Truly, truly, I say to you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it stays alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. John 12:24
No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison. 10 We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage. When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live, And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues 15 Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too— Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out— And take upon’s the mystery of things As if we were God’s spies. And we’ll wear out In a walled prison packs and sects of great ones 20 That ebb and flow by the moon. –Shakespeare, King Lear, V sc. iii
What is it about human beings that make liberty and justice their due? Why is justice “what we are fitted for” when it is not convenient to our wills or our “empowerment”? Why is justice our “good”? What does it mean to say that “we are not our own”?
For May 2022, TOK has decided that knowers and knowledge are to be explored through core and optional themes. Themes are the main ideas, topics or subjects to be explored. In order to “explore” one must set out by some means of navigation upon a journey toward a goal; we may call these journeys “paths”. These “paths” in TOK are what we call our “methodologies”, the means by which we attempt to reach the goal, which is ultimately “knowledge” of the particulars within the general areas of knowledge that have been designated as the domains of exploration.
These domains of exploration are what are now called themes, the main or big ideas, the central or archetypal concepts and principles, and your understanding of them will be assessed in an Exhibition that brings to presence the your ability to apply your knowledge to everyday events in the world about you. What is this “knowledge” that you will be applying to the world about you? What form does it take? We call such knowledge “second order knowledge” for it asks us to demonstrate the grounds of how we know and we distinguish it from “first order knowledge” which asks us to bring to presence “what” it is that we claim to know from the use of this second order knowledge.
In the Core Theme (CT), “knowledge and knowers” is to be examined. In the writings on the core theme, we will explore what it means to know and what and how what we have come to call knowledge comes to be. We will examine the factors that shape how we make sense of the world and what we mean by “making sense”. We will also try to discover where our “values” come from and what shapes our perspectives, our viewing of the world and on the world. That “values” and “perspectives” are the words brought to prominence by the German philosopher Nietzsche through his “historical” thinking is dealt with elsewhere on the blog site. Part of the difficulty that we face in coming to know ourselves is that we use words like “values” and “perspectives” quite carelessly without hearing them or thinking about them, but they are filled with consequence.
We will attempt to reflect on how we engage and relate to the knowledge around us in the everydayness of our dealings with the beings/things in our worlds. A great part of our worlds are the communities we belong to, and they play an important, if not decisive, role in how we construct, share and evaluate knowledge or what we think knowledge to be. Our ethics or our manner of being-in-the-world are, for the most part, decided by the communities of which we are members. That many of our communities are lurching towards fascism politically is a theme which bears scrutiny as we examine what we think knowledge to be and what comes to count as knowledge within those communities. Could this fascistic leaning in the present day be due to the preponderance of the acceptance of the “pragmatic theory of truth” in the empirical and social sciences i.e. how we have interpreted “nature” including our own human nature? Let us explore and see if this is the case.
The pragmatic theory of truth came to prominence in the writings and conclusions of three Americans: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Their writings were influenced by the British empiricists David Hume, J. S. Mill, and Jeremy Bentham as well as the British scientist, Charles Darwin, for the most part. In the writings of the Americans, the emphasis was on the pragma or the material substance (Nature) that was arrived at through “sense perception as a way of knowing” or what has been called empiricism. The pragmatic theory of truth primarily focuses on the “useful” as what is “true”, and it was an attempt to overcome what was believed were the conclusions of the previous metaphysics and philosophy of European thought, primarily brought forward by the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Those accounts for the why, the how and the what of things that were experienced by the 19th century continental European thinkers were to be replaced with a “scientific account” or an account that was explainable in terms of science and the scientific method of inquiry. The misunderstanding of what that metaphysics is/was in the history of the philosophy of the West has led to many of the contradictions present in this pragmatic theory of truth and is one of the factors in the current confusion of present day thought. Some of these will be explored below.
The Pragmatic Theory of Truth holds that the “usefulness” of a proposition determines its truth. “Usefulness” is measured by whether or not the truth “works” and provides some “value” to the viewer and to the community of which he or she is a member. For the pragmatists, utility is the essential mark of truth and utility relates to “pragma” or the “matter at hand”. A pragmatic theory of truth is present in such TOK phrases as “the production of knowledge” or “the measurement” of some result to determine its success in relation to an “ideal” desired, what was once called “perfection” (although the use of this word has fallen out of fashion somewhat). The pragmatic theory of truth strongly relies on belief as a way of knowing, beliefs that lead to the best, most efficient results, or the best justifications of our actions (“the greatest happiness for the greatest number”, for example), or that promote “success” or what is considered to be “valued” as the best outcome. From them, evolution was viewed as the progress towards the perfection of the species biologically coupled with a drive for moral perfection through the used of rationality by human beings as the animal rationale.
William James’s version of the pragmatic theory is that “the ‘true’ is only an expedient in our way of thinking, just as the ‘right’ is only an expedient in our way of behaving. For James, “truth” is a matter of convenience whether in theory or in practice; it is the end that determines all. This becomes the principle of ethical action: truth is a “value” which is justified by its effectiveness when the applied concepts to actual practice “work”, and these ends are determined by our “convenience”. It would be difficult to find a clearer statement about what is currently happening in American politics than this assessment of truth made by James. James said that “all true processes must lead to the face of directly verifying sensible experiences somewhere”. For James, “if the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, then it is ‘true’.”
The good end, the good result, will justify any means, and this principle of action has led to many of the great disasters and catastrophes that have marked the 20th and 21st centuries. It can, perhaps, best be captured in a quote from the scientist Robert Oppenheimer who said: “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” “Just do it” is an apt slogan for our age and one of the “principles” which has created its “moral compass” or lack thereof. It is what is today called “ideology” which may be said to be “the imagined existence (or idea/ideal) of things as it relates to the real conditions of existence”. But from whence derives this understanding or “interpretation” of the “real conditions of existence” and upon what is it grounded.
The pragmatic theory of truth came into being and operates where technology as a way of knowing through the principle of reason prevails. Charles Peirce wrote: “This activity of thought by which we are carried, not where we wish, but to a foreordained goal, is like the operation of destiny. No modification of the point of view taken, no selection of other facts for study, no natural bent of mind even, can enable a man to escape the predestinate opinion. This great law is embodied in the conception of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality.” “Faith”, for Peirce, is “opinion” and it is the opinion of whichever class rules in a society at any particular time whether that class be “civilized” or cannibals. Peirce’s definition is quite distinct from the Platonic definition of knowledge as “justified true belief”. The pragmatists argue against the allegory of the Cave of Plato because they believe that there is nothing beyond the Cave that can be known or loved.
There appears to be very little room for freedom in Peirce’s conception of thought and reality, and one can see how the world of “alternative facts” could easily emerge given whatever opinion of the community predominates at the time (through political choices, for example), or whatever has been decided upon or deified regardless of whether that community believes that it has arrived at its ends through democratic or fascistic means, whether the community’s choices are rational or irrational. What is decisive is the determinative ethos of the day. Decision is what is most important. It is the opinions of the Cave (to remember Plato’s allegory) which prevail, and the light shone on the things of the cave by the keepers of the fire is that which has been agreed to by the cave-dwellers as the light. For the pragmatists, this light has been shone by scientific research. But as we have seen, science is at a crisis at this point in its history.
John Dewey agrees with Peirce on what can be considered truth: “The best definition of truth from the logical standpoint which is known to me is that by Peirce: “The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real.” For Dewey, truth is the belief best exhibited by the scientists in their inquiries into the nature of what is. “Truth” is the end product of the process that applies the principle of reason (the principle of causation in this case) and arrives at statements or assertions regarding the reality of what is.
