religious connotations. Freud has been mentioned in this context  in spite of Ricouers criticism that the Freudian archaeological theory of mind and society lacks a Hegelian teleological dimension (or Aristotelian dimension:the telos of the common good).

Freudian theory  is particularly valuable in the explanation of pathological phenomena. If the assumption of Plato and Aristotle  relating to the logical identity of personal identity and social or political identity is philosophically defensable then, even if Freudian theory might lack an important teleological dimension this might not be of decisive significance when it comes to the characterisation of pathological phenomena whether it be of a personal or political nature. Take the phenomenon of group identity which Freud wrote a paper about(Group Psychology and the Ego). The stronger the bond of identification with the group, the stronger the reaction to  “outsiders” however minimal the factual differences between the outsiders and the members of the group might be. This reasoning can be used to ground an  objection to the project of globalization, namely,  that the only alternative to the current concept of the nation state is some kind of world government. Now Kant particularly rejected the concept of world government on the grounds that this would  be tyrannical. If we connect this Kantian point to the Freudian reflection, the consequence would seem to be the kind of middle position suggested by Ricouer  in which a European project dilutes national identity and nationalism on the road  to the global project of further dilution of  the identification mechanisms involved in Euro-politanism. Freud clearly described the pathological consequences of identification mechanisms in relation to the mobilization of aggression against the Jews, but he  did not see the full consequences of this particular battle between Eros and Thanatos. He died in 1939. Had he been alive he would probably have observed that a German Jew was just as much a German as any non- Jewish German. His analysis of   the leader of the Germans at the time of his suicide would have been very cool and technical. Terms such as “pathological  or chronic narcissism”, “paranoia”  “delusional”for him were descriptive and explanatory and embedded in a network of concepts and principles rather than emotionally laden as they seem to be for us when taken out of their medical context. Hannah Arendt points out the banality of the way in which the everyday family German participated  in atrocities  during the day whilst going home in the evening to be fathers to their families. In doing so, she argues, this phenomenon  bears witness to the Freudian battle of  the giants on the cultural stage. The same mechanism, if not same instincts, binding a child to his parents binds a citizen to his leader: one can identify out of love or as a consequence of exposure to aggression.

With all the Freud bashing going on in the name of “science” it is  not so difficult to believe that we have not learned very much about the pathological  mechanisms and phenomena operating at the social and political levels.  If one believes in the logical relation of the individual and the political,  and one understands how Freudian mechanisms are operating at the political level, then the idea of the nation state being  driven into nationalistic isolationist  anti-immigration policies  and thereby manifesting itself as a pathological  obsessive compulsion, becomes understandable. History has taught us about the causes of social and political pathology but the understanding of the mechanisms of the identity  formation of groups need further  philosophical investigation. Until that happens we will not be able to judge whether the counteracting mechanisms of the translation of cultures, the exchange of  cultural memories relating to traditions customs and mores, and the secular concept of forgiveness suggested by Ricouer, will  heal the wounds inflicted by globalization upon the pathological nation state.

Until  we understand the mechanisms of political identity we risk embracing the pathological elements of our politics  and blaming all our woes on Globalisation.

The disintegration of Political Institutions: Populism, Science, Psychology, and Humanistic Liberalism

Views: 81

Paul Ricoeur refers in his writings on Political Responsibility to an interesting Humanistic/philosophical model to represent  the concepts of power and authority.  Power, he argues, rests with the people, and authority rests with the State. We are asked to conceive of this relation of power and authority as  a triangle. The former, power,  he characterizes as embedded in a base of community life where we live together ,with and for one another, in the midst of  just institutions. The latter, authority, the  parts of the triangle reaching from the base to the apex, he argues, is a hierarchical structure which it is necessary to submit to if the society is to preserve itself in the face of external and internal threats. This structure , he argues, is necessary  for all kinds of states but  as one can readily see, it manifests a paradox in the combining of authority  in the form of legitimate law governed force, and  the power of the will of the people  that has evolved   slowly,  historically and ethically to constitute a culture. Given the nature of the model, the culture, mores, and customs of a society can, unless authority is especially sensitive to the will of the people be plagued by questionable political decisions and attitudes . These decisions and attitudes have a special  holistic characteristic in that the major action of politicians which is being decided upon is the passing of laws.

The figure of a triangle obviously reminds us of  Humanistic Psychology: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs  which makes reference to both personal, social and cultural needs but does not directly reflect economic or political needs. During modern times we have witnessed the unleashing of the economic forces of globalization which are indifferent to the   force of the ethical imperative that  is suggested in Maslow’s hierarchy.  In this process, global economic needs  have differentiated themselves from  national needs. In this process State economic decisions have become increasingly abstract and are understood only by groups of experts.

