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.