A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: The God-intoxicated Spinoza(1632-1677).

Hits: 20

Rationalism has a long and convoluted history reaching as it does back to Pre-Socratic Philosophy. There is, however, a worthwhile distinction to be made between the Greek Rationalists and the “modern” rationalists beginning with the mathematician Descartes. Descartes form of rationalism forms a curious species of its own flirting as it does with Skepticism in its methodology. He is in search of a foundation that will provide certainty for our judgments and he employs in this search a method which he hopes will guide the activity of scientists in their search for knowledge.

Spinoza’s “Ethics” is a work that demonstrates in its form. at least a debt to the Cartesian Project, being composed as it is of axioms and definitions that determine the philosophizing that occurs in its five sections. Having said this these two philosophers, in spite of believing in the certainty of mathematical axioms and definitions have very different conceptions of Philosophy, Spinoza being the practical ethical philosopher in search of the knowledge of the Good and Descartes the theoretical metaphysical philosopher in search the knowledge of the true. Descartes and Spinoza inherit the scholastic obsession with Substance and Descartes oscillate uncomfortably between substance dualism and a reductive materialism. For Spinoza, on the other hand, there can be in logic only one substance, one Nature, one God, a position that reminds one of the poem of Parmenides invoking the goddess of truth “Aletheia”, a goddess of the unconcealment of Being which must include knowledge of the true and the good. In this context consider the following by Spinoza from his work Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione:

“After experience had taught me that all things which are ordinarily encountered in common life are vain and futile, and when I saw that all things which were the occasions and objects of my fears had in themselves nothing of good and evil except insofar as the mind was moved by them: I at length determined to inquire if there was anything that was a true good, capable of imparting itself, by which alone the mind could be affected to the exclusion of all else: whether indeed anything existed by the discovery and acquisition of which I might be put in possession of a joy continuous and supreme to all eternity.”

For Spinoza, as for Plato, both God and the Good appear to lie outside of our experience, outside of the sphere of operation of the imagination. Intellectual thought appears in this system to be necessary for the logical explication of Substance which has an infinite number of (essential) attributes. This is a logical attack on many Aristotelian concepts, including the central notions of hylomorphic theory, matter, form, potentiality, actuality, actualization process, and final cause. Spinoza manages to create a logical space for analysis that involves an investigation to what extent it is possible to regard Spinoza’s Substance as similar to Aristotelian form or principle. Spinoza, like Aristotle, certainly uses the Principle of Sufficient Reason in expressing the relationship between the modes or attributes of Substance: so to the extent that a reason for something can be a principle rather than merely a rule, is the extent to which we can concede that Spinoza’s idea of Substance appears to resemble Aristotle’s earlier thoughts on Substance. The Principle of Sufficient Reason is what the intellect uses to establish the essence of things naturally rules out any appeal to experience or the imagination. Spinoza claims that there is an infinite number of infinite modes of Substance but we as humans only have access to two these modes: extension and thought. There are also finite modes of substance that express their essence in the form of objects, events, and states of affairs and thought about objects, events, and states of affairs. For every object, event, and state of affairs, there is a thought and there are also thoughts about the smallest particles that can be seen or imagined. Individuals can, of course, be ignorant of these thoughts. The order and connection of extended matter appear to differ from the order and connection of ideas about extended matter: there appear to be, that is, both physical connections and relationships and conceptual connections and relationships. Note that this “dualism” is grounded in a logical monism. Both thought and extended matter are expressions of an infinite Substance that Spinoza calls God or Nature. God’s thought, being infinite, is obviously going to differ from finite human thought. God will always have adequate knowledge of all existence and essence in the world whereas our human inadequate knowledge requires the support of classification systems containing general terms referring to kinds of things in the world. God, on the other hand, thinks in terms of individual minds and individual men.

Substance, Nature, or God necessarily exist and it is necessarily true (de re necessity) that they exist. This is a very different conception of God to that found in religion where very often there is the troublesome image of God separated from his creation. This troublesome image led the ancient Greeks to postulate the existence of an intermediary Demiurge that created the world. Spinoza speaks of God being Nature and of both as being infinite in the sense that there is nothing that either God or Nature is not. God or Nature is causa sui, self causing entities and are immanent in the world. Many religions imagine God creating the world in Time which in logic, of course, implies that there was a time before the world was created, a time before God had performed this act and therefore a time when one could say of God that he had not yet created the world, thus disturbing our idea of his perfection. Our knowledge and classification systems presuppose a concept of linear time in which things come to be and pass away. God, however, is timeless and his thought is a pure activity that does not begin or end in time. It is therefore difficult to speak of the will of God and this is tied up with the idea of God being an immanent cause of an infinite number of infinite modes of Substance(of which we humans only know two: thought and extension). For an understanding of what is being referred to here, we need to look no further than the formal cause of Aristotle. The major difference between the two philosophers resides in the fact that Spinoza places more faith in Mathematical knowledge than does Aristotle. For Spinoza, the logical relationship between God and Nature is analogous to the relationship between a triangle and its essential properties(three angles, three sides). The possible weakness, however, of this Mathematical account is the possibility that the faculty of the imagination may have been involved in the formation of the axioms and definitions of Euclidean geometry. The “creation” of Non-Euclidean geometry proved to the satisfaction of many philosophers the fact that Euclidean axioms possessed merely a de dicto form of necessity rather than the de dicto form that Spinoza requires for the justification of his overall approach( An argument that both Plato and Aristotle appreciated)

But what, then, is God’s relation to the finite modes? For Spinoza, Gods essence is intimately related to Gods power and this is manifested in all “individuals” in nature striving to preserve themselves in their existence. Spinoza collapses the classificatory system of kinds and claims that even a speck of dust or a rock, are engaged in this “striving”, as is a human being. Both rocks and humans are modes of extension at different levels of complexity. Matter for Spinoza is not inert mass and even when it is at rest it possesses potential energy to move. Spinoza adds to his description of levels of complexity an account of the structure of complex bodies: they are composed of more simple individuals or bodies. An individual, for Spinoza, passing into or out of existence is merely a manifestation of a journey from the simple to the complex or the complex back into the simple. There is, for him, no drama surrounding the death of a complex human being as long as one has an adequate idea of what is happening as long as one is viewing the world sub specie aeternitatus. Death was more than an academic issue for the man who died at the age of 44 from damage to his lungs caused by glass fragments. he is reputed to have passed very calmly in Socratic fashion presumably looking forward to the dispersing of the matter of his body. For him what has died here is not Substance, i.e. substance has not gone out of existence. All that has happened is a modification of Substance and this is not to be feared. All that has happened is a complex individual has ceased in its striving to exist as that complex individual. The individual will not see what is happening to its body when it is dead because the mind will disintegrate.

We may also wonder what God’s relation to the infinite mode of thought can be. Thought is one of the infinite aspects under which we understand God. Medieval logic, under the influence of the early work of Aristotle on Substance, had begun to debate in very technical terms the form of the proposition which is that of a predicate predicating something of a subject, or, in other words, a form that states that substance possesses a particular attribute or property. The Aristotelian project, however, insisted that Science could only advance its positions by the classification of individuals into definable natural kinds discriminated by essential qualities or attributes. This is clearly a classification model dominated by qualities. One of the logical consequences of Medieval thought is that there have to be a plurality of substances which of course we can imagine to be the case but this is indeed problematic from the point of view of monism and the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Such a position raises the issue of finding some means to give an account of how these different substances interact with each other and when using the Principle of Sufficient Reason being able to give an acco8nt of what reasons there are for more than one substance existing. Even discussion of what it is that caused this individual substance becomes problematic because if something else caused this substance it could no longer meet the causa sui condition that Spinoza insists upon. This point is also involved in Spinoza’s earlier denial that if God and Nature are both causa sui neither could be the cause of the other. Finite modes such as triangles can possess essence without there being individuals that are triangular but God, Nature, and Substance, possessing as they do infinite numbers of attributes, admit of no separation of essence and existence(“The power of God is the same as his essence”(Ethics 1 proposition 33). As has been mentioned, however, two aspects of Substance present themselves to the human intellect in the form of Extension and Thought. The nature of their relation is complex but it can be said that for every extended individual(particle. even, object, state of affairs) there can be a thought about it, but we cannot conceive of thought as a modification of extension or vice versa. Spinozaäs view of extension was in fact far more systematic than the notion we find in the Cartesian position and it probably helped to pave the way for a new form of physical science based on Mathematical axioms and definitions of the kind we find, for example, in Newtons “Principia Mathematica”. In Spinoza’s system ideas have ideata or objects and this discussion brings us into the arena of the mind(body problem which so plagued Cartesian Philosophy. Given Spinoza’s refusal to countenance dualism we will not have to account for causal interactions between substances. One fascinating consequence of Spinoza’s monism, however, is that he regards the human mind as being constituted by the idea of the human body. We must be careful with this term “idea” which sometimes for Descartes merely meant “image”. For Spinoza, the term “idea” is a conception of a thing connected to assertion or negation: the conception of a winged horse, for example, asserts that horses have wings and the idea that there are no such things as winged horses are the refusal of the mind to assert that horses are winged. In real perceptual contexts seeing an actual horse will also involve asserting the existence of this individual before me stomping and snorting.

We will not find in Spinoza skeptical excursions into the Cartesian countryside of doubt. For Spinoza, perceiving something is asserting its existence. There is for him no bare coming into contact with the sense-data or images of men without an active application of these concepts which will involve some of the causes that have brought the horse into existence but only Gods thought contains knowledge of all the causes. Similarly, my knowledge of my own mind is incomplete or inadequate because I cannot completely survey the order that has brought it about. We can, of course, participate in this knowledge by understanding that my mind is the idea of an actually existing body. There is in Spinoza no significant reflective move, as there is in Descartes where there is a reduction of the idea of being a man to an idea that I am thinking about that man.. This latter thought has not special status in Spinoza’s account it is simply another thought about a fact in the world and possesses therefore no privileged status.

For Spinoza it appears as if every mental event asserts the existence of something. If, for example, I love somebody I assert the existence of that somebody. It also appears as if sensations are intensional: they are our way of being aware of the state of our body. Pain is asserting something about the body. We cannot fail to be reminded here of the Cartesian Meditation in which Descartes attempts to doubt the existence of his body. Firstly one could wonder whether it is possible to doubt the existence of a body in pain, and secondly, for Spinoza, such a doubt would be tantamount to doubting the existence of one’s mind. But, one may ask, what is this idea of the body and idea of? Firstly it is an idea of a finite mode of the attribute of extension. Our body, for Spinoza, must be a complex of individual composed of simpler bodies(whose history we are unaware of) and these will all possess the energy(motion or potential energy) required to strive to preserve their existence. The degree of energy these simpler bodies possess will also serve to keep themselves and each other in the relative positions(contact) they occupy. The complex individual in its turn will possess a more holistic power to strive to preserve its existence as a complex individual.

With a complex being such as ourselves, our striving to preserve ourselves in existence will have three psychological aspects: desire, pleasure, and pain. But the virtue of all our virtues is to preserve ourselves in the desired condition. All our activity is directed toward this Good which emanates(originates) not from an idea in my mind but from a bodily striving towards pleasure and avoidance of pain. the more complex a body is the greater is its powers. Animals, in comparison, are finite modes of life with fewer powers. They may, for example, not possess any idea of their minds–only human minds possess an idea of their bodies. Finite human beings, on this account, are not substances but rather possess essences which are expressions of substance and they are not self-determining entities given the fact that their existence is dependent upon external causes to themselves. We are, that is, only subsystems(parts) of Nature with a limited power of self-maintenance or conatus. Stuart Hampshire in his work “Spinoza” has the following interesting point to make:

“But the notion of conatus, or individual self maintenance, of which there is no equivalent in Descartes or in purely mechanical and atomistic cosmologies, is exactly the concept which biologists have often demanded as essential to the understanding of organic and living systems.”(p78)

Aristotle’s idea of “purpose” or “task” obviously surfaces in this discussion. For Aristotle different kinds of souls, all move for the telos of preserving their life and there is also a hierarchy of powers corresponding to more simple forms of life and more complex forms of life. Both Spinoza and Aristotle share the view that what we do is a function of our human nature. The most complex desire for Aristotle that manifests itself in human conatus is the desire for understanding which is also part of the process of imitating or participating in the activity of divine thinking and its comprehension of everything, the complete order of the physical world of extension and the logic of the relation of ideas in the realm of thought. Aristotle’s “definition of being human is we should recall “rational animal capable of discourse”. Here the “rational part of the definition refers as much to the potential for understanding as it does to the actualization of the rational in terms of the passing of laws and the understanding of principles or forms. We mention Aristotle in this context because many commentators believe that Spinoza was attempting to replace the worn out Aristotelian system which was standing in the way of the development of knowledge like a huge colossus. This may be a truth with modification.

For Spinoza, as for Aristotle the best life is the life of understanding what things are in themselves and why they are so. For Aristotle the virtuous life is one which actively pursues understanding in the realm of the good presumably because of an active emotion(to use Spinoza’s term) such as wonder. For Spinoza active emotions are to be preferred to passive emotions and he does not subscribe to the view that pure reason or pure intellect can be efficacious in sublimation of such passive emotions as fear and hatred. The active desire to understand(which is an active emotion for Spinoza) will be able to sublimate the passive emotions. Understanding the passive emotions of fear and hate for Spinoza, amounts to the extent to which we can understand the causes of these emotions whether in ourselves or other people. This will also involve understanding the consequences(effects) f hate and fear, e.g. aggression. Responding with aggression to ones hate or fear will, if one has an adequate idea of these emotions, only produce more hate and fear in the world, and as a consequence more aggressive destruction. When I have an adequate idea of myself these emotions lose their power over us. The emotion is thus transformed from a passion into an intellectual idea of the mind apprehended with clarity and distinctness. Powers are both actualities and dispositions to act. Insofar as emotion is a power and a disposition to act in a particular way toward an object and changing one’s apprehension of the object may be sufficient to change the passion involved. If we also focus on what caused the object or brought the object about I become aware of how the object could not be other than it is, become aware, that is, of its necessity. This kind of awareness is a movement toward the divine knowledge of adequate ideas apprehended clearly and distinctly, a blessed awareness of the world as a result of viewing the world sub specie aeternitatus. Psychoanalysis also uses this conception of object-relations and a more psychically distanced apprehension of the object in its therapeutic activity. Psychoanalysis also believes that understanding the nature of the object weakens its tendency to cause passive emotions in us. Love(Eros) is,, of course, a positive active emotion that for Spinoza is characterized in terms of conatus and more closely defined in terms of a striving to preserve the loved object in its existence(in its nature). Desire(consciousness of conatus) is logically prior to pleasure and pain and it would not be amiss to claim that the ultimate nature of thought ought to be defined by its desire to understand the world in order to preserve the nature of the organism and its hierarchy of powers.

The mind, for Spinoza, has its own purpose and nature and we have inadequate knowledge of its functioning, perhaps partly because we have inadequate knowledge of the idea of the body which forms the mind. Freud’s phases of psycho-sexual development may well have been influenced by this conception of the relationship between the mind and the body. Spinoza, like Freud, is committed toa close relation between the body and the mind. There cannot, for example, be a change in the body for which there is no idea and conscious awareness is not necessary. I may not, for example, be aware that I have a slight fever but I might be consciously aware of being thirsty: being aware that I am thirsty because I have a fever would be a move toward a more adequate idea of the changes occurring in my body. For Spinoza this connection of the idea of being thirsty with the idea of having a fever is a logical connection: the objects of these ideas cannot fall apart–of this, I must be certain, argues Spinoza. If we turn our attention away from the body and toward the world and the idea of ghosts in the world we might believe that the noise of a movement in a dark room was caused by the presence of a ghost. The cause of having failed dead people may be the cause which we are unaware of and becoming conscious of this cause could well suffice to rid oneself of the idea of a ghost in the room, as might the idea that all that is left of the dead is the matter of a decomposing body, i.e. the idea of the final and complete end of life of a being that has died suffices to remove the idea of a ghost moving in the dark. All these ideas of causes are designed to rid us of our habit of viewing the world sub specie humanitatis and designed to move us toward viewing the world or Nature sub specie aeternitatus.

Life, as has been pointed out earlier, is an Aristotelian issue which Freud pursued in his psychological theory, in particular when he referred to Eros, the life”Instinct” or drive. This echoes almost paradoxically the thoughts of Plato but it might also echo the thoughts of Spinoza in relation to conatus, suggesting in its turn an important issue in philosophical psychology, namely, the relation between the mind and its life(the title of a work by Hannah Arendt was “The Life of the Mind”). Brian O’ Shaughnessy in his work “The Will: a dual aspect theory” also suggests that the mind is in some sense “alive” and he claims the following:

“Life is necessarily the first ontological development amidst natural material objects–so that it may be that the only intrinsically de re necessarily vital phenomena apart from coming to life(and departing from life) are psychological phenomena. After all, psychologicality is the next great ontological shift after, and on the necessary basis of, the very first ontological movement, viz life. Then what do we mean in saying of the mind that it is alive? But what sort of thing is the mind? The mind consists, and exclusive of, the systematically and causally interrelated and often enduring phenomena of type psychological that occur in some animal.”(xix, vol 1)

O’ Shaughnessy shares then with Aristotle, Spinoza, and Freud the view that one of the key issues in the realm of philosophical psychology is the nature of the relation between the mind and the body. O Shaughnessy insists that the mind is dependent upon its owner, a person, and cannot, therefore, be a substantival entity, and the language being used here is reminiscent of what we encounter in Spinoza’s writings. Aristotle’s language is less related to the concept of Substance and more related to his later hylomorphic theory. For Aristotle life has a physical material substrate that is “formed” in various ways in accordance with various “principles” and this occurs at both biological and psychological “levels” using the mechanism of powers building upon powers in a process which Aristotle characterizes in terms of the actualizing of potentials. Spinoza simplifies this complex process with the use of his term “conatus”: he envisages the activity of preserving oneself in one’s existence as transformative as the organism becomes more and more complex, the culmination of this process being possibly the desire to understand requiring knowledge of various kinds. The goal of this process for Spinoza is to view the world sub specie aeternitatus. There is a concept of the individual in Spinoza but it does not resemble the solipsistic lonely individual we encounter in the Meditations of Descartes. The mind certainly is “alive for Spinoza in a way which would have been paradoxical for Descartes the mathematician. Psychological powers which include passive emotions such as hate and fear, as well as active emotions which have the power to sublimate passive emotions, produce the understanding required to view the world sub specie aeternitatus. These powers include the liberating of man from a state of servitude and form a rational moral attitude reminiscent of that which is aimed at in the New Testament of the Bible: that attitude expressed in the words of the apostles:”the truth will set you free”. According to Spinoza, we will no longer feel hatred for others when we appreciate the causal mechanisms operating in our social behaviour. The returning of hatred and violence with hatred and violence merely increases the level of hatred and violence in the world and our lives are consequently diminished rather than enhanced. This theme was resurrected in the work of Freud in the form of his “death instinct or drive “(Thanatos) almost on the eve of destruction(the second world war) and Freud’s work also served to play an important role in restoring the philosophical psychology of Aristotle and Spinoza to a central position in the arena of nineteenth-century culture. For Freud, the mind was a natural living phenomenon whose development could be charted in the way in which we chart the development of all living phenomena. The mind emerges from a body in the way a frog emerges from a tadpole. Failing to understand this complex process of development was failing to fully understand the causes of the mental phenomena one is confronted with in psychoanalytical therapy. Freud also focussed the light of his “science”(Philosophy?) on the phenomenon of the sick mind and replaced the “therapies” of the time(magnetism, hypnotism, hot and cold baths) with a more efficacious treatment for rational animals capable of discourse, namely a “talking cure”. The picture of 5000 women incarcerated in a mental institution in Paris was replaced with that of the Freudian couch and this was indeed symbolic of a more adequate idea of what to do with the anxiety that paralyzes a mind. Freud’s time was also a time of Science and scientific “products” in the form of technology were flowing into the Civilisation, transforming the world in accordance with a desire that wished to “master” nature. This desire was a part of a new and modern scientific view of the world that had two aspects to it. Firstly this view encouraged us to view ourselves and life forms as parts of the natural world like a wave or a flood and this secondly allowed us to lift ourselves narcissistically above such phenomena in a way that raised questions about our collective sanity. We were well on our way to believing that there was literally nothing that could not be done, i.e there were no natural limits to the ways in which we could transform our world and our lives. This was the environment in which Freud was working: walking a tightrope struggling to integrate the thoughts and assumptions of Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, and the Science of his time.

The concept of the will is only to be found in the work of Freud by Implication with the concept of “Libido” but it is to be found thematized in the works of Nietzsche and Adler. There was something standing in the way of identifying the will as a striving for understanding(in the name of the intellectual values for Aristotle and Kant) and in the name of our striving toward what we morally ought to do( the moral virtues for Aristotle and Kant). The spirit of Descartes and Hobbes appeared to prevail and prevent further analysis in the arena of philosophical psychology. This contrasted with medieval times when the will was a hotbed of discussion and the result of this was eventual stigmatization by the sanctions of the Church directed at Pelagianism. Kant managed to restore the validity of the concept in his Moral, Political, and Anthropological writings which were no doubt influenced by both Aristotle and Spinoza. In his work on “Anthropology” Kant pointed to the ontological distinction between those things that happen to man(e.g. passive emotions) and those things he actually does(e.g. assenting to something good, denying something bad). It is apparent that for Kant thought is an activity that lasts only so long as the activity lasts. Thought can be directed at the good or the true, asserting or denying them, with practical thought being directed to assenting to the good and denying the bad and theoretical thought assenting to or denying the truth. We find this division of the theoretical and the practical in the Philosophy of Aristotle.

The concept of the will is also to be found in Spinoza. Professor Brett has the following to say:

“For Spinoza, mind and body are aspects of a fundamental unity. The nature of the body is the cause of passions and affections: the nature of the mind is the cause of these ideas of bodily affections: and as these two, the physical and the psychic, events occur together, the emotions are states at once of mind and body. In this sense, and not in the Cartesian sense of interaction, the emotions. or affections are for Spinoza psychophysical. As the basis is a unity with two aspects, Spinoza begins with a tendency which belongs to that unity, namely the effort of self-preservation, the fundamental will to live or conatus quo unaquaeque res in suo esse(E., iii, 8). When this effort is referred to the mind alone it is called Will. Will is the name for the conatus when accompanied by the consciousness of its activity. When we regard it as arising out of the whole nature of man, mind and body, it is called “appetite”. Appetite can, therefore, be called the essence of man. If we add to this that appetite may be either unconscious or conscious we get the further distinction between appetite and desire(cupiditas), desire being appetite consciously apprehended as such.”(iii, 9)

Spinoza is also careful to motivate his account of the emotions by reference to the principle of sufficient reason. In constructing his philosophical framework he claims:

“I call an adequate cause whose effect can clearly and distinctly be perceived through it.”( p84)

A distinction between acting and suffering is also required:

“I say that we act or are active when something takes place within us or outside of us whose adequate cause we are…On the other hand I say we suffer or are passive when something when something takes place in us or follows from our nature of which we are only the partial cause.”

Spinoza then proceeds to define emotion :

“By emotion I understand the modifications of the body by which the power of action in the body is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time the ideas of these modifications.”

Emotions, then, are of two kinds, active and passive, depending upon whether the ideas that accompany them are adequate or inadequate. Adequate ideas, as we have noted above, acknowledge adequate causes or conditions. The fear we experience at the thought of a ghost in the dark is real until further reflection dissipates the fear, resulting in the denial of the reality of the experience. The whole complex culminating perhaps in the thought”There are no ghosts, they are a figment of the imagination!”. Here the mind moves from a passive suffering state to an active higher state of perfection. What we are witnessing in the above “experience” of a ghost in the dark is the imagination “constructing” an object from the perceptual input of a sound in the dark. In Proposition XII (Origin and Nature of the Emotions) Spinoza then claims the following:

“the mind, as much as it can, endeavours to imagine those things which increase or help its power of acting.”

But why, after positing the idea of a ghost does the mind then posit the inexistence of the ghost?:(Proposition XIII)

When the mind imagines things which diminish or hinder the power of acting of the body, it endeavours as much as it can to remember things which will cut off their existence.”

Spinoza also calls attention to an important limitation of the imagination: (Proposition XIV):

“..the imaginations of our mind indicate rather the modifications of our body than the nature of external bodies.”

Fear, then, is directed more to the state of the body of the experiencer of fear than to states of affairs in the external world that have produced a sound in the dark. Fear is obviously related to pain which is defined by Spinoza as the movement of the mind to a lower state of perfection. The supervening of the idea that “Ghosts do not exist!” would then obviously be associated with the pleasure of relief and this defines a return to a higher state of perfection.

Brett summarises Spinoza’s position well in the following quote:

“The primary emotions are three in number: Laetitia (joy) tristitia (grief), and cupiditas (desire). These are not strictly coordinate but related rather as substance and accidents. Desire is the determination to action which arises directly from the tendency to self-preservation. Joy and grief are attributes of this fundamental state, arising from consciousness of success or failure in the effort. As the effort to attain fuller life is itself the very process of being(ipsa hominis essentia), joy and grief are the conscius equivalents of increased and decreased vitality(iii, II). The actual pleasure or pain are parts of these emotions, being strictly the corporal parts of the whole consciousness of increased or decreased vitality….The emotions, strictly speaking, involve an idea of the object: love, for example, is a mode of consciousness(cogitandi) as including the idea of the object loved. Thus appetite and desire differ as a blind impulse from conscious pursuit. Similarly, a mere feeling is blind and in that sense unconscious(devoid of any idea): emotion is a higher state involving more mentality. But emotions are inferior to intellectual operations because at this leel the ideas are “inadequate”, confused by the intrusion of factors due to the body.” (iii, 3)

So the transition from the fearful thought “Ghost!” to “there is no such thing as ghosts, they are figments of the imagination!” is a transition from emotion to intellect in spite of the fact that a type of pleasure might be involved. If pleasure is involved in the latter thought it is an intellectual kind of pleasure(unrelated to pain or relief from pain according to Plato). It is at this point that we learn about our passions and emotions and attain the state of virtue, the true telos of desire, the highest form of conatus. This takes us back to Aristotle and even further to the Delphic Oracle’s challenge to Socrates and everyone to “Know thyself!”. But it also links virtue to the Will and what is good, the completely timeless idea for Plato. Spinoza, however, avoids the dualism of the mind and the body that we encounter in the Philosophy of Descartes, by claiming that the idea of ghosts not existing is united to the emotion of pleasure in the same way in which the mind is united to the body. The idea of ghosts not existing is good in the sense that it is connected with a power of acting in the agent that does not have an external cause. Such an idea causes me to seek the real cause of the noise in the dark. Consciousness is evoked by Spinoza again in the section entitled “The Strength of the Emotions”, PRoposition VIII:

“The knowledge of good or evil is nothing else than the emotion of pleasure or pain, insofar as we are conscious of it.”

This knowledge through the power of acting (conatus) connected to it, is also in need of an account of what the perfect or imperfect, the good or the bad is. This section is particularly important in that it engages with an issue of historical and philosophical importance, namely, the Aristotelian notion of a final cause. The example that Spinoza uses to illustrate his position on this issue is perhaps unfortunate in that it is the idea of habitation related to the instrumental means of building a house. He chooses this example because it is evident to all that the idea of the house must be present before the power of acting of building the house is utilised. If this is the case, argues Spinoza then the idea of a house is an efficient and not a final cause. It is not absolutely certain that Aristotle is his target here but many philosophers have taken this to be the case, including A Kenny in his ” A New History of Western Philosophy”(Vol 3).

It is important, however, to remember that Aristotle’s discussion of final cause occurs in the context of examples of organic growth or human action involving cognitive development and the kind of changes being talked about are, for example, in the former case, the transformation of an immature organism (a tadpole) into a mature organism (a frog). the complete apparatus of hylomorphic theory is required in such cases if we are to completely explain the phenomena being described including, for example, the concepts of potentiality and actuality, form and matter, things retaining their identity through change and kinds of change. When therefore, in relation to his example taken from the realm of productive science, Spinoza claims that “nature does not act with an end in view”(p142) he is confounding the limited concept of biological nature(psuche) with the more all-embracing view of an infinite perfect God that is not moving from a state of imperfection toward a state of perfection. The example that Spinoza uses to found his case, that of the idea of habitation and the building of a house certainly involves a transformation of bricks and stones into a place of habitation that can be explained by a preceding idea but this is not the kind of transformation that Aristotle is discussing in his remarks. he would be the first to acknowledge that the material here is not necessarily connected to the product: it could well have been used, for example, to build a wall and an oven and these materials have been manipulated by external so-called “efficient” causes. In Spinoza’s language, these bricks and some may have themselves possessed a conatus, a striving to exist as bricks and stones, but neither for Aristotle nor for Spinoza could there have been a striving on their part to become a house. The elimination of the essences of kinds of things may be behind the example Spinoza felt forced to choose to illustrate his point. This also has an unfortunate effect upon Spinoza’s discussion of the good and the bad which he claims:

“..means nothing positive in things considered in themselves, nor are they anything else than modes of thought, or notions, which we form from the comparison of things mutually. For one and the same thing can at one time be good, bad and indifferent. E.g., music is good to the melancholy, bad to those who mourn and neither good nor bad to the deaf.”

The correction of this instrumental relativism will have to wait until the Philosophy of Kant where the instrumental desire for perfection will be questioned as a foundation for ethical thinking. In Kant’s ethics, we will find ourselves returned to a deontological conception of the good and the bad: a conception which is founded on an absolute conceåtion of a good will that has the power of universalizing the principle of one’s action into a universal law. this end-in-itself transcends the power we use to preserve ourselves in existence and is on the contrary projected outward as an imperative to treat others as ends in themselves dwelling in a community of ends.

Brett levels this criticism at Spinoza:

“..there is in Spinoza another vein of thought often overlooked. As he moves away from the Cartesian dualism and toward the concrete unity of the agent there is more and more evidence that Machiavelli and Hobbes areinfluences to be reckoned with, and the reflective reader will continually catch echoes from these writers as he follows Spinoza’s treatment of the fundamental conatus, or notes how rigidly he excludes the moral values when he deals with strength of motives.”

Given the above attitude toward the Good expressed by Spinoza in relation to music, it will also fall to Kant to restore a deontological view of the aesthetic Good when he claims that in aesthetic appreciation it is the form of the finality of the object that is an important constituent of this fundamentally “disinterested” yet subjective aesthetic attitude.

Spinoza is often accused of both atheism and pantheism. The former accusation probably is founded in religious malice but the latter is probably an accurate description. It is however, a strange form of pantheism that excludes the aesthetic attitude as conceived by Kantian Philosophy.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: “The New Men”: Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes

Hits: 67

The Renaissance begins at the end of the fifteenth century and the weeds of modernism begin to flourish and take their various forms, determining the cultural landscape. We noted in the previous lecture that the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were times of trouble and general challenges to authority left many institutions mortally wounded.

The Art of the early 16th century Renaissance, however, was a positive phenomenon and embodied memories of the importance of the human soul, but these memories were fading fast over the centuries. By the time we come to the twentieth century, we find art critics like Adrian Stokes needing to appeal to Psychoanalytical theory in his efforts to explain what he called “The Image in Form” and the relation of the image of the body in Art to the image of the soul in Art. Renaissance Art, in his view, is best illustrated in the mother of all Arts, Architecture. His view of Art begins with the pure outwardness of Space which he finds best symbolized in buildings such as Laurana’s courtyard of the ducal palace in Urbino. Stokes analyses the mass effect of this work and compares it to Roman and Baroque works which reek of manic grandiose intentions. There is the suggestion that what he classifies as “QuattroCento Art” is best expressed by those Italian artists who were perhaps more inspired by the Hellenic and Stoic view of Naturalism rather than the modern form of Scientific Naturalism that was establishing itself in the culture. The science of this time appeared to be dedicating itself to a mission of denuding the particular of all reference to the human soul. The QuattroCento spirit is, it could be argued, founded in an Aristotelian idea of the form that is being organized in material. Michelangelo, in the context of this discussion, is an interesting exemplification of this QuattroCento spirit. Responding to the mania of his time with his depressive tendencies and Aristotelian spirit he produced human sculptures in worked marble(“the warm stone” that bore the projection of his humanistic fantasies. All of this rings a strange chord to us Northerners accustomed to the temporal play of light in amongst the branches of the trees of the woods we dwell in. Our gazes are pulled in Gothic fashion upwards following the soaring trees. Not for us this steadfast horizontally planted steadfast gaze at what is in front of our eyes and in the front of our minds. Our Northern thoughts must flow like music and embellish our perceptions and “express” our personalities. This is the environment of the craftsman rather than the QuattroCento artist: a craft that follows not the categorical aesthetic imperative of the QuattroCento artist but a craft that follows the technological(scientific) imperative with an interested attitude that disqualifies it as an aesthetic activity, in the eyes of Kant. Even in the Renaissance, we encounter the battle of the imperatives.

Bertrand Russell in his “History of Western Philosophy” claims that the mental outlook of the modern is best characterised by two structural factors: the diminishing authority of the Church and the increasing influence of Science. Russell is undoubtedly correct in his reference to these macro-systemic processes but we wish to maintain that at certain periods in the history of the modern period(the Enlightenment) philosophical and aesthetic attitudes such as those expressed in the Renaissance and which originated in Greece are also factors to be considered in our modern accounts of modern man.

We have reflected much upon the erosion of authority in the church but worse was to come in the sixteenth century. Science and its “Northern naturalistic spirit” was going to make itself felt in no uncertain terms. Professor Brett notes the beginnings of the seismic shift to come in a work from 1501:

“in 1501 Magnus Hundt, Professor in Leipzig wrote a book on the “nature of man”, and made use for the first time of the term “Anthropologia“. In these words we see the process by which the naturalistic treatment of man developed its later forms.It is impossible to read Hundt’s book without feeling that it belongs to a new period….The soul is treated briefly and in epitome only: the centre of interest seems to have shifted from soul to body and in place of psychology we have the rudiments of descriptive zoology.”

The trend continued and as the concept of the soul was found guilty by association with religion, gradually the same kind of explanation was demanded both for physical and mental phenomena. This in its turn contaminated ethical discussions. In another work from 1574 by Levinas Lemnius entitled De Occultae Naturae we are exposed to a form of relativism that surely must have astonished the clergy and the religiously inclined. Lemnius maintained in this work that moral conscience varies with mode of life, age, and state of health. His account was purely an explanation in relation to a totality of facts without any recourse to either principle or the effect of principles on one’s mode of life.

Bertrand Russell in the section of his work cited above pointed to an interesting “modern” distinction between practical and theoretical science, a distinction he makes in terms of the difference between trying to understand the world and trying to change the world. He argues, probably correctly, that the latter view has increased in influence and that science has become more pragmatic, more utilitarian. This development, together with an interesting emphasis upon self-reliance and individualism connected in some way with casting aside the “chains” of religion produced an interesting Renaissance cocktail that not only resulted in the ethical relativism of Lemnius but also produced the political relativism of Machiavelli who undertook “to study life as he found it before our eyes”(Brett “History of Psychology” p.306). Machiavelli in his writings resembled a sociologist or a social psychologist more than a philosopher, and as Brett pointed out:

“For him the individual is the first object to be considered: man and circumstance are the two factors which explain all events and all social conditions. Society appears here only as a repressive agency from which the genius or the man of power escapes.”

Bertrand Russell praises Machiavelli’s honesty in a time of political dishonesty and appears not to recognise in him the modern image of Thrasymachus from Book 1 of Plato’s Republic. Thrasymachus was perhaps the first political realist to claim that when the stronger rule a state in their own interests such a state is just. The justification Thrasymachus gives for his position an argument based on the observation of past and present states and the behaviour of the politicians ruling these states. He argues that is, from something that is the case to something that ought to be the case. Machiavelli provided us with a modern variation on this theme based on the same poisonous observation that what is the case ought to be the case. Machiavelli was very much a child of the Italian Renaissance. He would dress in special clothes in the evenings and retire to read about ancient courts and statesmen, imagining himself in discourse with them about their times and his. Platonic philosophical cities or Augustinian Cities of God were not for him: “He who thinks that what should be instead of what is, learns his ruin rather than his preservation”(“The Prince”). The Prince, his individual par excellence should in his eyes, pay more heed to the people than to the Nobles whom he shall murder if they stand in his way. But listening to the people is only for the purposes of manipulating and deceiving them in order to keep their allegiance. This is Political Realism(Naturalism) at its worst but it was a clear expression of the process of the dissolution of Morality that inevitably accompanied the dissolution of religious authority and Aristotelian learning. Political realism of this kind requires of the Prince that he by sly as a fox and as fierce and cruel as a lion. These were the qualities necessary if one was to exercise power over Modern man whom he characterized as unscrupulous egoists. It is almost as if Machiavelli believes (as is perhaps the case with Russell too) that conscience insofar as it belongs to the realm of what one ought to do is not as real as what is the case(what they actually do). The world of intentions is very uncertain in chaotic political environments where the power game and the predictions that follow from it has replaced the ethical attitude of what ought ethically to be the case. Not for Machiavelli, the Greek attitude that it is exactly in such power-laden environments that Knowledge of the Good and good intentions are crucial for the stability of social and political life. For Machiavelli, as for Thrasymachus, practical reasoning has only one objective form and that is the form of what Kant called the technological imperative which can only view actions as means to an end, placing necessity not at the end of the chain but at those points where the means physically and causally bring about their effects. The technological imperative is a chain of efficient causes and is the practical correlate of the theoretical/causal reasoning of Science. These two forms of reasoning formed an unholy alliance in the minds of many many ethical and political “realists” in the “modern period”. This instrumental form of reasoning is contrasted in Kant with the Categorical imperative in which good intention is what is logically related to the good consequence. The Categorical Imperative can be seen as the Kantian response to Glaucon´s challenge to Socrates in the Republic to prove that justice is both good in itself and good in its consequences. The Categorical Imperative, that is, embraces both forms of the good. Machiavelli’s reduction of the good in itself to good consequences ruled by the realm of the technological imperative would have been met with the Socratic objection that such a position confuses Justice with Power.

Bertrand Russell claims that Francis Bacon was regarded as the originator of the expression “Knowledge is power”: and he points to the phenomenon we are attempting to highlight: namely the shift from a categorical form of theoretical reasoning to an instrumental form of practical reasoning in many regions of our discourse, including Science. Bacon was truly one of the “new men” combining political ambition with Science. As a young man, Bacon was supposedly subjected to the teachings of Aristotle at University though we do not know to what extent his teachers understood the intricacies of Aristotelian thinking. Shortly after this experience he entered Parliament and became an advisor to the Earl of Essex and it was not long before he displayed his Machiavellian disposition in matters of state. We find him both advising Queen Elisabeth 1st to be more tolerant to the Catholics and later being part of the committee drawing up the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. As Attorney General Bacon was not above using torture in order to obtain convictions. His “illustrious” career(Solicitor General, Attorney General, Lord Chancellor) ended under a cloud of suspicion when he was fined and shortly imprisoned in the Tower of London for taking bribes(23 charges of corruption)– a situation that Bertrand Russell in Thrasymachian fashion excused with the words, “the ethics of the legal profession in those days, were somewhat lax”(History of Western Philosophy, p526). Bacon is also reputed to have participated in the treason trial of the Earl of Essex(presumably testifying against him).

Francis Bacon is described by D W Hamlyn in his Penguin History of Western Philosophy as one of the “new men”. This is in many respects a true and important observation. He was both a man of Science and a man of Politics underlying these roles was a Sceptic and suspicion was the prevailing spirit of his life. Educated at Cambridge University he studied Aristotle as we mentioned but irrespective of the quality of the understanding of Aristotle by his teachers it might also be the case that his skepticism prevented the viewing of Aristotle’s Philosophy in the humanistic spirit in which it was conceived. Two typically skeptical criticisms leveled by Bacon at Aristotle were, firstly the questioning of the claim that sense experience presents things we perceive as they are in reality, and secondly, that the Aristotelian system of categories also does not correspond in any objective way to the things we encounter in our sense experiences. Aristotle did not merely rely on his categories or the four kinds of change in his complete account of change in the world, he also relied on his fourfold system of “causes/explanations” to further articulate his account. He claimed, for example, that some explanations for things being as they involve so-called material explanations, i.e. are explanations of sensible phenomena in terms of what things are made of. It is true that there existed no table of elements during the times of Aristotle and he conceived of the elements as earth, water, air and fire being combined and separated by the processes of hot and cold, wet and dry. In this context, it should also be pointed out that Aristotle was no stranger to atomistic thinking and whilst he might have thought that the sensible form of a thing was more of a guide to its real nature than the swarm of atoms theory, he understood that matter might be infinitely divisible( composed of smaller and smaller elements. He might not have conceded, however, that this was any ground for believing that there are atoms in the sense of indivisible elements. Insofar as the criticism that categories of thinking about things do not “correspond” with these things is concerned, Aristotle’s later conception of substance(substantial change for his is one of the categories of change) was transformed into that of “form” or “principle” and principles for him occur in a context only of explanation or justification: a very different context to that of the “description” of a thing in which one might well include, qualities, quantities, and sensible relations.

Bacon ignores much of the above account and approaches Aristotle with reductionist tendencies and this spirit is manifested in his discussion of how he believed heat could be reduced to motion. By motion he did not of course mean what Aristotle meant by “change”. Change, for Aristotle,included apart from substantial change, quantitative change, qualitative change, and locomotion(change of place). Bacon in his reflections appears to ignore substantial and qualitative change as well as the Aristotelian notions of formal and final “causes/explanations”. He produces no convincing argument for the elimination of these aspects of Aristotelian theory, merely a sceptical frame of mind that refuses to find any space for the toleration of theories that were abstract and needed deduction to bring them down to the physical, concrete level of physical reality where motion could be unmistakenly experienced in the way that principles involved in the practical context of discovery could not. The new men with their new science emerging from the era of scholasticism had become weary of abstract distinction occurring in debates and discussions of the inhabitants from Academia although one would have thought that the Aristotelian distinction referred to earlier, namely that between contexts of explanation/justification and the contexts of exploration/description would have been sufficient not to evoke the spirits of Plato and Neo-Platonism.

Bacon was in favour of a separation of Science and Philosophy on the grounds of induction which for him was defined not in terms of the enumeration of individual cases(e.g. Plato is mortal, Aristotle is mortal, Therefore all men are mortal) but rather defined via a methodical process of tabulating phenomena in order to eliminate irrelevant elements– a method of falsification rather than a method of confirmation: a method, namely, that relies on arriving inductively at a principle in a context of discovery rather than proceeding from a principle in a context of explanation/justification. Science and empiricism are fellows from the same society and both are skeptical toward certain forms of philosophizing. This is somewhat surprising given the fact that Bacon found no difficulty in believing that nature is revelatory of a divine purpose. Balking at the idea that induction needed Logic and Metaphysical theory as part of the process of hypothesis formation and testing is in need of further explanation. Russell claims that Bacon did not sufficiently emphasize hypothesis formation and points to the importance of the deductive journey from hypotheses to their consequences(the logic of the technological imperative).

Bacon the skeptic, the Machiavellian believed that there were 4 kinds of habits of mind in society that cause people to stray from the truth. he refers to these habits in terms of “idols”: “Idols of the tribe” are related to reliance upon senses, feelings or beliefs, “idols of the cave” are of a more personal nature and relate to an individuals personal happiness, “idols of the marketplace arise from the ambiguity or meaninglessness of the language men use in their discourse with one another, and finally “idols of the public theatre” in which philosophical theories are presented misleadingly as true. In this final category, he places Aristotelian theory, arguing that this kind of theory removes us from the arena of experience and the new inductive methodology of the new science which he called Instauratio Magna. In spite of his Bacon’s skepticism Hamlyn insists that Bacon’s conception of science presupposes metaphysical assumptions of its own which are thinly veiled in his use of the Aristotelian term “form”. Paradoxically, in spite of the quantitative bias of Baconian science we also find the curious suggestion that there is some kind of relation between forms and the qualities of things, It is important to add here, however, that Bacon was not yet a modern Scientist because he did not use or master the tool of modern science, namely mathematics which the rationalist thought to be essential to both the context of exploration/description as well the context of explanation/justification. For Bacon, however, Mathematics was a part of a Platonic realm that has been sealed off from concrete experience and for that reason would not survive the skeptical guillotine.

Bacon believed that Scientists have different roles in what he called the Mansion of Solomon. The science of the soul has a room in this mansion as part of the department of what he called “Philosophia Humanitatis et Civilis” where we will find men studying the body and the soul as well as the study of man as a citizen. The workers working in this mansion are, in accordance with the inductive method, engaged in a laborious collection of evidence that Brett describes in the following manner::(p350)

“a laborious collection of evidence about individuals should result in a concept of man formed in a purely empirical fashion and designed to show the actual nature and limits of human capacity. This part of the scheme reflects the influence of that movement toward scientific anthropology which had already begun. After these should come the study of the union of soul and body, including the study of expression(physiognomics) and the interpretation of dreams. The general object of these two branches of study is to determine in what way and to what extent the humours and temperament of the body affect the soul: also how the soul affects the body.”

Bacon’s inductive investigations resulted in the division of the faculties of the soul into three : memory, imagination, and reason and these three faculties in turn formed the basis of the subject areas of history, poetry and philosophy, each of which attempted to avoid the detrimental influence of the 4 “idols”.

Kant in his work “Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view” divides the Mansion of Solomon in a different way, arguing that the study of the human being results in only two kinds of knowledge: Physiological knowledge of what nature makes of man(Bacon’s effect of the body upon the soul is part of this) and Pragmatic knowledge which is:

“the investigation of what he as a free-acting being makes of himself or can and should make of himself.”(Introduction p. Xiii).

It is not clear whether this idea of what man “should make of himself” would count as the kind of investigation that Brett would count as Scientific. This kind of investigation which Kant engages upon is a conceptual and theoretically-laden affair that is not tied directly to observation. Indeed Kant specifically claims that observation even of the most systematic kind is not sufficient to establish or found the kind of knowledge we encounter in his “pragmatic” investigations.

In his work “Novum Organum” Bacon recommended amongst other advice following the path of Galileo in the rejection of Aristotelian assumptions whilst he also paradoxically suggested rejecting any appeal to abstract mathematics as part of the scientific tribunal of justification. The path of the scientist, Brett argues on behalf of Bacon is:

“he must collect countless instances under different conditions. All the realms of nature must be scoured by teams of sedulous research workers. Well attested facts must be recorded in a central clearing house without any “anticipations of nature” or provisional hypotheses. Rather, these facts must await the judgment of the man who can give an “interpretation of nature”. Method is the key. Method will guard against our inveterate tendency to generalise too soon, to “anticipate” nature.”(p351)

Brett’s conclusion, like Russell’s, is that Bacon failed to understand the role of hypotheses in Science to generate deductions that can be tested. Both Philosophers and Bacon failed to understand how Aristotelian principles could produce an Anthropology that was largely faithful to Aristotelian principles: e.g. the Kantian “Anthropology”. For Brett, it appears that Psychology is a disguised form of epistemology that is fundamentally scientific in its essence: it is, that is, a matter of collecting all the well-attested facts and allowing scientific laws to “emerge” in the process of exploration. Such an approach is, of course, antagonistic toward the approach in which hypotheses are generated from what we know apriori about the soul or the mind. This seems to ignore a well-known distinction characterized in both Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy which the new men with their new science disregarded: the distinction, namely, between proceeding from a principle in order to explain(the context of explanation) and proceeding towards forming a principle in one’s practical investigations (the context of exploration/discovery). Bacon refuses to recognize this distinction because it leads, he fears, to “hasty” generalizations. The major consequences of his program, however, were an obsession with a largely instrumental method using technological imperatives. Bacon’s political influence was undoubtedly a major factor in the preference of what Brett called Bacon’s “dogmatic methodism” over the empirically-rational Aristotelian approach that both acknowledged the importance of induction and its limitations in physical investigations, classification systems, and concept formation. The rational element in Aristotle’s theorising also acknowledged the importance of intellectually based a priori assumptions.

Hobbes(1588-1679) was also an empiricist but he differed with Bacon over the importance of Mathematics which he began to appreciate whilst he was studying at Paris University. On one of his later sojourns to Paris Hobbes also came into contact with Descartes’ “Meditations”. Hobbes is reputed to have taught mathematics to Charles second before he became King. His scholarly abilities in this field, however, have been questioned in debates he had with a professor at Oxford over the “possibility” of squaring the circle. D W Hamlyn does not believe that Hobbes was a true revolutionary in the field of philosophy in the way in which Descartes clearly was(History of Western Philosophy p129-130). Hobbes views, it has been maintained are merely a natural development of ways of thinking that began earlier in Renaissance times. Whereas Descartes’ thought was original in its acknowledgment of the relations of reason, thought, mathematics and God, Hobbes was a straightforward materialist, a determinist, and an atheist who wished to square the circle of politics with an epistemological anti-metaphysical attitude toward philosophical psychology and social phenomena. Hobbes may have been the originator of the concept of artificial intelligence when he claimed that life is nothing but motion of beings possessing parts such as limbs, organs etc. and if this is the case there is nothing to prevent us from considering the movement of machine parts in the same way, as an artificial form of life. Motion in its turn causes sensations and all the qualities of objects are reducible to motion. Our sensory life and imagination are also reducible to motions of the body as is thought and the succession of thoughts which Hobbes believed was subject to the laws of association. Reason was regarded skeptically as being merely a means of calculating the motions developed in the history of man by his industrious activity. Emotions such as desire are merely motions towards and away from things. The will, or intention to do something was for Hobbes, the same as desire and this entailed a denial of the existence of free will. Both the world and the will are determined. We see this philosophical psychology clearly at play in the application of these ideas to social and political phenomena. Men, he argues, live naturally in a state of nature, in a state of war of all against all, a state of fear for one’s life until that point when they cooperate to form communities in accordance with a social contract with a sovereign or a leader. For Aristotle, the formation of communities is a natural organic phenomenon but this is not the case for Hobbes: the whole process is artificial. Only bees and ants cooperate naturally, Hobbes argues. The human sovereign in this highly artificial state of affairs must both possess and exercise power with overwhelming force: “Covenants without the sword are but words”. Is Hobbes’s sovereign a despot? He clearly believes that despotism is better than anarchy and there is nothing of the nuanced account of Aristotle where we find accounts of six kinds of government of which tyranny and monarchy are but two. Indeed, Hobbes even denies the distinction between tyranny and monarchy: a tyrant, he argues, in the spirit of Machiavelli is but a monarch that is unpopular. Hobbes’ description of political activity and institutions is very clinical and bears a great deal of resemblance to his account of artificial life. Russell claims that Hobbes is the first of modern writers on political theory. Even the Hobbesian account of language is in the same spirit and remind one very much of the doctrines of later logical atomists. All words are the names of individuals. Names combine to form sentences. There is a clear resemblance of these thoughts to the Logical Atomism of the Early Wittgenstein. Words function as signs that can mislead and deceive if not used correctly. Unlike Wittgenstein, however, Hobbes never distinguished the causal relations of signs to things outside in the world and to each other from the logical and conceptual questions of the relation of the signs to the world. For Hobbes, reasoning about how to use language would be merely a matter of instrumental calculation: the calculation of means to ends. Brett summarizes Hobbes’ contribution to the development of Psychology in the following terms:

“Hobbes saw that it was mans capacity for using symbols in deductive reasoning and in descriptive language which distinguishes him from animals, together with the theoretical curiosity that goes along with it. But he even suggested a mechanical explanation of language in his crude causal theory of signs. This was a grotesque failure because he never properly distinguished logical questions and the reference of signs from causal questions of their origin. Similarly, he gave a mechanical explanation of choice. Will, he held, simply is the last desire in deliberating which emerges after the oscillation of impulses. Here again in his writings on the free will he never properly distinguished questions about the justifications of actions(their reasons) from questions about their causes. A person who deliberates rationally about means to an end will be influenced by logically relevant considerations. For him, there is a difference between good and bad reasons for a course of action. Now any mechanical theory, even if it has recourse to minute motions, must face the glaring inappropriateness of giving causal explanations of such transitions which involve insight and the grasp of relevance.”

Hobbes like Bacon desired power and knowledge was merely an instrumental means to this highest end. He projected this attitude onto mankind:

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

This could indeed be the motto for the new society of new men that was forming before our eyes. Hobbes was also one of the modern thinkers responsible for postulating a middle class whose instinct is to desire commodious forms of life and much modern political liberalism has attempted to create political and economic policies designed to create the conditions for leading such a life. This cannot but remind one of Hannah Arendt’s characterization of modern man in her work “Origins of Totalitarianism. She points to the combination of the attitude of “Anything is possible” and the desire of new men like Cecil Rhodes to “colonize the planets he saw in the sky” as being at the roots of totalitarianism. Knowledge in such a world is a means to a diffuse striving that probably does not have an end.

These modern men are in a sense, a different kind of man compared to Aristotelian man gazing at the heavens and the phenomena of life and wondering”Why?”: wondering why we live and die or wondering how to live. For the latter man beginnings and endings are important in our attempted explanations and justifications, for the former “new men” life is infinitely continuous, which is of course a kind of denial of the relations between beginnings and endings, livings and dyings. Freud is a thinker that springs to mind in these kinds of discussions as does his image of the clash of the cultural giants, Eros and Thanatos: the life and the death “instincts”. Freud’s work “Civilisation and its Discontents” poses the question as to whether the work we put into maintaining and creating our civilisations is worth the effort. Presumably behind the posing of this question lies a view of the modern world and its “new men”. In the early work of one of his countrymen, Ludvig Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico Philosophicus” we encounter the intriguing challenge to consign to silence all those philosophical matters of which we cannot speak. A sterling challenge considering the fact that all value, aesthetic, ethical, and religious fall into this category of what cannot be said. Wittgenstein of course later abandoned much of this logical atomism and even the scientific spirit of philosophising in a work which no longer saw the use of language as the work of bringing atoms together into meaningful configurations. “Philosophical Investigations” looked upon language as an Aristotelian form of life and attempted to restore the work of Aristotle and perhaps also the work of Kant to contemporary debate: attempting , in other words to replace the “new men” with classical or enlightenment men.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: The Reinterpretation of Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas.

Hits: 124

One of the major considerations to bear in mind when one is engaged upon the task of the evaluation of Thomas of Aquinas’s contribution to the Scholastic tradition of theorising in the 13th century is the nature of the relation between Faith based Theology and Rationalist Philosophy.

Aquinas was largely educated by the Church in what was referred to as the liberal arts, a tradition of training reaching back to the sixth century, a period in which Aristotelian ideas were conspicuous by their absence. The closing of the philosophical schools during the sixth century was the end of a process of the eclipsing of the sun of classical knowledge. Monastic education did, however, realize that there was a need for the supplementation of Scriptural studies with other areas of study such as logic, rhetoric, and grammar(the trivium) and arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music(the quadrivium). This proliferation of subjects originally taught in monastic and cathedral schools eventually contributed to the establishment of the institution of the university. This development was probably aided and abetted by the historical conditions of the twelfth century outlined in Bertrand Russel’s work “History of Western Philosophy”:

“Four aspects of the twelfth century are especially interesting to us:

  1. The continued conflict of empire and papacy.
  2. The rise of the Lombard cities.
  3. The Crusades, and
  4. The growth of scholasticism. All these four continued into the following century.”(p422)

Secularism continued to grow in influence and although the scholastic philosophers were all involved in one way or another with the Church and subject to regulation by ecclesiastically constituted committees, the works of Aristotle were increasingly being favoured over the works of Plato. By the time we arrive at the establishment of the Universities which would be partially modelled on the secular guild system we encounter a reformation of the liberal arts program in the light of Aristotelian ideas. When Aquinas began to study at the Universities of Naples and Paris Aristotle was referred to as “The Philosopher” and the spirit of his work would dominate university curricular for hundreds of years.

Russell points out that the scholars of the twelfth century were very active and creative when the conditions allowed them to be. During these times one was witnessing the birth of globalization forces of empire building and international trade. Political and economic forces struggled for power with the churches’ global ambitions sometimes in the form of military conflict. There was also resistance to the forces of globalization in the form of a re-emergence of city-state systems(the Lombard cities).

The scholastic atmosphere of the twelfth century was dialectical: debate and disputation were encouraged by the emerging system of the universities. Indeed, the first European University, the University of Bologna, embodied this scholastic dialectical spirit of it being a secular Legal Institution devoted to defending the rights of the people against both Empire and Church. It was most famous for its Constitutia Habita a decree which guaranteed the right of the traveling scholar to academic freedom(within certain limits). Bologna shared with the Universities of Paris and Oxford a commitment to a belief in the principle of apprenticeship as the road to mastery of an area of study: a principle that was partly examined and tested by disputations with opponents(a residue of the Greek dialogue?) Successful completions of a course of study of the trivium and quadrivium were conditions of entry into these largely secular humanistic knowledge driven institutions.

As mentioned earlier Aristotle was “The Philosopher” in the thirteenth century and the dominance of his ideas would over hundreds of years into the future intensify activity in all the subject areas of his writings, but probably the greatest interest was taken in restoring the validity of natural science: an area that had largely been discarded by the classical theologically inclined Platonists. Aquinas found himself at the beginning of this cycle of development and his interest in Aristotle was probably strictly regulated by the Dominican brotherhood that he had joined. As we have noted in previous chapters previous thinkers had attempted to elevate the power of reasoning to the same level as the power of faith in a supernatural power but these thinkers did not dare to embrace Aristotle’s philosophy in the way in which Aquinas attempted to do. It was far too early in the cycle of development of Aristotle’s influence for Reason and Understanding to replace Faith and Belief in certain areas of philosophical investigation.

According to A Kenny in his work “A New History of Western Philosophy”, the thirteenth century:

“…was a time of uncommon intellectual energy and excitement. The context for this ferment was created by two innovations that had occurred early in the century. The new universities and the new religious orders. Bologna and Salemo have claims to be the oldest universities in Europe. But Bologna had no permanent university buildings until 1565 and Salemo’s academic glory quickly faded: moreover, both were specialised schools, concentrating on law and medicine respectively. It was at Paris and Oxford that the institution really took root.” (Vol. 2 p.55)

Kenny maintains that both universities and parliaments came into existence at the same time: if by university we mean:

“a corporation of people engaged professionally, full time, in the teaching and expansion of a corpus of knowledge in various subjects, handing it on to their pupils with an agreed syllabus, agreed methods of teaching, and agreed professional standards.”

Medieval Universities quickly developed into hybrid organisations in which the Humanities were taught in the spirit of the Socratic examined life and the Aristotelian Contemplative life but at the same time the subjects of theology, law, and medicine were taught in a more instrumental spirit.

The thirteenth century was clearly a time for synthesis. One interesting fact to note , however, is that the five great scholars of the century were all members of the religious orders of the Dominicans or Franciscans. Add to this the fact that despite the increasing attitude of tolerance toward the pagan Philosophy of Aristotle in the University of Paris in 1210, lectures on Aristotle’s natural philosophy were forbidden and orders were issued in the form of papal bulls for these texts to be burned. Under such circumstance,s it was highly unlikely that any interpreter of Aristotle could commit themselves to “The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” in any attempted synthesis of Philosophy and Religion. Aristotle was in a sense persona non grata in the instrumental world of Theology where truth and knowledge were communicated in a utilitarian spirit. Yet it is important to note that were it not for this utilitarian spirit of teaching in three out of the four faculties, Modern Science might never have emerged a few centuries later. Also, interestingly one can speculate that if Medicine which was also being taught in a utilitarian spirit , had followed a more principled Aristotelian path, it may have become the Queen of the Sciences and the Prince of the Humanities.

Aquinas perhaps has earned the right to be called the great synthesizer in one of the great ages of Synthesis. His synthesis was an attempt to bring about an integration of Aristotelian ideas with Christianity, each of which could in its turn claim to be the synthesis of positions in their respective ages. Had the conditions been different, one might argue, the Aquinian synthesis might have been more in favour of Aristotelian principles rather than being in favour of the standard Neoplatonic and theological “interpretation” of Aristotle. This state of affairs haunted the Universities up to the time of Kant and the Enlightenment. Kant, as we know was the first philosopher to publish works in his mother tongue German rather than the prescribed language of Academia, namely Latin. It is worth noting that the so-called father of Modern Philosophy, Descartes, wrote in Latin that only God could guarantee that his life was not a dream. It is also worth noting that Descartes inherited the antipathy of the theologians toward the rational principles of Aristotle. One interpretation of the Aquinian synthesis was that its purpose was to put Aristotle in his place, and subordinate reason to Faith and revelation. D W Hamlyn has the following to say on this topic:

“Aquinas was the great synthesizer, able to use the newly discovered Aristotle to produce a philosophical system by which reason could be set alongside faith. There are for Aquinas revealed truths, and where philosophical considerations conflict with revelation–as is the case, for example, when Aristotelian principles lead to a denial of a first creation–Aquinas has no hesitation in siding with faith.”