Now this differentiation reminds me of the deliberate decision taken by Psychology in 1870 to detach itself from the domain of Philosophy and thereby, as a consequence,  detach itself from the realm of  humanistic and ethical description and explanation.  The decision was motivated by  a  desire to become more scientific  and thereby  advance knowledge of the human condition. Difficult to comprehend abstraction was also the result of this process. Theories of causation lie behind experimental manipulation of supposedly unvarying independent variables and dependent variables which can be quantified and  measured. Probability theory is used in order to attempt to establish whether  the correlations observed and measured  can be  regarded as indications of whether there is a causal relation between the variables. The problem with the experimental method and its accompanying probability theory is that it presupposes a form of the law of induction that things and relations which have not changed in the past will not change in the future. Now, as long as one is dealing with causation between at least one unvarying variable and one dependent variable the inductive method is a defendable assumption. But if one is to use probability theory to support the experimental method another assumption is required in accordance with Bayes´s theorem, which states that the probability of an event occurring is related to the information which one has about it. Now if one has a  covered container with 50 balls, 25 of which are white and 25 of which are black, and we wish to calculate the probability of the event of drawing a white ball  on the first draw, our information about the number of possible events in the system  is  finite and closed and probabilities can be accurately calculated.  But the problem is this: in  Psychological experiments, where we do  have information of all the possible variables affecting possible outcomes, the results of the experiment  very often merely produce knowledge of a relation which  we already had knowledge of via experience or philosophical theory. Indeed, experience itself may be sufficient  for knowledge of the cause-effect relations.  The very best we achieve is a confirmation of what we already know. This, as one can see, is problematic from the point of view of the original motivation for the decision taken by Psychology  to move away from Humanistic Philosophy which was struggling with the larger issue of determining the psychological and situational factors  involved in open systems, i.e. in systems where  agents freely choose what they ought and ought not to do. The real problem with this state of affairs is that we need to advance our knowledge of the human condition if we are going to understand ourselves and our relation to politics.  Isolation from philosophical assumptions of the human condition and the ethical imperative has not produced very much of significance in almost 150 years. If a real comparison of progress in these two respective areas of research were to be made then what has been discovered  in the name of science would then have to be compared with 150 years of philosophical reflection which would include all the philosophical discoveries of  modern academic Aristotelians and Kantians, existentialism,phenomenology, hermeneutics and Analytical Philosophy of different kinds. We could for example ask whether Experimental research  has contributed  to our knowledge of the psychological and situational variables involved in political thinking and decision making. One would have to compare the results of such research with, for example, Paul Ricoeur’s and Hannah Arendt’s political and psychological(anthropological) research and reflections, some of which are presented here. The hypothesis presented here then is :No psychological theory using purely experimental method and results  can compare with the humanistic  method and results of interpretation, hermeneutics and logic in the field of political “science”. What we have in these  experimentally based theories is a fruitless scientific abstraction comparable  to economic abstraction  which is  a privileged domain of small groups of experts.

Ricouer  presented  his philosophical model in a number of sources (principally in  the two articles “Fragility and Responsibility” and “Ethics and Politics”) and it differs significantly from Maslow’s Humanistic Psychological theory even if the latter  carries interesting philosophical and ethical assumptions about the human condition.Paradoxically  it might be the partial reliance on the scientific  causal principle which limits the scope of  Maslow’s theory.

Let us try to see, for example whether a non humanistic approach using an experimental mind set could solve the problem of analysing the concept of civil disobedience in the political framework of “the Law”.

The law can be changed, either  by the government changing the law  or by the government  adding another law to the system. The government has the authority to do these things. However during the last century the will of the people has made itself heard in organised campaigns of demonstration and civil disobedience. The base of the triangle has, that is to say, not submitted to the authority of governmental institutions. It has expressed its power and its discontent with governmental authority. Why? It is often claimed that the laws of science are immutable and immune to change and  the laws of men contingent and changeable.  Yet in the civil rights movements, the anti Vietnam war,  and the CND demonstrations it almost seems as if some immutable unchangeable law was on the side of the demonstrators, as if some timeless knowledge was being expressed by crowds surging through streets flashing their placards for the cameras and chanting.  Kant believed the moral law was immutable and unchangeable and thought it would take man one hundred thousand years to fully understand this law, thus echoing the old Platonic chorus that knowledge is required for the just exercise of power and authority. Not the kind of abstract theoretical knowledge that “scientific” experts claim to possess but the practical knowledge that keeps the society evolving and developing.  This practical knowledge, made explicit in the Enlightenment moral philosophy of Kant,  demands the kind of consciousness that is needed to coordinate the customs , mores and ethical imperatives of the people with their representatives in authority who have the task of translating the power of the people into the power of government. Authority can only use the power of the people on the condition that it maintains its connection with the customs mores and ethical laws of the people. Hannah Arendt argues that in times of turmoil which she defines in terms of confusion, polarization and the growing bitterness of our debates are actually caused by a theoretical failure to come to terms with and understand  the phenomenon of civil disobedience. From the point of view of  the authorities, a crowd of  unruly demonstrators are merely a number of individuals breaking the law and disturbing the peace  whereas from the point of view of the base of the triangle,  the ethically motivated demonstrators,  the issue is rather as it was for Thoreau “let  justice be done even if the world perishes” a view shared by Lincoln in the issue of the civil war over slavery. Aristotle claimed that the good man could only be a good citizen in a good state. Kant acknowledges this trinity of terms(the good man, the good citizen, the good state) necessary to analyse the phenomenon of justice and civil disobedience and points out that even a race of devils  could found a nation if they were intelligent enough thus highlighting the importance of the good citizens relation to the moral law and the laws of the state. We are all conscious of the facts that historical processes take decades to reveal their significance. If we believe we are living in time of turmoil at the moment perhaps we should look back to the past for traces of the process which has led us to our current situation. Arendt in writing about civil disobedience reports the pessimism in the USA during the 1960’s where law writers were  rhetorically claiming that the law is dead and referred  to “the cancerous growth of disobediences” against the background of the claim that law enforcement authorities had been failing for many years to enforce the law especially in relation to drug offences, mugging and burglary.  She maintains with reference  to recent reports that over half the crimes are never reported and that only one in a hundred criminal offenders will ever go to prison. Research studies are not needed, she claims to establish the fact that criminal acts probably have no legal consequences whatsoever. Arendt points out that were the system more successful the court and prison system would collapse. The answer of of the authorities to this situation is to commission a manifold of scientific studies  devoted to discovering the “deeper causes” whilst ignoring the more obvious causes  under their  noses. Add to these reflections on criminal law the frequency of civil disobedience in the post war world   which resulted in  government disrespect for the  group of society that is  intentionally disobedient and the reciprocating disrespect and contempt for political authority  and we have , according to Arendt a recipe  the disintegration of political institutions and thereby a recipe for a popular revolution. Is what we experiencing in the USA today exactly what Hannah Arendt predicted?