“Truth” comes to be replaced by “ideology”. It is the view that prevails when one accepts Darwin’s account of the being of beings and what “fittedness” has come to mean in modern societies. As the American philosopher Sally Haslanger has said: “The function of ideology is to stabilize and perpetuate dominance through masking or illusion.” It is these masks and illusions that have come to dominate our ethics and our politics in the form of mass movements and ideologies. It is this lack of self-knowledge which illustrates our age as a tragic age as the technological society totters towards its apogee.
The “belief” element in the pragmatic theory of truth has led to the position of “alternative facts” where, for the sake of convenience or “usefulness”, the “matter” or the “pragma” being discussed is disputed in its nature. “Usefulness” rests on the proposition’s ability to “empower” someone and this “empowerment” is a matter of convenience for the individual and the community; if it is not convenient, it can easily be cast aside. For example, it may be “useful” to someone to have a belief in a god for psychological reasons while it may not be useful to another to have such a belief. The utility to the individual and the community is the prime determiner of the truth of the thing. This is a common critique of the pragmatic theory of truth for this standpoint is a violation of the principle of contradiction and, therefore, a violation of the principle of reason: a thing cannot be both itself and its opposite at the same time. But this is not to deny the fact that in the pragmatic theory of truth the principle of reason, whether realized through algebraic calculation or through the definitions of algorithms, still prevails. The critique of the pragmatic theory of truth states that, ultimately, the pragmatic theory of truth is irrational. This irrationality ultimately leads to intolerance as its outcome as collective factions vie for power within the communities of which they are members. The madness, this irrationality, can only be deep in societies which hold forth its opposite, when rationality is coupled with idolatry and the blasphemy of thinking that the god’s will is scrutable. The rational and the irrational belong together and they are linked in very mysterious ways.
One can see an example of where ideology overrules science in the recent rejections of the notion of “climate change” by certain individuals and groups. Because the scientific findings or “facts” are not “convenient” to certain individuals or groups within the community (fossil fuel promoters, for example), the scientific facts are rejected for the sake of the benefits of their short term gains or “empowerment”. Al Gore’s film entitled An Inconvenient Truth is aptly named. But at the bottom of the climate change deniers’ view is a much more worrisome and deadly viewing of the world, and that viewing is nihilism. The German philosopher, Nietzsche, has shown that the “perspectivism” and “values” philosophies of the pragmatists rest upon a “sea of nihilism”.
Counter to this preponderance of the “pragmatic theory of truth” in our current education, what does it mean to say that ‘we are not our own’ when we are reflecting upon ourselves and on the communities of which we are members? As beings in bodies, human beings experience themselves as the “dependent” creatures. In the modern, we have come to experience ourselves as “wills” directed towards mastery over beings and things, “making something happen”, “changing the world”, and “empowerment” of the Self through our mastery of the environment and the ready-to-hand, including our own bodies. In these writings, this is called “technology”. Today’s focus on the Self and of its securing its own permanence and security, its salvation, is a product of the Renaissance interpretation of Christianity, what has come to be called Protestantism. This focus then evolves into what has come to be called “humanism” where human beings are placed at the centre of all that is when “the death of God” becomes an ethical and political reality. Why is this so?
In the thinking of Plato, “will” is experienced as “wanting” or “desiring” (eros) expressing our dependence upon that which we need be it food, another person, or the Good. In our language we have continually attempted to overcome our experience of “will” as dependence, as the “erotic”, and attempted to replace it with “mastery”. We conceive of our essence as “freedom”. For Plato, our “freedom” rests in our ability to respond to the light that has been given, not a light which is a creation of “human subjectivity”. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the greatest example of this “freedom” that we have in the English language.
In Plato one finds that our core need as human beings is our longing for the perfection that is to be found in the Good. The ideas of love, beauty and justice are perceived through contemplative attention and then enacted upon in our lives. Our modern view is that the core of human beings is the primacy of the will in achieving the satisfaction of the “appetites” be these food, sex or power. It is our way of seeing and being-in-the-world that leads to our injustice or justice when it comes to our ethical actions or praxis. The ethics are not in the seeing and being but in the actions themselves. The purpose of the seeing and being-in-the-world is the purpose of discerning and distinguishing between the just and the unjust life, what we are “fitted” for as human beings.
If we return to Plato’s allegory of the Cave in his Republic we discover from Book VI and Book VII that the chief “religions” focus on the self and the social (“religion” understood as what we bow down to or what we look up to). As the French philosopher Simone Weil states, our “freedom” is our incoherent behaviours that harm others e.g. “collective feelings, war, national rivalries, class hatreds, loyalty to a party, to a church, etc.” (Notebooks 2, p. 347). This harming of others comes from our focus on the “appetites” and our need to assert our wills. Since there are no limits to our “freedom” since there are no limits to our appetites we are, literally, “beyond good and evil” in how we view what is due to other human beings and to the world in which we live. It is our understanding of ourselves as “freedom”, whether in following “values” created by the Self as autonomous individuals or the “values” imposed by society through a contract chosen by a collective of selves, that we understand ourselves.
The ancients felt that through “virtue” (arete) one could experience the Good. For ourselves, the Good is what secures and preserves our “freedom” to create our destiny as we see fit. We affirm the assertion of the power of the self (“empowerment”) over something other than the self and of our selves over our own dependencies, particularly those dependencies that arise through being beings in bodies. What the ancients understood as “desire” (eros) and “need”, we interpret as will and mastery. Something of this may be found in the example of some women speaking of pregnancy as an “illness”.
As we have seen in our reflections on the thoughts of Nietzsche, to will is to “legislate”, to make a judgement/judgements and we view this as the expression of a responsible and independent self, an “empowered” self. The Greeks, Aristotle and Plato, have shown that the “regime” or the community will determine how we view this Self and what takes place within this Self which, in turn, will determine its actions. Both Plato and Aristotle rejected the pragmatic theory of truth for something higher and more noble.
“Posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to pass away as in a dream”.—Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 1554
Why an Alternative Approach is Necessary:
This alternative approach begins with a generalized assertion about the IB Diploma Program: that it is one of the flowerings of the essence of technology. Essence means “what something is”, “that which lets something be whatever it is”, but our understanding of “what something is” and what “lets be what something is” has changed since ancient times. The TOK course in its ends, its assessments, attempts to be “a set of conceptual tools” that are to be applied to “concrete situations” through its Exhibition, but what are these “conceptual tools” in their essence, from where did they originate, and how do they engender our understanding of what makes for a “concrete” situation? The essay assessment will approach knowledge questions, “second order questions”, on the Areas of Knowledge that have been chosen to be examined. How do “areas of knowledge” come about? What determines how things are defined and classified so that they will be placed in one area of knowledge and not in another?
Many of the important concepts and key terms that are given in the Theory of Knowledge course are based on the Latinate origin of these terms in English because contemporary philosophical English is, for the most part, Latin in origin. This origin of the thinking in our language is most important in how we come to interpret and to understand the meaning of the concepts handed over to us, of what we conceive our “personal knowledge” to be, and what and how we are to understand the knowledge that is given to us and to which we are indebted in the handing over to us of our traditions, the knowledge that comes to us from our communities.
Thinking about technology, for instance, requires us to re-determine the meaning of the sense of essence or how we understand what something is (“concrete situations”), and in this re-determination to hear what is being said in our word “technology”. This re-determination of the sense of essence, of what we think something is, is one that allows us to see the illumination of truth as it is understood in the Diploma program (and in the English-speaking West in general) as the truth revealed to us through the seeing and hearing that is called “technology”. How we will see and hear has been pre-determined for us long before our arrival on this planet as individuals.