Hamlyn goes on to point out that with respect to certain less sensitive issues of what he calls “natural theology” Aquinas felt confident enough to explain and justify such phenomena by means of Aristotelian principles:

“Aquinas’ account of the natural world is almost strictly Aristotelian, based o the reciprocal principles of matter and form, things occupying various degrees between the extremes of prime matter and pure form.”

In this context certain analytical scholastic issues surfaced in his writings, for example the question of what it is that makes a thing one and what is is that individuates things from each other. Here Aquinas appealed to quantities of stuff occupying different spaces(one of the lodestar principles of modern science) as being the major principle of individuation in the material world(materia signata quantitate).

Hamlyn also suggests that Aquinas might be guilty of projecting an idea of God as a supernatural being onto the writings of Aristotle which actually pleaded for the notions of form, principle or pure act above that of any being. But even if this is the case Aquinas was careful to point out that he rejected the Ontological argument of Anselm which in his view conflated existence in thought with existence in reality. We can, he argued, only use attributes which are used to describe the external world to analogously describe God. In other words, positive properties such as God’s goodness, omniscience, omnipotence etc, can only be known by analogy. But we also find Aquinas using standard Aristotelian arguments such as the proof that there by necessity must be a prime mover behind the actualization process that actualizes potentialities: i.e. movement or change in the world has to have an unmoved mover or an unchanged changer. It is in this realm that we encounter the possible metaphysical conflicts between Aristotle and Aquinas for whom the creation of the world is not similar to the Aristotelian teleological designer of the world(or the demiurge of Plato) who is working within the framework of the other three types of cause(efficient, material and formal): The Aquinian God, on the contrary, creates the world from nothing. No proof of the existence of God could ever suffice here because it is a parts of Gods essence that he possesses such an incomprehensible power which only the religious attitude of faith is able to “understand”. Reason and its arguments could only ever analogously or symbolically represent what it is that we “understand” in accordance with this attitude. Attitudes are related to beliefs in that they are ways of believing whatever it is we believe. At some level, of course, Aquinas “believed” Gods essence and existence to be identical and given what an attitude is this is not something that we can believe in the way we believe it to be true that man is a rational animal capable of discourse. “Man” in this proposition is a name for some kind of thing in the world which can be differentiated from other kinds of things by the definition of his essence in terms of the 4 kinds of change, the 4 causes of change and the three principles of change. God cannot be a name in this sense but if “God” is not a name for something how do we designate his presence? Aquinas turns to the Bible to answer this question and abandons philosophical investigation into the matter. A burning bush on Mount Sinai tells Moses that the name of his God is Yahweh and explains the grammar of the term with the words “I am that I am”. What can Moses have “understood” in this experience? What attitude of mind was created by this experience? Initially his state of mind was probably fearful and if Heidegger in his work “Being and Time” was correct in his assumption that every state of mind is accompanied by an understanding or comprehension of its object this state must have been transfigured or transformed into a faith state with its understanding: an understanding to be unpacked in terms of an enigmatic character of “Being-in-the-world” which involves active projection of one’s own possibilities as well as an interpretation or appropriation of what it is that is to be understood. What we are concerned with, in other words, is a work of interpretation aimed at understanding a mode of Being-in-the world.

We know that Aquinas was studying and interpreting texts as part of his University training and in so doing would have reflected upon the grammar of the language for God many times. The question to raise here is whether these reflections were engaging at all with the metaphysical/hylemorphic theory of change of Aristotle. What has been said above is indicative of the fact that the answer to this question is that Aristotelian ideas probably played a minimal role in his interpretative reflections. In order to illuminate the reason for such a state of affairs let us turn to the writings of a modern Aquinian, Paul Ricoeur, in the hope that we can provide ourselves with a more nuanced perspective of the dilemma Aquinas faced in his attempts to integrate the powers of faith and reason.

Ricoeur began his excursion into the territory of religion or the “realm of the sacred” with an examination of the language involved in what he called “The Symbolism of Evil”. In this work, he noted that the logic of the analytic philosophers could not satisfactorily give an account of the kind of meaning involved in the confession of our sins or faults. This, Ricoeur argues, is clearly a meaningful activity. The words make sense but it is not at all clear what they refer to. In the most primitive case of the confession of sins we feel, as Ricoeur put the matter, “defiled” and this attitude involves our viewing our relation to the sacred as analogous or symbolic of the spot or stain that spoils the surface it affects: we are, that is, seeing this evil act of ours as a stain on our good character. But why one might wonder, cannot one merely say “I am evil?” This impossibility reaches right to the heart of the meaning of the “Good” and its relation to our human essence. Could it be, one may wonder, that we are dealing with the same kind of problem when, according to Aquinas, we cannot directly attribute the quality of “goodness” to God. We are, after all, according to the Bible and Aquinas created in the image of God which of course eventually raises the question of Original Sin. If God could never, in accordance with his essence, will any evil act then on this account neither could man. Adam in the Garden of Eden, on an Aristotelian account, wishes for knowledge as a stage on the path to greater understanding for man, the rational animal capable of discourse. Indeed one can wonder whether if Adam had not disobeyed the divine commandment not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, would he have been considered the first man, i.e. the first rational animal capable of discourse? This myth is clearly paradoxical if we believe with Plato and Aristotle that Knowledge of the good is divine. God, of course, does not know the good in the way that is possible for us–he is the good(“I am that I am”). We, the image, can only “understand” the good via the route of understanding ourselves, and we can only do this via the Scriptures and the Myths of the poets who only speak of the sacred indirectly in a symbolic language that only those capable of the attitude of faith can decipher. It is the power of the symbol that “reveals” the truth (Aletheia). We moderns may well have lost the ability to, as many commentators have put it, naively believe in “The Good” and therefore respond to this state of affairs by requiring proof if we are to believe in its existence. We can, that is, no longer innocently believe but must take a critical route, perhaps via the hermeneutical philosophy of Ricoeur or the hylemorphic philosophy of Aristotle if we are to restore the possibility of once again living in the realm of the sacred. For Ricoeur, this possibility requires the work of the imagination and its projection of these “possibilities” and it also requires a view of language as the source of the meaning we are projecting and interpreting. We need, in Aristotelian terms, to be “capable of (this kind of) discourse”.

On an Aristotelian view of the Garden of Eden drama it is an interesting observation to make that were Adam and Eve to be guided by “the discourse”(?) with the serpent to consider eating the apple it would call into question their humanity insofar as this must be evidence that they do not appear to understand the discourse of God as superior to that of the serpent. But, also on an Aristotelian view of the operation of the emotions in the sphere of voluntary actions, could we not consider an intermediate case of Adam and Eve both being, as it were, “drunk” with curiosity and subsequently eating the apple in a state of delirious consciousness, not fully aware of what it was they were doing? If this tale were to replace the original, would it carry any symbolic significance: universal significance? What would be required to universalize the new Aristotelian account.? Some means would have to be found to represent not merely what is happening in the environment of the Garden of Eden but the reason why whatever is happening is happening ( the reason for the actions of Adam and Eve): that is why what was done is either a good or an evil act. Being drunk with an emotion is of course not necessarily a positive state of mind on the Aristotelian view of incontinent behaviour: curiosity, that is, is not always positive and this may be a cautionary tale. Animals are sometimes killed by their curiosity and sometimes this occurs in situations where if they knew the reason(explanation/justification) for the phenomenon(and its consequences) that is arousing their curiosity, they might engage in a behaviour of repulsion instead of a behaviour of attraction. So, to take a concrete example, even if the apple on the tree that is eaten is poisoned and Adam and Eve die as a consequence of eating it, this story would be merely a juxtaposition of a number of facts unless knowledge of the Good was somehow imparted to give it deeper meaning: knowledge, for example, that for humans, (rational animals capable of discourse, passing laws, worshiping the sacred, doing philosophy) a premature death is an evil. But this would be a humanist’s tale and not carry the kind of universal significance related to the sacred that the religious attitude requires. Somehow the religious lesson to be learned is in another realm, the realm of the universal sinfulness of man(in comparison with the universal goodness of God?) so drunk with curiosity that he cannot or will not heed the words of God. Perhaps the message from the realm of the sacred to modern man obsessed with his material possessions, technological inventions, and facts is that there is a lack of clarity over the nature of his desires and the beliefs involved in “the facts”, i.e a lack of clarity concerning the kind of world we live in which is sometimes symbolically described as “the valley of the shadow of death”, without knowledge of why we dwell in such a world. The ancient Greeks provided us with prophecy’s of doom about this world: “everything created is doomed to ruin and destruction”, and perhaps the Biblical tale of the Garden of Eden is providing us with an extension of this prophecy with the more optimistic message “unless we worship in the realm of the sacred”. Plato in his work “The Republic” tried to sugar coat this ancient prophecy by claiming that we could at least save our cities, if not ourselves if philosophers become kings or kings become philosophers. For Aristotle, this political message may have been wishful thinking and on his account, it appears that the best we can do in the face of a doomsday scenario is to live a life of contemplation and cultivate the virtues via the use of reason. This kind of engagement with the world is a contrast to the religious life of medieval times which is characterized by a kind of melancholic withdrawal from the life of curiosity and all its consequences. Aquinas himself aspired to this religious form of life, perhaps satisfying the curious spark within by exploring the hinterland of his psyche with the millions of words he wrote. The end for both Aquinas and Aristotle was not evil as such because for the former the soul would outlive at least the death of the body and the day of judgment would determine whether the soul had actualized its full potential or not. For Aristotle, my world ends with the death of my body and even if the principles of the powers of my soul continue to exist in some sense there is no longer any concrete connection between these principles, powers and “me”. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Aristotle would accept the thesis that Eudaimonia was only possible in “the next “Life” “. For Aristotle, an individual’s very natural life comes to an end with his very natural death. Aristotle would have defended this position by reference to the principle of non-contradiction which applied to this form of reasoning would conclude that it cannot be true that there is another life after the death that defines the life that has come to an end.

Insofar as the nature of the soul is concerned Aquinas relies on a complex interpretation of the Aristotelian claim that thought and reason require no organ for their activity. Aristotle’s intention were anti-Platonic, designed not to prevent the spiritualization of the soul and emphasize is qualities as a principle or power. Brett in his work “history of Psychology” suspects that Aquinas is sometimes Platonising Aristotle:

“The soul is defined as both form and substance of the body. The idea of form is drawn from Aristotle but the medievalists believed that form is dependent on its substance and is annihilated when the substance is resolved into its elements: in other words, that a form is an attribute. Consequently, to save the soul from such dependence, the scholastic doctrine makes it a substance that gives form. As such the soul is, for immediate observation, the organic principle of life which cannot be divided from the organism: but it is also at the same time separable as substance and Aristotle gives place to Plato when we pass from the organism to the soul in and for itself. Meanwhile this much is gained: the soul and the body, in other words, the organism may be taken as the object of independent inquiry. In this way, philosophy and religion acquire independent spheres or subject matters: and this is important because the sphere of Philosophy, is thus segregated and comes, in practice, to be a true science separable from theology.”

A substance in Aristotle’s work “The Categories” was tied to particulars that later on in his full-blown hylemorphic theory became combinations of form and matter and form which formerly related to the shape of the particular now relates to the principle of the particulars essence and existence. It is clear that “substance” can be logically related to the principle of a thing but then the art of maintaining this position resides in not sliding into a dualism which spiritualizes the soul(if the particular we are talking about is an organism) and this substance dualism differentiates it significantly from the way in which two principles might differ from one another. This point has implication for the subject of study insofar as both Philosophy and Theology are concerned. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy claims that Aquinas described the relation between Philosophy and Theology thus:

“The first and major formal difference between philosophy and theology is found in their principles, that is starting points. The presupposition of the philosopher: that to which his discussions and arguments are ultimately driven back to are located in the public domain as it were. They are things that everyone in principle can know upon reflection: they are where disagreement between us must come to an end. These principles are not themselves the products of deductive proof which does not, of course, mean that they are immune to rational analysis and inquiry–and thus they are said to be known by themselves(per se as opposed to per alia). This is proportionately true of each of the sciences where the most common principles just alluded to are in the background and the proper principles that are the starting points of the particular science functional regionally as the common principles do across the whole terrain of thought and being…..By contrast, the discourse of the Theologian is ultimately driven back to starting points or principles that are held to be true on the basis of faith, that is, the truths that are authoritatively conveyed by Revelation as revealed by God. Theological discourse and inquiry…is characterized formally by the fact that its arguments and analyses are taken to be truth bearing only for those who accept Scriptural revelation as true.”

This position is supported and confirmed by Aquinas in his work “Exposition of Boethius’ On the Trinity”(q5,a4) in which it is claimed that there is in addition to the Theology of faith a Philosophical Theology in which the focus of attention is the metaphysics of a subject or its first principles. Aristotle, that is, would claim that the world can be traced back to first principles via the methods and theories of the Philosophers and also independently of any putative revelatory experience of the kind Aquinas maintains happened to him. In this discussion there does appear to be space for the position that maintains that “revelation” may be an independent avenue of access to first principles but that fact may be merely a consequence of the actualizing process involving reasoning processes operating over long periods of time. If this position is sound then there does appear to be grounds for insisting that both kinds of Theology mat be merely different aspects of the study of first principles.

Martin Heidegger in his work on Kant claims that that Metaphysics in Kant’s work is divisible into Metaphysics Generalis and Metaphysics Specialis and that Theology is part of the latter, making it in some sense dependent upon the Philosophical account of Metaphysics. Kant in this respect is following Aristotle in insisting that (Pure) Reason is the source of our finite understanding of the first principles of Metaphysics. This raises the question : What faculty or power of mind supports or connects to our faith in a superior being? Paul Ricoeur argues that the route of revelation requires symbolic language and the operation of the imagination.

One of the advantages of Philosophical Theology over Scriptural Theology is that in the former case one can know what one is talking about when one is talking about first principles. In Scriptural Theology it appears that we can somehow apprehend the essence of God but yet not know this essence because of the fact that we are not God, we are merely images of God. The way in which we apprehend the essence of God is via knowing that the proposition “God exists” is true in virtue of the knowledge that the predicate of the proposition is included in the essence of the subject. This appeal to language is unsurprising given the commitment to the symbolic language of the Scriptures where God is referred to symbolically. Formally, Gods essence implies his existence in both thought and reality. Spinoza in his work characterized this essence as a substance containing an infinite number of modes. A mode, for Spinoza, reveals an aspect of the substance of God. This is not an Aquinian position but rather a refinement or evolution which actually diminishes the importance of the Aristotelian view of God as a pure form or pure first principle which Aristotle characterizes in terms of a thinking contemplative being engaged in essential thought about himself. In the Scriptures, on the other hand, God appears to be concerned about us. This evident in his appearing as a burning speaking bush to Moses, in his sending his son Jesus to save us from ourselves. The chosen channel of communication of the Scriptural message is the symbolic language of the Bible understood by those whose Faith, Hope and Love enable them to interpret its messages correctly. This God is what he is. But what is that? Adopt the religious attitudes of Faith, Hope, and Love and presumably one will find out. How does one acquire such attitudes? They are according to Aquinas theological virtues and all virtues are acquired via the Aristotelian process of finding a golden mean between various extreme forms of conduct. Here we encounter two different accounts, one theoretical and one practical and it appears to be the case that Aquinas places more importance on the theoretical when he attempts to demonstrate the existence of God in his work “Summa Theologiae”. Referring directly to Aristotle’s “Posterior Analytics” Aquinas claims that there are two phases of demonstration: demonstrating the existence of the subject matter and demonstrating its essential properties. He then argues, somewhat paradoxically that philosophy can demonstrate the existence of God but not his essential properties which can only be attributed symbolically or analogically. This is paradoxical because in the Metaphysics Aristotle clearly argues that Theology is a theoretical science whose subject matter(God) is separate from nature. Aristotle in this work also clearly identifies the primary being with a primary good, namely rational thought thinking about itself(thinking about thinking). One cannot here but be reminded of the characterization of God in the Old Testament of the Bible, “I am that I am”. We are clearly in the realm of what Aquinas would call “logic” which deals with what he terms “second intentions”(concepts or ideas and the relations between them). Were Aristotle to have been confronted with this Biblical characterization he may claim that understanding here may hinge upon how one interprets the statement “I am that I am”. It could be interpreted as a factual physical albeit eternal presence(and not therefore subject to the prophecy that “all created things are doomed to ruin and destruction” in virtue of possessing the status of “creator”. Or alternatively the statement “I am that I am” could be interpreted in terms of a rational thinking presence that explains and justifies itself. On this latter interpretation, he is what he is, good, rational and causa sui (something that causes himself in all the causal forms Aristotle proposes). He is also eternally present and the cause of all change in accordance with the Aristotelian schema of 4 kinds of change and 3 principles of change. All of this Aquinas must in a sense deny because we are speaking here of the essential attributes of God which, according to his account cannot be characterized rationally but can only be given via the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love in the context of the theological symbolical language of the Bible.

Perhaps it could be argued that the Aristotelian account of God and the Biblical account are two “aspects” of the same “Being” and that the logical reasoning of Aristotle in the “Metaphysics” actually presents God in terms of the “second intention”(as rational thought) far more clearly than the symbolic language of the burning bush or the symbolic language of the New Testaments description of the life and death of the son of God (requiring for their full understanding the religious attitudes of faith, hope and love).

Paul Ricoeur maintains interestingly that Biblical texts have referential intent and are world revealing in the sense that Heidegger claimed great works of art are revealing–“aletheia“. This is only so, Ricoeur argues, if they are read in a critical spirit. He does not mean by critical what Aristotle or Kant would have meant, however. The world is not revealed through rational thought, Ricoeur maintains, but rather via the use of a productive imagination which through the lens of a symbolic language and a process of interpretation can project a possible future good life. The texts disclose to the interpreting subject a new mode of Being-in-the World and along with this a new understanding in a reader that may as a consequence be conscious of being reborn or “converted” in the process. Ricoeur also takes up in this context the fact that normal consciousness is in a sense a false consciousness that is in need of displacement: it is a wounded ego that is in need of teleological reform. To fully comprehend this state of affairs we must risk, Ricoeur argues, entering what he calls the hermeneutic circle: be, that is prepared to abandon rational thought in favour of a form of thought that is more dialectical. We need that is to use faith hope and love in order to understand and to understand in order to have faith hope and love. This complex form of understanding is practically oriented towards one’s life and engages with our conceptual world via intuitive imaginative content.

We also encounter the above teleological “conversion” in Kant’s account of religion and its role in the categorical imperative. For Kant our moral understanding is guided by imperatively structured thought(mirrored in an imperative language structure) that also displays a symbolic dual layer of reference corresponding to what we ought to do and why. This however only covers one aspect of a categorical imperative that also refers to a hoped-for cosmopolitan kingdom of ends in some distant future where the wills of ethical agents will communally follow the moral law. For Kant, however, this is not a consequence of the imagination but rather a consequence of the use of practical reason.

Ricoeur argues in a work entitled “Figuring the sacred” that religious language operates in a manner very similar to the way in which poetic language operates, namely by refiguring the world in terms of the possibilities connected with the good. The language used in this poetic way operates much as psychoanalytic therapy does by disorienting a wounded cogito and reorienting it towards a new world of possibilities. It is the performative nature of the language–its imperative mode–that is here revelatory. The language is, in other words, active and cathartic and its “second intention” is to introduce the listener/reader into the realm of the contemplative sacred world. Symbolic language of all forms, argues Ricoeur testifies to what he calls a “logic of superabundance” rather than a logic of rigid univocal meanings where the truth no longer as the Bible prophesies “sets you free”. It is this logic that for Ricoeur, also sets dialogue free and allows what he calls “open dialogue”. We find this logic not just in poetry but also in our myths: myths that analytical logic finds to contain merely sedimentations of falsities and a world estranged from analytical reality. Myths, according to Ricoeur use the linguistic devices of stories and narratives to enable the imagination and its expressive language to communicate its messages and morals. Such stories need, however, as they were in Greek times, to be submitted to a critical discipline if they are to become “instruments” of rationality. This critical discipline is not, however, the same as that proposed by analytical logic or science. In the latter, we are often persuaded to discard the products of the imagination(and practical reason) in favour of a theoretical commitment to a method and a world conceived of as a totality of facts without philosophical principles. Hypothetical, provisional theories awaiting the next best revision, is, no one will doubt, an excellent inductive process which with a dialectical twist can probably help us to reconfigure new concepts but such theories remain at the level of what Aquinas would call the “first intention” and will because of these facts forever remain in the realm of the context of exploration and discovery. Such a view of the world leaves the context of knowledgable explanation and justification hanging in a metaphysical limbo: a limbo that for the scientists are filled with the ghosts of myth, poetry, and ethics.

The above account contains the elements of what Neo-Kantians would call the transcendental imagination, pure intuition, pure reason, and understanding: an account made possible by Aristotelian critical philosophy. Aristotle was rehabilitated as an authority figure by Aquinas in an act of reinterpretation which perhaps was not entirely true to the spirit of Aristotle’s legacy but it did manage to keep the legacy alive long enough for a new and better reinterpretation by Kant whose critical philosophy was rapidly overshadowed by the challenge of the Hegelians in the spirit of something new and different(something “sensational”). Just as Science and analytical logic were to move into the cultural vacuum created by Aquinas in the name of Theology, history was to repeat itself after the Hegelian deconstruction of Kant’s Critical Philosophy and create a Philosophical vacuum based on an inadequate reinterpretation of both Aristotle and Kant. This state of affairs allowed Science and analytical logic to “colonize” all the realms of culture. Now whilst it would be unfair to characterize Aquinas’ position as “modern”, one can still maintain that it shared with modernism a Philosophical Psychology that did not engage as significantly as it should have with Aristotelian Metaphysics and Aristotelian writings on the soul. This was perhaps nowhere so apparent as in his treatment of the role of perception and imagination and their relation to reason and the understanding. According to Kenny the mistake of Aquinas was to regard the imagination as an “inner sense”:

“Many philosophers besides Aquinas have classified memory and imagination as inner senses. They have regarded these faculties as senses because they saw their function as the production of imagery: they regarded them as inner because their activity unlike that of the outer senses was not controlled by external stimuli. Aquinas indeed thought that the inner senses like the outer ones, had organs–organs that were located in different parts of the brain. It seems to be a mistake to regard the imagination as an inner sense. It has no organs in the sense in which sight has an organ: there is no part of the body that can be voluntarily moved so that we can imagine better, in the way in which the eyes can be voluntarily moved so that we can see better. Moreover, it is not possible to be mistaken about what one imagines in the way that can be mistaken about what one sees: others cannot check up on what I say I imagine as they can check up on what I claim to see.”( “A New History of Western Philosophy”, p.235)

All this can be granted without hesitation but where then is the correct positive characterization of the imagination? Kant’s philosophy may provide an answer to this question. He referred to the Transcendental Imagination and the process of schematizing our concepts independently of experience. In the Critique of Judgment Kant also refers to the way in which the imagination works in aesthetic contexts, where it is the form(the principle) of the object which is the focus of our activity. This activity resembles to some extent the activity of conceptualization. Aesthetic experience, however, is disinterested and only directed to the form of an object. If this is the case then it would seem to follow that we cannot regard the imagination as in any sense sensuous. It is also interesting to note that the imagination in practical ethical contexts may not be object directed but be focussed on whether an action can be universalized or not. This issue is decided in the realm of thought where the first step, for example, of ethical reflection, is to find the principle( or form) of the action before being processed by reason in terms of the logic of universalization.

Aquinas’ view of the intellect includes the power of the mind that earlier thinkers(excluding Aristotle) referred to specifically as the will. For Aquinas it is the will that separates the animal psuche from the human psuche. Animals, we know, eat instinctively but humans sublimate this activity with the help of a will, an intellectual faculty that uses the power of an interior command to achieve external actualisation of activities or actions. It is most importantly the connection of this activity to contemplation and rationality and linguistic characterisation that constitutes its voluntariness. Aquinas’ account of practical reasoning otherwise is Aristotelian: an action is a conclusion of practical reasoning which begins with a universal ought premise. Only if we can give reasons for the goodness of the act will it be perfectly voluntary and rational. Aquinas thus subscribes to a theory postulating a logical relationship between the will and the act, between a command and its execution. There are also echoes of Kant in his account of deciding what we ought to do:

“In contingent matters, reason can go either way… and what to do in particular situations is a contingent matter. So, in such cases, the judgment of reason is open to alternatives and is not determined to any one course. hence humans enjoy free decision, from the very fact of being rational”. (“Summa Theologiae 1a 83 1c)

Brett believes that this step of the individualisation of the intellect was necessary to overcome the influence of Arab philosophy which thought of the intellect as ” a universal superhuman intelligence in which all human beings partake”. Brett continues:

“From the given definition it follows that intellect is individual: each persons intellect is no more than the individuals actual intelligence. After this cosmic dualism is cleared away there remains the dualism within the individual. The Aristotelian treatment of the soul is not satisfactory to the Christian philosopher. For him, the soul must both be separable from the body and immortal. the proof of these points is not a part of psychology: the assertion of them affects psychological theory in the consequent difficulty of uniting that kind of soul to a body. The difficulty is obscured by speaking of the soul as the form of the body, with the added qualification that the form is, in this case, substantial. That is the point at which the Theologian forsakes Aristotle…we ultimately come to the question, “How is the unity possible?” For the powers of the senses and of the imagination are organic, but the intellectual powers are not organic: there is, therefore, a dualism to be overcome and since explanation must be given of the way in which the sense experience is taken up in the higher work of the intellect.”

Jonathan Lear in is work “Aristotle: the desire to understand” points out that Aristotle abandoned the view of soul as substance that was presented in the work “Categories”:

“However when Aristotle wrote the Categories he had not yet developed the concepts that would enable him to conceive of a particular like Socrates as a composite of form and matter. He knew that Socrates had an essence but he had not yet come up with the idea that the essence was the formed aspect of Socrates, his body being the matter. Indeed, Aristotle had not yet developed his technical concept of matter which he developed only when he came to explain how change was possible…. He was able to regard particular animals and plants as composites of a potentially living body(the matter) and a soul(the form or first actuality of a potentially living body)(p.270-1)

There is therefore no reason for the Theologian to forsake Aristotle if the ultimate goal is to ascertain the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There may, however, be reason for the philosopher to suspect Aquinas of a form of dualism that Aristotle might have been guilty of in his earlier work, the Categories.

It would not be appropriate in a discussion of Aquinas to omit a discussion of Natural Law theory which is normally attributed to the Dominican scholar. D W Hamlyn characterises Aquinas’ view thus:(p112)

“Aquinas is also notable for a theory of natural law. Aristotle’s moral theory is naturalistic in the sense that it sees the good for man in terms of what is part of human nature, and of what is natural for man to aim at, as rational beings. Men, as political animals and in society are governed by human laws, which are, in a sense, a sort of image of the divine law that governs the universe. But individuals can be regarded in themselves as an analogous system subject to laws which govern the relationship between their parts. The law that governs this is natural law, and it lays down what must be done to further the ends of man. As such, this law, as is the case with human laws, is prescriptive but the basis of what is prescribed is to be sought in what is natural(or supposed to be natural) for human beings. Aquinas thus attempts to derive the moral laws that govern human conduct from a conception of human beings and what is natural for them. Whether this sort of “ought” can be derived in any way from this sort of “is” is still the subject of debate among philosophers.”

Among philosophers of analytical persuasion ought to have been added to this characterization. Neither Aristotle nor Aquinas would have claimed that the initial premise of the premises of a practical syllogism should be an “is-premise”. The Good by definition is a teleological concept and thereby future-oriented. This essential feature is registered in a practical syllogism by the initial premise being a universal ought premise, e.g.

“Everything sweet ought to be tasted

This is sweet

This ought to be tasted.”

And the final action gives rise to an action that must necessarily be done unless as Aristotle points out one suddenly becomes physically unable or drunk with emotions of strong anger or appetites for something else. Emotions shut this rational forward looking faculty down. The point to note in the above practical syllogism is the universal (Everything) oughtpremise which in this case prescribes a good for the body(sugar = energy?) but such a universal premise could equally well aim at a good for the soul or the human being as a whole, e.g.

“Promises ought to be kept

Jack promised Jill he would return the money he borrowed from her

Jack ought to pay the money back”

The action here too ought to follow the reasoning process and we know from the writings of Aristotle that there is in any particular case a possibility of incontinence if the body or the soul is overwhelmed with emotion. Analytical philosophers have been prone to argue that if Jack does become overwhelmed with the desire to gamble all his money away, this suffices to compromise the universal validity of “Promises ought to be kept”. This position fails however to understand the role that facts play in this kind of reasoning. The fallacy of confusing an is fact statement with an ought founding ground is the same fallacy that Socrates encountered in his dispute with Thrasymachus in book one of Plato’s Republic. Thrasymachus was asked to define Justice and he did so by appealing to a principle, namely that strong rulers rule cities in their own interests, and appealing to a number of observational facts(this is and has been done in present and past democracies, tyrannies, oligarchies etc). Rulers passed laws that were in their own interests and thereby protected their power. socrates rightly objected that without knowledge of the Good(A Universal ought-premise such as “All rulers ought to pass laws in the interests of the common good”) the lawmakers would probably mistakenly pass laws that were not in their interests. This law together with the individual-related law “Promises ought to be kept” are the kind of natural laws Aristotle(who saw society and the city-state as a natural organic extension of human nature)and Aquinas was referring to. Man is for both of them a rational lawmaking, promise-keeping animal capable of discourse.

Aquinas understood the above complexities and might have objected to Hamlyn’s words: “This law as is the case with human laws, is prescriptive, but the basis of what is prescribed is to be sought in what is natural (or supposed to be natural) for human beings”. Such a formulation Aquinas would argue, opens the flood gates of logical descriptivism and enables one to argue on the basis of the assumption that “Everything natural is good” the following:

Everyman is naturally irreligious

Therefore being irreligious is good

and correlatively

Being religious is unnatural

Therefore being religious is not good.

The Fransiscan logicians who followed Aquinas would of course be seeking to undermine Aristotle because they despised the so-called pagan Greek Philosophy and to the extent that Aquinas was an Aristotelian was the extent to which he too was pagan.

Indeed, these forces were to prove overwhelmingly powerful because Aquinas may have been the last standard bearer of the Philosophy of Aristotle until the philosophy of Kant several hundreds of years later.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness:The Arab Proto-Renaissance,( Ibn Sina, Ibn al-Haytham ,Ibn Roshid), Aristotelian and Kantian Scientific Theory.

Hits: 122

The influence of the Arabs during the medieval period is somewhat of an enigma. Many scholars have been characterized as Neoplatonic in spite of the fact that there was a tangible presence in their work of Aristotelian ideas especially in the arenas of logic and philosophical psychology. Bertrand Russell in his work “History of Western Philosophy” ventures into East-West philosophical and religious relations and claims the following:

“The distinctive culture of the Muslim world, though it began in Syria, soon came to flourish most in the Eastern and Western extremities, Persia and Spain. The Syrians at the time of the conquest(634 AD) were admirers of Aristotle, whom Nestorian preferred to Plato, the philosopher favoured by the Catholics. The Arabs first acquired their knowledge of Greek Philosophy from the Syrians, and thus, from the beginning, they thought Aristotle more important than Plato.”(p416)

As mentioned above, however, it was in the theoretical spheres of logic and philosophical psychology that the Arab scholars were most active. It was not clear, for example, how the Arab preference for Nestorianism(the thesis that there were two beings present in the Incarnation of Jesus) could be a consequence of the Aristotelian monistic hylemorphic theory. Nestorianism could be many things amongst which are:

1. A belief in a Platonic form of a dualism of the mind and the body. or

2. An Aristotelian belief that man is both an animal(irrational) and rational.

The essentially encyclopedic approach to knowledge displayed by wide-ranging Arab interests of this period prevents a categorical stance on this issue. With some exceptions, they appeared to regard Philosophy as merely one subject among many. Avicenna, Ibn Sina, embodies this spirit, being the author of an encyclopedia and producing work in philosophical psychology that has a distinctive empirical character. Given the fact that his fame was principally gained in the field of medicine practicing as a doctor his preference for Aristotle over the more theoretically inclined Plato is understandable. He is noted amongst analytical philosophers for his work on the problem of Universals and here his views were clearly in some ways related to Aristotle, claiming that universals are before things, in things, and after things. One of the major differences between Aristotle’s and Plato’s theories as we know resides in a differing view of the character of the forms: Plato claiming that, for example, the natural objects of the external world “participate” in some sense of the term in their form and Aristotle countering this proposal with the view that the form partly resides in the external natural object.

Avicenna’s approach to the work of Aristotle was also encyclopedic and he divided his attention up into areas of logic, physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. Anthony Kenny, in his work ” A New History of Western Philosophy” argues that Avicenna’s work in metaphysics is “a thoroughly thought out original system”(p38). The system begins with the claim that a grasp of universals and principles by the active intellect complements a more receptive mind that requires information from the senses of the body. The system discusses the nature of God in terms which will reverberate long into the twentieth century, claiming a unity of the concepts of essence and existence. God is a being, it is argued whose essence logically entails the being’s existence in an eternal realm in which the world has “emanated” from God. The move from a principle to the realm of existence it constitutes is recognizably Platonic: the form of the oak tree is constitutive of the physical oak tree. Insofar as God is concerned the Platonic system may appear at first sight to be more complex than the Aristotelian given the intermediate role of the Demiurge in contexts of creation, and there arises here a question about whether “emanation” is a term that ranges over three entities, God, the Demiurge and the physical world instead of the Aristotelian proposal of a two-term relation which given his position that the principle or form of something can be “in” that thing suggests a relation of mutual implication between the two terms. If this is the case, the notion of “emanation” which suggests a one-way implication between three terms may not satisfactorily characterize the Aristotelian position. Avicenna’s own account, however, postulated no further than 10 different terms or levels of intellect in a heavenly realm beyond the fixed stars. Emanation in this contexts appears, however, to be a central notion giving a distinctly Neoplatonic impression. The correct characterization of these different systems may be of more than academic interest given the fact that Avicenna claimed to use Aristotelian justifications for the practices of polygamy, the subordination of women and many other Islamic social practices. The Aristotelian component of his reflections, however, were not appreciated by many conservative Muslims. Professor Brett in his work “The History of Psychology” has the following account which may illuminate some of the aspects of the debate:

“The history of Arabian Philosophy is mainly a record of translations and comments. This judgment commonly passed on the philosophy as a whole, applies with still greater force to such topics as may be called psychological…..there is no clear line of demarcation between the psychosophy which is allied to theology and those views of the soul which are more definitely scientific….In the union of psychosophy and psychology it is easy to see that the most salient feature of Arabic traditions is the union of Neoplatonic and Peripatetic views. Plato and Aristotle were believed to be fundamentally identical….a strong infusion of Neoplatonism corrupted even the doctrines that were declared most distinctively Aristotelian.”

Neoplatonism can take many forms, some close to the position of Aristotle and others more remote, so it is difficult to fathom Brett’s meaning when he claims that Neoplatonism has corrupted Aristotelianism. There appear to be two confounding variables in this discussion. The first is that of the extent to which Aristotelian metaphysics constitutes acceptance of large tracts of Platonic metaphysics but also the extent to which it constitutes a rejection of dualism and the relation of “emanation”. The second confounding variable is that of a negative attitude toward Arab philosophy because of its embrace of Neoplatonism. This second variable could, in fact, be neutralized by embracing a more positive attitude which includes a more positive suspicion that there may be more genuine Aristotelianism in Arab Philosophy then has been suspected throughout centuries of interpretation and commentary.

Maintaining his negative attitude toward Arab Philosophy Brett goes on to claim that the Arabs use Aristotle in philosophical characterizations and explanations of the nature of man but use a Platonic superhuman view of other intellectual powers in the universe and these “emanate” from the supreme divine unity and goodness of the One(a dualism of theosophy and psychosophy). It is not exactly clear as to why Brett does not wish to maintain an objective distance to the texts of Arabic Philosophers and test the hypothesis that they may have understood more Aristotle than we give them credit for. Here is a clue as to why Brett is reluctant to await the judgment of scholarship on this issue:

“In the Arab as in the Christian doctrines of the soul there is a painful lack of experiment: empirical tendencies only emerge occasionally and remain undeveloped: this was the weak point in the natural sciences, and psychology as a natural science was, in this respect, no exception.”

Involved in Brett’s position here is the scientifically motivated desire to reduce higher functions of thought to lower sensory-motor functions in order to justify the scientific method of observation and the manipulation of variables in scientific experiments. The extent to which, however, that theories embodying non empirical generalizations and transcendental principles such as causation actually help to determine which variables to manipulate, which effects are to be observed and which confounding variables need to be neutralized is the extent to which it is impossible not to adopt something resembling a Kantian Metaphysical Philosophy of Science.

Kant’s theory contains an architectonic view of the relation of levels of scientific activity. Throwing a rock parallel to the ground produces, argues Kant(after a large number of “experiments”) an awareness that the path the rock will be a curvilinear one back to the earth. The reason the path of the rock presents itself as it does to the perceiver will vary in accordance with the variables of the mass of the rock, the velocity imparted by the thrower, the resistance of the medium of the air and the pull of gravity upon the rock. The actual path of the rock, including its velocity, can be calculated mathematically by using the above variable system which is the result of empirical generalizations generated by a large number of experiments.

Now we know that Newtonian science called itself natural philosophy and there are sound reasons for this. Newton for example abstracted from one concrete variable, namely the resistance of the air and introduced another transcendental variable of causation, thus postulating two further levels above that of what could be physically observed or experienced. In the first case he called this level metaphysical and in the second he called the level transcendental. Both levels were regulated by logical relations between their elements. The metaphysical level and transcendental levels were in fact well illustrated by Newtons first(logical) law of motion: Every object continues in a state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by some other force. A rock thrown in an environment where there was no air resistance or effect of gravity would on this theory continue resting or moving in a straight line: a phenomenon that no one has observed or experienced. This law of motion also incorporates another variable that transcends experience, the variable of causation which is characterized by the proposition “every event has a cause”. Such metaphysical and transcendental principles are in fact ways of thinking about phenomena and require nonexperiential nonobservational philosophical and logical justifications. Furthermore, on the Kantian account, this transcendental principle of causation also has Aristotelian application to forms of life that act as they do in accordance with a principle of internal causation, e.g. a dog jumps over a fence circumscribing as he does to a curvilinear path that is only partly explained by the laws of physics. The other part of the explanation of this phenomenon will refer to the above internal cause, i.e. to the desire and effort of the dog.

Einstein, as we know refused to believe in the universality of objects traveling in straight lines in a virtually propertyless empty space and insisted, contrary to Newton’s theory, that space in the vicinity of massive objects has at least one property, namely that it is curved. This cast a shadow over Euclidean geometry but not over mathematics in general. The question to ask here then is: is a straight line something metaphysical in a negative sense, needing to be neutralized as a concept by the transcendental proposition that everything must have a cause: even in the case of space which has been caused to be curved. One assumes that in this context the metaphysical element of Einstein’s theory would be best characterized in terms of nonEuclidean geometry. If this is the case then we can confirm that at the very least, Einstein’s science is more Kantian than it is empirical, more defined in terms of its theory then the so-called scientific method. As we may recall Einstein did not conduct any experiments to arrive at his theory or to confirm his theory. He formed his theory first and then left it to others to confirm via experimentation. Kantian science is in fact merely a refinement of Aristotelian science and the question that is being raised in this discussion is whether this is what Brett means by science when he accuses the Arabs of possessing a weak conception of natural science. The evidence, however, is to the contrary, Brett embraces a more modern empirical view of science that at best only explains its technological achievements and not the thought of Newton or Einstein.

Alhazen, Ibn al-Haytham(965AD-1039AD) was certainly interested in science having written over a hundred treatises on mathematics and the physical sciences. His most famous work was entitled “Perspectiva” or “Optica” and dealt with problems arising from the works of Ptolemy and Damianus. Alhazen thought of the eye as a physico-psychological system and embraced the Aristotelian theory of the intromission of light(light transmits sensible forms from the external world to the eye). Alhazen disagreed with Aristotle, however, over the mechanics of this transmission claiming that from every physical point on the object rays of light are sent to every point on the surface of the eye. Alhazen conducted experiments to prove that light travelled in straight lines and also argued against the use of observation in astronomical investigations. Einstein’s theory, as we know, argued that light would only travel in straight lines if no other cause such as the gravity of massive objects did not cause it to bend toward the source of the gravitational power.

According to Mathias Schramm, Alhazen in his experiments:

“was the first to make a systematic use of the method of varying the experimental conditions in a constant and uniform manner.”(Habilitationsschrift, Ibn al Haythams Weg zur Physik(Steiner, Wiesbaden, 1963) quoted by Rudger Thiele Historia Mathematica(2005) 32, 271.

The experiment in question concerned a light spot formed by moonlight through two small slits diminishes in intensity when one slit is progressively sealed.

Bronowski in his work “The Ascent of Man” claimed Alhazen to be the only original mind produced by Arab science. Bronowski claims that Alhazen was the first to recognize that the visual field was structured by an awareness of distance which is given by what happens when the cone of rays that come from the outline of an object grows narrower and narrower as the object retreats in the visual field and grows larger as it advances toward the perceiver in such a field. According to Bronowski, scientists paid no attention to this discovery for 600 years and it was left to Renaissance artists like Ghiberti to “rediscover ” this idea. The use of what the artists of the Renaissance were to call “Perspective” was used by Ghiberti, for example in his plans for the bronze doors which were to be placed in the Baptistry in Florence. The discovery of perspective for the painter enabled painted space to display the third dimension of depth thus providing it with a space for life. Once distance is represented in the form of depth everything suddenly appears to occur in an arena of movement thus increasing the “life” of the painting. All this was possible, according to Bronowski, because

“The Greeks had thought that light goes from the eyes to the object. Alhazen first recognized that we see an object because each point of it directs and reflects a ray into the eye. The Greek view could not explain how an object, my hand, say, seems to change in size when it moves.”

As mentioned above Alhazen was in fact influenced by Aristotle in this matter but it is not the first time in history that a scientist has misunderstood Aristotle’s role in the history of science. This point would, of course, become more significant if it were the case that Aristotelian hylemorphic theory eventually proves to be more important than one suspected as science develops in the future, i.e. if and when science develops beyond the materially oriented method obsessed activity we are witnessing today. Aristotelian hylemorphic theory is certainly a part of the Kantian metaphysical foundations of natural science. This observation indicates the problem with understanding exactly Alhazen’s contribution to the history of science since we cannot attribute a complex understanding of Aristotle’s metaphysics to him, given the fact that he is more inclined to use mathematics than logic for the solution of scientific problems.

The curtain raiser to the subsequent scientific debates that led to our modern position was a philosophical debate between Descartes and Hobbes which in its turn polarised into a conflict between Empiricism and Rationalism, a debate that haunts philosophical and psychological debates to this day. Kant attempted to intervene in this train of events and produced a brilliant synthesis of the positions: a synthesis that led more towards Aristotelian rationalism than to British Empiricism. Some commentators might liken Alhazen’s contribution to this debate in terms of being a precursor to empiricism. An interesting observation to make in this context is that Alhazen’s experiments were restricted to the material physical world where it is relatively simple to control and manipulate variables( e.g. his spot of light experiment) and where the description of what is occurring is relatively unproblematic. Aristotle we know was one of the first biological scientists and whilst he engaged in scientific activities such as the dissection of the bodies of dead animals in order to investigate their organ systems, there was no attempt by Aristotle to conduct animal experiments perhaps because he realized that in order to control all the necessary variables one would need to place the animals in unnatural environments which would negate the purpose of acquiring knowledge about the animal. Kohler, the Gestalt psychologist, for example, experimented with apes in captivity but even in these restricted circumstances encountered problems with giving theory-free behavioural descriptions.

Even a simple matter such as giving a description of a place was a problem for Alhazen because of his anti-Aristotelian commitment to what some critics called his “geometrisation of space”. It is hardly surprising therefore that in spite of Alhazen being regarded as a polymath there is nothing of biological significance in his writings. Given the fact that the Aristotelian concept of psuche or soul as a principle of living movement is nowhere to be found in Alhazen’s writings, it is a fair criticism to point out that he was not by any stretch of the imagination a philosophical psychologist. The only region of the mind or consciousness he was concerned with was perception, the lower of the cognitive faculties.

Averroes, Ibn Roshd,(1126-98) was a member of the Spanish Arabian School and according to Bertrand Russell, was an unorthodox Muslim who objected to the Neoplatonism that dominated philosophical debate:

“Averroes was concerned to improve the Arabic interpretation of Aristotle, which had been widely influenced by Neoplatonism. He gave to Aristotle the sort of reverence that is given to the founder of a religion–much more than was given even by Avicenna. He holds that the existence of God can be proved by reason independently of revelation, a view also held by Thomas Aquinas.”

Not only can the existence of God be proven, according to Averroes but according to Brett it can also be proven that:

“there is ultimately only one soul, that the individual reason is no more than a temporary manifestation of that generic or Universal soul in the same sense that Humanity may be said to be manifested in the human individual. This is not so much a religious as a logical doctrine.”

The human soul is thus a temporary form of existence compared to the eternal form of existence which is God. Human reason is here passive in comparison to divine active reason, i.e. God has an active form and humanity has a passive nature. In hylemorphic theory humanity is the matter in the equation formed by God. Viewing God non-materialistically implies not conceiving such a being as a physical designer manipulating physical variables but rather in terms of an abstract principle working in ways we could never completely understand. Like Avicenna, Averroes believes in the eternity of the world but this in itself is not incompatible with the coming to exist in a time of existing beings–in human form for example–which in terms of the divine principle that has caused it, can itself be regarded as eternal(by association).

Bertrand Russell claims that Arab thinkers of this period were not original thinkers on the grounds that they merely transmitted the thoughts of others. This, however, may be a gratuitous criticism of a historical period in which the cultural task appeared to be the reinterpretation of Aristotle in order to restore an Aristotelian platform for the development of Philosophy and Science(a platform similar to that which we encounter in Kant’s Philosophy of science). This point would, however, be rejected by Russell because he believed that Aristotle’s metaphysics was in many respects an obscure and confusing work.

Given Brett’s avoidance of Aristotelian metaphysics in his characterization of Aristotle’s scientific method in the following quote, one might imagine that he would, therefore, deny any connection with Kantian Philosophy:

“Aristotle is often extolled as the founder of scientific method. His claim to this title rests on a single misconception of science which dies very hard–the view that science is a vast body of knowledge accumulated by a laborious and systematic process of classification and definition….His deficiencies as a scientist can be traced back to Plato’s influence on him–to his retention in disguised form of Plato’s theory of essences and to his doctrine of final causes.”

What Brett is failing to see here is the complex web of description and justification we encounter in the work of Aristotle: four kinds of change(Substantial, Qualitiative, Quantitative, Locomotion), three principles of change and four cause of change(material efficient, formal and final). Brett mentions two of the 4 causes and ignores the other two. He also speaks incorrectly of Quality as being for Aristotle the basic quality of reality thereby ignoring the other three kinds of change in reality. It is Kantian philosophy that best develops the Aristotelian web in a direction which Brett(given the above remarks) ought to object to. But he puzzlingly instead claims the following:

“The course of history affords an interesting parallel to the development from Kant to Hegel, the former being more definitely Aristotelian, the latter an admirer of Neoplatonism.”

The cloud of confusion increases, however when we recall what Brett later in his text has to say about the philosophy of Kant:

“Kant’s second contribution to the German tradition of psychology was his contention that science is characterized by mathematical as well as by empirical description. His celebrated fusion of the empirical standpoint of Hume with the rationalist standpoint of Wolff involved the aphorism that an empirical inquiry is as scientific as it contains mathematics…It introduced the craze for measurement in psychology..”

The above characterization clearly ignores Kant’s reliance on the Aristotelian web of description and justification and it places emphasis upon an aphorism relating to the fact that the Chemistry of Kant’s time lacked mathematical support and also at the same time, emphasizing Hume’s empirical standpoint which incidentally claimed that causation cannot be objectively observed in the world(in contrast to Aristotle’s view). Placing the modern scientific craze for measurement at the doorstep of Kant may well be overestimating the roles of Hume and Descartes the mathematician and underestimating the roles of Descartes the rationalist and Aristotle the hylemorphic metaphysician.

On the question of consciousness, Brett has the following to say:

“The idea of consciousness in general was ready to hand in the Neoplatonic tradition. The Aristotelian basis to which scholasticism returned in the thirteenth century was firmer ground and the rejection of the pantheistic tendency was in accordance with the general character of Christian monotheism.”

The idea of consciousness which the modern scientific psychologist appeals to has its roots partly in the empirical and rational rejections of Aristotelian hylemorphic theory and partly in the rejection of the Kantian synthesis of empiricism and rationalism. Dualistic assumptions are clearly operating in the separation of consciousness from the world it is conscious of. Both Plato and Descartes were dualists, the latter being a disguised materialist who claimed the mind and the body meet in the physical organ of the brain, the former being committed to a soul that could detach itself from a physical body in a manner that is absolutely mysterious. In both cases the division of the physical world from consciousness is irrevocable. Both Aristotle and Kant avoided the pitfalls of dualism and its half brother materialism and it is not a simple matter to see how to parse their thoughts into the language of consciousness. The work of Freud, paradoxically appears to offer the best account of consciousness as a realm extending over the operating domains of three principles, the energy regulation that is responsible for our waking states, the pleasure pain principle which is responsible for pleasurable and painful modifications of consciousness and the reality principle which Freud claims is occupied with the real problems of love and work.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: The Carolingian Renaissance(John Duns Scotus(Eriugena))

Hits: 79

The Carolingian Holy Roman Empire included the instituting of a school for scholars that began with the figures of Alcuin and John Duns Scotus but was not strictly speaking meeting the criterion of a renaissance laid down by Adrian Stokes, namely a period of intensification of all forms of religious and philosophical activity. Aristotle’s Philosophy was in this period systematically inhibited in its development by Christian and Neoplatonic influences. This was evident in the restriction of the role of philosophical psychology in the ethical and theological studies of the period. A supernatural soul remains largely an Augustinian entity not in any way related to animal life. The body and external nature are other areas of neglect in this tentative revival of Philosophy in the context of Religious studies. The revival proper probably can only be said to have begun 50 years after the death of Alcuin with the arrival of John Duns Scotus, also known as, Eriugena to the court of the grandson of Charlemagne, Charles the Bald. Eriugena was born and educated in Ireland and arrived in the court with a good working knowledge of Greek. His learning was admired and he was quickly engaged by the Archbishop of Reims to refute the ideas of a troublesome monk by the name of Gottschalk who had been vociferously claiming that predestination defined the fate not just of the blessed and the saints but also of sinners. Eriugena used philosophical argument rather than faith-based argument to claim that the concept of predestination was otiose because God ‘s knowledge was complete and could not be characterized in terms of an incomplete form of knowledge, namely foreknowledge or pre-knowledge(which would imply temporal incompleteness). Eriugena’s argument was found wanting by the Church authorities who eventually condemned the priest on traditional grounds of faith which reasserted the doctrine of the predestination of the blessed but rejected the claim that this also applied to sinners. The argument of Eriugena was also in fact condemned in a Council meeting a few years later.

Professor Brett in his work on the “History of Psychology” has this to say about this mercurial figure:

“The greatest speculative mind of the ninth century was John Scotus Eriugena… Eriugena seems more like a rhapsodist who has specialized in philosophic tradition..Eriugena was the Charlemagne of philosophy..in him is born again the tendency to pure romance which was the beginning of speculative thought…His thought struggles between two ways of looking at life, neither of which he will wholly abandon. Of these, one is the empirical obviously suggested by the Aristotelian element in Eriugena’s education: the other is the Neoplatonic theory of logical inclusion which, by putting the particular in the universal made the unwary think that it was possible to get the particular out of the universal before it had been put there. So, Eriugena becomes, as a result of his Neoplatonism, a realist and declares for the supremacy of reason. At the same time, he keeps his belief in the individual and is compelled to give a place to the will which is not beneath that of reason. These two are therefore coordinate, but in a sense, it is the will which has the superiority, for the reason only lights the way, while the will is the agent, the power.”

This position whilst not recognizable as Aristotelian because of the centrality of the concept of the will is nevertheless beginning to look decidedly pre-Kantian. It departs from Kant in declaring that the will of God is, of course, superior to the will of man but the motivation given by Eriugena for this state of affairs is that God does not fit into any of the ten Aristotelian categories of Being. This is in its turn then connected to the surprising and perhaps ecclesiastically claim that God is “Nothing”–a position that might have contributed to Eriugena’s condemnation by an ecclesiastical council. Eriugena’s learning, however, was sufficiently admired by Charles the Bald for his patronage to continue requesting translation of Greek texts into Latin amongst which were those of Pseudo Dionysius. Whilst translating various works Eriugena was also engaged in the writing of a five-volume work entitled “On Nature”(Periphyseon) which Anthony Kenny in his work “New History of Western Philosophy” characterizes thus:

“There are, according to Eriugena four great divisions of “nature”: nature creating and uncreated: nature created and creating: nature created and uncreating, and nature uncreating and uncreated. The first such nature is God, the second is the intellectual world of Platonic ideas which creates the third nature, the world of material objects. The fourth is God again, conceived not as creator but as the end to which things return… Where do human beings fit into Eriugenas fourfold scheme? They seem to straddle the second and third division. As animals, we belong in the third division and yet we transcend other animals. We can say with equal propriety that man is an animal and that he is not an animal. He shares reason, mind and the interior sense with the celestial essences but he shares his flesh, his outward self, with other animals.”

The soul according to Eriugena controls the body even post mortem when its particles are scattered and dispersed by the four winds. Somehow it is known by someone somehow that these particles were under control of the soul they once belonged to. The dualism is non-Aristotelian and stark. The fourth division refers to the end of all things, space, and time. In this Platonic matrix human nature is an intellectual idea found in the mind of God. Humans, however fail to understand their relation to this timeless idea because they are trapped in a body that dwells in a spatiotemporal physical continuity grasped only by the senses of the body.

This work was always going to fall into disrepute with the ecclesiastical authorities who were extremely suspicious of reasoning detached from the teaching of the scriptures. The above reasoning seemed to be a mixture of the philosophical and the mythical that was clearly pagan. Eventually, in 1225 Pope Honorius 3rd ordered all copies of the Periphyseon destroyed. Clearly, the Neoplatonic aspect of the work placed God outside the chain of Being, making it difficult if not impossible to characterise the nature of God. All that can be said by man is that God is a Nothing or alternatively what God is not. This obviously suggests that reason is superior to a revelation which would not have been good news to ecclesiastical scholars who believed that the nature of God could somehow be “revealed” in the mystical process of revelation. “The content” of such a revelation would presumably be truth and goodness and these terms normally understood have opposites, i.e. falsity and evil, but it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to attribute or relate these opposites to God. Eriugena’s work, on the contrary, controversially, yet interestingly, suggested that Evil and Sin have their roots in the freedom of the will of man, who, in his hubris turns not to God for salvation but toward himself for solace. Men are many but God is One and the only conceivable fate of the many is to join at the end of all things, space, and time, with the One.

These insights into the role of freedom and the will from the point of view of Philosophical Psychology were unfortunately buried under the initial confusion of Ecclesiastical scholars attempting to correctly evaluate the ideas of Pseudo-Dionysis. A confusion that might have lasted until Aquinas finally managed to turn the Church’s attention away from Neoplatonism and toward the work of Plato’s major interpreter and critic, namely Aristotle.

Bertrand Russell in his work “The History of Western Philosophy” claimed that the Carolingian Renaissance was a revival of limited significance because any real new beginning would have dealt with the abuses of the monastic system and the clergy who exercised a powerful influence over the everyday life of men not to mention kings. Priests, for example, were claiming to perform the miracle of transusbstantiation at every mass and were also thought to possess the power to determine whether one belonged in heaven or hell and yet simultaneously were involved in simony and concubinage. During this time there was as yet no full-blooded revival of Aristotelian thought and this was evident in for example the influence of Eriugena’s work which was largely mystical, fitting well into an age which expected revelations of the miraculous. In hindsight Eriugena’s work appeared to many commentators to herald philosophical movements to come: movements as broadly differentiated as those of Spinoza and Hegel and perhaps also one can detect the presence of analytical philosophy. Eriugena claimed in this latter context, for example, that reason was connected to a fourfold method of division, definition, demonstration, and resolution which aids our investigation into the search for the truth. Juxtapose this with a mystical approach to philosophical investigation inherited from Eastern Christian scholars and leaders and the breadth of Eriugena’s writings begin to become apparent. In the eyes of the Church, however, he was the subject of deep suspicion and the combination of his attachment to the concepts of the freedom, the will and the methodical pursuit of the truth rather than a commitment to the interpretation of Scripture, led to him being accused of Pelagianism.

Yet it is clear to the objectively minded scholar that we have on the one hand a clinical analytical mind performing a kind of “philosophical surgery” on concepts such as predestination, and on the other a heaven gazing mystic speculating on there not just being a possibility of the transubstantiation of God into the image of Jesus but also a transubstantiation in the reverse direction of man becoming God-like. This juxtaposition would not have been possible in a mind committed to the assumptions and definitions of Aristotle. It was only possible for a mind embracing a very plastic Platonic matrix. Aristotle is conspicuous by his absence except for the negative claim that God is not to be described in terms of the ten Aristotelian categories and also possibly the claim that God is “the form of all things”. This latter claim is somewhat paradoxical, however, given the belief Eriugena held that God is formless, a non-being or in a certain sense a nothingness. Gods mind, then, appears sometimes to be understood in terms of a Platonic undivided form containing the principle of all things: a form in which Being and Goodness are united. Everything in the universe “emanates” from this matrix which has in itself no spatiotemporal characteristics. Spatio-temporal sense perception rather is a manifestation of a “fallen” mind as is the exercise of man’s freedom. The sense in which freedom is the reason for man choosing to sin is however obscure and yet we know this is what Eriugena claims is the case. There will be a return after the fall of all things, space and time, to the matrix of God’s mind and in this process, the image of God will dissolve into his reality. echoes of Heraclitus’ idea of Logos are also to be found: man is rational and yet he is not, he is free and yet he is not, he is spiritual and he is not, he is an animal and yet he is not(cf Heraclitus claim that the road up and the road down are the same). Is this dualism or is it dual aspectism? We know the work Periphyseon has been accused of many things including the collapsing of the ideas of God and the creation into one another thus violating Biblical recorded revelation and wisdom. Some Platonists have also accused Eriugena of failing to recognize that the creation was the work not of the gods but of the demiurge. Some critics have also wondered how, if God is nothingness, could something come from nothing? One of the more serious ecclesiastical accusations, however, was that of Pantheism and this might have led to the work being placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitum in the late 1600’s to be finally removed from censure only in the 1960s. This did not prevent nineteenth-century philosophers, however, from reading Eriugenas works and declaring him to be the father of German Idealism. It is interesting to note that the spirit of Aristotelianism failed to permeate this movement and resulted in Hegel finding it necessary to turn the philosophy of Kant upside down on its head, leaving Kant’s Philosophy in the shadows as Neoplatonism(with the aid of Christian dogma). had once done to Neo Aristotelianism.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: The Age of Reinterpretation, Part One( Andronicus of Rhodes, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Boethius)

Hits: 155

Professor Brett claims that at least insofar as Science and Psychology are concerned, between the deaths of St Augustine in 430 and St Thomas of Aquinas in 12 74, there was very little meaningful activity to speak of. This may not be an accurate historical description of the activity of this period given the fact that there is an argument to be made for at least one meaningful and major shift in Philosophical thinking, namely that from Neo-Platonism to Neo-Aristotelianism. This shift had implications for the domain of Philosophical Psychology and the concepts of the Will, Cognition, and Consciousness. In defense of Brett, it should, however, be remembered that he wrote his work in the 1920s and that the significance of Aristotle’s Philosophy was still in the process of being fully appreciated. After a decline from the halcyon days when men spoke of “The Master of those that know”, “The Teacher of all our teachers” and simply “The Philosopher”, (with a little help from Kantian and Wittgensteinian Philosophy)we may only today be in the process of restoring Aristotle’s reputation to its rightful place in the realm of Philosophy.