 

 

Humanistic liberalism and the law(Politics,the ethical imperative, and the law)

Views: 127

Humanistic liberalism has a view of the law and politics which is Kantian, and to the extent that much Kantian ethics and politics  has an Aristotelian flavour, the views of Aristotle are  also considered carefully by humanists  in spite of the criticisms Aristotle has received on the fronts of slavery and feminism. We have argued in an earlier paper, with Paul Ricoeur, that Politics is fragile and can be efficacious only to the extent that the citizens (which  have been constituted by a state and in turn constitute the state in a relation of mutual implication) care about the Politics of their state. This statement has the following relation to the law: the law is an action of a government(by the people and for the people) which means that as long as a law meets the criteria of justice(an unjust law is no law at all),  the people have the same duty to follow an exterior law as they do to follow an internalised  moral law. Kant argues in his third formulation of the categorical imperative that when citizens and politicians are mutually doing their duty there is a logical(in terms of the ought system of concepts and the practical reasoning that is operating in accordance with the idea of freedom) relation between citizens and their government and Kant calls such a state of affairs a kingdom of ends. Citizens treat the government as an end in itself, as having a value in itself, and the government reciprocates by treating citizens as ends in themselves partly by guaranteeing them the maximum freedom consistent with the principle of equal freedom for all. But although this might be how we ought to think about these matters, this is not in fact how we do think and this, it is argued, suffices to burst the idealistic utopian bubble of the humanistic liberal. I think the answer to this objection is a version of the so called parallel argument strategy which runs as follows: if one ought to think logically but does not, does this entail that the laws of logic which give language its meaning and truth value are to  be discarded? Why, then is it relatively easy to accept the latter argument in relation to the laws of logic but not as easy to accept the former argument relating to the laws of man? Here is an account  by Paul Ricoeur which might help to explain some of the difficulties we have with understanding the logical nature of the laws of men. Ricoeur claims that  at least criminal  law  has an instrumental nature which is anti-humanistic and runs against the flow of  both humanism and liberalism. Criminal law presupposes the legitimacy of physical force and violence(of power) in relation to those who fail to obey the law. The law punishes. After the contemplative weighing of evidence in the tribunal comes the judgment in accordance with the law and thereafter comes the freedom from the punishment or the punishment itself(the instrumental end–the substitute vengeance). Even the contemplative process is merely a  more peaceful substitution for what might happen in the interaction between a partner that has been harmed and a partner seeking vengeance. The latter, if he is a citizen and cares for the state he lives in  hopefully will reject a violent form of vengeance and accept the substitute vengeance offered.

The long process of the regulation of the law involves written laws, a tribunal in which evidence can be presented and weighed and competent independent people whose task it is to regulate the process fairly and pass fair judgment. This process at first sight looks very scientific and though there is classification of actions and arguments which have a logical structure, there is also art, a story being told in the courtroom which is  open to interpretation, and there is also interpretation involved in the process of deciding which law is relevant to the narrated actions as well as which facts are relevant and which parts of the story are facts and which not. Criminal law obviously is a law which resolves conflicts with the motivator of conflicts, namely violence. It is divisive and divides society into the guilty and the not guilty. Many political realists have this model of law in mind when they speak about power and security: we the people shall protect ourselves from all enemies, imagined or real. Paul Ricoeur points out that civil law differs from criminal law in that it is not politically divisive but, on the contrary a region of law which regulates the making and keeping of promises and the exchange of promises, mutually relating partners in a venture or project. The claim that “Promises ought to be kept” is used by  Kant  as an example of a categorical  imperative. It is, that is, the ethical imperative of society manifesting and symbolizing   the global trust the members of a society  have for each other. Should it transpire that someone fails to keep a promise, such a state of affairs undermines the trust that such a commitment entails   and civil law regulates both the possible material damages done to the injured party  and the  metaphysical damage that is done to the moral law.

Paul Ricoeur also discusses a third region of the law relating to the just distribution of benefits and burdens necessary for the Aristotelian flourishing life. Some benefits and burdens are economic but some are more constitutional. Constitutional issues such as education and citizenship  directly involve the ethical imperative. There is, however a third constitutional issue which is very relevant to our current situation and debate, namely, security. The recent executive order to temporarily stop refugees and immigrants from 7 selected predominantly Muslim countries  seems to affect directly  the ethical imperative and freedom  insofar as it is involved in education  and  of course seemingly also raises the the issue of citizen security. The latter  issue appears to be at least theoretically managed by the nation state and the other, the former,  seems to practically  transcend the nation state and be a manifestation of the more important aspect of the globalisation process. Given these  considerations there seem to be at least two relevant issues pertaining to the court decision over the matter  of whether the recent executive order  issued by President Trump was constitutional or not. One is whether there is a real empirical provable threat to the security of American citizens. Here one can wonder  whether the threat is purely hypothetical or alternatively one can wonder whether  the measures taken were disproportionate to the threat. The second relevant issue  concerns the ethical imperative at two political  levels: firstly the level of promises(the signing of the Geneva convention and the Human Rights charter), secondly at the level of education which ideally should be educating citizens to be citizens of the world via  ethical training and  its concentration on the universal truth and justice valued by all men.