We think of essence as a ‘one’ which many things have in common; the many human beings have the one essence, “humanity”, in common; the many trees have one essence, “treeness”, in common. The essence is, therefore, the universal concept or genus, while the individuals are the various species or single cases. In order to grasp what many things have in common, we must first go about and see or “experience” the individual things. From this “experience” we can abstract out from the individuals that respect in which they are alike. The individuals precede the essence in our experience and the individuals are instances of the essence. What those individual things are is defined or determined by the “conceptual tools” we use that determine our viewing. This determination is our judgement of the things which is given to others through language. This is the essence of the TOK assessment called “the Exhibition”.
How we approach to the things is the foundation of the Exhibition. Through the concepts provided from the Theory of Knowledge course students are asked to choose artifacts that “exhibit” something of a real life situation from which they will determine general knowledge questions which are appropriate to ask or raise about how we interpret or understand those artifacts and that situation, whatever it may be. The Exhibition uses inductive reasoning to go from the individual or particular to the general to make judgements about the things being examined or the questions asked. To “exhibit” means to “bring to presence”, “to show” something which has been “grasped” and “appropriated”, to take what has previously been “hidden” and to bring it to light. This “bringing to presence” relates to how the Greeks understood “truth” as “uncoveredness” (aletheia), “bringing something to light”, “a showing forth”. “To grasp” means “to take hold of something”, to make something “one’s own”, to “make judgements about it”.
The understanding of “truth” that is given here in these writings is from its original Greek understanding. Truth is an ‘uncovering’, a ‘disclosing’, ‘a revealing’, an ‘unconcealing’. Truth allows something to “shine forth in its appearance” as essence, as what it is. When the philosopher Kant says that “Judgement is the seat of truth” what he is saying is that when we determine what some thing is, we make statements (judgements) about that thing. Things, however, have an uncanny way of revealing and concealing themselves at the same time, one of the ways being through language. We may ask the question: do things get to arrive in their “truth”, their essence, in the technological world-view of our present time and, thus, in the IB Diploma program? The answer to this question is “no”. We shall explore what it means to say this and the consequences of saying it.
CT 1: Knowledge and The Empowering/ Empowered Self:
We need to begin by understanding that all human beings interpret themselves in their questioning and their assertions and so we are all “philosophers” to some extent. Our beginnings of our questions and the interpretations that are our answers to them take place within our being-in-the-world, the social and cultural contexts that are our shared knowledge, our traditions. The questioning determines (and has determined) what knowledge will be understood as from the beginnings of these shared traditions. This questioning and the manner of the questioning rests upon and springs from how and what we understand what truth is. What we conceive the truth to be determines what we think ourselves, as human beings, to be. Truth and human being in its “humaneness” are inextricably linked. Without truth, human beings become something other than what they are.
TOK appears to take the position that the best way forward implies a responding to and a questioning of the traditions, legacies and histories that make us what we are: our shared knowledge. Our response (our responsibility—the ability to respond with some sense of freedom of thought in relation to our traditions) is the liberation that is education. But this way forward is pre-determined by how truth is understood and has been understood in the traditions that have come down to us in the language that has been given to us. Our questioning and our thinking are dominated by historicism.
Those who come from a ‘scientific’ or ‘mathematical’ background might find the thinking and questioning in TOK difficult and ‘useless’. This should not be surprising: our shared knowledge (traditions) from the sciences is based on a mode or manner (the “how”) of being-in- the- world that calculates what beings/things are in advance in order to secure them for “usefulness”, to put them to use, either now or at some point in the future. It makes of things disposables so that human beings in their dispositions can commandeer and make use of them. Both the natural and human sciences believe themselves to be in possession of the truth or at least on the way to truth, and the scientists within these domains or areas of knowledge believe this possession is genuine knowledge: science is the theory of the real. From within this possession, these scientists must strive to carry out a destiny pre-determined for them from very long ago. The word “science” itself is derived from the Latin meaning “knowledge”. The Greeks understood it as episteme and it was directly related to theoria or theory, a manner of looking at the world, and we understand epistemology as “knowledge”. The things that are secured for their usefulness were called by the Greeks pragma. Our word “pragmatic” focuses on the “usefulness” of something and that which is not deemed “useful” is dismissed in various ways.
Scientists will deny this statement, that they are in possession of the truth, of course; but we would not have science to begin with if the “truth” of this statement were not self-evident. Truth, as understood in the sciences, is truth as “correspondence” and “correctness”. It is with and within this understanding of truth in the sciences, the pre-determined securing of the things that are, where science becomes itself a form of ‘religion’ in that it strives for certainty in the meaning of its endeavors; and like all religions, its seeking is based on a type of faith. But this faith of science is in crisis. Perhaps, the crisis for science’s faith in itself is that it does not believe that it is in crisis. The faith of science is in the manner in which truth has revealed itself to most human beings through the ‘objectifying’ of all the things that are, even the God which it dismisses as an object that cannot be known. Science in this determination thus becomes, essentially, a closing down on the ‘openness’ to truth or to the truth as it could be understood and grasped in another way. A decision regarding what and how things are has been reached.
What we understand today as “personal knowledge” comes to us through our understanding of our human being as subjectivity. This ‘subjectivity’ we understand as our ‘Self’, and it is within this ‘Self’ that we believe we ‘experience’ our ‘freedom’. This understanding of the Self as ‘freedom’ and autonomy is the gift that the German philosopher Immanuel Kant has bestowed on us. It is Kant who solidified and grounded the Cartesian world-view. Cartesianism dominates our world view and the world picture we construct from that world view. More will be said later on world views and world pictures.
What has been called the ways of knowing in TOK are our ways of looking at the world: they are our modes of disclosive looking upon the world, the ways in which we reveal what we believe the “truth” to be and, thus, produce or “bring forth” knowledge. They are the “lens” which provide us with our “perspectives” on the world and the things about us. From this looking we are able to ‘grasp’ and ‘assimilate’ the knowledge that becomes our “personal knowledge”. Because human beings are a multiform embodied animal, and because the world is composed of multivarious beings, various ways of knowing are needed to bring this variety of beings to truth and for human beings to understand themselves regarding who and what they are. The Greeks understood “personal knowledge” as phronesis. The goal of phronesis was sophrosyne or what we call “moderation”. The Greeks also understood knowledge as sophia or “knowledge of the first things, the Divine”; episteme or what we call “theoretical knowledge”; techne or “know how”, “knowing one’s way in and about something”, being “at home in it”; phronesis or knowledge about one’s own personal ends; and noeisis or what we call “intellectual” knowledge. All of our ways of knowing as we understand them in TOK can be found in how the Greeks understood knowledge. The discussion of the various ways of knowing is undertaken by Aristotle in Bk VI of his Ethics. The various ways of knowing determine the manner in which human beings are in their world and, thus, determine how human beings come to define themselves and how human beings choose their actions and their decisions.
The Areas of Knowledge (History, the Human Sciences, the Natural Sciences, the Arts, Mathematics) are those domains that we have ‘objectified’ so that they can be known: the essence of various objects are classified and determined to belong within the various domains of the AOKs. The concepts we use and their derivations from the language that is used to represent them determine the methodology which in turn determines the scope/applications (“use”) of the knowledge that comes to be revealed.
As we go further, I am going to assert that technology is the decisive mode of this disclosive looking and determines all of the other modes or ways of knowing and of our apprehending of the world and the things that are about us. Technology is our understanding of what it means to be, what it means to be human, and this understanding is prior to and determines what we understand reason, sense perception, emotion, language, intuition etc. to be. It is our understanding of what we as human beings think we are in our own being. Technology is the ontology (the way of being) and metaphysic (our knowledge of what the first things are) of the age as the German philosopher Martin Heidegger would say.
