Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Baumgarten’s Aesthetica

Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, in his work Aesthetica (2 Volumes: 1750—58), appropriated the word “aesthetics” and gave it the meaning by which it is understood today. But Baumgarten cannot be regarded as the founder of aesthetics—that distinction belongs to Immanuel Kant. The modern philosophy of aesthetics is based largely on Kant’s The Critique of Judgement. Even our acquaintance with Aesthetica is modeled by two comments that Kant has made, the first in his The Critique of Pure Reason, and the second in his The Critique of Judgement.

Mary J. Gregor’s, in her interesting essay, “Baumgarten’s Aesthetica,” explains the nature of the project that Baumgarten had undertaken in Aesthetica. Baumgarten wanted to establish a theory of liberal arts which is based on theory of knowledge.

Here’s an excerpt from Gregor’s essay:
That aesthetics is, in Baumgarten’s view, an art as well as a science may be unfortunate from the modern reader’s point of view: it accounts for the concern with “rules” which makes a part of the Aesthetica philosophically uninteresting. Yet the only “rules” to which Baumgarten commits himself without reservation are innocuous applications of his philosophical tenets. At this most general level, his position is simply that theoretical knowledge of how the components of sense cognition function will yield very general percepts for directing this sort of cognition to its proper perfection. There is in man a “natural logic,” innate intellectual powers which will develop regardless of any theoretical knowledge about their nature. So too there is in man a “natural aesthetic,” which the child exercises in the normal process of looking, listening, and particularly playing games. Man’s intellectual and aesthetic powers will, under favorable conditions, develop of themselves as he exercises them. Whether these powers will reach the perfection of which they are capable is, however, dependent on circumstances, and their development need not and should not be left to chance. Natural logic can and should be controlled by the rules of acquired or “artificial” logic. So too, natural aesthetic can and should be controlled by the rules of acquired or “artificial” aesthetic, derived from knowledge of the lower cognitive power. There is in man an innate capacity to find the connection of things by “the law of the third term,” but the rules of logic can prevent mistakes in reasoning. So too man has an innate disposition to find connection of things by associating ideas, but the rules of aesthetics prevent mistakes in connecting ideas by virtue of their association. We make a logical blunder when we assert a connection of distinct ideas that is not sanctioned by a distributed middle term. We make an aesthetic blunder when we associate indistinct ideas on the basis of some purely subjective ground which yields a chimera, incommunicable to others through sensible signs. 
On Baumgarten’s contributions to aesthetic philosophy, this is what Gregor has to say:
Baumgarten’s claim for art is a modest one: given the nature of man his perfection requires the development of his potentialities for both perception and discursive reasoning. Because the two modes of perfection, perceptual and discursive, are different, there can be no displacement of art by science. The work of art is not a symbolic form, but rather the use of signs (and, in the case of literature, symbols) to articulate perceptual form. Since the work of art is not a symbol, its role cannot be usurped by the symbolic product of man’s higher cognitive power. Reason, according to Baumgarten, is “superior” in finite spirits, i.e., minds incapable of intellectual intuition, but only in “weightier matters,” such as science and morality. But “to posit the one [kind of knowledge] is not to exclude the other.” Hence art—perfection perfected—is assured a permanent place in human experience. Modesty may have its own rewards.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Nietzsche and Nihilism

Nietzsche believed that nihilism is a widespread phenomenon in European culture—he offers his diagnosis of European nihilism in his book The Will to Power.

But was Nietzsche a nihilist? He held that the world is what we make it to be, and that there is no fundamental basis to the traditional social, political, moral, and religious values held by mankind. He announced that God is dead, arguing that God is no longer a source of moral and spiritual values, and is irrelevant to modern culture.

In The Will to Power, (Notes from Spring-Fall1887), Nietzsche writes:
What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; "why?" finds no answer. 
In Notes from November 1887-March 1888, titled “Decline of Cosmological Values,” he says:
Nihilism as a psychological state will have to be reached, first, when we have sought a "meaning" in all events that is not there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged. Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the "in vain," insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure—being ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long…
Nietzsche realized that people around him were nihilists, but he was not a nihilist (or an advocate of nihilism). He likened the “death of God” to a slave revolt against the master morality of antiquity. He believed that the nihilism that followed the death of God will lead to a drastic fall in moral standards which in turn will undermine civilization. But he welcomed the nihilist force because he believed that it would sweep away the traditional culture and make room for the emergence of a super-race of human beings. Nietzsche’s Overman is not the cause of nihilism; he is its solution.

Michael Allen Gillespie, in his book Nihilism Before Nietzsche disagrees with Nietzsche’s pessimism about modern culture. In the Introduction to his book, he says:
Nietzsche’s account of the origin and nature of nihilism has led us wrongly to devalue the modern world, especially in implicating liberalism in nihilism. In his view, liberalism is the final triumph of slave morality and destroys the last remnants of the old hierarchical order. It thus produces the banal last man, and it is the last man whose weakness finally destroys God. Liberalism, for Nietzsche, thus plays an important role in the nihilistic destruction of traditional values… 
Nihilism is not the result of liberalism but of a strain of modern thought that is largely at odds with liberalism, which sees man not as a limited and imperfect being who “muddles through,” but as a superhuman being who can create the world anew through the application of his infinite will. While liberalism may end in relativism, it rejects such Promethean visions; and while it may in some instances produce banality and boredom, it does not produce a politics of terror and destruction. Indeed, despite the fact that liberalism has in many respects embraced relativism, it has shown great resilience in the face of terroristic regimes.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Jupiter’s Eagle with Lightening-bolts in its Claws

In the Critique of Judgement, Immanuel Kant characterizes the aesthetic idea as a presentation of the imagination which inspires an unrestricted reflection on the significance of some idea or concept.

The Kantian conception of aesthetic idea consists of three notions. First, there is a rational idea, which is an abstract notion, typically of moral significance that is not a part of our experience, such as eternity or creation, and whose full significance is not part of our experience, such as death or love. This rational idea can be regarded as the content of the work of art at the most abstract level. Second, there is overarching image of the imagination through which the abstract idea is presented—Kant offers the example of Jupiter as a symbol of divine power and justice. Third, there is what Kant calls the wealth of “aesthetic attributes” suggested by unrestricted reflection on the image of the imagination—he talks about “Jupiter’s eagle with the lightning-bolts in its claws…” Kant distinguishes the “aesthetic attributes” from the “logical attributes” contained in the already given content of the idea.

Here’s an excerpt from Kant’s the Critique of Judgement where he is talking about the aesthetic attributes in Jupiter’s eagle:
Those forms which do not constitute the presentation of a given concept itself but only, as approximate representations of the Imagination, express the consequences bound up with it and its relationship to other concepts, are called aesthetic attributes of an object, whose concept as a rational Idea cannot be adequately presented. Thus Jupiter’s eagle with the lightning-bolts in its claws is an attribute of the mighty king of heaven, as the peacock is of its magnificent queen. They do not, like logical attributes, represent what lies in our concepts of the sublimity and majesty of creation, but something different, which gives occasion to the Imagination to spread itself over a number of kindred representations, that arouse more thought than can be expressed in a concept determined by words. They furnish an aesthetic Idea, which for that rational Idea takes the place of logical presentation; and thus as their proper office they enliven the mind by opening out to it the prospect into an illimitable field of kindred representations. But beautiful art does this not only in the case of painting or sculpture (in which the term “attribute” is commonly employed): poetry and rhetoric also get the spirit that animates their works simply from the aesthetic attributes of the object, which accompany the logical and stimulate the Imagination, so that it thinks more by their aid, although in an undeveloped way, than could be comprehended in a concept and therefore in a definite form of words. 
Kant goes on to make it clear that the notion of the aesthetic idea is complex, because of the three elements being involved in the artwork that is exhibiting an aesthetic idea. “In a word the aesthetic Idea is a representation of the Imagination associated with a given concept, which is bound up with such a multiplicity of partial representations in its free employment, that for it no expression marking a definite concept can be found; and such a representation, therefore, adds to a concept much ineffable thought, the feeling of which quickens the cognitive faculties, and with language, which is the mere letter, binds up spirit also.”

