Thursday, October 23, 2008

But first one must learn how to look at the world rationally

Grundlegung A philosophy blog Philosophy as Bildung October 21, 2008

In a recent post, I claimed that we ought to defend a form of philosophical humanism. By this, I meant that we should confront a certain embarrassment concerning the human. One variety of such embarrassment is expressed in strident naturalism about philosophical explanation. Naturalisms of this sort seek to shift the locus of philosophical explanation, whether ontological or justificatory, to something more fundamental than the considerations given in everyday practices of explanation. For example, here I have in mind efforts to bring cognitive science to bear on moral psychology. Within many such debates, the ‘folk psychology’ possessed by normal agents is contrasted with the results of the modern psychological sciences, laden with the outcome of brain scans and other neurological research. The suggestion is that philosophy of mind ought to take off from these cutting edge results, which present us with the most accurate accounts of the mind available, rather than the messy self-understanding of ordinary agents which, although useful in practical situations, is often shot with delusions, simplification and convenient fictions. My reservations are not primarily directed at the cognitive sciences per se (and certainly not all forms of naturalism), only the thought that philosophical explanation must start from this point instead of the more familiar understanding of ourselves expressed in ordinary discourse. This is the conviction that, when it comes to philosophy, what we say when we chat with our friends, say, or the way that Sophocles characterises shame, leaves nothing out. In part, this conviction is founded upon a different way of approaching the tasks of philosophy.

If philosophy is to provide us with a maximally coherent account of how the world is, being a handmaiden to the sciences which works upon the more abstract and conceptual difficulties which they throw up, then the idea that it ought to accept the same reductive and naturalistic approach to explanation is much more palatable. That sort of activity may very well be a precondition of achieving the invaluable insights provided by science. Yet, I don’t think that attempts to reframe in this context traditional philosophical problems, concerning knowledge or practical deliberation, for example, are at all illuminating. This is because these problems are, predominantly, troubling in a different way to scientific problems. Once again, Wittgenstein expresses this idea well. In a heading of the ‘Big Typescript’, he writes: “DIFFICULTY OF PHILOSOPHY NOT THE INTELLECTUAL DIFFICULTY OF THE SCIENCES, BUT THE DIFFICULTY OF A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE. RESISTANCES OF THE WILL MUST BE OVERCOME.” He then goes to say, “Work on philosophy is – as work in architecture frequently is – actually more of a //a kind of// work on oneself. On one’s own conception. On the way one sees things. (And what one demands of them.)” (PO: 162-3) Without wanting to overgeneralise from these remarks, I think we can see within them a kind of schematic for philosophy. I shall now go on to say a little about how I propose we should think about philosophy, or at least one its central currents, and which connects this Wittgensteinian view with some which may seem like natural adversaries to it.

What might it mean to say that work on philosophy is work on oneself? Helpful here is a German term, important for understanding post-Kantian idealism, namely, Bildung. It can be translated variously as education, nurture, development, formation or culture. Such elasticity of meanings might serve to shroud rather than reveal the idea it seeks to capture though. In the Hegelian usage which I prefer, it can be taken to name a process of self-cultivation through which, in a struggle to understand who they are, someone achieves a more liberated mode of relating to themselves and therewith the world as a whole. This need not imply anything spooky is going on, nor that some imposing idealist apparatus is called upon. Instead, we might consider the sort of thing that happens in a Bildungsroman; the independence of maturity is achieved through the resolution of conflicts over the protagonist’s self-identity. Thought of in this way, we can contrast Bildung, qua self-directed process, with other ways of being developed or formed. As Allen Wood puts it, “the entire process of Bildung is fundamentally an inner or self-directed activity, never merely a process of conditioning through environmental stimuli, or the accumulation of information presented by experience.” (‘Hegel on Education’, p.4)

It is with this sort of understanding of Bildung in mind that I suggest we take up Wittgenstein’s idea that work on philosophy is work on oneself. Philosophy, practiced aright, does not seek to give us theories built upon our experience of the world (though it by no means operates independently of such experience), but nor does it counsel simply following the inclinations which we form just as inhabitants of the natural world. Instead, at least for the most part, it is about achieving a certain practical orientation towards ourselves, our fellows and the rest of the world. This practical orientation consists in both intellectual and affective sensitivity, and so it might be said to concern a way (or our ways) of seeing. Again, we might say that philosophy, so conceived, is irreducibly aesthetic, insofar as we adopt a broad understanding of the aesthetic. So characterised, the conception of philosophy I have outlined may seem either hopelessly broad and vague or intolerably strange and idiosyncratic. To make it more determinate, I shall point to two examples of what I take to be philosophy practiced in this vein. I’ve chosen to pick out Hegel and Nussbaum, though it may equally have been Aristotle, Adorno, Wittgenstein, McDowell, Anscombe or Marx.