So, much more is at issue with this court decision over a hastily crafted executive order than merely power of the President and the powerlessness of refugees, not to mention the powerlessness of those tens of thousands of visa holders who have been promised entrance and are now  in doubt as to whether State promises will be kept.

If the ethical imperative as a part of the deeper more meaningful process of globalisation is operating in the most powerful nation on earth then we should expect a decision which overturns at least  the more unjust parts of the executive order. If the Presidential order stands, the young people of today  have a task similar to that of the  non-white civil rights movements and nuclear disarmament movements of the last century, the task of peaceful civil disobedience in the form of demonstrating for the implementation of the ethical imperatives in all government.

Origins of Globalization, Totalitarianism, and the Ethical Imperative.

Views: 88

Hannah Arendt argues that Totalitarianism was unleashed by Imperialism which  in  its turn unleashed the power of a subterranean stream  of globalising forces that  surfaced and began to flow with  a power that the nation state was unable to harness or control: forces such as the will to colonise, the omnipotent will which felt that there was nothing which could limit its power,  and the mass feeling of powerlessness in the face of  powerful  institutions. Running deeply in a part of this stream is a  paradoxical current: a belief amidst an educated middle class in the actualising potential of the moral personality and the universal importance of an ethical  imperative.

In relation to the above thought consider  an interesting Philosophical and Historical perspective which relates to Ernst Cassirer’s work  “The Myth of State”. Cassirer claims that all political theories of the 17th century have a common metaphysical/mathematical background. Metaphysical thought  in the following  century, amidst philosophers, took precedence over theological thought which in its turn was already being undermined by the subterranean stream of Stoical belief in a moral personality  that  surfaced first in the form of the thought of Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence which began with these famous words:

“We hold these truths to be self evident. That all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights: that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The above experiential  reflection on the rights and dignity of man  preceded their philosophical/ethical justification through the works of Kant, a few years later, which put the final nail in the coffin of speculative metaphysics of all kinds ,and also provided a philosophical foundation for both human rights and the inevitable philosophical consequences:  the idea of a United Nations and cosmopolitanism. Further the Kantian “Copernican revolution” provided a rational, non experiential  foundation for  religion and politics and superseded the social contract theory of Hobbes and Locke which originated from the empirical/scientific method: the method  of resolving  a known whole into less known elements and synthesising these elements back into a constructed whole again. In this methodical process an individual’s moral personality mysteriously disappeared  especially in the case of Hobbes who claimed that there was a legal bond between subjects and their sovereign which amounted to a pact of submission on all issues related to the sovereigns power and authority.

Cassirer argues that what we were witnessing  during these years of  the Enlightenment was a revival of  Stoic ideas which

“seemed alone equal to the task of providing principles admitted by every nation, every creed, every sect.”

One critical element  of this revival was the idea that if a man was forced to give up his personality he would cease to be a moral being, he would become a slave of the Prince or the sovereign. Kant  found a middle position between an experiential view and   a foundation in Cartesian thought. He favoured a  position with   a foundation in action that  maintains a trust in non  mathematical and non- speculative theorising.

“Kantian” Actions were evaluated in terms of theoretical standards and it was these  standards  that provided the 18th century with its strength, inner unity and Spirit.  This absolute Spirit  unfortunately resulted in Romanticism and its attempt to poeticize the world in all its aspects in defiance of the political and philosophical ideals of previous Kantian generations. The poetic spirit   reduced history to a romantic account of the portraits of great heroes and  reduced  ethics  to reliving the spirit of the Homeric pre-Socratic era. This Romantic focus probably diverted the Kantian emphasis  on  free ethical action and the dignity of man into subterranean experiential caverns . The Romantic spirit dominated and Carlyle´s historical theory of hero-worship was transformed into race worship in which it was maintained that only the white man possessed the will power to build a  cultural and political life(Gobineau).  The black and yellow races, it was claimed, did not have the energy or the spirit for such work. Thus was born:

“the totalitarianism of race that prepared the way for the late concept of the totalitarian states”(Cassirer,The Myth of the State”).

Romanticism was opposed by Academic Philosophy and Science which,  in its turn attempted to continue the project of Hobbes:  subjecting politics to the scientific method. Psychology,  instead of focusing on the Philosophical idea of action  preferred  to use  a scientifically determined concept of behaviour which was value neutral and for that very reason could not be used  in the debate about the moral personality and the ethical imperative.

According to Arendt, the negative sub-currents of globalisation  transformed a doctrinal  religious prejudice against the Jews into a racial prejudice which manifested itself into the anti-Semiticism of the first political parties in Europe  in the 1870’s . For Gobineau , Kantian ethics and its categorical imperative with its universal condition and assumption of a universal moral personality was a contradiction of the facts: there was no universal ethical attitude or personality.  Behind such conviction was a scientific and epistemological  claim that only the facts would reveal whether such a personality  was  a reality. If the claim was that such a personality was a universal phenomenon it would suffice to use the scientific method and engage in scientific observation to  detect one actual case in which this was not true. One case observed sufficed  for the universal theory to collapse.  But all this teaches us is that a scientific and  epistemological claim searching for the truth is a very different kind of claim to an ethical judgment relating to the idea of the good which is behind all ethical action. The idea of the good situates us in what modern philosophers call the “ought-system of concepts” in which arguments are constructed in terms of an ought major premise and an an ought in the conclusion. We ought to have ethical self knowledge but the fact that many people do not is still consistent with the major premise that we all ought to develop ethical personalities and the conclusion that an individual ought to develop his moral personality, that an individual has a duty to develop their moral personality.