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Decline of Moses Mendelssohn’s Philosophy of the Enlightenment

Moses Mendelssohn
There was a time when Moses Mendelssohn was hailed as the leading light of the Enlightenment in Berlin; he was called “the Socrates of his age”; even Immanuel Kant used to acknowledge his greatness. But now Mendelssohn is remembered mostly as the philosopher whose central ideas were refuted by Kant in his first Critique, and were finally decimated by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi during the Pantheism controversy—his own contributions to philosophy have been forgotten.

When Jacobi, in 1783, launched his attack on the Enlightenment’s central theme—the idea that reason justifies all the essential truths of commonsense, morality and religion— Mendelssohn was unable to furnish strong arguments to support the sovereignty of reason. Mendelssohn created the impression of an increasingly hapless thinker who is torn between common sense and speculation. In answer to Jacobi’s charge that reason always leads to nihilism, Mendelssohn admitted that it sometimes leads to nihilism. Because of his weak arguments, Mendelssohn lost support among the scholars of his period. Kant declared that by sometimes siding with speculation, Mendelssohn had betrayed his own ideal of sovereignty of reason.

It is also noteworthy that when the Pantheism controversy broke out Mendelssohn was too old and frail to get into a contest with Jacobi, let alone a formidable challenger as Kant. In December 1785, Mendelssohn completed his An die Freunde Lessings which was his final answer to Jacobi. He wanted to get this work published quickly in order to bring an end to his bitter arguments with Jacobi. On December 31, 1785, a freezing day in Berlin, Mendelssohn left his house to deliver the manuscript to the publisher. As he was in a hurry he did not put on his overcoat and that turned out to be a fatal mistake. He caught cold and died a few days later, on January 4, 1786.

In his essay, “Mendelssohn and the Pantheism Controversy,”  (The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte), Frederick C. Beiser offers the following summary of Mendelssohn’s contribution to the pantheism controversy:
If we look back over his contribution to the pantheism controversy, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that, despite his noble intentions, Mendelssohn had weakened the case for reason more than he had strengthened it. He made the case for reason dependent on the claims of rationalist metaphysics; but these claims were, to say the least, very disputable. He assumed that reason could be a sufficient criterion of truth in metaphysics only if the rationalist theory of judgment were correct; but that theory had serious weaknesses, namely, it could not explain real connection or guarantee conclusions of existential significance. Mendelssohn had also based some central moral and religious beliefs-the beliefs in God, providence, and immortality-upon a priori demonstrations. But these demonstrations were severely criticized by Kant in the first Kritik; and Mendelssohn's failure to reply to Kant in any thorough and rigorous fashion left his entire position exposed. So, in the end, it seemed as if Mendelssohn had imperiled, rather than defended, two fundamental claims of reason: its claim to be a sufficient criterion of truth in metaphysics; and its claim to justify our essential moral and religious beliefs. 
Another serious weakness of Mendelssohn's defense of reason was that, at bottom, it failed to address the deeper problem that Jacobi had raised. In summoning the ghost of Spinoza, Jacobi was alluding to the apparent fatalistic and atheistic consequences of modern science. It was indeed these consequences of modern science that so deeply disturbed late eighteenth-century thinkers. Mendelssohn did little to allay these fears, however, with his antique Wolffian-style refutation of Spinoza. For what was at stake was not the geometric demonstrations of Spinoza's system, but the naturalistic spirit behind it.  
There was also the nagging suspicion that Mendelssohn had betrayed the very credo he set out to defend. His moral and religious beliefs meant more to him than his reason, which he was willing to abandon should it continue to contradict them. That, at any rate, was the sad lesson to be learned from his method of orientation. It seemed that, when the going got rough, Mendelssohn was really on Jacobi's side. Who, then, was going to defend the cause of reason?  
Given Mendelssohn's poor showing, it was crucial that someone else enter into the fray to defend the crumbling authority of reason. A new defense was needed that did not repeat Mendelssohn's mistakes. It would have to separate the case for reason from the claims of metaphysics; it would have to respond to the deeper challenge behind Jacobi's Spinozism; and it would have to take an unambiguous stand in favor of reason. It was the destiny of Kant to undertake just such a defense.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Jacobi and the Pantheism Controversy

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi
In 1783, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi launched an attack on the Enlightenment’s central theme—the idea that reason justifies all the essential truths of commonsense, morality and religion. The Enlightenment scholars of that period believed that the authority of reason is above the authority of tradition and revelation. But Jacobi argued that the faith in reason must be held responsible for undermining the essential truths of morality, religion and commonsense. He proclaimed that the Enlightenment was flawed because reason and faith are in conflict—reason refutes faith and is against religion and God.

Jacobi initiated his attack by pointing out that the Enlightenment icon Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was a Spinozist (follower of Spinoza)—which in that period meant a pantheist or an atheist. Jacobi made Moses Mendelssohn, who was a friend of Lessing, a special target of his attack—he alleged that Mendelssohn had misunderstood the nature of his friend’s worldview. Mendelssohn tried to argue that Lessing’s Spinozism was not against the Enlightenment ideals. But Jacobi was not satisfied with Mendelssohn’s answer and the argument between them escalated. The other leading thinkers of the day, including Immanuel Kant, got involved as the status of the role of reason in the Enlightenment was at stake.

Mendelssohn died on January 4, 1786, while the dispute between him and Jacobi was at its peak. Jacobi was blamed for Mendelssohn’s death by some scholars of that period. That is not true; but Jacobi can be held accountable for the demise of Mendelssohn’s Enlightenment philosophy.

Frederick C. Beiser, in his 1987 book The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte, offers an account of the Pantheist controversy in Chapter 2, “Jacobi and the Pantheism Controversy.” Beiser points out that Jacobi used Lessing (an important symbolic figure) to formulate his criticism of Moses Mendelssohn’s standpoint on the Enlightenment. He rightly saw Mendelssohn as the leader of the pro-Enlightenment scholars in Berlin who wanted to remain loyal to both, reason and faith in God. They preached the ideal of radical criticism and free inquiry, but they abandoned their own ideals if these ideals seemed to lead to unorthodox or irreligious consequences.

Here’s an excerpt in which Beiser is explaining the philosophical significance of the Pantheist controversy:
But can philosophy serve two masters? Reason and the public? Can it be both critical and practical, both rational and responsible, both honest and useful? What, indeed, is the purpose of philosophy? Truth or the general happiness? Inquiry for its own sake or the enlightenment of the public? That was Jacobi's question, just as it was Plato's in the Apology. And, like Socrates, Jacobi was convinced that this question contained all the material for a tragic conflict. Philosophy, in his view, was intrinsically irresponsible, the pastime for a public nuisance like a Socrates or a Hamann. It is an illusion to think that philosophy supports morality, religion, and the state. Rather, it does the very opposite: it undermines them. If we pursue free inquiry to its limits without imposing any guidelines, then we end up, of necessity, in skepticism. But skepticism erodes the very foundation of morality, religion, and the state. It presents us with a dreadful specter: atheism, fatalism, anarchism.  
Thus, as Jacobi saw it, the Berliners were caught in a dilemma. If they remained true to their ideals of free inquiry and criticism, they would have to abandon their program of Aufklärung but if they stuck to their program of Aufklärung, they would have to limit free inquiry and criticism. Philosophy could not serve both truth and the public. It was the tragedy of Socrates that he had tried to make it do both. The Berliners were going to have to learn his lesson all over again, Jacobi felt, and he was preparing for them the eighteenth-century equivalent of hemlock: namely, the bitter pill of Lessing's Spinozism.  
Lessing became a deeply symbolic figure for Jacobi because he represented the very antithesis of the Berliner Geist. Jacobi considered Lessing the only courageous and honest thinker of the Aufklärung. He alone had the courage to pursue inquiry for its own sake, despite the consequences; and he alone had the honesty to take criticism to its tragic conclusion without moral or religious scruples. Contrary to popular opinion, it was Lessing, and not Mendelssohn, who was the true Socrates of his time. 
Jacobi saw in the Enlightenment the danger of dogmatic adherence to reason, and he offered the Enlightenment scholars a difficult choice—either they could follow reason and become atheists or they could retain their faith in God and tradition. But the Enlightenment scholars saw in him the danger of romanticism and idealism. Jacobi uses the term “nihilism” to describe the thinking of the Enlightenment scholars. He is responsible for bringing “nihilism” to general use.