Take Hegel to begin with. What we find in the Phenomenology is an analysis of a procession of forms of consciousness and forms of the world which are outgrowths of ordinary ways of looking at the world. The use (or embodiment) of the fundamental logical categories of particularity, universality and individuality within these forms shows them to be unstable, since none of them can overcome the difficulties of reconciling subject and object. Hegel’s aim is to lead us along a ‘pathway of despair’ (and therefore an intellectually and emotionally transformative narrative) which shows us how to recognise and begin to avoid these instabilities. The result is absolute knowing; not a megalomaniacal claim to comprehensive or divine knowledge, but a standpoint — a place from where to see the world — from where we can overcome the gulf between subject and object, as previously expressed as problems bridging mind and world, intention and action, inner and outer, and so on. Thus, the groundwork is laid for the task of re-cognising the phenomena previously encountered in our ordinary ways of seeing the world, critically reappraising and adjusting these ways of seeing such that we can come to an unalienated or homely (heimlich) relation to our world. Ultimately, for Hegel, philosophy is concerned with examining the concept, understanding the rational basis of things, and this redounds upon the rational being doing the examining, setting them free from the mere positivity of phenomena — being brutely confronted with them in their contingency, rather than grasping how they do and indeed must relate to oneself. But first one must learn how to look at the world rationally, where this is a long and difficult process fraught with as many practical and affective problems as cognitive ones, and which does not issue in a theory of everything but a mode of facing the world: not simply a set of propositions, but a practical way to confront it.

Nussbaum’s work is altogether more modest and it is undertaken in a rather different spirit. Nevertheless, there are important similarities which I would like to try and draw out. Again, there is a kind of aesthetic thread to be picked up — one that consists in cultivating a variety of perception, not in any empiricist or intuitionist sense but rather as a sensitivity to the world which takes the form of a kind of practical knowledge or phronesis. We see this method deployed brilliantly in The Fragility of Goodness. In it, Nussbaum undertakes a forensic analysis of the details of Greek philosophy and tragedy which she brings to bear upon questions of moral luck, tragic conflict and practical deliberation. What makes the book so great as philosophy, rather than simply historical scholarship, is how it manages to draw so much sustenance from the literature it considers whilst putting its ideas to work in providing vivid ‘reminders’ and ‘objects of comparison’ (to resort to Wittgesteinian terminology) with which to illuminate our ethical lives. Its approach to literature is deeply philosophical; and conversely too, with its philosophical proclivities being similarly literary. This is another example of what I have been calling philosophical humanism: a confidence in the narratives we tell about ourselves and what matters to us. Of course, we need (and ought) not take all these stories at face value, but an underlying trust in our ability to capture the fundamentals of life in the mainstays of human activity is on display here. Art, whether individually or collectively, can be contextualised and historicised, subjected to evolutionary adaptionist explanation, Ideologiekritik, and so on, but none of these things can explain it away as a whole such that it loses its respectability as a philosophical resource. Artistic activity retains its legitimacy as a tool for providing genuine, first-rate knowledge of truths about value, the mind, action, emotion — about human life in general — and insofar as it does, we must again question the rush to those reductionist accounts predicated upon an uneasiness with the merely human. Posted in Alienation, Ethics, Hegel, Literature, Methodology, Nussbaum, Wittgenstein 4 comments

Good post. by YH October 21, 2008 at 6:22 am

An afterthought though. Might your phrase ‘work on oneself’ be a little misleading? I say that because I’m sure you’d want to capture the element of inter-subjectivity in both Geist and Bildung. It is after all others or an other who is/are the typical prompt of an individual’s change in viewpoint. Of course one often reads alone, but even reading is an inter-subjective business, interaction with the words of others sedimented in tradition. I like to think Wittgenstein (of the Phil Inv at least) would agree with this too.
Tangentially, this is why Habermas is surely wrong to see Hegel’s Absolute Knowing as having fallen back on a model of the individual mind and to have lost the achievements of Geist construed inter-subjectively. Absolute Knowing is, after all, internally related to mutual recognition, i.e. the free interaction of human beings beyond a condition of alienation. by YH October 21, 2008 at 10:00 am

Yes, this seems right. I have no particular attachment to the phrase ‘work on oneself’, especially if it is taken to exclude dialogical, traditional, cultural or environmental pressures as the impetus to philosophical development. In fact, this extends to thought in general, which is always a matter of both the spontaneous activity of agents and their receptivity to the non-subjective conditions which they find themselves in; and sociality obviously has an integral role here. The intersubjectivity of Geist points to the unavoidable influence that others have in prompting individuals to cognitive-cum-emotional activity and in shaping the horizons within which such activity takes place. Philosophy is, of course, no exception to this. by Tom (Grundlegung) October 21, 2008 at 2:45 pm

I was wondering what you made of a thought that’s been floating around here recently. I suspect that you might agree, and I think I do too. In the context of discussions of ‘experimental philosophy’ people often say that, for example, experiments that point to the effects of the environment on intuitions should lead to scepticism about those judgments. But as these cases are set up the problems alleged will apply to all judgments. So we get a kind of global scepticism. This looks like a reductio of the experimentalist’s position.
If I read your post right you have a different sort of reason for rejecting some sorts of experimental philosophy, because it’s anti-humanist. But this other line of thought looks like it’s coming from a similar motivation. by Tom October 22, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In Process Thought, Whitehead describes God as All-Compassion

Against Natural Theology by cjsmith Indistinct Union
These are some scattered thoughts arising in relation to a paper I’m working on for a class in Process Theology.