We shall however follow Brett in his classification of this period as “The Age of Reinterpretation”:

“A great deal happened between the death of St Augustine and the death of St Thomas, but it cannot be seriously maintained that much happened which was of any great importance to the history of Science in general or Psychology in particular. The papacy emerged as a temporal power and heralded an age of politicians, administrators, and systematisers. The spirit of Gregory entered into the thought as well as into the action of the Church. Occasionally, as in the case of a St Francis or an Abelard, the spirit of adventure or of criticism returned to challenge the institutions and learning now hallowed by tradition. But in the main, it was an age of reinterpretation, adaptation, and endless wrangling over minor questions.”

As was pointed out in line with previous comments and objections relating to Brett’s underestimation of the importance of Aristotelian thinking, this was certainly an age of reinterpretation of Aristotle and his significance for thought not just in the arena of Philosophy but also in the realms of culture and education. Brett also, however, makes an interesting observation in relation to a shift that seems to be occurring from the authority of critical discussion of a canon of individual thinkers to the authority of schools and institutions. This, if true, amounts to a significant reinterpretation of the concept of authority which may in its turn partly explain many anomalies in the development of Philosophical Thought.

At the beginning of this period extending from the death of Augustine when the Vandals were besieging the gates of Hippo, an Ecclesiastical Council had been called by Emperor Theodosius 2nd because a conflict of interpretation of the Bible had arisen between the patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria, two of the Cosmopolitan centres of the World at the time. The dispute was over whether Mary, the putative mother of Jesus, was a human being with human nature and if so how such a being could have conceived of a divine being like Jesus: the so-called issue of divine incarnation. This issue, having arisen in the context of dualistic assumptions was unsurprisingly resolved Neo-Platonically by insisting that Christ was a Being that must have possessed two natures, an earthly human nature, and divine god-like nature. This satisfied the delegates from Constantinople but not those from Alexandria who were hoping for another decision. A second Council meeting was convened and in this, it was decreed that a Being can only have one nature: the so-called doctrine of monophysitism. This, of course, was motivated by underlying Aristotelian concerns which saw the contradiction lurking in the decision from the first Council and it signified an interesting challenge to the prevailing Neo-Platonism of the time. This phenomenon was probably not assessed in these terms because it also signified a deeper conflict, from the Christian point of view, between pagan philosophy and Christianity. To the extent that Aristotle was recognized as lying behind this, it was due to the fact that his work had always been regarded more skeptically than that of Plato’s because of his naturalistic commitment to monism and the sources of life. This particular drama was merely the continuation of another drama played out during the lifetime of St Augustine when another conflict between Aristotelianism and Christianity had arisen when a Welsh Ecclesiastic named by the Romans Pelagius shockingly questioned the doctrine of Original Sin. Pelagius proposed the principle that there is a sense in which one must choose to be sinful: a notion that is more in accordance with the contrary assumption(to that of Original sin) that human nature is essentially Good. This view spread like wildfire and was especially embraced by Eastern Theologians. St Augustine did his best to limit the influence of this position by declaring it heretical. This position was not, however, formally ratified by the Church until the Council of Orange in 529 long after his death but just a short time after Justinian became emperor and began to deal with the “threat” of pagan Philosophy to the Christian faith. These two “incidents” testify to the growing influence of Aristotelian Philosophy. This, in spite of the difficulties both religious and linguistic of translating his works accurately into Latin.

Neo-Platonism had managed to subsist side by side with Christian dogma because of a shared belief in a dualistic metaphysics. Plato’s Philosophy, however also shared with Aristotle a belief in human reason and the “form of the Good” which Religion was skeptical of. Plato, however, did not, as did Aristotle, believe in the essential mortality of the soul. Aristotle’s denial of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul in the name of the principle of life which claimed that life was a journey towards its own extinction probably marginalized his role in the theological/philosophical debate about many metaphysical, ethical, political and psychological issues. Up to and perhaps including the time of Boethius, Greek texts could be read in the original but that skill was on the wane as Latin became the language of communication and academic discourse. After the death of Boethius Greek texts, with the possible exception of Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s Organon( The Posterior Analytics was probably not included). Although the Latin language was almost universal in the West we should remember that St Augustine died in 430 at a time when the Vandals were besieging Hippo just 20 years after the Visigoths had sacked Rome. The fall of the Roman Empire was approaching and there was no sign of the advancement of the cause of the City of God.

Boethius was born a few years after the fall of the Western Empire. Many historians regard this event as the beginning of the so-called “Middle Ages” for which the reasons given range from the influence of Christianity on the Roma Psyche to the pressure of the influence of the Barbarians(Vandals, Goths, German tribes etc) from the North and West. Without wishing to deny the importance of these psychological and external influences, we are suggesting a third factor, a real causal role for the influence of Ideas, a factor that both Plato and Aristotle would agree with. Gibbon, the historian, pointed to the declining of moral virtue among the Romans and this is undoubtedly a correct observation but it is a phenomenon which in its turn must have a cause. The cause in question could hardly be Christianity as such(the so-called “turn the other cheek mentality”). Perhaps a more fitting causal candidate would be an assumption or assumptions of Christianity such as the dualistic theory of the Good, invoking as it does the view of man as a “fallen being” more inclined to sin than to virtue, living in a Manichaean world where evil is a real presence. In relation to such a state of affairs, the Platonic and Aristotelian explanations would merely refer to the absence of the Good. St Augustine, we should remember embraced a Manichaean division of the city into earthly and divine elements and this pagan form of dualism was still a major cultural influence during his time. Recall again the fact that the Vandals were poised for attack outside the gates of Hippo while St Augustine was writing his work “The City of God”. It is tempting to speculate on whether the work is pointing a finger at the weaknesses of a dualistic account of the Good. Later Philosophers like Kant would in such a discussion emphasize the logical nature of “ought-statements”, emphasize that is, the logical nature of an ought statement which is temporally oriented to the future and to the changes in the world to be brought about in the future in accordance with both an idea of the good and a good intention: making the suggestion the good is somehow concretely real in the present situation contentious, to say the least, (Evil similarly becomes an abstraction, but a negation of this abstract “Good”). Much human discourse is, of course, naturally directed to this future state of affairs and the relation of our ideas to what we intend to bring about. What this discussion draws attention to is the possible claim that a dualistic account of the Good might have played a part in the so-called “moral decay” of the Roman spirit Gibbon claims to have observed (Whether this dualism is Christian or pagan(Manichaeism)). This might have been a defendable state of affairs had there not existed a monistic/holistic theory of the Good such as that presented by Aristotle. In this context, we are reminded of Heidegger’s observations on the nature of the Latin language, namely that it is not an academic language like Greek. It is rather, Heidegger insists, a language of imperialism and conquest. The most magnificent image of the above two discussion points is the image of the Roman God, Janus who, we recall has two faces oriented in different directions. Hannah Arendt in her work “Between the Past and the Future”characterizes the spirit of Janus correctly in terms of the synthesis of the view of the past(the backward historical glance) and the future(the forward-looking eschatological glance). In her work on St Augustine, however, she chooses to focus upon the backward-looking historical glance which seeks after the origins and beginnings of things rather than the forward-looking ends toward which much of our discourse and many of our actions point. She points to the mental faculty of the memory and claims that it is associated with the search for explanatory origins which Romans, in contradistinction to Plato and Aristotle, believed had a first beginning in time. Aristotle’s commentary on such a state of affairs would reject the ideas of beginnings and endings of time and see the face staring backwards as rather staring into the eternity of elapsed time. The Romans given their history(and their language) would see the face oriented toward the future as concerned with the future of the next battle(Janus means “gateway” and was therefore placed at the city gate through which the troops marched off to war and through which they returned in victory and defeat). Obviously, the wished for victory was not in accordance with the “turn the other cheek mentality” of the Christians. Neither is it in accordance with the Aristotelian forms of future-oriented teleological explanation relating to eudaimonia, or the flourishing life.

Janus, of course, is an excellent image of dualism and its application to the life-world and time of man and perhaps there is a synthesis of the future and the past that can be made sense of in the Aristotelian theory of time and its relation to the life-world of man, the rational animal capable of discourse. Insofar, however, as the Roman interpretation of the image of Janus is concerned, there is no categorical form of rationality to be used to ensure the outcome of a war and furthermore where war is the preferred form of life for a nation, only superstition can regulate the activity. This superstition was reflected even in the rituals adopted for leaving and returning to the city and these rituals were attributed to the fantasied desires of Janus.

An Aristotelian interpretation of this image would also refer to time but not in terms of dualism. For Aristotle Time is the measure or number of motion in terms of before and after. The faces, that is, refer to the demarcated aspects of the passing of time into the before and after. It is only, Aristotle argues when two different nows have been demarcated that conscious awareness of the passing of time occurs. Time is that which exists between the nows, just as the infinite continuum of a line is formed by the demarcation of the points forming the beginning and end of the line: here the length of the line is analogous to the duration of time between the “nows” that have been pronounced. The external world is also required in order to assist in the measurement of all the activities in the life-world, for example, the regular motion of the earth turning on its axis or the regularity of the orbit of the earth around the sun. On this interpretation, the two faces exist in the present( in the middle of the line or a distinct point somewhere on the line). Obviously, not any kind of motion will do since regularity requires repetition which in turn suggested to Aristotle that circular motion was the best standard of measurement. He assumes that this form of motion has always been present and will always be present and therefore belongs to those things in the universe which are permanent and eternal. In terms of our historical awareness, say of the fall of Rome, the Aristotelian account, would maintain that the number of times the earth has revolved around the sun would measure the time elapsed between then and now. There is an argument that circular motion cannot be truly infinite because that would require that each part of space traversed would have to be different from any other that had been traversed but this is probably not the kind of perfection imagined by Aristotle which requires the circumscription of the regular motion in a relatively proximate space: any other notion of an infinite linear motion would not meet the criterion of “regulating” our experience. This line of reasoning entails that there cannot be, as the Roman conception of time and history would appear to require, a first origin in time which is not itself “in time”: anything in time requires a “before and an after” as well as a spatially circumscribable motion in space. An absolute beginning in time would suggest that the analogy we proposed earlier, namely that of a linear infinite continuum, is the real measure of time, which also conceivably could come to an end in the future. Is it toward this end in the future that one of Janus’s faces is oriented towards? This spatialization of time has also left its trace in our modern world with the replacement of Aristotelian circular clock faces by digital clocks where the recurrence of the same numbers denotes the circularity of the regularity of time.

Needless to say, there was no Greek equivalent for Janus in their house of divinities. For Aristotle, the future-oriented face would have symbolized a very peaceful gaze searching for eudaimonia, or the flourishing life and given that he regarded a flourishing city-state as necessary for actualizing this potential for man, perhaps the gaze is also searching more objectively for this future city-state. Aristotle distinguishes himself from Plato in this conception of a perfect state. Plato we know, at least in his Republic, required the presence of warriors, to keep order and to fight wars whereas Aristotle would have argued that a flourishing city would be one which best met the reasonable needs of the citizens and used their powers of reason and creativity to best effect for the common good.

If we now turn our gaze forward toward St Thomas and the Arab interpretations of Aristotle, what do we see? This is what Brett sees:

“Scholasticism has become a byword to designate quibbling over the details of a system whose basic assumptions are never seriously challenged. Gone was the bold speculation of the Greeks: gone, too, was the intense concern over ways of living which characterised the philosophy of the Stoics, Epicureans, and early Christians. For the schoolmen or the Arabs wisdom lay in the past: Aristotle was the great philosopher. Averroes and Aquinas disagreed on many points but their disagreements were mainly concerned with the correct interpretation of Aristotle. The task of the thinker resembled that of the administrator. Ideas, such as the hierarchy of Church officials, had to be welded together into a secure and final system that would resist strains from within and corruption from without. Everything had to be sifted, cross-examined and put in its appropriate place. Patient logic was applied to all the details: only the basic assumptions were logically unassailable because divinely revealed.”

Firstly, Aristotle’s Philosophy does not encourage a preference for forms of explanation rooted in the past unless the circumstances require that kind of explanation. (He was probably the first Philosopher to refuse the power of tradition and systematically submit his predecessor’s thoughts to a regime of criticism). The circumstances would refer to firstly, the kinds of change involved(substantial, qualitative, quantitative, locomotion), seondly, the principles of change, namely that there is something or state the change is from and something or state a change is towards and finally something which endures through the process of change. Wisdom, for Aristotle, was connected to the kind of explanation one gives to questions that are being asked about phenomena. If for example, one is asked to explain an action that no one understands, for example, if one is asked to explain why one gave all one’s money to charity and gives an explanation in terms of the needs of others being greater than one’s own, then the needs of others being met are obviously something that lies in the future and not in the past and the above is a typical example of a teleological explanation. Oracles often made prophecies that involved teleological explanations, e.g. “nothing too much” and this was picked up in the Aristotelian account of virtue in terms of the golden mean. Virtues obviously contain teleological components or as Kant would claim they involve “ought statements”. Wisdom, for Aristotle, did not necessarily lie in the past. Indeed given his account of time the past only acquired significance once an “after” has been designated, Brett’s designation of the reason why Aristotle was gaining in importance in this era may have been insufficient. Aristotle’s Philosophy was a principle-based philosophy. It was never systematic in the sense construed by Brett in the quote above. If Aristotle’s Philosophy was systematic it was not the system of an administrator. The relation of principles to each other do not resemble the relation of a hierarchy of officials. Aristotle’s ideas had logical relationships to each other and to the extent that scholastic philosophy paid attention to this logic against the background of his hylemorphic theory is the extent to which they too could be regarded as Aristotelians. Revelation would, for Aristotle, not be a supernatural phenomenon beyond what it meant to say or think that one’s processes of inductive observation and deductive reasoning led to an “understanding” of what one was thinking about. Introducing the idea of divine understanding in these contexts would for Aristotle merely obscure what is being understood from a human point of view(the point of view of a rational animal capable of discourse).

One can, of course, wonder how Aristotle’s Philosophy managed to survive the onslaughts of Christian disdain for over a thousand years up until the time of St Thomas of Aquinas. Part of the answer lies in the continuous activities of the Peripatetic school in the Lyceum until it was closed by Justinian in 529 and part of the answer may lie in the translations and commentaries of two leading Aristotelian scholars, Alexander of Aphrodisias(the last of the major figures of the Peripatetic school) and Boethius(the last of the Roman Greek-speaking scholars). It should be bourne in mind, however, that Peripatetic scholars since the time of Andronicus of Rhodes were forced to engage dialectically with Stoic, Epicurean, Neoplatonic and Christian scholars. The reactions and interactions between these streams of scholarship were not easy to map. There was obviously a close relation between Aristotle’s ethical/political writings and the Practical Philosophy of the Stoics but there was considerable disagreement over the compatibility of Stoic determinism and Aristotelian Metaphysics. This disagreement centred upon the significance of the role of Stoical “assent” and whether it was “determined causally” or rather a self-centred free and new beginning implied by the Aristotelian principle of life. Aristotle, as we know, claimed that the principle of life resides in the “form” of a living body that possesses a number of potential and currently active powers, some of which he regarded as “mental”. He would not have denied that physical insults such as a spear in the heart or in the brain would suffice for the principle to cease to function permanently and thereby he agreed that there would be what he called material and efficient causes responsible for mental activities such as “assent” or “acting virtuously”. This admission, however, he would have regarded as compatible with an insistence that the better explanations of mental powers and activities would involve what he called formal and final causes that would invoke nonphysical variables.

Some commentators claim that the scholastic tradition of “interpreting” the works of Aristotle began with Andronicus of Rhodes who used the sound exegetical principle of explaining Aristotle with reference to Aristotle’s own principles rather than those of Neoplatonism or Christianity. Andronicus used this strategyto distinguish Aristotle’s works from those of his pupils and also to place the works in a pedagogical order that is still used in collections of Aristotle’s works today. Alexander of Aphrodisias was the last of the Peripatetic scholarchs to continue using the above exegetical principle as a counterweight to the weight of Roman Culture and the Universal ambition of the Latin language (both of which appeared to favour the dualism of Neoplatonism and Christianity over the categorical and logical monism of Aristotle). Alexander’s commentaries and general writings contributed to the role of Aristotelianism in what we are referring to as the “Age of Reinterpretation”. His writings were translated into Latin and therefore engaged with the prevalent Neoplatonic Christian, Stoic, and Epicurean texts. Many of his commentaries are now lost but his best-known commentaries on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the Soul, Sense Perception, Prior Analytics, Topics, and Meteorology have survived.

Boethius continued the Peripatetic tradition of writing commentaries on the works of Aristotle, in particular on Aristotle’s “Organon”. He is not mentioned by Brett in his work but he deserves mention for four reasons. Firstly, he was, as we mentioned previously, the last of the Greek-speaking scholarchs in the Roman World. Secondly, because of his commentaries. Thirdly because of his Socratic fate- protesting his innocence throughout his imprisonment and up to his execution. Fourthly because of the work he was writing whilst awaiting execution: “The Consolation of Philosophy”. Bertrand Russell in his work “The History of Western Philosophy” classifies this work as Neoplatonic and this may be questionable. The work unquestionably has an air of a Platonic dialogue about it but here are definite Stoical ethical themes and there are even suggestions of Aristotelian themes relating to the theoretical and practical divisions of Philosophy. This latter suggestion is even today the subject of controversial debates.

The Consolations of Philosophy begins with Boethius sitting in his prison in Pavia, regretting his misfortune after having been elevated to one of the highest administrative positions in the government of Theodoric. A Lady representing Philosophy visits the prisoner. She is wearing a tattered and worn garment with the representation of a ladder bearing greek lettering upon the top and bottom of the ladder: on the top is the Greek Theta(standing for theoretical divisions of philosophy), on the bottom is the Greek letter P(standing for the Practical divisions of Philosophy). She is the bearer of some philosophical works and she casts aside the books of Poetry on his bedside table. Boethius is manifestly by turns depressed and indignant. In response to this, she presents arguments illustrating the illusory values of material fortune and compares fickle fortune to divine providence which lies behind the mystery of the spiritual and ethical government of the world. She conceives of herself as bringing medicine to the sick spirit of Boethius: “The times call for healing rather than Lamentations”(H R James translation).

This is reminiscent of Plato’s Symposium in which Socrates in one of his speeches evokes the memory of one of his teachers, the Lady Philosopher, Diotima, who he represents as giving him a philosophy lesson in relation to the concept of Love and the Being Eros who has been conceived of as a God. She reminds Socrates of the parentage of Eros, namely a poverty-stricken mother and a resourceful father and she also claims that this is not the circumstances of a divine being. indeed she pictures Eros as padding about our cities barefooted in the search for spiritual sustenance of various forms. The moral of her tale is also significantly related to the origin of the word Philosophy(lover of wisdom). Much time has elapsed between the two works and between the lives of Socrates and Boethius and the lessons learned from the two Ladies appear to differ. Socrates learned to love Philosophy whilst Boethius learns instead to be consoled to his fate. Of course, Boethius, having served as a minister in Theorodic the Goth’s government, would have knowledge of his king’s paranoia and the kind of death that awaited those who aroused his wrath. There would be no sipping from a cup of poison and gentle slipping away from the world for him. His was to be a Gothic death at the hands of a sovereign who believed that Jesus did not have a divine nature. Boethius was subsequently regarded by many Christians as a martyr and was venerated as St Severinus. He left little of ecclesiastical value behind him but his commentaries on Aristotle earned him the title of the first of the scholastic Philosophers. His final work “The Consolations of Philosophy” was popular for centuries.

The schools of Athens and Alexandria were still active at the time of the death of Boethius. Two or three years after his death the Emperor Justinian came to power and the Schools in Athens were closed in 529 probably because of the conflict of pagan doctrines with Christian dogma. In the following 270 years, the Roman Empire continued to diminish in territory and power but dualistic views of Christ and the Soul still overshadowed the hylemorphic monism of Aristotle. Indeed, even the doctrine of Christ possessing a single will was condemned by a Council under the influence of Maxim the Confessor in 649 AD in Rome and again at a Council held in Constantinople in 681.

Life and Society outside of the Roman Empire were also changing. the prophet Muhammad died in 633 and a wave of conquest swept over the world that included the capture of Carthage as well as the defeat of the Gothic Christians. Charlemagne managed in 768 to drive the Muslims back to the Pyrenees and expanded the Roman Empire into a Holy Roman Empire embracing all the Christians of Continental Western Europe. He established a school for scholars where Alcuin of York is supposed to have resurrected the writings of Aristotle in Latin, though in the context of the Christian scriptures.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: St Augustine, De Civitate Dei and De Civitate Terrena(The City of God and the earthly city): Arendt, Aristotle, and Kant.

Hits: 225

Existentialist philosophers such as Heidegger, Jaspers, and Arendt have argued that we are thrown into the world and two questions immediately surface as a response to such a claim. Firstly, which world are we thrown into? This question arises because for Augustine there are two worlds: De Civitate Dei(the City of God) and De Civitate Terrena (the earthly city) and when the Day of Judgment arrives these two cities will be divided. Secondly, and relatedly, if, as the Bible suggests our existence is the beginning of a story, does this fact of being created(thrown into the world from our point of view)take precedence over the end of the story, namely the expectation of our inevitable death. In other words, if the focus is on the remembrance of the constitutional beginning does this reverse the polarity of the world for those whose lives are dominated by an anxious expectation or fear of death.

Much of course depends upon the context these questions are posed in. It is doubtful whether Aristotle’s work played much part in the intellectual development of St Augustine perhaps because of Aristotle’s acceptance of the existence of prime matter and its formless infinite essence which actually permits the conceiving of an infinite number of possible worlds each of which is constituted of the actualization of different forms. Self-knowledge and knowledge of God were in one sense inextricably intertwined in Aristotle’s metaphysical account of Man and his relation to Being. This account poses the question “What is man?” and responds to this question with a hylemorphic theory that condensed itself into the definition of man as a “rational animal capable of discourse”. The presence of the term “animal” may, of course, have caused Augustine to dismiss Aristotelian theory in favour of a dualistic theory which separates animals from man because it was man and not the animals whose lives(psuche) were created by the breath of God in accordance with some divine logos. It was probably blind belief in the literalness of the account of the creation of man in the Book of Genesis that was responsible for the fact that it was Plato’s more dualistic account of the relations of the soul to the body and the intellectual world to the physical world that caused a state of affairs in which Platonism was the Philosophy of choice for the religiously inclined. This in spite of the fact that we see in the Timeaus a Platonic move in the direction of the work of “the worldly” Aristotle.

But it ought to be remembered that St Augustine himself was the product of a spirit of an age in which many different schools of Philosophy and sects of religion were proliferating and competing for attention and supremacy, including Gnostic sects such as Manichaeism. Manichaeism was a dualistic theory that believed two bipolar forces were engaged in a struggle for control of the world: the force of Good and the force of Evil. St Augustine, for a period of time, embraced this Persian variation on a Gnostic theme just prior to being his being inspired and converted to Christianity by Neo-Platonic writings and the Bishop of Milan in 387 AD. The ideas of St Paul were then destined to mingle with the Platonic theory of forms. The co-mingling of these ideas from different universes of discourse was regarded as inconsistently eclectic by Hannah Arendt in her evaluation of St Augustine in her later works, including “The “Life of the Mind”.

St Augustine was neither Greek nor Hebrew. He was essentially a Roman-inspired by Romans, e.g. Cicero. He was also bewitched by the language of Latin( regarded by Heidegger as an “Imperial” language of power). For example, he attempted to juxtapose an idea of free will with what Arendt called the greatest of his academic sins, the belief in predestination. A notion, incidentally, not entirely inconsistent with being “thrown into the world”(with one’s human powers). Combine this with a view of time in which memory of the past plays a more significant role in the life of man than future expectancy and we are beginning to see a philosophical psychology forming that will have troubling implications in the future. A philosophical psychology very different to that of Aristotle in which the question of the existence/essence of man is transposed from the Aristotelian “What is man?” to the Augustinian question “Who is man?”. The former of course requires rational theory whilst the latter requires only memory of beginnings. From an Aristotelian or Kantian perspective, the transposition is a move toward ambiguity and confusion: it is a move away from philosophical psychology toward a more “scientific ” form of Psychology.

Ambiguity and confusion are not however present in the Augustinian dualism of the carnal and the spiritual will which in turn are connected to a dualism of earthly love(cupiditas) and spiritual other-worldly love of God(Caritas). The man who loves in this spiritual way is, of course, an inhabitant of two worlds: De Civitate Dei and De Civitate Terrena. He is at home in the former world and a “stranger” in the latter. What prevents this dualism from degenerating into Manichaeism is a Platonic commitment to the overarching role of the knowledge of the Good: a conception which regards evil as the absence of good and therefore as in some sense logically dependent upon the good. Unsurprizingly a dualism of selves is also involved in this account. Arendt, in her earlier work “Love and St Augustine”(p30) comments upon this latter dualism in the following way:

“The “good” of which man is deprived and which he therefore desires is life without death and without loss. Good as the object of love(as desire) is nothing but the manifestation of this “good”. By anticipating eternity(the absolute future) man desires his own future self and denies the I-myself he finds in earthly reality. In self-hatred and self-denial he hates and denies the present, mortal self, that is, after all, God’s creation. The criterion of right and wrong in loving is not self-denial for the sake of others or of God, but for the sake of the eternity that lies ahead. From this, it follows that man should not love in this life, lest he loses in eternal life…..To love God means to love oneself well, and the criterion is not God but the self, namely the self who will be eternal.”

The spiritual self loves God the best and will, therefore, dwell in eternity with this gender-neutral Being. The above discussion orbits around “who” the self of self-knowledge is and it has undoubtedly been influential in setting the terms of many debates in contemporary Philosophical Psychology. Arendt, in the above passage, it should be noted is herself evolving in her work toward a future position in works entitled “The Human Condition” and “The Life of the Mind” : a position that has much in Common with the Greek Philosophers for whom the resolution of the enigma of the flourishing life was resolved with the idea of areté, virtue(doing the right thing at the right time in the right way). This resolution, for her, was best manifested by human action in public space for the sake of a common good: a position that does not necessarily exclude one’s own welfare or the welfare of one’s neighbour. This might be construed as a move that takes us into the spiritual realm as defined by Arendt and perhaps by Augustine: a realm of discourse in a universe of pluralistic agents and concerns reasoning about “the good” as best they can, given that they have limited knowledge about the Civitas Dei and themselves. Pluralism is, of course, a key Aristotelian political category that was used to criticize the uniformity of life in Plato’s Republic. As Arendt’s work moved away from her dissertation on Augustine and towards her work entitled “The Human Condition”, we find her attempting to move away from what Kant called the principle of self -love in disguise and Augustine regarded as love of the earthly world in which the self and the present is dispersed in the many activities of the Civitas Terrena. The love we encounter in Civitas Dei, on the other hand, is a love of God which is absolutely devoid of the more conditional goods we find in the Civitas Terrena. The Spiritual life for Arendt, similarly, takes place in a city in which three kinds of human activity are ruled not by rationality and reason but by action in a public space: action that is inspired by one’s conscience. The other two types of activity, labour, and work, appear to be more Aristotelian than Platonic and appeal in the case of labour to the physiological and biological rhythms of the body and in the case of work, a pluralistic dispersion of the self in a manifold of activities in a world we love and fear to lose. In the Republic the freed prisoner who becomes enlightened once he understands the form of the good is persuaded to return to the realm of shadows in the cave(Civitas Terrena) thus bringing light in the form of knowledge to Civitas Terrena. The light may be extinguished however as was the light of Socrates in the Athenian Agora. In the same vein, we may reflect on the extinguishing of the light of Jesus. One of the consequences of these historical lessons may be a reluctance to engage epistemologically with Civitas Terrena. It is not absolutely clear that either the Platonic commitment to Reason and rationality or the application of the Aristotelian hierarchy of “forms of life” can be available to Augustin in virtue of his commitment to divine love or Caritas in the context of man’s being a question for himself. The transposition of the question “What am I?” to “Who am I?” in the context of both dualism and an extreme commitment to interiority(“go not forth: withdraw into your own self: in the inward parts of man dwelleth truth”) is a problematic transposition. Add to this the usurpation of the methodology of Reason in favour of Divine spiritual love or Caritas and we are in the midst of a dualistic theory of knowledge that Professor Brett in his “History of Psychology” characterizes thus:

“The work of St Augustine id dominated by aims which partly assist and partly retard his inquiries. As a philosopher, he seeks for truth, for knowledge that is without presuppositions and wholly certain and this he finds only in inner experience. In the writings of St Augustine, we find a second influence, the theological bent, which employs revelation as the guarantor of truth. Knowledge is, therefore, divisible into two main classes according as it is derived from revelation or from introspection. In the sphere of metaphysics, the nature of inner experience is made the starting point for the construction of a metaphysics of knowledge, and this is Augustine’s main interest. Subservient to this is the life of the self, the nature, origins, and faculties of the soul: which also attract the attention of Augustine for reasons both philosophical and theological. For the study of psychic life, the power of accurate introspective observation is supremely valuable: throughout the work of Augustine we find this power exhibited in a remarkable degree.”

The stage is hereby set for all the forms of solipsism we encounter in modern Philosophy and Theology. The search is on for the principium individuationis. We will confine ourselves in the inner cave of our Will and regard the external world as a perceptual/imaginative affair where the nature of matter is only to be understood via the controversial mechanism of revelation. Of course, matter for St Augustine subsequent to his Neo-Platonic readings and his baptism and conversion is no longer attributed to the process of creation by the evil forces in the world. It is rather a result of the process of creation by divine activity but our relation to matter via revelation remains problematic. It is also problematic that knowledge via introspection is construed as a form of observation. This commitment to such a dualistic methodology also raises a question in relation to the soul/body issue which remains hopelessly mystical in the framework of dualism. As we mentioned previously, Aristotelian hylemorphism and its characterization of a two-substance relation to a framework of different kinds of life-principle governing the life forms of different organisms is conspicuous by its absence. Psuche, for Augustine, is simply a substance derived from divine activity. Brett has the following to say on this issue:

“The soul was created by God at the time when the body was created. Its creation and its birth are distinct events: as nothing was created after the 6 days of creation. The soul must have been created then. The breath of God by which Adam became animated or endowed with anima, was the act by which the soul was transmitted into the body….the body he(St Augustine) regards as wholly dependent upon soul so far as its life is concerned: its  vegetative functions are not possible without soul, and the body itself has importance only as the medium of sensation and as that which the soul must rule.”

The assumption of a dualism of substances is apparent but becomes more so when one considers that at death the Biblical metaphysicians claimed that the two substances can un-mingle and become separate substances again. Aristotle would have questioned this dualistic account and it was to combat all forms of dualism or its half brother of materialism that Aristotle formulated his hylemorphic metaphysics. For him the body and the soul are unseparable as the shape of the wax is inseparable from its material. Death, insofar as hylemorphic metaphysics is concerned is defined in terms of the absence of the power of the body to move any longer. The “part” of the soul, if that is the correct expression to use here, that is directly involved in the movement of the body, is the will. The relation of this willing part of the soul to the part that contemplates truths known by reason is ambiguous and unclear in the Augustinian system. Neo- Aristotelians and Kantians would probably, in contradistinction to dualism, claim that the will’s function is to bring about the reality or truth of what was actively desired or intended. Even in Plato’s work the “knowledge of the good” mitigates what can be construed as a dualism of physical action and contemplation.

Brett completes his analysis of St Augustine by using modern psychological terminology such as “consciousness”, object of attention” and “selection”:

“This is the first point at which we see how Augustine makes the Will the most important element in life. The simplest act of apprehension involves some degree of Will, for in it are compounded three elements: the mind is conscious of itself(memoria), aware of many possible objects of attention (intelligentia), and selects one with which it identifies itself (voluntas). The world for St Augustine is the place of countless voices, voices of nature calling to the soul: but only those are directly heard toward which the soul exerts itself in the will to attend, and more than all these is the voice of God whose eternal presence is an external appeal to the human will.”

Presumably the voice presents itself in both introspection and via the mysterious process of revelation and the soul being a substance can only have its essence revealed not in an act of apprehension(introspection) but also in some experience of revelation. The Will is related to God via Caritas or the spiritual form of love. Complete knowledge is impossible for the soul until it is capable of this spiritual form of love for God which is also used in one’s relations to one’s neighbour. All knowledge is primarily knowledge of God and secondarily knowledge of the spiritual self under the aspect of Caritas. Brett summarises the position clearly:

“In this exposition, we recognize Platonism penetrated by Christian mysticism. For Augustine, the activity of the mind presents a mystery to be contemplated and studied but not to be solved. He realizes (after Plato) that the turning around of the soul is the essence of education, but he thinks it is not enough to face the light: the eye can see what it does not know, but the mind does not so much as see that which it is not forced to see. If this is true of the mind, it is still more true of the spiritual eye. In the physical world seeing is believing: in the intellectual sphere belief is the condition of seeing. The soul cannot see before it is cured of its diseases, and therefore knowledge is impossible before the soul is in a fit condition. For knowledge is not like gold or silver: these we may know without having: knowledge we must have as part of our very being. The beginning of true knowledge then is not learning, but the will to learn, the disposition to exert the inner force…This disposition is really given by the grace of God: it is a mystery: but Augustine indicates a way of attaining knowledge, namely submission to authority by which he that would learn becomes fit to learn.”

Presumably the above requires acts of contemplation and perhaps this is a manifestation of submission to God’s authority: submission to a Being we know so little about and whose presence we intuit at the very best of times through a glass darkly. This in its turn suggests that we must travel in a circle of believing in order to understand and understanding in order to believe: a journey without a clear view of our destination: ” a mystery to be contemplated”! The interesting beginning of this journey is “the will to learn” given to us by another mystery, the grace of God which the above exercise of dialectical reasoning fails to reveal the essence of. Kant interestingly decries the usefulness of dialectical reasoning which in his view inevitably ends in a cul-de-sac of contradiction. In Kant’s view, to take one example, there is no resolution to the antinomy concerning whether the world has a beginning in time or not. There is, however, a form of philosophical contemplation which for Kant is revelatory of the power and freedom of the human soul to know the good. This “revelation” occurs in the domain of the soul concerned with willing when contemplation of the essence of the rightness of its past, present or future action is at issue. In this form of contemplation Kant argues that if I can will that the maxim or principle of my action can be thought to become a universal law then the action contemplated is/was/will be virtuous. there is nothing mystical about such acts of contemplation and there is further nothing problematic about the idea that a good will is the universal foundation of all virtuous action(defined by Aristotle as doing the right thing in the right way at the right time). Even Kant’s idea of God loses its mystery when he claims that the idea of God is the guarantor for the belief that a virtuous life will be in some non-materialistic sense, a flourishing life. It is, of course, something of a mystery as to just how this consequence follows from its conditions but it is a mystery that the religious man understands. This understanding moreover brings with it a spiritual form of contentment with his existence that transcends all earthly forms of suffering. This is probably what Plato and Aristotle would have thought of as “contemplating the form of the good”. The strength of the Kantian account also points to a weakness in the account of Augustine when it comes to his discussion of the relation between the earthly city of Babylon(De Civitate Terrena) and the spiritual city of God(De Civitate Dei). Introspection and revelation appear, in different ways, to remove us from the spheres of public and political judgment and action, whereas the kind of ethical contemplation of Kant (applying the test of the categorical imperative to all ethical action) appears to transport us to a very objective kingdom of ends containing the flesh and blood bodies of men implementing and obeying laws in an ethical spirit which meets the requirements of the type of practical reasoning involved in the application of the categorical imperative. Furthermore, there is a distinct element of realism in Kant’s proposed Kingdom of Ends. A conceived state of affairs that, according to Kant will take one hundred thousand years to actualize and manifest itself. For Kant, in contrast to St Augustine, there is no God choosing souls to love him, no divine policy of predestination, and no unnecessary substantification of souls with problematic relations to their own bodies. Kant’s view of the body is hylemorphic as is his view of the soul which he would not have regarded as a spatio-temporal continuity(principles have spatio-temporal application and continuity in that application but not materialistic continuity.

St Augustine, as we know, denied that the soul is in any sense “in time”, since it is eternal and immortal. Yet immortality suggests continuity of some kind. What kind of continuity does Augustine imagine is operating here? Brett characterises the matter thus:

“Augustine believed in the immortality of the soul. Time, he said is only the extensive measurement of experience, a distentio animi. The soul is not in time but time is rather the form in which the soul is presented to itself. There is consequently no difficulty in the idea of immortality, so far as time is concerned. The real problem is to find some reason for this continuous reality of the soul. Augustine finds it in the fact that reason is truth, and truth as such is not in a class of things to which change or corruption has any relevance. As we, in fact, say now, change is a category of the mind and not a category under which the mind can be brought. In fact all our ideas of things are forms of reason and when true are eternal. The soul which has(or is) eternal truth must itself be eternal.”

There is not much that Kant would be opposed to in the above account. Aristotle though would probably object to change being characterized solely in terms of the category of the mind. He would insist that change is real and Perception of change is testimony for such a position. Both would, however, accept that reason and truth, insofar as they are the aspects under which thought occurs are continuously real and have no material spatio-temporal existence. Both would also agree that principles insofar as they are necessarily products of reasoning and truth are eternal and immortal in the sense that they are not materially related to the categories of “being-in-time” or “being alive”. Rather, Principles are “unconditional” in the Kantian search for all the conditions of existence of spatio-temporal phenomena. Reason, in other words, is the power the mind has to arrive at the totality of conditions of phenomena as well as the unconditional “ground” of these conditions. Such power belongs, at least as far as Aristotle is concerned, to the human being as a holistic entity defined in terms of “rational animal, capable of discourse”. Our psychological powers, as opposed to our physical powers, are attributed to the soul and are manifestations of principles, or in Kant’s terms, these principles are the unconditioned “ground” of the totality of conditions relating to the exercise of such powers. The relation of the physical powers of the body such as sensation and perception to the powers of the soul such as imagination, discourse and reason is what a Neo Aristotelian or Neo Kantian philosopher would regard as an aporetic question with no simple solution only so long as one continues to conceive of the soul or mind as some kind of substance, rather than as a principle of explanation. Neo Wittgensteinians such as P.M.S. Hacker also regard the human being or person as the logical bearer of the above powers. He discusses this matter thus in his work “Human Nature:the Categorical Framework”:

“What, then, is the relationship between the mind and the body? The mind/body problem is insoluble. For it is a hopelessly confused residue of the Platonic/Augustinian/Cartesian traditions. It cannot be solved: but it can be dissolved. The mind is not an entity that could stand in a relationship to anything. As we have seen, all talk of the mind that a human being has and of its characteristics is talk of the intellectual and volitional powers that he has and of their exercise. The body that a human being is, the living organism, has and exercises those distinctive intellectual and volitional abilities that we speak of when we speak of peoples minds. But the body that a human being is said to have when we speak of human beings as having beautiful or athletic bodies, is not the kind of thing that could be said to possess intellectual and volitional abilities…. These characteristics are not the kinds of thing that could make up their mind, recall things to mind, or change their minds.”

Hacker goes on to compare the above relation not with the principle and what it regulates or the unconditional in relation to a totality of conditions. He uses an allegory of a word (insofar as it has a set of usages) to the phonemes it is composed of. The former is the holistic phenomenon conceived in terms of the usages of the word concerned in discourse of various kinds.

Wittgenstein, as we know, complained about St Augustine’s theory of language, suggesting that perhaps it was behind the misconception of language as composed of a set of names that he had presented in his early work “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”. Wittgenstein’s later work rejected his earlier theory of the meaning of language in favour of a theory that focused on the actual use of words and sentences in various forms of discourse. Each form of discourse was like a game we play with rules which we learn to use when we acquire language in our childhood. These language games are embedded in very Aristotelian sounding “forms of life”(human activities). Amongst the grounds, Wittgenstein had for the repudiation of this aspect of his earlier work was the accusation of postulating a solipsistic linguistic soul and one is left wondering whether this “power of projecting” the language structure of what appeared to be a private language user was also a result of the influence of Augustine.

St Augustine’s account of the relation between the soul and the body proceeds via the relation of the sensations the body experiences and the truth about reality that those sensations “reveal”. Brett characterizes St Augustine’s position in the following way

“The mind strives to see the truth. In sensation it sees truth through the body, which is the only way of apprehending some truths.”

On this kind of account, sensation and perception are intellectual powers that play an important part in the “revelation” of the nature of the physical world. This creates a possible defensible realm for the knowledge of external material objects. Augustine goes on to insist, however, that the experience of “externality” is a delusion. Brett summarizes this point thus:

“Knowledge is always of an object and seems to keep the object away fro the observer: in perception there is an outer object, and science is no more than a system of such perceptions. But the perceptions themselves are not outside us:they are really ourself in action, and they illuminate themselves until the inner light increases or breaks up the darkness of ignorance. At that point man became conscious that the relation to outer objects is unsatisfactory. What a man knows truly he makes part of himself….. After science with its delusion of externality, comes wisdom: here knowledge reaches its highest development, but the nature of man is still not wholly formed:so long as the reason is a dry light it is partly abstract but when the will identifies itself with the known, when Love is added to wisdom, every element in mans nature is fused into a unity, the unity is complete and the development is finished.”

So, the Will involved in the love of God has the final word. The introduction into this account of the important role of the Will anticipates the Wittgensteinian later picture of language as active. It also anticipates the Kantian emphasis upon practical reasoning and its close relation to what he called the noumenal soul or mind as well as the relation of theoretical reasoning to the Truth. the problem with the Kantian position is of course to give a clear account of the relationship between practical and theoretical reasoning given the conviction that Kant had that, in dealing with practical matters we are also dealing with the Truth . The difference between the Kantian and Augustinian accounts is that firstly, for Kant the practical form of reasoning is not just related to oneself and ones neighbour but also to the ethical and universal principle of the categorical imperative: and secondly that for Kant, the attitude of mind characteristic of ethical action was not Love but the more psychically distanced attitude of Respect.

Insofar as religious attitudes are concerned Kant does discuss the concept of a holy will(the supremely good will) in relation to Respect but it is important to remember in this context that the ethical philosophy of Kant is characterised by Kant as autonomous and organized by the principle of freedom rather than the idea of God . Kant, however, sees a place for Religion for explaining the relation of leading a good life in accordance with the categorical imperative and the human expectation of a consequence in the form of a flourishing life. Freedom, for St Augustine, insofar as it is construed as the power to cause oneself to spontaneously begin something new and unique, is denied to man and reserved for God who is free to choose those souls whose destiny will flourish during their bodily lifetimes. The awkward logical consequence of this aspect of Augustine’s thought is that it seems that the earthly city is a divided city. There are those that dwell spiritually in the city of God whilst simultaneously dwelling in the earthly city, the “predestinates” as Bertrand Russell calls them in his work “The History of Western Philosophy”. Those who are not yet or cannot ever be predestinates, are “reprobates” in Russell’s terms. Religion and the earthly city seem to be involved in an “unholy alliance”. The opposing Kantian view of unethical activity in the earthly city is that the law will blame any reprobate for their unethical activities: i.e. the individual will be held responsible because of the principle of freedom which claims that every individual is free to choose their actions. This for Augustinians would be a form of Secularism that rejects predestination and all its implications. With reference to the Philosophy of Aristotle it is important to point out that in contrast to the Kantian form of secularism, religious attitudes were well 9ntegrated into the Greek city-state system. These attitudes were encoded in the law and everyone expected the gods to be respected in the Agora. Kant, in contrast to St Augustine, avoids a religious eschatological end or telos in favour of an earthly cosmopolitan world free of bureaucratic religious institutions, which simultaneously manifest respect not just for each other but more abstractly for the rule of law and even more abstractly the idea of God.

The major obstacle in the path of Cosmopolitanism is of course Wars between nations which Kant views as anathema to cultural development. It is therefore somewhat surprising, in this context, to note that St Augustine actually formulated the concept of a just war and criteria for its fulfillment. For Kant wars were unethical but inevitable given the fact that Reason was only potentially present in the species of man and until this potentiality became actualized the antagonistic nature of man would have to learn by the experience of the wasteful and destructive forces of war. Kant, in response to this state of affairs, did, however, suggest an institution that might help in the prevention of war and war-crimes, namely a United Nations with an international legal system and law courts. This seems initially to be the dream of an idealist until one is informed of the fact that Kant thought that the Cosmopolitan state of affairs he envisaged was ca one hundred thousand years in the future.

St Augustine also theorized about the nature of Time. Time, he insists has been created by God and therefore must have a beginning. This is in marked contrast to the account of time we find in Aristotle which is infinite with no beginning. Augustine’s account is however more related to Philosophical Psychology than it is to epistemology, metaphysics or the philosophy of History. For Augustine human time is characterized thus:

“There are three times: a present time about things past: a present time about things present: a present time about things future”(Confessions xi 20,26: xi 28,37)

The past, argues Augustine, is in itself unreal, and exists only from the perspective of a present memory of what has happened to me and what I have done. The future too, is also unreal and exists only from the perspective of an expectation of what will happen to me and what I want to do. The latter mode of action relates to our desires and contains the key to ethical action because it is in the name of Caritas that I love God and am forgetful of my solipsistic wants and wishes. The state of Caritas is only achievable by predestinates who hope to emulate the divine state of mind of God. Such a state involves, of course, transcendence of any human conception of time.

Augustine appears to be asking us to hope for immortality and in so doing transcend human nature. Arendt however undermines the future aspect of human expectation(which includes the expectation of death):

“it is memory and not expectation(for instance the expectation of death as in Heidegger’s approach(that gives unity and wholeness to human existence. In making and holding present both past and future, that is, memory and the expectation derived from it, it is the present in which they coincide that determines human existence. This human possibility gives man his share in being “immutable” “(Arendt, Love and St Augustine B: 033 192)

In an interpretative essay included in the above work Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelins Stark made the following comment on the above quote:

“Arendt also notes that the return to the Creator through imitation “is not a matter of Will and free decision: it expresses a dependence inherent in the face of createdness” …Mans dependence relies exclusively on remembrance–memory is the “space” between past and future in which the “questing search” for the Creator takes place. Memory is equated with consciousness defined as a fundamental mode of dependence and cited as proof of the gap between essence and existence and the fact that God is both “in” and “outside” man” “(p168)

It has been clear throughout this discussion that there are characteristically two worlds for St Augustine: the divine fabric of the world of God and the world created by the efforts and desire(love for the earthly city) of man. The first is an atemporal entity and the second is necessarily temporal with all the accompanying disadvantages. the above quote points out that God is both inside and outside of man and this provision ensures that this dualism is not problematic although the relation between the two worlds appears to require further explanation. It is in this connection that St Augustine’s philosophy of History emerges as questionable. There appears in this account a more problematic dualism between a linear history of existence evolving toward unique and unrepeatable events and the Platonic/Aristotelian conception of universal and cyclical forms that constitute the continuous oneness and goodness of Being. The former is present in his tendency to use the Bible as a source for the linear approach. Obviously there is one and only one unique and unrepeatable creation, one and only one coming, departure and resurrection of Christ and these perhaps demand the operation of the epistemological mechanism of revelation if we are to understand these events for what they are. This approach, however also requires the epistemological mechanism of introspection if my memories of unique events and uniquely related events are to become a part of my understanding. And yet we also find in Augustine the aspect of a progress toward an eschatology with a universalistic end in the oneness and goodness of Being.

In Civitas Terrena there is a universalistic eschatology that will end in a Day of Judgment in which those that have had the grace to renounce their selfish desires will be saved and those with more worldly bodily related desires will be damned. History, for St Augustine is clearly, then, both a history of Civitas Terrena and Civitas Dei: the result of which will be a separation of the City of God from the city of man.The Day of Judgment will obviously be conducted in accordance with the forms or principles of virtue in general and justice in particular.

So, paradoxically, Augustine eschatology is rational and universal in nature but the rationality involved evokes Aristotelian and Kantian ethical principles. There is also more than a hint of the Platonic allegory of the Cave in the vision of the liberation of souls who through a combination of earthly work in search of the divine Caritas find their way out of the realm of the shadows and darkness into the divine light of Bring.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Neo-Platonism and Plotinus

Hits: 179

Plato took upon himself a synthesizing role in relation to the Pre-Socratic philosophical positions of Parmenides, Heraclitus, Materialism, and Sophism. The strategy of Plato favoured the position of Parmenides but obliged itself to provide explanations of the world of material flux and change. Some commentators mistakenly saw in Plato the presence of a dualistic assumption that divided the world of thought from the sensory world without the means to reconcile the two supposed opposites. In fact Plato had provided in his dialogue, the Republic, a metaphysical explanation for the relation of the physical sensory world and the world of thought. The world of thought possessed the logical character of the oneness and goodness of Being expressed in the Form of The Good, whereas the physical sensory world possessed the character of the flux and change of the many. The latter world was not however hermetically sealed from the world of thought but was in the relation of “participation”: the oak tree we experience, for example, was an entity that could come into existence and pass out of existence in virtue of the relation it had to the eternal changeless form of an oak tree in the realm of the oneness and goodness of Being. We should also bear in mind that Platonism was itself a Philosophy in the process of evolution or development from the earlier open-ended Socratic dialogues in search of essentialist definitions to the middle more theoretical dialogues featuring the Theory of Forms and finally to the later dialogues including “Parmenides” and “Timaeus”. The Theory of forms from the middle period faced a crucial argument to the effect that it lacked a logical justification given the fact that the forms were many and thereby differed from the oneness and goodness of Being: the theory that is, lacked metaphysical justification. The Timaeus resolved this issue by claiming that the Forms were emanations from the Parmenidean oneness and goodness of Being in a derivative realm Plato referred to as Mind or “The Intellect” which actively worked with the Forms: this is the realm of the activity of the Demiurge. Souls in turn then “emanate” from the Intellect(the highest activity of life). Soul contains then two principles, firstly a power of reason that can understand and contemplate the forms and a material principle of desire for material ends. This latter principle defines the non-contemplative activity of the soul in terms of a deficiency, a want for something it does not possess. When engaged in this mode of change the soul uses the cognitive and action systems at its disposal to achieve the ends desired. Cognition, however, best expresses the Forms of the Intellect although affective states also “image” the activity of the Intellect in virtue of a cognitive recognition or consciousness of the affection. Cognition cannot however directly reveal the oneness and goodness of Being as evidenced by the need for Plato in the Republic to use allegories to symbolically represent this realm. The difference between the activity of the Intellect or Demiurge and the activity of the Soul is that the former activity is internal to itself and the latter requires some external end to achieve a state of quiescence. This internal activity of the Intellect is characterized as contemplation and to the extent that the Soul is capable of contemplation of the Forms is the extent to which it is capable of participation in divine activity, thus moving closer to the ultimate oneness and goodness of Being. It is necessary to point out that on this account the external material concrete world is the least real of all the philosophical entities being discussed in Plato’s theory. This physical material world is also by definition the least Good of all the entities that have been caused to exist by the oneness and goodness of Being. Matter only becomes evil when it impedes the divine contemplative activity of the soul from contemplating the forms.

The above was largely the position adopted by Plotinus(born ca 205AD, died, ca 271AD) and communicated in his teachings some 600 years after Plato. It appears that he was also further convinced that the writings and teachings of Aristotle were sophisticated elaborations upon the Platonic position, even if there were problematic deviations such as the insistence that the forms were, in some real sense “in” the external physical world. Life forms of various kinds, for example, were on Aristotle’s account, potentialities actualizing in accordance with the principles of their kinds. For Plotinus these life forms all emanated from the oneness and goodness of Being, they revealed the “workings” of Being through the Demiurge and its divine thinking. In this arena of description and explanation, there is obviously a risk of a dualistic characterization of reality without appeal to these higher realms of Thought and Being. It is not clear whether Aristotle would have accepted all of the details of the above account but it is clear that it is not merely knowledge of the Form of the Good (as presented allegorically in the Republic) that is the prime mover in the system. Aristotle believed that one approached the oneness and goodness of Being through Theory and not allegory. He believed that is that our knowledge of 4 kinds of change, in reality, can be explained by four kinds of explanation of these changes which will appeal to three principles. This is, amongst other things, how we human souls have “access” to both the activity of the Demiurge and the oneness and goodness of Being. This account of Aristotle is perhaps an elaboration upon the Platonic insistence accepted by Plotinus that Being can only be characterized negatively, in terms of what it is not, which for many created the impression of its non-existence or even an impression that statements relating to the meaning of Being were contradictory. This impression was less likely to occur whilst the term “aletheia” (unconcealment) was an important element of the theoretical account, because it strongly suggests that Being can be accessed or be “discovered” in a process that seems to be more related to the ancient concept of “meaning” rather than our modern conception of truth that appears to acquire a relation of correspondence between the dualistic elements of thought and material reality. Aristotle is an important contributor to this debate about the nature of Being because he claimed that Being had many meanings and the theorizing about these meanings appeared to be best investigated by the logical principles of identity and non-contradiction.

Thinking of the Forms which would in logic be regarded as necessary truths implies that the negation of these truths could not be possible in this realm of meaning for the simple reason that it is not possible to think contradictions. Contradiction, therefore defines or circumscribes the limits of thought. Human souls, as we know, sometimes believe we are thinking about something even when we possess contradictory beliefs or when we regard the compatibility of two forms as impossible or contradictory. This testifies to our finitude and the fact that we are mixed beings composed by the Demiurge of thought and material. We only approach the level of contemplation once we rid ourselves of all contradiction and can finally in a contemplative state mean everything we think. If we are further able to mean everything we say we embrace the Logos of the divine. Heraclitus, as we know believed he had achieved such a state.

Brett, in his characterization of Plotinus’ commitment to what he regarded as Neo-Platonism insists that whereas Plato conceived of the oneness and goodness of Being in terms of practical human activities, Plotinus turned his back on the world of change and human activity and attempted instead to describe and explain the state of timeless meditation which all humans should strive to achieve:

“The atmosphere of Neo-Platonism is at once more impersonal and more subjective. Plato diffuses an atmosphere of practical activity, and thinks chiefly of the good life as a system of human activities. Plotinus, the founder of Neo-Platonism turns his eyes away from the world of change and action to the inner life of timeless meditation. For Plato the world that lies beyond the senses was a justification of human effort: it was primarily an answer to those who saw in life nothing but ceaseless change that made effort vain and progress only a synonym for process. For Plotinus the supersensible is the spiritual world of the mystic…… The mysticism of Plato ends with insight into the reality of life: the mysticism of Plotinus begins from that point, abstracts the reality from life and views existence as a state from which man strives to flee that he may depart from it and be with God.”

The mystic state for Brett, combined with the term “subjective” minimises the role of theory in both Plato and Plotinus. The term “subjective”, for example, is loaded with scientific materialistic assumptions to the effect that Being is material, concrete objective reality best “discovered” by the scientific method and its activities of observation, measurement, and experiment. Modern Science, that is, retreated from philosophical description and explanation and reversed the polarity of Platonic and Aristotelian theorising on the grounds of the reduction of Being to the two Aristotelian categories of “Quantity” and “Relation”: ignoring the two other fundamental categories of judgment namely Substantive Judgments and Qualitative judgments which are about substantial and qualitative aspects of Being respectively. Qualitative change we know was later in History to be in its turn reduced by empirical and analytical Philosophy to primary and secondary qualities in the spirit of the reversal of the polarity of Platonic and Aristotelian Philosophy. Primary qualities were “objective” essentially quantitatively and relational and secondary qualities were “subjective”. It is not, however, beyond the realms of possibility that this process of the abandonment of Platonic and Aristotelian theorizing about Being was compromised by Plotinus’ tendency to focus on the state of contemplation in abstraction from the “activity” of the soul in both its thinking and acting. Brett also wishes to place some of the responsibility for Plotinus’ drift toward mysticism and subjectivism on the shoulders of Plato:

“The change hinges upon the interpretation of Plato. If emphasis is laid upon Plato’s idea of the body as the tomb of the soul: if contemplation is valued before action; if the whole process of education is regarded exclusively as the liberation of the soul, the origin of Neo-Platonism can be seen at once. The divergence of Neo-Platonism lies mainly in the metaphysical view of intellect s a cosmic reason. The Stoic doctrine of universal reason had been really veiled materialism: nevertheless, its “pantheism” only required a fresh interpretation of reason to emerge as a theory of all-embracing intellect.”

Brett is here omitting the influence of Aristotle in the intervening period between Plato and Plotinus.This together with his projection of the prejudices of materialistic science upon the metaphysical(“first principle”) aspect of this discussion needs also to be borne in mind. The idea of cosmic reason was embraced by Aristotle as part of a comprehensive theory that could in its turn be used to respect scientific concern for describing and explaining a change in quantitative and relational terms(subjective-objective were “relational” categories). This Aristotelian theory stretched from the Oneness and goodness of Being which was Primary Pure Form, all the way down to a position of pure primary material. Primary Form on this account can in no way be correctly related to the relational term of the “subjective” or the consciousness of a being who introspects upon its own “contents of consciousness”. Aristotle is in his theory characterizing a great chain of Being which includes the Forms and the soul and the material of the body of the soul as well as the material of the external environment of the soul. This “metaphysical attitude” of Aristotle can not meaningfully be characterized as “psychological”. It is rather a philosophical position arrived at through the various philosophical methods of elenchus (Socrates), dialectical reasoning as well as logical reasoning and explanation. The Metaphysics of Stoicism may well be problematically materialistic as Brett is suggesting in that its notion of causation was unnecessarily deterministic and this might in a sense follow from the limited view of causation we find in Plato who appears to believe the idea of “formal cause” suffices to describe and explain everything that needs describing and explaining. Aristotle criticized this position and elaborated upon the role of causation in description and explanation in terms of his famous “four causes” schema. Recent scholars(Jonathan Lear) have pointed out that the Greek word “aitia” is connected to knowledge and explanation. Jonathan Lear, therefore, writes about the four different fashions of characterizing cause in descriptive and explanatory contexts.

The interesting question to ask in this context is whether Plotinus subscribed to the Stoic view of deterministic causation or whether he would have regarded the Aristotelian view as more accurate. in this context we should also remind ourselves of the fact that a revered teacher of Plotinus in Alexandria, Ammonius Saccas, was both an expert in Platonic and Aristotelian Philosophy. Saccas saw in Aristotelian Philosophy a natural continuation and sophistication of Plato’s Philosophy.

Plotinus’s position is problematically characterised by Brett in the following manner:

“This Neo-Platonism is therefore no mere reproduction of Platonic doctrine. It is to a large extent an independent construction by reason of the new standpoint adopted. Plotinus has a new idea of the rational life as something distinctively subjective. Out of this arises his virtues and vices: for it leads to a deeper view of thought and at the same time makes impossible that trans-subjective use of thought on which he builds a metaphysics not unlike the vagaries of Gnosticism.”

Subjectivizing Plotinus in this way is indeed problematic. Is Brett really suggesting that Plotinus decided to ignore the great chain of being argumentation contained in both Plato and Aristotle in favour of an idea of the “subjective” that was not in currency at the time? We also know,by the way, that when virtues and vices arise out of a subjectivity thesis, ethical relativism is the inevitable consequence: a consequence which both Plato and Aristotle would have dismissed as a misunderstanding of the nature of ethics.

Brett, as we pointed out previously ignores the resemblance of the Platonic position to that of Aristotle’s and this raises a question about the validity of categorising Plotinus as a Neo-Platonist. Perhaps, then, the litmus test of the correctness of Brett´s categorisation lies in Plotinus’ view of the soul and its relation to the external material, world. In a section entitled “The Activities of the Soul” we find the following account of sensation –the link between the external world ad the soul:

“Sensation is defined as the reception of forms in the matter which accompanies soul. It is the process by which forms are placed at the disposal of the soul. Knowledge is always an activity of the soul: sensation as such is not knowledge but a condition of the attainment of knowledge about material things. The independent character of the soul appears still more clearly in the sphere of knowledge. The soul uses the organs of sense as its instruments: it is itself unaffected: external impressions are made upon the sensitive soul by objects, but these impressions involve no self-recognition, no consciousness. The impressions are stored in the affective soul until the cognitive soul turns toward them and chooses to behold them. Plotinus here modifies the Aristotelian tradition. He deprives the senses of any function but that of transmitting forms which are the potential objects of cognition…When the soul exerts its activity and turns towards the things of sense, it perceives: this action may be described as facing toward the external world.”