On Jacobi’s use of the term “nihilism,” Beiser has this to say:
Jacobi has a striking word to designate the skeptical consequences of all philosophical investigation: 'nihilism' (Nihilismus). He is indeed responsible for bringing this word into general use in modern philosophy. What is indeed remarkable about Jacobi's use of this term, which has all the weight of precedence in its favor, is that it makes nihilism into the fundamental problem of all philosophy. If 'nihilism' is an appropriate word to denote the skeptical consequences of all philosophical inquiry, and if philosophy is trying to stave off the consequences of skepticism, then philosophy is indeed a desperate struggle against nihilism. If the philosopher cannot escape skepticism, then, by Jacobi's criterion, he ipso facto cannot avoid nihilism. Hence nihilism is Jacobi's final indictment and chief criticism of all philosophy.
It is also noteworthy that while arguing in favor of faith, Jacobi frequently appeals to the philosophy of David Hume. He admits that he owes a great philosophical debt to Hume.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Friedrich Schiller’s Advise to Artists

German stamp depicting Schiller
In his “Ninth Letter,” (Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education of Man), Friedrich Schiller asserts that the artist is the child and the pupil of his age, but he does not have to be its minion. He says that the true artist must derive the form of his art not from the dominant cultural trend, but from a nobler time (ancient Greece). Here’s an excerpt:
No doubt the artist is the child of his time, but unhappy for him if he is its disciple or even its favorite. Let a beneficent deity carry off in good time the suckling from the breast of its mother, let it nourish him on the milk of a better age, and suffer him to grow up and arrive at virility under the distant sky of Greece. When he has attained manhood, let him come back, presenting a face strange to his own age; let him come, not to delight it with his apparition, but rather to purify it, terrible as the son of Agamemnon. He will, indeed, receive his matter from the present time, but he will borrow the form from a nobler time and even beyond all time, from the essential, absolute, immutable unity. There, issuing from the pure ether of its heavenly nature, flows the source of all beauty, which was never tainted by the corruption of generations or of ages, which roll along far beneath it in dark eddies. Its matter may be dishonored as well as ennobled by fancy, but the ever chaste form escapes from the caprices of imagination. The Roman had already bent his knee for long years to the divinity of the emperors, and yet the statues of the gods stood erect; the temples retained their sanctity for the eye long after the gods had become a theme for mockery, and the noble architecture of the palaces that shielded the infamies of Nero and of Commodus were a protest against them. Humanity has lost its dignity, but art has saved it, and preserves it in marbles full of meaning; truth continues to live in illusion, and the copy will serve to reestablish the model. If the nobility of art has survived the nobility of nature, it also goes before it like an inspiring genius, forming and awakening minds. Before truth causes her triumphant light to penetrate into the depth of the heart, poetry intercepts her rays, and the summits of humanity shine in a bright light, while a dark and humid night still hangs over the valleys. 
Schiller also talks about how the artist can shield himself from the corruptions of his age and pursue his noble art:
If, then, a young friend of the true and of the beautiful were to ask me how, notwithstanding the resistance of the times, he can satisfy the noble longing of his heart, I should reply: Direct the world on which you act towards that which is good, and the measured and peaceful course of time will bring about the results. You have given it this direction if by your teaching you raise its thoughts towards the necessary and the eternal; if, by your acts or your creations, you make the necessary and the eternal the object of your leanings. The structure of error and of all that is arbitrary must fall, and it has already fallen, as soon as you are sure that it is tottering. But it is important that it should not only totter in the external but also in the internal man. Cherish triumphant truth in the modest sanctuary of your heart; give it an incarnate form through beauty, that it may not only be the understanding that does homage to it, but that feeling may lovingly grasp its appearance. And that you may not by any chance take from external reality the model which you yourself ought to furnish, do not venture into its dangerous society before you are assured in your own heart that you have a good escort furnished by ideal nature. Live with your age, but be not its creation; labour for your contemporaries, but do for them what they need, and not what they praise. Without having shared their faults, share their punishment with a noble resignation, and bend under the yoke which they find is as painful to dispense with as to bear. By the constancy with which you will despise their good fortune, you will prove to them that it is not through cowardice that you submit to their sufferings. See them in thought such as they ought to be when you must act upon them; but see them as they are when you are tempted to act for them. Seek to owe their suffrage to their dignity; but to make them happy keep an account of their unworthiness; thus, on the one hand, the nobleness of your heart will kindle theirs, and, on the other, your end will not be reduced to nothingness by their unworthiness. The gravity of your principles will keep them off from you, but in play they will still endure them. Their taste is purer than their heart, and it is by their taste you must lay hold of this suspicious fugitive. In vain will you combat their maxims, in vain will you condemn their actions; but you can try your moulding hand on their leisure. Drive away caprice, frivolity, and coarseness, from their pleasures, and you will banish them imperceptibly from their acts, and length from their feelings. Everywhere that you meet them, surround them with great, noble, and ingenious forms; multiply around them the symbols of perfection, till appearance triumphs over reality, and art over nature.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

John Fowles’s The Magus

Today I started reading The Magus (1965) by John Fowles, and I have finished the novel’s part one. Fowles’s prose is impressive. It is easy to empathize with the novel’s protagonist Nicholas Urfe, a callous and cynical Oxford graduate, who is convinced that he is going out in the world “handsomely equipped to fail.” He is depressed by the self-realization that he is not a talented poet. "I acquired expensive habits and affected manners. I got a third-class degree and a first-class illusion that I was a poet."

Here’s an excerpt from the final section of the novel’s part one:
Years later I saw the gabbia at Piacenza; a harsh black canary cage strung high up the side of the towering campanile, in which prisoners were left to starve to death and rot in full view of the town below. And looking up at it I remembered that winter in Greece, that gabbia I had constructed for myself out of light, solitude and self-delusions. To write poetry and to commit suicide, apparently so contradictory, had really been the same, attempts at escape. And my feelings, at the end of that wretched term, were those of a man who knows he is in a cage, exposed to the jeers of all his old ambitions until he dies.  
But I went to Athens, to the address the village doctor gave me. I was given a Kahn test and Dr. Patarescu's diagnosis was confirmed. The ten days' treatment was very expensive; most of the drugs had been smuggled into Greece, or stolen, and I was at the receiving end of a Third Man network. The smooth young American-trained doctor told me not to worry; the prognosis was excellent. At the end of the Easter holidays, when I returned to the island, I found a card from Alison. It was a garishly colored thing with a kangaroo on it balloon-saying "Thought I'd forgot?" My twenty-sixth birthday had taken place while I was in Athens. The postmark was Amsterdam. There was no message. It was simply signed Alison. I threw it into the wastepaper basket. But that evening, I took it out again.  
To get through the anxious wait for the secondary stage not to develop, I began quietly to rape the island. I swam and swam, I walked and walked, I went out every day. The weather rapidly became hot, and during the heat of the afternoon the school slept. Then I used to take off into the pine forest. I always went over the central crest to the south side of the island if I could, away from the village and the school. There, was absolute solitude: three hidden cottages at one small bay, a few tiny chapels lost among the green downward sea of pines and deserted except on their saint's days, and one almost invisible villa, which was in any case empty. The rest was sublimely peaceful, as potential as a clean canvas, a site for myths. It was as if the island was split into dark and light; so that the teaching timetable, which made it difficult to go far except at weekends or by getting up very early (school began at half-past seven) became as irksome as a short tether.  
I did not think about the future. In spite of what the doctor at the clinic had said I felt certain that the cure would fail. The pattern of destiny seemed pretty clear: down and down, and down.  
But then the mysteries began.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Schiller On the Creation of a Moral State

Portrait of Schiller by Ludovike Simanowiz
Friedrich Schiller, in Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education of Man (“Fourth Letter”), offers insights on how a political state can be transformed into a moral state in a durable and non-injurious manner. He says that in a moral state, free will is drawn into the realm of causes, and the moral conduct of man flows from within and is part of his nature because his instincts are in harmony with his reason.