Alfred North Whitehead godfather of Process Thought argued for a God within his overall cosmological system. Fairly unique contribution relative to modern era philosophers in that regard. So Process Thought is deeply imbued with a Natural Theological strain. David Ray Griffin one of the godsons (I suppose) of Process Theology wrote a classic text arguing for a new Christian natural theology.
Natural Theology is the belief that arguments at the level of reason alone can be proferred to prove the existence of God. Usually these arguments grow from a study/interpretation of the natural world.
One of the classic arguments in this regard is Thomas Aquinas’ Argument from Necessity.
Observing that every being in nature requires another being for its existence (i.e. everybody has ‘rent[s] in the universe) Aquinas argued that therefore the entire universe was (in the parlance) contingent. And therefore the universe itself required a being to bring about its existence. Namely God.
The problem with this theory is the extrapolation from individual cases to the universal. Just because all beings in the universe require a cause does not mean the universe is the same as individual beings. Aquinas to his credit did leave open the possibility that the Universe was eternal (though intriguingly for the purposes of my argument he believed the universe had a beginning in time because the Church said so–i.e. it was an article of faith).
He argued that the Universe could not have existed (true) and therefore there must have been a Necessary Being to get the universe going (wrong). Or rather why would that being be Necessary and not simply another in a causal chain? [Aquinas has to assert without evidence that an infinite causal chain can not be--but why is that automatically the case?]. The argument only functions if you can prove that there is no infinite causal chain. But you can’t prove there is no infinite causal chain without proving a Necessary Being (i.e. the difference between causing to be and causing to exist I would argue is already a theological distinction which assumes that which it is supposed to prove) but you can’t prove the Necessary Being without proving there is no infinite causal chain which in turn you can’t prove without proving a Necessary Being which you can’t prove without proving no infinite causal chain, which you can’t…..and you see the circularity.
Later came the classic argument from design–that the Universe was like a watch and therefore just as a watch required a watchmaker so the Universe requires a designer. Of course the idea that the universe is like a watch is a human construct and metaphor. It’s a human interpretation. It’s an interpretation btw of a well educated, Western European in the modern period (like William Paley who wrote this in the 19th century) because watch making was considered a high art and technology in his day.
What both of these arguments are getting at and what I think can be established through science and philosophy is that there is Eros or a potential for Emergence in the Universe (see footnote26). But that is nowhere near the same as proving the existence of a God.
The question of a god/God is always part of a religious tradition. It is always part and parcel of the intersubjective, linguistic reality in which we are formed. Natural theology being a 3rd person “ITS” view of things, forgets the inter-subjective construction of reality and believes there is a way to get to The Objective Truth once and for all. [Classic modernist fallacy].
How that this shakes out in practice is something along what the lines of Derrida describes as the absent shaping the present. In Process Thought, Whitehead describes God as All-Compassion (Love). But why would be the case? In a certain strand of Buddhism, for example, there is the concept of the alaya vijnana (the so-called Store House Consciousness). Which is also elsewhere called the Causal Consciousness. The store house ’stores’ all the memories of the Kosmos in a way very similar to how Whitehead’s Process God is the one who integrates all reality into itself and re-members it. (Everything is redeemed through the Divine’s Memory).
Now of course the Process view has an evolutionary twist that the store house lacks–since evolution was not understood in the intersubjective when the notion arose in Buddhism. But notice in the Store House concept is no necessary description of Love per se. Because that is a construct built out of the Biblical heritage.

Which is exactly my point–back to Derrida for a second. The absent is theology and the intersubjective. [Whitehead's philosophy is only partially intersubjective not fully so]. Because Whitehead, as the son of an Anglican clergyman, grew up in the Anglican tradition of Holiness/Beauty of God, this has to be background for his philosophy. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means the idea that this provable from the exterior world or from interior (individual-subjective only) reflection is way off base. Published in: Christianity Hermeneutics Integral Religion philosophy theology on October 15, 2008 at 8:17 am Tags: , ,

One Comment Leave a comment. On October 15, 2008 at 9:28 am MD Said:
As usual, you leave out all that which complicates your little theories and so-called scattered thoughts (thinking to myself, and your “scattered thoughts” differs from your actual thinking, how?)
The argument using Reason for the existence of God requires one grapple with more than you demonstrate above (and more than you have ever demonstrated, given your fly-by thinking, pathetic routine):
1) what it means to “make” versus “bringing about the conditions for making” 2) what it means to be a contingent being (the consequences of that fact), a conclusion that appears to be opinion but is actually truth akin to 1+1=2 3) what it means to define God in entirely negative terms (i.e., the theological consequences of that entirely correct approach) 4) the percept space (not the concept space) that emerges when one devote meditation to these questions, and to the consequences of God defined in this way
(the importance of point 4, in case you can’t read well, is that it renders your Wilberian “ITS” enterprise moot)
I might add the point that the fact that you introduce Derrida to this mix is not only laughable, but further indication of how in the tank you are for postmodernist word-games, and how bottom line unseriously you take these matters, and the meditative tradition within Christianity that blew over the simpleton ideas of Derrida and the like long before he was miraculously made into a human being by some non-human, necessary being of which we know nothing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

We just behave as though people were free, and therefore responsible. It is an article of faith, not of logic

Thoughts, Books, and Philosophy The Critical Synopses of J.H. Bowden Home About Freedom and Its Betrayal Isaiah Berlin, Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005) Further reading: David Stove, On Enlightenment This entry was posted on October 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm and is filed under philosophy, politics. Tagged: . 5:04 PM