Is it possible for the Natural and Human Sciences (biology, chemistry, anthropology, sociology, psychology) to comprehend what human beings are, their essence (their ‘whatness’), given that the explorations and results of those sciences are the products of human activity i.e. is it possible for reason to give an account of itself through reason or emotion to give an account of itself ‘emotionally’? The consequence (the result or the way of knowing) cannot be taken for the ground (cause) from which it springs; the ground takes priority or must come first i.e. it must be a priori. We must seek out what these grounds are for from them come our understanding of our concepts, our “conceptual tools” and, thus, our understanding of ourselves.
Modern technology is the seeing, the “idea”, that employs science. Science is not the source of technology; the seeing that is “technology” is not based on science since the initial “seeing” lies outside the purview of factual, empirical science. To use or employ science is not a “scientific” idea; it is not one of the discoveries of the scientific or experimental method. The methodologies of the sciences are determined and have been determined by an understanding of what it means for human beings to be and an understanding of what things are insofar as they are “things” at all. Technology is the disclosive, the revealing, looking upon all that is in general. It is the looking of technology that allows modern natural science to be applied to the things that are. Technology is not applied science; modern science is applied technology. It is difficult for us moderns to grasp this since we see technology as the gadgets that are ready-to-hand for us, the instruments that lie all about us. But these gadgets are the flowerings of the “seeing” that is our technological world-view. Technology has “opened up” the world and gives a space so that the technological gadgets can come into being.
The grounding of what we consider knowledge to be is essentially related and grounded in our conception or understanding of truth. What is knowledge is an old question of the Greek philosopher Socrates. To consider humans the agents (the sources) of truth, to consider truth a primarily human accomplishment, amounts to a hubris, a challenging of the gods (why is this the case?), and draws down an inexorable nemesis or fate, one consequence of which is the gods withdrawal from us. We see the many warnings of this hubris in the tragic literature that has become part of our shared knowledge throughout our human history.
At the core of what makes tragic heroes “tragic” is their lack of self-knowledge; their actions derive from a flawed understanding of who and what they are, and this flawed understanding is grounded in a flawed perception of their being-in-the-world which, in turn, determines their flawed perceptions and, thus, their actions (their ethics) in their worlds. Their actions “miss the mark” or constitute hamartia, a term that has come to us from the Greek philosopher Aristotle. The prototype of this example of tragedy is Oedipus Rex. He is the challenger of the gods (Apollo) for he will not accept the fate that has been assigned to him: he must kill his father and marry his mother. But what human being would accept this fate? In his blind journeying to avoid his fate, he eventually is led, fatefully, directly, to his fate which he has been unwilling and unable to see. The climax of the play is the moment when the “truth” that has been hidden is “unconcealed” to Oedipus: he has, indeed, killed his father and married his mother; and with this unconcealing, Oedipus comes to know who he is. Such self-knowledge is not a joyous event when it is the nemesis for the hubris of challenging the gods.
We, today, find ourselves in much the same position as Oedipus: the pride that we take in our self-centeredness as human creators and makers has blinded us to who and what we are as human beings. Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx because he is destined or fated to do so; we have solved many of the riddles of the nature of things and have created incredible, wonderful solutions to some of the problems of our existence, from the curing of disease to the overcoming of tedious labour and boredom, to the splitting of the atom and reconstructing the genome because we have been destined to do so. Technology is that destiny that shapes us and drives us.
By examining some aspects of the historical knowledge that has been handed over to us, the history of metaphysics, humanism, and modern technology (and as we shall see, these are all one and the same) we shall attempt to get a clearer picture of this hubris and the fate that is drawn down from the displeasure of the gods which is, ironically, revealed by their withdrawal or absence. And we shall have to question whether in fact the gods have withdrawn from us or whether we are incapable of seeing them because of what we are and what we have done. To the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is attributed the saying: “Everything is full of gods”. To say this to my neighbours here, the Balinese, would draw the likely response: “Of course they are”. The students in a TOK class would probably not have any idea of what is being talked about here.
But human being, as the “religious animal”, will have ‘gods’ whether they name them as such or not. What we bow down to or what we look up to determines what the ‘gods’ for us, in fact, are. In the past in Canada, our architecture was limited by the geography surrounding us: in Quebec, in many villages, the highest point would be the church steeple; in Montreal, it used to be the cross on Mont Royale. Nowadays, the highest point will undoubtedly be the telecommunications towers necessary for the transmissions of our messaging. Here in Bali in the old days, no building was to be higher than the tallest coconut palm. Such superstitions as shown in Quebec and Bali have been eliminated due to the practicality and efficiency necessary because of modern technology.
This definition of religion spoken of here is broader than the one traditionally understood. In modern societies, technology is that to which we bow down to if not literally then in other ways. It is the religion for the vast majority of us from the West, and it is now becoming the world religion. It is our way of being-in-the-world, our “lifestyle”. It is best expressed as ‘the religion of progress’, although ‘globalization’, “international mindedness” and other names have been given to it. It is always difficult to challenge and question the religion of the society of which one is a member, but this is what is being attempted here.
That which is sacred is able to look after itself even when it is denied by those human beings who claim that nothing is ‘sacred’. The hidden violence, hidden perhaps even to themselves, behind the machinations of those who cloak themselves in the banners of ‘free speech’ and ‘freedom’ is part and parcel of the product and the disposition of the technological world-view; that is, it is a predicate of the subject technology. Who and what we are and what we think the things about us are is determined by what we think “truth” is. What we think truth to be determines all of our relations to all else that is. Who and what we think we are and what we think the world about us is, is not some market place in which we can pick and choose variegated fruit; it is a package deal. Our IB schools world-wide, driven by the un-thinking technological gathering, ordering and commandeering of the world and its resources (including human beings, including you as students), are nothing more than encampments on the road to environmental and economic mastery.
A note on the picture above: it is of Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies. Anyone who has been to this beautiful place will understand that the naming of this place and the place itself are somewhat incongruous.
“We experience good only by doing it. We experience evil only by refusing to allow ourselves to do it, or, if we do it, by repenting of it. When we do evil we do not know it, because evil flies from the light.
Does evil, as we conceive it to be when we do not do it, exist? Does not the evil that we do seem to be something simple and natural which compels us? Is not evil analogous to illusion? When we are the victims of an illusion we do not feel it to be an illusion but a reality. It is the same perhaps with evil. Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.
As soon as we do evil, the evil appears as a sort of duty. Most people have a sense of duty about doing certain things that are bad and others that are good. The same man feels it to be a duty to sell for the highest price he can and not to steal, etc. Good for such people is on the level of evil, it is a good without light.” —Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (p.121)
Some might think it odd to begin this section on self-knowledge and ethics with a lengthy quote from the French philosopher Simone Weil concerning the distinctions between good and evil. Weil’s statement on what evil is relates to Socrates’ statements that “No one knowingly does evil” and “It is better to suffer injustice than to inflict it”. In our discussion of Plato’s Cave, we saw that for Plato, morality is entirely internal and that evil is not the opposite of good but is the deprivation of good, or “good without light” as Weil states. What we call “morality” is based on self-knowledge or what the Greeks called phronesis or good judgement regarding the things that are in our own self-interest. Evil begins with our own self-deception regarding what is in our best interests; it is a choosing of the “shadows” instead of the light that is the good. For the Greeks, aletheia was our “uncovering” of beings from the darkness or hiddenness in which they repose; it was bringing the beings to light. As evil is the deprivation of good, it is also the deprivation of truth.