Here’s an excerpt:
In proposing or setting up a moral state, the moral law is relied upon as a real power, and free will is drawn into the realm of causes, where all hangs together mutually with stringent necessity and rigidity. But we know that the condition of the human will always remains contingent, and that only in the Absolute Being physical coexists with moral necessity. Accordingly if it is wished to depend on the moral conduct of man as on natural results, this conduct must become nature, and he must be led by natural impulse to such a course of action as can only and invariably have moral results. But the will of man is perfectly free between inclination and duty, and no physical necessity ought to enter as a sharer in this magisterial personality. If therefore he is to retain this power of solution, and yet become a reliable link in the causal concatenation of forces, this can only be effected when the operations of both these impulses are presented quite equally in the world of appearances. It is only possible when, with every difference of form, the matter of man's volition remains the same, when all his impulses agreeing with his reason are sufficient to have the value of a universal legislation. 
Schiller believes that every individual carries within himself, by disposition and vocation, a purely ideal man:
It may be urged that every individual man carries, within himself, at least in his adaptation and destination, a purely ideal man. The great problem of his existence is to bring all the incessant changes of his outer life into conformity with the unchanging unity of this ideal. This pure ideal man, which makes itself known more or less clearly in every subject, is represented by the state, which is the objective and, so to speak, canonical form in which the manifold differences of the subjects strive to unite. 
The state, according to Schiller, can only be realized insofar as its parts have been attuned to the whole. When the inner man is one with himself, the state will encourage his beautiful instincts, but if that is not the case then the state will become a tool for crushing individuality:
But the state is an organization which fashions itself through itself and for itself, and for this reason it can only be realized when the parts have been accorded to the idea of the whole. The state serves the purpose of a representative, both to pure ideal and to objective humanity, in the breast of its citizens, accordingly it will have to observe the same relation to its citizens in which they are placed to it, and it will only respect their subjective humanity in the same degree that it is ennobled to an objective existence. If the internal man is one with himself, he will be able to rescue his peculiarity, even in the greatest generalization of his conduct, and the state will only become the exponent of his fine instinct, the clearer formula of his internal legislation. But if the subjective man is in conflict with the objective and contradicts him in the character of the people, so that only the oppression of the former can give the victory to the latter, then the state will take up the severe aspect of the law against the citizen, and in order not to fall a sacrifice, it will have to crush under foot such a hostile individuality, without any compromise. 
Here’s Schiller’s views on the two ways by which man can oppose himself—by being a savage or a barbarian:
Now man can be opposed to himself in a twofold manner: either as a savage, when his feelings rule over his principles; or as a barbarian, when his principles destroy his feelings. The savage despises art, and acknowledges nature as his despotic ruler; the barbarian laughs at nature, and dishonors it, but he often proceeds in a more contemptible way than the savage, to be the slave of his senses. The cultivated man makes of nature his friend, and honors its friendship, while only bridling its caprice.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Schopenhauer On Genius

Arthur Schopenhauer describes genius as the ability of certain rare individuals to consciously extricate the will from  the routine day-to-day concerns in order to allow contemplation. In section 36 of The World as Will and Representation (Volume I), Schopenhauer deals with the subject of genius. Here’s an excerpt:
Only through the pure contemplation described above, which becomes absorbed entirely in the object, are the Ideas comprehended; and the nature of genius consists precisely in the preeminent ability for such contemplation. Now as this demands a complete forgetting of our own person and of its relations and connexions, the gift of genius is nothing but the most complete objectivity, i.e., the objective tendency of the mind, as opposed to the subjective directed to our own person, i.e., to the will. Accordingly, genius is the capacity to remain in a state of pure perception, to lose oneself in perception, to remove from the service of the will the knowledge which originally existed only for this service. In other words, genius is the ability to leave entirely out of sight our own interest, our willing, and our aims, and consequently to discard entirely our own personality for a time, in order to remain pure knowing subject, the clear eye of the world; and this not merely for moments, but with the necessary continuity and conscious thought to enable us to repeat by deliberate art what has been apprehended… 
On the state of mind of a genius, Schopenhauer says:
For genius to appear in an individual, it is as if a measure of the power of knowledge must have fallen to his lot far exceeding that required for the service of an individual will; and this superfluity of knowledge having become free, now becomes the subject purified of will, the clear mirror of the inner nature of the world. This explains the animation, amounting to disquietude, in men of genius, since the present can seldom satisfy them, because it does not fill their consciousness. This gives them that restless zealous nature, that constant search for new objects worthy of contemplation, and also that longing, hardly ever satisfied, for men of like nature and stature to whom they may open their hearts.
On the role of imagination in the life of a genius:
Imagination has been rightly recognized as an essential element of genius; indeed, it has sometimes been regarded as identical with genius, but this is not correct. The objects of genius as such are the eternal Ideas, the persistent, essential forms of the world and of all its phenomena; but knowledge of the Idea is necessarily knowledge through perception, and is not abstract. Thus the knowledge of the genius would be restricted to the Ideas of objects actually present to his own person, and would be dependent on the concatenation of circumstances that brought them to him, did not imagination extend his horizon far beyond the reality of his personal experience, and enable him to construct all the rest out of the little that has come into his own actual apperception, and thus to let almost all the possible scenes of life pass by within himself. Moreover, the actual objects are almost always only very imperfect copies of the Idea that manifests itself in them. Therefore the man of genius requires imagination, in order to see in things not what nature has actually formed, but what she endeavored to form, yet did not bring about, because of the conflict of her forms with one another… 
According to Schopenhauer, a work of art depends not only the knowledge of the Idea, but on communication of it. Therefore a genius must possess the will and the ability to communicate the idea that his contemplation has revealed to him. In Section 37, he says that the genius can “retain that thoughtful contemplation necessary for him to repeat what is thus known in a voluntary and intentional work, such repetition being the work of art. Through this he communicates to others the Idea he has grasped.” 

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Schopenhauer on Music as a Copy of the Will

Arthur Schopenhauer views music as the highest form of art and of all beauty—he holds that music is the embodiment of the will, or “a copy of the will itself.” Here’s an excerpt from The World as Will and Representation (Volume 1, Section 52):
“As our world is nothing but the phenomenon or appearance of the Ideas in plurality through entrance into the principium individuationis (the form of knowledge possible to the individual as such), music, since it passes over the Ideas, is also quite independent of the phenomenal world, positively ignores it, and, to a certain extent, could still exist even if there were no world at all, which cannot be said of the other arts. Thus music is as immediate an objectification and copy of the whole will as the world itself is, indeed as the Ideas are, the multiplied phenomenon of which constitutes the world of individual things. Therefore music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself, the objectivity of which are the Ideas. For this reason the effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence.” 
Schopenhauer emphasizes that music represents the states of the will as universals and not as singular occurrences in particular human beings. “Therefore music does not express this or that particular and definite pleasure, this or that affliction, pain, sorrow, horror, gaiety, merriment, or peace of mind, but joy, pain, sorrow, horror, gaiety, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without any accessories, and so also without the motives for them.” This means that an individual listener does not have to invoke his own will to respond to a piece of music—and that a piece of music can serve the purpose of distracting a listener from the pains that are inflicting his own will. Thus Schopenhauer notes in The World as Will and Representation (Volume 1, Section 52):
“The inexpressible depth of all music, by virtue of which it floats past us as a paradise quite familiar and yet eternally remote, and is so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain. In the same way, the seriousness essential to it and wholly excluding the ludicrous from its direct and peculiar province is to be explained from the fact that its object is not the representation, in regard to which deception and ridiculousness alone are possible, but that this object is directly the will; and this is essentially the most serious of all things, as being that on which all depends.”  
Nietzsche, who is often seen as a successor to Schopenhauer, also recognizes the power of music. In Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer, Nietzsche says: “What trifles constitute happiness! The sound of a bagpipe. Without music life would be a mistake. The German imagines even God as a songster.”