It is not exactly clear how Brett conceives of this modification of Aristotle’s views especially in relation to the role of the senses and sensation in knowledge. Brett goes on to point out that Plotinus accepts Aristotle’s accounts of sensation, imagination and calculative reason and he also points out one crucial difference between the two accounts. Plotinus, unlike Aristotle, anticipates the role of the brain in this process. Another difference concerns the use by Plotinus of the so-called introspective method to arrive at the idea of self-consciousness lying at the intersection of the experience of objects and the unity of a soul which in its activity admits of no distinction between subject and object.

For Plato, there is no ontological difference between the changes in the world occasioned by the perceptual activity of the soul of the particularities of the world and the activity of a contemplating subject which is unchanging and universal and good in itself. The difference between an Aristotelian account and a Platonic account of the nature of the particularities in the external world is that these particularities, in the case of Plato, “participate”(in some sense) in the forms they are temporal representations of and, in the case of Aristotle, living particularities embody one form actually and other forms potentially. For Plato the particularities of the external world and the body(the different organs of the body) are in terms presented by the Republic instantiations of the “Many”, whereas thought in terms of the forms and their connectedness in the Intellect is instantiation of the “One”. The particularities are ever changing and belong to the world of Becoming existing separately in a differentiated world discriminated by sensation. the Soul, according to proof in Plotinus(Ennead 4,7,(2)) belongs on the other hand to the world of thought and Being. The body is composed of the material particulars: earth, air, fire, and water or compounds of them. Short of being organized by an internal principle or a form, these elements, even if they should occupy a shape in space, they will be merely accidentally juxtaposed have been brought into such a state by external processes. Such material will feel no sensations nor experience memory of sensations but will only be in a state of continual flux from moment to moment. If, for example, we are speaking of the juxtaposition of a number of grains of sand in a desert, this spatial unity will be disrupted by the first desert wind. Such temporal unities will not be able to contemplate the beauty of existence or the injustice of the dispersion of unity. Plotinus likens the soul to a musician and the body to the strings of a harp that would not be plucked unless in accordance with the principle of a melody that guides the movements of the fingers of the musician. These points and arguments are Platonic and Aristotelian and with the exception of Brett’s points relating to the brain, self-consciousness, and introspection, there seems to be little that is new. There is no doubt that Plotinus probably acknowledged that we humans have an awareness of what we are doing and thinking but this awareness must have taken the form of knowing what one is doing and this knowing must surely have been non-observational. Introspection, of course, has been many things to many theorists but in all its non-Cartesian forms, it has been connected to some kind of internal observation of the self(which possesses the kind of unity, principle or form that cannot be observed). The modern Scientific subjective-objective distinction is also often introduced into the debate with no awareness of its reliance on a materialistic assumption. This in its turn is anathema to the implication of Platonic and Aristotelian positions which maintain that principles on the thought end of the chain of Being are responsible for explanations of the kinds of change and activity associated with human Souls. In the metaphysical terms embraced by Plotinus, it is clear that the oneness and goodness of Being is the cause and explanation of the Intellect and its creative activity in relation to the forms. This intellect or Demiurge, in turn, is the cause or explanation of life forms such as Souls that are embodied and organized materially in various ways. The Soul is therefore obviously related in various ways to matter, the last entity in the chain of Being. In other words, material is the least organized and most chaotic of all the entities in this chain for which the oneness and goodness of Being is the source of all explanation. Science, of course, as we have noted, reverses the polarity of explanation and locates the source of description and explanation in the events of the external material world. This in spite of the fact that the very idea of what constitutes an event is in question even within the scientific community.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition and Consciousness: Early Christian Fathers(Clement of Alexandria)

Hits: 187

Cosmopolitan cities seem to be able to diversify and intensify human life, culture, and society in unexpected ways. Adrian Stokes, writing about the general conception of the Renaissance as a rebirth of pagan and classical forms remarked that this exciting period, (embracing a large number of cosmopolitan centres), is better conceived as an intensification of all forms of life, culture, and society. The Arts, Science and Philosophy and all forms of explorative human activity re-emerged just two centuries after the reintroduction of Aristotelian Philosophy into the cultural arena(Latin had become the language of Academia and Aristotle after having been banished to the wilderness by the Church was suddenly in favour). The Renaissance is also the perfect Platonic image of an emergence from the darkness of the so-called “dark ages” in which the dialectical battle of the giants of Platonic dualism and materialism suddenly produced a kind of Aristotelian synthesis in all regions of human life. Synthesis was the order of the day where earlier unities, both theoretical and practical had fallen into fragments. Aristotle’s recipe for the construction of a large middle class(a synthesis of the rich and poor) was back on the agenda of cosmopolitan cities. The recipe focussed unfortunately on the material conditions of the middle class rather than the ethical and political formal conditions relating to virtue and education. Art used Science and questioned Religion politely and Science forged ahead with its program of investigation building the Empire of influence which was to come. The seeds were being sown to question the influence of Philosophy in general and Aristotle in particular. Aristotle had in his politics argued on both grounds of experience and academic grounds for the formation of an educated virtuous middle class that would synthesis the best ideas of democracy and oligarchy into a constitutional form of government that would serve only the common good and not the interests of any particular powerful group in the polis. His was a philosophical vision of a flourishing life for all the citizens of the polis. He, of course, meant something more than the Hobbesian materialistic/scientific conception of a middle class striving for economic prosperity and commodious living which at the beginning of the modern period was to override Aristotelian political and ethical wisdom. It is interesting to note in this context that the spirit of synthesis did not sufficiently combat the forces of materialism and dualism as was evidenced in the Philosophy of Hobbes in England and Cartesian dualism in France. Both movements, for obvious reasons, criticized Aristotle perfunctorily thus re-creating the fruitless dialectical debates between the materialists and the dualists that preceded the reemergence of Aristotelianism prior to the Renaissance. These philosophical discussions were to rage for over 150 years before materialist Empiricism and Cartesian dualistic rationalism was synthesized and transcended by the Philosophy of Kant. Kant’s Philosophy embraced a number of Aristotelian assumptions relating to philosophical psychology, epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics in order to produce what many commentators called “a brilliant synthesis of empiricism and rationalism”. Kant. we should also recall was a citizen of Königsberg, a bustling cosmopolitan centre, and it is not particularly surprising to find Kant arguing on both ethical and political grounds for a global cosmopolitanism regulated by an institution similar to the UN that was formed after the second world war. We cannot go into the arguments in detail here but suffice it to say that Kant embraced a number of concepts and principles from the Aristotelian theory of change and hylomorphic theory thus continuing a tradition of thinking about the world born in the bustling cosmopolitan centre of Athens.

Alexandria was also a bustling cosmopolitan centre of activity. The times that Clements of Alexandria lived through were also times of questioning in particular in relation to the issue of the relation of knowledge and faith. The second century AD must have been experienced by both intellectuals and the populace as “Renaissance-like”, ie. they must have witnessed, for example, an intensification of all forms of Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Judaism, Christianity and last but not least the various flourishing sects of Gnosticism. Clement responded to this cultural chaos as a synthesizer. Professor Brett characterizes the man and his work in the following way:

“Some regard him as Platonic: others emphasize the Stoicism of his attitude: to some he appears an amorphous collection of doctrines. The evidence seems to support none of these views: for while the language of Plato, the ideas of Stoic writers, and the vagaries of Philo, jostle each other in every passage: there is an independence which rules them all–he has the disregard of a true believer for the niceties of expression: his eagerness to state his belief seems to break out into each and all of the possible types of formula: salvation and resurrection are the theme which make the language of philosophy seem meagre and elementary.”

We should remember that the above words were published in the 1920s during a period when both Gnostic and Aristotelian academic scholarship was in its infancy. Indeed Gnostic Scholarship at the time of Brett’s writings appeared to focus upon principally the Christian critial view of Gnosticism that was, in fact, emerging during the time of Clement. Gnosticism regarded the God of the Old Testament(OT) as the equivalent of the Platonic demiurge. The demiurge was supposedly the designer of the forms matter would take in a process of creation begun by a higher God. Matter had no form or principle of organization and was therefore chaotic in its nature. The Demiurge was provided with the principles or forms to be used in this design process by the higher divine unknowable thinking God and did the best that could be done with chaotic matter and the divine spirit, given the essentially instrumental nature of the task. The Demiurge is therefore not wholly good and we see this in the OT when Adam is lied to in relation to the consequences of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam ate the apple and was not destroyed as was promised. Adam and Eve multiply and out of their kin is formed all the peoples of the world but the Demiurge selects the Jews as a “chosen people” and punishes and rewards them in what to many Gnostics has seemed arbitrary and whimsical given their view of the utilitarian demiurge. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, for example, must have seemed to many Gnostics to be divine Justice and proof that the Demiurge had failed to create a world in which the forms could liberate the divine spirit in man. Many Gnostics at this point began to see man as superior to the utilitarian demiurge. The myth of the Garden of Eden now receives an almost philosophical interpretation and Eve’s actions receive a more central and sympathetic interpretation, celebrating the free, exploring, adventurous spirit of man shaking off the chains of an arbitrary authority(Perhaps this was connected to the discovery of the Gospel of MaryMagdelene testifying to Mary being the first witness of the resurrection). After Adam and Eve eat the apple they become aware of a new principle of knowledge and are punished by the Demiurge for disobeying his commandment. Man emerges from this (in the eyes of the Gnostics), as a questioning, knowing and thinking being superior in nature to the instrumental utilitarian demiurge: The eyes of man are now seeking for the divine agency the Demiurge is serving. The resurrection of Jesus celebrated by the Eucharist of the communion relies on the mysterious Christian belief in transsubstantiation, a belief not accepted by the Gnostics because of their belief that the resurrection was not an actual reincarnation but merely a symbolic event intending to point to the continuing existence of the spirit of Jesus. For the Gnostics, the resurrection does not necessarily point to another world beyond this but can symbolize instead a human rebirth within the course of human life: a rebirth that occurs in the form of an awakening from a materialistically inspired life as if from a dream.

Clement, disagreed with elements of this gnostic position and adopted the Stoic view of the appetites of the body, not viewing them as evil as the Gnostics but rather viewing them as indifferent and dependent upon the nature of the will responding to the call of the appetites. Clement agreed, however with the Gnostics that the Will, is not a “fallen” will: it is good because its source is in not the Demiurge but rather the divine agency the Demiurge serves.

Clement is, in many ways a Renaissance-like figure synthesizing many positions into his own and we agree with Brett’s judgment that his importance has been underestimated in the area of Psychology. We are arguing here, however, that Brett in his turn has underestimated the work of Clement because he has not understood the Philosophical importance of many of his ideas.

In his work entitled “Paedogogus” Clement claims in Socratic and Aristotelian fashion that sin is involuntary(because the will is good) and can be removed or redeemed only by the wisdom of Logos or the true word(see the Gospel of St John, the gospel the Gnostics most identify with). Sin is, insofar as Clement is concerned, very much concerned with knowledge and not so much concerned with evil intention, thereby confirming the Gnostic/philosophical interpretation of the myth of Adam and Eve in “Paradise”. This entails that philosophy is at the very least a necessary condition of leading the religiously inspired life but philosophy is clearly insufficient for Clement because the love of God (the master of the Demiurge) and faith in his existence is also required if one is to be truly “saved”. Clement claims in his work the “Paedogogus” that Christ is the incarnation of “logos”(the true word or explanation) and the task of man initially is to imitate the life of Christ until the “awakening” occurs and man is free to rationally choose the true way him/herself. The awakening is also construed Platonically in terms of a transposition from a world of shadows in which we are imprisoned in an enlightened world. Yet reading Clement one cannot also be reminded of Kant’s ethical claim of the importance of a good-will as well as the Kantian psychological distinction between the active will(embodied in the things we do, the actions we perform) and passion(the things that happen to us).

There are other clear signs of the influence of the Gnostics in Clement’s work. He claimed that women can also be mediums of the transmission of the true word of the Gospels and their narratives of the life of Christ. Although he would have been less than sympathetic with the Gnostic divine trinity of father, mother, and son.

Another important influence upon the work of Clement was not just Platonism but Greek Philosophy in general which had been cast into the wilderness by religious authorities. Brett elaborates upon this influence in the following quote:

“Knowledge and action are so closely united in the doctrine of Clement that the solution of these questions must begin from a statement of the rational activities. The higher reason has a power of choice on which depend the search for empirical facts, instruction, and complete knowledge. Thus the progress of the soul is made dependent on the will to know. At first, there is complete ignorance and the individual is placed in a world of desires and imaginations with no guiding light of reason. Hence the commission of sins. For want is natural to man: and from want arises desire which leads to sin: vain imaginations also lead astray. In both cases the moral guilt arises from the fact that the will gives assent: only by this act of will is sin constituted, and therefore it is just in the fact of sin that freedom is demonstrated. On the other hand, the will is not essentially sinful: it is from God and must be good: so that the cause of sin must be looked for outside the will. Clement finds the cause in false images, snares, and delusions that mislead the soul…Sin is the triumph of darkness over light, of ignorance over knowledge. The way of salvation, then, can only be the way of knowledge.”

Some Gnostics, of course, would argue that if the will is good and sin comes from the outside then there is nothing to feel guilty about, i.e. the culture of sin as guilt would have been a mystery for the pure Gnostic for whom the end was enlightenment. Yet Clement does interestingly claim that the foundation of all mental life is assent to truth which can only take place via an act of the will. This clearly synthesizes knowing and acting in the mind in a way that had not occurred since the Philosophy of Aristotle where approximately the same account was presented in the framework of a biological account of the mind that we will not encounter again until the work of Freud and O Shaughnessy in the modern period.

O´Shaughnessy’s “The Will: a dual aspect theory” is a fundamentally naturalist account of the biological life of the mind that sees one half of the mind(the willing half) to be composed of desire, intention, and act and the other half(the knowing half) to be composed of sensation, perception, and knowing where knowing involves not just assent to the truth but also the capacity to justify the power or capacity of knowing that is exercised. The two halves are integrated with each other and consciousness is involved with both halves. Cognition aims necessarily at an external manifestation of its knowing in a demonstration of its knowledge and action is conducted with the intention or preparedness to learn from the consequences that flow from the action. It is quite fascinating to see that the Philosophical Psychology of Clement was very similar to this(without the scientific component of “naturalism”) and it is equally fascinating to see the resemblance of Clement’s ideas to those of Immanuel Kant, in particular to Kant’s account of the will which also ended in an appeal to faith as the final tribunal of justification for acts of will in domains of action where the consequences are uncertain. Clement’s appeal to freedom also preempts the Kantian concept which founds an ethical system that appeals to the good will and good intention as defining for the essence of ethical action. Kant, as we know was religious but he demanded that his ethical system be autonomous and he placed his faith more in the concept of freedom than in the concept of God, which he also appreciated had a place in the life of mankind.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Philo, Early Christian Fathers(Paul and John), and Gnosticism.

Hits: 108

PHILO

It has often been observed that the Hebrew and Greek traditions occupy different difficult to reconcile dimensions of our cultural heritage. It has been claimed that the roads leading from Jerusalem and the road leading from Athens into our modern cultures are different parallel roads without intersection points. Alexandrian Jews, however, seriously question this early hypothesis partly perhaps because they were Greek speakers and sought in the writings of ancient Greek Philosophers confirmation of the articles of their faith. Professor Brett has this to say:

“The Egyptian Jews appear to have formed a mixed society mainly Hellenic in manners and language, but still thoroughly Jewish in temper. For this community the Greek version of the Septuagint was made somewhere about the year 250 BC. Into the disputes on the nature and authority of this translation, the version of the Septuagint, there is no need to enter: it is sufficient to remark that it was a version not wholly free from innovations. Even if there were no self-willed theorists among the translators and no direct intention to give the Scriptures a Stoic or Platonic colouring, there must have still been many an instance when the change from Hebrew to Greek words involved a change of atmosphere that amounted to a change of doctrine.”

This piece was written of course long before it became clear to scholars that there were translation difficulties with even the translation of Greek philosophical terms into Latin because the Latin terms carried cultural commitments to the Greek terms that were not shared by the Greeks.

The Book of Wisdom ascribed to Solomon, to take one example of the difficulties of translation, involved preachings by Ecclesiastes that appeared to traditional Jewish scholars to contain a number of mistranslations. Philo’s position in this debate was that there were aspects of Judaism that needed correction by Greek Philosophy and there were also aspects of Greek Philosophy that needed reinterpretation in terms of Judaic wisdom in relation to the doctrine of the eternal life of the soul. Such eclectism would have seemed to Aristotle to be a form of madness but as we know Aristotle’s philosophy at this time was conspicuous by its absence. Philo’s preference for a Platonic form of dualism ranging over the mind-body problem and the reality-appearance problem essentially ignored Aristotelian solutions to these problems. in Philo, as in Plato, we also encounter a penchant for allegorical illustrations in his interpretations of the Scriptures.

The Creation Myth of the Old Testament(OT) involving the image of God breathing into the body of man is a central image for Philo from which follows in almost Pythagorean spirit a hierarchy of beings living in a world in which the very air is inhabited by spirits that are divine and can in their turn “fall” from divine grave and inhabit human bodies until the moment of their salvation is nigh and they can be restored to the kingdom in the heavens. Prior to divine inspiration and the entering of these spirits into their bodies, humans lead an animal-like existence steered solely by their appetites and their senses.

Brett claims that the Stoics have influenced Philo but the influence is probably more complex than Brett envisages in the following quote:

“From this point, Philo develops the Stoic aspect of his doctrine. All things that exist have power of some kind: at its lowers level there is the power of self-conservation called Habit, which is found in motionless objects such as stones. The next degree is the power of growth, which is a higher form of self-conservation, found in plants, for example. The third level is that of soul-life where we find perception, representation of ideas and impulse. The common element in this scale is spirit, in the sense of air… Man, as last created, sums up all these forms–he has the various forms in his bones(analogous to the rocks of the earth) his hair and nails (analogous to the plants) and in the sensitive soul. Man is this a microcosm: he has a material organism illuminated by the mind just as the macrocosm is a vast organism illuminated by the sun. The study of man and the study of the universe can be conducted on parallel lines, and to some extent, the knowledge of man is a knowledge of God”

Brett had earlier pointed out that the Stoics had simplified Aristotle’s 4 cause schema of explanation into two and reduced the idea of the actualisation process( a process of development) to a kind of monism(reminiscent of Spinoza’s Substantialism). We can also see in the above quote an echo of Spinoza’s conatus, a power that things possess to preserve themselves in their existence. The thoughts of the Stoics, characterizing the Platonic dualism of thought and extension as aspects of an infinite substance from which everything originates is a position that is only distantly related to the thought of Aristotle. The Stoic system of classification is not that of Cartesian thought and extension but rather a dualistic system of action and passion which in its turn indicates an ontological commitment that everything that is real is so in virtue of either being capable of action or capable of being acted upon. We can already see that, in this transformation of the thought of Aristotle, the idea of form or principle has disappeared as has the idea of chance. The Stoic substance, even if it includes the will as part of a deterministic substance leaves no space for free choice in human voluntary action. Mental activity, as we know from the Stoics is also reduced to knowing and feeling and the Aristotelian notion of deliberation connected to phronesis(the power of reasoning practically) is also conspicuous by its absence. In the Stoic investigation of the powers of the mind, we encounter a confusion of the power of the imagination with passive sensation. We also find “principles” or regularities such as the association of ideas masquerading as principles of reason. The positive result of this opening up of gaps between perception, imagination, and reason, is that we encounter in this account the first indications of a concept of self-consciousness. This concept was a bridge between experience and reason. There is an argument for regarding this moment as one of the moments of a beginning of our modern “cognitive psychology” that was later to become obsessed with the so-called “subjective” perspective of the individual. This notion of the self-sufficiency of the individual and his experience was, of course, a result of the notion of self-sufficiency Aristotle discussed in relation to phronesis or practical reasoning.

We argued in the previous chapter that Stoicism was not a self-centred ethical philosophy given its commitment to the role of conscience and duty tied to its telos of a cosmopolitan man but it is clear from the above discussion that the Stoics were in the throes of building an alternative skeletal frame of philosophical psychology that would later in its turn be transformed and used with a vengeance in the creation of Modern scientific Psychology. Philo’s work was supposedly influenced not just by Stoic materialism(substantialism) but also by Platonic Psychology of the Spirit. Plato’s influence is also encountered in Philo’s hope for an enlightened(sun-like) spiritual inspiration as sometimes occurred in dreams which may symbolically represent in their images the invisible powers that hold our world and our universe together. In Philo, we see an advanced spiritualization of our rational powers as a stage in the abandonment of rationalism but there was in this process, however, an anchor in the Ethical law of Moses that probably prevented an Epicurean drifting into the straits of relativism. We find, however, no attempt to seek to articulate in any detail the role of the will or self-consciousness in the process of replacing man’s rational power.

The question that arises as a consequence of this developmental process of the substitution of reason for spirit is, what the early Christian Fathers will do with this cultural inheritance.

THE EARLY CHRISTIAN FATHERS

ST Paul and St John

One could detect in the writings of Philo echoes of Aristotle even if the ideas were significantly distorted because of Stoic materialistic and deterministic assumptions and also because his doctrines were given a baptism in a cauldron of what Brett called “Lofty passions” striving to understand a God that was perfectly rational. In Philo Philosophical Psychology was illustrated with a Platonic form of allegorical thinking in “symbolic pictures”. For Philo, the road to salvation is not the road taken by travelers arguing over the truth of statements but rather the road taken by travelers seeking divine signs of the invisible in the visible experience of the surrounding landscape. St Paul, we know traveled the road to Damascus and had such an experience of the invisible that spiritually transformed him. Writing after such a spiritual transformation Pauls writings have very little, if any, Aristotelian content. Paul clearly distinguishes between the mind controlled by reason which for him fails to survive the death of the body and the soul as immortal spirit related to God not via knowledge but via a “moral vision” that presumably can only be explicated by “symbolic pictures”. A moral telos was, of course, the theme of Plato’s Republic but the constituting mechanism was not a moral vision given in symbolic pictures but rather an idea of the Good arrived at and defended via various methods of reasoning. The constituting mechanism of spiritual conversion or salvation via symbolic pictures appears to lack the power or capacity to universalise the object of the pictures and this ensures that the writings of Paul at best are dedicated to achieving individual salvation, ie. they contain recipes for individual action and judgment tied to individual revelation or vision in a spiritual mode. This mechanism would have been obscure for those living at the time of Aristotle who was beginning to become suspicious of those that experienced visions. For the Plato of the Republic his three famous allegories of the sun, the divided line, and the cave symbolized two realities: the physical sun and the mental idea of the good. These allegories differed significantly from the allegories we find in myths and the Bible in that they are embedded not in narratives concerning the origin and destiny of the universe and man but rather threads of argument woven together for the purposes of revealing to us humans the meaning of Being. This latter use of language is an advanced form of use compared with that which the passionate religious soul uses in his efforts to understand himself and his world.

Paul Ricoeur has analyzed, for example, the confessions the religious soul makes of his own defilement, sin, and guilt and the analysis reveals that this use of language concerns what man considers sacred: symbolic confessions of evil denotes, according to Ricoeur the experienced disruption, fault, or breach in mans relation to what he regards as sacred. Ricoeur, in the context of a discussion of the symbolism also refers to Hegel’s teleologically oriented philosophy of religion, and claims that symbols reach out to the future destiny of man that will be revealed by a world spiritual meaning.  Ricoeur also discusses how symbols reveal an archeological dimension that takes us back to the origin of mankind and the origin of meaning. Was the origin connected to acts of creation of the universe and man by a supernatural being? Was there a first man, like Adam who after receiving the breath of the creator failed to follow his law thus accounting for all future evil in the world? This is one message of the OT which with this myth of what happened to the first man lays the groundwork for an individualistic interpretation of the spiritual life of man. This, of course, is a very different spiritual outlook to that of the Greeks for whom mankind began not with an individual but with a race of men, that, in order to live successfully together required laws of their own making emanating from the rational part of their mind( the only effective means of controlling the spiritual and appetitive aspects of mans mind). The New Testament(NT) Gospels testify to a continued individualization of man and the continued absence of reason in their accounts of the psychology of man. The NT, however, appeals to something new and unique in its words:

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”(John 1:1)

Language, the medium of communicative action, is brought into the discussion but the above words whilst being assertive and expressive of a kind of truth that is spiritual, are not argumentative. John continues at 8:32:

“And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Jesus avoids any confusion by clarifying that what is being referred to here is not truth in any sense suggestive of academic truths about the external world but rather truth in relation to the individual salvation of all of his listeners. His was a message urging his audience to heed and obey the word of God if they desired to be free of the bondage of their own personal sins. It should be pointed out, however, that whether or not there is an academic argument for the idea of the Good in relation to the idea of Freedom, the rational investigation of these terms is not on the agenda of either the OT or the NT. This is somewhat surprising given the fact that one of the grounds for a discussion of the relation of these two terms is a Philosophical Psychology that has identified the individual will as an important element of action. The explanation for this state of affairs, however, lies with two factors: the abandonment of rationality and the Stoic connection of the will to the will to survive.

The way in which language is used in the NT in combination with the above two factors overshadows the accumulated wisdom of Philosophical Psychology. The telos of reason or rationality of the individual is, as was the case in the OT, replaced with the theological goal of the salvation of the individual through individual works( in the spirit of faith in God and the words of his prophets). With the absence of reason and the consequent devaluation of the importance of knowledge in the sense of epistemé, a vacuum of justification emerges that is filled with powers of mind such as the Imagination and its connection to the Emotions. Juxtapose the Imagination with Language and we are confronted with the “symbolic pictures” referred to by Brett. These pictures may, of course, be factually true(true descriptions of the life of Jesus, for example) but the symbolic structure of these “pictures” place these descriptions in a realm of meaning where the descriptions also refer to the intended relation of man to the sacred. As we know, however, even the mere factual descriptions of the life of Jesus have been a matter of controversy ever since the discovery of alternative Gnostic Gospels. This is an issue of knowledge or epistemé or truth about the external world and probably unrelated to the kind of inner truth or insight that Jesus was referring to in John 8:32. The Gnostics as we know promote truth perhaps in a wider sense but definitively in relation to an inherited and transformed philosophical psychology. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, for example, claims that Jesus also said the following:

“Jesus said, “if you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you”

The idea of something within having such destructive power reminds the modern reader of Freud’s death instinct, Thanatos, that is biological in origin but also responsible for war and all forms of human aggression. This in turn is reminiscent of the position that Freud adopts in his “Civilization and its Discontents” where all of Culture is a battlefield in which the giants of Eros and Thanatos struggle for supremacy. A more potent image of ” world spirit”, conjured up more or less on the eve of the second world war is difficult to find.

One of the Gnostic texts discovered near Nag Hammadi: the “Testimony of Truth” gives a controversial interpretation of the Myth of the Garden of Eden( an interpretation incidentally that Aristotle certainly would have approved of.) The interpretation views the whole series of events through the eyes of the value of knowledge and the speaking serpent in the Garden. The Serpent does not use symbolic pictures but probably something resembling an argument to suggest that knowledge is necessary for the future development of Adam and Eve. God is accused of being malicious and holding grudges. Unsurprisingly, this text and many others were regarded as the blasphemy of heretics by many members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The Serpent convinces Eve who convinces Adam. The kind of knowledge at issue here is not clear but it is probably not epistemé. It is probably more akin to the kind of knowledge the Delphic oracle challenged man to acquire, namely self-knowledge which according to Gnosticism is the path to divine knowledge or knowledge of God.

Pagels in her work “The Gnostic Gospels” quotes the Gnostic Teacher Monoimus:

“Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as a starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says “My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body. Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate…If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.” (p18)

This is clearly a matter of intuitive knowledge or what some have called insight acquired via experience subjected to a kind of self-observation or process of introspection. Beyond these recommendations the kind of investigation required for this voyage of self-discovery is obscure and the problem, from the Christian point of view, with these so-called secret Gospels, is that they transpose the theme of salvation through repentance of sins into a philosophical/psychological theme of enlightenment from illusion. Pagels suggests that this recommendation sounds more Eastern than Western but there is an argument to be made that we are on Platonic terrain. Pagels does, however, in the context of this debate raise an interesting hypothesis relating to the possible influence of the Brahmins who conceive of God as Logos or the light of discourse. The Gospel of John could well refer to this Eastern position or alternatively, it could refer to an awareness of the role of the language of sacred texts in the conversion or salvation process of individuals. One might wonder If it is the case that the Platonic ascent from the darkness of illusory images deep inside the cave to the enlightenment provided by the knowledge of the forms or principles of all existence might also be a constituent feature of understanding that language can be used to instrumentally communicate wisdom and knowledge. If this is the case then one might also wonder why the Aristotelian arguments against the Platonic theory of forms in the context of dualistic philosophical psychology and metaphysics were not considered as an extension of the Platonic rationalist position. One answer to this question is that the weakness of the theory of forms and various dualistic assumptions sufficed for many thinkers to abandon rationality as a power of mind and justificatory principle in favour of what Brett called the “lofty passions” or what we refer to as “spirit”(which of course is also a Platonic aspect of the soul). What is at issue in this abandonment of Rationality is not merely an academic affair relating to Academic areas of knowledge such as Mathematics, it is rather the issue of a form of life, the so-called examined life, which Plato argued in the Republic was a superior form of life to either the wealthy or political/spiritual life that both ultimately depended upon circumstances outside of themselves for their happiness. The Philosophers of the Republic, armed with the idea of the Good would have no attachment to the desires of the bodily appetites of the wealthy man or the desires of the spirited warlike man who fails to acknowledge his mortality and its meaning. The desire for understanding of the meaninglessness of external goals in the face of death was an essential part of the examined life that Socrates illustrated in his relation to his own execution by the Athenians. In his cell before his death we encounter no “lofty passions or emotions manifested by his accusers at his trial: only a steadfast stoical acceptance of the inevitable, an attitude that could only exist in someone who had responded with the entire spectrum of his intellectual and spiritual powers to the challenge of Delphic oracle to “know thyself”.

Socrates’ declared agnosticism over the issue of whether after his death he would continue to exist in any form may have been repeated again in the Gnostic doubt about the resurrection of the carnal body. The issue of death obviously brings man to the brink or limit of one’s self-knowledge. The fate of the physical body must have been clear for all but the ceasing to exist of one’s consciousness, the medium in which we conduct our investigations into all phenomena including death must have presented itself as the mystery of mysteries almost on a par with the mystery of the nature of God’s existence. Much more could be said about the role of Gnosticism in the History of Psychology but let us for the moment rest our case with an acknowledgment that until its historical origins are clarified we can only guess at the ultimate significance of this issue in this debate. Pagels suggests that Gnosticism may have been politically outmanoeuvred by the orthodox Christians. If this is the case then the connection of Gnosticism with the Hellenic influences becomes a victim of the realm of political Spirit in the political realm which is a far cry from the spirit of Eros in the NT that associated itself with the emotion of Love.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: The Stoics and Epicureans(Critique and Commentary of Brett’s “History of Psychology”)

Hits: 199

The abandonment of Aristotelian Rationalism occurred over a long period with many modifications along the way. The general political climate of this change was one of militaristic expansion on a scale never seen before in Europe beginning with Alexander the Great’s Empire building conquests followed by a second wave of Roman Conquests. It almost seemed as if the Platonic concept of spirit and Eros emerged during this period as more relevant to the needs of the times, transcending even the Hebraic concept of Laws and commandments laid down(in an instrumental “Spirit”) in literary texts in the name of justice. These texts were, of course, not like the texts of the works of Plato and Aristotle, to be perused because they manifested knowledge and wisdom as values in themselves, but were rather rhetorical devices designed to recruit and convert the minds of readers to the cause of personal salvation. The Gospels of the New Testament were similarly rhetorical yet somewhat less judicial and dogmatic: more concerned with the “spirit” of love and the universal ideal of the brotherhood of man living in a kingdom of God’s making. The New Testament was definitively a move away from the academic knowledge and wisdom of Plato and Aristotle. The Gospels narrate the life story of a simple “wise” man who himself uses stories and parables to lead lost souls to the path of salvation. In these texts we can find tales of the miraculous: virgin births, bringing the dead back to life, wandering stars etc punctuating a chain of events leading to a dramatic tragic end for this simple wise man who comes to be dubbed “the son of God”. In these texts, we find little concern for the essential natures of things or the rational justification of one’s belief and actions. Indeed what we instead find is the continuation of an abandonment of the achievements of Aristotelian Rationalism that began with the death of Aristotle. The understanding aimed at in Biblical texts was in no sense theoretical or even practical in the Platonic or Aristotelian senses. Literature in its rhetorical form had swamped both the academic fields of science and Philosophy. It cannot be denied that this literature contained words of intent but it was still the case that the primary intention of the text was instrumental or what Kant would term “technological”: a means to achieve a “spiritual” end largely disconnected to the categorical ends of Philosophy. A spiritual form of “other-worldly” justice transcended the rational principle constituted justice argued for by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The brotherhood of man- kingdom could not be achieved via military or economic means or even via academic ideas but rather via literary and rhetorical texts containing the “good news” of the Gospels. This phenomenon, it was assumed would be constituted in the private reading space of the individual with the aid of ceremonial and clerical “services” conducted in the “spirit” of the symbolic. We in our modern world can certainly recognize how real “news” has supplanted knowledge in the sphere of our everyday lives and how it has transformed consciousness from an externally oriented power into an internal self-obsessed attitude.

This movement toward the instrumental, rhetorical and technological use of language and thought had actually begun earlier in the Pre-Christian era. It is in this period that we see the two schools of Stoicism and Epicureanism emerging from the golden age of Socratic, Platonic, and Aristotelian Philosophy and Science. Professor Brett has this to say about the period in question:

“The death of Aristotle marked the end of an era. The Speculative restlessness of the Greeks declined like their city-states. Their theories were welded into successive philosophies of life, just as their states were welded into successive empires. Speculation for its own sake gave way to symbolic pictures which served to reinforce ways of living. Policies for living rather than theories about living commanded the interests of philosophers. The Stoics and Epicureans were preoccupied with the attainment of individual self-sufficiency as a substitute for the much-lauded self-sufficiency of the old city-states. Life had become something to be endured rather than enjoyed: the problem was how to endure it best. How could the individual fortify himself against oppression, revolution and social change? The Stoics advocated integrity of character, devotion to duty, humanity towards fellow sufferers, and the rigorous discipline of the will: the Epicureans sought an escape from the hazards of life in cutting down the possible sources of misery….they put forward different forms of individualism one of which reached its culmination in Kant, the other in the English Utilitarians.”

These are interesting observations indeed even when viewed from our modern perspective. Symbolic pictures, and products of the imagination replaced rational argument and the discipline of critical theorizing, Brett argues with considerable insight. No real philosophical analysis of the role and significance of pictures in our lives was undertaken until Wittgenstein introduced the criticisms of his own picture theory of meaning from his 1922 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. in this criticism, he maintained that pictures do not have an obvious determined meaning but rather can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Pictures are essentially ambiguous. Elisabeth Anscombe in her commentary on Wittgenstein’s theory of meaning uses the example of a picture of two stick men in fencing position with stick swords. She points out how the picture can be used to illustrate either how to stand or how not to stand. A picture of a man with a walking stick on a hill can either depict a man walking up the hill or sliding down the hill.

The above quote by Brett suggests insightfully how the concentration on, or obsession with individual self-sufficiency may have come about as a result of the loss of feelings of security connected with the Greek city-state. What we have seen subsequent to this loss may also be related to a positive phenomenon of the search for the next stage of communal life which may have to occur in a nation-state if mans potential is to be fully actualized. The actual forms the nation-state were to take after 1648 certainly paid scant attention to the theories and practical suggestions of Aristotle and even less and briefer attention to the political and ethical writings of Kant: these forms as we know resulted in two world wars and a number of uses of weapons of mass destruction in the twentieth century(signifying, according to the writings of Hannah Arendt, either a, or, the failure of the nation-state system). Life under other forms of government larger than the city-state had certainly proved to be problematic as predicted by the Greek city-state philosophers.

The suggestion by Brett that the Epicurean and Stoic responses to the loss of the city- state were similar, is, however, deeply problematic and overlooks a number of differences. The Stoic position, like the position of Kant, culminated in a far-sighted vision of the development of communities or societies, a position that posited the actualization of an ideal of a cosmopolitan man that transcended the relativistic consequences of individualism. This ideal for Kant lay one hundred thousand years in the future during a time when reason would be embraced by all the men of the species, thus acknowledging the limitations of all forms of community and life up until that time. Both Kant and the Stoics fixed upon the only realistic attitude to cope with such a state of affairs, namely the devotion to duty that Brett mentioned above. In neither of these positions is there any logical room for the relativism of an individual -based ethics as there is in Epicureanism which had its roots in both materialism and sophism. Here the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain was the perfect theory for an animal satisfied with the status quo of his communities and forms of life. Epicureanism was a philosophy that cannot see or explain the large-scale changes that were on the horizon of the times. The suggestion in Brett is that this position led to that of English and American Utilitarianism and the continued and sustained antagonism between these positions and the deontological position of Kant ought to have caused Brett to pause before issuing the judgment that the Epicurean and Stoic positions are similarly individualistic. Epicureanism and Utilitarianism are undoubtedly rugged individualistic philosophies and they would seem to allow, for example, a drug addict to continue his addiction to his inevitable death without any ethical intervention. For both the Stoics and Kant, allowing this suffering to go on without any ethical attempt to place the individual in the restricted environment of a drug rehabilitation program, would have been a dereliction of duty, a violation of the categorical imperatives insistence that suicide by someone incapable of using their rational powers is a form of practical contradiction of the meaning of life. There is no freedom principle operating in Stoic ethics because it too shared a form of commitment to determinism and a form of materialism(different to the Epicureans) but for Kant the freedom of the individual does not stretch to allowing that individual to remove a fundamental condition of his freedom, namely his life, without a good reason(the kind of reason only a wise man could give): especially not in the circumstances envisaged where the continued use of drugs have impaired the agents ability to use his powers of reason. Of course, the problem of people killing themselves with technologically produced drugs was not a problem during Stoic or Enlightenment times, at least not on the scale we experience today in our so-called modern societies. The Opium wars against China in the 1800s was a testament to the Epicurean and Utilitarian commercial spirit of Post Kantian times that dominated English politics and ethics and these wars and this spirit would have been odious to both Stoical and Kantian moral positions. This is not to deny the political problem of what a government ought to do in the face of such individuals who are jettisoning their rationality on the road to suicide. The question “Does a government have any responsibility or duty in relation to this scenario” is not easily answerable. Utilitarian or early non-Kantian liberalism would formulate the question thus: “is it the duty of the government to interfere coercively in the freely chosen life of the individual?” The reason the question is not easily answerable has nothing to do with the freedom of the individual but rather with the political fact that in Kantian political philosophy the individual is in a sense the government in our representative democratic systems and acting against himself might seem paradoxical. But, in fact, it is not in the least paradoxical, given the Greek model of the rational part of the soul governing the irrational part. Modern Liberal government tends to function on the principle that the law is used to regulate human activity only in circumstances where social or moral regulation ought to occur in the relevant social or moral community but for some reason does not. If, for example, there is literally no family or village community the addict is in some sense a part of, then one can on these principles wonder whether the responsibility or duty to act falls on the government. The status quo of our modern world allows the drug addict to kill himself if that is what he is determined to do. In Kantian ethics the position would appear to be clear: the responsibility is on anyone who finds themselves in contact with the drug addict to persuade them and/or help them to register in a drug rehabilitation programme. Is this then a contradiction between one system(the political) allowing the individual to kill himself, and another system(the ethical) trying to prevent him from so doing? It is probably more a sign of the respect the political system has for the ethical and moral systems of the community of human beings.

It is not clear how the addict would be regarded by the Church. It is clear on a strictly creationist theological position that the addict is being careless with the life and live body produced by Gods breath, if the Old Testament creation story of man is to be believed but if the addict denies that he is committing suicide this suggests that he is not quite conscious of what it is he is doing. The case in some respects seems to be different from that of someone putting a gun to their head or wading into an ocean to drown themselves. Whatever the grounds, the religious sanction is clear: the drug addicts life has been given to him and his therefore not his to dispose of if and when he pleases. There is in this system no space for the wise man weighing up all the arguments(which may include dying for one’s family or city or country or to avoid some greater shame) to decide that there is no further point to his life continuing. The Epicureans, on the other hand, would on the basis of their pleasure-pain principle (the two sovereign masters of man) have no problems agreeing to the act of self-centred suicide if the balance of pains outweighed the pleasures of the individual. This kind of self-centred hedonic calculus would not be sanctioned by either a Stoic or a Kantian account that indeed resembled the Stoic position which in its turn in certain respects resembled Aristotelian virtue theory. This is, of course, another reason to refuse to acknowledge any significant relation of similarity between the Stoic and Epicurean positions. Connected to the position of acknowledging the differences between the two positions is to see Epicureanism as the inheritor of the relativism of the Sophists at the same time as seeing Epicureanism as the father of the individualism of the modern age and modern life. A modern life is obviously, worth less when measured by a modern hedonic scale that somehow can justify the taking of an invaluable human life if painful consequences can somehow be seen to outweigh the sheer pleasure and wonder of living: as if these two different dimensions of our life can be measured on the same scale. On this unilinear scale life is not a gift from God or anyone else but rather a utility to be measured scientifically or symbolically pictured in our literary texts. On this account, my life is a possession to do with whatever I wish, dispose of, if and when I please. The modern art form -film- is filled with symbolic pictures of heroes without a cause sacrificing their lives in a scientific and literary vacuum similar to the vacuum created by the absence of reason that reigns in the world of the addict.

Brett then falsely equates individualism with humanism in another quote in which he seeks to exaggerate the similarities and discard the differences between the Epicurean and Stoic positions:

“Stoics and Epicureans alike are absorbed in the problem of the life of feeling: they acknowledge openly that mans whole being is concentrated in his passions and their thoughts centre upon the fact, whether they preach restraint or justifying indulgence. This is the new focus, the humanism of the new era.”

This is, to say the least, a contentious characterization of the Stoic school of Philosophy which is celebrated for its commitment to logic, knowledge, and cognition as distinct from “feeling and passion”. The reason why the Stoic preaches restraint, namely to be worthy of a flourishing life, might indeed be not worth the effort on the Epicurean (or Utilitarian) hedonic or “feeling” calculus since the pain might very well “outweigh” the pleasure. Yet surely one might wish to argue feeling must have some relation to our judgments! According to Kant’s Third Critique, “The Critique of Judgment” one can indeed speak cognitively about a feeling if that means “speaking with a universal voice” in the hope for assent in relation to others possessing the same feeling. This state of affairs appears to arise when the “cognitive” faculty of the understanding and the pre-cognitive imagination find themselves in some kind of harmonious relation to each other. No conceptualization is involved in this state of affairs but Kant insists that insofar as aesthetic judgment is concerned there should be a suitability-for-conceptualization of the form of the material involved in the judgment. There must, of course, also be involvement of what Kant calls the form of finality of our cognitive faculties: a form of finality that does not universalize the object of the judgment but rather universalizes the subject of the experience. My judgment is, for example, that everyone experiencing the harmony of the faculties of understanding and imagination caused by a landscape or work of art ought to find the experience beautiful and pleasing. There is, of course, no suggestion of any connection of this experience with pain in the context of a hedonic calculation.

It should also be pointed out in this context that the Stoical topoi of Physics and Ethics do not rest the case of their regulating principles on the feeling of pleasure or happiness. In both cases there is, on the contrary, an external question as to whether the truth-oriented beliefs involved are worthy of assent or dissent, whether that is, the concepts involved are truth and knowledge constituting or alternatively the conceptualization of actions in relation to the virtues of the flourishing life. It is clear in both these cases that we are dealing with conceptual justification connected to the assertibility of positions and the universalization of these positions. The Stoics in this context definitely manifested an epistemological commitment to justification by argument in terms of external criteria or standards which in turn entails that if one is possessed by passions this is caused by mistaken judgments concerning what is good and evil. This is clearly a break with the Aristotelian position which is more developmentally oriented towards a more inductive process of steering a middle course between two extremes of excess and deficiency: a process more in accordance with a dialectical form of logic in contrast to that pure deductive form of logic prized by the Stoic logicians. The Stoic position is however reminiscent of the Aristotelian biologically based definition of the human being in that it emphasises our animal nature, perhaps even more than Aristotle did. The Stoic position does not begin with biology however. It begins with the physics of the Cosmos and life emerges from this physical framework in accordance with certain deterministic principles. Human life reveals itself on this account not to be pleasure seeking or pain avoiding creatures but rather beings concerned with the constitution and preservation of our own nature. Our survival in an indifferent world pursuing its own telos will be related to whether or not we deserve to survive. This position clearly diminishes the role of feeling favoured by the Epicureans, in favour of a will to survive that includes a will to preserve one’s own offspring, a more complex task then is the case with other species of animal because of the fact of premature human birth and a long human childhood. This de-centring from ourselves for long periods of time is the beginning of the constitution of an ethical position which the Stoics characterize in terms of a series of concentric circles extending from the circle of our family, including our children to other people in close proximity or more distant proximity to ourselves and perhaps outward to everyone who shares this Cosmos with us. The circles are subject to two forces. Firstly, The indifference and perhaps consequent hostility of the forms of the Cosmos moving outside and affecting the development of the individual and, secondly, the forces moving outward from the individual to one of the outer rings of the system of circles manifested in the wise virtuous cosmopolitan man leading a flourishing life. Here we see an interesting interplay of what the Stoics regarded as the topoi of Physics and ethics. We can also detect the Stoic influence in Kant’s philosophy in the inscription we can find on his grave in Königsberg:

“Two things fill the mind with new and ever-increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me”(Critique of Practical Reason)

The Physics of this situation could perhaps be manifest in the near sun worship we encounter in the allegory of the cave from Plato’s Republic that acknowledges not merely the role of the sun’s light in the development of our eyes and perception but also its role in in the creation of optimal temperatures for the creation and sustainability of life on the little orb that orbits the sun in the greater Cosmos. Placing the will at the centre of this system was a master stroke in the development of Aristotelian philosophy and allowed Kant to formulate the good will as the fundamental and absolute good in his ethical system.

The Epicurean system with its commitment to a materialistic view of the Cosmos would have been rejected by both Platonists and Aristotelians although it has been argued that given the fact that the Stoics saw God as the determining centre of the fate of men, a thought that would be especially alien to the philosophy of Aristotle that respected both randomness(chance) and determinism operating in the events of a changing Cosmos. After the advent of Kant’s philosophy, we can now clearly see how determinism prevented the Stoics from explaining the relation of an individual will to the idea of freedom: a will that strives towards not just life and survival but towards a quality of life manifested in the flourishing life. Both Kantian and Aristotelian ethics would maintain that reason is the only road leading to this destination of the flourishing life. The Epicurean and Utilitarian principles of happiness and pleasure are regarded from the Kantian perspective as principles of self-love in disguise, principles attesting to the fact that the will of individuals acting in accordance with such principles remains within the inner concentric circle of self-interest. The combination of determinism and a form of materialism is however also present in the theories of the Stoics and this is elaborated upon in Kenny’s “New History of Western Philosophy”:

“God, according to the Stoics, is material, himself a constituent of the Cosmos fuelling it and ordering it from within as a “designing fire”(p307)

this is, indeed, a far cry from the Aristotelian conception of God as thinking about thinking or as primary form as opposed to primary matter. Paradoxically this materialistic truth-oriented deterministic conception of God, the divine, leads eventually to the Roman practice of divination which we suspect to be a very different practice to that of the universalization wise thoughts from their oracles. The Romans of course, thought self-centredly that all roads lead to that concentric circle formed by the polis of Rome and they sought in a very modern manner to exercise power over as much of the world as they could conquer, thereby ensuring, they hoped, their survival. This exercise of Empire building did not as we now know, succeed in achieving its materialistic ambitions through the exercise of its military might. The reason for this failure is due to the fact that power and war are fundamentally self-centred forms of activity, thereby violating the first principle of ethical philosophy that demands universal intent in all forms of ethical action.

There is, in Stoicism, very little reference to Aristotelian Metaphysics and more of a concern to transform Aristotelian epistemology to meet the attacks of the growing horde of skeptics and Cynics. In such contexts there is no reference to Aristotelian “First Principles” , “Form” or hylomorphic theory. The consequence for Stoicism is a very historical shipwreck on the rocks of materialism and determinism. The ship of Stoicism was, however, to be restored to seaworthiness by the ethical Philosophy of Kant that rejected both the relevance of materialism and determinism.

The absence of Justification in Modern Ethics: Aristotle, the Stoics, Christianity and Kant.

Hits: 204

Jonathan Lear in his excellent work “Aristotle: the desire to understand” points out that we moderns living in our modern world do not have resort to the kind of Universal justifications that we used 300 years ago under the auspices of Religion. According to Lear neither do we approach ethical issues as the Greeks did in the Ancient World by recourse to actively (through complex deliberation procedures), seeking the reasons for our actions and activities. Lear also claims that there are fundamental disparities between the Aristotelian and Kantian ethical positions. He claims that both philosophers would have found each other’s positions fundamentally flawed.

In relation to Lear’s first point, there is agreement that we moderns are generally not attuned to any particular kind of justification. Indeed the position we find ourselves in may be more serious. Under the auspices of a science that is theoretically obsessed by observation and experiment, we are inclined to believe that there is no universal justification for ethical behaviour: there is only a kind of subjective commitment which commands only accidental agreement. This position would, of course, for the Greeks, be anathema. Witness the bitter exchanges between the ethical relativists of the time and Socrates. Ruling groups ruling in their own interests was decisively dismissed as a form of justification by Socrates in book one of the Republic. Plato combats relativism with his theory of the forms in general and the form or idea of the Good in particular. Aristotle is clear that there can only be one universal end or “justification” to strive towards in one’s active life and that is a flourishing life: a life that all who are exercising their rationality must share. The route to this life for Aristotle was via the intellectual and moral virtues which amounted to the rational agent both deliberating correctly and then doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. It is not clear that Kant would have disagreed with any of these Aristotelian points. Lear translates “eudaimonia” as happiness but it is not obvious that this is always the best translation of Aristotle’s intent: a better translation might be “the flourishing life”, in which case Kant would probably agree that this is an important end if and only if the moral agent is worthy of the flourishing life: had, that is, lived his life virtuously. Kant’s ethics, like Aristotle’s, is also intimately bound to a (political) life of freedom in a cosmopolitan world without wars: a fact that Lear does not recognize. In other words, there is much that these two philosophers, parted by a period of 2000 years, would agree upon and that is due to the fact that Kant built much of his critical theory from the same anti-materialistic and anti-dogmatic rationalist commitments we find at the foundations of Aristotle’s metaphysics. There are differences of course and these may be due to the fate of Aristotelian thinking at the hands of Christianity. Lear claims that Christianity brought with it the focus upon intention at the expense of action. One could, that is, have a good heart but not be in any position to exercise one’s goodness because of the circumstances one was born into or finds oneself in. This is a correct observation but is not a fundamental characteristic of ethical action. In Aristotelian terms, the Christian is engaging in a deliberation process with all the complexity presented in Aristotle’s theory without finding the circumstances in which to perform his virtuous deeds. He may not be doing so autonomously and both Aristotle and Kant would object to this feature of the deliberation process and condemn it for being in some sense involuntary deliberation. Kant saw the need to claim ethical deliberation be free from dogma and authoritarian indoctrination but was able to retain his faith in a religious/philosophical God that functioned in a manner very similar to Plato’s idea of the Good from the Republic and also very similar to the Aristotelian God continually contemplating the essences or forms of the world. When we contemplate in a state of faith we are also capable of contemplating essences. This is particularly the case in our contemplation of ethical “forms” where the idea of God is evoked to ensure that we feel happy about being worthy of happiness as a consequence of our virtuous intentions and actions. The idea of Freedom, for Kant, however, in many ways replaced the religious idea of God and this signaled the Enlightenment’s conviction of the importance of political society in the developing of our rational potential(an idea he shared with Plato and Aristotle). Kant’s vision of a Cosmopolitan world suggests that he was not impressed with the idea of the nation-state set forth in 1648 (The Treaty of Westphalia) and this is a major difference between Kantian and Aristotelian ethical/political theorizing. In his eyes, the nation-state may have been a necessary stage on the road of our ethical and political evolution but it was not by any means the terminus of the process. Individuals need to find themselves in political environments where they are free to organize their souls in a manner appropriate to an imagined state of affairs in which each subject/citizen exercises their judgment in approving the laws of their community as mirroring the rationality of their own thoughts about the law. This for Kant was a state of affairs one hundred thousand years in the future which would replace the authority of the commandment system of religious systems: a state of affairs in which the organization of the souls of the citizens was absolutely in accordance with the demands of rationality. The formulations of the categorical imperatives also provided us with a description and explanation of fully ethical forms of behaviour which were logically universal and could function as logical justifications of the forms of virtuous behaviour Aristotle discussed in his ethical theory. Lear regards the categorical imperative morality of Kant as being all too formal but omits to mention the second very descriptive and concrete formulation: “So act that you can treat people never merely as means but also as ends in themselves”. This is very concrete in its description of how one ought to act towards one neighbours and others, and could easily be seen to be a consequence of Aristotle’s virtue theory. Kant and Aristotle would have agreed on how to use logic to clarify many of their ethical positions, in particular, the justification of ought statements such as “We ought to keep promises” in terms of seeing the world under the aspect of “the good” which entails knowing the universality of ought statements. For Kant, the fact that many make promises which they do not keep is irrelevant to the universality of what we ought to do. For him,  as for Aristotle, there were people whose souls were not sufficiently organized to understand the kind of universality involved in ought-statements . The argument, for example, that it is acceptable to break ones promise to another because many other people have in fact broken their promises to others, would indeed be a poor argument in both the eyes of Aristotle and Kant. The higher level argument that one person breaking their promise is sufficient to compromise the universality of “We ought to keep our promises” would also be dismissed as a confusion of the universality connected to theoretical reasoning with the universality connected to practical reasoning. Both Kant and Aristotle were very clear about the distinction between intellectual virtues and moral virtues.

We need however to investigate further the influence of Christianity upon the development of thought from the Greeks to the time of Kant and the influence of all these factors on our “Modern world”. In order to do this, we need to trace the development of attitudes and theories immediately after the death of Aristotle and before the time that Christ’s teachings became influential. Professor Brett in his “History of Psychology” has this contribution:

“The death of Aristotle marked the end of an era. The speculative restlessness of the Greeks declined like their city-states. Their theories were welded into successive philosophies of life, just as their states were welded into successive empires. Speculation for its own sake gave way to symbolic pictures which served to reinforce ways of living. Policies for living rather than theories about life commanded the interest of philosophers. The Stoics and Epicureans were preoccupied with the attainment of individual self-sufficiency as a substitute for the much lauded self-sufficiency of the old city-states. Life had become something to be endured rather than enjoyed: the problem was how to endure it best. How could the individual fortify himself against oppression, revolution and social change? The Stoics advocated integrity of character, devotion to duty, humanity towards fellow sufferers, and the rigorous discipline of the will: the Epicureans sought an escape from the hazards of life in cutting down the possible sources of misery. ….They put forward different forms of individualism one of which reached the culmination in Kant and the other in English Utilitarians.”

This looks like an account of the collapse of a belief in any form of universal good and it is certainly true that we can detect in our modern age the influence of an Epicurean individualism unsupported by any belief in the soul or character or any belief in the will and what it ought to do in the name of duty. The Stoic view of life and its connection to the Aristotelian theory of the organization of the soul, however, retained some universal commitment to universal ideas in what we today would call the ought-system of concepts in which we will to do what we ought to do. Kant incorporated many of the ideas of the Stoics into his ethical theory but he also integrated these thoughts and ideas with the categorical and universal aspects that can be found in Aristotelian metaphysical and ethical theory. There is no substance to the claim that Kant was committed to some kind of relativistic individualism or the kind of consequentialism embraced by the Epicureans. There is much to be said, however, for the view that the individualism of the Epicureans led directly to the consequentialist Pursuit of happiness doctrine of the Utilitarians. Bentham’s “two sovereign masters of pleasure and pain” was directly criticized by Kant in much the same terms that we can find in Plato and Aristotle.

The teachings of Christ were in no sense theoretical and appealed only to the individuals relation to God and not to universal argument. He exemplified the simple practical man with only his faith and belief. Nothing was mentioned of the history of theoretical thought or the theoretical thoughts of other thinkers in Christ’s teachings. There are of course assumptions about human beings but it is a total mystery as to where they originated from or indeed exactly what they were. We know that the Jewish- Alexandrian school played some part in the choosing of these assumptions. With the advent of Christianity, however, we encounter an almost complete substitution of the spiritual for the rational. Knowledge was no longer man’s province: it belonged to an all-knowing God who inspired prophets with his messages for the human race. There was no reference to the importance of the state or community to provide man with a higher quality of life. There was a reference to a universal “brotherhood of man” but it is unclear whether if one was not a Christian one could become a part of this “universal” brotherhood. It certainly did not appear to be a cosmopolitan brotherhood. The primary commandment was “love God above all else”. There is no mention of the role of knowledge or the importance of knowledge except in relation to “Knowing God”. Much of the Greek world was dismantled by Christianity. It is therefore not surprising that the idea of God was diminished in importance in favour of the idea of Freedom in Kant’s metaphysics of morals.

The Enlightenment philosophy of Kant attempted to row the philosophical boat back to the Greek shoreline but Kant’s Philosophy too was rapidly overcome by the practical individualistic spirit and theoretical scientific spirit of the Enlightenment. Our Modern World contains the threads of Greek and Kantian thought and these were revived by the work of the later Wittgenstein, the work of Heidegger(to some extent) and the work of Arendt(also to some extent). The consequence is that ethical thought in accordance with categorical universalistic dimensions had all but disappeared in the twentieth century and it is no coincidence that this was the century of two world wars and two mass annihilations of civilian populations via the use of weapons of mass destruction. The disappearance of the idea of justification might, then, be more important, than one might suspect.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Aristotle.

Hits: 104

Aristotle’s scientific work, according to Brett in his work “The History of Psychology”, is best characterised in terms of a methodology of observation and classification and a search for a definition that expressed the essence of whatever it was that was being studied:

“Explanation of the behaviour of a thing consists in referring to the essential properties of the natural kind or class of things to which it belongs, each class having its characteristic and invariant ways of behaving. Why do bodies fall or smoke rise? Because it is part of their essence to seek their natural places on the earth or in the heavens. Why do men make laws? Because rationality is part of their essence. Things do what they do because they are what they are. This is true but not very illuminating….Aristotle….substituted the logic of classification for Pythagorean mathematics as the key to the ground plan of nature. Qualitative distinctions were for him irreducible. Quality, not quantity was the basic category of reality.”

There is much that is problematic with the above characterization of Aristotle’s scientific work. Firstly, the search for definition referred to above was only a part of a wider search for explanation that for Aristotle was four-fold because he believed there are four kinds of explanation or four ways of explaining the nature of something that together constitute the knowledge we have of any object studied. Three kinds of explanation(final formal and efficient “causes”) all reveal the form of the object and one explanation, (the “material cause”) describes the particular material that is the bearer of “the form”. Material per se is just particular material and only identifiable in terms of the(universal) form it takes. This explanation-system is the epistemological aspect of Aristotle’s wider attempt as a “Scientist” to metaphysically or systematically study the world as a whole. Aristotle’s metaphysical position is embedded in his thesis that Being or Reality has many meanings amongst which one will encounter the category of the Substantial that is, as a matter of fact, as much a basic category of reality as the qualitative. The Substantial, for Aristotle, is of course not a property of a thing but rather something more like the principle of that thing’s existence. A substance is, according to Aristotle not dependent on anything else for its existence. Substantial change, for Aristotle, concerns the generation of substances (the bearer of all properties). The substantial principle of man, for example, is his rationality which manifests itself not just in the act of passing laws(the act of bringing laws into existence) but also in the theoretical activity of understanding the world as a systematic or metaphysical whole. Both of these types of activities are logically related to man’s essence and his form, and these claims are surely both true and illuminating. Furthermore, there is a conflation in much of modern science between the contexts of discovery and the contexts of Explanation/Justification. In the former when we discover qualities or measure quantities or relations, we answer “what” questions but once discovered we can also use qualities, quantities and relations in contexts of justification to answer “why” questions(“Why did the building collapse”, “because it was unstable”). In these kinds of explanations, qualities etc. begin to function like principles, giving reasons for the occurrence of events transcending their use as mere reports of observations or classifications.

Insofar as the claims relating to body’s falling and smoke rising to their so-called “natural places” are concerned these claims may be unhelpful characterizations of the Aristotelian idea of “final cause” or teleological explanations that in fact cannot be arbitrarily isolated from other types of explanations.