If we remember our original starting point in the blog in Plato’s Cave, even the shadows contain some truth because they are made possible by the light of the fire kept by the opinion-makers, the sophists, inside of the Cave and the diffused light of the sun which is outside the Cave, and the shadows are those beings that experience the deprivation of the sun’s light and are deprived of the sun’s light. For Plato, they are “non-beings” in that they are not what they truly are. Because the shadows are non-beings, they are the illusions and delusions that seduce us into thinking that they are “real” and are necessary to our well-being and our happiness. https://mytok.blog/2018/06/28/personal-knowledge-understanding-the-shadows/
What occurs when thinking or reasoning is not involved in practical action? To explore this we will attempt to understand the phrase the “banality of evil”, a concept which comes from the philosopher Hannah Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). We often wonder how it was/is possible that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, such as the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia or the Nazi carrying out of the European Jewish Holocaust during World War II, could possibly act in such horrific, evil ways. Arendt’s thesis is that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, like Adolph Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state (or institutions) and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats. They conceive of their actions to be their duty. Eichmann’s appearance and responses to his accusers have been echoed in eerily similar, familiar ways by those accused of the Khmer Rouge massacres over the past few years.
What Arendt had detected in Eichmann when viewing the process of his prosecution and his trial was thoughtlessness. Eichmann’s ordinariness was demonstrated in an incapacity for independent critical thought: “… the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think.” Arendt continues: “When confronted with situations for which such routine procedures did not exist, he [Eichmann] was helpless, and his cliché-ridden language produced on the stand, as it had evidently done in his official life, a kind of macabre comedy. Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence.
In an article “Normalizing the Unthinkable” (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March 1984), Lisa Peattie described how in the Nazi death camps work was “normalized” for the long-term prisoners as well as regular personnel: “[P]rison plumbers laid the water pipe in the crematorium and prison electricians wired the fences. The camp managers maintained standards and orderly process. The cobblestones which paved the crematorium yard at Auschwitz had to be perfectly scrubbed.” Peattie focused on the parallels between routinization in the death camps and the preparations for nuclear war, where the “unthinkable” is organized and prepared for in a division of labor participated in by people at many levels. Distance from execution helps render responsibility hazy. “Adolph Eichmann was a thoroughly responsible person, according to his understanding of responsibility. For him, it was clear that the heads of state set policy. His role was to implement, and fortunately, he felt, it was never part of his job actually to have to kill anyone.”
The point being made here is that human beings in the everydayness of their dealings within the “lens” of technological world-view are incapable of the capacity for thinking that reflects on the wholeness of their activities when they are given over to the “they-Self”, the society or community of which they are a member. This giving over may express itself in loyalty to superiors (as it did with Eichmann), with patriotism, or in the currently common populism that is erupting throughout the world.
Arendt notes that there is a most sinister “innocent appearance” or commonplace “normality” to our activities whether it is manufacturing food, bombs or corpses when these activities become rootless, mechanized and routinized. Almost 10 years after Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt reaffirms in Thinking and Moral Considerations this same dimension of evil: “… the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness, pathology, or ideological conviction in the doer, whose only personal distinction was a perhaps extraordinary shallowness.” Arendt asks the question: “Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining and reflecting upon whatever happens to come to pass, regardless of specific content and quite independent of results, could this activity be of such a nature that it ‘conditions’ men against evil-doing?” But in the technological world, all our thinking is a striving for results. Where are we to find genuine thinking when we are dominated by a drive to produce results and we see it as our duty to produce results, and in our exhaustion from our efforts, all we wish for is to be entertained by our thoughtless arts?
When I speak of the “sinister innocence” of the appearance of evil as a phenomenon, I am referring to the quote from Simone Weil that begins this reflection. Weil sees “the surface phenomenon” as the phenomenon of evil in the same way that the shadows in the Cave that “enthrall us” are the “illusions” of an absent reality, the Good. Arendt, who cannot allow herself to assert something like “the highest good”, continues:
“I mean that evil is not radical, going to the roots (radix), that is has no depth, and that for this very reason it is so terribly difficult to think about it, since thinking, by definition, wants to reach the roots. Evil is a surface phenomenon, and instead of being radical, it is merely extreme. We resist evil by not being swept away by the surface of things, by stopping ourselves and beginning to think, that is, by reaching another dimension than the horizon of everyday life. In other words, the more superficial someone is the more likely will he be to yield to evil. An indication of such superficiality is the use of clichés, and Eichmann …was a perfect example.”
Whereas Arendt sees evil as “extreme” and a “surface phenomenon”, Weil sees evil as the false reality of our everyday being-in-the-world since our being is “deprived” of the good unless we are thoughtful and attentive to it and wrest it from its hiddenness. Arendt sees thinking as necessary to prevent us from doing evil, but she is unclear regarding thinking’s direction when she says “reaching another dimension than the horizon of everyday life”. What exactly is that “horizon” and that dimension in the technological? In the society that accepts that “Time is money” and where “results” are most important, where are there moments to be reflective upon one’s being-in-the-world and actions? In the entry that explores “Understanding the Shadows”, I have attempted to make clear that the surface of phenomenon is all that we care about in the modern and that this has been in the making for hundreds of years.
Arendt in her later thinking says: “It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never ‘radical’, that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is ‘thought-defying’, as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its ‘banality’. Only the good has depth and can be radical.” (Hannah, Arendt, The Jew as Pariah – Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age. (New York: Grove Press, 1978), p. 251.)
In Plato’s Republic Bk. 6, Plato describes all forms of human community as ‘a Great Beast’ whether it be that of a city, society or a culture that one gains some freedom from through recognizing it as such, and from this turning away receives the freedom to move towards the light. The metaphor of the Beast is an analogy to the ‘they-Self’, and the Cave of Bk. 7 of Republic is a literal description of being in ‘the belly of the beast’ and the ‘turning’ and ascent to remove or extricate oneself from the Beast’s control. Service to the Great Beast in Republic, our desire for social recognition and “empowerment”, is the great temptation or enchainment which prevents one from seeking the Good. The “giving away of oneself”, the greatest good or the highest end for human beings, that is spoken of by the saints is eerily demonstrated in the deprivation of that giving away shown in that giving away of one’s freedom to think in those who could and would potentially engage in the most heinous crimes. Power, the illusion of the control of necessity and chance, is the temptation. It is thus that we enter the world of the sophist and politics. https://mytok.blog/2019/11/22/ot-5-knowledge-and-politics-part-1/
What is knowledge? What are the things known? Who and what are the knowers and how do they know? What we have called the ways of knowing are the perspectives, the manners or comportments, and the methods in which human beings bring the things of their world to light, into “unconcealment”, what the ancient Greeks referred to as aletheia or “truth”. In this “bringing to light”, the things are brought to a “stand” and are made “permanent” in their “presencing” in this standing. This “standing” of the things is what is called knowledge, for the things in their “standing” and permanence can be “counted upon” to be as they are. The Greeks defined human beings as the zoon logon echon, “the living being that is capable of speech”. The Latins later described human beings as the “animale rationale“, the “rational animal”. How did this change from speech to rationality occur and why is it important? Our definitions of concepts and things are crucial to our understanding of how we know and what the things are that we do know.