Friday, 8 June 2018

"Exemplary Originality": Kant on Successful Art

Immanuel Kant was the first philosopher to recognize that genius, as exemplary originality, will stimulate and provoke a continuing revolution in the history of art. In his Critique of the Power of Judgement, he defines genius as the talent or the natural gift (an inborn productive faculty) that gives rule to art (or through which nature gives rule to art).

In his essay, “Exemplary Originality,” (Chapter 10; Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics), Paul Guyer offers an interesting explanation of Kant’s theory that a successful art must always possess exemplary originality. Here’s an excerpt:
A successful work of art is thus one which pleases us precisely because both its content and its form induce a free play of our imagination and understanding in a way that cannot appear to be dictated by any determinate concept or rule, but which is nevertheless itself a rule or norm for everyone in the sense that, under ideal circumstances, it should please everyone by inducing the same pleasure in the free play of these cognitive faculties. In natural beauty, such as that of a flower or a sunset, it is the form of an object produced by nature without human intervention that induces this free play of imagination and understanding; artistic beauty must be both produced by rational human activity and not produced in accordance with visible rule, so Kant construes it as the product of nature working through the medium of a human being to produce something that is not visibly rule-governed but yet is itself a rule for the pleasure of all.  
This analysis of artistic beauty entails that truly successful art must always possess what Kant calls “exemplary originality”:* originality, because the successful work of art can never appear to have been produced in accordance with a rule but must always strike us with an element of contingency or novelty; yet exemplary, because it must at the same time strike us as pleasing  in a way that should be valid for all. Originality by itself, to be sure, is easy to achieve: just make something that departs from all known rules and models. Of course, in this way a lot of nonsense will be produced, so what Kant calls “original nonsense” is easy to come by. The trick is to produce exemplary originality, objects which, “while not themselves the result of imitation… must yet serve others in that way, i.e., as a standard of judging,”* or objects that strike us as original in appearance to depart from known rules and models but which can themselves be pleasing to all or a rule for all. Thus, in Kant’s view, all truly successful art must be the work of genius. 
* Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgement

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Schopenhauer On Fame

Schopenhauer’s Bust in Frankfurt
I think Arthur Schopenhauer might be the greatest stylist among philosophers. It is surprising to see a “philosopher” using such elegant and lucid prose to express his ideas. Here’s an excerpt from his essay, “Fame” (The Wisdom of Life; Part IV, Section V):
Whether authors ever live to see the dawn of their fame depends upon the chance of circumstance; and the higher and more important their works are, the less likelihood there is of their doing so. That was an incomparably fine saying of Seneca's, that fame follows merit as surely as the body casts a shadow; sometimes falling in front, and sometimes behind. And he goes on to remark that "though the envy of contemporaries be shown by universal silence, there will come those who will judge without enmity or favor." From this remark it is manifest that even in Seneca's age there were rascals who understood the art of suppressing merit by maliciously ignoring its existence, and of concealing good work from the public in order to favor the bad: it is an art well understood in our day, too, manifesting itself, both then and now, in "an envious conspiracy of silence."
As a general rule, the longer a man’s fame is likely to last, the later it will be in coming; for all excellent products require time for their development. The fame which lasts to posterity is like an oak, of very slow growth: and that which endures but a little while, like plants which spring up in a year and then die; while false fame is like a fungus, shooting up in a night and perishing as soon.
And why? For this reason; the more a man belongs to posterity, in other words, to humanity in general, the more of an alien he is to his contemporaries; since his work is not meant for them as such, but only for them in so far as they form part of mankind at large; there is none of that familiar local color about his productions which would appeal to them: and so what he does, fails of recognition because it is strange. People are more likely to appreciate the man who serves the circumstances of his own brief hour, or the temper of the moment—belonging to it, and living and dying with it.
The general history of art and literature shows that the highest achievements of the human mind are, as a rule, not favorably received at first; but remain in obscurity until they win notice from intelligence of a higher order, by whose influence they are brought into a position which they then maintain, in virtue of the authority thus given them.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Wisdom of Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer is generally viewed as a philosopher of suffering and pessimism, but it is a delight to read him because he writes in such a polished and clear style, and because there is a great deal of wisdom in his writings.

In his book The Wisdom of Life, Schopenhauer talks about the ways in which man can achieve some kind of success and happiness.

Here’s his perspective on how men view the world:
The world in which a man lives shapes itself chiefly by the way in which he looks at it, and so it proves different to different men; to one it is barren, dull, and superficial; to another rich, interesting, and full of meaning. On hearing of the interesting events which have happened in the course of a man's experience, many people will wish that similar things had happened in their lives too, completely forgetting that they should be envious rather of the mental aptitude which lent those events the significance they possess when he describes them; to a man of genius they were interesting adventures; but to the dull perceptions of an ordinary individual they would have been stale, everyday occurrences.
On wise men preferring solitude:
The wise man will, above all, strive after freedom from pain and annoyance, quiet and leisure, consequently a tranquil, modest life, with as few encounters as may be; and so, after a little experience of his so-called fellow-men, he will elect to live in retirement, or even, if he is a man of great intellect, in solitude. For the more a man has in himself, the less he will want from other people, the less, indeed, other people can be to him. This is why a high degree of intellect tends to make a man unsocial. True, if quality of intellect could be made up for by quantity, it might be worth while to live even in the great world; but, unfortunately, a hundred fools together will not make one wise man. 
On the ways in which men try to find happiness:
The ordinary man places his life's happiness in things external to him, in property, rank, wife and children, friends, society, and the like, so that when he loses them or finds them disappointing, the foundation of his happiness is destroyed. In other words, his center of gravity is not in himself ; it is constantly changing its place, with every wish and whim. If he is a man of means, one day it will be his house in the country, another buying horses, or entertaining friends, or traveling—a life, in short, of general luxury, the reason being that he seeks his pleasure in things outside him. Like one whose health and strength are gone, he tries to regain by the use of jellies and drugs, instead of by developing his own vital power, the true source of what he has lost. Before proceeding to the opposite, let us compare with this common type the man who comes midway between the two, endowed, it may be, not exactly with distinguished powers of mind, but with somewhat more than the ordinary amount of intellect. He will take a dilettante interest in art, or devote his attention to some branch of science—botany, for example, or physics, astronomy, history, and find a great deal of pleasure in such studies, and amuse himself with them when external sources of happiness are exhausted or fail to satisfy him any more. Of a man like this it may be said that his center of gravity is partly in himself. But a dilettante interest in art is a very different thing from creative activity and an amateur pursuit of science is apt to be superficial and not to penetrate to the heart of the matter. A man cannot entirely identify himself with such pursuits, or have his whole existence so completely rilled and permeated with them that he loses all interest in everything else. It is only the highest intellectual power, what we call genius, that attains to this degree of intensity, making all time and existence its theme, and striving to express its peculiar conception of the world, whether it contemplates life as the subject of poetry or of philosophy. Hence, undisturbed occupation with himself, his own thoughts and works, is a matter of urgent necessity to such a man; solitude is welcome, leisure is the highest good, and everything else is unnecessary, nay, even burdensome. 
On the unhappiness caused by man’s desires:
A man never feels the loss of things which it never occurs to him to ask for; he is just as happy without them; while another, who may have a hundred times as much, feels miserable because he has not got the one thing which he wants. In fact, here too, every man has an horizon of his own, and he will expect just as much as he thinks it possible for him to get. If an object within his horizon looks as though he could confidently reckon on getting it, he is happy; but if difficulties come in the way, he is miserable. What lies beyond his horizon has no effect at all upon him. 
There is no doubt that Schopenhauer is often bitter and melancholy, but I think anyone with his kind of keen insight on human life is bound to feel bitter and melancholy. He was a great observer of human life and what he saw made him a pessimist.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Seneca on Anger in Public Life

Nero and Seneca, by Eduardo Barrón (1904)
In De Ira (On Anger), Seneca explains the Stoic view of anger and offers therapeutic advise. The work is addressed to Seneca’s brother Novatus, a non-philosophical man whose concerns are mainly related to military strength and success, the safety and dignity of one’s family and home, and the dignity and greatness of soul.