Freedom and Its Betrayal presented six portraits of thinkers, five progressives and one conservative, who opposed human liberty. Berlin skillfully identified each philosopher’s central vision of life, that is, life as it should be. The selected progressives– Helvetius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, and Saint-Simon, each begin by championing human liberty, only to end with a principle or system opposing it. The token conservative, Maistre, consistently opposed liberty.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) believed that liberty is the recognition of necessity. Like the Oracle from The Matrix, we’ve already made the choice; we only need to understand why we made it. Hegel’s philosophy resembles the music of Beethoven– an organic, self-animating totality, a living system of developing intensity uncontrollably driving toward a ringing, predetermined end. Hegel believed understanding something involved knowing its ultimate purpose, its uniting completion. History itself is a story of human creation, human imagination, human wills, and human intentions. Describing all of this in terms of mind-independent particles on an x-y-z grid was unintelligible to Hegel– we cannot even understand a flower in this manner, for function is important. Hegel’s reality at basis resembles what humans do and feel, for his universe itself is the self-development of the world spirit. If one doesn’t grasp the pattern, one doesn’t understand. Development proceeds by the dialectic; I dare not call it a mechanism. This progressive cosmos develops by a dynamism of clashing forces. Conflict is the symptom of health, evolution, growth, the flowing of life. Since the pattern is more fundamental than the individual, it follows that the Absolute’s march through the universe takes place through the vehicle of the state. The wish to be is the wish to be rational, and what is rational is what triumphs– the collective. This has led critics, including Berlin, to assert that Hegel worshiped power, and power alone.

Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) saw himself as the messiah of the new, progressive age. Berlin portrayed Saint-Simon’s mind as a choatic mind buzzing with confusion and chaos, brilliance alternating with nonsense. Saint-Simon wanted to liberate mankind by forging a world federation resembling something akin to Star Trek. Unlike like the utilitarians, Saint-Simon’s imagination did not take abstract and relational forms, but worked through the concrete and the situational in the spirit of the later pragmatists. Saint-Simon introduced a technological interpretation of human history; the superstructure of our culture is determined by the technological possibilities of the economic base. He was also responsible for introducing the idea of defining social entities in terms of a civilization’s means of production. Saint-Simon’s world allowed the best to reach the top based on merit, and it also, through Councils of Newton, would construct a centralized industrial plan benefiting everyone, including society’s lowest members. Saint-Simon had the mind of an engineer– nothing is stable, nothing is absolute, everything evolves, and the innovative is always the best. Saint-Simon, like modern progressives, was also an elitist; he honestly stated that good government excludes self-government. The masses can never know this, so activists for change must also build a double morality, a set of rules for radicals.

Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), the Voltaire of conservatism, literally preached darkness and mystery. Maistre found only bloodshed and suffering in human history, not peace and harmony. Order can only be achieved by the threat of pain, via punishment or war. Maistre looked directly at man, and found no noble savages, only savages everywhere, creatures innately vicious, wicked, and cowardly. Central to Maistre’s pessimistic philosophy is the idea that rationalist notions do not work. Whatever is irrational survives; whatever is rational perishes. With the experience of the French Revolution, Maistre found it absolutely imprudent to destroy diversity in the name of equality. If man is constituted by instinct, superstition, and prejudice– the beliefs and habits of the centuries tested by experience– one opens the gates of hell by purifying man, or even attempting to liberate him. The irrational mist of contingent mysteries that constitute Maistre’s universe cannot be integrated into any natural purpose. Man must return to obedience and subjection; authority and power are intimations of the divine. Criticism, questioning, and science were all signs of malice. The same spirit of Maistre’s stoic and relativist philosophy flowed through the mindset of the 19th century Russian Tsars.


Isiah Berlin was not in the first league of philosophers. He was not sufficiently inventive or dogmatic...These essays are a perfect introduction to Berlin and his life-long preoccupation: the "problem" of the Enlightenment...

In Liberty (Oxford, £12.99), a newly reprinted and augmented version of his 1969 Four Essays on Liberty, he agonises on another piece of Enlightenment fall-out. If man is a part of nature, then his thoughts and actions are "determined". In which case, what can liberty consist in? Berlin lamely says that lots of people who insist that man is determined (eg the Marxists) go on to exhort people to this or that (revolution, say) as though they were free to choose. He could more simply have said: we just behave as though people were free, and therefore responsible. It is an article of faith, not of logic. By Richard D North The perils of idealism Monday, 29 July 2002 Home > Arts & Entertainment > Books > Reviews > Freedom and Its Betrayal: six enemies of human liberty, by Isaiah Berlin

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The power of sportive self-entanglement in the flux of becoming



While Spinoza holds that all material objects are modes of space or extension, Bergson contends that all the objects of our experience are deposits of the movement of time. For Spinoza, space is something basic, it is some sort of stuff, a view from which, as we shall see later on, Alexander takes his clue, though space conceived as a stuff is undoubtedly in his opinion an attribute of one infinite substance. For Bergson it is time which is funda- mental, and all phenomena are precipitated within the flux of time. Time is not only objectively and independently real, it is the one ultimately real creative principle. And this time, the essence of which is duration and free creation, is to be conceived as absolutely free from spatiality. Bergson agrees with Gentile that reciprocal exclusion of the elements of the manifold is of the essence of space. Space which is thus envisaged as a principle of reci- procal exclusion is a shadow of the intellect; it is said to be correlative to our thought which is weighted with geometry. Bergson disagrees with Gentile with regard to the nature of multiplicity. While, according to Gentile,, all objective multiplicity is necessarily mutually exclusive and spatial, according to Bergson, there may be non-spatial multiplicity. Time is, in Bergson's view, an interfused and interpenetrating multiplicity involved in one creative urge; it is an indivisible creative act or movement. It is our intellectual habit of employing spatial metaphors that prevents an undistorted vision of the nature of time. That same habit is responsible for our conception of physical space-time or of equable and homogeneous mathematical time. The intellect, by virtue of its cinematographic mechanism, finds it practically necessary or useful to take static snapshot views of the continuous mobility of time. These immobile snapshots are then placed in juxtaposition in space...


