Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Philosophical despair & post-secular spirituality

Two of the major figures I would like to refer to in this regard are both Americans.  One is Richard N Bucke, who wrote a book called Cosmic Consciousness in 1901. The book was inspired by an experience, on  which he wrote in the third person due to a sense of impersonality that had entered his consciousness.  […]
1901-1902 is also the year of the publication of a major work, one may say, the foundational text of world religions, of comparative mysticism, and of one might call the subjective science of the future.  This is William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience.  In this work, James characterizes all mystical experiences by four features. It’s interesting that James  first characteristic of mystic experience is stated in terms that may almost be taken out of the description of his experience by Richard Bucke Bucke says of his experience that he had an exaltation “followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe.”  
István Mészáros.  Social Structure and Forms of Consciousness, Volume I: The Social Determination of Method.  Monthly Review Press, 2010.  463 pp.
The book in effect presents a number of case studies on particular thinkers.  One example is the discussion of Hannah Arendt in the chapter on the 'Rise and Fall of Historical Temporality'.  While Arendt was a critical writer, Mészáros shows that she accepted certain premises which trapped her thinking within the bounds of bourgeois thought.  The horizon of the possible becomes limited to capitalism.
Thus the possibility of democratic control of production is ruled out of consideration before her analysis begins.  Arendt is further taken to task for a relativistic argument concerning the meaning of history, leading to pessimism about knowledge itself, and is shown to be caricaturing Marx's understanding of the manner in which humanity makes its own history (pp. 123-5).  The decay of bourgeois thought is exemplified here in Arendt's treatment of Descartes, which for Mészáros is as distorted as her treatment of Marx. Descartes' principle of doubt was a point of departure 'which in its explicitly stated positive aspirations aims at the constitution of secure knowledge' (p.122).  
The problem is not just at the level of epistemology and history.  Philosophical despair at the possibility of knowledge becomes practical despair at the possibility of changing the world. Arendt stands here therefore as an exemplum of a whole range of twentieth-century schools of thought.

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