In her essay, “Seneca on Anger in Public Life” (Chapter 11, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics), Martha Nussbaum analyzes the structure of De Ira and Seneca’s therapeutic arguments on anger. Nussbaum notes that “Seneca's central line of argument to Novatus has three parts: an account of anger that shows it to be non-natural and non-necessary, an artifact of judgment; an argument that anger is not necessary or even useful as a motivation for correct conduct; an argument from excess, showing No­vatus that the angry person is prone to violence and cruelty. In other words, Seneca does not rely on showing that the beliefs of the angry person about the importance of injury are false; and, as we shall see, the desire not to confront the interlocutor openly on this point is a source of considerable complexity in the argument.”

Nussbaum’s essay incorporates a number of excerpts from De Ira which serve to exemplify Seneca’s position on anger. Here’s a passage in which Seneca identifies anger as an alien being which is unlike a human:
Whether or not it is according to nature will be evident, if we examine the human being. What is gentler than the human being, when he is in a right state of mind? But what is more cruel than anger? What is more loving to others than the human being? What more hostile than anger? The human being is born for mutual aid, anger for destruction; the one wants to join together, the other to rend asunder, the one to help, the other to harm, the one to come to the aid even of strangers, the other to attack even those nearest and dearest; the one is ready to spend himself for the well-being of others, the other to plunge into danger, so long as it can drag others along. (1.5.2) 
In another passage, Seneca has emperor Augustus Caesar delivering a Stoic speech when he finds out that a slave is about to be killed because he has broken a single crystal goblet:
Do you order men to be snatched away from a banquet and tortured with new forms of punishment? If your goblet is broken, will the bowels of a human being be torn apart ? Are you so arrogant that you will order a man to be led to death in the presence of Caesar? (3.40.4) 
In the following passage, Seneca argues that a wise man is bound to feel angry at the attitude of a typical angry person who resorts to aggression and injustice:
The wise person will never cease to be angry, if he once begins: for every­ thing is full of crime and vice. Much more is done than can be cured by restraint. People compete in a huge contest of wickedness. Every day there is more lust for crime, and less shame. Casting aside all thought for what is better and more just, their lust now hurls itself wherever it wants. Nor are crimes even hidden any longer: they are before our very eyes, and wicked­ ness has such public status and such strength in the hearts of all that innocence is not so much rare as non-existent. (2.9) 
Seneca reminds Novatus that he should never forget that he capable of the same kinds of failures of which he tends to accuse others:
“If we want to be fair judges of all things, let us persuade ourselves of this first: that none of us is without fault. For it is from this point above all that anger arises: 'I did nothing wrong,' and 'I did nothing.' No, rather, you don't admit to anything." (2.28)
Seneca practiced what he preached. When things became bad in the Roman Empire under Emperor Nero, Seneca became part of the political resistance, and got involved in the conspiracy of Piso. The conspiracy failed and when he was accused of treason, Seneca did not try to extricate himself by supplicating the emperor for mercy. He wrote a polite and firm letter to Nero explaining his position, and then to avoid the humiliation of a public execution, he opened his own veins. But he was an old man and the flow of blood in his body was slow—when he saw that it was taking him too much time to die, he promptly got back to work, calling his scribes and dictating to them his last thoughts.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

On The Aesthetic Experience

Arthur Koestler, in The Act of Creation, shows that the aesthetic experience is the presence and interaction in the mind of two worlds, one real, one imaginary.  A stage-play, like a  magic carpet, transports the spectator from the trivial present to a special world of imagination and this enables him to transcend his immediate thoughts and anxieties.

Here’s an excerpt from Koestler’s The Act of Creation (Chapter 15: “The Power of Illusion”):
To revert to Aristotle, the cathartic function of the tragedy is 'through incidents arousing horror and pity to accomplish the purgation of such emotions’. In cruder terms, a good cry, like a good laugh, has a more lasting after-effect than the occasion seems to warrant. Taking the Aristotelian definition at face value, it would seem that the aesthetic experience could purge the mind only of those emotions which the stage-play has created; that it would merely take out of the nervous system what it has just put in, leaving the mind in the same state as before. But this is not so. The emotion is not created, but merely stimulated by the actors; it must be ‘worked up’ by the spectator. The work of art does not provide the current, like an electricity company, but merely the installations; the current has to be generated by the consumer. Although this is obvious once we remember it, we tend to fall into the mistake of taking a metaphor at face value and believing that the stage ‘provides' us with a thrill against cash payment for a seat in the stalls. What we buy, however, is not emotion, but a sequence of stimuli cunningly designed to trigger off our latent participatory emotions which otherwise would remain frustrated or look for coarser outlets, and to assure their ultimate consummation. Life constantly generates tensions which run through the mind like stray eddies and erratic currents. The aesthetic experience inhibits some, canalizes others, but above all, it draws on unconscious sources of emotion which otherwise are only active in the games of the underground. 
According to Koestler, “Tragedy, in a Greek sense, is the school of self-transcendence.”

Friday, 1 June 2018

Kant on Happiness and Self-Respect

Kant's Statue in Kaliningrad
Immanuel Kant felt that he would not be able to stand happiness unless he was convinced that he was worthy of it. In a letter to Moses Mendelssohn (April 8, 1766), he wrote:
"For though there may be flaws that even the most steadfast determination cannot eradicate completely, I shall certainly never become a fickle or fraudulent person, after having devoted the largest part of my life to studying how to despise those things that tend to corrupt one's character. Losing the self-respect that stems from a sense of honesty would therefore be the greatest evil that could, but most certainly shall not, befall me. Although I am absolutely convinced of many things that I shall never have the courage to say, I shall never say anything I do not believe." ~ (Correspondence by Immanuel Kant; Edited by Arnulf Zweig; The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant; Page 89—90)
Kant believed the greatest misfortune that can befall a man is self-contempt (loss of self-respect). He was not as bothered about the loss of esteem in which he was held by others. Socrates has said something similar: “It would be better for me to be at odds with the multitudes than, being one, out of harmony with myself."

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Role of The Spectator in Kantian Philosophy

Immanuel Kant placed great value in the judgement of a spectator. In The Critique of Judgement he talks about the “sublime” side of war, the romantic feats of courage, which, he holds, cannot be visible to those who are directly participating in the war and can only be perceived by the spectators who are looking keenly and analyzing critically from a distance.

In his own life, Kant was mostly a spectator and critical thinker. His critical thinking was a solitary business, but it was not cut off from those from whom he expected inputs. His critical thinking and analysis was based on the presumption that that those who directly participate in events are willing and able to render an account of what they experience and think.