Like Russell, Whitehead also subscribes to the relational theory of space and time. According to Whitehead, the fundamental fact is the passing of nature, its development, its creative advance. "Actual entities", "actual occasions", or "events", which are involved in the creative advance of Nature, are also extensive one in relation to another. Time and space ori- ginate as abstractions from these two basic facts, namely, the passage of events and the extension of events over each other. Space, however, differen- tiates itself from time, in Whitehead's opinion, at a somewhat developed stage of the abstractive process. Space and time are not, of course, abstrac- tions in the sense that they do not express real facts for us. When White- head calls them abstractions, he means to assert that there are no spatial facts or temporal facts or even spatio-temporal facts apart from physical nature. Space and time are, in his opinion, merely ways of expressing cettain truths about the relations between events. Moreover, what we mean by space or time under one set of circumstances is not what we mean by space or time under another set of circumstances. The fundamental and more general scheme of relations of which space and time are speciali- sations is what Whitehead calls "the extensive continuum". This extensive continuum is not a fact prior to the world; it is the first determination of order that is, of real potentiality arising out of the genral character of the world...


Professor Alexander, who is in dead earnest with the reality of space and time, repudiates the relational theory as expounded by Russell and White- head. Space and time are v/ithout doubt relative to each other, but still, in his opinion, they can hardly be treated as relational schemes abstracted from a concrete stuff of sense-data or actual occasions of experience. Nor is space-time a form of matter, as Einstein suggests. Alexander is emphatic in his assertion that space-time is the fundamental stuff of all things; it is, in his picturesque pharaseology, "the matrix of all existence and the nurse of all becoming." Space-Time is the fundamental stuff, not of course in the traditional sense of substance, but in so far as it is the world in its simplest form of expression; it is the primordial form of existence within which all empirical things are differentiated as finite complexes of motion. An empirical thing, say an orange or even a patch of colour, not only occu- pies a definite portion of space-time, but is itself extended and enduring. Space-time may be said to penetrate into its very essence and being. So, the question is forced into our mind. What would be the relation between the spatio-temporal essence of a thing and the portion of space-time which it externally occupies? A very embarrassing question this! Alexander holds that the relation between space-time and empirical existents is not, to be sure, an external one. Taking his clue from Spinoza, he maintains that all material objects are modes of space or extension, or, to be more accurate and in keeping with modern ways of thinking, they are spatio-tem- poral configurations differentiated by some empirical emergent quality...

In McTaggart's philosophy we find that a serious attempt is made to demonstrate the synthetic character of space and time as both subjective and objective. He calls them phenomena bene fundata in as much as they are not mere phenomena in Kant's sense of the term, but are such phenomena as correspond to some indisputable features of ultimate reality. Space is cha- racterised by co-existence of a plurality of reciprocally exclusive parts and by infinite divisibility of these parts. Now, the features of co-existence, reciprocal exclusion, and infinite divisibility are ultimately real, because according to McTaggart reality consists of an impersonal unity of a plurality self-subsistent spiritual substances or selves, which are mutually exclusive in respect of their existence. The nature of each of these self-subsistent selves is infinitely divisible, the terms in the process of such division being perceptions of other selves and their perceptions. What is erroneous or illusory about space is its appearance as an attribute of matter or as locus of the existence of matter. McTaggart advances an array of close-knit arguments to demonstrate the unreality of matter...


It should be abundantly clear from the foregoing discussion that according to the Integral Idealism of Sri Aurobindo the fundamental reality of space-time is spiritual self-extension of ultimate reality. Reality is, in its original status and intrinsic nature, the spaceless and timeless Spirit. Space and time are the same Reality self-extended to contain the deployment of what is within it. Now, the self-extension of the infinite and eternal Spirit must be infinite and eternal too. So it may be said that the fundamental truth of space is the infinity of the Infinite, whereas the fundamental truth of time is the eternity of the Eternal. This doctrine of the spiritual essence of space-time would not in the least be affected by the diversity of interpre- tation that might be placed upon the spacific relationship between space and time. The spiritual theory of space and time may primarily be under- stood to mean that Space is Brahman as self-extended status, and Time is Brahman as self-extended movement. This implies that Space is a static extension *n which all things stand or move together in a fixed order, and Time is a mobile extension which is measured by movement and flux of events. But such a construction would be based upon our prima facie inaccurate impressions about space and time. The truth perhaps is that Space is Brahman as self-extended for the holding together of forms and objects, and Time is Brahman as self-extended for the deployment of the movement of self-power carrying forms and objects. Such a view would make Space and Time not two different kinds of self-extension, but two inseparable aspects of one and the same self-extension of the cosmic Eternal.