The relevance of this article to the Trump-phenomenon is the following: there is as yet no totalitarian goal to rule the world  but the claim “Make America Great again” and the total disrespect for other heads of states in Mexico, Australia etc suggest a move in that direction. Purges are limited  and non fatal  : they were more common during the election campaign.The “America first” slogan is built on a simplistic understanding of the political intentions and economic  consequences of Globalisation and a simplistic response  of regression back to an imaginary comfort zone when things were better and simpler. Globalisation itself is a complex process of historical dimensions  the various stages of which may be capable of simple projections and simple interpretations which look to the untrained eye as if they are facts.  In the populist reaction to this complex process of globalisation ,  is an absence of belief in the ethical imperative with its respect for the truth,  respect for the equality of man and  respect for human rights. Kant believed that the ethical imperative would take  one hundred thousand years to actualize into reality. Prior to the Trump phenomenon many commentators had claimed that we will reach Kant’s “golden age” sooner than Kant predicted . I wonder if they might be prepared to alter their correction of Kant in the light of current events.  Arendt would  be relishing what is happening in a positive light and would probably claim that what we are witnessing will force  many, who otherwise would remain passive, to  reflect upon what is happening and perhaps also reflect upon their passivity. Otherwise she would regard the idea of a future “golden age” as superstition.

 

Political Realism, Political idealism, Power and Justice: Security versus Human Rights

Views: 83

Political realism basically takes two forms but both forms deny, for different reasons, that politics is fundamentally  related to ethical categorical reasoning(the basis of justice and human rights) and both forms would claim that instrumental reasoning of different kinds form the preliminary stage of action which is fundamentally to be measured by its consequences. The first form of political instrumentalism or consequentialism is encountered in Machiavelli’s thoughts. Machiavelli in his work “The Prince”  attempts to provide pragmatic guidance for rulers, advice  that is free from “lofty ideals”, and he claims that private morality and public morality are to be separated for a Prince who has the task of governing people. He recommended a kind of “situational governorship” in which , if the circumstances demanded it , one would be wholly justified in deceiving and killing the nobility of a country if they threatened the power of the ruler. This kind of recommendation has led some   commentators to call this work a handbook in the art of criminal government. It is better he argued to be feared and loved than to be merely loved, or even worse, feared and hated.  He adds that it is very difficult to be both feared and loved and that therefore the ruler should satisfy himself with being feared. This recognizably bears the marks of a realpolitik which refuses to think in terms of any kind of political or ethical idealism. Machiavelli believes that  “idealism” means  something which  common sense “associates” with the notion of an “idea” which in the mind of the realist becomes strangely detached from the action which is guided by it. It is almost as if the realist believes that rationally based actions can proceed blindly and instinctively toward some goal or consequence. It is not surprising therefore that Machiavelli believes that it is important for the ruler to have knowledge of the manipulation of instinctively based emotions as well as knowledge of  the Psychology of the people one rules. For example:

“Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”(Machiavelli, The Prince)

And of course it it would be foolish to question a realist about whether the above description is a realistic description of the real situation he finds himself in.For the narcissistic realist that would be a sign that he is  hated  which in turn would require appropriate action on his part, namely punishment of his critic.

Hobbes is a a Political realist but  with different more scientific assumptions  and a scientific  method: the resolutive-compositive method of Galileo which he uses to describe and explain mans political activities. He has in common with Machiavelli a simplistic Psychology which claims that  the basic parts of man from his sensory-motor organs  up to his memory, imagination, and reason  all compose endeavours which are essentially in the service of mans appetites and aversions. Every voluntary action is determined by mans appetites and aversions(Hobbes, Leviathan). This composite  consequence  then entails  a further consequence that man always seeks some power when living in communities  which is determined by the amount by which his capacities, riches ,reputation and friends exceed those of other men.  In simple societies like a state of nature, there are further consequences, the powers of men oppose each other. There is a struggle  for power which can become  violent resulting in a war of all against all because some mens desires are without limit:

“So that in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death.”

Because the war of all against all cannot produce peace and commodious living Hobbes envisages a conditional justification of distributing ones own personal power to that of a sovereign who assimilates all  the power,  in return for the absolute obedience of  the citizen. The sovereign  provides the conditions necessary for a bourgeois  market driven society in which men continue to strive for power  in an environment which banishes the omnipresence of death  unless related to  the threat of the sanction of the law if their desires are uncontrolled. For Hobbes, a mans value is quantified by his capacities, riches reputation and friends.

This is in stark contrast to the idealistic Kantian concept  of man as an  end in himself irrespective of his capacities, riches, reputation and friends. For Kant man does not have a market value because,  even if we concede that this simplistic picture of man refers to the facts about man and his relation to other men and his society, values cannot logically be deduced from facts. An ought cannot be derived from an is without committing the naturalistic fallacy. This is the major reason why political idealism is  closer to the truth than political realism but in itself is not the whole truth.