In her lectures on Kant's political philosophy (Hannah Arendt: Lectures on Kant’s Political PhilosophyEdited by: Ronald Beiner), Hannah Arendt offers a brief outlook on the role of the spectator in Kantian thought. In Lecture 7, she talks about Kant’s spectator lifestyle: “Kant introduced and taught a course in physical geogra­phy at the university. He was also an eager reader of all sorts of travel reports, and he—who never left Konigsberg—knew his way around in both London and Italy; he said he had no time to travel precisely because he wanted to know so much about so many countries.”

In Lecture 8, Arendt notes that for Kant the importance of an event lay “exclusively in the eye of the beholder, in the opinion of the onlookers who proclaim their attitude in public.”

In Lecture 9, Arendt talks about the Kantian position of the onlooker: “What he saw counted most; he could discover a meaning in the course taken by events, a meaning that the actors ignored; and the existential ground for his insight was his disinterestedness, his nonparticipation, his noninvolvement. The onlooker's dis­interested concern characterized the French Revolution as a great event.”

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Decline of Culture

The word “culture” has lost its authority because it is now burdened with meanings for which there are several other words. In his Prologue to From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to The Present, historian Jacques Barzun suggests that one of the reasons behind the cultural decline is that most people do not comprehend the historical and anthropological significance of the concept of “culture.”

Barzun says that due to overuse, the word “culture” has become commonplace. The intellectuals tend to conjure fictitious mini-cultures which exists within the society or civilization. Here’s an excerpt from Barzun’s Prologue to From Dawn to Decadence:
Culture—what a word! Up to a few years ago it meant two or three related things easy to grasp and keep apart. Now it is a piece of all-purpose jargon that covers a hodge-podge of overlapping things. People speak and write about the culture of almost any segment of society: the counterculture, to begin with, and the many subcultures: ethnic cultures, corporate cultures, teenage culture, and popular culture. An editorial in The New York Times discusses the culture of the city's police department, and an article in the travel section distinguishes the culture of plane travel from the bus culture. On a par with these, recall the split between the "two cultures" of science and the humanities, which is to be deplored—like the man-and-wife "culture clash,” which causes divorce. Artists feel the lure—no, the duty—of joining an adversary culture; for the artist is by nature "the enemy of his culture," just as he is (on another page of the same journal) "a product of his culture." In education, the latest fad is multiculturalism, and in entertainment the highest praise goes to a "cross-cultural event." On the world scene, the experts warn of the culture wars that are brewing. 
Barzun notes that culture is something that tells us who we are. He quotes an old saying: ”Culture is what is left after you have forgotten all you have definitely set out to learn.” The importance of culture is such that even those who hate it and want to destroy it must use the ideas and tools that have been produced within the overall cultural environment:
If the new-minted citizen then turns critic of his adopted country, attacking policies and politicians with impunity, he enjoys this privileged pastime because of the likes of Voltaire, who also had to skip across frontiers to escape persecution and keep dissenting. Even the terrorist who drives a car filled with dynamite toward a building in some hated nation is part of what he would destroy: his weapon is the work of Alfred Nobel and the inventors of the internal combustion engine. His very cause has been argued for him by such proponents of national self-determination as President Wilson and such rationalizers of violence as Georges Sorel and Bakunin, the Russian anarchist.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Koestler on Mob Psychology

Arthur Koestler
Arthur Koestler, in The Act of Creation (Chapter 14, “On Islands and Waterways”), offers an interesting view of the psychology of individuals who become part of mass movements or mobs:
"The 'hypnotic effect’ of political demagogues has become a cliche, but one aspect of mass-psychology must be briefly mentioned. The type of crowd or mob to which Le Bon's classic descriptions still apply, is fanatical and 'single-minded' because the subtler individual differences between its members are temporarily suspended; the whole mass is thus intellectually adjusted to its lowest common denominator, but in terms of dynamic action it has a high efficacity, because the impulses of its members are aligned through narrow slits—or blinkers—all pointing in the same direction; hence their experience of being parts of an irresistible power. This experience of partness within a dynamic whole leads to a temporary suspension of individual responsibility which is replaced by unconditional subordination to the 'controlling centre’, the leader of the crowd. It further entails the temporary effacement of all self-assertive tendencies: the total surrender of the individual to the collectivity is manifested in altruistic, heroic, self-sacrificing acts—and at the same time in bestial cruelty towards the enemy or victim of the collective whole. This is a further example of the self-transcending emotions serving as catalysts or triggers for their opponents. But let us note that the brutality or heroism displayed by a fanaticized crowd is quasi-impersonal, and unselfish; it is exercised in the interest, or supposed interest, of the whole. The same S.S. detachments which mowed down the whole male population of Lidice were capable of dying at Oradur like the defenders of Thermopylae. The self-assertive behavior of a mass is based on the participatory behavior of the individual, which often entails sacrifice of his personal interest and even his life. Theories of ethics based on enlightened self-interest fail to provide an answer why a man should sacrifice his life in the defense of his family—not to mention country, liberty, beliefs. The fact that men have always been prepared to die for (good, bad, or futile) causes, proves that the self-transcending tendencies are as basic to his mental organization as the others. And since the individual cannot survive without some form of social integration, self-preservation itself always implies a component of self-transcendence." 
This means that every individual has collectivist feelings inside him. The self-transcending emotions are there in all human beings—and if they are sufficiently inspired they can choose to surrender their individuality to groups. The self-transcending emotions can be conscious or unconscious but they have the potential to assert themselves in the form of an altruistic social-behavior.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Can a Bad Man be a Good Citizen?

Aristotle has said that a “good man can be a good citizen only in a good state,” but in his writing Immanuel Kant goes far beyond Aristotle and separates morality from good citizenship. He seems to suggest that even a "race of devils" can live a good life in a good state. Here’s an excerpt from Kant’s Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch:

“The problem of organizing a state, however hard it may seem, can be solved even for a race of devils, if only they are intelligent. The problem is: "Given a multitude of rational beings requiring universal laws for their preservation, but each of whom is secretly inclined to exempt himself from them, to establish a constitution in such a way that, although their pri­vate intentions conflict, they check each other, with the result that their public conduct is the same as if they had no such intentions.""

In her lecture on Kant’s political theory (third session), Hannah Arendt’s offers her perspective of this passage from Perpetual Peace:
This passage is crucial. What Kant said is—to vary the Aristote­lian formula—that a bad man can be a good citizen in a good state. His definition of "bad" here is in accordance with his moral philosophy. The categorical imperative tells you: Always act in such a way that the maxim of your acts can become a general law, that is, "I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” The point of the matter is very simple. In Kant's own words: I can will a particular lie, but I "can by no means will that lying should be the universal law. For with such a law there would be no promises at all.” Or: I can want to steal, but I cannot will stealing to be a uni­versal law; because, with such a law, there would be no property. The bad man is, for Kant, the one who makes an exception for himself; he is not the man who wills evil, for this, according to Kant, is impossible. Hence the "race of devils" here are not devils in the usual sense but those who are "secretly inclined to exempt" themselves. The point is secretly: they could not do it publicly because then they would obviously stand against the common interest—be enemies of the people, even if these people were a race of devils. And in politics, as distinguished from morals, everything depends on "public conduct." (Source: Hannah Arendt: Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, Edited by: Ronald Beiner)
Arendt notes that in Kant evil is generally self-destructive, but “the race of devils” that Kant talks about in Perpetual Peace will not destroy themselves because there is a great purpose of nature at work. Nature wants the preservation of the species, and it mandates that the human beings should be self-preserving and capable of using their mind. Kant did not believe that a moral transformation in man’s nature is necessary for bringing about political change. He stresses on a proper constitution and publicity. Arendt says: “‘Publicity’ is one of the key concepts of Kant's political thinking; in this context, it indicates his conviction that evil thoughts are secret by definition."