Bradley has drawn the attention of the philosophic world to the existence of different spaces and different times. In addition to one all-embracing physical space, there are different dream-spaces, imaginary spaces, and the conceptual space that functions as the habitat of our different concepts. Similarly, in addition to one all-embracing physical time there are dream times and the imaginary times that belong to our different stories. The commonsense method of understanding this multiplicity of different spaces and different times is to affirm the reality of physical space and physical time alone, and to relegate the rest of it to the realm of pure illusion. Prof. Alexander, a neo-realist that he is, cannot but accord reality to mental spaces and mental times, but he takes considerable pains to show that the latter have spatio-temporal connection with, and consequently fall within, the one all-emcompassing physical Space-Time. Mr. Bradley maintains that mental spaces do no doubt possess a type of reality of their own, but still they cannot be said to have any spatial connection with the physical space which is as much a product of ideal construction as they themselves are. In his judgment, the different kinds of space, physical and mental, can be united in the Absolute only in some sort of non-spatial unity. Simi- larly, mental times such as belong to dreams and stories cannot be said to have any temporal connection with the physical time which is as much an ideal construction as the former. So, the different kinds of time, physical and mental, can be united in the Absolute only in some sort of non-temporal unity.

Integral Idealism holds that different spaces and different times which are relative to different states of consciousness do surely enjoy each a spacific type of reality of its own. But, according to Integral Idealism, the fundamental truth and essential basis of the wide diversity of spaces and times is neither one physical space-time as Alexander holds, nor one mys- terious all-engulfing Whole that swallows them up beyond recognition as Bradley suggests, but the self-extension of the creative Spirit. All times and spaces are, as Sri Auiobindo puts it, "renderings of a fundamental spiritual reality of Time-Space." ...

As Sri Aurobindo testifies 'out mind can move in its own space in such a way as to effectuate a movement also in space of Matter or act upon something distant in space of Matter!- But behind this mental extension, there is a stil! higher kind of extenson, a pure spiritual space, which contains within itself the secret essence of phy- sical space. A man can step back into this higher kind of extension by a mighty effort of concentration. From pure spiritual space which is revealed to the inward eye of the soul time seems to drop away, as there is no perception of any change or movement there. It is this timeless spiritual extension which manifests itself in the shape of the subjective mind-field at the level of the pure mind, and in the shape of the objective field of senseperception at the level of the sense-mind. Similarly, by drawing back from the physical time by inward spiritual movement, it is possible to have an increasing insight into the essence of the temporal. Just as the ultimate truth about the nature of space is the infinity of the Infinite, so also the ultimate truth about the nature of time is the eternity of the Eternal.

We, human beings, involved as we are in the movement of time, are tied down to the passing moment in respect of immediate experience. Moving along with the movement of time, we can lay hold only of very tiny temporal fragments that go to constitute our ever-shifting specious present. The past and the future alike are to us but ideal constructions. But though we cannot directly perceive the past and the future, we construct the time- process in our imagination as a beginningless and endless series, as an eternal movement, flow or stream. Now, critical reflection can never reconcile itself to such a beginningless and endless movement of time. The infinite time-process, which is for us an ideal construction, must also be capable of being directly experienced in order that it may be said to be concretely real.

Royce suggests that just as a definite length of time, however small, the specious present that contains a rearward and forward-looking end, is immediately given to the finite span of human consciousness, similarly the whole time-process with its three periods of past, present and future, must be immediately present in a flash of intuition to the "Eternal Now" or the infinite span of consciousness of the Absolute.

Royce maintains that it is utter folly to denounce the infinite time-process as a "bad infinite". Even when considered as a conceptual construction, the time-series, properly understood, is quite self-coherent and satisfactory to the intellect. Modern mathematics has amply demonstrated that the concept of the serial infinite is quite intelligible as a self-imaging or self-representative system (as a "kette"). It is present at a stroke to our thought by means of its defining concept. But in order that the time-process may gain concrete reality, it must also have a place, in Royce's opinion, in some all-inclusive immediate expe- rience. It must be present indeed as a "totum simul" to the infinite span of consciousness of the Divine. "The eternal insight", as Royce puts it, "observes the whole of time and all that happens therein, and is eternal only by virtue of the fact that it does know the whole of time".

But the infinite order of time is not only concretely real as an object of immediate consciousness of God, it is not simply a totum simul., it is also, as Pringle Pattison points out, a singificant whole embraced in the Divine Consciousness which at the same time transcends it. It is significant as a teleological scheme, the successive moments of time being different stages in the progressive realisation of the Divine Will or Purpose. It is to this fact of being sustained by the Divine Will that the infinite process of time owes its unity and continuity. If, however, we are to follow the indications of spiritual experience, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that there is also an aspect of conscious- ness, a poise of being of the Spirit, to which the category of time is simply inapplicable. The Spirit in its supracosmic transcendence is characterised by timeless eternity. In respect of its immediate status or self-absorbed essentiality, the Absolute is without any development of consciousness in movement or happening. But since supra-cosmic transcendence, cosmic universality, and intnv-cosmic individuality are, in the view of Integral Idealism, only different poises of being of the same Supreme Spirit, so timelessness, totum simul, and time-movement, are but different statuses or positions taken by consciousness with regard to the same Eternal Reality. While Bradley's conception of eternity as the transmuted essence of time is true of the Spirit in its self-absorption, Royce's view of eternity as a totum simul or as the whole-consciousness of an infinite succession is true of the Spirit in its cosmic universality or dynamic creativity, and the ordinary view of eternity as an endless march of time is true of the Spirit in its individual entanglement in the creative flux.