Brett continues the above line of inquiry by claiming the following:

“So few deductive consequences follow from saying that man is a rational animal because it is merely classificatory and incorporates no causal assumption.”

This is an unilluminating characterization of Aristotelian reflection on the essence and form of man that will definitively claim it to be substantially true that the formal, efficient and final causes or explanations are involved in any animal being a human form of an animal. There appears to be a fixation in the above quote on a perspectival view of “definition” that regards Aristotelian definitions as analytic truths constructed in an ivory tower far from the fields of observation and classification. Such a view believes there to be a realm of synthetic truths that alone can give us access to the truth about the world we dwell in. Aristotle did not divide truth up in such a radical fashion and like Kant would have insisted in response to such radical divisions that there are intermediate forms of truth(synthetic a priori truths) such as “Every event has a cause” that transcend experience and the context of discovery. Aristotle would have thought of such truth as substantial-truths belonging to the context of explanation/justification. Brett also claims that when we ask why men make laws that we do not want to be told that this is because he is a rational animal capable of discourse (which would be Aristotle’s complete definition of human being). We do not want, that is, to be given a barren analytical definition devoid of causal terms. This is obviously a position that rejects the entire metaphysical and epistemological apparatus of Aristotle’s theory without engaging it directly in the context of counterargument and justification. This is also a position that attempts for no good reason to reduce Aristotle’s fourfold explanatory schema to something simpler. Indirectly we are told that Galileo “consciously discarded” teleological causes” in favour of:

“Explanations in terms of the functional dependence of variables which had far greater deductive possibilities than Aristotelian explanation by recourse to qualitative classifications.”

This type of explanation must have been an exciting prospect for psychologically inclined scientists during the 1920’s when Brett’s work “The History of Psychology” was completed. Today almost one hundred years later this excitement, to say the least, has waned and it is commonplace for philosophers to evoke Aristotelian, Kantian, and Wittgensteinian objections to theories based on variable manipulating and measuring experiments that very often fail to produce evidence of causal relations between the variables. Brett complains that Aristotle in his conceptual reflections tells us what we already know. This complaint, as a matter of fact, is often leveled against the “functional dependence of variable” approach as is another more serious complaint that this kind of experimentally based theorizing often falsely posits causal relations where there none. Obviously, this counter-argument requires a more extensive critical discussion than can be offered here.

Brett, inspired by Galileo, then goes on to claim that Aristotle failed to make any “empirical contribution” to Psychology because of his limited grasp of the modern scientific method. We should remind readers in the context of such claims that Aristotle was one of the first empirical investigators of biological phenomena, using observation, classification, and dissection to build his biological theory. Brett does, however, reluctantly admit that Aristotle’s “conceptual contribution” to Psychology helped to provide arguments against materialistically inclined investigations:

“which included a demonstration of why mechanical types of explanation will never be of much use in Psychology.”

Brett appears to be unaware of the philosophical objection to his position which would claim that Causality is a conceptual category of thought, a cognitive attitude that we must adopt when investigating phenomena(that can be isolated from a whole and divided into causes and effects) in both the contexts of discovery and the contexts of explanation/justification. Causality can also, contra the view of Hume, be observed as is the case when we observe a builder building a house. This division, however, of psychological wholes into cause and effect may actually be a form of mechanization of the field of investigation that Brett complains is useless. After complaining about Hobbes and his mechanical theories Brett goes on to outline 4 of Aristotle’s metaphysical holistically-oriented assumptions presented in books one and two of De Anima:

“a)That soul is co-extensive with “life”

b)That soul is the actuality of a body furnished with organs

c) That the movements of such a body are to be explained in terms of its soul but that the soul itself is not moved.

d)That there are levels of soul which form a kind of hierarchy, the lower being a necessary condition of the higher, but the higher transforming the lower.”

Psuche is the Greek term discussed here and Brett displays in this discussion a lack of awareness of the hermeneutic difficulties in translating a foreign remote language. In 1943 we find, for example, Martin Heidegger in his lectures on Parmenides, claiming that psuche as a term is untranslatable by just any language. Latin translations of key Greek terms, he argues, have been particularly problematic and hindered serious research for centuries. Brett characteristically transforms this issue into an issue about definitions and writes:

“Aristotle insisted on the widest possible definition of “soul” and returns to the old Pre-Platonic pre-rationalistic view that soul is virtually the principle of all life”

The crucial term in the above quote is the term “principle” and this alone should suffice to reject the idea that Aristotle was merely attempting to define the term psuche. Identifying this term as denoting a principle is an important precursor to using the term in explanations that may or may not be encapsulated in definitions. Brett later retreats somewhat from this position when he claims that the soul is a species of “form” but again insists that Aristotle is attempting to classify the soul. In this discussion, however, he acknowledges the difference between the kind of explanation (involving principles and laws) that explains why physical bodies fall, orbit, etc, and the kind of explanation we require in Psychology:

“We can treat a man as a body and explain his movements in terms of physical laws if all we wish to explain is why he falls to the ground at a certain rate: for in this respect he is no different from a stone. But we distinguish jumping off a cliff “on purpose” from descending on top of a landslide. Jumping is something we do, whereas being swept away by a landslide is something that happens to us. The movements involved in jumping and slipping require a different sort of explanation”

In this specific discussion Brett, however, fails to connect the role of teleological explanation in particular and conceptual explanation in general to the specification of what, as he put it, is done “on purpose”

In relation to Aristotle’s claim “that the soul is the actuality of a body furnished with organs” we find Brett surprisingly evoking the category of substance that he had systematically avoided in his earlier discussion of the qualitative being the primary category of reality. In this context there is reference to the relations between matter and form as well as actuality and potentiality:

“The soul, therefore, must be substance in the second sense of form. It is the form of a natural body which has life in it as a capacity. Such a substance is actuality in the first sense. Body is dunamis or potentiality in relation to this capacity.”

The concept of “final cause” is finally acknowledged as important insofar as its relation to rationality is concerned: reason, it is argued, imposes a formula upon the efficient causes of desiring and wishing. This formula imposes the terms of means and ends as well as areté (doing the right thing in the right way at the right time) upon our desires and wishes. Brett then paradoxically, after having questioned the substantial category of reality and teleological explanations, claims:

“Surely Aristotle here indicated the sorts of concepts which are absolutely indispensable for accounting for anything which we call human action.”

Human action is obviously a rational power or potentiality connected conceptually with many other powers such as perception, memory, imagination, language as well as desire, wish, and reason. Given the interconnection of this schema of “powers”, the futility of a materialistically inclined behavioural account of action can immediately be appreciated. Psuche is a principle that moves the body,  and thought and consciousness is the medium in which such movement is initiated. Psuche also possesses powers or potentialities which are capacities to do certain things and it is absolutely absurd to postulate that capacity is something that can be moved or move. Brett has no difficulty in pointing out this logical objection in relation to capacity but not in relation to Psuche- the principle. Thought is in no sense a spatial entity. It has an essential relation to temporality and insofar as thought can then be said to possess parts, they would have the serial unity similar to that of a number. A thought occurs in a time and comes to rest in that time in accordance with its category and telos. If the thought is a belief it will aim at the truth and if it is an intention it will aim at the good action. The point of origin of such thoughts is in the soul. In a certain sense, the concept of action appears to be logically connected to the reason that regulates the action in relation to the rules of successful performance leading to an end. In other words, action is a value-laden concept in the way in which the concept of behaviour is not. This might account for the fact that it is behaviour and not action the contemporary Psychologist prefers to study: behaviour is easier to isolate as a variable and thus easier to manipulate and measure. The conceptual framework of action and its connection to a matrix of powers or capacities makes this task of observation, isolation, manipulation, and measurement much more difficult, if not impossible.

The conceptual framework of action forces us also to recognize the hylomorphic aspect of Aristotle´s theorizing in which both plant-like and animal-like functions contribute to the constitution of the human psuche. These functions will take different forms in different forms of life. The human psuche differentiates itself from other life forms through its possession of the powers or capacities of thought, discourse and reason. The form of life of a human being, therefore, will be very different to that of a higher ape. As we are no doubt aware, modern biology beginning with Darwin refused to acknowledge this significant difference between the higher apes and man that both Aristotle and Christianity insisted upon. In the Aristotelian account, powers build upon powers but the power of discourse accounts for much of the significant difference. This together with the way in which all powers are integrated into the life of man accounts for the superior form of life man leads in comparison with the life of higher apes. These powers, in turn, are situated in a wider framework of relations necessary for man to lead the good life. This framework begins with the cosmos and the constitution and connections of the divine heavenly bodies. The cosmos provides the conditions necessary for life of various forms and in particular for its highest human form that constructs city-states in order to lead the good life. The city-state, according to Aristotle organically evolved from the village and the family and the form of its existence is the final litmus test for the good of the individual:

“the life of the individual is the proximate universal by which we judge the standard of conduct or practice in the case of the individual, so the individual’s life is a universal that comprehends many species. The psychological functions embracing as they do the whole individual life are valued according as they further its excellence more or less.”

It is not certain that this paraphrasing of the power of the individual in terms of psychological functions is not essentially going to confuse the issue of what the good life or good city-state are in their essential constitutions. One of these so-called psychological functions is, according to Brett, sensation, which he claims is a discriminative faculty that perceives differences. and there follows a discussion of the subjective/objective distinction that is used throughout this work: a distinction Aristotle would have rejected as theoretically otiose. Aristotle’s account of the senses refers to his matrix of form and matter, and sensation in that context is regarded as a form of knowledge caused to come into existence by the motions that are assimilated by the sense organs and the body. These motions are then transformed by the sense organs into “knowledge” of qualities such as black, white, sweet, sour etc. The “form” of the black object becomes an element of the above knowledge state, received by the eye. The object has the power to influence the sense organ and the sense organ has the power to assimilate the form of the object. The form of the object is assimilated by the organ in “the act of sensation”. Brett then inserts into this discussion the modern idea of consciousness together with his earlier subject/object distinction:

“in all sensation an objective stimulus is the cause of a change which precedes through a medium into consciousness.”

These terms of subject/object and consciousness are not terms we can find in Aristotle’s writings but a stimulus proceeding through a medium into consciousness suggests passivity on the part of the subject rather than an “act”. If this is the case then it would seem to contradict the earlier assertion that psychological theorizing ought to be about what a subject does rather than what happens to him/her. Later, Brett refers to activity on the part of the sense organ but this is activity that is caused to happen by an external cause and may not as a consequence fall into the category of a human psuche causing itself to do things. The major difference between these two types of change is a metaphysical difference between things that cause themselves to do things(activity) and things that cause other things to become active. Even Kantian Philosophy in the context of such discussions claims that all representations in the mind be they intuitive or conceptual, are accompanied by an “I think”–an active process of thought. The experiencing of black, then, could be a passive affair in which the subject passively experiences(senses) blackness or it can be an active intuitive affair in which the blackness is intuited to be spatial, to be out there or enveloping me. The latter involves a cognitive attitude toward the blackness the former does not. This “I think” however should not be confused with the Cartesian Ego that stands in some relation of epistemological certainty to its own thinking and in some kind of opposition to the objects of representation. This Kantian “I think” is, on the contrary, an Aristotelian holistic idea of a continuously enduring Subject brought into existence by an act of generation and destined for ruin and destruction at the end of its life and who during the course of its life actively “reasons” about or “contemplates” true beliefs and good actions.

According to Jonathan Lear in his work “Aristotle; the desire to understand”:

“We are not satisfied to know, for example, that the heavens move in such a way: nor will we be satisfied to know a vast array of such fats about the phenomena. We want to know why the heavens move that way, why the phenomena are as they are. We are after more than knowledge, we are after understanding.”(p6)

Only principles provide us with that understanding and enable us to systematically connect and thereby understand phenomena and the facts about them. Thinking desires both knowledge and understanding and the human begins according to Aristotle, his contemplative life by being in awe of the heavens prior to the search for the principle(s) that explain why they are as they are. The state of awe and wonder subsides when we achieve the kind of understanding provided by explanations of the phenomena in terms of principles. This kind of explanation is, according to Aristotle, possibly more “scientific” then the kind of investigation that dedicates itself to accumulating the “facts” about the heavens. Both kinds of investigation are important but they are to be distinguished: the concepts and methods used in the context of discovery are significantly different (and yet related in some ways) to the concepts and methods that are used in the context of explanation/justification. Reason is obviously involved in both contexts. It is like the light of the fire in the cave and the light of the sun that transforms night into day. For Aristotle, man is the subject of awe and wonder and the claim in the context of explanation that he is the rational animal capable of discourse is an illuminating claim, especially in comparison with the chaos of accounts of man provided for us over the last 150 years since Psychology detached itself from Philosophy in order to make “progress” in the field of the knowledge of man. Brett is a disciple of this “new science” and wishes to place Reason “Inside” of man:

“For Reason is with Aristotle, as with Plato, a light within:it guides the footsteps of man on the daily paths of life, it illuminates the dark places of nature: in it is the birth of art, and it becomes ar last divine and immortal.”

For both Aristotle and his teacher Reason was something that brought light to the world and both would have thought that the attempt to place reason within man, and not in the discourse in the agora, or in the laws of the Callipolis was an unnecessary spatialisation of something that is a potential power that is only actualised under the right circumstances whether that be in the mode of theoretical belief or practical action and whether it be the beliefs and actions of the individual or of institutions such as the judiciary and religious temples. Reason is what we use to achieve a deeper understanding of the world and ourselves, an understanding that is so much more than the accumulation of the totality of facts about the phenomena we are studying. Reason stands mysteriously outside of the “inner”: a term so necessary for the scientist once he divides phenomena into the (inner) subjective and the (outer)objective.

Lear points out in the context of the above discussion that the term epistemé as used by the Greeks transcends the modern subject-object distinction that is so often used in epistemological discussions:

“Aristotle uses epistemé in two ways: first to refer to an organized body of knowledge, like geometry: second to refer to the state of the soul of a person who has learned this body of knowledge.”(p7)

Lear goes on to interestingly argue that the psuche (or soul or mind) is organized by this knowledge to such an extent that we, for example, call someone with knowledge of mathematics , a mathematician not just because they have something “in ” their souls non mathematicians do not have but rather because they are capable of using this power on occasion to help us understand the world through their mathematical proofs and explanations. Epistemé, for Lear, as for Martin Heidegger, is related to Being or Reality in a deeper way than the mere understanding that explanations provide. Reality itself, for Aristotle and Heidegger, reveals itself to those that systematically understand the world that may yet remain a mystery after the Mathematicians explanations come to an end. Heidegger criticizes Aristotle, as Lear does not, for talking about the many meanings of Being but failing to focus on its nature as presented by the idea of Aletheia (unconcealment). Heidegger’s comments may not apply across the board of all of Aristotle’s positions. For Aristotle, it is clear that there is a region of the systematic understanding of the world that is fundamentally reflective, i.e. concerned with the challenge of the Oracle to “know thyself”, something that can only be achieved in the “attempt” to understand understanding. For it can only be an attempt given the fact that for Aristotle, this self-reflective path leads to the first principle of all things, namely God. Our attempt to understand understanding thus is an attempt to understand God. Knowing thyself on the path of such reflection requires acknowledging man’s place in the great chain of Being. Part of this process involves understanding how Plato in particular regarded the Polis as related to the revelation of man’s nature and the unconcealment of Being(Aletheia). The Callipolis for Plato was literally a divine construction built with the divine part of ourselves that enlightened the Cosmos like a sun. Kant too saw the connection of the actualisation of (divine?) Reason in man in a vision of a Cosmopolitan world some hundred thousand years in the future: a world in which cosmopolitan men roam the earth and wars are a thing of the past. The period of one hundred thousand years rests upon an analysis of man himself that observes that man is only potentially and not actually rational and therefore although he needs a master cannot tolerate having an actual master deciding his fate. Kant then reflects upon the necessity for a universal philosophical education that will transcend this master-slave conception by making man a master of himself.

Brett’s scientific psychological account, having placed reason inside man, continues with the following reflection:

“The rational creature is conscious of the principle as well as of the impulse, and so becomes the subject of voluntary as well as of impulsive actions…there are in him the desires of the beast united with a reason that is godlike: in the relation of these two are contained the problems of the psychology of conduct.”

Lurking in the background of these reflections is, of course, the desire to isolate variables and connect causes and effects whether it be in the arena of impulse and the emotions or the arena of what he calls “conduct”.

Emotions obviously play an important role in man’s existence both for reasons of survival and for the achievement of what Psychologists call “the quality of life” which in their eyes can be achieved by the scientific regulation of pleasures and pains. Brett, in this context, refers not to action but pure movement and claims that sense images are exciting causes. The imagination is as a consequence of its role in the conjuring up of sense images in their absence, evoked in desire and anger to the specific exclusion of thought and reason:

“Desire has an emotional quality because it begins in the pain of want and ends in the pleasure of satisfaction. Anger, fear, and courage are types of feelings which are allied to Temper or the spirit of resistance: anger arises from the sense of wrong and seeks after revenge: fear is consciousness of danger with a prospect of ultimate disaster: while courage is the consciousness of danger accompanied by assurance of successful resistance. The remainder come under the general heading of Wish, and are attitudes of mind accompanied by imaginations of good or evil whether for oneself or for others. As wish is concerned with good and evil, the presence of the images of good and evil in each of these states justifies their position under this head.”

It appears from the above quote that, at least insofar as The Wish is concerned thought in some form(“imaginations of good and evil for oneself or others”) must be involved and this in turn surely means that the wish is amenable to the influence of reason. It should also, however, be recalled that the emotions in general, can also be pathological states and processes requiring “cathartic” treatments. The emotions of Pity and Fear, for Aristotle, were not necessarily pathological formations but they also required what amounts to (almost) medical intervention by poets using literary techniques(processes of thought) for their catharsis. The exclusion of thought to the benefit of imagination by Brett does not quite fit the phenomena we are confronted with in this field of inquiry.

Mental illness obviously interferes with both our sense of reality and our attempts to lead successful virtuous lives. Excessive fear and insufficient courage, if part of our characters, may be pathological conditions requiring education and sometimes therapy. Such therapy follows the principle outlined in the Greek oracular pronouncement “Nothing too much” and also the Aristotelian Principle of the golden mean. The imagination obviously plays a part in the formation of pathological states which are the results of sensory images and processes and not reason. Psychoanalysis attempts to use reason technically to bring about a therapy that enables patients to, if not understand themselves, at least accumulate facts about themselves of which they were perhaps unaware. Brett does not, however, mention Psychoanalysis in this context in spite of its obvious relevance. He continues instead to speak of conation, a notion which for him is related to behaviour or pure movement in a way which is difficult to understand:

“At its lowest level, conation is the immediate impulse to pursue or avoid. When this impulse is subjected to deliberation it is raised to the level of choice: for choice is rationalized impulse or conation based on rational deliberation. Thus a movement must be the outcome of two distinct processes according as the ultimate imagination which gives a picture of the end is the result of sense processes or of reasoning.”

The idea of freedom and someone being set free by rational deliberation obviously arises in relation to the above reflection but the insertion of the “picture of the end” may be a mischaracterization of the very universal thought about the end. This “picture theory” of psychological reflection takes us in the opposite direction to that of the required search for universal principles of action and emotion.

In the above quote it is a relatively simple matter to discern that he has divided the whole of action-in- a- context into the parts of cause and effect whether it be the division of impulsive movement, sense images, and imagination or the division of conduct into the elements of reason and imagination. Such division is obviously dictated by scientific method which demands the identification of independent and dependent variables. It is this kind of illegitimate division of a holistic complex of parts that also then demands a further division into what is subjective and what is objective. Both kinds of division would have been rejected by Aristotle in the context of practical action and practical reasoning about that action. The example we find Aristotle using in this context is that of a builder building a house, an activity that looks on the face of it as if it can be divided into two, namely the activity of the building and the completed product of the house. Aristotle also discusses another two activities, those of a doctor treating his patient and a teacher teaching his students and here it is perhaps not so easy to conceive of creative artistic activity and a completed “product”. One thing is absolutely certain and that is that in his descriptions and explanations of these three activities we encounter no attempt to isolate the holistic complexes of the builder building, the doctor doctoring, and the teacher teaching into independent and independent variables.

It is rather the form or principle of the change from, for example, there being an empty plot of land to there appearing a house built upon the land that Aristotle focuses upon. He reflects upon materialistic explanations that relate only to the material used in this process of change and comments that following the journey of the materials from the quarries and the woods to their manipulation by the builder(efficient cause) to the final finished product will never fully explain the change we have witnessed. For that, he argues, we would need to understand how the psuche is endowed with knowledge of the principles involved in building the house: for this understanding, we need to resort to explaining how the formal and final causes interacted with the material and efficient causes. The name for the knowledge that the builder has is techne(an instrumental form of knowing which utilizes tools in a context of equipmental involvements) but it is not certain that this “artistic” knowledge suffices for the theoretical knowledge the doctor and teacher require for the exercise of their professions. In these two situations, we may need to refer to epistemé. In the case of the doctor the telos or final cause is the health of the body of the patient and in the case of the teacher, for Aristotle, it is the health of the student’s soul that is at stake. In the latter case, we are definitely dealing with epistemé because at the end of the teaching the student must grasp the principles that are being taught, be they scientific, mathematical or philosophical. In this latter case the metaphors of “material” and shaping” are strained but we do say that we are forming these young minds if we are teachers.

It should not be forgotten that abstract and concrete forms are being transmitted in the polis. For the benefit of the polis the light of these forms enlightens the dark aspects of the polis as Plato’s sun enlightens the darkness of the Cosmos. Besides the transmission of concrete forms such as buildings(so important to the polis), built by citizens for citizens and the abstract forms of epistemé there is a third realm of forms whose transmission is vital to the polis, namely that which is produced as the consequence of sexual reproduction, namely children. Children will ensure the continuity of building, doctoring teaching and governing and thereby if this is done virtuously (in the name of aretè) hopefully ensure the continued existence of the polis.

Having divided action and conduct into parts we then see the consequence of such division for ethical understanding. Brett claims the following:

“..desire and wish and will are all harmonious in the complete character. This, as an ethical ideal, implies that the true good and the object of all from the psychological standpoint, the goodness and badness of the end, is not of primary importance. The question that belongs to Psychology is that of unity or coordination of impulses, not the question of the rightness of intention.”

So, we see the intentional ends of the house, the welfare of the patient, and the successful education of the student are not of primary importance for Brett as they are for Aristotle. This is an astonishing conclusion and appears to leave the realm of practical and theoretical reasoning curiously determined by hypothetical considerations. This we must point out is entirely inconsistent with the Aristotelian position. Brett continues his tactic of division and divides particular action from any universal to which it might belong and he ominously further claims that only rarely does the means and the ends of action form what he calls an “ideal unity” What does he mean here? That houses are not successfully built, patients only rarely cured and that teaching only rarely results in learning? This, of course, would seem to follow if intentions are merely subjective and the pure physically described movements what is truly objective. This is not, however in accordance with the logic or metaphysics of Aristotle who regarded intentions as the embodiments of the forms or principles of house building, health after treatment, and knowledge and wisdom imparted by teaching.

Our world is a world composed of principles and not the totality of facts or variables of the scientist.

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Plato

Hits: 199

Brett in his work “The History of Psychology” claims that Plato continued the epistemological tradition of the Sophists and Socrates and he also added that Plato ended up in a position that the Sophists and Socrates would not be sympathetic with. We argued in an earlier essay that it is misleading to place the Sophists and Socrates inside the same pair of brackets simply because there is clearly a natural and spontaneous antagonism between the assumptions of these two positions. It can also be argued that Platonic Philosophy is a natural and logical continuation of the development of Socratic philosophy and a prototype for his pupil’s Metaphysically based hylomorphic theory. Furthermore, Plato’s work is indebted to Parmenides, a fact that is underestimated in many classical and modern accounts  including A Kenny’s “A New History of Western Philosophy”:

“But while the (Platonic) realm of the Ideas is unchanging, it is not uniform or homogeneous like Parmenides Being: Being is undifferentiated and single, whereas there are many different Ideas in some kind of relation to each other. They appear to be hierarchically ordered under the Idea of the Good, which appears to trump any notion of Being(Republic 6, 509b). No doubt the other Ideas owe it to the Idea of the Good that they are ideas at all.”(p207)

The passage in the Republic that is referred to above(6,509b) follows:

“Therefore, say, that not only being known is present in the things known as a consequence of the good, but also existence and being are in them besides as a result of it, although the good is not being but is still beyond being, exceeding it in dignity and power.”

Parmenides Idea of “The One” would actually have been a better comparison point for Kenny. Plato has not replaced “The One” by “The Good” but probably believed that they are in some sense logically identical in the way that Christians later came to identify God and “The Good”. The One, according to Parmenides includes both Being and not Being in very much the same way in which the Idea of the Good includes the idea of the not Good.

This area of reflection is right at the heart of the philosophical endeavour and it is not surprising therefore that instead of arguments for his position Plato produces three allegories amongst which is the allegory of the Sun in book 6 of the Republic where Socrates is arguing the following:

“Therefore, say that what provides the truth to the things known and provides the power to the one who knows is the Idea of the Good. And as the source of knowledge and truth you can understand it to be a thing known: but as far as these two are–knowledge and truth—if you believe that it is something different from them and still fewer than they, your belief will be right. As for knowledge and truth, just as in the other region it is right to hold light and sight sunlike, but to believe them to be the sun is not right: so, too, here,to hold these two to be like the good is right, but to believe that either of them is the good is not right”(Republic 6 508e)

This passage is highly suggestive of two facts that run contrary to the claims of Brett and Kenny, namely that Plato is very much concerned with Metaphysics and Ethics and their relation to epistemology. The line of development of the philosophy of the Sophists, therefore can not be seen to run through either Socrates or Plato. This is reinforced by appreciating the next link in this chain of continuation, namely the Philosophy of Aristotle that is equally antagonistic to the relativism and “scientific” pragmatism of the Sophists.  We also fail to find any commitment to subjective individualism of the kind one encounters in Sophist philosophizing in the Philosophy of Aristotle.

At least two other dialogues testify both to the metaphysical commitments of Plato and to his proto-Aristotelian positions in Politics and Science. In “The Laws” for example, Socrates has been replaced by an anonymous Athenian as the leading protagonist, and Philosophers have also disappeared from the government of the ideal Callipolis of Magnesia. Laws are no longer Parmenidean unchanging entities and even the best of them are open to reform. The Metaphysics of change has caused several waves of change that appears to have swept the Republic into the sea. Education is now the foundation of the political system and this can be seen even in the demand for pedagogical explanations of the laws as well as in the need to prevent impiety which sanctifies not only a proto-monotheistic Aristotelian God but also the human race.

“The Timaeus”  is a late work of Plato’s which deals, in metaphysical spirit, with the history of the Universe and life forms. In the beginning was chaos until the soul was infused into this “living chaos”. Life was, it is argued, present in some form in the chaos. It is clear that Aristotle’s matter/form distinction is anticipated in this work. In Raphaels “School of Athens” we find Plato holding this work whilst pointing upward toward the Good Creator. Form and principle for Aristotle are synonymous and although it is the case that Aristotle’s work the  “Metaphysics” opens with the claim “All men desire to know” much of this work is devoted to the answering of so-called aporetic questions, an activity which despite the claim that Being has many meanings, clearly is in search of the first principles of Philosophy.

Aristotle was also a significant figure in biology. The Timaeus provides a description of the body that must have clearly interested and Inspired Aristotle. Plato’s account is that the organism is embedded in a process of creation that is driven by a final end or telos. It is, for example, claimed that this creation process:

“divided the veins about the head and interlaced them about each other in order that they might form an additional link between the head and the body, and that the sensations from both sides might be diffused throughout the body.”

Plato is here, rather surprisingly, given his earlier arguments against materialism, giving us a material account of the body. He goes on to speak of Perception in terms of the motion involved in both the objects and the processes of activating the organs of the subject. Plato also surprisingly embarks on a discussion of the desire for nutrition as a fundamental activity of the composite body-soul. The soul part of this complex apparently has two creators: the rational part of the soul is the result of the creation of God and the lower irrational part(also divided into two parts) the creation of the demiurge. Thus is created a hierarchy of soul functions that we also find in Aristotle’s reflections on the soul. Desires arising anywhere in the hierarchy can in principle affect any other part of the hierarchy. The soul, too, begins its life in chaos and spends its life attempting to establish a state of equilibrium: a state that is always unstable because of a fundamental dependence upon the ever-changing Heraclitean external world. Out of this initial chaos at birth, sensation emerges as the organs in general(including the brain) and the organs of perception, in particular, establish relations with each other and with the external world. The sentient parts of the organism are obviously a key to the successful relationship with the external world. Sensations of pleasure and pain are caused when the “motions” a particular organ is subjected to, suits its receptivity function: pain arises when the organ is “irritated” by the external stimulus. These thoughts display a dual aspect approach to the person: firstly the organism is viewed as an object surrounded by an external world in flux and secondly, the organism is under the aspect of a causa sui of motions and activities in the world. Brett has this to say on this topic:

“From one point of view man is an organism in contact with the world around him, and he must, therefore, be studied as an object among objects, from another he is the centre of a world which may or may not have its objective counterpart, a world of ideas which must in some degree be subjective. In discussing perceptions we take up the cognitive aspect of man’s life and all that we should now call subjective, in a sense hardly appreciated by Plato.”

Brett is espousing a scientific notion of subjectivity that is not in accordance with what Parmenides and modern followers of Aristotle and Kant would call “The Way of the Truth” which must include the truths or knowledge we possess of man and his perception of, and reasoning about, the world. R. S. Peters in his edited version of Brett’s work, “The History of Psychology” discusses the scientific error of confusing thought about an activity with that activity itself, thus preferring a description of the activity to an explanation for the activity. In the context of this debate, sensations are certainly something caused to happen in relation to the body of a man, but under another aspect when a man perceives(pays attention to these sensations) he does so in accordance with ideas that partially determine the object of his perception. This latter perspective is clearly expressed in a number of Plato’s works: the physical oak tree that one may perceive “participates” in the idea or principle of the oak tree(i.e. what it is that makes the oak tree the oak tree that it is). Scientific objectivity assumes a beginning of knowledge in particulars and charts an ascent into the realm of generalization whereas Plato’s view is clearly that: whatever the nature of the origins of knowledge, the general cognitive attitude associated with knowledge is that which understands particulars in terms of general ideas or “forms” or principles. A principle is a generalization and belongs to the category of the universal: a principle is categorically related to its particulars. This is to be contrasted with scientific hypothetical generalizations that for example relate particular causes to particular effects. The major problem at issue, of course, is how to characterize the category of universal ideas. This issue is often mistakenly described in terms of causation, i.e. in terms of how it is that we come to acquire these ideas and Plato clearly ventured into this territory in his work, the Timaeus. Aristotle’s attitude toward these two aspects of investigation(man, the object, man the agent) is more complex and more transparent. Aristotle via his theory of change characterized four different kinds of explanations, two of which are concerned with man the object and two of which concerned with man the agent. Aristotle in his discussion of this “how” question related to the acquisition of knowledge couched his account in terms of the soul and its power to abstract from the differences between particulars that are experienced, thus focussing on the active agent rather than the passive object of this learning process.

Metaphysics is a holistic study and encourages the division of wholes into parts only if the parts retain important characteristics of the whole(in the way that characterizing man as a swarm of atoms does not). It is this relation of the parts to the whole that permits logical investigations to arrive at knowledge that cannot be reasonably doubted. If the soul is a principle the question that naturally arises is whether a principle can have parts that have characteristics of the whole. Both Plato and Aristotle believe this to be the case and are in agreement that there are logical arguments for dividing the soul into parts. The Republic contains an argument by Socrates to the effect that, if the soul did not have parts, the fact that a soul could both want to drink some water because it is thirsty and at the same time not want to drink the water because it might be poisoned, would be a contradiction. It is not a contradiction because the soul does have at least two parts. This same reasoning can be applied to generate a soul composed of three parts: Reason, Spirit, and Appetite. This logical reasoning is not moreover academically isolated from the world of experience. We can all see, Plato argues, forms of human life in which one of these parts dominate. In the wealthy man’s life, we can see the presence of the virtue of temperance or the vice of superfluity. In the spirited man’s life, we can see the presence of courage and ambition. In the life of the reasoning man, we can detect the presence of the virtue of wisdom. Plato’s allegory of the cave and the allegory of the divided line illustrate these forms of life by using a cognitive scale of imagination, belief, hypothetical mathematical knowledge, and categorical philosophical knowledge. Science, Plato would argue in defense of himself against the accusation of resorting to the subjective that the subjective belongs to a lower form of life than the philosophical-metaphysical knowledge required by the examined life led by the wise man. Science, in response, can always redescribe the abstract categorical in its own concrete hypothetical terms, and this is certainly happening when it comes to the interpretation of certain key judgments relating to the soul. One such judgment is the claim that the soul is immortal. We pointed out earlier the debt that Socrates owed to Anaxagoras and the categorical metaphysical claim that “All is mind”.  Many commentators have difficulty in understanding, for example, what is meant by “soul” or “mind” as these terms occur in the reflections on immortality by  Socrates in Plato’s Apology and the dialogue of the Phaedo. Kenny in his “New History of Western Philosophy” has the following to say on this issue:

“Socrates in Plato’s Apology appears to be agnostic about the possibility of an afterlife. Is death, he wonders, a dreamless sleep or is it a journey to another world to meet the glorious dead?…. The Platonic Socrates of the Phaedo, however, is a most articulate protagonist of the thesis that the soul not only survives death but is better off after death.”(p214)

In interpreting the passages in these dialogues Kenny, unnecessarily concretizes or reifies the soul instead of examining the possibility that a better interpretation of psuche is to regard it as a principle. The Timaeus characterizes the soul in terms of a hierarchy of functions all interconnected. The lower parts of the hierarchy are obviously connected to bodily desires and appetites and these are supposedly regulated by the principle or rule of temperance. Kenny, also, arguably, insufficiently appreciates the use of allegory or metaphorical language in the characterization of the whole and the relation of these parts to the whole and to each other. He claims, for example, in response to this quote from the Phaedo:

“Thought is best when the mind is gathered into itself, and none of these things trouble it–neither sounds nor sights nor pain, nor again any pleasure–when it takes leave of the body and has as little as possible to do with it.”

Kenny also makes the following claim:

“So philosophers in pursuit of truth keep their souls detached from their bodies. But death is the separation of the soul from the body: hence a true philosopher has throughout his life been craving for death.”(65C)

One can no more separate a principle explaining the behaviour of a human being from the body producing that behaviour than you can separate the law of gravitation from falling or orbiting bodies: or if you believe you can separate the principle from the matter than  this merely calls  for a metaphysical theory explaining the nature of this separation. Of course, it is the case that one can argue that Plato owes us more of an explanation for the relation of this principle to our human activities of perceiving, imagining, believing, knowing, reasoning etc. One can, however, perhaps better appreciate Aristotle’s replacement of Platonic allegory with theoretical explanations and justifications.

The words “another world” occurred in an earlier discussion and the question we need to ask in this context is: “if this is a metaphysical expression what is its meaning?”. One response to this is to deny that the statement is metaphysical. When Socrates died there is a sense in which he continues to survive in at least two non-metaphysical respects. He is, in a sense present now in this discussion and perhaps will be present forever in discussions in the future. His physical ancestors might also be with us. This world we now live in might for Socrates have been the other world Socrates was metaphorically referring to. It is also the case that it is not at all difficult to imagine Socrates in the company of Homer, Parmenides, Heraclitus Anaxagoras etc. as well as all the great philosophers that succeeded him. Of course, there is no sense in which Socrates is actually here with us and that is because we believe that he is dead and also that death is the end of that body which was sustained by the principle of Socrates. We still, however, have access to the principle of Socrates via our thought about him and our reflections on his philosophy. That he is not actually or concretely here and now present means that what is meant by his reflections is that he is imagining himself to be dead and imagining “another world”, a very reasonable metaphor in the circumstances.

In the dialogue Phaedo, Simius and Cebes felt that the Greeks of their time would reject the idea that the soul could survive the body. In the light of the above reflections, the cognitive attitude of these Greeks is probably founded upon the belief that the absence of activity in the current perceptible world entails the absence of the principle responsible for that activity. It does not entail that this principle can survive in some concrete form in the discourse of others about Socrates. Claiming, as some do, that Socrates that because Socrates was “imagining” another world and that this was, therefore, “subjective”  is not a helpful characterization of the cognitive attitude involved in this context.

For Plato, there are intermediate soul functions between the passive receptive functions associated with sensations and the more advanced functions that actively think about these affections. These intermediate functions include mental powers such as memory, mental association, emotion, and imagination. Emotions apparently are caused by violent motions or stimuli. Stimulation of sensation to the extent that the organ is well adapted to the stimulus produces a state of equilibrium or pleasure and these are the states we generally want to experience. These are referred to as “complete states”. They are recorded in memory, which produces ideas/desires for the purposes of recollection or repetition. these can be simple ideas such as the idea of water when we are thirsty or more complex ideas such as that of  “warm drink”. These states are obviously connected to cognitive states and attitudes because we know what we want. Brett has this to say on the issue:

“The body never has knowledge, however indispensable an instrument it might be to the attainment of knowledge in some cases:and therefore naturally the body is not the seat of desires or emotions. The soul, when affected by desire is in a condition essentially painful: for desire is consciousness of incompleteness. But there is no desire totally devoid of pleasure, for desire is a tendency to greater perfection, and that in itself, is pleasant.”

Needing or wanting may have its roots in the body but the consequent conscious desire is that which satisfies this corporeal need or want. The object that satisfies this desire, namely,  involves conscious reflection on a former experience. The mind recalls this object by means of an idea. In the “Way of Opinion,” there are false opinions that attempt to unite ideas that ought not to be united. Correct opinion unites ideas correctly but the result is not understood as part of the system of ideas it actually belongs to. It is this latter understanding that is involved in the “Way of the Truth”. In this hierarchy of functions, then, sensation and feeling(emotion) are obviously not at the level of knowledge in relation to the Way of the Truth because knowledge involves a systematic relation of ideas to each other. It is this systematic relation of ideas that is the foundation for the logical truth making relations established by the highest of the soul functions, namely Reason. The wise man, it should be emphasized, is the man who has perfected a large number of powers in the hierarchy of powers and this can be seen by those who know in the contemplative and examined form of life he leads. The wise man grasps and understands the ends of life that are embedded in a human nature that generates the goods of the virtues at various levels of the hierarchy of the soul’s powers. This final integration of the parts of the soul is expressed in the Greek term areté(virtue) which is the mark of the wise man who does the right thing at the right time in the right way. The wise man knows that his time will come to an end: he knows that is,  that in accordance with an ancient prophecy which has been confirmed by everything he knows, he will die. He furthermore knows and has reasoned his way to the conviction that there will be no further life after death. Death is a final end for all living things. He knows he can imagine another world but it will not be filled with bodiless spirits. The world he imagines will be filled with living things that will die and his presence will be metaphorical, something like a presence, but not a living breathing presence: it will be an imagined presence based on reasoning. When his religious friends tell him that he can expect another life after this one he knows that they are not actively using their imagination, their imagination is rather being used by a primitive desire or wish not to die. He knows they are phantasising

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition, and Consciousness: Part two The Sophists, Socrates and the Consciousness of method(Brett’s History of Psychology)

Hits: 216

Brett has a view of the Enlightenment which is distinctly Hobbesian/Humean and this is revealed particularly in his characterization of  Sophism:

“For the Sophists interpret their age in trying to restore the individual and assert his rights, and this element is common to all enlightenments, seems to furnish the peculiar flavour of their work.”

Brett then attributes this idea of a “self-determining agent” to Socrates and places him at the end of a line of Sophists which we assume must include Thrasymachus, who is generally regarded as one of the foremost figures reasoning in a manner Parmenides characterizes as “The Way of Opinion”. 

The most famous exchange between Thrasymachus and Socrates occurs in book 1 of Plato’s “Republic”. The topic of exchange is Justice and Socrates is in search of the truth and a definition. Thrasymachus inserts himself into the discussion aggressively and agrees to provide a definition that appeals to the popular status quo of governments that in fact in the name of justice pass laws that are in their own self-interest: a position that for Parmenides is a case of journeying along the path of opinion. Socrates subjects this attempt at a definition to a dose of elenchus and expresses surprise that Thrasymachus has perverted the course of the discussion by claiming that actions that are clearly unjust on any reasonable definition should be regarded as characterizing the essence of justice. Thrasymachus accuses Socrates of trickery after having made the announcement that Socrates does not have the resources to defeat him in open argument but Socrates eventually traps Thrasymachus in the jaws of a contradiction that relies on the assumption that all acts of justice require knowledge if they are to fulfill their intentions. If then, a strong government working in its own self-interests passes laws without knowledge, it is possible that the consequences that ensue might well turn out not to be in the interests of those that have passed the laws. Elenchus is a form of dialectical reasoning that is designed to arrive at the truth without contradiction and Thrasymachus probably believing that he has been tricked,  only participates sporadically and peripherally through the rest of the dialogue.

Earlier in his discussion of the Pre-Socratics Brett accused Plato of epistemologizing Philosophy. In relation to this point, it is certainly the case that the Republic is claiming that it is “knowledge of the good” which determines whether or not the rulers of a city-state will cause that city-state to fall into ruin. This hardly appears to be a controversial judgment or indeed anything to do with an individual self sufficiently correctly and justly acting in accordance with   Hobbesian “principle” of self-interest.

Brett continues his account by complaining about metaphysics and its endless generation of speculative hypotheses: 

“the eternal  circling of thought around the apparently unknowable”.

The above might be a comment not just on metaphysics but also on the way of opinion that produces a manifold of hypotheses in every so-called line of interest or tradition of inquiry.  Brett claims that metaphysics is in need of Sophism in order to “emancipate the intellect” of man.  From what do we need to emancipate man? The definitions of Socrates? Perusing the Platonic dialogues can it not be said that it is precisely the method of elenchus in search of a definition which revealed the essence of the subject of inquiry that enabled the mind to organize the proliferation of hypotheses in accordance with principles?

Placing Thrasymachus and Socrates in the same class of philosophers runs contrary to Plato’s characterization of these two antagonists as dialectical opponents. Brett does then admittedly claim that he is only referring to some of the Sophists and he specifically names Protagoras in the same breath as he characterizes Sophism as having ” arrived far enough on the road of development to demand some scientific explanation of knowledge”.

Socrates and Protagoras were contemporaries and in the Platonic dialogue entitles “Protagoras” we find Socrates arguing that virtue is not an instrumental/technological matter: it is not “scientific” in that sense. If to take the example of medicine, one is ill, one consults an expert, a doctor. In matters of virtue such as justice, on the other hand, Socrates argues that we do not need an expert, because we all understand the principles of the good that are involved. Protagoras’ immediate response is an appeal to mythology: Epimetheus whose task it was at the origin of living things to give man the powers he needed to survive, apparently forgot to give man any powers at all. Prometheus, his twin brother attempted to correct his brother’s error by stealing fire and practical(instrumental?) reasoning from the Gods. The race of man was notwithstanding these gifts on the brink of extinction thus forcing Zeus to intercede and send Hermes with the further “gifts” of shame and justice. To supplement this account that actually supports Socrates’ account as much as it does his own, he argues that we do not hold the ugly, the dwarfish or the weak-minded responsible for their actions because they cannot help not understanding what justice is. Protagoras adds a second argument that points out we do attempt to teach people who are unjust or irreligious and we expect them to learn what they do not know but need to know. Parents instruct their children and teachers continue this instruction. Not everyone, however, has the capacity to learn this skill(which Protagoras equates with learning to play the flute) and this it is claimed is evidence for the fact that what appears to be a part of human nature is not.

Socrates, as a result of the above argument, surprisingly appears to change his position and agree that virtue can be taught which is a position that must follow if the virtues are knowledge. Protagoras, on the other hand, believes that virtue can be taught because it is like a craft. But Socrates in other dialogues argues that although there is a sense in which knowledge can be learned it might not be possible to teach knowledge unless the right kind of mental work is done by the learner. This becomes clear in the dialogue of the Meno when Socrates via a series of leading questions “teaches” a slave boy the Pythagorean theorem. In relation to this accomplishment, Socrates means to establish that he did not impart this knowledge but the slave boy in some way using Socrates’ questions as a guide somehow “recollected” the Pythagorean principle from another and better world. It is difficult to interpret what is meant here but one suggestion is that the world of mathematics was being evoked in Socrates’ questions and the slave boy understood what he ought to in that world in order to answer Socrates’ questions. What this appears to illustrate is that the world of mathematics is an area of knowledge requiring understanding, a different kind of knowledge compared to that involved in the learning of skills. In the latter case the “measure” of the learning, to use Protagoras’ term is the production of an external object ” as a consequence” of the kind of knowledge involved. What Socrates appears to be objecting to here is that this kind of physical consequential knowledge is very different to the mental “understanding” of a principle in an area of knowledge(a different and better world).

In Plato’s “Republic” Glaucon, Plato’s brother, is not happy with the outcome of Socrates’ use of elenchus in the discussion with Thrasymachus. He insists that Socrates has not proved that knowledge of the good is necessary if one is to lead a flourishing life. He demands that Socrates prove that “The Good” is not just good in itself as Socrates has been trying to prove but that it also has good consequences. This then seems to be a logical culmination of discussions in earlier dialogues. Indeed Glaucon appears here to be the bearer of the mantle of Sophism and this demand appears to be the logical consequence of all the earlier exchanges between Socrates and the Sophists. Glaucon prior to this demand had argued that people only respect and follow the law because they are afraid of the consequences. Were they to possess the quality of invisibility and thus the impossibility of detection they would commit the most heinous crimes. Socrates, it is important to note here does not object to Glaucon on the grounds of truth, rather he merely claims that this behaviour based on a fearful reaction does not constitute “knowledge of the good”. It seems rather, to be following the Protagorean principle that virtue is the art of calculating or measuring the consequences in accordance with the pleasures one naturally seeks and the pains one naturally seeks to avoid. Modern scholars, in Socratic spirit,  regularly accuse Protagoras of being a relativist, especially in relation to his claim that man is the measure of all the things that are and of all the things that are not. This has not prevented ethical theorists from embracing consequentialist positions that have ignored the earlier Socratic objections and later Kantian objections that would appeal in the name of knowledge of the good to the understanding of the good intention. For Kant, it is the good intention that binds the “measure” to the chain of consequences that might flow from any action. It is indeed difficult to “measure” ethical circumstances such as the soldier throwing himself on a hand grenade about to explode. He saves some children but loses his own life. Obviously, any reasonable calculation would reveal the former to be a good consequence and the latter to be a bad consequence. The question that arises from such a “calculation” is: “Does the action, then, possess both characteristics(of the good and the bad) simultaneously? Or do we need recourse to the knowledge of the soldier to resolve this matter, the knowledge namely that he knew firstly  of the consequence of saving the children and desired that  and he also knew secondly of the consequence of the loss of his life and he accepted that(on the grounds of his own complex understandable reasons). We praise this act as virtuous because we know about his “knowledge of the good”. Contrast this with Glaucon’s “fear of the consequences”: a soldier fearful of the consequences would refrain from the action but would not be praised for preserving his own life(praising a soldier for such behaviour would be an example of an “inversion of values”). 

According to the Socrates of the Republic( The Socrates that Plato uses to convey his own theories), then,  it is this knowledge of the good that unites all the virtues into “One”. Aristotle  also felt the need to address Protagoras’s  relativism, The Epistemological  aspect of Protagoras’ philosophy is as Aristotle  puts it in  his Metaphysics:

“all beliefs and appearances are true”( IV 5 1009 6-9)

What this amounts to is that when A believes p to be p, it must be p and when q appears to be p, it must be p. This is clearly a violation of the Principle of Non-Contradiction which does not, by the way, deny that something can be p at one point in time, and q at another point in time. This possibility is explained by Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory in which the potentiality of q appearing to be p at one time but at another time revealing itself to be the q it actually is: here q is actually q in Aristotle’s First Philosophy.

Given the above discussion, it is unclear why Brett wishes to praise the Sophists for as he puts it “ushering in the spirit of scientific tradition”. This case only holds water because he paradoxically includes Socrates(who was no relativist) in the class of Sophists. The bonding together of these antagonists produces unnecessary complications unless one wishes to maintain that Science is not concerned with definitions that obey the principles of contradiction and sufficient reason: unless, that is, one wishes to in some sense claim that Science itself is hypothetical and relativistic). Brett does seem to focus on Science in the context of discovery and generally ignore the contexts of explanation and justification. Certainly, if one confines oneself to this context of discovery it is reasonable to point out that hypotheses might even contradict one another in this process. This suggestion is strongly supported by statements such as :

“The truth seems to be that there are no methodological recipes for being a  successful scientist”.

A curious statement given that methodology in the form of systematic observation, experimental manipulation, and measurement of variables in the search for causes is what is commonly taught in all science courses. Characterizing this matter in the form of a “recipe” is also a kind of Freudian slip because a recipe is obviously a kind of tool in the hands of a craftsman(the cook). Insofar as Protagoras is concerned, his “recipe” for investigation consists in the demand that we always check or “measure” every statement against the experience of Man. This is obviously good advice for particular causal statements but it might not be relevant if one is dealing with the essentially  conceptual statement “All events have causes”( the principle one uses in all scientific investigations). If Protagoras is suggesting that we verify the above in terms of the experience of Man it is not clear whether that can be done given the fact that it is a condition for the investigation of the experience of man. This, in other words, is the region of science best referred to as the context of justification.

Brett referenced enlightenment periods in his introductory remarks and  Kant is the philosopher par excellence from the Age of enlightenment. He argued forcefully in his “Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals” for recognising a fundamental logical difference between the use of instrumental and technological reasoning used by, for example, craftsmen, and  the kind of categorical reasoning used for the understanding of a world “measured” by the true and the principle of non contradiction. Kant’s critical philosophy in many important respects supports the Socratic and Aristotelian positions and rejects the positions of many of the Sophists. For Kant, the instrumental good and the categorical good are obviously in some way related but they are distinctly different in that the latter has a universal and logical character and the former has a hypothetical and causal structure. Causal structures of action can tolerate, for example,  that one effect of a cause can be ethically bad(losing one’s life) and the effect of that effect be good(saving the children) thus permitting the judgment that the effects of a cause can be both good and bad. Categorical reasoning does not tolerate the above relativistic characterisation. As we noted instrumental reasoning is certainly possible in the context of discovery in Science and a corresponding hypothetical cognitive attitude is certainly appropriate in such a context. Once, however, we reach the level of a definition of a phenomenon this ought to be a categorical dimension in which the definition must be necessarily true and free of contradiction.

The above might explain why Kant could comfortably write about the Metaphysics of material Nature and the Metaphysics of Morals in the same categorical tone. Kant’s work on the  Metaphysics of material Nature discerns two levels of scientific activity that are independent of experience, namely the transcendental and the metaphysical. The Kantian would have no difficulty integrating the categorical justifications of the categorical imperative with the categorical justifications of Science, for example, “All events must have a cause”.  Regarding  Science in a verificationist experience based spirit as Brett does makes it impossible to generate an ethics congruent with our understanding of the good. Faced with such a prospect there are, of course, two alternatives: One can either relativize ethics or one can try as Kant did focus on the contexts of explanation and justification in ones characterization of Science. Some commentators would claim that our modern age has chosen the former of the two alternatives.

Brett’s final judgment on Socrates is that he impeded the development of the Science of Psychology and he goes on to  praise Aristippus for his contribution to what he calls the theory of cognition:

“In the sphere of cognition, he recognizes only the subjective state, the inner movement of which we are conscious and from that deduces the proposition that all knowledge is subjective, the thing remaining unknown and only the effects of its action being perceived. this seems clear from the fact that things appear differently to different people or to the same people at different times…he saw clearly that feelings as feelings have in themselves no distinctions of better and worse.”

Brett regards this last statement, namely that feelings are what they are, and not what they ought to be or not ought to be, a “psychological truth”. On this account, a man’s relations to his feelings can only be studied by recording their occurrence historically. At every time T if there is a particular feeling it is recorded. This is one possible consequence of the above psychological truth. There is here no context of justification, only a descriptive context of discovery in which the subject discovers the next feeling in a Heraclitean flux of sensations.  What has happened to the building block of knowledge in this account, namely thought? If Socrates is famous for anything it is surely nothing to do with his sensations that are only rarely recorded in Plato’s dialogues but rather everything to do with the systematic manner of his thinking: the way in which the Socratic  method explains or justifies his thoughts and the way in which thinking links up to what we ought and ought not to do and believe.  Indeed the very concept of thought we have inherited from our knowledge of Socrates via the stylus of Plato is that of talking to oneself, a dialogue with oneself which includes the context of discovery, as well as the contexts of explanation and justification. Plato’s dialogues are records of Socrates’ thoughts whether they be facts, explanations or justifications.

In support of this, Hannah Arendt points out in her writings about the Eichmann trial that the evil we attribute to this man might be relating to his inability to think in terms of what he ought or ought not to have done. Eichmann was not a man like Socrates who pursued truth, explanation, and justification. Socrates, argues Arendt, would not have murdered anyone, let alone millions of people, because his inner voice or daemon would not have allowed him to live  in peace with a murderer given the fact that the soul is structured in terms of the part that decides to do  things and the part that determines whether what has been decided, ought or ought not to be done . The self in conversation with itself also refers to the myth described in Protagoras regarding Hermes and his “gifts” of shame and justice(the “tools” of the Freudian superego). Arendt’s work was met with a storm of controversy from the Jewish community(Arendt was herself arrested by the Nazis for being Jewish) because it was not believed that the cause of evil was as banal as the absence of thought. This thesis is not difficult to believe if one possesses a clear picture of the nature of thought and its power.

The above appeal to Aristippus reminds one distinctly of Brett’s earlier account of Science as a story that has not yet proven to be false: a story is a recorded sequence of events. Is this a consequence of  Brett’s conception of part of the cultural inheritance from the Enlightenment : a good story about an individual?

A Philosophical History of Psychology, Cognition and Consciousness: Part One The Pre-Socratic Thinkers, Brett and Heidegger.

Hits: 201

Philosophy itself has a long history of seeking to follow the prescription “Ask of everything, what it is, in its nature”. This question has been high on the list of priorities in its own investigations of the soul, self, or person and very early on in the history of this inquiry the inimitable Greek philosophers convinced themselves and everybody else for centuries that the path of reason and truth and the search for  laws or principles of human nature were the necessary constituents of any serious investigation. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were in agreement that the investigation into the nature of man should not be so-called “content-driven” inquiries similar to those initiated by some of the Pre-Socratic thinkers, especially those inquiries that were undertaken by the more materialistically inclined investigators. Socrates is an interesting figure to refer to in this context because he began his philosophical investigations into the search for natural explanations for difficult to explain phenomena. Upon reading a work by Anaxagoras Socrates is reported(by Plato) to have turned his back on natural inquiries and begun his search for knowledge of the good and of the self. Anaxagoras is reported to have claimed that “All is mind”  and this was the first step on the road to Socrates’ conversion from the investigation of nature to the investigation of the realm of ideas and their relation to reason. The difference between the early and late investigations of Socrates is best illustrated in the scene of Plato’s dialogue Phaedo in which Socrates claims that the explanation for his plight of being incarcerated is not to be found  in the material movements of his body causing  him to  move to prison  but the explanation is rather to be found in the realm of ideas, in the reasons for his actions. Any investigation of this matter, if it was needed, would, therefore, focus upon what the person or his mind does, in,  that is, what is decided, what is willed as revealed to us in a context of explanation constituted of our cognitive attitudes and desires.

Brett in his work “The History of Psychology” claims that there are different categories of explanation. R S Peters in his abridged one-volume edition of the work has this to say on this issue:

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

Brett in his work actually claims three such broad  “lines of interest” but it should be remembered that the third and last volume of this work was published in 1921 at a time when Psychology had only ca 50 years earlier detached itself from Philosophy. These “great lines of interest”  are, firstly, the essential questions raised by Psychology, secondly, questions raised by the medical profession and thirdly, the questions raised by the theologians and the Philosophers. Placing theologians and philosophers inside the same pair of brackets does, however, raise some questions about the criteria that Brett may have used to define a ” line of interest”. Theology and Philosophy have certainly been asking different kinds of questions about the nature of man ever since Socrates used elenchus on the theologian Euthyphro in the Platonic dialogue of the same name. The reluctance or refusal of the Church to translate Aristotle’s works into Latin is probably another event suggestive of the difficulty of conflating theological and philosophical traditions of inquiry. Given these objections, it can reasonably be claimed that there are at least four lines of interest and that Philosophy can claim to be a unique line of interest/inquiry. Philosophical events after the publication of Brett’s work such as the rise of Analytical Philosophy of Science in general and Logical Positivism in particular also argue for a differentiation of philosophical from theological questions. on the grounds of a rejection of metaphysical explanations. Brett’s position interestingly rejects that there is some unique kind of object of interest or subject matter that defines the realm of Psychology.

R S Peters embellishes Brett’s account by making a point about the role of language in the activities of these “lines of interest”. Peters claims that in the tradition of thinking about man, language contains a background of ages of inductive reasoning about man’s nature. Language by this means has also shaped our assumptions and interests.

Perhaps in the light of the considerable developments we have seen in Psychological investigations in the twentieth century, there is a case for claiming that there are also a number of traditions of inquiry within this discipline, ranging from biological theorizing to Humanistic theorizing. There is, however,  an important philosophical distinction to be observed in this discussion and this is the Kantian differentiation between events that happen to a person and events initiated by the will of a person(when a person does something). R S Peters focuses upon this difference by drawing attention to the distinction between questions investigating the facts(what is the case) and questions investigating what ought to be the case, what we ought to do. The latter investigation moves us into a different universe of prescriptive discourse wherein we refer to judgments of appraisal and attitude, a very different universe of discourse to that wherein facts are described and even used for explanatory purposes. There is indeed a relation of relevance between these two universes of discourse(what is the case, and what ought to be the case) but there is no straightforward deductive relationship. This is a paradoxical relation from the scientific point of view considering the uncomfortable philosophical claim that it is the ought judgment which determines the interest and attitude we bring to bear on investigations into physical reality rather than the observations of physical reality solely determining the cognitive attitude we form of that reality. What is being referred to in this discussion are two different contexts: the context of justification and the context of discovery. The prescriptive ought judgment, for example, “One ought not to murder any other person” is the universal justification for the particular judgment that  “A ought not to have murdered B”. There is a confusion of the logical relationship between these two judgments when one places these judgments within a scientific context of discovery in which discovering the fact that A has murdered B suffices to prove the falsity of the universal generalization “One ought not to murder anyone”.

Prescriptive questions fall clearly into the domains of both Ethics and Philosophical Psychology and these are both ancient concerns and modern philosophical concerns. Many oracular judgments, for example. “Know thyself”  and “Nothing too much” were formative of the view that Ancient Greek Philosophy had of the appraisals we make and the cognitive attitudes we have formed of human beings and their activities.

The difference between ancient concerns and later philosophical reflection upon these concerns is that the latter involves asking a second-order type of question which asks, for example, whether the justification for the judgment “one ought not to murder anyone” is an appropriate justification. This request for a justification of a justification led to the type of critical philosophy that Kant argued for in which different formulations of the categorical imperative provided this second order justification of the justification. In the first formulation, we are provided with a universal law that motivates attitudes, judgments, and actions. the second formulation refers to a universal condition of the dignity of man and the third formulation refers to the legislative understanding of critical self-conscious citizens. It was obvious to Kant that scientific observation and the experimental manipulation and measurement of variables in the context of discovery have no place in the investigation of answering ethical questions. Kant would also claim that such a context of discovery would have only a limited role in the process of the formation of cognitive attitudes relating to what Plato and Aristotle called “The Good”.  Reference to the context of discovery would, for example, require the separation of a holistic meaningful unity of means and ends(which both must be good in the same sense) into two separate elements related by a causal mechanism for which a principle or law must be “discovered”. This position transforms ethics into a technological affair in which one of the elements must somehow justify the other: either the means must justify the end or the end must justify the ends. This kind of discussion does not take us to the critical self-conscious level that Kant claims is characteristic of ethical reasoning. In response to this accusation, ethical theories appeal to artificial procedures such as the capacity we possess for “introspection”. Another “mechanism”, even if it is psychological, unfortunately, does not answer the logical and conceptual questions posed at this second-order level.