Because our speech is with reference to other human beings and things, it was called logos by the Greeks. Because it involved more than one person and more than one way of knowing, it was referred to as “dialectic”. “Dialectic” means “conversation”, “speech”. Within the speech dianoia and diaresis are used, “synthesis” and “separation”, to signify that which is being spoken about, but the dialectic itself is a manner of being underway towards knowledge and is insufficient in itself in attaining knowledge. “Dialectic” is one of those words that has gone through many various interpretations throughout the history of the West becoming more complex and obscure as it became intertwined with other ways of knowing.
Aristotle was first to distinguish five ways of knowing and the things that are known by them in Bk VI of his Ethics. Our word “ethics” comes from Aristotle’s two texts on this subject matter or theme: Nichomachean Ethics and Eudemean Ethics. Nichomachean Ethics is the text that is most commonly known. That a discussion of the manners in which human beings “know” is undertaken at the very heart, the centre, of the Ethics gives us an indication of the importance of understanding what we think human beings are when we are trying to determine the nature of the actions that human beings take. Thinking is a human action and a form or way of human being-in-the-world. What we have come to call our “ways of knowing” and the things about which they give us knowledge determine in advance the actions that we will undertake when we attempt to meet the ends or goals (desires) that we have decided upon. The ways of knowing are responsible for, are “needful of”, and contribute to, our actions and their outcomes. They are “actions” themselves, the choices that we have made the nature of which are “brought to light” in their outcomes or ends. In today’s word, we would call them “lifestyles”, those choices we have made as beings who live in communities which determine the manner of our being in those societies. In philosophical language it is called ontology.
“Bringing things to light” is an essential part of what human beings are. We are not human if we do not. As we proceed, we want to keep in mind Socrates’ saying that sounds so strange at first because it seems to defy our common sense experience: “No one knowingly does evil” or injustice, and we will try to understand what Socrates could possibly have meant by this. We will try to grasp the phenomenon of “intentional ignorance” and how our helplessness is not knowing what is “good” or “bad” and making decisions and choices in this state of ignorance.
The five ways of knowing and the things that are known by them are outlined by Aristotle as: 1. sophia or knowledge of the first things, the “permanent” things, the divine, Being. Sophia deals with what is “necessary” as well as what is “beyond” human beings; things that human beings cannot change, what is essential. For the Greeks, Nature was seen as “permanent” and “beyond” or “outside” of human beings; it was “sempiternal” even though the things within it did experience change; 2. episteme or what we call “theoretical knowledge” which deals with the “viewing” or the “seeing” of the things that are “permanent”. Episteme also deals with the “permanent things” through theoria, the viewing of the things. What we call “scientific knowledge” is part of episteme, and the study of knowledge itself is what is called “epistemology”. Aristotle refers to the bios theoretikos the “theoretical life” or the “scientific life, the life of the scientist” which was an innovation in the Greek language at the time by him; both sophia and episteme deal with sense perception, “seeing” or “viewing”, as their primary manner of accessing knowledge; 3. techne is “know-how” or “expertise”, “a being at home in something” and it deals with the things that do change, things that are in “motion” and their “possibilities” or “potentialities”. Techne deals with things that have to be made and which are not yet what they will be or are not yet in being. All human “production” is a realizing of the “potential” or the “possibility” of bringing forth new things and is a “bringing forth” as a result of techne whether it be shoes or a work of art. Techne is a plan or “projection”, an algorithm involving a “doing” that brings about some end “in another and for another”. The Greeks did not distinguish between shoemakers and poets as technites. “Architecture is the techne of the house”; 4. phronesis is the deliberation with regard to the things that are in one’s own self-interest. Phronesis is the way of knowing that we usually associate with “ethics” since our thinking about what is in our best self-interest involves the actions that we will undertake to attain those things which we desire. These actions will be undertaken in our lives as members of a community. Phronesis makes situations accessible, and the circumstances are always different for each situation. For the Greeks, sophrosyne or “moderation”, was the best outcome of the deliberation associated with phronesis; 5. nous is that thinking that we associate with the “intellect”, what we have come to call reason, intelligence. It involves the other four ways of knowing in some manner with regard to bringing the things to light, to knowledge. When the French philosopher Simone Weil says: “Faith is the experience that the intelligence is enlightened by Love”, she is attempting to illustrate a reality of human being-in-the-world where “intelligence”, “intellect” and all of the other ways of knowing are combined and, thus, her statement is an “ethical” statement because such a “faith” determines how one will think and act among others in their communities.
With the exception of sophia, the ways of knowing are not distinct in themselves as approaches to things but involve each other in our deliberations of the outcomes for which we are aiming. Sophia and episteme regard things that we know through the senses, primarily the sense of sight; techne, phronesis and nous are the ways we know things through speech whether written or spoken and whether in words or numbers.
When things are known through “speech”, they can become what we call “opinion”. Ethics is not “opinion” because ethics deals with praxis, concrete actions, and these actions were taken in the direction of some perceived “good”. An opinion is directed to something; it is a maintaining that some thing is such and such. Opinion is an orientation towards things as they would show themselves to a correct investigation and examination. “Opinion” is an attempt to “reveal” the truth of something covered over or hidden. “Opinion” is Plato’s “justified true belief” which he outlines in his dialogue Theatetus. Opinion is not a seeking for knowledge but is something someone already has whether it be true or false because an opinion can be true or false. Sophia and episteme are not “opinion” because they are already complete i.e. they are not underway towards something because they already possess knowledge of the things about which they deliberate. “Opinion” regards those things that can be otherwise and that is why it can be true or false. Opinion is the handing over of knowledge through “language” and what is handed over. One may distinguish between “informed” opinion and “uninformed” opinion. Uniformed opinion is not knowledge since it is merely the shadow of a shadow.
Many of today’s interpretations of the Greeks see them as living in a “split” world, one of Being and one of Becoming where the world of Being is placed “beyond” the actual world in which we dwell, where the realm of the Ideas, Beauty, Goodness and Truth are somehow and somewhere beyond us and are abstracted from the reality of our day-to-day living. A closer reading of Greek texts, particularly Plato, reveals this not to be the case. The Beauty of which Plato speaks is not one that is in “the eye of the beholder”; it is beyond the realm of “opinion”. The Greeks dwelt in both Being and Becoming simultaneously, as we do here in the present and as human beings have always done. Our interpretations of the Greeks derives from our “splitting” of the world into a dualism such as mind/body, subject/object, etc. and then attempting to reconcile those dualities through some form of “dialectic”.
We shall now discuss each of the ways of knowing as indicated by Aristotle more specifically.
Sophia as a Way of Knowing: (Nic. Ethics Bk VI Chap. 6-7)
Sophia and episteme concern the things that always already were and are and which human beings do not first produce. For the Greeks, this would be what we call Nature including ouranos, the heavens. Aristotle establishes a correlation between the ways of knowing in the psyche or the soul of the revealing the things and of the things themselves that are revealed i.e. a correspondence. This revealing of the appropriate beings by the appropriate ways of knowing is done so that the psyche might dwell with them. This “dwelling” with them does not mean that they have to be present at all times: because they always are, they can be “counted upon” to be as they are and be present when we wish them to be. Beings or things that are in “motion” and subject to change are not able to be known in any precise way and, thus, cannot be “counted upon” in themselves. (“Only that which has no history can be defined”, as Nietzsche would say.) This permanent “dwelling alongside” the things that are everlasting is what makes “scientific knowledge” possible. Science concerns itself with what Plato called Necessity, what we call “the real”. For the Greeks, the world was not “created” but always was, is and will be. Time itself was “a moving image of eternity”.
