The First Centrepiece lecture on Philosophical Psychology and its role in the Philosophy of Education: from the work, “The World Explored, the World Suffered:The Exeter lectures”

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The seminar room was packed. Robert and Sophia sat in the front row with their notebooks at the ready. Glynn and Jude sat at the rear. Harry drew a deep breath and exhaled before beginning:
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the first seminar in the series of the elective “Psychology and Education”. There will be 3 lectures in total.
The title of this course, requires an introduction because it is not obvious what “Psychology” actually is, i.e. it is not obvious what the term means. What is clear, is that many of the thoughts I will be talking about have their origin in other universes of discourse. That said, let’s begin at the beginning and note firstly, that the word “Psuche” in Greek is the etymological root of “Psyche”, which does not exclusively mean “mind” as some commentators have stipulated. The Greek expression has a broader meaning which is going to be important in characterizing the central question or questions the subject is concerned with. Psuche means life. You may wonder, ladies and gentlemen what is meant by life, i.e. what the Greeks were thinking about when they used the expression. The Greek classical narrator, Homer, apparently used the expression to refer to what was lacking in bodies strewn lifelessly on a battlefield. This has been misinterpreted over the ages in two directions. Firstly certain very concrete interpreters thought that it meant “breath”: the dead soldiers were no longer breathing. This was obviously in a sense incorrect, yet life surely cannot be the name of a simple biological phenomenon involving an exchange of gases necessary for activity: surely it must in some sense refer to the activity of living itself in a broader sense. Secondly, some more abstract interpreters thought that “psuche” must refer to some spiritual substance that was no longer present in the bodies of the soldiers, namely, their souls. These interpreters were of course armed with a particular theory about reality as a whole which divides it into two entities, a physical entity like the body which breathes, senses, and moves, and a mental entity which in some curious fashion is able to have experiences even when separated from a physical body. One needs to be in some sense conscious if experience is to be possible, it was argued, and thus was born the idea that Psuche meant something like “consciousness”.
In this respect “Anthropology” would have been a more apt name for the subject matter of Psychology. The term, Psuche, interpreted as “Life” or “Consciousness”, appears to be unable to convey the whole of what we are studying, namely, the human being living a human life. “Anthropos” in Greek means “human” and “Logos” means “study” or “systematic investigation”. If we move forward ca 2000 years, a tradition of studying man in a holistic spirit as man-in-society grew up in the German academic literature culminating in a work entitled “Anthropology” by Immanuel Kant. Kant’s work, followed one of the major currents of the stream of Enlightenment thought, and not only studied the human in his human Aristotelian context—his society— but also studied the human being as the proper holistic object of study in the light of the humanistic conviction that the subject of God cannot be studied other than as an idea in man’s mind. God as a theoretical idea had, on Kant’s account, become a hypothetical projection of man’s thinking processes and reasoning. And on this latter issue of man’s thinking processes, and the investigation of the human being, here is a quote, in illustration, from Kant’s preface to the work in question:
“All cultural progress, by which the human being advances his education, has the goal of applying this acquired knowledge and skill for the worlds use. but the most important object in the world to which he can apply them is the human being: because the human being is his own final end…..A doctrine of knowledge of the human being, systematically formulated(anthropology), can exist either in a physiological or in a pragmatic point of view.—Physiological knowledge of the human being concerns the investigation of what nature makes of the human being: pragmatic knowledge is the investigation of what he as a free acting being makes of himself, or can and should make of himself.”