There is much to be gained, then, in the application of critical philosophy to theories and claims made in all four lines of Interest/inquiry. This will involve examining the logical consistency of theories that involve the conceptual adequacy of factual claims as well as the adequacy and self-sufficiency or propositional explanation and justification. In this process it is important, however, to respect a natural categorical Aristotelian and Kantian distinction between what we human beings are in our essence(Aristotle’s  De Anima, Kant’s Anthropology) and what we ought to do in order to express that essence(Aristotle’s Ethics, Kant’s Practical  and Moral Critique’s). These metaphysical investigations predated those systematic scientific investigations that  R S Peters argues began with Darwin’s “Origin of the Species. It can, however, be argued that Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory helped us to comprehend the importance of our animal nature in the attempt to understand the concept of consciousness that emerged shortly after Darwin’s reflections at the moment when Psychology detached itself from Philosophy.

In this study, we intend to construct a philosophical commentary and critique of Brett’s “History of Psychology” using the investigations of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein, O Shaughnessy, Paul Ricoeur, Hannah Arendt, and P M S Hacker.

The Pre-Socratic Thinkers

Brett denies in the Introduction to this topic that Science is a “body of knowledge” that was formed by a “scientific method” and further claims that:

“It is more in keeping with the history of thought to describe science as the myths about the world which have not yet found to be wrong. Science had its roots partly in primitive pictures of the world and partly in primitive technology.”

We need, in evaluating the above quote, to remind ourselves of the fact that these thoughts were published in 1912, a period in which modern science was developing in many different directions yet still in its infancy given the fact that the Enlightenment Philosophical Kantian view of science was being disregarded as being “metaphysical”, a term which eventually became synonymous with “the mythical”. The Context of Explanation was regarded as generated exclusively out of the process of the context of discovery in which we discover “facts” and “generalizations” that go beyond the given facts. It was around this time that Bertrand Russell was constructing the concept of sense data as part of his logical/epistemological account of experience and as part of his professional refutation of the idealist philosophical position he had embraced earlier in his career. In short, this was a period in which the inductive context of discovery took precedence over the context of explanation and justification. It was a skeptical period in which dogma was identified with metaphysics and science adopted a hypothetical pose connected more with imaginative language than categorical reasoning. This was the state of affairs in which Brett made his claim that Science and myth were closely aligned. Kant would have categorically rejected such a position on the grounds that a product of the imagination may well be a part of the context of discovery as well as the art of storytelling, but it is not a faculty of mind directly involved in the propositional truth-conditional process of reasoning. 

Brett continues in his introduction to point to an interesting account that charts the development of speculative inquiry where..

“It is an interesting fact that detailed speculations about man were the last to emerge in the history of science. the heavenly bodies, the objects remotest from man, were the first objects of scientific interest. Speculation advanced slowly through the realms of the organic until the nineteenth century, detailed observations of animals paved the way for detailed and systematic observation of men.”

This is, from one point of view, an interesting example of collective amnesia, probably caused by an obsession with the context of discovery and observationalism. Brett appears to have forgotten, in these reflections upon the Pre-Socratic thinkers, the reflections of Aristotle and his detailed observations of animals including his discovery of some of the criteria for the classification of different forms of animals and different species. The phenomenon of Aristotle is particularly instructive insofar as we can clearly see its systematic structure in, for example, his 4 kinds of change, three principles of change and 4 kinds of explanations of change. We can also see how this structure is applied in very different ways to investigations involving the animal psuche and the human psuche respectively. This clearly indicates that animal forms of life and human forms of life demand different kinds of concepts for their description and explanation. One of the key differences being that human forms of life essentially instantiate the self-conscious activities of reflection upon the rightness and wrongness of human activities. Criticism, praise and blame are important aspects of the rational nature of man. At this reflective level, theoretical conceptual thought has a fundamental teleological aspect aiming at the truth in the realm of belief. Practical conceptual thought is similarly teleological, aiming at the good in the realm of action. One could of course, in the spirit of the hypothetical, conjecture  or imagine that animals can engage in self-conscious activities, imagine that they can  think and speak about the world in the way human beings do as one can also imagine superhuman divine beings demanding the attention and activity of humans being devoted to “divine causes”. Such feats of imagination, however, whilst being typically human will not compete with the activities of reason required for the bringing about of the Aristotelian teleological end of “Eudaimonia”, or the Kantian teleological end of “Freedom”. But what end, then, do these feats of imagination achieve? Kant in his “Critique of Judgement” speaks of the purpose of the imagination being to relate to the faculty of the understanding, preparing the materials that we experience aesthetically or intuitively for possible conceptualization. Myths and stories like the imagination aim teleologically at the pleasure which ensues when the faculties of mind of the sensibility, imagination and the understanding are in harmony. Myths and stories are essentially descriptive and only incipiently have explanatory power. The experiences described in these narratives are organized in accordance with what Freud referred to as the Pleasure-Pain Principle: a principle that regulates the emotions or what Kant calls the sensible aspects of our mind. Science, on the other hand, is concerned with the classification of experiences, the formulation of true judgments about phenomena in both conceptual and propositional terms, the principle of causation and the use of the faculties of the understanding and reason to arrive at the formulation of natural and moral laws.

Brett points out the futility of beginning the story of Psychology with the early Greek Cosmological inquirers and their attempts to answer a materialistically inspired question relating to what things are made of. Heraclitus, who is mysteriously only cursorily mentioned by Brett,  and Empedocles, who is mentioned at length, both wrote about the psychological elements of love and hate and Heraclitus’s fragments indicate a reference to a use of logic. For Heraclitus so-called opposites such as the road up and the road down are logically the same road and the continual change of the physical world demand an understanding of logos, the uniter of opposites.

Brett claims that

“The typically Greek contribution to the rise of science was, therefore, the speculative spirit and the love of argumentation.”

He argues interestingly that the spirit of speculation was lost in the Middle Ages and medieval scholastic discourse was instead dominated by the love of argumentation. Given the Cultural domination of Religion in both the East and the West it is not particularly surprising that a dogmatic attitude accompanied the scholastic love of argumentation, an attitude that detached itself from the perception of our constantly changing Heraclitean world. This attitude was more Platonic than Aristotelian. Aristotelian hylomorphism was predicated upon the search for what we can know about the changing world. An interesting fact to present in this context is the fact that the Church refrained from the translation of the works of Aristotle into Latin until ca 1200 AD thus placing Plato’s philosophy in a superior position of influence. This was undoubtedly a contributory factor to the dogmatic speculations of the scholastic philosophers of the medieval period. This historical fact could also account for the amnesia of Brett in relation to  Aristotle and his complex hylomorphic theory about man, a theory certainly grounded in systematic observation of the human form of life. The Aristotelian worldview with a man in a central position belies Brett’s claim that the cosmological materialistic view dominated speculation and observation until the advent of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution precipitated a wave of what Brett referred to as  the “detailed and speculative observation of men.”

Brett’s minimalization of the role of Aristotle in his “History of Psychology” is probably due to firstly, an inadequate Historical view of Greek Culture and secondly to the phenomenon of Latinisation of Greek Philosophy via the Latinisation of the Greek language.

Our understanding of man quite rightly may, in the end, be more Parmenidean than Heraclitean because Parmenides is the first philosopher to write about “The One”  in terms of the goddess, Aletheia. Aletheia, according to the continental philosopher Martin Heidegger is the Greek term for truth that he translates as “unconcealment” and contrasts it to the Greek term for “the false” which is “pseudos”. Pseudos is in turn translated by the Latin “falsum” which carries the meaning of “bringing to a fall”. Heidegger, in his essay on Parmenides, points to the fact that this “bringing to a fall” is in the realm of the essence of, “domination”, of overseeing. Verum in Latin has no connotation of bringing out of unconcealment and simply dogmatically means  “to be not false” and thereby leading us once again into the domain of domination, the domain of the imperial dogmatic command. Pseudos, on the other hand, according to Heidegger’s translation is..

“dissembling. Dissembling  lets something it sets out and sets up appear differently that it is “in truth”…(and) also unveils and hence is a kind of disclosure”(p44 “Parmenides” trans André Schumer and Richard Rojcewicz,1992)

Heidegger believes that the Latinisation of Greek thought as a critical element in world-historical development has produced many consequences for many aspects of our understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit. In its place, we have not just the dogmatic militaristic imperialism of the Romans but also a Christian imperialism embedded in an ecclesiastical structure under the dogmatic command of a perfect Pope. Christian Imperialism includes ecclesiastical dogmatic interpretations of the teachings of Jesus Christ and ecclesiastical financial domination.

When the idea of “the false” actually dominates the meaning of the idea of “the true” we are confronted with an example of the infamous “inversion of values” that Hannah Arendt referred to in her work “The Origins of Totalitarianism”. The Militaristic dogmatic imperial Nazis and Communists sought to build world-empires not based on revelatory ideas but rather on an experience of “bringing to a fall”, an experience of domination. This conflated in an insidious way the epistemological function of a consciousness responding to Being or what  Parmenides called “The One” with an instrumental/ethical function of consciousness: this latter function is decisive for relativizing the Parmenidean idea of “The Good” we find in Plato’s Republic. Parmenides identified “the Good” with the True” in a way which precluded the relativism we encounter in the modern period that began with the Cartesian silence on ethical issues and continued with Hobbesian instrumental materialism. Kant’s Philosophy temporarily synthesized these positions integrating epistemological, metaphysical and ethical issues as a response to the modern cocktail of dogmatic rationalism and skeptical material empiricism. This very Greek Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelian synthesis, however, was rapidly undermined as the Enlightenment was swamped firstly by Hegel’s dogmatic idealism and then subsequently by a materialistic scientific-economic empiricism. The Modern Period was very much defined by this tsunami. Heidegger’s claim, then, that this whole process probably began with the Romanization of Greek Culture and the Latinization of the Greek Language is a plausible explanation for what many philosophers including Hannah Arendt and Jurgen Habermas have called our “modern malaise”. 

Brett registers something of the above debate in the following claim:

“Parmenides had laid hold of thought and meditated on its nature, as Heraclitus had directed his attention to perception. Thought has a permanence which perception seems to lack: it has a stationary character in comparison with the qualitative changes of perception; it is more akin to Being, while perceptions are akin to Becoming. These are metaphysical rather than physical notions, and their influence,  as seen in the works of Plato, spend itself mainly upon theories of knowledge. Ideas about the constitution of man and of the soul are found in the fragments  attributed  to Parmenides but their importance is somewhat discounted by the fact that  they come in what  is called by Parmenides the Way of Opinion.”

Brett goes on to point out that Parmenides regarded man’s constitution as a mixture of elementary qualities and man’s mind a mixture of what Aristotle later would call matter and form in which mans thoughts are related to his bodily constitution. We see in the above quote the absence of reference to  Aristotle’s synthesis of Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato and this might be a consequence of the failure to recognize the influence of the Romanisation of Greek Culture and the Latinisation of the Greek language. Heidegger’s thesis, of course, was not known to Brett given the fact that this thesis was first delivered in the dark days of  1942-43 in Germany. Much has also been made by Heidegger, and modern theorists, of Nietzche’s claim that “God is dead” and the characterization of man in terms of “will to power”. The chains of religion have been cast off and in the process, the Bible(this work of prophets, our ancient thinkers) was reduced to  “stories” contradicted by scientific “discoveries”.

Consideration of  the above Heideggerian thesis and his pupil Hannah Arendt’s condemnation of the modern age as being the womb of totalitarianism opens up a logical/metaphysical “space” for a cognitive attitude towards The History of Philosophy and The History of Psychology that seeks to restore a “thread of tradition” running from Greek Culture via the Enlightenment and onward to a modern enlightened attitude toward globalization. Such a space would supplement,  or neutralize the claim that globalization is principally driven by economic and scientific factors.

Both Descartes and Hobbes rejected the Metaphysics of  Aristotle and attempted to fill the ensuing philosophical vacuum with epistemological discussions of human nature and ethics. The above quote of Brett’s places the blame for the elevation of epistemological inquiry over other forms squarely on the shoulders of Plato thus minimizing the Platonic view of man as a fundamentally ethical being possessing a mind in need of regulation by Reason and Philosophy.

Brett rightly also refers to Parmenidean speculation that sensation must belong even to inorganic beings because, his argument goes, if this were not the case sensation would emerge sui generis with the advent of life and be inexplicable. This paradoxically places Parmenides in the materialist camp and it might be the case that Plato’s Philosophy was an attempt to move away from this position without falling into the bottomless pit of Becoming espoused by Heraclitus. Brett’s account of the position of Parmenides also includes, however, thoughts that Aristotle would develop in his theories :

“Mind is the product of the material constitution of the body, and the activities of mind, the thoughts vary in relation to the different constitutions  of men.”

Different thoughts vary with different constitutions is one implication of the above quote. This assumption is embedded in various modern Psychological personality coordinate systems. In one system (H Eysenck)we are presented with a longitudinal axis of stability-neuroticism and a latitudinal axis of extraversion-introversion. The theory is basically a coordinate system that will find a position for every individual. The philosophical assumption in this context is the general or universal position that an organ system of a particular kind is requisite for thinking, feeling etc to occur. The above coordinate system requires an individual to answer questions that of course require thoughtful answers. In Aristotelian terms, the above empirical constitutionally based personality theory would address the so-called materialist-cause of thought or thinking. The above theory proposed by Eysenck also appeals to factors such as the genetic determination of the constitution of human, animal, and plant life.

The above example illustrates well the relation of historical assumptions to present theorizing. Parmenides in his philosophical “poem” writes about “The Way of Truth”  and being led by the goddess of truth in search of the indivisible and holistic “One”. This, according to Heidegger is an expression  of a relation to Being or Reality in the spirit of what he called “unconcealment” (aletheia), a relation very different to the relation to Being expressed in the so-called “Way of Opinion” instantiated in the above claim of  Parmenides that mind is the product of the material constitution of the body.

Modern Psychology dwells in a world of variables, in particular in an environment where variables are manipulated and the effects are observed and measured. The Philosophical issue involved is, of course, historical and the question to raise is “Why has Modern Psychology embraced the assumptions of materialism/observationalism and the interpretative methodology of statistics(The Way of Opinion) rather than a principled approach as is instantiated by the theorizing of Freud (The Way of Truth).

This is, of course, a complex question and requires an understanding of a philosophical view of history. Heidegger’s view is that History is popularly conceived of as motion, events, and processes which happen and through which something comes to pass. This is a linear causal view that at best produces a history that is defined as the totality of facts about the past. Heidegger adopts a teleological view reminiscent of the teleological “cause” or “explanation” we encounter in Aristotle’s Metaphysical theory of change when he insists that History is more concerned with destiny and the transmission of essence or potential in an actualizing process. Man, for Heidegger, is the being for whom his very being is an issue and that issue involves unconcealment or the revelation of the Being of beings. This unveiling is the essence of the Parmenidean and Aristotelian concepts of Aletheia. Heidegger points to how, in the absence of this understanding, even great Historians such as Jacob Burckhardt resort to what he calls “the balancing of the books”: facts are given positive and negative weights and conclusions such as  Spengler’s the decline of Western Civilisation are produced from this method. Here too Biological assumptions lie behind the “calculations”. Spengler balanced the books of the facts and arrived at the telos of decline where the more cautious philosophical position would be that the end is uncertain for the West.

History, for the modern philosopher, has a meaning which is being revealed as part of the Way of Truth rather than the Way of Opinion Spengler has chosen. History must provide us with the Zeitgeist of an age. In relation to this search for the spirit of the modern age, Heidegger continues his account of the transformation of the idea of the truth. As we saw aletheia was Latinised  into Veritas and this, in turn, was transformed by medieval scholasticism into  “adaequatio, rectitudo,, and iustitia:

“and from there, to the modern certitudo. to truth as certainty. validity and assurance…The result of this transformation of the essence of truth which has prevailed for centuries in the Occident, is the event of the conversion of the essence of untruth, from the Greek pseudos to the Roman falsum …The correct use of the power of judgment is determined in reference to what assures mans self certainty.”(Parmenides p57)

This takes us to the gates of the Modern Period and the Philosophy of Descartes and Hobbes who himself objected to Cartesianism on materialistic grounds reminiscent of the Parminedean “Way of Opinion”.

Returning to Brett’s account of the Pre-Socratics we see him referring to Empedocles and his physiological theory of the relation of the blood to intelligence and thought. In perhaps what was one of the first  theoretical reflections upon consciousness we also are given an account of consciousness in terms of the temperature of the blood: sleep ensuing when the blood cools. We appear here to be  only incidentally in the realm of thought. Brett takes us closer to the realm of thought and the Way of Truth in his discussion of the work of  Anaxagoras:

“He finds from observation that men attribute actions to reasons, and this is sufficient to justify the assertion that reason is the starting point of the activity which has put in order the chaotic mass of original matter. Reason in this way becomes an immanent force that makes for order, itself pure and unmixed but the cause of all mixture, a power inherent in some things, and ruler and organizer of all.”

Yet Anaxagoras, too, gives his promising reflections a biological twist claiming that plant life is capable of reason and knowledge thus nullifying the suggestiveness of the above thoughts.

Democritus, the atomist and Pythagoras the mathematician/mystic that claimed that reality has a mathematical form and also believed in the transmigration of souls, are also mentioned as representatives of a scientific perspective.

This section concludes with an account of two Pre-Socratic thinkers who are classified as representatives of the medical perspective: Alcmaeon and Hippocrates. Alcmaeon claims that sleep is caused by the blood moving into the larger blood vessels. He also claimed that the soul is immortal and divine like the sun. Hippocrates is the more interesting figure, however. He believed that mental activity was intimately related to its physical substrate in such a way that a healthy body produces an intelligent soul: contrariwise, an unhealthy body can cause mental derangements. The brain is also an important part of Hippocrates’ reflections. Brett characterises  these reflections in the following way:

“Within the body, the brain occupies the most important place. From it proceed all the veins of the body:they spring up from this root and grow downwards branching out to various parts of the body. Here is the seat of intelligence: into the brain lead the various passages of sense, eyes, nose, ears.–If the brain receives a shock loss of speech, sight or hearing may follow: from wounds to the brain paralysis and death ensue.”

Brett fails to mention anything relating to the famous Hippocratic oath in this section and he also registers his disappointment with the way in which  dreams are characterised in one of Hippocrates’ short essays. Dreams, Hippocrates argues, belong to a special class of phenomena requiring interpretation and knowledge of a special science. Dreams can signal the presence of morbid conditions within the body because:

“There seems to be the idea that the soul discovers in sleep what in the waking state goes unnoticed. This amounts almost to the idea that a latent consciousness comes to the surface in dreams.”

These ideas are treated perfunctorily. Brett  claims these speculations to be wild and inaccurate characterisations of the proper causes of dreams. Hippocrates’s reflections on the brain surface again and again throughout the history of Psychology and Medicine most notably in Freudian times where we find, Charcot, for example  making similar claims in the name of Psychiatry. The science of the knowledge of dreams also resurfaces with Freud’s reflections on the interpretation of dreams in the book with the same name. 

In these Pre-Socratic medical thinkers accounts we see again the dialectic between the way of opinion and the way of truth. A dialectic  that will require the philosophising of Socrates, the dialogues of Plato, and the critical historically oriented reflections of Aristotle before a systematic synthesis worthy of the name “Psychology” can emerge.

Summary of some of the criticisms of “Homo Deus” from a Philosophical point of view(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein)

Hits: 305

First Part
The author asserts that famine, plague, and war are fading into insignificance thanks to the pragmatic scientific approach to the solution of the problems facing mankind. The Humanist largely agrees with the view that mankind is making slow progress with respect to the various goals that define for him a flourishing life but this is not all good news because it is obvious that man is not living up to his rational potential. Were Apollo to send a message to us it would be the same as the one he sent to the ancient Greeks. The message would contain the two norm based imperatives “Nothing too much” and “Know thyself”. He would clearly see the hubris of man in his continual craving for more and better and bigger. Harari claims that on the biological level our expectations and happiness are founded on biochemistry rather than economic, social or political factors. Happiness is pleasure for the capitalist Juggernaut, it is claimed and this pseudo-knowledge is then used for re-engineering projects which will modify our biochemistry rather than our relation to the world. It is quite clear that “Humanism is a straw man erected for the purposes of the impending bonfire” and it is equally clear that the kind of progress Harari suggests is not that of the humanist who demands norm based progress.

Part two
Harari dubs our era “The Anthropocene era because for the first time the fate of the globe is in the hands of its products, Homo Sapiens. There is much discussion about the lot and fate of animals in this section. Harari hypothesises that animals are just a collection of algorithms and claims this leaves a question mark over the issue of whether they suffer or not. This approach contrasts dramatically to Aristotle’s claim that animals possess a “soul” or psuche that is not like a spirit dwelling within them but more like a principle explaining their movement and activity. The Agricultural Revolution Harari argues sees animals rather as fodder for the gods and given that we have a streak of the divine within us, we treat animals as fodder for ourselves. The Scientific Revolution changed our relation to the divine and moved us to the centre of the stage to replace deus absconditus. In its wake new humanistic based religions occurred such as Nazism, the author proclaims somewhat paradoxically. These kinds of reflections cannot but arouse the spectre of post modernism and its obsession with relativism.

Part three
After a long fruitless discussion of the soul which disregards the philosophical view of the soul as a principle of motion there is an attempt to reify the soul as some spiritual something(not a principle) which is separate from its effects. It was in response to Cartesian mythology of this sort that Wittgenstein insisted in his later work that “Our attitude towards a person is an attitude towards a soul”. This importantly draws our attention to the fact that attitudes belong to human beings and not some fictitious part of a human being.

“Darwin has deprived us of our souls” Harari claims. Does this even make sense? One can surely ask how any theory about the evolution of an animal body could deprive us of a philosophical theory of an attitude which is an expression of a principle? This point is in a critical point elaborated upon as follows:

“This claim could only be true if science could engage directly with the argumentation of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein and “prove” that there is no principle governing out attitudes, thoughts, etc. How would that be done? By observation? This is completely ignoring the fact that Darwin’s theory is as much a theory involving reasoning about animal populations as it is a theory incorporating the observation of animal populations. The person standing before me now might have been evolved “by degrees” over millions of years but my recognition of this person as human is only partly constituted by this long history of his human bodily form. He stands before me and I recognise him to be the kind of being that is capable of discourse and a source of rational argumentation in spite of the fact that he is at the moment staring at the cat in the room. It is my expectations of him and his expectations of me that constitute the kind of interactions we can have with one another. Referring to these expectations as either “subjective” or “intersubjective” is an “idle use of language” as a Wittgensteinian might be inclined to comment.”

In the light of the above it is difficult to comprehend exactly what is meant when Harari says “If you really understand the theory of evolution you understand that there is no soul.”

Harari then attempts to link the continuity of our human being with immortality which is neither a religious/philosophical view nor a secular/philosophical view where occupants of either of these positions may believe the formercontinuity thesis but not the latter immortality thesis. Reference is made to the importance of our institutions and in relation to this question we should point out that our legal systems are secular/philosophical and have no rules for dealing with the actions of disembodied souls or the actions of uninhabited bodies. There is however a belief in a continuous embodied principle which is responsible for its actions. Imagine the absurdity of a defence in terms of evolution theory where the defendant claims no responsibility for his actions because “he is evolving”.

Harari shifts to speaking about the mind and slips very surprisingly into Cartesianism. Aristotle Kant and Wittgenstein all reject this form of dualism for good philosophical reasons which are not even acknowledged in Harari’s discussion. Why, one may justifiably ask? He then equally surprisingly claims that science knows very little about mind or consciousness” and he subsequently, on Cartesian grounds, rejects the possibility of robots or machines possessing experience. The right conclusion for the wrong reasons. One of the consequences of this argument is :

“The whole system of human value collapses because there is nothing significant science can say about it.”

Harari discusses the fall of communism and attributes it to the inability of the Soviets to cooperate and organise their society. The point he extracts is not the Greek position that they lacked the appropriate knowledge but rather that power needs to be organised effectively. One means of organising power effectively is for the population concerned to believe the same stories which can lose their credibility overnight, it is argued. Our human rights are a consequence of a story we all believe, it is claimed.

Part four

The dualism of Descartes is again invoked when it is claimed that animals live in a dual reality, a world of trees and rivers and an internal world of subjective experience of which they are aware! This attributes to animals a self consciousness which is necessary for what Hacker called the operation of two way powers in which we humans that possess such powers will to do or not to do an action. It attributes to animals self conscious actions, that is, instead of behaviour. Harari then distinguishes animal “actions” from human actions by the fact that we humans tell stories about our actions , money, gods nations and corporation. These stories are so powerful apparently that they, rather than our actions, are the means by which History is created. Again it is suggested that our story telling ability is wrongly dated and there is talk of story-telling Neanderthals. It is not being deniedin our commentary that story telling played a part in our cognitive development: what is being questioned is that this concrete cognitive skill could give rise to abstract activities such as the formulation of laws or the intentional creation of Biblical texts possessing abstract symbolic complexity. The stories of the Sumerian gods created the modern equivalent of brands or corporation it is claimed. In response to this point it was argued:

“the talk of God or gods of most of the Greek philosophers were not items of the imagination gleaned from stories, but rather condensations from clouds of argumentation. Even Kant would have objected to the claim that his philosophical idea of God originated in the imagination. For Kant God was an idea of reason that interestingly enough was only one of three ideas. The idea of God for Kant, in contrast, was not to be explained in the theoretical terms of Aristotle but more in terms of the moral law.”

The counterargument to Harari’s position is that the kind of abstract knowledge we are presented with in the Bible does not emanate from the concrete stories that we find there. It is impossible to capture the philosophical idea of God in a story:

“We should also remember that Einstein believed in Spinoza’s “philosophical” view of God and his reasoning may well have been Aristotelian and Kantian.Newton too believed in God but it is difficult to believe that his theological training at Trinity College Cambridge did not relate to the arguments of the philosophers. Wittgenstein’s belief in God was also based on argumentation not of the demonstrative theoretical kind but rather of the practical ethical kind. All of these figures, Newton, Kant, Einstein, and Wittgenstein of course probably read the bible closely but this reading process would more resemble a critical interpretative activity than a receptive emotional process of identification and introjection. These latter two processes may well involve the imagination whereas the former would require reasoned argumentation.”

The Bible is also a source of law and the same point can be made in relation to this fact, namely that the civilisation creating act of legal intention cannot be fully captured in a concrete story. The complexity of the action of writing and the possible abstract uses of language in the communication of abstract intentions and knowledge is not captured in narratives where the intentions of the authors are connected with the evoking of imaginative mechanisms such as projection and introjection.

Part five

The emphasis on the power of stories to shape mans existence continues at the expense of the view that much of the cooperation that lies behind mans success is founded upon the following of abstract ethical rules which occur in texts like the Bible and the laws in our law books:

“For Harari, the decisive contents in a narrative are the elements in it which may happen to be false or fictional as he puts it. It was suggested in the previous lecture that the belief in the fictional elements of biblical narratives are not actually the components which facilitate cooperation between men but rather that function is produced by the element of the following of the ethical rules which are suggested in these narratives. The reason why men follow these rules are teleological: they hope that their actions will lead to a flourishing life for themselves and the people they care for. Corporations and nations are not “fictional entities” as is maintained but rather entities which scientific theory cannot adequately describe given its ignorance of what consciousness is and its ignorance of how to characterise action in general and ethical action in particular. Nations and corporations are not objects of belief but objects of action brought about by the activities of men. Action is as real as the suffering that cause it or it causes. Philosophical theory has been concerned with action theory for over two thousand years not through the activity of story telling but through the activity of theorising and arguing about it. The kind of action that avoids the consequences of suffering is the kind of action which builds not upon a shaky belief about something fictional but about knowledge of what is real, e.g. suffering.”

Much of this section of Harari’s work “The Odd Couple” is again a dialectical bi-polar discussion that swings between Science and Religion, natural and supernatural,facts and myths, power and order. Reality, however, is not so easily divided. In one bizarre discussion it is suggested that once the power of science takes over the weakness of myth, people will be able to reshape their reality in accordance with their pet fictions. The philosophical analysis of reality and ethical principles is wholly absent in such discussions, which have a post modernist atmosphere about them. Everyone can live in their virtual alternative reality if they wish to: a formula for chaos if ever there was one. Along the way religion is branded with the term “supernatural” because for example the narrative of Moses is a story about a meeting with a supernatural being. Once again there is a failure to recognise and understand the intentions of the writers of sacred texts and their use of symbolic language which, actually, in the end, after philosophical analysis, might reveal that God was an idea in mans mind–a complex idea condensed from clouds of argumentation about the nature of reality and human existence. Or, alternatively, an analysis of the symbolic language of the Biblical text might reveal that Moses , in order to put an end to wandering in the wilderness leading a hunting-gathering form of life, made the judgment that an agricultural revolution was the next necessary step in the progress of man toward leading the flourishing life. Harari regards the agricultural revolution as a fraud, as promising something it never delivered, but if one brings philosophy and ethics into the equation we might then see that the agricultural revolution was necessary for one of the following steps which was the industrial revolution that in its turn eventually provided man with the freedom to educate himself and philosophise in his free time. But for Harari it is the scientific revolution that pre dated the industrial revolution which will take control of our destinies rather than the philosophical revolution( that predated the scientific revolution by thousands of years). But as we know the philosophical revolution is not even on Harari’s timeline of important historical events.

Part six

Harari claims that prior to our modern age human beings were like actors on a stage playing a part. Presumably he believes that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were playing the role of the philosopher whilst at the same time initiating through their complex and abstract ruminations the very subject and activity of Philosophy. This is said in response to Harari’s claim:

“If famine, plague, and war were in the script then everyone played their parts with varying degrees of Stoicism. Humans had no control of the script, no control over famine, plague, and war. It is this powerlessness that science challenges on the grounds that the cosmic plan has no meaning. Life , it is claimed has no meaning and “the universe is a blind and purposeless process, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing”. The feeling that life is without meaning is actually a symptom of the depressive phase of the mental illness, manic depression, and we know that the Shakespearean character associated with the above words was not in a stable mental condition. This statement that the life of humans and the processes of the universe have no meaning would be somewhat puzzlingand mysterious only if we were not familiar with the cultural phenomenon of post-modernism. Post modernists begin by denying the truth and then they deny meaning on grounds that actually undermine their own position. To take post modernist claims seriously we would have to believe that they were true and meaningful. If these claims were not meaningful they could not be true and this relation between truth and meaning has been a fundamental tenet of Philosophy since the time of Aristotle and up until modern times which Philosophers date back to Hobbes and Descartes. Hobbes as we saw wished for humans to give up their freedom that according to Kant is the source, principle and meaning of human action and human activity. Kant would not therefore have negotiated any deals with the Hobbesian Leviathan.
Normally the Shakespearean character in a mental state of confusion rants and raves about the storm and the lightning and sees an adversarial meaning in the storm. If he is finally blinded and moves toward a state of calmer equilibrium and as a consequence a greater understanding of what has happened to him, it is not out of the question that he might sit and ponder his behaviour in the storm and arrive at the Aristotelian analysis that the storm is a physical process composed of the elements of earth, air, water, and fire and processes of hot and cold, wet and dry interacting with the purpose of reestablishing an equilibrium in the weather system. The storm is not a blind process: its power has meaning. Modern culture does not reject this cosmic plan. Modern science might believe this but that is a problem that science needs to address. If science has been blinded by its power then it is about time that it calm down and sit in Shakespearean fashion and ponder its future.”

The modern covenant is a contract that we moderns have formed with Politics Science and Economics in the spirit of the motto “Shit happens”. Economic growth and credit is what enables us to trust in the future it is argued and the primary economic commandment is to invest ones profits to increase growth. This together with the motto of post modernism which is to destroy the old and build the new in the face of the death of God provides a picture of the kind of future Hobbes envisaged when he recommended a contract with the Leviathan. The counterargument that Kant used against Hobbes was that we trust in a future better ethical state of the world which he called “the kingdom of ends” in which if there was any economic component necessary at all it would be “Use capital responsibly to create a kingdom of ends.” Trust for the philosophers was a condition of economic activity and not a consequence of it.

Part seven

Harari points out that Gods death did not lead to a social collapse and this might prove that there is no cosmic divine plan or script for mans destiny. For the Enlightenment Philosopher, Kant, there are both physical and moral laws that explain both what happens to man and what he does. Freedom and God are ideas of reason that jointly motivate the moral law and will explain the route of his pilgrimage to the kingdom of ends that the cosmopolitan man will create. There is a humanistic script aiming at the good elaborating upon the above points:

“Only rational animals capable of discourse can think,plan and aim at this good.Animals lead their lives in accordance with the drivers of instinct, feeling and emotion and because of this they cannot cooperate in the large numbers needed to found cities and communities in which such art,activities and inquiries can be pursued for the purposes of the good. Reason for Aristotle enabled man to develop the virtues which then defined the good person and the good action. Here again feelings were either an incidental irrelevant accompaniment or psychic obstacles which needed to be circumnavigated. This is similarly the case in Kant where the ideas of reason such as Freedom and God jointly motivate the moral law in which it is scripted that man ought to treat his fellow (and himself) as an end in himself and never merely as a means. Thus for Kant, the God respecting philosopher, there is a humanistic script to the human drama leading to the formation of the Cosmopolitan man which is part of the cosmic plan and there are laws both moral and physical which will explain the free, chosen pilgrimage of man on the road to a kingdom of ends. For both Aristotle and Kant the pursuit of the good is the essence of humanism and Aristotle specifically says in the Nichomachean ethics that virtue is not a feeling because it would be absurd to praise or blame a man for the feelings he is experiencing. For him the humanistic drama playing out is a process of actualisation in which the political conditions are being created for man to acquire the virtues via politically created educational systems led by a politically educated middle class. Aristotle, the biologist, believes that man the rational animal capable of discourse, is the most important proximate cause of this actualisation process: he believes, that is, that this process is driven by human nature that somehow participates in the divine through its possession of reason and the use of this reason in moments of philosophical contemplation.”

Harari identifies humanism with the feelings the humanist has and ignores the Aristotelian criticism of this position which states that man is not praised or blamed for the feelings he has. Humanists like Aristotle and Kant certainly would not ride the waves of populism and claim that God was dead or that there was no plan for mans destiny. For both Kant and Aristotle it was a philosophical possibility that the universe had always existed and that God was present in its form and the changes it underwent and undergoes. Their positions are not incompatible with the fact that both were amongst the most renowned scientists of their age and that both have built a philosophical framework for science which has as yet to be fully evaluated.

The “science” of psychology par excellence, i.e. Freudianism, created the professional role of the therapist which Harari contrasts with the role of a priest. Freud’s therapy was of course an example of humanistic moral treatment of mentally ill patients and the humanistic art/science of symptom interpretation. When Harari claims that:

“Humanism has taught us that something can be bad only if it causes someone to feel bad.”(p264).

He clearly misunderstands the role of both the priest and the therapist as interpreters of symptoms and the negative feelings associated therewith. Both these professionals in response to the negative feelings of their patients/parishioners, might, as part of their interpretation of these negative feelings produce more anxiety and even more negative feelings for the greater good of the flourishing life that Aristotle referred to in his Ethics.

Harari believes that the power of science and the growth principle of economics will lift us out of the dustbin of history where artificial intelligence will take the place of the death of God and the failure of what he calls “humanistic religion”

Part eight

Liberalism and Humanism are closely associated for Harari:

“The Liberal order, according to Harari, is defined in terms of individualism human rights, democracy and the free market and is also a form of religion. Human rights as we learned earlier are figments of the imagination and Humanism, a term traditionally closely associated with liberalism, is also more or less defined in terms of a romantic solipsistic individualism which does not have very much in common with our traditional notion of an ethical humanism steered by law and reason. Ever since Kant associated ethics and human rights with freedom, freedom also became a more systematically characterised concept than it was when it was referred to by Hobbes as that which citizens have to partly abandon in order for the Leviathan or the commonwealth to provide security for nation states citizens.”

The concept of the free will is then criticised because it is undetectable with a microscope or otherwise accessible to human observation. The commentary responds to this position as follows:

“Looking for freedom with such instruments is of course what a philosopher would call a category mistake. Harari claims that the attribution of free will to humans is a fact and that is true, but some facts are categorial such as “all men are mortal”: no observation would ever reveal the counterfactual that a man is immortal and trying to base this conceptual fact on purely observational grounds is failing to appreciate the logical and categorical nature of conceptual truths. Hume once tried this line of reasoning with the self and pointed out that we are not able to observationally detect the “self” and therefore the self did not exist. Kant pointed out a number of objections to this line of empiricist thinking , amongst which was the self or soul, was an idea of reason(a principle) rather than a phenomenal thing to be encountered in the phenomenal world. He pointed out, in other words, that the initial premise that we can not observe the self is ambiguous. If the self is a principle that cannot be observed because it is a condition of what it as that we are observing then it cannot warrant the conclusion that there is no such principle or condition. Similarly if freedom is an idea or principle of ethical activity, then claiming as the author does people are free because they “feel free” is incoherent. When people say they feel free it is a negative judgment which is in focus: the judgment namely that no one is preventing them from doing what they wish to, which in turn focuses attention on the fact that freedom is an idea or condition qualifying action and can not qualify sensation:actions and sensations are different psychological entities and even if sensations might peripherally be associated with action there is no logical connection between these logically different entities”

There is then a discussion of consciousness and its cognitive correlates in this section which is the key to understanding the kind of reasoning that Harari is using to establish his position in the latter part of “Homo Deus”. O Shaughnessy and his work “The Will:a dual aspect theory” is used in the commentary to establish the kind of psychological explanation that is used in a universe of discourse that is philosophical and not scientific.

Harari, however, continues to insist that in this region it is not psychological explanation that reigns but rather

“The free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms.”(354)

The response of the commentary is to suggest that this kind of reasoning then destroys “the myth” that a story is something told by one free individual to another with the intention of understanding a person,or the time he lives in.

Liberalism is then defined as a kind of utilitarian position:

“Ethics is of course a figment of the imagination for Harari as is human rights which is tied not to mans imagined happiness but to his actual dignity and worth. In his reasoning about the utility of man for the economic or political system he notes that artificial intelligence is decoupling intelligence from consciousness and that there is no guarantee that this will not lead to man becoming superfluous to the point at which all occupations can be performed more efficiently by computerised robots. This is a serious prediction. Hannah Arendt pointed to the consequences of the industrial revolution when large numbers of men became superfluous in Europe and created the economic and political conditions for two world wars. It should, however be pointed out that it was precisely the political and economical utilitarian value of these men that contributed to their alienation. Educational systems did not suffice to convince the masses of unemployed that they possessed a value in being human.”

Harari is not merely ignoring the reflections and theories of the philosophers in the regions of philosophical psychology, ethics and politics but he is also ignoring the History of Psychology and the history of the idea of consciousness which we will need to present in detail if our counterarguments in this field are to be efficacious. The case against AI rests to a large extent on the case for robots or machines being neither alive nor conscious and therefore incapable of “intelligent action”.

The account of this so called “history of the future” becomes more and more like a story from a science fiction author:

“once Google, Facebook and other algorithms become all knowing oracles, they may well evolve into agents and ultimately into sovereigns”(p397)

So God is dead and the future rests not with the philosophical capacities and judgments of men but with the algorithms of machines. The familiar totalitarian consequences follow and it is claimed(Harari):

“some elites may conclude that there is no point in providing improved and even standard levels of health for masses of useless poor people, and it is far more sensible to focus on upgrading a handful of super-humans beyond the norm.”(pp407)

We have been down this totalitarian road before and it is difficult to believe that our knowledge of what happened in History will not prevent some of these more exotic scenarios from actualising in the future.


Part nine:

Research laboratories will provide us with new religions, it is argued amongst which will be a techno religion which:

“argues that humans have completed their cosmic task and should now pass the torch on to entirely new kinds of entities….Techno-humanism agrees that homo sapiens as we know it has run its historical course and will no longer be relevant in the future, but concludes that we should therefore use technology in order to create Homo Deus–a much superior human model.”(pp409-410)

Medicine will transform itself from an archeological discipline to a teleological adventure in which new states of consciousness will be sought and a new super-form of life will emerge.

The will to power is of course crucial in this brave new world. The commentary elaborates upon this position in the following way:

“The above account of Jaynes may well, however, support the thesis that the will is the nail which the universe is hung upon but if this is so, it is the nail of knowledge and not the nail of power. All previous attempts to hang the universe on the nail of power have failed. The author openly admits that science knows very little about consciousness, and if history has taught us anything as a consequence of the failed attempts to control the masses via power, it is surely that these attempts failed because power hungry dictators did not have sufficient knowledge of the human psyche to transform it. If this authors work has taught us anything it is that science has no theory of the knowledge of value or knowledge of the good as Plato put the matter.”

The Enlightenment Philosophy of Kant strengthened this message and related ethical knowledge to the moral law that opposed the raw exercise of power in the name or normative logic.

Harari claims that there will be a collective pursuit for the experience of the strange: experience of strange forms of consciousness which we will engineer ourselves:

“Technological progress has a very different agenda.It does not want to listen to our voices. It wants to control them. Once we understand the biochemical system producing all these voices we can play with the switches, turn up the volume here lower it there and make life much more easy and comfortable. We will give Ritalin to the distracted lawyer, Prozac to the guilty soldier and Cipralex to the dissatisfied wife. Humanists are appalled by this approach but we had better not pass judgment on it too quickly. The humanist recommendation to listen to ourselves has ruined the lives of many a person, whereas the right dosage of the right chemical has greatly improved the well being and relationships of millions.”(p424)

No humanist would insist that one listen to “voices” from within. As was pointed out earlier in this work the phenomenon of Socrates remaining transfixed on the same spot for hours consulting his daemon would have caused suspicion already at the time of Aristotle. Humanist has no objection to the administering of chemicals to return the patient to a state in which he can receive meaningful therapy for his hallucinations. The following was the response to the above point:

“The schizophrenic experience of being plagued by alien and sometimes hostile voices is, according to Jaynes , an interesting throwback to bicameral man, a throwback to a time before the advent of consciousness and it is , according to him, a moot point whether medication is the right method to lead the patient back on the road to full consciousness. Humanists like Aristotle and Kant who understood that we are physical beings composed of physical substances in a certain state of equilibrium would hardly have objected to any physical treatment that restored lost equilibrium. Many medications, however, alleviate symptoms and do not restore the natural equilibrium of life. The humanist will naturally question such a state of affairs. Freud being a follower of Aristotle and Kant, would also have agreed with this position: remember he experimented with magnetism and hypnotism before the “age of medication” we now live in. There were patients who needed to be returned to a state of physical equilibrium before the so called “talking cure” could be effective.”

Returning to the plot of the overthrow of our old world in favour of the new Harari ends with the following image:

“Instead of visiting a museum or climbing a mountain to view a beautiful sunset the more appropriate responses to the problems of life would be to have ones DNA sequenced, wear a bio-medical monitoring device, post pictures of all ones experiences on Facebook, allow Google to read your e mails and keep a record of your likes and dislikes. Finally, the author argues, even if Dataism is wrong and organisms are not algorithms this in itself might not prevent Dataism from taking over the world.”

We are meant to replace our desires with information, as if we could ever do such a thing without becoming machines ourselves. The paradox of all this is that if we humans cease to exist as humans and if “deus” is merely absconditus and not dead he may send a flood the like of which no man has ever seen to rid the earth of the algorithms and metal monstrosities we created, in proof, as Paul Ricoeur would put it, of the fallibility of man.

Summary of the criticisms of “Homo Sapiens” from a Philosophical point of view(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein)

Hits: 339

The following lecture is an attempt to assist the reader in the understanding of Harari’s claims in his work “Homo Sapiens: a brief history of mankind”. We summarize here the major discussion and criticisms of the work provided in the first ten chapters.

In Part one Harari maintains starkly, without any critical discussion, that matter and energy came into existence 13.5 billion years ago with the singular event of the big bang. Without the philosophical discussion which is needed to correctly “interpret” the meaning of Harari’s opening statement we may be forgiven for suspecting that this is an unfortunate dogmatic opening to a book with the subtitle: ” a brief history of mankind”. Kant would have specifically objected to the big bang theory on the grounds that it is using an illegitimate realist assumption that the world exists as a finite whole which began with a first cause, the so called big bang. The world, he would have argued is , in terms of the appearances that happen, transcendentally ideal, because appearances leave our relation to things in themselves, the world in itself, undetermined. An explosion, even if it is massive is something that necessarily could only happen in a world, situated in a space and over a period of time that must have preceded the explosion. The dogmatic insistence of the scientist that space and time sprang into existence with the explosion merely suspends the principle of causation that by definition cannot have a first cause: because if causality is to have a universal application literally everything has to have a cause even the so called postulated first cause. If one was to bring the early Wittgenstein into this discussion he might have said that this is something that cannot be spoken about and must be passed over in silence, being beyond the limits of our language.

Problems of a different kind emerge when in this first critique Harari insists that the Cognitive Revolution which appeared 70,000 years ago occurred because this is the period when fictional language emerged. This, a current theory argues, by marshalling a mountain of evidence in its support, is far too early for such a complex linguistic phenomenon. No attempt is made to dismantle the extensive archeological and literary evidence presented by researchers such as Julian Jaynes who claimed that the fictional use of language must have occurred much later than 70,000 years ago. Indeed, according to Jaynes, it probably occurred well after the beginning of the agricultural revolution that according to Harari began in 12,000 BC.

In essay number two we are not subjected so much to dogmatic statements as a kind of bi-polar dialectical argumentation that contrasts myths with facts. This form of argument basically insists that if a myth is not factual it cannot have any cognitive relation to reality. Myths are products of the imagination it is argued which can disappear tomorrow if suddenly no one believes in them any longer. Our ideas of freedom and equality are also dubbed “figments of the imagination” but they separate themselves from myths because so many people continue to believe in their importance. This belief in, for example, the value of freedom continues in spite of the contradiction that is involved when governments use imagined authority for example to remove peoples imagined freedom. Harari, appears here to confuse the conceptual systems we use to describe states of affairs with these states of affairs. Political and ethical freedom are not defined in terms of what the individual wishes, however unreasonable the wish: it is rather defined in terms of equality, namely in terms of the permissible use of ones freedom in the light of the condition that this use does not encroach upon anyone else’s freedom. The power of reason whose scope and limitation has been charted by philosophy and the conceptual systems of philosophers are completely ignored in Harari’s account.

Essay number three points to an interesting probably correct observation by Harari, that nationalism is losing ground to the globalisation forces of the world, in particular the businessman’s desire to colonise the world with trade and transform everyone into customers, and the conqueror’s wish to conquer the world and turn everyone into his subjects. Religion attempted to install universal beliefs about the “truths” of religion but this attempt has failed Harari claims. Philosophical globalisation via the media of knowledge and ethical and political principles are not mentioned or evaluated.

The universal character of norms and values and their relation to the universal principles of logic, metaphysics, and morality are themes of essay number four. Ancient religions are used to demonstrate the absence of universality. Two norms/values, namely freedom and the sacred are degraded from positions of claimed universality to figments of the imagination which at best have what is referred to as “intersubjective validity”, whatever that means. Ricoeur and other philosophers have defended the universality of these ideas of the sacred and freedom and pointed out their efficacy in the binding of communities into holistic entities. Two extraordinary claims are made in the name of liberalism and humanism. Firstly it is claimed that liberalism is a religion. Given liberalisms intimate relation to science and the anti-religious and anti-metaphysical inclinations of science this is a difficult position to understand as is the declaration that there are three kinds of humanism amongst which are included social humanism(communism) and so called evolutionary humanism(the dogma of the Nazis). These claims in relation to humanism, would have been substantially criticised by Hannah Arendt in terms of what she called “the inversion of values”, the confusing of a virtue which generally attracts universal praise with a political totalitarian position that attracts the opposite attitude of blame. One can but recall in this context that Thrasymachus in his debate with Socrates over justice in Plato’s Republic was the first Sophist to use this technique of inverting the good into its opposite and wishing in this process to redefine justice.

Essay number five claims that Commerce, Empires and Universal religion have brought us into the global world. The author rejects the philosopher’s claim that a commitment to a system of universal virtue is a necessary and perhaps a sufficient condition of creating the cosmopolitan citizen living in a cosmopolitan world. In a discussion of the difference between description and explanation it is maintained that the narrative of description is the best we can do in a situation where explanations cannot disperse the fog surrounding our past and the future. Julian Jaynes as we will see in our later essay will agree that consciousness is defined partly by the power of narratising events but of course insists that this power emerged much later than Harari predicted. If narratives are our main means of clarifying the meaning of the events of our world then this has the consequence that there are no future necessities but only future contingents that might or might not be realised.In such circumstances the power of the imagination supplants the power of reason and we are left to wander in the fog created by this power that cannot explain the functioning of the system of concepts we use to explain our value system. Harari insists that cultures are viruses which might kill their hosts, thus inverting the inherent value status of this word from something positive to something negative.

Essay number six deals with a pseudo-distinction between so called “new knowledge” that is discovered and “old knowledge” that is supposedly fictional. It is not denied, of course that there can be new discoveries of new states of affairs which might question hypotheses held to be the best available until the context of discovery can complete its work but to call such hypotheses “knowledge” is to misunderstand the function of this human power that was defined by the Greek philosophers and Enlightenment followers of those Greek philosophers. The power of reason is a power that attempts to see the world “una sola ochiata”, in other words, holistically. The abandonment of belief in this power results in attempting to see everything through a glass darkly of a science committed to a method of resolution-composition producing variables to be manipulated and measured that in certain regions of discourse such as education can only produce correlations between states of affairs instead of the once valued gold standard of causation. Of course humans search for new experiences such as flying to the moon and they may do so in demonstration of their power but knowledge is not to be conflated with power as Harari insists is the case. Habermas points out that both knowledge and power are steering mechanisms of different systems: politics and culture and should not be conflated but the “theory of communicative action” that he proposes also fails to acknowledge the categorical universal-logical character of knowledge. Habermas conflates instrumental reason and categorical reason and leaves us at the mercy of “persuasive ideologies.” The chapter ends with two so called humanistic projects, the elimination of poverty and the possibility of living an immortal life barring the occurrence of accidents. There is the suggestion that mortals paradoxically desire to live forever. In this context it might be useful to consider the biblical words “full of years” and its suggestion that when men are full of years death appears to be a natural end to a natural process

Essay number seven continues the theme of the relation between the economic striving for Empires and the universal intent of Science. The discussion of the misnomers of “New knowledge” and “Old knowledge” also continues and it is pointed out that knowledge is not merely a state but rather a state and the products of states which actualise a disposition that is not actual. Our value predicates might originally attach to the disposition and only subsequently to actualising states. Harari asks why Europe became the central power in the world. One of his answers is that both technological innovators and conquerors acknowledged their ignorance and the use of knowledge instrumentally which of course was the prevailing attitude of the colonisers. Counter arguments are presented in the critique to the effect that knowledge has a categorical value in itself and that historical knowledge, for example requires the understanding of a metaphysical spirit in a context of justification. Scientific attempts to generate an ethical theory from its method of resolution-composition and assumption that the world is merely the totality of facts produces a theory that ethical action is defined in terms of its consequences. This position is incoherent it is argued in the critique.

Essay number eight indicates the ease with which scientists can be hypnotised by ideologies and Habermas’ “Theory of Communicative action” is evoked again in the critique to suggest a better description of the mechanism of persuasion than is given by Harari. It is insisted that “Communicative action is a technical disguise for the rhetoric used in ideological exchanges where the aim is “systematic persuasion”. Arendt’s work on the “Origins of Totalitarianism” is again called to testify to the consequences of allowing powerful ideologists the space to persuade us of their dogmatic and skeptical doctrines. As a counterweight to this rhetoric the ideal of the doctor as an ethical scientist is suggested. Harari attempts to use economic images from the bakery, a slice of a bigger pie, to persuade us to abandon our view that Greed is unethical.

Essay number nine points to the various projects of social engineering that have taken place throughout the ages: for example the replacement of the natural rhythms of agriculture(which earlier was accused of being a gigantic fraud) with the precise timetables and schedules of the industrial revolution. It is pointed out that prior to the Industrial Revolution the family was the institution of care for the community. The shift of this role to the state and the market produced an uneasy relation of these “institutions” to individuals in which there is fundamental disagreement over what is owed in the form of duties and what is promised in the form of responsibilities. Again appeal is made to the imagination and it is claimed that nations are merely imagined communities in which we imagine ” a common past, common interests, and a common future”. It is claimed falsely that scholars(like Aristotle and Kant) have only a vague idea of the answer to the question “Are we happy?”. Happiness according to both Aristotle and Kant is the result of the virtuous activity of man–the result that is, not of the activity of his imagination, but rather the result of his rational/ethical activities.

The final essay number ten is filled with experiments producing green rabbits and a mouse with an ear on its back and there is a distinctive schizophrenic atmosphere over this whole chapter discussing what is euphemistically called “intelligent design”. Again we experience the inversion of values in relation to the concept of “intelligence”. Object relations theory is invoked by the critique to argue that an object can be both good and bad in different respects without compromising the logical principle of non contradiction.

The History of Psychology and the History of Consciousness: Introduction to criticism and commentary of Harari’s “Homo Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”: Part Three( Analytical Philosophy and Julian Jaynes).

Hits: 284

Analytical Philosophy as a branch of philosophy has taken many forms, positive and negative, but there are two very influential forms which, in different ways break with the thread of continuity or what I shall call “the thread of philosophical tradition” that stretches from the Pre-Socratic philosophers to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and the later Wittgenstein and all of their followers throughout the ages. Ironically, both these discontinuities manifested themselves in the twentieth century ( what Hannah Arendt called in 1949 “this terrible century”). The first discontinuity was logical atomism that attempted to use the principles of set theory and mathematical logic to generate “atoms” of sense data, objects, states of affairs, names and descriptions: all in the name of a concern or obsession with truth conditions that marginalised a number of traditional domains of philosophy that the “thread of the tradition” had been successfully including in its definition of philosophy as “the systematic understanding of the world as a systematic whole”. The second, discontinuity, logical positivism, born of the obsession of Science with the cloud of metaphysics hanging over theorizing, was more concerned with philosophical theories of meaning than truth and knowledge(the concern of the tradition). It too marginalized domains of philosophy where the major concern was with action, values and the many meanings of “the good”. These two tsunamis drenched and then drowned the hinterland of traditional philosophy with “logic” and “science”, flattening the philosophical landscape into atoms of debris. The major structures of ethics, aesthetics, philosophical psychology, political philosophy, philosophy of religion and metaphysics barely survived the flood and devastation. There were of course reactions and responses to the tsunami in the forms of phenomenology, existentialism, pragmatism, linguistic philosophy and the later Wittgenstein(whose earlier work had been part of the last phase of the tsunami). Some remaining structures and parts of structures are now in the process of being rebuilt in accordance with the principles of “the tradition”. Yet some of these responses were mere “reactions” to the tradition and manifested discontinuities of their own(Pragmatism, phenomenology, existentialism, instrumentalism). We explored some of these positions in part two of this essay. It was pointed out that the history of psychology and consciousness were also affected by a modernist revolution that Husserl had described in his work”The Crisis in the European Sciences. Psychology, having at the end of the 1800’s made the decision to ally itself with the forces of the tsunami that fundamentally affected how we thought about consciousness in the twentieth century, was left homeless when the flood waters finally receded. The so-called “crisis” of course had begun much earlier with the Philosophers Descartes and Hobbes who together succeeded in severing the thread of continuity leading back to Aristotle’s philosophy. Kant in his brilliant synthesis of empiricism and rationalism managed for a short time to rekindle interest in ethics, political philosophy and metaphysics. Hegel and Marx quickly neutralized these Kantian interests and Aristotle or rather the spirit of Aristotelianism was once again cut adrift(a spirit which naturally integrated logic, science, metaphysics, philosophical psychology, ethics, aesthetics, and rhetoric under one umbrella). It is difficult to identify the reasons why philosophy fragmented into the atoms of a logical/scientific epistemology. Perhaps the answer lies in the different characterizations of consciousness that have manifested themselves since the era of Descartes and Hobbes. This answer unfortunately merely raises another question concerning the fragmentation of the holistic perspective of the human being we inherited from Aristotelian and Kantian Philosophy.

We have illustrated some of the difficulties involved in abandoning a metaphysical approach to our existence in parts one and two of this essay. In this part, I wish to show firstly, how the epistemological project can result in a view of consciousness that does not constitute a break with tradition, and secondly how the “thread of tradition” views consciousness from a holistic philosophical perspective. In relation to the first goal we discuss the work of O Shaughnessy and in relation to the second, the work of P M S Hacker.

O Shaughnessy’s first work: “The Will: a dual aspect theory” was truly a metaphysical excursion into the philosophical territory of action and thought about action. He used this same combination of logic and metaphysics to analyze consciousness and its relation to the world in his work “Consciousness and the World”. In terms of the “thread of tradition” leading from Aristotle to Kant and thereafter to the work of the later Wittgenstein, much of what O Shaughnessy claimed about “experience” in the above work is consonant with the later work of Wittgenstein and the predecessors on the thread, namely Kant and Aristotle. Indeed his work is even consistent with what we have earlier referred to in this work as the two most fundamental imperatives issued by the Greek oracles in the name of Apollo: we are urged by these oracles to act in accordance with the principle “Nothing too much” and we are also urged to “know ourselves”. O Shaughnessy interestingly connects self-knowledge to consciousness and claims that this conscious self-awareness we have in our waking states is a necessary condition of viewing the world under “the aspect of the true” and rationally

Harari has claimed that a “cognitive revolution took place ca 70,000 years ago. An interesting question to ask in this context is whether he believes that this cognitive revolution was connected to consciousness as conceived above in terms of a self-awareness that is knowledge oriented. We questioned Harari’s conception of this “cognitive revolution” on two grounds. Firstly, the archaeological evidence gives very little support to Harari’s position that appears to be founded upon an over-interpretation of the significance of the find of the lion-man from Stadel dated 32000 years ago. Julian Jaynes(a researcher into the origins and nature of consciousness) in his work “The Origins of Consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind” produced a veritable mountain of archeological evidence for the origins of consciousness being much much later, around 1200 bc. Secondly, Jaynes also produced linguistic evidence from both Homer and the Bible that suggested solving complex problems and thinking for oneself are key elements of consciousness. In contrast to the state of mind of men who fail to think independently and spontaneously when a new difficult to solve problem emerges, a skill or competence that these so-called bicameral men appear not to possess. Jaynes is referring to practical problems that are skill related and appears to be committed to this kind of problem in contrast to O Shaughnessy who claims that the epistemological function of consciousness lies closer to its constitution.

There is, however, an interesting shift in paradigm between the fundamental claims of William James, the American pioneer in the field of Psychology and Consciousness, and Jaynes. There is no definition of learning in James’ “Principles of Psychology” whilst Jaynes appears to be using a traditional Psychological definition: “The acquisition of knowledge, habits or skills as a result of study, being taught by others or experience”. James may well argue in response to this criticism that his account focuses on the conditions and consequences of the phenomenon of learning which does not require definition once the mechanisms involved have been revealed. Learning, that is, may require analysis in terms of conditions and consequences. The consequences of learning are evident in Jaynes’s definition, namely knowledge, skills, and habits but it must be pointed out in the light of the above point that James avoids the epistemological theme of knowledge and concentrates instead on practical skills and habits(for reasons given in part one). James then attempts to discuss habit in the context of a so-called stream of experience and surprisingly claims that habit aims to diminish the role of consciousness in the stream:

“If an act requires for its execution a chain ABCDEFG etc of successive nervous events, then in the first performances of the action the conscious will must choose each of these events from a number of wrong alternatives that tend to present themselves: but habit brings it about that each event calls up its own appropriate successor without any alternative offering itself, and without any reference to the conscious will, until at last the whole chain ABCDEFG rattles itself off as soon as A occurs just as if A and the rest of the chain was fused into a continuous stream.”(James Principles of Psychology, vol 1, p114)

This discussion reinforces James’ practical definition of consciousness given in part one, his definition relating to the intelligent choice of ends and means to ends, but it also focuses on a kind of energy regulation principle that appears to aim at regulating the amount of energy expended by consciousness in the choice of the best alternative. This is, indeed an interesting hypothesis: the power of consciousness is in a sense too powerful in its generation of alternatives and needs to select the one which will facilitate an efficient stream of events constituting either a knowing that something is the case, a habit or a skill. The selection of the correct alternative is obviously an occurrent act and an expression of a power or disposition of consciousness. If for some reason one is unable to solve the problem that has arisen, the inability to choose from a large number of alternatives will cause anxiety. Jaynes’ account appears not to agree with James’ position that consciousness is an occurrent operation of selection of ends and means to ends. According to Jaynes:

“As we saw earlier in the performance of skills, so, in the learning of skills, consciousness is indeed like a helpless spectator, having little to do. A simple experiment will demonstrate this fact. Take a coin in each hand and toss them both, crossing them in the air in such a way that each coin is caught in the opposite hand. This you can learn in a dozen trials. As you do, ask, are you conscious of everything you do? Is consciousness necessary at all? I think you will find that learning is much better described as being “organic” rather than conscious. Consciousness takes you into the task, giving you the goal to be reached. But from then on…it is as if the learning is done for you.”(“Origins of Consciousness…p33).