It must not be supposed that the different presentations of the Eternal as described above are incapable of existing together, so that they are only successive phases either in our apprehension of reality or in the gradual self-alienation of reality itself. It must not, for example, be supposed that when the timeless experience of the Absolute is attained, the embracing consciousness of time as a totum simul or the simultaneous integrality of Time as well as the advancing consciousness of the time-movement must forthwith melt away like vanishing mist. It must not also be supposed that God cannot at the same time have an aspect of timeless experience and an aspect of inclusive consciousness of the entire time-process. Timelessness, eternal now, and endless succession are in fact the same Eternity in its different forms relative to the different poises of being of the Spirit. They form a simultaneous multiplicity of self-presentations of the same Reality; they correspond to different powers of self-awareness of the Supreme, the power of status and non-manifestation, the power of self-effectuating action, and the power of sportive self-entanglement in the flux of becoming. God in His unmanifest essentiality is eneffably non- temporal; God in His self-manifestting creativity is inclusive of the temporal; and God in His self-alienated embodiment moves long with the movement of the temporal.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Lacan, like Freud, believed that religion is a fetish or a distortion of the real desiring mechanisms that animate it

parodycenter Says: May 2, 2007 at 1:25 pm continued from the book:
perhaps for some Lacan was not a good Catholic, but one thing is indisputable - he was a Jesuit pupil. His knowledge of theology was discreet (more precisely, he never brought it to the foreground) but not superficial. His serious playing with the basic structures of the Catholic Tryad is only the most obvious confirmation of my viewpoint. Lacan was no theologist, but theological discourse was not alien to him. To the contrary. In his encounter with Joyce, Ulysses, this will become visible. The relation Father-Son will be placed here in its (not orthodox, but still triadic) frame. This is why I believe that for Lacan’s persona you can use Thomas’s EST RELATIO.

In other words, I believe he and Thomas share the same position. There are differences in nuances. The essence, however, is indisputable. The persona is the effect of a relationship - between $ and A and $ and a. Up until this point the structure of thinking is crypto-Thomasian. But Lacan goes one step further than Thomas. His speculative psychoanalytic triadology will in the end be transformed into a mystical apophatics. Someting ELSE, something entirely different will be introduced into the game. The sign o will simultaneously signify the place of death, and the Abgrund of Schwabic mystics - the place of birth. In the case of Theresa d’Anville this will mark the topos of her ultimate mystical experience. (to be continued)

larvalsubjects Says: May 2, 2007 at 1:38 pm
I find the passages from the book you cite interesting as this sort of fallacious reasoning comes up so often among religious readers of Lacan. I regularly teach Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in my philosophy classes. Philosophically I’m influenced by some aspects of Thomism. Does this mean that I share Thomas’ religious beliefs? No. Deleuze is influenced by Duns Scotus’ account of univocity. Does this mean he shares Scotus’ religious beliefs? Again no. Lacan studied theology extensively. He studied Zen buddhism extensively. He studied a number of things extensively.

Suppose a psychoanalyst studies Nazi ideology extensively and from this discovers some basic structures of how jouissance and group relations are organized. Does this mean the psychoanalyst now endorses Nazi ideology. It simply means that Nazi ideology is one formation of subjectivity that needs to be accounted for within the constraints of psychoanalytic theory. It should be fairly obvious that this is Lacan’s motivation in studying Christian theology. Lacan contended that every psychoanalyst should study theology. The reason for this is obvious, theology provides a good deal of insight into the nature of transference, the subject supposed to know, fantasies of completeness, the way in which the subject relates to the law, structures of desire borne of prohibition and so on. This doesn’t change the fact that Lacan, like Freud, believed that religion is a fetish or a distortion of the real desiring mechanisms that animate it. Some religiously minded people seem to have a tremendously difficult time distinguishing between understanding something and believing something to be true.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Celebrating 200 years since the publication of Hegel’s Phenomenology

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Reading Hegel: The Introductions
by G.W.F. Hegel (edited and introduced by Aakash Singh and Rimina Mohapatra)

Hegel’s brilliant Introductions, provided all together here, offer a panoramic overview of his grand system. The Introductions are the most accessible of Hegel’s writings, concisely and clearly laying out the Hegelian project. Although each Introduction deals with the distinct theme of the text which it introduces, ultimately they are all inextricably linked together: the natural result of Hegel’s systematic method. As the Editors’ Introduction demonstrates, Hegel’s thought comes across as a system where all particulars take their respective places along the ‘circle’ of knowledge. Thus, each chapter in the book presents an element of this edifice. Read more...

The Mathematics of Novelty: Badiou’s Minimalist Metaphysics
by Sam Gillespie

In this characteristically incisive analysis, Sam Gillespie maintains that, whereas novelty in Deleuze is ultimately located in a Leibnizian affirmation of the world, for Badiou, the new, which is the coming-to-be of a truth, must be located at the 'void' of any situation. Following a lucid presentation of the central concepts of Badiou's philosophy as they relate to the problem of novelty (mathematics as ontology, truth, the subject and the event), Gillespie identifies a significant problem in Badiou's conception of the subject which he suggests can be answered by way of a supplementary framework derived from Lacan's concept of anxiety. Read more...