During the Middle Ages and even during the Enlightenment, the idea of the Homeric/Platonic soul as capable of surviving to have experiences after the death of its host body had miraculously disentangled itself from the Aristotelian arguments proving such a conception to be impossible. But another current of the stream of Enlightenment thought, namely science, was operating beneath the surface of academic events and although the assumptions which enabled science to achieve its successes were primarily Aristotelian, it had distanced itself from Aristotle’s metaphysics in general which regarded matter and the material world as infinite and his conceptions of formal and final cause in particular. For Science, the universe could be divided up and reduced to either its material components, whatever they turned out to be, or it could be divided up into all of the possible physical facts, some of which would include reference to the causes of facts. On this latter conception, science collects facts for the book of nature like the zoologist collects butterflies. That is to say, science measures the quantities of things which it assumes is the only way of investigating an infinite homogeneous continuum. Blue is reduced to a certain number on the nanometer scale and red is characterized in terms of another number on the scale: the qualitative difference between red and blue is subordinated to a quantitative frequency of light. These operations of dividing and quantifying which were promising great technological consequences were already, prior to the Enlightenment, serving to diminish the value of humanistic studies which, following Aristotle, were striving to understand the essence of phenomena rather than their causes. So whilst Kant was in the process of undermining the theological-metaphysical God, he was doing so in an environment that would succeed not only in undermining Aristotle’s metaphysics but also the Kantian transcendental metaphysics itself. Both of these are needed to academically understand the essence of Humanity. The non-Kantian, Cartesian idea of consciousness, for obscure reasons which remain to be investigated, prevailed as the major influence and concept requiring explanation. In 1870, some 70 years after Kant’s lectures on Anthropology were published, science launched a major attack on the city-state of Philosophy and in the ensuing battle colonized a suburb of the Humanities which it gave the name “Psychology”. There would no longer be transcendental metaphysical discussions of the human being: man was to be investigated with the empirical method of experimentation and observation: the true road to knowledge. Wundt in Germany defined this new subject as “the science of consciousness” and proceeded, in accordance with the principle of reduction, to reduce all conscious phenomena to the elements of sensation and feeling. Wundt failed, however, to conduct successful experiments demonstrating the usefulness of his definition of psychology. These experiments also failed to justify the concepts of “sensation” and “feeling” in theories about “consciousness”. Science analyzed the resultant chaos it had created and determined that the problem was that no one had ever, or ever would be able to, observe consciousness: and that what was needed was a more tangible, less metaphysical, less transcendental entity which could be observed.
Thus was born the next definition of Psychology: the science of behavior, and the school of behaviorism which was to dominate discussion for decades to come emerged at the beginning of the 1900’s. The subject matter of Anthropology and the possibility of the birth of the subject called Anthropology had been successfully blocked by these developments. These are the reasons that I could not call this course “Anthropology and Education”: no one would have understood why it was not called “Psychology”. The reason I am able to call the course “Psychology and Education” is simply that most people have a general idea of the general intentions of education as a practical activity and expect that such an activity must incorporate knowledge of how human beings learn and develop through such an activity. They believe that there must therefore be a subsidiary study of the conditions and consequences surrounding the learner’s role in this process. I certainly believe that these are two of the essential questions psychologists should be seeking to provide answers to, namely the questions of learning and development. There are, however, other broader questions which Kant’s Anthropology highlighted that as a matter of fact may be more holistically relevant than anything this so-called discipline of “Psychology” has been able to produce. This is not to deny that there have been “psychologists” if you prefer this term to “anthropologists”, whose reflections have proceeded in the spirit of Aristotle and Kant, and I will refer to these figures in the course of the lectures. Basically, Kant believed that satisfactory answers had to be given to 4 fundamental questions if one was to philosophically understand the world: What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope for?. What is a human being? The answers, of course, had to be logically consistent with each other. Kant comments in his work, “Anthropology”, on Descartes’ reflections concerning our mental faculty of memory. Descartes, according to Kant, speculates on the causes of the phenomenon, rather than the phenomenon itself, wandering about the traces of memory in the brain. Kant admits in this speculative process that in reflecting in this way Descartes has ceased to become the one who remembers. He has, rather, become one who observes a remembering process and all that can be observed in this respect are the cranial nerves and fibers involved:- the phenomenon of remembering has disappeared. Kant quite rightly claims as Aristotle would have, that this kind of speculation is a waste of time. And yet it is this scientific endeavor that has come to dominate our speculations about memory even today. There is a lesson for us all here: do not underestimate the power of science, for it has the power to persist in any area of investigation in spite of providing explanations of something different to that which it should be explaining.