So, consciousness is not involved in choosing means to ends generally but perhaps only the first in the chain of means leading to an end. But how, then, should we characterize consciousness?:

“Subjective conscious mind is an analogue of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behaviour in the physical world. Its reality is of the same order as mathematics. It allows us to shortcut behavioural processes and arrive at more adequate decisions. Like Mathematics it is an operator rather than a thing or repository. And it is intimately bound up with volition and decision.”(p55)

Jaynes then elaborates upon this point by exemplifying how we refer to mental events with visual metaphors that refer to a posited mind space rather than real space:

“We “see” solutions to problems, the best of which may be “brilliant”…we can “approach” a problem, perhaps from some “viewpoint” and “grapple” with its difficulties, or seize together or “com-prehend” parts of a problem…using metaphors of behaviour to invent things to do in this metaphorical mind-space.”

There are a number of characteristics of this mind-space. Firstly we spatialize even elements that are not essentially spatial, e.g. time: a hundred years is, for example, spread out on a time-line extending from left to right. Secondly, we excerpt or select certain aspects of a total experience to best represent or symbolize that experience: e.g. the images of a trapeze artist or clown symbolize “the circus”. Thirdly, we symbolize ourselves by a so-called “analogue I” which can move about in this metaphorical world. Fourthly, if we catch glimpses of ourselves doing what we have not actually done(so-called autoscopic images) this is referred to by Jaynes as a “metaphorical me”. In this so-called metaphorical world, it is possible one presumes for this analogue I to converse with this metaphorical me and thus provide some foundation for the Greek idea of thinking as a kind of dialogue with oneself. Fifthly, we narratise everything we experience into a story which in its turn is then also used to assimilate new events and give meaning to them. In this story we also attribute causes, real or fictional, to explain our actions or what happens to us. We can also use narratisation to attribute causes of events we experience that might have only peripheral significance in our lives, e.g. a child crying in the street may be characterized in a narrative as being “lost” and being searched for by parents. Sixthly, we assimilate events which look similar into schemes we have formed on the basis of previous experience.

The hypothesis here appears to be that consciousness has an intimate relation to language which, if true, suggests that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon based on a certain complex use of language where many other capacities are also involved. Given that Jaynes has suggested that consciousness is related to the cortex of the brain and we know that language is so related we are then provided with an interesting triangle of factors: the brain, consciousness, and language. Jaynes is however convinced that both language and consciousness are cultural entities that may require the substrate of the cortex as a condition of its operation but which cannot finally be reduced to functions of the brain. In his controversial but interesting thesis of a bicameral mind preceding the advent of consciousness Jaynes uses the hemispherical structure of the brain to situate a voice in the right half of the brain telling a listener in the left half what should be done. He speaks of the Myceneans for example who, he argues, possessed none of the 6 “characteristics” of consciousness mentioned above. When these bicameral people engaged in planning, initiating or willing anything, no consciousness was involved: a voice tells them in a friendly way what to do in a hallucination. According to Jaynes, these individuals had no mind-space in which to think about what they were experiencing or debate with themselves(the analogue “I” and the metaphorical “me”) what they ought or ought not to do. They could not even assimilate events into a narrative(but perhaps the voices they heard were from gifted individuals who possessed a more or less developed form of the narrative ability). In this context, it is of interest to note two things. Firstly, it is recorded in Plato’s dialogues that Socrates was once seen standing in the same spot in a trance-like state for a considerable amount of time “consulting” with his daemon. Secondly by the time we get to the period of Aristotle, people “hearing voices” were regarded with suspicion. These two events would fit in well with Jaynes’ thesis that mankind had only relatively recently become conscious beings. The Achilles of the Iliad is indeed a strange being in modern eyes and he only becomes heroic if we endow him with the characteristics of consciousness. And yet he is a being that could perform complex deeds(with the help of the voices of his gods, of course) In order to understand how Achilles could accomplish the complex feats in battle that he did(without being a conscious being), Jaynes asks us to imagine driving a car and having a conversation simultaneously. The latter activity would be occurring in my mind space and in that space, I would be debating with myself or conceiving of alternative responses but in the case of the former activity of driving, that would be occurring sub-consciously and involve a myriad of complex decisions that I am not conscious of making. It is thus that the Myceneans and Achilles carried out their complex tasks, being jolted anxiously out of the state of circumspection by unforeseen circumstances and being forced to stand and wait like Socrates for the voice to appear out of the mists of anxiety and confusion. In this context, Jaynes points out the power the voice has to command obedience. He uses both phenomenological arguments and etymological evidence, pointing out that hearing, as something experienced has not merely a cognitive significance but also a subjective significance such that to hear someone say something in imperative form is to be inclined to obey. The etymological evidence investigates the root of the word obedience in a number of prominent languages. The word originates from the Latin obedire which in its turn is a combination of “ob which is to face someone and audire which is to hear them.
Consider in addition the strangeness of the fact that there is no one facing you or who can be seen, merely a disembodied voice. In such circumstances to hear was to obey.

Jaynes also produces brain research support to support his hypothesis that consciousness evolved culturally. Language in conscious man is located in the left hemisphere(in the temporal and frontal lobes) but every other function is controlled and registered bilaterally in both hemispheres. Could it be, Jaynes asks, that the language function was once also bilateral and that the temporal lobe of the right hemisphere was the source of a voice carried over to the left hemisphere by the anatomical structure known as the anterior commissure? Jaynes points out that stroke patients who have sustained serious damage to the left hemisphere can still understand language using the right hemisphere and moreover can obey commands to retrieve objects with their left hands. Wilder Penfield’s studies on epileptic patients also revealed that electrical stimulation of the right hemisphere produced voices. Jaynes also produces evidence from a theory of evolution of language that he presents and he claims that the changes in language used the plasticity of the brain to perceive and attend to the environment in different ways. In this theory of the evolution of language he posits the first sentence to be an imperative and to have occurred between 25000 and 15000 bc, to be followed by thing nouns (corresponding to the time in which animal paintings were appearing in caves), the age of names of people between 10000 and 8000 bc(corresponding to the time of the emergence of agriculture and towns).

All of these reflections make it abundantly clear that for Jaynes, consciousness is not a genetically caused phenomenon but rather a culturally created phenomenon that was perhaps partly brought about by the advent of writing and a series of environmental catastrophes. It was this cultural development of language which then helped to form a mind space, an analogous I, a metaphorical me, symbolic consciousness, and a narratization function that turned life into a story.

But, one can wonder whether all this is typical of our consciousness that appears to abandon narratives in favour of more academically structured forms of discourse. The Greek philosophers and the thread of tradition looked upon the truth and knowledge function of language as a very important aspect of the relation of our consciousness to the world. If we follow this Ariadne-like thread out of the Greek cave and into modern times we encounter the work mentioned above, “Consciousness and the world” by Brian O Shaughnessy that attempts to do justice to a more philosophical answer to the question “What is consciousness”, an answer very different to the answers we have been given in the name of Psychology and Continental Philosophy(and very different to the concept Harari uses in his works).

O Shaughnessy states in the introduction to his work that a bridge of awareness extends between the mind and “the spatiotemporal scene of physical objects” and that since consciousness emerged at some point in the history of life-systems it can only be a supervenient contingent phenomenon for which there cannot be scientific criteria. This fact does not, however, prevent there from being what he calls psychological assumptions that explain behavioural phenomena. This contact with reality–this awareness is clearly based on the power knowledge has to generate explanations that are not descriptive in the way narratives are.
O Shaughnessy claims that a self-conscious being is acquainted with a general framework of the world which include individuation rules and explanations. There is, according to him, a tight circle of properties constituting the kind of consciousness possessed by self-conscious beings. These include the properties constituting the knowledge orientation of consciousness, namely the knowledge of self, time and the world as well as a rational capacity.

This is a long way from the characterization of consciousness in terms of narratization, analogues, metaphors, and symbols. Indeed the polarity of the entire investigation into the nature of consciousness seems to be reversed in this philosophical account: an account where veridical Perception of physical reality is going to play an important role in a final analysis that is going to arrive at the destination of the truth and knowledge orientation of consciousness. This, in turn, no doubt will resurrect the Aristotelian definition of man as a “rational animal capable of discourse” simply because the truth is intimately related to a rationality that knows what causes one’s beliefs and actions: i.e. one seeks to know the explanations and principles outlined in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The truth and knowledge are also intimately bound up with the state of consciousness of awe and wonder at something existing rather than nothing: an essentially contemplative state of mind with metaphysical consequences: if by metaphysics is meant the Aristotelian search for first principles.

The correct analysis of visual experience will obviously play an important role in this analysis, an analysis that will involve the light emanating from the object and the sensation that arises and its special character of being caused by the light and simultaneously aware of its cause. This is most apparent, it is argued, when we awake in the morning and the light both floods in and “is noticed”. This is the basis of the thesis of perception being primarily extensional and only secondarily intensional. This means, O Shaughnessy argues that the core of perception in not interpretational and what is seen need not be seen “as” anything initially. This cannot but remind one of the Kantian ideas of how intuitions are related to concepts and thus to the categories of the understanding. In Kant, we find no analogical “I” or metaphorical “me” but we do find an “I think” which accompanies all representations. This “I think ” is also intimately related to the understanding, sensible intuitions, and reason. O Shaughnessy argues in this context that in this act of perception, the world casts its shadow on the mind as nowhere else. This is an important point. Consciousness, it is being argued, has both extensional and intensional objects given to it in the stream of experience in which there are non-interpretational mental objects side by side with mental phenomena that are interpretational. The stream of consciousness here has consciousness as its condition.

This division between what is extensional and what is intentional in the stream of experience is important. Thinking intensionally puts us in a certain sense at a psychic distance from the world. It is pointed out in this context that the animal cannot think intensionally given the fact that it is tied to its environment and an extensional form of perceiving, in the way a goat is tied to a post.
It is clear that on this account the function of perception in the human form of self-consciousness is cognition. The combination of the “I think” and the intuitive representation(to use Kantian terminology) involves conceptualization of the particulars of the visual field. This conceptualization rests upon knowledge of certain truths but conceptualization and a propositional understanding of reality should not be confused even if the one is a necessary condition of the other. Pre-propositional understanding and perception combine to produce an interpretational order that is constituted of a chain of phenomena before the physical object actualizes at its end.

“We desire to know” is one of the most important opening claims of Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”. In this work, In the course of a search for first principles, he produces a classification system of 4 kinds of change, three principles, and four kinds of explanation that all together circumscribe the arena of knowledge. Knowledge, of course, is dispositional in contrast to the contents of consciousness that are occurrences or episodes. Knowings and reasonings can occur in the stream of consciousness as the actualization of “knowledge”, as can learnings, rememberings, believings, conceivings, feelings, emotings, perceivings, strivings. Conceivings and perceivings can combine to produce a knowing state. Imagine you witness the event of lightning striking a tree. On the above account, this is not one event in a complex self-conscious mind but three separate events: the lightning striking the tree, the sight of the lightning striking the tree, and the event of knowing that the lightning has struck the tree. This is because consciousness is truth-oriented. Here the insistence that “I know” is universal and would be valid for every normal witness of the event. Understanding will be involved in both the seeing and the knowing: in categorizing the lightning and the tree as well as the causal relationship between the two in a causal categorial judgment. There is nothing metaphorical or fictional about this judgment. One could, of course, take the lightning striking the tree as a symbolic or metaphorical manifestation of the anger of the gods and this indeed would be a kind of narratization of the kind Jaynes envisages. In terms of Aristotle’s theory, the Understanding and Reason will be involved in different ways depending upon whether the lightning destroys the tree or not. If destruction is the result we are dealing with a substantial kind of change: the destruction of an enduring form of life situated in space S at time T: there will be both material and efficient and perhaps also formal explanations of this change in our world.

This is the kind of account of consciousness we can expect from philosophy tied to the thread of tradition stretching back to Aristotle via Wittgenstein and Kant. This approach contests both the earlier dualistic and materialistic accounts that dominate our current thoughts. It is by no means complete however because what becomes apparent is that consciousness is not identical with the realm of the mind that is composed not just of those lower elements of physiological sensations which are best explained physiologically, and the intermediate realm of what O Shaughnessy refers to as “the psychological” realm, but also of a higher realm which for current purposes we can temporarily refer to as the realm of the “mental”. O Shaughnessy refers to it as the “mental- non-psychological”. This is the realm which is responsible for reasoning and explaining that appear to be more concerned with dispositions than occurrences( or what Gilbert Ryle in his work “The Concept of Mind” refers to as “episodes”). In this context of exploring the realm of the mind from its sensory base up to its intellectual apex of intellectual dispositions, we should return to the Kantian cognitive triangle mentioned earlier.

Perhaps the term “Power” used in relation to the term “agency” might be another interesting perspective the issues involved here. P. M. S. Hacker is understandably impatient with the term”consciousness” which he traces back to the modernist revolution that began with Descartes:

“The essence of the mind, Descartes argued, is thought: but he extended the concept of thought to include sensations felt(as if in parts of the body) perceptions(understood as seeming to see,hear, smell etc) mental images, cognitive and conative functions such as thinking(as normally understood) understanding, judging and believing(which he conceived of as acts of the will, not of the intellect) as well as feeling, emotions and desire. Thought included “everything which we are aware as happening within us insofar as we have awareness of it”. Hence thinking is to be identified here not merely with understanding, willing, imaging but also with sensory awareness. Thought was therefore defined in terms of consciousness and consciousness was assimilated to self-consciousness misconceived–that is, as that of which we are immediately aware within us”(Human Nature: The Categorical Framework, p242)

Hacker is not impressed with the French Cartesian revolution. He believes that the conception of consciousness that has arisen in this tradition is like a virus infecting all scholars in almost every field of investigation interested in the human condition. For him, it is quite clear that consciousness is a biological phenomenon connected to life. He appears in this respect to be a modern Aristotelian. Hacker’s account of thought is in terms of powers which being Aristotelian and Wittgensteinian, he does not hesitate to trace back to the power of language. He works with the Aristotelian definition of man’s human nature as being a rational animal capable of discourse and has much to say on the powers of animals compared to humans. Humans, according to Hacker is a result of the evolutionary process which produced a two-legged biped capable of locomotion and possing as a consequence the powers of speech and possibly, as a consequence of these and other important biological facts, the powers of rationality both theoretical and practical. Our knowledge includes a knowledge of good and evil and feelings of guilt and shame which are properties of the soul we possess. We share with animals the capacity of attention, perception and the states of consciousness of feeling contentment hunger, thirst, and pain. Animals can become conscious of these feelings but they are not capable of self-consciousness which entails the capacity or the power to reflect on everything we experience, everything we do or undergo. Animals can think about their behaviour, but we humans have a wider scope of thought which can reach further into the past and future. This power is expressed in our imaginative storytelling and our aesthetic activity. The scope of human thought also makes us historical beings with an autobiography and an awareness of our eventual death. Out of all of this emerges our gods and myths, our stories about the gods. Much of the difference between us and animals Hacker attributes to the fact that we are language-using animals.

This is the statement of a philosopher who philosophizes in accordance with a tapestry woven of what I have called “the thread of tradition”. It weaves the truths of William James, the Continental philosophers, Harari, Julian Jaynes, and O Shaughnessy into the tapestry, thus forming a picture of the mind that realizes the philosophical intentions of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein. O Shaughnessy, however, would be somewhat more sympathetic to the Cogito argument of Descartes and the idea of consciousness it presupposes which includes a certainty relating to one’s present experiences.

What needs to be done philosophically is the detailed work of establishing which powers build upon or are integrated with other powers. Does, for example, the faculty of the imagination belong to the sensible aspect of our minds or is it a part of our understanding? How does language relate to perception and to thought? How does language relate to consciousness? Are there levels of consciousness? We need to investigate and chart the properties of the realms of the vital, the psychological and the mental and relate them to the principles they depend upon. Freud and his three principles, the energy regulation principle, the pleasure-pain principle, and the reality principles may be relevant in such a discussion.

Until all the above conceptual confusions and fallacies are avoided and the above questions are answered we will not have a clear idea of what constitutes the cognitive domain of man’s mind and the role that consciousness plays in this domain. We do, however, have a good idea, thanks to the thread of tradition leading back to Aristotle’s Philosophical Psychology.

The History of Psychology and the History of Consciousness: Introduction to criticism and commentary of Harari’s “Homo Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”: Part Two( Kant and Twentieth-Century Continental Philosophy).

Hits: 301

The previous excursion into the territory of William James’s “Principles of Psychology” in part one demonstrated that the combination of concerns for retaining a commitment to a modern view of science together with a commitment to retain the concept of “consciousness” did not succeed in either satisfying the philosophers demand to understand the intentions and point of the new discipline of Psychology, or in satisfying the expectations of the breakaway pioneers to advance the state of knowledge with respect to human beings. James was criticized by philosophers from many different schools especially the followers of Aristotle and Kant but in fact, the most severe criticism of James’s position came from within the ranks of the pioneers of the new movement. It was believed that retention of the concept of “consciousness” resulted in insufficient attention being paid to what can be observed and measured. James’s physiological and biological reflections tempted many in an act of counter-revolution to follow the path of Pavlov in his attempt to manipulate stimuli and responses. Many who followed this path including John Watson even went so far as to deny the existence of the concept of consciousness on the grounds that it cannot be observed. Consciousness was, they argued, a so-called epiphenomenon like the sound of a harp which issues from its vibrating strings, contributing absolutely nothing to the rate of vibration of the strings. Scientists should ignore the aesthetic impression of the harmonious sounds of the instrument and pay exclusive attention to the variables of the cause of the vibrations and the frequency of the vibrations. The music of the soul was not for these pioneers who meant business with their new subject. This state of affairs reflected a growing sense of dissatisfaction with “modern” philosophy which is shared by the author of “Homo Sapiens: a brief history of mankind” and Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow”. Philosophers of classical persuasion, observing this phenomenon of obsession with physical nature were amazed at the myopia of a method that sought to analyze human life into the variables of stimulus and response. What was on the minds of these philosophers? They were certainly not impressed with the methods of the new pioneers but what did they think about the task of advancing knowledge of the human being? In answer to this let us briefly review the last great Philosophical attempt to provide us with knowledge of the human being before “modern philosophy” (in the form of Descartes and Hobbes and their followers) eroded the gains in the form of the knowledge we experienced from Aristotle and the Enlightenment.

Immanuel Kant was the most influential Enlightenment philosopher and his work “Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view” helped to separate a particular concern for the human being from more general epistemological and metaphysical interests whilst at the same time retaining a connection to the major principles and laws of these more general areas of reflection. When we look at the reflections of William James and the writings of the physiological and biologically oriented behaviourists we can note the presence and concern with the idea of the cognitive in the former and the absence of this concern in the latter counter-revolutionaries. Let us, therefore, ask what Kant meant by the term “cognitive”. What he meant can be pictured as a triangle of the powers of the human mind, with the apex of the triangle representing the theoretical operation of reason in its search for complete explanation in terms of the principles of non contradiction and sufficient reason and immediately below that the practical operation of reason that is involved in two kinds of tasks: firstly the performance of instrumental tasks(where means to ends are calculated) and secondly the selection of final ends in accordance with the universal law of the categorical imperative. The next level is that of the categories of the understanding which provide guidance for the operation of judgment at the base of the triangle. This base borders the more sensible aspects of the mind which house sensations, imagination, and the intuitions of space and time. The faculty of Reason, of course, is integrated with the categories of the understanding which many philosophers have likened unto a system of rules. Insofar as these rules belong both to the theoretical and the practical sphere they can be separated. Theoretical rules combine and separate concepts in order to generate the truth-value of our statements. Practical rules are used by the understanding to regulate action(both the means to ends and the ends themselves). When all these powers of the mind or “faculties” as Kant called them, were being used optimally we then encounter the Enlightenment ideal of the citizen of a cosmopolitan world which the species of man is in the process of striving to achieve.The higher cognitive faculties were, then, theoretical and practical reason, theoretical and practical understanding and judgment whose major task in relation to reality was to subsume the particulars we encounter under more general ideas or concepts. The lower faculties were those that were on the border with judgment and which were used in relation to the pre-conceptual organization of our sensory encounters with the world or ourselves, namely the work of the attention and the imagination and the intuitions of space and time in our organizations of these sensations. Kant specifically talks about the operation of this lower faculty in similar terms to Aristotle when he states that representations of sensations are created by the faculty of attention and imagination to produce intuitions which are then subjected to a process of abstraction that attempts to obtain common elements in order to form a concept(a rule for the combination of representations). This, in its turn, is organized by a reflective faculty which then combines or separates these concepts for the purposes of producing a cognition of the state of affairs represented(a synthesis which Heidegger called the truth making or veritative synthesis). The question relating to the role of consciousness in the aforementioned operations is a difficult one. James, when he talks about language and the perching and resting places of a narrative of sentences is perhaps thinking about a fictional or descriptive narrative when he says that sensorial imaginings supervene at the full stop. Fictional and descriptive narratives do not have universal intent aiming at truth and knowledge but are rather particular descriptions about particular states of affairs that might either be actual but also might be purely fictional and imagined. Consciousness is certainly involved in these sensorial imaginings but it is also involved in the formation of truths as O´ Shaughnessy points out in his work “Consciousness and the World”. The difference between the two forms of consciousness here is probably the differences between its operation in the lower and higher cognitive faculties respectively. Another example of the workings of consciousness in the higher faculties was actually given in James’s account when he talked about the attempt of an agent to find the right conception for their action. It was not entirely clear exactly what he meant by “conception” here, however. A more complex example can be found in the work of Kant who in his work discusses how the search for the reason for an action is a search not just for the truth of such a statement about the reason for the action but also a search for what is good or valuable about actions that have universal intent.Consciousness is a peripheral term in Kant’s thought but we can find this passage in his Anthropology:

“Experience is empirical cognition, but cognition(since it rests on judgments requires reflection(reflexio) and consequently consciousness of activity in combining the manifold of ideas according to a rule of the unity of the manifold: that is, it requires concepts and thought in general(as distinct from intuition). Thus consciousness is divided into discursive consciousness(which as logical consciousness must lead the way since it gives the rule)and intuitive consciousness.”(p32)

Here Kant is drawing attention to a distinction (not found in James) between “I” as a thinking being and “I” as a sensing being. In the latter, I cognize myself only as I appear to myself in intuition(in time) without any concept involved. In this realm, we find my sensations and their causes and consequences. Narratives, fictional and factual, are the means in the language we have to represent these types of states of affairs. In the former, I cognize myself objectively as I am(in truth) in my essence. This is the “I” that thinks and the importance of the higher cognitive faculty is clearly seen in Kant’s insistence that the “I think” accompanies all my representations, indicating the superior power of thought to organize sensations over, for example, the imagination which would clearly be involved in fictional and descriptive narratives. In the higher cognitive faculty, understanding and reason seek not a description but an explanation, the concern of all “philosophical” science.

There is involved in the above account a major distinction between sensation and concept which is sometimes clear and sometimes obscure in James’ reflections. In Harari we also see this confusion between the operation of cognition in the higher and lower cognitive faculties. This is especially prominent in his reflections on the role of imagination and its imagined role in the formation of human rights, scientific theorizing etc. This distinction between the sensation as something which happens to us and the concept which is something that we actively create is used in O´Shaughnessy’s work “The Will: a dual aspect theory”. In this work, the author claims an ontological distinction between the active parts of our mind connected to our wills where I consciously decide to do something and the parts of my mind in which sensations “passively” happen to me. This is in accordance with Kantian Philosophical Psychology as represented by the cognitive triangle above.

The followers of Aristotle and Kant have throughout the ages carried on with their slow painstaking work to create, maintain, and preserve the integrity of an abstract form of theorising in the face of first, the onslaught of Christianity to return to more concrete forms of reflection and then secondly the Philosophies of Descartes and Hobbes and their followers who also wished for a return to more concrete forms of experience. In part one we saw how psychology and the work of William James reflected this yearning for a return to the tribunal of experience to settle abstract philosophical issues.

On the continent of Europe this populistic movement made itself felt in Philosophy in the works of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty who in the name of Philosophy revolted against the tendency of Science to reduce experience to elements these philosophers regarded as products of methodology and theory, products that ignored the principles of the mind or consciousness.

In an essay entitled “Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man”, Merleau-Ponty refers to Husserl’s claim that the sciences were in crisis at the beginning of the twentieth century. He notes that Husserl had pointed out that Psychology, Sociology, and History were all distorting their missions by invoking external causes in order to explain the nature of phenomena that, in contrast, needed explanation in terms of intention and meaning. As a consequence, it was maintained, the sciences of man were fragmenting into their own respective territories of psychologism, sociologism and historicism. Husserl, Merleau-Ponty claims:

“saw that these different disciplines had entered into a permanent state of crisis which would never be overcome unless one could show by a new account of their mutual relations and their methods of knowing, not only how each alone might be possible but how all three might exist together. It must be shown that science is possible, that the sciences of man are possible, and that philosophy is possible.”(“Phenomenology, Language, and Sociology”, p228)

Husserl, in a sense, was merely giving voice to the classical Kantian view that explanation in terms of appearances and their external causes were only one kind of legitimate explanation. In spite of its legitimacy, this kind of explanation was insufficient to explain the wider world of intention and meaning that inhabited our experiences of phenomena. Husserl was, of course, a “modern” Philosopher, critical of Kant and all rationalists who wished to maintain with Aristotle that man was essentially a rational animal capable of discourse. His complaint was mainly that these rationalists were guilty of what he called logicism when they invoked the principle of non-contradiction and sufficient reason to explain phenomena. We know that both Kant and Aristotle shared the conviction that theoretical reason and its “logic” was the highest form of explanation governing even practical reason and the ethical virtues amongst which one could find the virtue of a lawmaker formulating and passing laws with universal intent. For Kant however, his categorical imperative also had a universal intent and it together with these laws of the law-maker would ensure a progress of mankind to a kingdom of ends in which men would be cosmopolitan citizens treating each other with the respect each deserved. The reasoning involved when they did so would obey the principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason. Husserl called this logicism but beyond that accusation and the claim that neither Aristotle nor Kant could give sufficient accounts of the essence of phenomena we do not have details of his motivations for breaking with traditional rationalism.

It is clear, however, that he felt that his response to the crisis in the European Sciences required a rejection of Kant and development of a “method” to supplant the scientific method. This method would allow psychology and the other sciences to continue their inductively based observationalist activity of collecting the facts. The method would navigate a course between psychologism and logicism. Merleau-Ponty describes Husserlian Phenomenology in terms of gathering the experiences of man and all knowledge of his life and communal existence that reveal a meaning or what he calls an “intrinsic truth”.

We see here a manifestation of James’s spirit, a desire to return to attempting to understand life and civilization by the easy route of examining our experience, its phenomena, and conditions. For Husserl and Merleau-Ponty we need an account of the lifeworld before we explore the higher world of cognitive rationality that might not, according to them, even exist in any significant sense. Merleau-Ponty’s view of Phenomenology is given in his work “The Phenomenology of Perception”. Here he claims that the so-called phenomenological method is an inquiry which is based on our experiences of the world that is determined not to categorize us as biological, psychological or sociological objects woven into a tapestry of causes. Merleau-Ponty insists that we are the first-person, conscious source of the phenomena of the world. Phenomenology commits itself to description rather than the types of explanation we are familiar with in the philosophies of Aristotle and Kant.

Here we have all bets placed on consciousness and the method of phenomenology and it was a counter-revolution to what Harari called the scientific revolution that itself was rooted in a much earlier cognitive revolution that began with the dawn of consciousness around 1200 bc(not as Harari claims ca 70,000 years ago). This cognitive revolution, in turn, gave rise to the Philosophical Psychology of Aristotle and the conception of man as a rational animal capable of discourse. Aristotle’s conception of the first principles of Philosophy acknowledged the importance of all kinds of explanation: logical, conceptual and causal. The method and “discoveries” of phenomenology mean however to disavow such origins and even mean to disavow the relevance of the Kantian evolution of Aristotle’s position. Given the fact that Psychology had in its reaction to William James and his followers evolved into behaviourism, phenomenology was a worthy adversary to the position that denied even the existence of consciousness. Consider this description of reflex behaviour from Merleau-Ponty in his work “The Structure of Behaviour”:

“If I am in a dark room and a luminous spot appears on the wall and moves along it, I would say that it has “attracted” my attention, that I have turned my eyes “toward” it and that in all its movements it “pulls” my regard along with it. Grasped from the inside, my behaviour appears as directed, as gifted with an intention and a meaning. Science seems to demand that we reject these characteristics as appearances under which a reality of another kind must be discovered. It will be said that seen light is “only in us”. It covers a vibratory movement, which movement is never given to consciousness. Let us call qualitative appearance, “phenomenal light”: the vibratory movement, “real light”. Since the real light is never perceived, it could not present itself as a goal toward which my behaviour is directed. It can only be conceptualized as a cause which acts on my organism.”(p7)

This invocation of Aristotelian teleology to prove the limitations of behaviourist description and explanation is somewhat ironic resting as it does on a kind of rationality which phenomenology must reject given its criticism of logicism. The reference, however, to intention and meaning in the above account is what is truly revolutionary. In the scientific view of consciousness, there is always the risk of dividing holistically experienced phenomena into cause and effect thus creating the impossibility of unification: cause and effect are logically and conceptually independent of each other. The concepts of intention and meaning refuse such a division of holistic phenomena into its “atoms” but there may nevertheless be a division of a different kind.

Merleau-Ponty refers in the comments about Husserl above to “intrinsic truth”. This truth is rooted in conceptual meaning yet it is also rooted in the lived facts of the situation and these together are what make possible the idea of consciousness we encounter here. Experiencing the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven is not just experiencing a collection of facts but rather the experience of an essence or universal meaning. Consciousness is capable of experiencing these essences, the essences of intentional objects, it is asserted. The subject possessing this consciousness is situated in the world with its stimuli and causes but it also thinks this world and in this sense transcends it, transforming the world into an intentional object. This has implications for Psychology:

“Consciousness is accessible only to intentional analysis and not to mere factual observation. The psychologist always tends to make consciousness into just such an object of observation…Psychology, like physics and the other sciences of nature, uses the method of induction which starts from the facts and assembles them. But it is very evident that this induction will remain blind if we do not know in some other way, and indeed from the inside of consciousness itself, what this induction is dealing with.”(Philosophy, Language and Sociology, p242)

This combination of induction with the reflective knowledge consciousness has of itself requires a phenomenological approach if the facts ascertained by the process of induction are to have meaning. Jean-Paul Sartre and Merleau-Ponty were friends and colleagues. Sartre was also influenced by the phenomenological tradition and used the method to analyze the phenomenon of the imagination which was emerging as a cognitive faculty of significance in the phenomenological account of man. (The imagination is also a faculty of significance in Harari’s works). Sartre argues that all experimentation in relation to the power of imagination remains ambiguous whilst the search is directed toward the physical conditions which give rise to images in the mind–images that are regarded as schematic outlines accompanying our thought or carrying symbolic references to particular objects. Merleau-Ponty supports Sartre in this position and agrees that phenomenology seeks to understand what an image is in terms of its relation to thought but he perhaps places even more emphasis on the question of what affect the predominance of the imagination has in the life of those for whom this is true. He also wonders what role imagination as such has in the life of man, the so-called “rational animal”.

We should recall the reflections of James in this context and his reference to the fact that images are of absent objects and also his insistence that this picturing of absent objects is an activity of consciousness. Merleau-Ponty refers to Alain’s observation that we cannot count the pillars of the Pantheon when we imagine it. This, of course, helps us to distinguish this form of consciousness from the perceptual form in which counting the pillars would be possible but it does not reveal its essence. Sartre in the first part of his work on the “Psychology of the Imagination” claims that imagining is an operation of consciousness which pretends to itself that the object imagined is present. He also claims that his definition means that the conscious subject is involved with nothingness: it is consciousness in the face of nothingness that arises because man is a questioning being, questioning for example whether Pierre is in the café when he is not. This, according to Merleau-Ponty is a phenomenological analysis and it is this type of reflection that should be used to understand the meaning of experimentation in this realm.

Sartre also relates the imagination to desire. On page 141 of the “Psychology of the Imagination” he claims:

“The act of imagination is a magical one. It is an incantation destined to produce an object of thought, the thing one desires, in such a way that one can take possession of it.”

Here it appears as if the act is connected to a wish fulfillment that has no connection with the kind of perceptual contact we have with an object that can result in investigations into the number of columns the Pantheon has, to take an example. The type of reaction to the image is the type of reaction connected to a wish rather than the type of reaction to reality involved in the perception of objects like the Pantheon. Freud clearly situated the wish in the realm of the pleasure-pain principle that regulated the play of sensations in consciousness and the eventual fate of these sensations, if accompanied by too much pleasure or too much pain. Freud charted the course of a patients fantasies and dreams using this principle, which, in relation to our cognitive triangle fell outside the scope of those powers that functioned in accordance with what he called the reality principle, the true concern of consciousness and the method of psychoanalysis. The problem that many of the patients of Freud faced was that the power of their imagination usurped the place of the power of their understanding and reason–the bearers of the reality principle–thus disturbing the balance of their minds. This position is countered by the analytical tradition of Philosophy that has close connections with Kantian thought. Here it is maintained that the imagination can, in fact, play a cognitive role in our lives through the imagination of hypothetical states of affairs such as “Pierre is in the café”(when he is not). Here, thought is directed to the category of the possible which reality reveals not to be actual and this, in turn, brings about the subsequent judgment that “It is false that Pierre is in the café”. Here the analytical philosophers clearly see a theoretically cognitive role for the imagination.

It is perhaps important to point out at this stage of the argument that Aristotelian Philosophical Psychology and the Kantian cognitive triangle would not deny all the descriptions of phenomenology or psychoanalysis. The mind has depths that classical and Kantian theories did not concern themselves with. The distinction they would have insisted had paramount importance in Psychology, however, is between what happens to the mind and what the mind does in a free and spontaneous active mode or operation. Both Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis earned the admiration of followers of the classical and Kantian traditions because it broke the stranglehold that science had taken on the humanistic subjects, fragmenting them into a plethora of strictly compartmented disciplines each with its own special interest to be defended in the marketplace of the sciences. This can be seen in the work of Sartre who tries to integrate phenomena that are drifting apart in the scientific environment. After suggesting a relation between imagination and emotion, Sartre then presents a phenomenological investigation of Emotion in his work “Sketch for a theory of the emotions”. This analysis is important Sartre argues because the inductive approach of science reveals two separate realms of facts: so-called “corporeal manifestations” and “representations” and concentrating on either of these two sets of facts merely results in removing us from the phenomena of emotion as we “live” them. He criticizes James’ theory of the emotions when it appears to argue that my joy as a state of consciousness is nothing but the consciousness of physiological or corporeal manifestations. In arriving at such a position James is guilty, Sartre argues, of leaving the psyche out of the study of psychology. Also, he argues, since these physiological events in virtue of being physical, are unconscious, this calls into question whether James has assumed the concept of consciousness in his theory without fully motivating it theoretically. Sartre, in this work, praises psychoanalysis and draws attention to the fact that:

“psychoanalysis was the first to lay emphasis upon the significance of psychic facts: that is, it was the first to insist upon the fact that every state of consciousness stands for something other than itself.”(Sketch for a theory of the emotions, p50)

Phenomenological eidetic reflection shares this fundamental insight and asks of the phenomenon of emotion, for example, “What is its meaning?”. Merleau-Ponty supports the Sartrean project by reiterating that emotion is an act of consciousness which has a relation to the entire world. Both agree that the dualistic division of man into what is physical and what is psychic leads inevitably to the dead-end question of which is the cause of the other. Better to ask, Marleau-Ponty insists, what emotion means in man’s lived relation to the world.

Sartre elaborates upon his analysis and claims that emotion, insofar as we regard it as a way of responding to the world, is connected to the imagination and the wish and ignores causal relations embedded in reality, preferring instead to magically transform its world into something it wishes it to be.
Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty would have felt sympathetic to Husserl’s resolution of the problem of the relation of Phenomenology to Psychology. Husserl claims that the relation is that of form to content and whilst Psychology might provide us with a myriad of facts about the space of the world we live in, we must turn to phenomenology to find the answer to a question such as “What is space?”Phenomenology will provide us with essences–the universal nature of the phenomena it investigates. In this context, Husserl provides us with a number of insights on the relations between induction, imagination and scientific activity. Merleau-Ponty summarizes the matter in the essay “Phenomenology, Language and Sociology”. Husserl, he claims, is opposed to two aspects of the traditional theory of induction. Firstly the aspect with respect to which we, in reflecting upon a group of facts and abstracting a common character regard this abstraction as something essential. Husserl quite rightly regarded this with skepticism and in doing so found himself in agreement with Aristotle, a state of affairs he might not have been completely comfortable with. Aristotle’s view of this inductive process was more conceptually oriented and involved an abstraction of a concept from an examination of “states of affairs”(not facts, as was asserted above, which are already conceptualized phenomena). Secondly, the aspect of Classical causal induction was also rejected by Husserl. This has been described as a process which enables us to pick out from a number of antecedents the factor that is responsible for causing the phenomenon we see before us. Both Aristotle and Kant would have supported this aspect of induction but Husserl claims that this characterization is not coherent.

What then is induction and how is it related to the imagination? Galileo, Husserl maintains did not engage in this process of abstracting from a number of examples but instead imagined a concept of the fall of bodies that in fact guided his experimentation–a conception which, Husserl claims, has not been abstracted from the facts. He notes that the empirical facts do not support the concept and introduces additional conditions such as friction and resistance to explain the difference between the facts and the imagined concept. It is via this process of imagination that scientists read off the essence of phenomena. Husserl also invokes the single experiment of Davy that established the existence of potassium to prove induction is not a collection of a vast number of cases, but rather a method for applying a group of concepts imagined and real to the relevant phenomena. This account also fits the way Newton arrived at the law of gravitation in his theory, bringing together such diverse facts as the orbiting of heavenly bodies around larger bodies and the apple falling from the tree to the earth. Newton was certainly attempting to find the essence of gravitation. Husserl claims, in relation to examples such as these, that the intuition of essences is based not just on the facts but on what he calls the “free variation” of certain facts. This occurs by imagining a phenomenon and then in or with our imaginations trying to imagine all possible modifications of the phenomenon. Whatever remains constant or endures through these changes is the essence of the phenomenon. Here the individual “fact” is considered “hypothetically” and not “grasped as a reality”, whatever this may mean. Husserl may here be confusing a fact which is a true belief about a state of affairs with a state of affairs that indeed can be imagined to vary by imagining a variation of causes or conditions. A state of affairs is real and a fact is conceptual: it is a relation of a number of concepts in a statement which refers to a state of affairs or a number of states of affairs. A state of affairs is made up of actual things or objects in relation to each other.

So, the idea of an imaginary variation of the facts can only mean imagining the facts not to be true but this by definition of what a fact is is not possible. In addition, some essences are facts which are necessarily true and it must follow that such an imaginary negation of the fact or facts cannot possibly reveal the essence of a thing. Now some scientists like Harari also believe that the imagination can do what is logically impossible and “vary the facts” and this attitude is probably inspired by Phenomenology that in its attempt to alleviate the crisis of the European sciences merely added yet another problematic dimension to this sorrow-laden state of affairs. Other scientists inspired by perhaps a combination of phenomenology and quantum physics will deny that their theories carry truths about the states of affairs they are investigating. These scientists claim to be providing “models” of reality which will inevitably be replaced by other better “models that will function more pragmatically insofar as evaluating and conducting experiments is concerned. Many phenomenologists and traditional followers of Aristotle and Kant have complained about this scientific obsession with methodology and Husserl would no doubt have been surprised to learn that his theorizing actually reinforced the aforementioned form of pragmatic functionalism. For the followers of Aristotle and Kant, this was not a surprising result considering the lack of concern with the traditional cognitive triangle we referred to earlier.

Merleau-Ponty initially appears to differentiate himself from both Husserl and Sartre by introducing a study of speech in his phenomenological investigations. he notes, rather ironically in the present context, that the patient suffering from aphasia has:

“lost the general ability to subsume a sensory given under a category, that he has lapsed from the categorical to the concrete attitude.”

An interesting diagnosis by a phenomenologist whom the traditional philosopher believes is guilty of the same “lapse”. The phenomenologist has flattened our cognitive traditional cognitive triangle of the powers of the mind in its retreat from the so-called abstract theory of knowledge to the more modern concrete imaginative attitude. This criticism should be borne in mind when we are asked to evaluate Merleau-Ponty’s attempt to “reduce” language to the user of a language in a speech situation expressing himself. This, of course, is according to Merleau-Ponty a far better method than an observationalist third-person account of phenomena which has ignored the life-world aspect involved in the operation of the powers of perception, emotion and the imagination. Husserl and Merleau-Ponty are striving to provide arguments against the learned observers view of language embedded in a linguistic past that made language possible and both philosophers are instead striving to provide arguments for a speaking subject oriented toward the future and the task of communicating some kind of message which, according to this theory, has no relation to the truth. It is rightly pointed out that the speaker cannot relate to the language they are speaking as they would to an object, and yet their words relate in some manner to reality. Phenomenology cannot explain how this phenomenon of a speaker speaking relates to what we know, namely, that we understand another person by understanding the truth of what they say. Understanding, of course, comes from the higher regions of the cognitive triangle that the phenomenologists reject and it is these regions of the triangle which are needed to explain the truth function of language or thought.

All attempts to concretize the operations of consciousness appear to do so at the expense of its relation to the world, at the expense of its true thought about the world. Analytical Philosophy with its early commitment to the methodology and assumptions of science also initially had a problematic relation to language and consciousness but that early tendency was neutralized by the recantation by Wittgenstein of his earlier work and the “turn” his philosophizing took when he returned to more traditional philosophical investigations of these areas. In part three we will attempt to provide an analysis of the concept of consciousness from the perspective of Analytical philosophy.

Seventh Centrepiece lecture by Jude Sutton, from “The World Explored, the World Suffered: The Exeter Lectures”

Hits: 319

Jude walked into the lecture room with Harry and Glynn who had requested to be present earlier in the week. Surprisingly Jude felt more comfortable knowing that they would be there. Harry and Glynn sat with Robert and Sophia:
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to today’s lecture which will be about Philosophy and the Human Sciences. One of my theses today is going to be that Philosophy is not itself a human or social science but that philosophical reasoning and understanding is needed if we are to characterize the kind of knowledge involved in the understanding of judgments in the arena of human science. I want to begin with some brief remarks about what Philosophy is not. It is not what Locke referred to as an “under-laborer” or a “gardener” in the garden of knowledge attending to the different regions of the garden in accordance with different skills. Philosophy, ladies and gentlemen is about what is in the garden, and why it is there. Philosophy is logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and all five are concerned with man’s relation to reality. The under-laborer or gardener conception is confused: it identifies Philosophy with a method: the method, namely, of studying the statements made in the different regions of knowledge, trying to identify contradictions and then leaving the science in question to carry on doing whatever it is doing. Let me just say quickly in parenthesis that such a view in relation to education, namely that education was all about the methods of learning and teaching, would turn teacher training into a course for mechanics rather than a course for architects. One readily sees how the above reduction of Philosophy to Logic diminishes its role in the discussion of the nature of man’s relation to reality. The early Wittgenstein we spoke of in the beginning of this course, ladies and gentlemen, was guilty of such a conception. As we saw, he believed that Philosophy was the philosophy of language and that what we could sensibly say was determined by the language, of the individual and not the language of generations developed over time in many different communities. According to the Tractatus, Philosophy was not an autonomous discipline with anything to say about reality. It mysteriously was only able to show reality. Fortunately this conception was corrected by his later view that would revolutionize philosophy, get it out of the hole it had dug for itself. The human being of the Tractatus was a lonely language user, a linguistic solipsist. As we have pointed out in relation to his earlier view, all value and self- consciousness stood mysteriously outside of the world defined as the totality of facts. The unsurprising consequence of this was that nothing could be said about ethics, religion or society. In his work “Philosophical Investigations” he realizes that his earlier views were untenable and we get an account of language that is less metaphysically pretentious. Language is in its very essence social, determined by a history and community of language users. Yet in being social there is still a fundamental philosophical question haunting his discussion: the question namely of our understanding of reality and what difference this understanding makes to our lives. Wittgenstein has learned his lesson in the later work and there is no quick and easy answer to the question of the relation between language and reality. In a discussion about a triangle Wittgenstein discusses seeing firstly this part of the triangle as an apex and that as a base, and then subsequently, seeing different parts of the triangle as a base and as an apex. He asks what makes this seeing of aspects of a thing possible and gives himself the answer that the substratum of this experience involves the experiencer having mastered certain linguistic techniques in relation to the conceiving of triangles. He has, that is learned certain rules, and his experience of the world has changed as a consequence of this learning. Man, in Wittgenstein’s later work, has been transformed from a linguistic solipsist to a rule constitutor and follower in a community of language users who play language games determined by communally agreed upon rules. A number of followers of Wittgenstein’s earlier work rejected this view with the following thought experiment: surely, they argued, one could imagine someone growing up on a desert island and having had no contact with any society or language, deciding to invent a language of their own, and surely one could then also imagine a scientist arriving on the island and learning such a language by formulating hypotheses about the meaning of the sounds that are being uttered. That we can imagine such a state of affairs, it is claimed, means that it is possible for language to be invented or constructed by one individual linguistic solipsist. So language may not have a social essence after all, since saying something has an essence entails that if that essence is not present, the thing it is an essence of, also is logically impossible: for example if Socrates is essentially human and he loses his humanity because of damage to his brain, then Socrates as such no longer exists. We can see from this example that the agenda of understanding reality is vital to the activity of Philosophy. The 64,000 pound question here of course is whether knowledge and the reality knowledge is of, is a seamless robe or a coat of many colors. The jury is still out on that question but until it has fully considered its verdict Modern Philosophers subscribe to the following views: that the scientist seeks understanding of the aspect of reality he believes to be important: the artist, psychologist, theologian, social scientist, historian all seek understanding of the aspects of reality they are concerned about. If Aristotle is to be believed, there is a more natural divide of the kingdom of reality running between the theoretical, practical and productive sciences and Kant’s more transcendental view is that the divide runs between theoretical reason, practical reason and judgment. But I digress: to return to the plot, we learn rules and play language games and are both constituters and participants in forms of life. You will not find reference to any of this in social science writers, some of which are dedicated followers of Durkheim who insist that the insider view of participants in a society will very likely not refer to or even understand the underlying causal mechanisms which are responsible for what we are conscious of or experience in our societies. Other sociologist’s also insist that sociology must disregard the cultural aims of the members of society and all agree that we must examine the manner in which individuals gather into groups independent of their subjective cultural aims. The philosopher’s role in this discussion is to ask, for example, whether it makes any sense to talk about the reasons why individuals gather together in communities independently of their experience or of the aims they are striving toward. The philosopher also would wish to ask metaphysical questions relating to the truth, especially if he were told of individuals and groups that are ruining their individual or collective lives by not acknowledging certain truths: for example truths such as that murdering Jews is wrong. There are great metaphysical and ethical truths about what we ought and ought not to do, both individually and collectively, and the sociologist can talk all he likes about the causes of the mass murder of the Jews, the truth of his scientific hypotheses about such a matter will never exceed the great metaphysical and ethical categorical imperative which says “never murder, whatever the causes”
“Except in wars, or if the circumstances make the deeds committed “killing” and not murder”, Sophia’s friend Valery commented
“Very good comment, my dear. My answer may seem surprising but goes back to Socrates and Jesus:” It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong”. Killing someone on that categorical imperative is wrong. War is a collective ethical mistake, according to this maxim of Socrates.”
The Science major, Mark Cavendish, interrupted:
“Come on! Surely if I am attacked and I kill someone in self- defense it cannot be said that I have done anything wrong!”
“And yet if you cannot prove in law that firstly, you did not intend to kill your attacker and secondly that the act which killed your attacker stands in proportion to the violence of the attack, you will be sentenced to prison for his slaughter. Of course killing in other circumstances “appears” to be legitimized in war situations but even here there are bans on killing civilians, killing children, enemies bearing white flags etc. Here we don’t refer to law but to conventions. Conscientious objectors do not invoke cowardice or fear as a ground for their objection but the Socratic imperative, and with all the courage of Socrates, I might add”
“But”, insisted Mark, “if everyone in Britain were conscientious objectors in the last war we would have been overrun and you would be lecturing in German!”
“Are you sure about that prediction? What strategic geo-political significance could there have been in occupying a little island that would have refused to cooperate with its invaders. As far as lecturing in German is concerned, this presupposes, in this imagined atmosphere of non-cooperation, that universities would have been open for normal business.
I have talked about the importance of rule following and in doing so have incorporated the social value of cooperation. According to Wittgenstein’s later conception of Philosophy, the approach to talking about value is by taking the route of meaning which is a broader notion involving truth in a complex relation which philosophers have no agreed upon formula for as yet. Peter Winch in his work “The Idea of a Social Science” which is one of the inspirational sources of today’s lecture, introduces the following thoughts:
“The notion of following a rule is logically inseparable from the notion of making a mistake. If it is possible to say of someone that he is following a rule that means that one can ask whether he is doing what he does correctly or not…the concept of a rule is that it should enable us to evaluate what is being done.”
Or in other words the concept of a rule establishes a standard similar to that of “Murder is wrong”. A practical mistake, seemingly contradicting the rule is best explained not by abandoning the rule but by judging, using the rule as a standard, that the behavior in question ought to have followed. Our evaluation resides in the ought-system of concepts: we say X ought to have followed the rule or it was wrong of X not to follow the rule.
Communication with language is a form of cooperation. We live in a realm of ideas or rather we live in different realms of ideas: scientific, religious, psychological, artistic, philosophical, economic, and political. Wittgenstein thought of these as forms of life, as fundamentally social, and suggested investigating these philosophically not by imposing a network of scientific concepts and “explanatory” theories upon the “data” of this human behavior, but rather by using the method Weber referred to as “interpretation” which involved understanding the meaning of the social phenomena we are investigating. Wilhelm Dilthey pointed out that the concept of “meaning” is a concept or category of thinking which is only relevant to the life-world and the historical world. The idea of “meaningful behavior” emerges as a non- observational concept, where observation means theoretically determined by scientific concepts and theories. “Meaningful in this context refers to the comprehension of certain concepts and ideas from within a form of life from a first person point of view. Weber, in giving his account of “meaningful behavior” uses two important concepts: “motive” which he defines as “a meaningful configuration of circumstances which appear to the agent or observer as a meaningful reason for their behavior” and “reason”. He points out that if an agent votes Labor and his “reason” for doing so is that he believes a Labor or socialist government will ensure the industrial peace which is needed for the prosperity of the country, then this of course is a meaningful socio-political act. Such an act logically implies that, if the agent does not have the concept of, or know what industrial peace means, or if he does not have a concept of the relation between his act and what the government he votes for will do when it comes to power, it cannot make sense to say that he voted in order to preserve industrial peace. The Freudians amongst us of course might want to insist that it is notoriously difficult to know the motive of anyone and whilst the agent might say that he voted for industrial peace, he might have voted against the conservatives for the reason that his hated father was a conservative politician and he did not wish to vote for his fathers’ party. It is important to see that this does not affect Weber’s point that there is a type of action that is meaningful because there is a reason for doing it. It might look as if the latter agent was in a sense not conscious of what he was doing and we need a “scientist” to settle the matter. Well, if that is the case it will need to be a scientist who “interprets” the meaningful behavior he sees and uses “verstehen”, or understanding, to bring about acknowledgment of the real meaning of the behavior by the agent who voted labor in order to avoid voting for his father’s political party. Furthermore it is important to realize that this latter “action” has taken place in a divided or dissociated consciousness and for this reason it probably deserves to be placed in a different category to that of the purposive-rational behavior of the agent who genuinely voted for the political party that would provide industrial peace. Perhaps the “dissociated action” will fall into Weber´s category of “expressive” behavior that could be reserved for those agents, whose social capacities have been for various reasons disturbed. In the case of purposive rational action it is important to acknowledge how important the knowledge of social institutions is in the decision to vote.
English Philosophy has been dogged for many centuries by naturalism, empiricism and positivism. The English tradition opposed the hermeneutic interpretative tradition of “verstehen” and instead supported naturalist explanations. One tradition recommends understanding from within and the other explanation from without. Hobbes, for example, thought that we could study behavior as we study the external natural world: by adopting an objective position outside the events to be studied. Hume thought we could separate reason from passion: in his account: reason obeys intellectual laws but yet also mysteriously obeys the commands of the passions. J S Mill believed that there was no such thing as the logic of the moral sciences or the Philosophy of social science since both of these were basically scientific forms of life in which the scientist ought to be observing regularities and conjuring up causal generalizations to explain these regularities. Mill believed that Laws of the minds of individuals, rather than physiological laws, are needed to explain the connection between motives and behavior and also explain why societies change. One of the great aims of the scientist is to be able to predict what is going to happen in the future given firstly, the laws of the universe and generalizations as he comprehends them, and secondly, a description of the current situation where all the particular facts about the situation have been collected by systematic observations. Mill acknowledges that explaining human behavior and social change is going to be much more complex than say explaining the behavior of the sea but he does not acknowledge there to be a logical difference. But leaving aside the concerns of the above British gentlemen for the moment we can say it is not, for example, possible to predict theoretically what a person will practically do, given certain antecedent conditions and theoretical laws of the mind. But if it is not, then the prediction made by scientific theories was a mistake, and the laws need revising or the observations need to be more meticulous. But the prediction might not have been a mistake. Someone asks me what I am intending to do this afternoon and I reply: “spend the afternoon reading in the library”. On the way to the library I get involved in a discussion with Dr. Samuels and we spend all afternoon discussing what I was going to research into at the library. Does it make sense to say that my “prediction”, if one can call it that, was “mistaken”? J L Austin points out that the practical logic of a mistake involves asking what was mistaken for what. I shot your donkey thinking it was mine: they resemble each other and one can easily see how the mistake could have been made. But in saying I was going to spend the afternoon in the library, what was mistaken for what? I had no idea I would chance to run into Dr. Samuels. Of course expressing intentions are not predictions because in our practical life it is the making of promises that more resemble predictions but only because of a practical moral commitment to the proposition “one ought to keep ones promises”. In this universe of discourse if I do not keep my promise it is not a mistake to make the promise, rather, the mistake is in the behavior that is judged to be in breach of a moral law. It is not the law which is evaluated, rather, the law is the source of the evaluation of the behavior.
Now Karl Marx was a sociologist and “political scientist” who did not flinch from making predictions. Capitalism would fail and world socialism would prevail until the state withered away. Well, as we speak capitalism appears to be thriving, and there are predictions abroad that socialism will fail. If that does happen will Marx have made a mistake? Will he have mistaken capitalism for socialism? If Marx did make a mistake it was perhaps not in making the specific predictions he made. But rather in thinking that any prediction at all was possible in the circumstances. In thinking, that is, that economic theory and structural institutions such as classes can determine the freedom of actors and states in real circumstances. He talked, if we recall, about two classes, one of which will take control of the economy by taking over the means of production and which will triumph because of this strategic advantage over an exploitative class which invests its capital: his was a purely economic model. The ancient Greeks, who believed that oeconomos was the practice of keeping order in one’s private household by saving money in good years to be able to continue to flourish in poor years, would have been amazed at Marx’s hubris in imagining that this kind of quantitative economic calculation could determinate the fate of civilizations. For the ancient Greeks, phronesis or practical wisdom of a political kind would have been far more important. Aristotle already in his own time realized that the battle between the rich and the poor was destroying the unity of the state and pointed to the operation of phronesis in the finding of a middle way between the extremes. In our times we may point to capitalism and socialism as being the extreme forms of political organization. According to Aristotle a middle class, in such an extreme situation, would emerge possessing phronesis. Now here is a prediction based on practical reasoning, If it is correct, we should in the future begin to see the continued emergence of this middle class and a resultant improvement in the state of the world. Kant of course believed in this type of progress of reason in the species but he believed the process would take one hundred thousand years and he made no reference to classes.
An Economics major raised their hand:
“Marx was also a historian and claims historical fact as evidence for his theories. Could it not be conceivable that one could use his method of dialectical materialism to postulate welfare liberalism as a synthesis of the thesis of capitalism and the antithesis of socialism?
“Excellent point. History, however, is not just a totality of the sum of historical facts. It requires interpretation and understanding of a kind that uses political and ethical concepts as well as perhaps economic”
“And why not religious concepts”, interrupted Glynn with a good natured laugh
“And why not “Anthropological” Harry added.
“Why not indeed” Jude responded. “There are only two lectures left in the series before the examination which will take the form of an essay and a viva voce for a selected few. The next lecture will follow up some of the themes discussed today. Its title will be “Political Philosophy and Education”. The last lecture will be entitled “The Arts and Education””.
The student common room was filled with students milling around in their blue tracksuits, waiting for their various practical lessons in physical education to begin. Jude, Robert wearing his track suit, Sophia, and the Philosophy students found a place to sit together. Mark Cavendish began the discussion:
“The behavior of rule following is connected with the behavior which is being judged by the agent concerned, but what about the rule? Can that be questioned and reflected upon?”
Jude responded
“It must be a given in the system. One cannot adopt the position of a user of the rules of chess whilst playing the game and simultaneously question the rules by moving in ways that break the rules. My moving my knight to checkmate the king is being guided by the rules of chess. Of course I might wonder why the game has to end so arbitrarily and imagine another game in which there were no rules governing “checkmate” but this would be a different game to chess, if indeed one thought that a game without an end was a game at all. If my opponent makes a mistake and carries on playing after I have checkmated his king, I do not celebrate his invention of a different game and join him in playing this game without an end. I correct his mistake by appealing to the rules concerning checkmate. Similarly, in mathematics we count in accordance with the rule n plus 1 and if we happen to skip a number we don’t let the mistake alter the formulation of the rule to n plus 2. We correct the mistaken behavior by appealing to the rule”.
A Mathematics major known to Sophia asked her:
“But then how do we submit the rule to philosophical reflection?” Surely critical reasoning goes all the way up in the system and does not stop at a particular level.”
Sophia looked around for assistance in answering the difficult challenge but Robert came tentatively to her rescue whilst looking to Jude for support
“We have had a similar discussion earlier but perhaps a more nuanced answer is possible now. I don’t know enough about mathematics to be certain of this but on what we have heard so far, Mathematics is a form of life with its own rules which allow game-like moves which are its calculations, to be made by the agents engaged in the form of life. These rules have been formed by the calculations and the point of the game, over a long period of time….”
Jude acknowledged that Robert was in difficulties, nodded in acknowledgment of Robert’s point, and continued.
“….by the dialectical process exploring extreme alternatives which have detracted from the point of the game. If the point of counting is more to do with the measurement of time than the quantification of a number of objects in our environment then n+1 rather than n+1/2 or n+2 would seem to have many advantages when using a clock for example to measure time. The Greek idea of 12 hours being one day then serves as a system or framework for the counting of units of time rather than the decimal based- system that of course allows calculations to be done more easily. With the introduction of the decimal-based system the point of mathematics becomes more complex and more capable of measuring a continuum by the division of numbers into decimals and those decimals into decimals. So if time is an actual continuum it becomes theoretically possible to chart continuous changes. In the old dozen -based system, the second was the resting point. Theoretically one could have divided it into 12 parts but this would not have been a manageable system. The reason that 12 was selected as an important unit had to do with the fact that light and day at the equator appeared to be equally distributed in 12 hour periods.”
An Economics major, threw up their hands in desperation:
“I don’t know, I cannot get the hang of this philosophy lark. It seems to fly in the face of the facts”
Which facts?” Jude asked
“The fact that we have a collision between capitalist and communist systems which will probably be decided by either military or economic means. The fact that economics, whether one likes it or not, rules. The reasoning process of politicians seem very clear to me money-in through taxation and money -out in accordance with some principle of distribution.”
“I do not think Philosophy has any interest in denying the facts if they are the facts, but it seems to me that there are ethical questions to be asked about the conflict between world powers and there are political/philosophical questions to be asked about the justice of any distribution principle. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether economics ought to rule, that is, whether economics has any mandate to rule over people’s lives” Jude replied.