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Pascal On Philosophers and Human Affairs

In Pensees, Blaise Pascal makes a rather irreverent observation about the attitude of the ancient Greek philosophers towards human affairs:
We can only think of Plato and Aristotle in grand academic robes. They were honest men, like others, laughing with their friends, and when they wanted to divert themselves, they wrote the Laws or the Politics, to amuse themselves. That part of their life was the least philosophic and the least serious. The most philosophic [thing] was to live simply and quietly. If they wrote on politics, it was as if laying down rules for a lunatic asylum; if they presented the appearance of speaking of great matters, it was because they knew that the madmen, to whom they spoke, thought they were kings and emperors. They entered into their principles in order to make their madness as little harmful as possible. ~ Blaise Pascal in Pensees; (Number 331)
Pascal has a point—the ancient Greek philosophers have an unfavorable opinion of politics (human affairs), but for a good reason. In the Republic, Plato wants philosophers to become kings because he does not want them to be ruled by their intellectual and moral inferiors. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle preaches that an active life can lead to happiness, but the active life that he has in mind includes a life full of mental activity, which by its nature is independent of other human beings.

(Based on an account given in Hannah Arendt: Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, Edited by: Ronald Beiner)

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Hannah Arendt On Immanuel Kant’s Political Philosophy

In her lecture on Immanuel Kant’s political philosophy (Hannah Arendt: Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, Edited by: Ronald Beiner), Hannah Arendt notes that after 1789, the year of the French Revolution, when Kant was sixty-five years old, his attention turned towards constitutional law. He became concerned about how a body politic should be organized and constituted. He wanted to investigate the concept of “republican,” which is a constitutional government, the issue of international relations, etc.

Kant took great interest in the American Revolution and commented on it in his the Critique of Judgement (1790): "In a recent complete transformation of a great people into a state the word organization for the regulation of magistracies, etc., and even of the whole body politic, has often been fitly used. For in such a whole every member should surely be purpose as well as means, and, whilst all work together to­ wards the possibility of the whole, each should be determined as regards place and function by means of the Idea of the whole."

Arendt's lecture offers a really engrossing view of Kant's preoccupation with political theory during the final years of his life:
It is precisely this problem of how to organize a people into a state, how to constitute the state, how to found a commonwealth, and all the legal problems connected with these questions, that occupied him constantly during his last years. Not that the older concerns with the ruse of nature or with the mere sociability of men had disappeared altogether. But they undergo a certain change or, rather, appear in new and unexpected formulations. Thus we find the curious Article in Perpetual Peace that establishes a Besuchsrecht, the right to visit foreign lands, the right to hospitality, and "the right of temporary sojourn."And, in the same treatise, we again find nature, that great artist, as the eventual "guarantee of perpetual peace.” But without this new preoccupation, it seems rather unlikely that he would have started his Metaphysics of Morals with the "Doctrine of Law." Nor is it likely that he would finally have said (in the second section of The Strife of the Faculties, the last section of which already shows clear evidence of his mind's deterioration): "It is so sweet to plan state constitutions [Es ist so suss sick Staatsverfassungen auszudenken]"-a "sweet dream" whose consummation is "not only thinkable but… an obligation, not [however] of the citizens but of the sovereign." 
Kant turned his attention to political matters rather late in his life, when he was running out of strength to work on a new line of philosophical thought. Arendt points out that in his political thinking Kant faced the problem of reconciling his view of morality with the organization of the state. Here’s an excerpt:
Kant's problem at this late time in his life—when the American and, even more, the French Revolu­tion had awakened him, so to speak, from his political slumber (as Hume had awakened him in his youth from dogmatic slumber, and Rousseau had roused him in his manhood from moral slumber)—was how to reconcile the problem of the or­ganization of the state with his moral philosophy, that is, with the dictate of practical reason. And the surprising fact is that he knew that his moral philosophy could not help here. Thus he kept away from all moralizing and understood that the problem was how to force man "to be a good citizen even if [he is] not a morally good person" and that "a good constitution is not to be expected from morality, but, conversely, a good moral condition of a people is to be expected under a good constitution."

Friday, 25 May 2018

Louis Pasteur on Enthusiasm

In 1881 Louis Pasteur was elected to a seat at the Académie française. Here’s an excerpt from the speech that he made at the welcome ceremony:
The Greeks understood the mysterious power of the hidden side of things. They bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language—the word "enthusiasm"—en theos—a god within. The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who bears a god within—an ideal of beauty and who obeys it, an ideal of art, of science. All are lighted by reflection from the infinite. 
 As quoted in Arthur Koestler’s The Act of Creation (Chapter 11: “Science and Emotion”)

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Epicurus and Poetry

A manuscript of De Rerum Natura, created in 1563
Epicurus did not write poetry. Indeed, like Plato, he was suspicious of poetry and the forms of education which inculcate the desire for poetry. He held that the poetic stories are responsible for spreading all kinds of false beliefs about the world. His primary concern was with the religious doctrines which use poetic and musical mediums to spread a fear of vindictive Gods and gain followers. Epicurus was trying to counter such religious doctrines with his own philosophy.

Diogenes Laertius, in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, says that Epicurus used to say that only a wise person (an Epicurean philosopher) can discuss poetry and music, though he will never actually devote himself to composing poetry or music. A formulation of Plutarch states: “Hoist the sails of a little Epicurean boat and navigate in flight away from education in music and poetry.”

The irony is that the tenets of Epicurean philosophy have reached the modern world after traversing more than two millennia through the philosophical poem De Rerum Natura, attributed to Lucretius, the Roman poet and philosopher, who was a devoted follower of Epicurus. But why did Lucretius decide to write in poetry?

Martha C. Nussbaum, in her book The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, (Chapter 5, “Beyond Obsession and Disgust: Lucretius on the Therapy of Love”), offers an answer:

Lucretius, a devout follower of Epicurus, writes an epic poem. And the choice to write poetically is itself a subject of the poem. From the very opening lines, Lucretius encourages us to think about the choice and about the desires aroused by poetic writing-at the very same time that we are also asked to think about the character of desire in nature as a whole. For after calling on Venus as the principle of sexual desire in all of nature, the principle that explains animal fertility, he invokes her as the ally of his poetry, the one who can give a pleasing character to his words. And later in the first book he explains to us why this pleasing character is so important.
With strong mind [mente] I travel through the pathless haunts of the Pierides, places never trodden by any before. It is a joy to approach these fresh springs and drink, it is a joy to pluck new flowers and to seek a distinguished crown for my head from that place whence before this the muses have never wreathed any man's temples-first because I teach about great things and hasten to free the mind from the tight bonds of religion; then, because on this dark subject I put forth verses so full of light, touching everything with the muses' charm. For this too is seen to be not without a reasoned plan [ratione]. But as doctors, when they try to give bitter wormwood to children, first touch the rim all around the cup with honey's tawny sweet liquid, so that the children's unforeseeing youth might be tricked as far as the lips, and they meanwhile may drink the bitter drink of wormwood down, and, though taken in, should not be held fast, but should instead be restored in this way and become healthy-just so I now, since this reasoned argument [ratio] often seems forbidding to those who have not tried it, and the many shrink away from it, have decided to explain our reasoning [rationem] to you in a sweetly speaking poetic song, and, so to speak, to touch it with the sweet honey of the muses, to see if perchance by this reasoned plan [ratione] I could hold your mind on our verses, while you survey the whole nature of things, its structure and form.
Lucretius depicts himself as an innovator in that he is writing Epicurean poetry. This is innovation both from the point of view of Epicureanism and from the point of view of poetry, which has not treated these important subjects except in the way of traditional anthropomorphic religion. He tells us that his "reasoned plan" for using poetic language was inspired by practical and medical motives. In order to engage the reader in a process of therapy leading to health, he will provide the inner argument of the poem, its ratio, with a pleasing sweet surface. The "reasoned plan" (ratio) of his poem is this combination of argument with poetic surface. The truths of Epicureanism are difficult and, from the perspective of the pupil, unap­petizing, in that they will require him to detach himself from much that he deeply values. Therefore this healthful medicine needs a "coating"; and by describing poetry as providing a coating or surface, Lucretius implies that the argument itself will not be corrupted by its commerce with poetry.