We appear to be hypnotized by the magic of science, ladies and gentlemen. The phenomenon investigated disappears by a sleight of hand, too fast for our eyes to follow, and hey presto!, something else takes its place. Of course, we reason, this something has to be identical with the phenomenon we started off requiring an explanation for, because this is what we have been told. Magicians can also be hypnotists, ladies and gentlemen. This method of characterizing everything we experience from a third person or observationalist perspective, is a methodological demand that is especially problematic when it comes to characterizing human activity, especially in the case of the relation of my own first-person perspective to my action. If I am doing something, my attention is usually directed outwards toward what I wish to accomplish. If I want to neutrally “observe” what I am doing, that involves involuting my attention onto the action itself as if I am a third person trying to work out what is being done, i.e. the role of the observer is usually the role of the questioner who is trying to find something out. When I am reaching for a piece of fruit I am not normally in the situation of waiting to see why my arm is moving toward the fruit bowl, rather I know from the first person perspective what it is I am going to do: changing perspective in mid-action is guaranteed to destroy the intentional fabric of the action and if such a change of perspective occurs I will no longer know what I am doing. Furthermore, considerations of measuring the speed of movement of the arm or measuring anything else in this situation will be irrelevant to what I am doing. When science gets involved in psychological phenomena such as memory or action the result is usually comedy, tragedy, or magic. How should the psychologist investigate memory then? According to Kant the investigation should be from a pragmatic point of view. But what does that mean? It may mean asking what role memory plays in the life of a person. Consider the war veteran home from a traumatic term of service at the front, having witnessed the most horrific events. We can ask what role memory is going to play in this state of affairs. Were it to be just a question of leaving traces in the brain, a matter of creating protein templates, memories would just physically form and that would be the end of the matter. The templates would just be a totality of facts about the war and the subject would be a walking part of history sharing his memories at dinner parties, pubs etc. But the mind is normatively structured, ladies and gentlemen. People ought not to experience such terror. The mind is structured for the good: what is not good or evil will probably create a terror-filled mind, an unbalanced mind. The psychologist treating such a patient will not be surprised to learn that the patient does not sleep or eat, that cars backfiring in the street place him back at the war-front in a state of terror. Now such a patient may find that his lust for life has been lost and for most of the time he sits passively like an observer, waiting for things to happen to him, instead of actively living a good and flourishing life. Freud treated such patients, ladies and gentlemen, with a theory that scientists have been lining up for generations to call “unscientific”. Well, if his theory is not scientific then all I can say is “Good!”, because if it was scientific the patient might have been left observing his life go by for the rest of his time. After all, is this not the attitude the scientist wishes people to adapt to everything they experience! All I can say is that what we need is an account containing Principles of Anthropology which can explain how memories which are normally constructive of flourishing lives can play a destructive role in a life. What I am raising here is the question which Anthropology requires an answer to, namely “Why do people do what they do?” As we have seen above this question carries with it a need for an explanation as to why the traumatized war veteran cannot any longer strive for what is good in life and needs help to extricate himself from the passive attitude which leaves him terrorized. The war veteran may not of course be conscious of what is wrong with him. In talks with his psychologist he may invoke a list of symptoms: unable to sleep because of nightmares, nausea, unspecific anxiety, irrational responses to cars backfiring and loud noises, depression. He has “observed” all of these “facts” but he cannot say what is wrong with him. If he is a self-conscious being as I have claimed we all are, should he not be aware of what is wrong with him? This is the kind of question that troubles the “unscientific” psychologist like Freud to such an extent that he spent 50 years trying to find adequate explanations which will fully explain the different forms of mental illness. I am not saying that Freud was right about everything in the field of mental illness or indeed that his theories of man in society cannot be improved upon. Freud was an archeologist rather than a believer in teleology as far as man was concerned. In exploring the theoretical idea of society he takes us back to the mythical band of brothers who, in a Hobbesian state of nature, kill their father who they experience as a tyrant. As the understanding of what they have done sinks in, and the prospect that anyone assuming authority for the community possibly awaits the same fate becomes clear for all concerned—the brothers form a pact and regulating social existence by law seems the obvious response to the dilemmas and paradoxes of living in a state of nature. Such a narrative contains within it a conflict view of man’s relation to the civilization he has created. His instincts are regulated by both Eros and Thanatos, the life and death instinct, and both of these need to be regulated by forces of civilization which seemed to resemble the defense mechanism of repression. And in a famous work with a marvelous title, “Civilization and its Discontents”, Freud asks whether all the effort involved in civilization-building is worth it. He wonders whether, given the fact that we all appear to be enslaved to hedonism, and demand hedonistic satisfaction from cultural activities, a flourishing life is at