The salience of the above post for  the events we are currently experiencing in Syria, the UK(the land of Hobbes) and the USA is  the following. The world is experiencing the consequences of the disconnection of value-laden ideas to action. Political  idealism maintains, for instance that the good intention behind the action, rather than the actions consequences, is “logically” related to to the action which it ontologically defines. If this it is correct, this is  certainly an Aristotelian and Kantian position and it is one of the foundation stones of humanistic liberalism. From this view of action we derive our views of justice and human rights. This view  certainly rests on psychological or anthropological conditions far more complex than we see in either of Hobbes’ or Machiavelli’s theories which are fundamentally individualistic or egocentric in Hobbes’s case and   narcissistic in Machiavelli’s case. These are the theories that allow us  adopt an attitude which allows us to sign and support executive orders affecting a significant proportion of the Muslim world, an executive order  whose major motivation is consequentialist: allowing the most powerful nation in the world to feel safe in the face of, relatively speaking, small numbers of terrorists.

“An unjust law is no law at all”(St Augustine)

Views: 128

The above  quote sprang to mind whilst viewing CNN : Zakharia Fareed’s GPS on the  29th January 2017.

A panel of participants were discussing the legal action taken by the ACLU against the temporary anti-immigration decree signed into force by President Trump earlier in the week. A legal representative for the ACLU outlined  the  complex and convincing argument which resulted in a high court judge temporarily mitigating the decrees’ more devastating consequences for some of the groups of people affected.  The point was made that the decree violated  firstly, the constitution, secondly , the right to due process under the law, thirdly, some  legislation relating to discrimination against religious groups, and fourthly, treaties  such as the Geneva convention which have been signed by America and give all refugees the right of asylum in the country. The implication being made was that the decree was an anti-Muslim measure.

Another legal expert countered the ACLU position  with the view that, given the history of judgments from the US court system,  it was highly unlikely  that the action would succeed simply because there had been a history of discriminatory legal judgments against  minority groups including the Chinese which still stand as precedents in the legal system today.  It was also claimed that  President Obama had during his presidency taken up this very  issue of the courts “second guessing” the government on national security issues. The legal expert countering the ACLU expert  claimed that he did not approve of the decree but was basically arguing that the law was the law and with respect to the issue of anti-Muslim discrimination  this would not be the court’s position in view of the fact that some Muslim countries were excluded from the decree.

The next panel participant was a lady  who had been a Middle Eastern correspondent and claimed, that under the temporary anti-immigration decree she would be prevented from entering the USA, as would Fareed if he left and decided to return. Her  argument basically was  that “an unjust law is not a law at all”. She went on to make another  point about White supremacy and made the connection to the Trump government via  the new head of national security Steve Bannon who, it was claimed,  previously edited a right wing  media outlet. She was very articulate and being an ex-debate coach I likened her performance to a speech in a debating competition. I absolutely agree with her that the  problem with the  argument she was attacking was that it was completely ignoring the humanistic element of the  whole issue.(CNN had immediately prior to GPS been showing the crowds of demonstrators at a large number of airports up and down the US). But in defence of the legal expert perhaps his assignment from CNN was merely to respond to the ACLU court action.  In good debating tradition the legal expert that she had attacked was allowed to respond  but in doing so he  completely ignored her major argument that this was a constitutional  and humanistic issue transcending the actual practice and precedent of law. She was admonished for categorising 47% of the voters as white supremacists and also for letting her passions get the better of her reason.

I would like to argue that, from a humanistic liberal point of view ,the Middle East expert had a perfectly legitimate argument which was ignored and which goes all the way back to St Augustine who argued that the actual law must meet criteria of divine or eternal law if it is to be a just law at all. If we move forward into the realm of philosophy from the realm of religion  and apply St Augustine’s quote in this new context , Kant(an enlightenment philosopher)would definitely say that any law which was not in accordance with the moral law, e.g. did not respect people’s  freedom as an end in itself, was not a bona fide law at all.  For Kant, then,  the moral law was intimately connected to freedom and freedom could only be restricted if it encroached upon the freedom of others. He is often accused of being very formal and logical in his characterisation of the moral law but he concretises his first abstract formation of the moral law with the demand that we “act in accordance with the humanity in ourselves and others by never treating anyone solely as a means but always also as an end in themselves”. Philosophers during the Enlightenment and since have also been very quick to point out that no legal law can change the moral law but the moral law has very often in history served as the corrector of unjust laws. Move beyond the enlightenment to the civil rights demonstrations in the US led by Martin Luther King and you will find a concrete example of what I am saying.  Martin Luther King referred to the moral law in his arguments and used St Augustine’s quote.

Earlier during the evening on a CNN report, a senior democrat had used the image of the statue of liberty weeping in connection with the temporary anti-immigration decree. I know the lady statue of justice is blindfolded but when the Middle East expert  was neutralised because of her “passion” it was like hearing the statue of justice   wailing and then witnessing her being gagged, at least in respect of this one very important argument. This for me illustrated the success of the Trump media campaign in “scaring” reporters away from the philosophically important humanistic issues that are involved here. This phenomenon also occurred throughout the election campaign and is continuing. Reference was made to the fact that Fox news was the preferred channel for the Trump team and I am truly sorry if this criticism of CNN drives even one viewer in that direction because, in my opinion CNN is the channel that is succumbing the least of all American channels to all attempts to neutralise the media.

I do not know what the outcome of the court action will be  considering the fact that supreme court justices are  politically appointed, but if the decree stands then we will indeed be faced with the reality of living with an unjust law in this ,the 21st century in the USA. The law and morality will be split apart and only mass demonstrations of the magnitude of the civil rights marches last century will restore the marriage. However, even if that is the case in the meantime there is still the very real issue of the confusion created  at airports because of the lack of communication concerning which groups of people were and which groups of people were not to be screened or allowed entry.