The Spirit of the Age: Hegel and the Fate of Thinking
by Toula Nicolacopoulos, George Vassilacopoulos and Paul Ashton (editors)

“it belongs to the weakness of our time not to be able to bear the greatness, the immensity of the claims made by the human spirit, to feel crushed before them, and to flee from them faint-hearted.” (Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy, v2, p. 10)

Is it becoming more obvious today that the thinkers of the post-Hegelian era were/are not “able to bear the greatness, the immensity of the claims made by the human spirit”? Is our era the era of the “faint-hearted” philosophy? Celebrating 200 years since the publication of The Phenomenology of Spirit this volume addresses these questions through a renewed encounter with Hegel’s thought. Read more...

Aakash Singh and Rimina Mohapatra: All of Hegel’s major Introductions in one place

Reading Hegel
the introductions
G.W.F. Hegel
Edited by Aakash Singh and Rimina Mohapatra

Bringing together for the first time all of G.W.F. Hegel’s major Introductions in one place, this book ambitiously attempts to present readers with Hegel’s systematic thought through his Introductions alone.The Editors articulate to what extent, precisely, Hegel’s Introductions truly reflect his philosophic thought as a whole. Certainly each of Hegel’s Introductions can stand alone, capturing a facet of his overarching idea of truth. But compiled all together, they serve to lay out the intricate tapestry of Hegel’s thought, woven with a dialectic that progresses from one book to another, one philosophical moment to another.

Hegel’s reflections on philosophy, religion, aesthetics, history, and law—all included here—have profoundly influenced many subsequent thinkers, from post-Hegelian idealists or materialists like Karl Marx, to the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre; from the phenomenological tradition of Edmund Husserl to Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida and other post-moderns, to thinkers farther afield, like Japan’s famous Kyoto School or India’s Aurobindo.

This book provides the opportunity to discern how the ideas of these later thinkers may have originally germinated in Hegel’s writings, as well as to penetrate Hegel’s worldview in his own words, his grand architecture of the journey of the Spirit.

AAKASH SINGH is a Research Professor at the Centre for Ethics and Global Politics (Luiss University, Rome), specializing in International Legal and Political Philosophy. He is author of Eros Turannos, and Editor of several books, including Buddhism and the Contemporary World:An Ambedkarian Perspective, and L’Inde √† la conquete de la libert√©.

RIMINA MOHAPATRA studied Philosophy at Delhi University’s St. Stephen’s College. She has been a Junior Research Fellow of the University Grants Commission of India and a Junior Specialist at the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz.Though professionally working as an Editor at Routledge, she is spending all her spare time formulating and compiling a second collection of Hegel’s writings, to be published in 2009.
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Thursday, October 02, 2008

In 1999 some Sri Aurobindo followers expressed concern at Ken Wilber using the term "Integral Psychology"

Wilber uses the word "integral" - meaning "to integrate, to bring together, to join, to link, to embrace. Not in the sense of uniformity...but in the sense of unity-indiversity, shared commonalities along with our wonderful differences" [A Theory of Everything] to describe his philosophy.

In 1999 some Sri Aurobindo followers expressed concern at Ken Wilber using the term "Integral Psychology" as a title for one of his new books, as this term has already been used by the Aurobindo community to refer to a spiritual/esoteric/occult psychology based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In the 1960s Swami Satchidananda had also adopted the Aurobindoan term "Integral Yoga" for his own completely unrelated teaching). However, Wilber himself actually adopted the term from Swiss cultural historian Gene Gebser (1905-1973) as early as the mid 1970s [Where's Wilber At? p.28 n.8]

Wilber-IV and AQAL marks the beginnings of Wilber's Postmodernism, and postmodernistic techniques of criticism are enthusiastically applied to all fields of knowledge. Through his model, Wilber claims to have deconstructed the compartmentalized, disconnected worldview of science (objective), religion (subjective), and ethics (intersubjective) and replaced it with a more unified
integrated one, with each area of knowledge going in one of the quadrants. Each quadrant has its own validity claim, its own relative, partial, but still totally authentic truth. With each type or knowledge there are specific types types of evidence and validation procedures.


October 2, 2008 Hinduism and Mystic Judaism Posted by Benjamin under blog, dharma, hindu, kabbalah, mysticism Hinduism and Mystic Judaism by Chris (posted Monday, September 24th, 2007 on

This view certainly coincides with very closely with Hindu views of God. I think that the Judaic tree of life is described in abstract terms because of the biblical dictates against making images of God. This prevented Jewish mystics from using straightforward images as Hindus do.
This aspect of the Kabbala corresponds closely with the Hindu Jnana Yoga. Judaism also has equivalent ideas to Bhakti Yoga. The founder of Hassidic Judaism Baal Shem Tov saw prayer and devotion as more important than the study of the Talmud and the tree of life. He also saw great importance on purity. He declared the whole universe, mind and matter, to be a manifestation of the Divine Being; that this manifestation is not an emanation from God, as is the conception of the Kabbalah by Mitnagdim (religious Jews who opposed Chasidism), for nothing can be separated from God, echoing Advaita Vedanta.
There have also been attempts to show that the tree of life reflect the Yogic chakras. Altogether, there are striking parallels between Judaism and Hinduism. Some of these certainly emerged as mystical revelation. It is also possible that some of these concepts were within Judaism from the beginning, echoing the original true world religion.