all possible. Apparently at the age of 75 when most men are fully occupied with the task of staying alive he was still reflecting on the organization of civilization and predicted that from his perspective the future outcome of this organization, might be one which the individual will reject rationally. According to Freud, the psychological mechanisms we see operating in the arena of culture are repression, frustration, sublimation and rational rejection. The kind of life that was possible in such circumstances was one that submitted to the cultural equivalent of the reality principle—Ananke—The life of resigning oneself to a state of affairs one was powerless to change through rational rejection. Rejection is transformed into a smoldering acceptance as Eros, the life instinct, ebbs away and we grow older less than gracefully. There is no comfort of an ethical or religious form of life. For Freud the latter form of life was infected with defense mechanisms which manifested itself in obsessive rituals, childish wish fulfillments and anxieties. The former lifestyle according to Freud was initially going to be subjugated to an authoritarian and sometimes cruel superego (which itself is the result of a defense mechanism Freud refers to as identification) until the point at which the ego could take non-defensive control of the whole structure of the mind including the primary processes of the id. Returning to the theme of self- consciousness it appears on this account that becoming self- conscious is not something which appears out of the blue of existence one fine day, but rather requires considerable effort and work as well as perhaps a non-hedonic form of love which loves a person for themselves. I accused Freud of being more of an archeologist than a follower of the teleological view of the human spirit, but there is a latent negative teleology in the possibility of a strong ego that resigns itself to a civilization that might not be worth the effort. In this work, man is not merely a hedonist in relation to the life instinct, Eros. He is a wolf in relation to the death instinct, Thanatos. The vision of the Stoic bearing life’s miseries with a stiff upper lip looms large. The ego, Freud claims is the repository of lost objects which have been invested with value and as such the ego needs a mourning process before equilibrium once again reigns in what Freud calls the “psychical apparatus” (which includes our neuronal system) before mental life and the life instinct can resume its work and its loving. In the psychoanalytic literature there is this wonderful image of a triangle where the life instinct narcissistically and hedonistically makes its demands on reality. Reality being what it is, with its lack of concern for humanity, and being resistant to change, frustrates the demand, and the final closing of the triangle involves a wounding of desire, and of course a wounding of the ego, or in James’s language, a wounding of Romeo We are all the wounded soldiers of civilization, ladies and gentlemen. We will not find in Freud the flourishing life of Aristotle, the Kingdom of ends of Kant or the life after death of popular Christianity. We will only find a city of Romeo’s in mourning. We can, of course, wonder about the parts of the person such as the id, ego, and superego and we can wonder about the role of sexuality in the development of the individual. At the same time it should be emphasized that Freud had read Kant and he claimed that Freudian psychology is the psychology Kant would have wrote if he had concerned himself with the subject. Was this a reasonable claim, ladies and gentlemen? I think the claim is partly justified when one bears in mind that, in Kant, we find the mind of a person divided into firstly, its receptive capacity where a small number of the conceivably infinite continuum of possible sensations from the external world are actually experienced as a manifold, and secondly the mind manifests its spontaneous or productive capacity where a rule is provided to organize the manifold. The mind, that is, is divided into receptive sensibility and the active conceptual activity of the understanding, which both contribute to forming the cognitive function of the mind. Abstract concepts and concrete sense impressions combine to form our judgments that are truth claims. Apart from referring to the reality principle Freud did not discuss in any detail the conscious cognitive function of the mind but in his discussion of the affective and practical functions of the mind he did provide an important distinction between primary and secondary processes which we will refer to later in the course. One should also not forget the considerable role that the developmental psychology of Piaget played, in our attempt to understand the person and the persons relation to the society. For Piaget, there were fundamentally three stages of moral development, egocentric, transcendental and autonomous morality. Egocentric stage behavior blindly makes its demands and strives in accordance with a hedonistically or narcissistically oriented judgment system. Transcendental stage behavior refers to the judgments of authorities and the tendency to think of such authorities as externally compelling the individual to conform to external norms. Finally, autonomous stage moral behavior is individually based on an internal awareness of rules that will bring rewards to the individual. Here there is an interesting distinction between conventional morality where there is no role to criticize the rules, and autonomous morality where criticism is built into the structure of the mind. Let me conclude by returning to Kant’s anthropology and his stages of development. There is firstly a stage of development where the child is principally passive and learning what to do is primarily imitative. The second stage occurs when the child begins to experience itself as a centre of control for its own activity and a rudimentary form of egoistic self -consciousness is formed. In a third stage the child learns to abstract from the differences between authority and the individual and abstract from the differences between different individuals in order to develop a morality where everyone is equal and free to pursue their own route to a flourishing life.