Aristotle began his Metaphysics with the famous line: “All human beings by nature desire to see”. ὀρέγονται “see” is commonly translated as “know”, but what Aristotle wants to emphasize is what we would call “knowledge by acquaintance”, a “becoming familiar with things so that we may dwell among them” and we do this through seeing them first. For Aristotle, sight is our primary sense. Along with sight, however, hearing is most important and even has greater primacy, for we must hear in order to share with others what we have seen. Human beings are the zoon logon echon, “the animal capable of speech”. It is what we do and can do with our speaking that distinguishes us from all other beings and, thus, makes us “human”.
The archai or genesis of things for the Greeks is the Good, and sophia is that way of knowing that gazes upon the first things, the permanent things of which the Good is the primary one, though it is not really a “thing” at all. The philosopher’s being is a “dwelling alongside and with” the Good. A philosopher is a philo sophia “a friend (lover) of the Good” or of the Whole. Such knowledge is called “wisdom” and only a few human beings ever attain it. One aspect of the sophia of the philosopher is his ability to distinguish the Necessary from the Good.
For Plato, evil is not the opposite of the Good, but the deprivation of the Good. The Good is what beings are fitted for, what their “nature” is that has been given to them. A drowning man knows all too well that it is good for human beings to breathe and that the air is good for that action of breathing. Goodness and its “fittedness” are present for us at all moments and in all situations. The “fittedness” of some thing is the “virtue” of that thing, its completeness, fullness. When I experienced the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, I had to come to understand that what I had experienced was a deprivation of “good”, not what we traditionally associate with “evil”. We moderns have chosen to lose sight of this most important understanding of Human Being. Wars, plagues, floods and famines were all very familiar to the Greeks. A glance at Thucydides History will demonstrate this. But beyond these ills, in spite of these ills, the Greeks sustained a belief, a knowledge that the essence of things was Good.
The Good is the first axiom, the first self-evident principle, from which we can draw all other axioms and conclusions. We are familiar with this attempt to account for the whole of things in the various ways i.e. that the elements were considered the archai of the whole: earth, water, fire, and air. For Plato, the ideas are derived from the Good and they provide the universals, the “wholes”, from which the particulars get their essence, what they are. It is the “light” which makes these universals and particulars possible, for from the light comes the ability to “see” and in Greek seeing is theoria, from which is derived our word “theory”. The seeing in the “theory” is a “two-way” seeing, and we will speak more about this later.
“Universals” are related to “hearing”, while “particulars” are related to “seeing”. We are able to see a tree as a tree because it participates in the idea of “treeness”. Our seeing of the tree is its “outward appearance” (eidos), but the outward appearance of the particular tree is not what the tree is in its essence. It is not the “being” of the tree. It is through speaking about the tree, the hearing, that we can arrive at its “universal” quality, and from this speaking are able to delimit and define what it is when we say the word “tree”.
The ability to distinguish the Necessary from the Good is what the Greeks called mathematike: things which can be learned and things which can be taught. We associate mathematics with numbers and symbols, but the Greeks did not. The mathemata covered a much broader theme. Within mathematics, the Greeks distinguished between arithmos-arithmetic and geometry. Arithmetic concerns itself with monas or units, things that are “unique”, “alone”, particulars. Geometry concerns itself with stigme or a “point”, a monas with a thesis added. A thesis is an orientation, a situation, a viewpoint; it has the character of being oriented toward something and of retaining something within one’s self in this orientation. The one who possessed wisdom, who possessed sophia, was a geometer. Plato stated: “The god is forever the geometer”, and above his Academy had inscribed “No one enters without knowledge of geometry”. More will be written about Greek geometry in Mathematics as an Area of Knowledge, but suffice it to say for the moment that geometry was the manner in which the proper Being of beings were outlined in their limits and their possibilities i.e. mathematics as an activity was “ethical” in its purposes and goals. A study of the Pythagoreans and their geometry illustrates this. Knowledge in geometry was to know a thing’s “place”, for in knowing its “place” one would be able to determine its essence or essential nature. When a thing was not in its appropriate place, it was “unnatural”.
The “seeing” or “knowing” in sophia is attained when the perception of the virtues of beings/things is known as well as a “seeing” why such and such should happen. This “knowing” is achieved through the study of geometry. The ultimate “why” is the “good” as telos or “end, purpose”. The “good” is the “for the sake of which” that determines what we call “knowledge” and this “for the sake of which” can be “in another and for another” such as in techne or it can be in one’s own self-interest as in phronesis. Sophia is the guide for episteme (theoretical knowledge), techne (“know how”), phronesis (ethics/actions), and nous (intellect, intelligence). Sophia is itself autonomous as a way of knowing, according to Aristotle. Sophia is both a way of being-in-the-world and a way of “seeing” which determines the best actions to be taken.
The “good” for Aristotle is an aition “something responsible for bringing about something else”: it is both the ultimate archai or beginning and telos or end.To the extent that a thing has reached its telos or purpose, its goal, and is whole and complete, it is as it was meant to be and this was called its “virtue”. What is meant by the “good” in the Greeks is quite distinct from what we mean by “values”, and our idea of “values” as moral assessments, “subjective preferences”, etc. are a poor derivative of the Greek understanding of the “good” and are one of the results of the intervention of Christianity in Western history.
The highest mode of “revealing” truth and, thus, the highest mode of human being/existence is to be found in sophia, and this mode is to be found “in another and for another”. Through knowing the limits placed on the things that are, including ourselves, human beings are able to see the gulf that separates the Necessary from the Good and to distinguish the virtues of the things themselves from the Good itself. While sophia might wish to simply gaze upon the Beauty of the Good itself, being a human being requires that we live with others in communities and, thus, requires phronetic knowledge. It would seem that sophia as a way of being-in-the-world is reserved for the gods alone (Nic.Ethics X Chap. 7); and that while sophia may be the best way of knowing, the other ways of knowing are more necessary and more pressing for human beings. Few human beings attain sophia.
Episteme as a Way of Knowing (Nic. Ethics Bk VI Chap 3)
Episteme is concerned with those things that do not change. Episteme has its roots in the archai, the first things: it uses the archai as its axioms, the self-evident principles from which it draws conclusions. The concerns of episteme are the archai (the beginnings, the first things), the purpose or goal (telos), the outward appearance (eidos), and the matter or material (hyle) i.e. the four causes of beings as indicated by Aristotle. The archai are what already is, and they are that from out of which every being is properly what it is. Episteme cannot retain the archai in itself i.e. reason cannot give an account of itself through reason just as science cannot give an account of itself scientifically. Episteme must be realized through theoria or a way of looking at the world.
The primary theme of episteme is the eidos or the outward appearance of things and from this it pursues its deliberations along the lines of the eidos. We call this viewing “representation”. Because of this focus, episteme is primarily concerned with theoria or “theory”, the “seeing”, the “viewing” and with the emperia, or what can be perceived through the senses and “experienced”. Techne only intends the eidos; it does not co-intend the telos or purpose as it takes its guidance from the “logistics” of the production, the algorithms inherent in its blueprint. This severance of the “making” from its goal or purpose in the deliberations of the techne is still with us today and is at the root of many of the problems that we associate with “technology”. In phronesis the “good action” is itself the archai for the archai is the purpose itself; phronesis is not speculation about the action itself because the “good action” is always before one as a concrete action, a “real possibility”.
Knowledge in episteme, unlike phronesis, is attainable at a young age. Aristotle believed that “much time is required” for phronesis while quite young people can have mathematical knowledge, for instance; this is due to the fact that mathematical knowledge does not have to do with concrete existence or experience but is abstracted from it. Pascal would be a modern example of a young person able to attain mathematical knowledge although there are many other examples.