Just a footnote concerning the relation of the President to reality. At the same time as the mass demonstrations were being televised at airports in the US, the President claimed that things were going “very nicely”.  The key philosophical issue here is how to correctly describe and explain the phenomenon we are presented with. I saw no comment on the media about the Presidents statement. This inversion of the good and the bad, the truth and the false  by Trump and his team is a tactic that has wrong-footed the mass media for more than 6 months now and it is time for them to attend to their footwork and live up to the expectations that all have of the 4th estate.

 

 

 

The Banality of Authoritarian leadership

Views: 190

The title of this post attempts to echo a comment by Hannah Arendt in her book  on Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem. In this work she claims that after examination of all  the interview material with Psychologists and other officials, and after witnessing the events of the trial, one can draw no other conclusion about the personality and character of Eichmann than that he merely was not able to think. This opinion flew in the face of the prevailing discussion which tended toward a religious categorization of what happened in terms of the evil of  Eichmann’s actions and character. The comment “the banality of evil” seemed to many Jews to trivialize what had happened in the holocaust  exactly because they believed strongly that a religious idea of the sacred served as the standard by which to measure a man and his actions. To a Philosopher who characterizes the humanity of a man in terms of his/her ability to think, however, the accusation  has exactly equivalent dramatic value. Someone who fails to think in accordance with the basic categories of morality appears less than human. Popular opinion might even think of such people  as monsters(rather than devils: but are not devils a kind of monster?).

So what is the evidence for  judging that  current political leaders might  have difficulties with the capacity of thought in general but in particular with ethical thought? In an interview on television shown on CNN on the 26th January 2017, it was  argued  by the President of the USA  that he believed that torture should be used on suspected terrorists and the reason he gave for his belief concerning the truth of his claim  is that people in his intelligence agencies have told him that torture works. This was a somewhat surprising admission given an earlier claim  that one of his own newly  chosen cabinet ministers with extensive military experience had provided him with arguments that torture is not a good idea. Other commentators have pointed out that torture  is in fact against the law of  the country  and  a change in the law would be needed  if  it  was to be a possible anti-terrorist strategy. I am not sure whether  it was part of the same argument or a separate section of the interview but the President also seemed to be arguing that there was so much hate in the world that the decision to torture  terrorists would not worsen matters noticeably. One is reminded  here of  the view of every humanist since Buddha that violence breeds more violence, that the policy of an eye for an eye would lead to a world of blind people trying to find their way to their destinations. It appears then that we have at least one current world leader who responds emotionally to  both “sound bites”  and  images of the sizes of inauguration audiences without any thought  or critical capacity. Of course it would be foolish to suggest that this leader is like Eichmann, the mass murderer in all respects or even most respects. The argument is only that there is sufficient resemblance between the banality of Eichmann’s behaviour as recorded in his pre-trial testimony and his witnessed court room behaviour  and the banality of  pre-and post inauguration behaviour of the latest President of the USA. The most obvious difference between Eichmann and Trump is, of course that Eichmann was merely a cog in the Nazi machine being directed by a larger cog higher up the chain. But for those of us who still read books, having ones life run by sound bites and television images  is represented very well by the image of cogs blindly turning other cogs.

Indeed it might be the very banality of  the behaviour and language of morally  confused people that  causes a mist of confusion to descend upon everyone in their vicinity and which allows a popular  “acceptance” of alternative moral  positions.

The danger of relativizing morality is that the next stage in that process is to believe that the law can be manipulated in the same way in which one manipulates  other people. The law becomes another cog in the machine. Not to mention the fact that we have another leader to the East who cares little for International law and who has been characterized as delusional  in relation to his behaviour in  the Ukraine. The President of the USA wishes peaceful relations with  this warmonger and  it is not difficult to see why. The apprentice may be  seeking a master in the arena of the manipulation of nations. He may be seeking to be a larger cog in a larger machine.

The Open Society and its enemies

Views: 98

“The Open Society and its enemies” is a two volume work by Karl Popper claiming that Plato, Hegel and Marx were the enemies of open societies. I am not sure that this is fair judgment of Plato’s political ideas since many of these are still used as a standard by which to measure justice in societies today. Plato was definitely not a liberal but many humanistic liberals have sought and found inspiration in his dialogues. It should also be remembered that Plato’s “Republic” is the first systematic attempt to analyse political ideas such as justice and freedom. Since I have, in earlier posts, raised the question of whether humanistic liberalism is in the process of being dismantled by current events in the UK and USA it might be useful to use some of Plato’s ideas to analyse the phenomenon of  Mr Donald Trump in terms of the idea of being an enemy of the open society. The BBC in a short critical presentation compares some of Plato’s criticism of  classical Greek direct democracy with what is currently happening in the USA. According to the BBC’s presentation of Plato, when parents are no longer respected by their children and when teachers become afraid of their students a tyrant from the oligarchs will emerge to tempt the people with promises that he will solve all their problems and deliver a better life. Now one of the reasons why our liberal democracies are representative and not direct democracies is partly to eliminate the phenomenon of the tyrant via  a system of representative democracy which functions in accordance with the classical Greek idea of areté.  Areté means excellence  when referring to action and virtuous when referring to an agent and involved in this idea is the message of the Republic which is that no one can govern in accordance with areté unless one has the appropriate knowledge. The warning bells relating to President Trumps  lack of practical wisdom and competence have been ringing all through his campaign. A stable liberal representative democracy would have heeded the significance of these bells and any  candidate should have been stopped in their  tracks by the collective tonnage of  rational argument in the media and through the collective tonnage of resultant public demonstrations. Now unfortunately the media did not  fulfill its obligations in this respect  and demonstrations only reached significant proportions the day after Trump was inaugurated.