Now education, ladies, and gentlemen, is concerned with the optimum development of the individual in a learning environment, and it is concerned with getting the individual to share the vision of what constitutes a flourishing life. It bears an ancient message from the gods and Philosophy: that only knowledge will be adequate to the task of developing a rational self- consciousness and a society all can flourish in. I would like to end with a reflection on Plato who is said to have begun systematic psychological reflection. For Plato, philosophical knowledge was needed to run the perfect Republic which would then in its turn form the philosophical citizen who would lead the most flourishing life the Greeks could imagine. Failure to run Plato’s Kallipolis in accordance with philosophical knowledge would result in society spiraling downward via a number of political forms containing correlating psychological character-types to the worst form of tyranny in which the tyrant will meet a tragic end and the society would end up tragically consuming itself. Here we see a fascinating suggestion that our psychological profiles will be determined by what kind of society they inhabit which in its turn will be formed by the quality of philosophical knowledge involved in the decisions and laws of the society. The whole system is teleological and normative ladies and gentlemen and perhaps you can now see why I believe that Psychology, insofar as it willed its detachment in the name of science from a Philosophy which examines all things in accordance with their essential nature, cannot deal holistically with the phenomena of self -consciousness, the flourishing life and the flourishing society. In the next lesson, I wish to deal with the kind of phenomenon that Psychology might be able to investigate, namely the origins of self- consciousness. Civilization has been “evolving culturally”, as we say, for a considerable amount of time since the mythical band of brothers brought the law into man’s hearts, formed cities and defensive protective walls around these cities. Surely one would claim, that it must have been at this moment that consciousness was formed. I attended a seminar some years ago in Washington on the work of a psychologist who claims to believe that the event of the forming of self- consciousness into a unity is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to this event, we lived in societies, not in discontentment because that presupposes the knowledge of self- conscious beings who are fully aware of the conditions of their existence: we lived, rather, in conditions of subservience ladies and gentlemen because we were not fully aware of an alternative form of life. We were similar to children, captives of the Kantian transcendental stage of moral development. We were not fully self- conscious. We were aware of what we could lose if we did not obey the law but we did not see its relation to our very limited form of life. Julian Jaynes, ladies, and gentlemen claims, as William James, another American psychologist before him, that the core of the person lies in his brain and the seat of his consciousness lies in the cortex region of his brain. He has been impressed in particular by the fact that the two hemispheres of the brain seem to be performing two very different psychological functions. He has further been impressed by the fact that language may have had a command-control function prior to its being used to autonomously narrate stories about self- conscious individuals. In this “transcendental” state, moments of anxiety caused by problems we do not have the psychological resources to solve enslaves individuals in the lower strata of society who are controlled by hallucinated voices of either individuals higher up in society or the internalized voices of dead individuals we called gods or God. Our consciousness, at a particular point in our history, was bi-cameral he claimed, split into a commander and a follower. I will follow this suggestion up in more detail during the next lecture.”