The History of Psychology and the History of Consciousness: Introduction(part one) to criticism and commentary of Harari’s “Homo Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”

Hits: 326

Philosophical Psychology is the arena of focus of much of Harari’s account of the history and future of mankind and yet there is little acknowledgment of the thought and theory of Philosophy in general and Philosophical Psychology, Ethics, Political Philosophy, and Aesthetics in particular. Harari argues for the Cognitive revolution of 70,000 BC being the decisive moment in the history of mankind insofar as the development of cognition is concerned and consciousness is an important concept to consider in this debate. The evidence for the cognitive revolution, the use of language for fictional purposes, is flimsy and is not supported by the existing evidence(archaeological or literary) that would place both the use of fictional language and the advent of consciousness much later, to ca 1200 BC(Julian Jaynes’ dating). One explanation for this dating error may reside in the contours of the modern conceptions of Psychology and consciousness which only an excursion into the History of these interrelated concepts can illuminate.

The major question at issue when Psychology cut its umbilical cord to mother Philosophy in 1870 was, how to define its subject matter. Initially, general consensus orbited around the claim that Psychology was “The science of consciousness”, up until the time that the difficulties of manipulating and measuring variables in experiments with human subjects became apparent. At this point two choices must have presented themselves to workers in this new field: either abandon the concept of consciousness on the grounds that it could not be measured or abandon the modern conception of science and the scientific method.

Philosophical analysis of this situation, of the kind we are familiar with through the works of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein, would have revealed that this seemingly dialectical choice was a false bipolarity. In all these three philosophical accounts, consciousness was not a spiritual phenomenon that could not be manipulated or measured, nor was it a nothing – a figment of the imagination. Aristotle, to take one example, did not speak explicitly of the idea of consciousness but the term might be in some sense operational in his investigation of the notion of the psuche: in his investigation into the life principle of the human form of life. Reifying consciousness into a thing or phenomenon that could be manipulated or measured would have been regarded by Aristotle as a form of logical mistake. The Aristotelian definition of the “science” of psuche was supported by investigations searching for explanations of his holistic idea of the human form of life. The kind of investigation we find in his work “Metaphysics” in which he classifies all change into four kinds of change, three principles of change and four “causes” (or explanations)of change, focuses upon the human form of life that these kinds of change, principles of change and causes of change are attempting to illuminate aspects of. One can perhaps anticipate from such a complex investigation that the type of knowledge being sought for in the work “De Anima” for example is very complex and the most difficult to acquire. This,, in turn,, suggests that the oracular challenge to “know thyself” is no easy task to accomplish and is further confirmed by the fact that in the Aristotelian structure of the Sciences, knowledge of the human form of life would be spread over all three Sciences: theoretical science, practical science, and the productive sciences.

So, human life can be studied by the three sciences of Aristotle: Theoretical science which seeks knowledge of the conditions of our life: practical science which is about action and the telos of the good and the productive sciences whose concern is with the production of beautiful objects(some of which imitate reality) and useful objects such as houses beds and shoes. Christopher Shields in his work “Aristotle” reiterates what has been taken for granted by many other commentators, namely that the principles of the theoretical sciences(the principle of non-contradiction and the principle of sufficient reason) underpin many of the discussions in both the Practical and Productive sciences.

The major feature of Aristotelian thought expresses the view that man is a questioning creature driven by the basic feeling of wonder at the fact that there is something rather than nothing. Aristotle, as we have claimed, does not use the term “consciousness” but if he were to, this might be its original point of insertion. That we experience something rather than nothing gives rise to two questions which his Metaphysics and other works attempt to answer, namely the question what that something is and the question why this something is as it is. This, in turn, gives rise to thinking which is a common inhabitant of the stream of experience that appears to contain both elements of sensible feeling such as sensations and elements of cognition such as concepts and judgments. This line of investigation, in fact, is reflected in contemporary philosophical psychological theories that maintain the mind is divided into two halves that are more or less integrated with each other, depending upon the complexity of the animal possessing it (O’ Shaughnessy “The Will”).

We desire to know, Aristotle argues in the Metaphysics and we aim at the good in all our activities he argues in the Nichomachean Ethics. Both works attest to this division of mind that we can also find in the work of Immanuel Kant, who sees reason to be operating in different ways in both spheres of the mind: the epistemological sphere and the conative sphere. In the epistemological sphere, theoretical judgments are organized into a system of categories which in turn organize our concepts and intuitions and experiences in general: a system where justifications and explanations are given in terms of principles of theoretical reason(non-contradiction, sufficient reason). In the conative sphere, practical reason organizes the field of imperative judgments governing action into three categories: the categorical imperative, the instrumental imperative and the technical imperative: a system reminiscent of the Aristotelian account of judgments. O’ Shaughnessy argues in this context more empirically and neutrally in terms of the desiring half and the thinking half of the mind. The modern conception of science would, of course, refuse to regard Aristotle, Kant, and O’Shaughnessy as scientists because of what is thought to be a lack of commitment to an observation based methodology and a lack of commitment to materialistic assumptions. It was these lack of commitments that in fact was the psychological inspiration for the cutting of the umbilical cord to mother Philosophy. This commitment to materialism and observation/measurement manifested itself when the infant redefined itself and rejected the definition of its subject matter in terms of “the science of consciousness” in favour of the definition “the Science of behaviour”. The reasoning was simple: one can only shake oneself free of the spiritual conception of the mind by returning to the perception and measurement of physical things. Systematic perception or observation became important for theory building. This reasoning, of course, removed concern for the mental life of human beings because I cannot observe such mental events only behaviour. If the sphere of “the mental” is not event-based but purely dispositional, this fact might explain the difficulty in observing what is mental. Thus was created the schism between mind and behaviour that Kant had seen in the empiricist philosophies of his time and which Wittgenstein was forced to bridge with his concept of “criteria”. For Wittgenstein criteria connected mental states(not dispositions) and processes with behaviour grammatically: resting his philosophical case on the logic of language.

For both Aristotle and Kant, it was evident that wonder in the face of the starry heavens and the phenomena of life of all kinds including the human form of ethical life demanded explanations of the same logical kind: in terms which were in accordance with the principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason. Both philosophers, for example, would have claimed that one can indeed “perceive” or “observe” that someone is joyful or grieving” and for some actions such as a man diving into a river to save a drowning infant the goodness of such actions are “observable”. For many philosophers, there is no schism between mind or consciousness and behaviour requiring a separation of the disciplines of Philosophy and Psychology. Dividing a whole into two elements, one of which is by definition inaccessible to observation would have been a methodological disaster for Aristotle, Kant, and their followers.

Both Aristotle and Kant respected the integrity of experience and would have acknowledged the presence of a stream of experiences that could be more or less organized. Sensations from within the body and from the outside world draw attention to themselves and momentarily disappear unless as William James claims our theoretical, practical, emotional, or aesthetic interests focus the attention upon them turning them into substantive entities to be felt, talked about or reasoned about.

William James is an interesting figure to refer to in this context because his major work “The Principles of Psychology” was published in 1890, during the period in which the shift was occurring in Psychology from focusing on consciousness to focusing on behaviour. Consciousness was still the paramount concern and we can see in this work passing reference to Philosophers in a way that clearly manifests a waning of interest in their ideas and theories. He was attempting to defend the idea of consciousness whilst maintaining what he regarded as a “scientific” attitude toward the idea. As always in history, it is interesting to speculate what might have happened if James instead of using the modern conception of science to defend the idea of consciousness attempted to develop the thought of Aristotle and Kant. If this counter-factual were true we may well have been presented with a very different discipline of Psychology to the one we are confronted with today, containing as it does what are regarded by philosophers many conceptual confusions and logical fallacies. Let us, however, examine this work of William James with a view to throwing more light on Harari’s concerns as well as for the purposes of supporting the truth of the above counterfactual.

William James defines Psychology as “The Science of mental life, both its phenomena and their conditions”:

“The phenomena are such things as we call feelings, desires, cognitions, reasonings, decisions and the like: and their variety and complexity are such as to leave a chaotic impression on the observer.”

Phenomena must be classified in accordance with our practical, emotional and aesthetic interests but there is very little recognition of the importance of our theoretical interests in the work. Indeed, there is, one might argue, also a lack of recognition of the “rational” contribution that Philosophy could make to the discipline of Psychology. James, in Hegelian fashion, instead refers dialectically to two different approaches that have attempted to understand the variety and complexity of phenomena he referred to above: the associationist approach and the spiritualistic approach. In the former, James argues, we discover mental “facts” as he calls them and we arrange these into a structure very much in the same way in which a builder arranges his bricks into the form of a house. In this approach, the self or the soul emerges as a consequence or fact of the correct arrangement of the elements. The Spiritual approach, on the other hand, begins with the self or the soul and its faculties of memory, reasoning, volition, imagination, and appetite. James criticizes both these approaches in an empirical spirit and does not acknowledge the conceptual difficulties involved. He wonders for example, in relation to the faculty or power of memory why, when we remember something like our university graduations, we remember this incident rather than that. He also asks why illness should weaken and diminish the power but fevers and asphyxiation and excitement can actually result in a surprising emergence of memories long forgotten we previously had no access to.

It should be pointed out in this context that Aristotle would acknowledge an associationist inductivist phase of discovery in science where facts are accumulated, classified and sorted into categories and faculties that will each eventually reveal themselves to have conceptual definitions. These conceptual definitions will contain a form or principle relating to the phenomena related to this principle and also to the principles of other faculties. Moving to the conceptual level, however, indicates a shift of context from the scientific context of discovery to the so-called scientific context of explanation. The principles of the faculties will relate themselves holistically to the human form of life if it is a human experience we are dealing with. The conceptual activity involved here will, of course, be in accordance with the principle of non-contradiction and principle of sufficient reason. We should also point out here that a principle is not a phenomenon to be observed, spiritual or otherwise, nor is it a nothing that is embedded in the chaos of infinite change. The three principles of the Aristotelian Metaphysical theory of change are: that which a thing changes from, that which a thing changes to and the enduring entity which remains the same throughout the change. These three principles together with the 4 causes, or kinds of explanations and the classification of the kinds of change will explain why my various interests determine what I remember from my graduation day. The material and efficient “causes” of Aristotle’s account will explain why I remember or fail to remember certain particular things. James also asks why as we age the mind is more inclined to remember abstract names than proper names and to this empirical question he gives the correct empirical answer that this state of affairs probably depends upon the fact that there are greater numbers of association of other experiences to the well used abstract name compared to the name of someone one does not meet that often. He points out in the context of this discussion and the context of his definition that the above considerations prove that the mental faculties work under conditions and it is the task of the Psychologist to explicate these conditions. One should also remember in this context Kant’s insistence that the power of reasoning in man attempts to unify a totality of conditions in accordance with the principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason. James takes a different more empirical tack and insists that in relation to memory” the brain is the one immediate bodily condition of the mental “operations”. Apparently, however, the ghosts of philosophers past must still be haunting him because he hastily admits that this condition is only a co-determinant of the result.
In accordance with his definition, James then points out that there are also consequences of the activity of mental states and processes: consequences which can be observed and measured such as physiological responses and behaviour that must also fall into the purview of the science of Psychology. It is in discussing this issue that the concept of consciousness first arises in his account. He claims that behaviour or action originates through what he calls “conscious intelligence” and it is this which so clearly manifests mentality in our behaviour. He also points out in this discussion that actions and behaviour can grow automatic and be performed unconsciously in the case of our habits. he then asks whether such machine-like acts should be included in the study of Psychology. His answer is a tentative yes which of course is music to the ears of those cognitive psychologists that have moved away from a biological account of behaviour action and consciousness and toward a model of artificial intelligence to explain human behaviour. James is less tentative in his essentially Aristotelian definition of mental life in terms of what he calls “conscious intelligent action”. This definition occurs after James contrasts an event in the physical world with an event in the human world. He speaks of a magnet attracting iron filings and characterizes this event in terms of an agent acting in relation to an object. If in this process of attraction one inserts a cardboard obstacle between the iron filings and the magnet, the iron filings will cling to the cardboard obstacle and never make contact with the attracting agent. James then discusses the trials of Romeo in his attempt to overcome a number of obstacles in order to make contact with his attractive agent, Juliet. It is because Romeo possesses what he calls conscious intelligence that he will eventually overcome all obstacles and make contact with his attractive agent, Juliet. of course, love and desire also play their role in this drama and this leads James to his definition of consciousness:

“The pursuance of future ends and the choice of means for their attainment are thus the mark and criterion of mentality in a phenomenon.”(William James Principles of Psychology, P8)

This conclusion then leads to a discussion of why a machine that performs a certain action when it is working as it should, and another different kind of action when it is broken, could never be regarded as intelligent or conscious. James points out that in the above case both the right and the wrong action follow from a physical condition which just is what it is and could not be anything else, indicating a lack of conscious intelligent choice. James ends this discussion by arriving at the following principle:

“No actions but such as are done for an end and show a choice of means can be called indubitable expressions of mind”.(p11)

Aristotle, in response to Harari and the above cognitive psychologists and their embracing of the concept of artificial intelligence, would merely have pointed out that embodiment of a certain kind and complexity is necessary for life that is, in turn, a condition for consciousness and intelligence. The claim that a machine could think or consciously act would be for Aristotle a conceptual mistake, namely the conceiving of an inorganic artifact as a living organic being. He would, however, have applauded the appearance of a teleological explanation for conscious, intelligent action.

Materialists concerned with the observation of the entities they are investigating are naturally curious about where these entities are located and James shares this attitude when he asks where memory and consciousness are located. His answer is, in some sense neo-Aristotelian. These mental faculties are located in the nervous system of the animals that possess them and these nervous systems are designed to act in accordance with the survival imperative or principle. Neurones are concerned with producing and responding to sensation and obey energy regulation laws of the stimulus-response kind, especially where the lower regions of the nervous system are concerned. James, no doubt influenced by the thinking of Hughlings-Jackson differentiates between the lower centres of an animal which “act from present sensational stimuli alone” and the higher centres such as the hemispheres of the brain that act from perceptions and considerations that may involve the absence of sensations. The hemispheres, according to James are centres for memory and recall and the function of memory is to assist in formulating the goals of distant(absent) goods and evils. Memory enables us, James argues, to also deliberate among a number of alternatives, pause, and eventually act prudentially which is obviously a distinct virtue in the human world. The simpler the animal the more it is the case that its acts emanate from the lower nervous centres. In the context of this discussion James connects human intelligence with the more distant ends of life:

“The tramp who lives from hour to hour: the bohemian whose engagements are from day to day: the bachelor who builds for a single life: the father who acts for another generation: the patriot who thinks for a whole community and many generations, and finally the philosopher and saint whose cares are for humanity and eternity.”(p23)

Ideas obviously play an important role in the process of deciding for ones ends and implementing the means to these ends and James gives an excellent account of the conditions involved:

“The same cerebral process which, when aroused from without by a sense organ, given the perception of an object, will give an idea of the same object when aroused by other cerebral processes from within.”(p24)

In this context, the example of a child who burns his fingers after extending them because of the attraction of the candle’s flame is discussed in relation to the efficacy of the idea of the burned fingers in preventing the child from extending his fingers into the flame a second time. Here James examines the mechanism of a sensory idea intervening to prevent the reflexive action. It is this kind of process that is involved in what he earlier described as considerations of future good and evil. There is, however, no theoretical discussion of the roles of perception, memory, language, and reasoning in the life of a human being as there is in Aristotle’s hylomorphic actualization theory. Aristotle begins his discussion at the level of the power of perception for the discrimination of the differences between objects and the different power of thought to form an idea based on similarities which abstract from those differences. Experiences are formed into memories in accordance with the various interests of life. The result of this organization is the formation of a general practical rule that rests on a general principle. Contemporaneously, another power of the mind emerges to assist in the organization of experience: the power of discourse or language. For Aristotle, spoken sounds are symbols of affections in the soul and written marks are the symbols of these spoken sounds. These affections argue Aristotle, are the same for all men as are the things which produced these affections. The internal organization of these spoken and written words is grammatical. In De Interpretatione Aristotle discusses names and verbs in relation to the truth and falsity generated by sentences affirming or denying something about something. Aristotle also points to the fact that names and verbs occurring outside the context of sentences have a meaning but no truth value which can only be constituted by an intended combination or separation of the name and the verb. It is also pointed out in this discussion that the verb is a more complex grammatical form for two reasons: firstly it refers to time and secondly because it says something about something else when it occurs in a sentence. It is what primarily generates the truth value of a sentence. Sentences can, of course, have other functions than a truth function. Poetry, rhetoric, and prayer produce meaningful sentences that have different grammatical functions. Sentences referring to goods and evils, on the other hand, are multi-functional possessing both truth function and other functions such as the function of recommending a change of a state of affairs in the world through the performance of an action of value. This is a short account of how ideas or affections in the soul are organized in thought and speech. In this account, it can readily be seen how language or discourse brings into play a manifold of powers of the mind. In this connection consider this passage from James:

“Take, for example, the “faculty of language”. It involves, in reality, a host of distinct powers. We must first have images of concrete things and ideas of abstract qualities and relations: we must next have the memory of words and then the capacity so to associate each idea or image with a particular word that, when the word is heard, the idea shall forthwith enter our mind. We must, conversely, as soon as the idea arises in our minds, associate with it a mental image of the word, and by means of this image, we must innervate our articulatory apparatus so as to reproduce the word as a physical sound. To read or to write a language other elements still must be introduced. But it is plain that the faculty of spoken language alone is so complicated as to call into play almost all the elementary powers which the mind possesses, attention, perception, memory, imagination, association, judgment and volition”(p28-9)

Given the fact that we find sometimes in James an element of neo-Aristotelianism, it is not then surprising to find him insisting that there is no localization of speech in the brain because the entire brain is involved in speaking. James skillfully elaborates upon the Aristotelian position which maintains that the human being is a combination of matter and form that together form a functioning unit. For Aristotle, the matter cannot occur independently of some principle of organization or form and in the case of the human, this involves an interrelation of organs including the brain. James again refers to Hughlings-Jackson in characterizing brain function as a sensory-motor system in which sensory impressions and movements are “represented” and to which there correspond “mental” ideas of these impressions and movements. Dualism was the natural alternative position to materialism during the time of James’ theorizing in spite of the fact that both dualism and materialism had been substantially criticized by Kant when he was engaged in the task of uniting empiricism and rationalism in his critical philosophy. James ignores this contribution of Kant and as a consequence, it can be said that he oscillates theoretically between dualist and materialist positions throughout this work. In the name of materialism, he points to examples of how devastating the effects of physical damage to the brain can be for the mental life of such unfortunate victims.
The distinction between the higher and lower centres of the brain was also the basis for James’ claim that consciousness was “located” in the cortex of the hemispheres. In the hemispheres, we have both the so-called sensory-motor “projection” areas but also language in both the frontal and temporal lobes. the lower centres of the nervous system have no connection with speech and therefore no connection with the self that speaks. In this context, however, James does enigmatically claim that a kind of consciousness might attach to the lower centres but if so “it is a consciousness of which the self-knows nothing”(p67)
The hemispheres of the brain do possess those native tendencies of reaction we know as the instincts or emotions. These instincts or emotions project upwards into the cortex areas and associate themselves with certain special objects of perception. In this association, these reactions can obviously be modified.

We cannot escape the fact, however, that James, regards consciousness as practical and directed at principally practical ends which it prefers or desires. For Aristotle, the desire to understand, that James would have regarded as theoretical, is a contemplative state of consciousness which could transform all one’s practical preferences and desires. Apart from obscure references to the lives of philosophers and saints, there is no acknowledgment of the importance of this theoretical desire to understand or the desire to lead a contemplative god-like life. It is no great surprise therefore to find James speaking of the will as being primarily connected to the motor centres of the brain: connecting desire to motor discharges. In this context, James claims that:

“All nervous centres have then in the first instance one essential function, that of intelligent action. They feel, prefer one thing to another and have “ends” that have become more intellectual because of the integration of powers in the cortex.”(p79)

James does not refer to this fact but brain research in the last century has focussed on the frontal lobes of the cortex where motor centres are found in close juxtaposition to language, the medium we use to contemplate, think and discuss actions past present and future. We know also the importance Freud placed upon his “talking cure” as if merely contemplating, thinking and talking about one’s illness and condition could be transformational. That evolution has brought such a state of affairs about is not paradoxical given the fact that we know that the process itself is basically a trial and error matter unconcerned with outcomes. We can just accept this fact and turn to Aristotle rather than a divine designer to give us an account of the teleological aspects of human life.

Having arrived at the idea of intelligent action and being confronted with the automatic mechanical appearance of habit James then attempts to explain the role of habit in the life of human beings. Habit, he argues, is a means which the mechanism uses to reduce the energy it spends on the necessary tasks of living. If James continues, we never learned habitually to do anything our life would be spent on fewer tasks because they would require much more attention and energy for their completion. He appears here to be relating consciousness with attention and expenditure of energy in accordance with some kind of energy regulation principle: a principle we also find in Freud’s early theorizing. He refers to the writing of a Physiologist, Dr. Maudsley;

“A man might be occupied all day in dressing and undressing himself: the attitude of his body would absorb all his attention and energy: the washing of his hands or the fastening of a button would be as difficult to him on each occasion as to the child on its first trial: and he would furthermore be completely exhausted by his exertions. Think of the pains necessary to teach a child to stand, of the many efforts which it must make and of the ease with which it at last stands unconscious of any effort.”(Physiology of Mind, p155)

The consequence of habit, then, is to “diminish the conscious attention with which our acts are performed.”

Consciousness then is also associated with the effort in learning something new. Imagine a particular complex action composed of a sequence of nervous events ABCDEFG etc and imagine the effort involved in choosing one event from a large number of alternatives at each stage of the sequence. Such activity requires much energy for the cortex which is the origin of these choices. Once we have successfully learned the complex action, the task is devolved upon the lower parts of the nervous system which requires only one sensation to function as a signal for another without the interposition of the cortical “mental” events of perception idea and volition. The whole sequence requires either an initial conscious perception or idea for the whole process to begin. The sensations involved in the habitual performance can, of course, become conscious again if something unexpected happens or goes wrong in the performance of the task. The process of correction appears to require a conscious relinking of perception ideas and volitions. The habitual area of the mind reminds one very much of the Freudian preconscious in which knowledge and the meanings of words are located. In relation to this point, one can but imagine how slowly we would read if we were unable to transform the conscious act of reading into a preconscious stream of activity. Each word would require a conscious search for a meaning.

Habit, which initially looked to be a physiological matter guided by an energy regulation principle also has social and ethical consequences according to James:

“it saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor. It alone prevents the hardest and most repulsive walks of life from being deserted by those brought up to tread therein. It keeps the fishermen and deckhand at sea through the winter: it holds the miner in his darkness, and nails the countryman to his cabin and his lonely farm through all the months of snow: it protects us from invasion by the natives of the desert and the frozen zone. It dooms us all to fight the battles of life upon the lines of our nurture or our early choices and to make the best of a pursuit that disagrees because there is no other to which we are fitted, and it is too late to begin again…” (p121)

Aristotle’s discussion of the process involved in acquiring the virtues confirms, without the details of the role of the brain, the moral of James’ message.
James’s discussion is of course a reminder of a time gone by when perhaps our educational systems were not sufficiently complex to provide us with a base of ideas, perceptions, and skills that would enable almost everyone to do almost everything including hopefully, think about the most distant ends of humanity typical of the philosopher and the saint. Yet the ultimate insight is correct in accordance with the thoughts of the Philosopher, Aristotle: habits should be developed as early as possible.

Julian Jaynes in his work entitled “The Origins of Consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind” claims that consciousness is not a phenomenon or a thing or a principle but rather an operator thus raising the obvious question: what is the nature of its operations? James is thinking along similar lines when he claims that consciousness is an active selecting agency:

“Whether we find it in the lowest sphere of sense or in the highest intellection, we find it always doing one thing, choosing one out of several of the materials so presented to its notice, emphasizing and accentuating that and suppressing as far as possible all the rest. The item emphasized is always in close connection with some interest felt by consciousness to be paramount at the time.”(p139)

Again James emphasizes the practical at the expense of the theoretical-cognitive function thus undervaluing Aristotelian and neo-Aristotelian positions which regard positively the conscious attitude of contemplation in respect to the wonder and awe we experience in the face of the world. For James, the cognitive powers are subservient to the practical ends created by practical attitudes in the higher centres or cortex of the brain. It is quite clear that for James, Consciousness is no epiphenomenon but on the contrary has causal efficacy in our lives. It has been pointed out that it is responsible for intelligent action, the perceptive selective choosing of the correct alternatives from an array of possibilities: it is also responsible for correcting actions that have gone awry, and it is further responsible for the sensory selection of stimuli from an array of alternatives, all in relation to the so-called interests of the organism. This idea of interests it turns out in James’ argument is significantly related to the consciousness we have of pleasure and pain both of which have obvious relevance for what we undergo and choose to do:

“It is a well-known fact that pleasures are generally associated with beneficial, pains with detrimental experiences. All the fundamental vital processes illustrate this law.”(p143)

If painful or destructive events were pleasurable for the organism or vice versa then this conscious pleasure-pain principle would not be useful for the organism. James refuses this possibility and points out its obvious evolutionary value in the process of evolution insofar as vital functions are concerned. This principle obviously also plays a role in the instability of a restless consciousness continually searching for a state of equilibrium in a world which continually precipitates states of in-equilibrium.

The efficacy of consciousness is not further discussed except for the insistence that the mind itself cannot, as the associationists suggest, be made up of an assembly of atomic facts that mysteriously “constitute” consciousness” or “mind”. There is ambiguity in James’s terminology when he speaks sometimes of consciousness and sometimes of the mind, soul, or self.

In speaking about the mind he claims that the mind knows other objects and he insists that this relation is so mysterious that it cannot be explained. the Psychologist in this situation has no choice but to assume a dualism of subject and object and a mysterious pre-established harmony. We can nevertheless distinguish two kinds of knowledge:

“we call them respectively knowledge of acquaintance and knowledge about…I am acquainted with many people and things which I know very little about, except their presence and the places where I have met them. I know the colour blue when I see it and the flavour of a pear when I taste it. I know an inch when I move my finger through it: a second of time when I feel it pass, an effort of attention when I make it: a difference between two things when I notice it: but about the inner nature of these facts or what makes them what they are, I can say nothing at all.”(p221)

One can wonder in what sense I can be said to know an inch if I move my finger through it if I am not moving my finger along a ruler :or know a second of time unless I am watching the second hand of a clock moves but there does seem to be some kind of distinction between these two types of knowledge which we can form a better idea of when we consider how assertions in our language function.
The sentence for James is the principal bearer of a knowing consciousness that begins with sensations or feelings that help us become acquainted with things and begin our cognitive relation to them. The subject of a sentence often names this beginning point and the predicate of the sentence then moves consciousness into the mode of thinking about reality as opposed to merely feeling it. This is the mode of conception and judgment and the truth value of our statements and it is at this level that communication best occurs between rational animals capable of discourse.

The stream of consciousness, James argues, is made up of feelings and thoughts which I own:

“The universal conscious fact is not “feelings and thoughts exist” but, “I think” and “I feel”. No psychology, at any rate, can question the existence of personal selves.”(p226)

This comment is in accordance with the Aristotelian requirement that something must endure through a process of change if we are to be able to think coherently about it. The stream of consciousness may be continually changing but something is enduring throughout this change. James does, however, cast some doubt on his own statement in a discussion about the possibility of secondary conscious selves. The very term “secondary” however takes this phenomenon out of the realm of contradiction because the secondary will still have complex relations to the primary personality with which it will share certain powers(the power of speaking for example).

Personality remains high on James’ agenda when he talks about personal reminiscences being more closely related to feelings than to conceptions:

“Remembrance is like a direct feeling, its object is suffused with a warmth or intimacy to which no object of mere conception ever attains.”(p239)

This memory is continuous with other memories in the individual’s system. These latter memories may not be presently conscious.

Consciousness itself seems also to possess a continuity such that the thought of one object and then another does not disrupt the stream. The sound of thunder, therefore, is not just that sound simpliciter but rather a figure on a background: it is rather “thunder -breaking-upon-silence-and-contrasting-with-it.” The feeling of this thunder is also a feeling of the silence that has just recently been broken. James elaborates upon this point in relation to language and its connection to what is occurring in consciousness. He claims that we name our thoughts after the things they are about as if each thought knew only its own thing and nothing else. What is more likely to be the case, he argues, is that each thought knows clearly the thing that it is named for and more dimly perhaps a thousand other things.

James is here attempting to capture in his account the fleeting nature of his so-called “stream of consciousness”:

“Like a birds life, it seems to be made of an alternation of flights and perchings. The rhythm of language expresses this, where every thought is expressed in a sentence and every sentence closed by a period. The resting places are usually occupied by sensorial imaginations of some sort, whose peculiarity is such that they can be held before the mind for an indefinite time, and contemplated without changing… Let us call the resting places the “substantive parts” and the places of flight the “transitive parts” of the stream of thought. It then appears that the main end of all our thinking is at all times the attainment of some other substantive part than the one from which we have just been dislodged. And we may say that the main use of the transitive parts is to lead us from one substantive conclusion to another.”(p243)

The stable sensorial imaginings are the stable points in a process of change. There are transitional processes such as the process of deciding to say something and perhaps this process cannot be named but only described, perhaps with the words “the intention to say so and so” James admits that ca one-third of our psychic life is constituted of premonitions of things to be said or done. These transitory phases form what he calls the “free waters” of consciousness which we cannot gather in spoonfuls, pailfuls or barrelfuls.

Intentions as such, however, can be discriminated from each other and James illustrates this by referring to the intentions of a language user using the term “man” in its universal sense in contrast to using the term to refer to a particular man. The universal and particular intentions are discernible in the structure of the sentence. The universal intention itself is embedded in the interest we have in saying something about a man, for example, that he is a rational animal capable of discourse. Here the interest is clearly theoretical or philosophical, i.e. the complete sentence aims at the production of a knowledge claim about all men. Each word is felt as a word but also as something with a meaning. In an abstract thought such as this, the meaning is not connected to the sensory image of man but rather perhaps to other words. This is the mark of a conceptual thought:

“the verbal symbol “horse” which stands for all our experiences of horses serves all the purposes of thought without recalling one of the images clustered in the perception of horses, just as the sight of the horses form serves all the purposes of recognition without really the sound of its neighing or its tramp, or its qualities as an animal of draught etc”(p271)

James adds here, without explaining why that the image must appear at the end of the thinkers thinking if the thought is not to be left unrealized or in some sense incomplete.

James on a number of occasions washes his hands of any philosophical investigation into this mysterious power of knowing and prefers to give scientific and psychological account. (cf the commentary and critique of Harari) In this spirit, he asks why a thinker believes that his thought knows outer reality and discusses two examples of what he calls “triangulation”:

“The judgment that my own past thought and my own present thought are of the same object is what makes me take the object out of either and project it by a sort of triangulation into an independent position from which it may appear to both…making repeated judgments of sameness among their objects, he corroborates in himself the notion of realities, past and distinct as well as present which realities no one single thought possesses or engenders, but which all may contemplate and know.”(p272)

This triangulation process is what enables a mind to become conscious of its own consciousness, to know, for example, that the things it enters into cognitive relations with. It is via this process that we know that we know them. Many psychological commentators refer to this phenomenon as the meta-cognitive power of consciousness. Philosophers, on the other hand, refer to it as the reflective consciousness of the self.

James then elaborates upon the operation of selective attention that enables man to organize external reality into forms assimilable to appropriate sense organs:

“Out of the infinite chaos of movements of which physics teaches us the outer world consists, each sense organ picks out those which fall within certain limits of velocity. To these it responds but ignores the rest as completely as if they did not exist… as Lange claims there is no reason whatever to think the gap in Nature between the highest sound waves and the lowest heat waves is an abrupt break like that of our sensations: or that the difference between violet and ultra-violet rays has anything like the objective importance subjectively represented by that between light and darkness.”(p284)

Some of the physical phenomena mentioned above may create no sensations in us at all but out of those which bombard our bodies, attention selects from an array corresponding to our interests, be they theoretical, practical aesthetic or emotional. In what must be regarded as a theoretical spirit our attention then selects amongst the array of sensations belonging to one phenomenon those sensations which represent the thing most characteristically, i.e. we call the table square probably because of the knowledge that the top is composed of 4 right angles. This essentially perceptual process is mirrored by a possible form of higher activity that may aim at conceptualizing where concepts are selected for combination or separation in the search for the truth about the table. Propositions can be then subsequently be combined or separated in a process of reasoning about the truths of the table in order to arrive at knowledge.

Conception is an important effect of the operation of attention upon the infinite continuous manifold of external phenomena. Concepts in this sense are fixed points in an ever-changing stream of external and internal events. Concepts enable us to determine truth:

“The paper, a moment ago white, I may now see to have been scorched black. But my conception “white” does not change into my conception “black”. On the contrary, it stays alongside the objective blackness, as a different meaning in my mind, and by so doing lets me judge the blackness as the papers change…Thus amid the flux of opinions and physical things, the world of conceptions, or things intended to be thought about, stands stiff and immutable, like Plato’s realm of ideas.”(p462)

Concepts also assist in the generation of knowledge:

“The facts are unquestionable: our knowledge does grow and change by rational and inward processes as well as by empirical discoveries. Where the discoveries are empirical no one pretends that the propulsive agency, the force that makes the knowledge develop is conception. All admit it to be our continual exposure to the thing with its power to impress our senses. Thus strychnine, which tastes bitter, we find also will kill etc. Now I say that where the new knowledge merely comes from thinking the facts are essentially the same and that to talk of self-development on the part of our conceptions is a very bad way of stating the case. Not new sensations as in the empirical instance, but new conceptions are the indispensable conditions of advance. For if the alleged cases of self-development are examined it will be found I believe that the new truth affirms in every case a relation between the original subject of conception and some new subject conceived later on.”(p464)

Certainly new conceptions must be arrived at consciously and the very term connotes an activity involving the selection of one concept instead of another as well as the application of the concept to reality, transforming and translating a continuously changing continuum into a system of unchanging items that then can be used in complex judgements to make knowledge claims or alternatively to claim what we ought to do. Concepts do not resemble the sensations of which they are composed and when they occur linguistically in the stream of consciousness they do so symbolically, relating to sensation and objects via the operation of meaning. When one, as James argues, uses the concept of “man” in the sentence “What a wonderful man Jones is!” one means or intends to exclude Napoleon Bonaparte, Smith and all other men except for Jones. When, on the other hand, one says “What a wonderful thing man is!” I mean to include Jones and all mankind past present and future. In this case, the image or sensation of man is the least important part of the thought. With concepts man judges, and with judgment man operates upon the world, transforming experience into something more systematic and something very different: the conceived world–a world in which explanations are given for changes in the physical world and reasons are given for changes brought about by action in the human world.

James’ penchant for the empirical then leads him into a strange adventure of attempting to describe the present perception of time. Whether or not one believes that this description makes sense will depend upon whether one believes that time is not an experience like Aristotle but rather a measure of change in terms of before and after. Of course, Aristotle claims that there is a now but he also maintains that it is like a point on a line marking a boundary with no magnitude in itself. James claims that the perception of “the present” is restricted to 12 seconds and this phenomenon ultimately depends upon a brain process which consciousness is tied to. It is claimed that this amount of time, which he calls the specious present, is “pictured” fairly steadily in each passing instance of consciousness. James calls this an experience of duration. This parceling up of durations in 12-second packets, of course, contradicts the Aristotelian notion of time as a continuum. As was indicated above moments of time for Aristotle are rather like mathematical points on a line that can only be actively counted in terms of acts of saying or thinking “now”. As claimed before a now is a non-quantifiable boundary between a moment of before and a moment of after, just as a point on a line serves as a boundary of a segment of a line. A consequence of this is also that since every now can be numbered and every number is divisible, so time theoretically can also be infinitely divided. What we are seeing in this adventure of reflection is an attempt to conceptualize time which is, to say the least problematic. James concludes by claiming:

“but the original paragon and prototype of all conceived times is the specious present, the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible.”(p631)

This is a denial of both the discovery of physicists relating to the continuum of velocities of waves as well as a denial of the philosophical and mathematical view of reality as possibly being an ever-changing infinite continuum. The ultimate purpose of this adventure might, however, be related to a point he wishes to make concerning memory:

“For a state of mind to survive in memory it must have endured for a certain length of time. In other words, it must have been what I would call a substantive state.”(p643)

The argument is that our intellectual faculty requires an after-memory of our states of mind if these states are going to form an idea or perhaps determine a transition to an action. This concern is obviously also related to James’ materialistic concern with the brain and its neural activity. What is not evident in this account is the fundamental element of change. Had James paid more attention to the account of Aristotle he would have realised that the mere act of counting up to twelve would have served to differentiate the experience into twelve different moments or “presents”: each “now” must be regarded as a present which slips into the past with the next number being uttered. One can, of course, recall the numbers uttered but the number of items we can recall according to modern research is not twelve but seven plus or minus two which in itself gives a good indication of how difficult measurement is in this arena of consciousness. Aristotle has the following to say about the apprehension of time:

“We apprehend time only when we have marked a change, marking it by before or after, and it is only when we have perceived before and after in change that we say that time has elapsed. Now we mark them by judging that one thing is different from another and that some third thing is intermediate to them. When we think of the extremes as different from the middle and the mind pronounces that the nows are two, one before and one after, it is then that we say that there is time and this that we say is time. For what is bounded by the now is thought to be time–we may assume this. For time is just this, “a number of motion in respect to before and after”.(Physics iv ii 219a22)

This process can then be used for larger “units” of experienced time in the creation of the conceptual framework we use for collectively measuring time: a process of conceptualizing time by clocks and calendars. For example, the passage of a day can be marked out in relation to the earth’s rotation on its axis. The passage of a year can be marked out by the orbit of the earth around the sun and the passage of a month by lunar observations. Each second, minute, hour, day, month or year could then alternately become a “now”

The difference between these two accounts is clear. In the Aristotelian account, man interacts with nature and the changes occurring there. Aristotle does, however, acknowledge that his account requires the being in time, in some sense, of the soul if such measurement is to occur and this brings us back to the idea of consciousness. For Aristotle, the bodily self is the source of all the powers of the human being. The human being is a unity of matter and form and matter is all that remains when it is no longer “inhabited” by a form which here means that the principle of life is no longer active in the body. The external forces that brought matter together in just this body slowly gave rise to the formation of internal powers which could maintain the organism in existence, until that moment when these powers fail and the organism ceases to exist, eventually losing its shape and crumbling into particles of dust. When however the body remains activated by its powers of life and consciousness it is like a sounding board and James’ account of instinct and emotion provides us with unique insight into the realm of being that lies between life and consciousness. Emotional consciousness, James argues, often terminates in something happening to the body, something being felt in the body–the field of operation of what Freud called the pleasure-pain principle. James discusses three central cases of emotion: grief, fear and hatred and claims:

“Were we to go through the whole list of emotions which have been named by men and study their organic manifestations, we should but ring the changes in the elements which these three typical cases involve. The rigidity of this muscle, relaxation of that, contraction of arteries here, dilation there, breathing of this sort or that, pulse slowing or quickening, this gland secreting, that one dry, etc etc.”(p447)

Kant in his work “Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view” would regard much of what James is discussing under the heading of instincts and emotions as “physiology”, a study not directly relevant to what man makes of himself because it studies instead, in a certain sense, events that happen to man and over which he has little control. Elements causing physiological and physical reactions in the body fall into a different field of study for Kant. For him, Anthropology then is about man’s active thought and reasoning about what he is doing with his life and includes ethical considerations. Here too we see the holistic perspective without the retreat into the inner life of the human being. Kant’s focus is on the human being as “a form of life” to use the words of Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein advised us when it came to explaining what is going on in our selves, to focus upon what we do and not what we feel or what happens to us. The emphasis for him is also on the “we”, on the collectivity and its activities. In this respect, one must admire Harari’s passage about “Modern Time” in his work “Homo Sapiens”. Whilst one can question much of what is said in terms of the analysis of the history of mankind much of what occurs in this section of the work is Wittgensteinian in its very core. The Industrial Revolution is associated with a new form of mentality and a social re-engineering project that revolutionized the form of life that was common in pre-industrial societies. Industrial factory workers were linked like cogs in a machine the one machine depending upon what is done with another machine to the extent that if one machine operator was not on station to keep the chain moving, activity was significantly disrupted. Schedules and timetables dominated everyday activities and spread to schools and many institutions of society. Clocks and watches became important tools of everyday life in contrast to agricultural communities where the natural rhythms of daylight and weather conditions were activity regulators. Moving forward to our modern societies Harari points out that one household may own more clocks and watches than an entire medieval country. This was an excellent exercise in descriptive phenomenology by Harari and serves well as a basis for the philosophical explanation of time such as that given by Aristotle.

Linking consciousness with what we do, the effort of attention in the selection of materials, the choice of means and ends etc is clearly in accordance with the Kantian project of Anthropology and the project of Wittgensteinian and post Wittgensteinian Philosophy. It is not clear however where the emotions and the instincts fit into this account.

For James, however, emotions are a very central element of the discipline he calls “Psychology”. He claims consciousness is intimately involved in the sequence of events one can observe in every emotion which is, the perception of an exciting fact, bodily response, consciousness of the bodily response. This consciousness must be regarded as non-cognitive. It is not, that is, the consciousness of an image of the bear that frightens us but rather the consciousness of our bodily response or reaction. Were, on the other hand, I to judge that on seeing the bear it is best to run from the bear and then do so, this would be a cognitive instrumental response which is not that of an emotional consciousness as James describes it. We know from experience for example that the emotional consciousness of fear for the bear could even paralyze me and prevent any life-saving action. It seems clear, therefore that we are investigating a realm of being between life and consciousness. We are investigating, in other words, the sounding board of the body whose reverberations can be manifold. James insists that this is the case also with aesthetic responses where emotional thrills and flashes of pleasure are related to the rightness or appropriateness of the relations of elements in the objects we appreciate. It seems here that the aesthetic object which is a cognitive work of art is being undervalued in being reduced to thrills and flushes. The object appears to have dropped out of the account as the external world also appeared to evaporate in the account of the specious present James gave as part of his account of time-consciousness.

James then moves from an account of those events of consciousness which cannot be foreseen to those which can, namely those movements which we desire and intend before their occurrence. One of the conditions of such voluntary movement is, according to James, the memory images of the sensations of the act we are proposing to ourselves to perform. Once these conditions are met, James argues:

“Every representation of a movement awakens in some degree the actual movement which is its object: and awakens it in a maximum degree wherever it is not kept from doing so by an antagonistic representation present simultaneously to the mind.”(p526)

Some commentators have posited an act of consenting internally to the idea of the action but James claims that this is only the case if there is an antagonistic or inhibiting idea competing for attention in one’s stream of consciousness. It is only then we deliberate over the action, James argues. Consciousness is, James continues, by its very nature impulsive. Movement, whether it be reflexive, emotional or voluntary, originates in feeling.

It is clear that James does not acknowledge any higher cognitive power than consciousness and if what is said above concerning the impulsive nature of consciousness then one must wonder what powers of the mind are involved in the education of the mind to act in accordance with the distant ends of the saint or the philosopher. It appears that at least two further powers need to be involved. Firstly that in which we find the correct conception in accordance with which we shall act and secondly the use of this conception in formulating a reason to act which will serve the distant ends of humanity so important to the saint and the philosopher. An example of such a distant end was given by Kant’s moral philosophy of the categorical imperative in which the actor reasons universally(with universal intent) to protect universal human institutions such as truth-telling and promise-making in order to create a very distant(in terms of the future) communal state in which reason is used universally by everyone in a so-called “kingdom of ends” where the truth and the good are actualized and not just hoped for norms of action. The higher power Kant is referring to is, of course, the power of rationality: the same power referred to by Aristotle and his followers. James appears to refuse to acknowledge this power especially given the fact that he appears to believe that consciousness is by its very nature impulsive and connected to both emotional states of mind and the performance of instrumental actions. The status of final ends and their relation to consciousness is left hanging in the air in this account. In the Philosophies of Aristotle and Kant, final ends, or termini of action are what can be rationally justified by a reflective self-conscious being reflecting upon the nature of his conceptions of action and his reasons for acting. If in this self-reflective process reason can theoretically meet the tests of virtue for Aristotle(doing the right thing in the right way at the right time), or the tests of universalization of Kant then these are the kinds of action that are more likely to lead to the distant ends of humanity valued by philosophers and saints. Consciousness as a power of mind might be needed in Aristotle’s account of the man who is being trained to act virtuously, especially when he realizes he must choose a third position between two extremes if he is to lead a flourishing life. Consciousness as a power of mind might also be needed in Kantian moral training where one realizes for example that one is doing the right thing for the wrong reason, the wrong thing for the right reason, or the wrong thing for the wrong reason.

According to James, actions performed with the distant ends of humanity in mind can only be performed by an effort of will: presumably, because thinking in itself is contemplative rather than impulsive–aimed at delaying action rather than initiating it. For Freud too there is a clear distinction between the impulsive acts sponsored by the pleasure-pain principle and the more reflective acts sponsored by the reality principle and it was clear to him that the latter were the acts which would most likely lead to the flourishing life. The latter, that is, exercises a controlling influence over the impulsivity of consciousness. The reason why James refuses to acknowledge rationality as a superior power of mind in comparison to consciousness probably resides in a picture he has of the rational thinker. He imagines a thinker deliberating but never being able to act because he is forever embroiled in his deliberations. He imagines that is, rationality as a pathological phenomenon. He does not see the relation between thought and action. This is confirmed when he claims that sometimes the man of reason might be right and sometimes the man of instinct may be right. If, however one accepts the idea of a continuum of which instinct and reason are earlier and later phases this bi-polar objection loses its force. This probably also due to a failure to recognize the power of speech which also possesses the power to integrate a whole host of powers and susceptibilities including the non-voluntary forms of reacting instinctively and emotionally to stimuli. James also ignores the cognitive aspects of consciousness where we relate to the world in terms of a contemplative understanding of what we see and experience, in terms of truth and knowledge, the traditional concerns of Philosophy. We see the same tendencies to disregard the conceptions and theories of philosophers in Harari’s work.

“Homo Deus”(Yuval Noah Harari) Critique and Commentary from a Philosophical Perspective(Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein) Part Nine: Techno-Humanism and Dataism

Hits: 300

New Religions are going to emerge from research laboratories. Thus sayeth Harari. Silicon Valley will be the birthplace of a techno religion that transcends humanity and creates a new kind of man that has become a superior man or a Nietzschean superman:

Just as medicine is going to transform itself from an archaeological discipline dedicated to the curing of disease, to an imaginative, teleological adventure striving to bring immortality to the soul, so humanism narrowly conceived will transform itself into techno-humanism (imaginatively conceived)that will seek unknown experiences and strange states of consciousness in an infinite ocean of possible states of consciousness.

The narrow conception of humanism we have been provided within this work was, of course, necessary for the plot of Harari’s drama to unfold as it has. The Humanism of Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein, and their followers would regard what Harari calls ” ” the sect of techno-humanism” as a figment of the imagination, especially the following totalitarian phantasy;

“Like all humanist sects, techno-humanism too sanctifies the human will, seeing it as the nail on which the universe hangs. Techno-humanism expects our desires to choose which mental abilities to develop and thereby determine the shape of future minds. Yet what will happen once technological progress makes it possible to reshape and engineer those very desires?”

The author then continues to insist in accordance with his narrow conception of humanism, that humanists cannot identify their authentic will from the cacophony of internal voices competing for attention. Firstly it is not clear how our desires can decide to shape the character of our minds in the future. I can, of course, decide to become educated but this is a decision which is not visualizing or imagining the exact consequences of such an extended process filled with unknowns. This is more like an existential decision to transform myself into something that I know that I value which in turn has been arrived at not through perception or imagination but by knowledge and argument. This existential force of knowledge in relation to the will must be acknowledged. Hannah Arendt in her work “The Human Condition” discussed the ability of man to use his will to create something completely new and related this phenomenon to the totalitarian movements of the 20th century. She points to the three forms of activity man can engage in: labour, work and action and attributes to the latter the ability to create something entirely new but it is not clear, even on this account, that one can decide to create a new self, although Sartre the French existentialist thought that this might be possible. That is, Sartre thought that I am able to recreate myself through my action from moment to moment. This “philosophy of mind” that “anything is possible” was, according to Arendt one of the motivating forces of totalitarianism. For O’Shaughnessy, on the contrary, the mind is divided into a willing half and a knowing half and this divide is more complete the simpler the organism that possesses it. This means that in relation to willed action knowledge plays a greater guiding role in complex organisms such as ourselves–hence the importance of the humanistic “decision” to educate oneself.

Julian Jaynes, discussing the phenomenon of hemispheric function, pointed to how, with the development of our human consciousness,( as a consequence of the development of language which occurred much much later than the author of this work has claimed) we spatialise time and even our consciousness itself which according to Jaynes is not a “something” but rather an operation that operates in accordance with an analogous “I” to the I that is, acts, and thinks. This “I” also operates in an analogous space to the space in which I act and think. This spatialization of a metaphorical world enables us to imagine”ourselves” doing this and that with imagined outcomes. Narratization is the spatialization of my temporal life strung out as it is in a chain of befores and afters. The assigning of causes and purposes or the saying of why we did a particular thing is also a feature of this narratization process. When we encounter on our daily walk a cat perched nervously on the branch of a tree we say to ourselves that the neighbours dog has probably chased it up the tree. By extension, encountering putative facts about the mind, we then assemble them into a story. This spatialization of the mind is a consequence of the integrated functioning of the right and the left hemispheres, according to Jaynes. The long tradition of the influence of oracles during the period of Greek ascendency was probably, according to Jaynes a consequence of right hemisphere dominant individuals. (ca 35,000 people a day from all regions of the Mediterranean were visiting Delphi at the height of the influence of oracles). We do not have any clear idea of the states of mind of such individuals or the kinds of judgment they were capable of. Reason and knowledge enter into this picture via the goal of thinkers immersed in their various disciplines aiming at truth or knowledge via methods and principles of reasoning such as the principle of non-contradiction and the principle of sufficient reason which seek to disentangle the false and meaningless parts of our narratives from the true parts. Narratization obviously preceded the search for knowledge by thousands of years.

The above account of Jaynes may well, however, support the thesis that the will is the nail which the universe is hung upon but if this is so, it is the nail of knowledge and not the nail of power. All previous attempts to hang the universe on the nail of power have failed. The author openly admits that science knows very little about consciousness, and if history has taught us anything as a consequence of the failed attempts to control the masses via power, it is surely the case that these attempts failed because power-hungry dictators did not have sufficient knowledge of the human psyche to transform it. If this authors work has taught us anything it is that science has no theory of the knowledge of value or knowledge of the good as Plato put the matter.

The author takes up in a spirit of excited curiosity, the prospect of experiencing a strange form of consciousness that no one else has experienced. These forms of consciousness remind one of the deranged desires of mental patients like Schreber who thought his body was stretched all over the universe. Many mentally deranged people believe they are all-powerful in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary. They too are troubled by a cacophony of voices which they may not recognize as their own.

In elaborating upon his plot the author claims that technology will not want to listen to the above cacophony of voices but will instead attempt to control them by controlling our biochemical systems. We will not waste our time talking or listening to our patients if we are psychologists or therapists but will instead prescribe chemicals from the dispensary. This approach has helped millions of patients, it is claimed whose lives have been ruined by humanistic therapies.

The schizophrenic experience of being plagued by alien and sometimes hostile voices is, according to Jaynes, an interesting throwback to bicameral man, a throwback to a time before the advent of consciousness and it is, according to him, a moot point whether medication is the right method to lead the patient back on the road to full consciousness. Humanists like Aristotle and Kant who understood that we are physical beings composed of physical substances in a certain state of equilibrium would hardly have objected to any physical treatment which restored that lost equilibrium. Many medications, however, alleviate symptoms and do not restore the natural equilibrium of life. The humanist will naturally question such a state of affairs. Freud being a follower of Aristotle and Kant, would also have agreed with this position: remember he experimented with magnetism and hypnotism before the “age of medication” we now live in. There were patients who needed to be returned to a state of physical equilibrium before the so-called “talking cure” could be effective. Claiming that talk based therapies have ruined lives does somewhat call into question earlier claims relating to the power of stories to shape desire and lives.

The will, of course, is connected fundamentally to desire but it is also, as we have pointed out, connected to knowledge. Indeed along with the mysteries of consciousness the mysteries of the epistemological relation of the will to the world and its own body have yet to be fully explored, although it should be added that O’Shaughnessy has made a good start in this direction by philosophically exploring these topics in accordance with the traditions of Aristotelian and Kantian Philosophy. In the light of this work, we may justifiably question the position of the author that we can choose our desires:

The explorations of the philosophers have indicated that we cannot choose our desires, they happen to us, and sometimes they need restraining. We can, of course, choose the objects of our desires and those can vary considerably if we ignore the prophecy of Apollo, “Nothing too much”. Narcissus, we should recall was consumed eventually by his own desire as are many mentally ill patients. Of course, the mentally ill patients can “choose” to go to therapy in order to be returned to normal but the quotation marks around this word suggest that this may not be a choice in the normal sense of the word at all. Saying as the author does that when our desires make us uncomfortable, technology can remedy this situation does not make sense in the light of the above reflections.

Nevertheless, let us follow this high-speed train speeding into its station and ask how one might wish to manipulate our desires. The author claims that we should replace them with the element worshipped by the members of the new religion of the 21st century, namely information or data. The concept of information, however, is ambiguous. It can either refer to facts or to knowledge. If the former is what is meant and the information is value-neutral and the product of scientific inquiry, we are by definition excluding all forms of humanistic and philosophical knowledge such as that which has been presented in the form of counterarguments in this review. This is also the case if the knowledge we are talking about is restricted to the algorithms of science. Replacing desire with knowledge instead of integrating these two parts of the mind is going to lead to a high-speed catastrophe. The absence of value related to the knowledge of the good and the absence of the desire of individuals to live in freedom will be a very strange algorithm of ethical and political life indeed.

Dataism is what is going to give the 21st century its meaning, according to the author. This religion, it is claimed owes its existence to two different scientific origins: Firstly, Darwin’s “Origin of the species” which the author claims, somewhat enigmatically, leads to the modern scientific position that all organisms are biochemical algorithms, and secondly, the discovery of electronic algorithms by computer science. The confluence of these two streams will, it is claimed, change the future structure of the world. Electronic algorithms, however, hold the real power to deliver this vision of totalitarian control. The humanistic means of controlling our existence is the law which incorporates in its laws knowledge of the good and respect for the freedom of the individuals that are subject to the law. Information, or the facts of scientific knowledge, are obviously important in legal cases but at the end of this process, constructed with the intention of distributing justice, is a human judging the evidence in accordance with the value-laden humanistically oriented law(influenced no doubt by Greek ideas of the common good and Kantian notions of the practical contradictions involved in disregarding moral laws). This work “Homo Deus”, speaks very seldom of the law and its humanistic structure and processes and this is a limitation because the law is the humanistic discipline which best incorporates the findings from the inhabitants of the ivory tower where philosophers dwell. What we know about totalitarian regimes is that the first order of business is to dismantle respect for the existing law in order to replace it with “the law of the Fuhrer” or “the laws of history as interpreted by Lenin, Stalin etc” that often involve not just small alterations but veritable inversions of what is right and what is wrong. Harari’s system disregards philosophy, philosophical ethics philosophical psychology and political philosophy because it belongs in Greek or Enlightenment ivory towers. His system redefines and thereby inverts the value of Humanism, redefines Liberalism which also historically via liberals such as Socrates, Locke and Kant has had a great respect for the law, disregards the truths and knowledge of civilization-building institutions such as religion, and elevates all forms of science and technology to fill the vacuums created. This is an algorithm for totalitarianism if there ever was one.

It is not clear that Harari shares the definition of information given by the OED because he constructs a chain of terms beginning with data, leading to information, and thereupon to knowledge and wisdom. It is not clear here whether he is envisaging the possibility of false information that is not possible with knowledge if we agree with the definition of the philosophers that knowledge is justified true belief. If false information is a possibility then it is not clear how it or data could be the focus of his “new religion”. What would be the value of “false information” or data which presumably could also be truly neutral or false? Arguments require true premises if they are to be valid. Imaginative narratives can, of course, contain accounts of robots or superhuman bionic men obeying the rules or algorithms of Google or Facebook but this is fictional. If these narratives are a consequence of studying the disciplines of computer science and biology then something has gone seriously wrong. It is argued that even societies are data processing systems and the only difference between capitalism and communism is that the former is a centrally organized data processing system and the latter a distributed processing system. The latter system is evaluated as being inferior to the former because of the impossibility of steering the price of bread centrally. Further, as is the case with all singular instrumental judgments the evaluation does not take into account the possible advantages of steering entire artificial intelligence systems centrally in accordance with a policy of economically and politically interfering with other more distributed data processing systems. The author is very clear in his judgment that ethics, freedom, humanism or an angry god played no part in the victory of capitalism over communism:

So, in the light of the above, would the unethical behaviour of centrally steered data processing systems, if successful, be in any sense laudable? Surely, the author does not believe that the only residue of the Greek reflections on ethics and the Kantian reflections on ethics are either a)individual liberties defined solipsistically or narcissistically or b)the religious dogma of an angry God?
Democracies and dictatorships are also defined in terms of centralized and distributed data processing systems and even if democracies appear to have advantages it is admitted that in some circumstances centrally steered systems may prove advantageous. In rapidly changing technological environments the government tortoise, it is argued can never outrun the hare. The amount of data is overwhelming and the average voter in a democracy is, worried that democratic mechanisms no longer work and all government has become a bureaucracy.

In this environment, it is argued, some people search for conspiracy theories to explain why society is taking the direction it is.

Harari asks what the output of international data processing systems are, and refers to the “Internet of all things” which once it is installed will mean the disappearance of Homo Sapiens. According to the dogma of Dataism mankind is merely a tool to create this universal/cosmic data processing system. Being human has no advantage it is claimed over being a chicken given the obvious fact that data processing systems are in the same way superior to us as we are to chickens.

In this maelstrom of the flow of information(and as pointed out above it is not clear whether the author means to regard false information as part of this flow) it is claimed that no one would understand fully what is happening. But, it is claimed, no one today understands how the global economy works or where global politics is heading. The recommended response to this state of affairs is to contribute to this information flow by writing emails(which presumably might inadvertently contain false information) that could then be read by the system(Would the system detect falsehoods?), and part of this response requires trusting the invisible hand of the system. Apparently, this system would not be anti-humanist because it has nothing against human experience: the system merely “believes” that these experiences are not valuable.

Music.according to the author is just a mathematical pattern and God is a product of our imaginations that are merely biochemical algorithms and will be replaced by the internet of all things which will be monitoring for example how many eggs there are in my refrigerator. The previous modern alliance(?) between science and humanism had resulted in scientists accepting the guidance of humanism because, apparently, the author claims, in the name of his narrow definition of humanism, feelings were the best algorithms in the world for millions of years. This “alliance” between scientists and humanists will be dissolved now that algorithms have replaced feelings. There will no longer be any need to listen to the internal voices giving expression to one’s feelings because, for example, the algorithms will know how we are going to vote( making democratic elections also irrelevant). The algorithms will know how we feel and the interesting question to be raised is what if anything will be done with that knowledge especially if it indicates that all the humanists believe the system to be totalitarian. Instead of visiting a museum or climbing a mountain to view a beautiful sunset the more appropriate responses to the problems of life would be to have one’s DNA sequenced, wear a bio-medical monitoring device, post pictures of all one’s experiences on Facebook, allow Google to read your emails and keep a record of your likes and dislikes. Finally, the author argues, even if Dataism is wrong and organisms are not algorithms this in itself might not prevent Dataism from taking over the world. The author then claims that the overthrow of homo sapiens is not inevitable and that the purpose of the book is to loosen the grip of technology in order that we may think in more imaginative ways about the future. The problem with this declared purpose is that human beings are rational animals capable of discourse and it is the denial of this thesis that has led us into totalitarian realms of the imagination where one can literally imagine anything.