In classical Greece during the time of the philosophers, a man of practical wisdom  could stand in the market place and his arguments be heard and understood. I do not think the media are the only party to blame  for the current chaotic situation because I am sure they will maintain  that the argument that Trump was not qualified for the position of the Presidency was presented adequately to an audience that refused to listen or understand. Plato, suggested in the Republic as a definition of Justice in the State, a principle of specialisation in which he claims that people of  the wealthy class should not interfere with the ruling class and furthermore the wealthy man should never rule  for fear of the corruption of the office through abuse of power in for example, favouring his friends and family. But the real bite of the principle of specialisation relates to areté, the excellence of the rulers political wisdom, and in this respect the medias argument is a poor one  because quite simply the sound bites we heard in the media interviews of Trump never achieved the level of practical wisdom, never were in accordance with areté, the excellence we expect from a President and his interrogators. One of the messages of the Republic was that training and thorough education was of vital importance for the rulers but since Ronald Reagan one must assume that the Republic of the USA no longer believes in that idea. Perhaps the future will see the birth of the concept of the apprentice President.

Political Responsibility

Views: 160

Paul Ricoeur, the late French Philosopher, would have been fascinated by the twistings and turnings of current events in two of the bastions of political liberalism: the UK and the USA. His ethically based political theory reaches back to the Greeks and Aristotle, the Enlightenment and Kant, and engages with contemporary theories of Justice as manifested by the debates between Rawls and Nozick, Habermas and Gadamer. Ricoeur’s  primary claim is that Politics is vitally important to the well being of us all, yet it is simultaneously surprisingly fragile. Both of these factors, he argues entails that we owe it to politics to act and vote responsibly. In particular we owe a complex allegiance to our body politic which involves both respecting the status quo which has given us so much, and respecting those that criticize the status quo for its inadequacies to deliver the flourishing lives we all hope for.  Ricoeur analyses political discourse and finds a number of dialectical processes operating. Among them is that between  the utopia we hope for and the values of the ideological factors that constitute the status quo which historically has provided us with so much stability and prosperity. We need to maintain a delicate balance between these two factors in our political acts and political talk. Politics, he argues, is a unique arena which requires the mastery of a unique set of capacities amongst which good judgment and sound reasoning are paramount. Ricoeur refers to a number of  other paradoxes which constitute the fragility of political life including the problem of transference, i.e. the problem of people from other arenas of life bringing the capacities that they use in those arenas, into politics. Two  arenas which immediately spring to mind in relation to this point are the arenas of business with its practices of wheeling and dealing and contractual “interpretations” and the arenas of science with its theoretically oriented practices, manipulation of  variables and experimental reductionism and verification. To appreciate the differences for example between the business world and the political world it suffices to compare the stability and longevity of the institutions of  business (a company or a bank) with the longevity and stability of political institutions like the legislative system or the educational system.Running a country is nothing like running a chain of hotels. Ricoeur’s criticisms of populism would point to the role of facts in the sound reasoning process. Without facts which by definition are true beliefs, reasoning cannot proceed to sound conclusions. Subjecting facts to an “interpretative process” might enable voters to vote for popular people with what they perceive to be unique interpretative and rhetorical abilities but time is going to reveal the consequences of such voting for the political system. Some commentators are arguing that we can forget about the dialectic between  a better more hopeful future and the present status quo. What is at stake is a dismantling of the political status quo in favor of an economic roller coaster ride ending at an unknown destination.

Such is the fragility of the political process and the nature of our responsibility toward it.

The Dismantling of Humanistic liberalism?

Views: 100

It must be difficult for both journalists and academics to describe  and explain what has happened in the world over the past 6 months. Two of the bastions of liberalism, the United Kingdom and the USA have both radically changed their political direction. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump were not just unexpected because  of a miscalculation of the values of a number of variables. These events were unexpected because a number of variables suddenly became irrelevant and a number of new variables seemingly appeared on our horizons. One of the variables which almost overnight  seemed to become irrelevant, and which had become part of the framework of political expectations in all developed nations since the Age of the Enlightenment, was that of Globalization. Whether it be the global exchange of ideas or of goods and services no expert  or group of experts could have foreseen that these processes would be displaced by populist slogans such as “Make America Great again ” or “Let us take control of our country again” which in their turn led people to  vote for the least likely of a pair of alternatives. The analysis of the reasons for our modern predicament by journalists and the more popularly inclined academics who appear constantly in our media  refer to  an interesting number of factors which possibly could help to describe exactly what has happened, but no systematic attempt has yet been made to explain the phenomena which have recently presented themselves. The ground swell of attitudes and opinions that were leading us toward Globalization, or what Kant referred to as Cosmopolitanism, suddenly were affected by the two seismic events referred to above  and the whole Project of the Enlightenment, namely the moral progress of the world appears to have been stopped in its course. The two world wars and the cold war of the last “terrible century”(Hannah Arendt) failed to permanently alter the agenda of the Enlightenment. Since then we have had over 70 years of Kantian progress which included the formation of the United Nations and the European Union. Humanistic liberalism seemed to have triumphed and the hundred thousand year journey which Kant predicted appeared to be much closer to fulfillment than expected. I do not believe that the phenomena of Brexit and Trump defy analysis  but I do believe that we do not as yet have an analysis of why what happened, happened. The academic and political project of humanistic liberalism has suffered a setback. Some have claimed that  this project is in the process of being dismantled. If this is the case one can well wonder whether this century is merely going to be a continuation in spirit of the previous century.

Michael James