For Aristotle, episteme has to do with “scientific knowledge”. What, for Aristotle, are the beings or things that are “uncovered” through scientific knowledge? Aristotle begins: “We say of that which we know that it cannot be otherwise”. Knowledge must always be as it is. Episteme deals with beings that always are. Only that which always is can be known. That which can be otherwise is not known in the strict sense since it depends on my being present to be what it is at a particular time. With the objects of episteme I do not have to be present to be able to rely on their being the way they are. This is why there can be universal collaboration on projects involving the theoretical things. To know is to have “uncovered” and hence knowledge is associated with truth. In this knowing there is a preservation of that which is known. It is a positionality towards the things that are known and it has at its disposal the outward look of the things. This positionality is that which can be shared.
Today’s concept of knowledge and our theory of knowledge and science take their orientation from this concept. Knowing may be said to be the preserving of the uncoveredness of beings that are independent of the knowing itself and these beings then are at the disposal of the knower. The knowing that I have at my disposal must always be so; it is the being which always is so, that did not become, that never was not and never will not be. It is constantly so. It is a being in the most proper sense. It is that which is permanent.
This permanence of known beings determines those beings that are in moments of time. The world for Aristotle is permanent, eternal; it did not come into being and is imperishable. The existence of what is alive and of the world as a whole is thus determined to be imperishable. The ouranos, heavens, determine for the living thing the length of its presence. The aidia, the permanent things, are what form the beginning for all other beings. They are, therefore, what properly is. Therefore, what dwells in the now and is most properly a being and is the archai or origin of the rest of beings determines all beings in their presence. This is not the separation of worlds that has come to be the common understanding of the Greeks in the West. The Being of the beings is immanent in them and in the world and it is what makes knowledge and science possible. Aristotle’s understanding of time is that to be “in time” means to be “measured by time with regard to being”. What always is is not “in time” but is a constant presence in the “now” and its nows are numberless, limitless. Because they are numberless, they are not measurable. The beings of episteme are those beings that are permanent.
The beings of episteme are “knowable” and “learnable” i.e. they are mathematical in the Greek sense. They are things that one can teach and learn. Scientific knowledge is “mathematical”; the knowledge of sophia is not mathematical. Knowledge may be understood as a stance towards beings which has their uncoveredness available without being constantly present to them. Knowledge is teachable i.e. communicable without there having to take place an uncovering. By speaking about the logoi or speeches here, Aristotle is referring to the distinction between the speech of the sophists before a court or the senate where they appeal to the common understanding of things which is shared by everyone i.e. “common sense”. Such speaking does not provide scientific proofs but its purpose is to awaken a conviction in the audience who hears the speech. “They show the universal through the obviousness of some particular case” i.e. through a definite example. In a similar way, “what is known at the outset” is the mode in which episteme is communicated. Hence it is possible to “teach” someone a science without that person having seen all the facts themselves provided the person possesses the necessary presuppositions. The axioms of mathematics operate in the same way: separate deductions can be made without the need of a genuine understanding of those axioms. Episteme requires presuppositions that it cannot elucidate itself as episteme. It shows something that is already familiar and known. It presupposes the archai and these are not properly uncovered by the episteme itself as a mode of knowledge. It cannot demonstrate that which it presupposes. It is not the highest possibility of knowledge: sophia is.
Genuine knowledge is always more than the mere possession of results. The person that has at their disposal what emerges at the end and then speaks further does not have knowledge. What is gained is knowledge from the “outside” and the person remains unknowing in any real sense. Episteme does not have at its disposal the ability to make the genuine beings available; these beings are still hidden in the archai. This has many implications for what we understand as the Social Sciences.
Techne as a Way of Knowing (Nic. Ethics Bk VI Chap. 4)
The objects of concern of techne are those things that are “coming into being” or things that are not yet. In techne, the “know how” is directed towards a “producing” of something that is not yet. All “know how” as the guiding of production moves within the horizon of those beings which are in the process of becoming and are on their way to Being. The “lifestyle” of the techne is of one who considers having things “occur in such and such a way” i.e. having something be correctly executed so that the intended end may be brought about. As a way of being-in-the-world, it is always a “preparation for something”. It is an “in order to” and a “for the sake of which” that determines its comportment towards the things with which it deals.
In techne, the arche of the beings or things, their genesis, is in the producer. If something is to be produced, deliberation is required. The “for which” must be determined (i.e. shoes for a certain customer) and “the look” of the “outward appearance” (eidos) of the thing, the work, the finished product (the shoes) must be determined. The blueprint, the algorithm or the plan, is determined prior to the production. The arche in the form of “idea” and “outward appearance” (eidos) are in the producers themselves. The arche do not reside in what is produced, the work or artifact. This is contrary to the things of Nature which “produce themselves”; the arche reside in them. In techne the work produced resides “beside” the activity of production; and as a “finished work” it is no longer an object of techne. (See the discussion on technology in OT2 where the “products” of technology, the computers, hand phones etc. are not technology itself but are distinguished from what the essence of technology is OT2: Knowledge and Technology). Insofar as the purpose or end (telos) constitutes the arche of techne, the arche itself is not available in the work that is produced. This shows that, for Aristotle, techne is not a genuine mode of revealing truth since the essence of what the thing is is not in the thing itself. (A few words on “artificial intelligence” can be noted here. The computers or robots that are supposedly producing haikus and the like are not really producing haikus because the arche are lacking. They may be producing something that for all intents and purposes looks like and sounds like a haiku but it is not; it is a shadow. The machines do not give the command prompt to themselves to “bring forth” haikus because as “finished products” themselves, they are lacking the idea or genesis of the haiku itself. When the machines are capable of doing this, then we will have “artificial intelligence”. What is called “artificial intelligence” today is really nothing more than the “rote learning” that is possible through nous and shares many parallels with it. The machine is “unaware” of the archai.)
The finished work of techne arises through production and fabrication or making. It is “for the sake of something”. It is “not an end pure and simple”, according to Aristotle. The “work” whether of art or a pair of shoes is “for something and for someone”. It is produced for further use for human beings. Techne is not concerned with the finished products but only with things that are in the process of becoming, the possible.
For Aristotle, three things are determined by becoming: 1. physei or “self-production”; 2. techne; and 3. chance or contingency. “Chance” is understood as “accidents” such as miscarriages and the like, things that are “against nature”. The modes of becoming that are not those of Nature Aristotle calls poiesis, from which our word “poetry” comes. Poiesis is a “bringing forth”. The “bringing forth” that occurs in techne is initiated by the eidos in the psyche or soul of the producer. The eidos or the “outward appearance” of the thing to be produced initiates the movement of deliberation (noesis) and then follows the poiesis or the action, “the making” that brings about the production itself. In Aristotle, the eidos or “the outward look” is the arche or beginning that connects the deliberation (noeisis) and the poiesis together: the “knowing and making” are both deliberative and practical action. Techne is a knowing and a making. What is produced, the work, is no longer of concern to techne. It is out of its hands, and this is the deficiency of techne as a way of revealing things according to Aristotle.
Phronesis as a Way of Knowing (Nic. Ethics Bk VI Chap. 5)
In Greek, the word arete means “virtue”. “Virtue” is the full development, the “perfection” of a being whether it be the “finished work” of the technite or of a human being. Its connection with the morals of Christianity came through their interpretations of Aristotle during the Medieval period. “Virtue” with regard to human beings initially meant the “manliness of a man”, the perfection of a human being and then later became the “chastity” of a woman when human perfection itself became defined in the person of Jesus Christ. Such is the fate of words in our language, and it is a warning about making assumptions of what the words may mean. A house that has a leaky roof would be lacking in “virtue” according to the Greeks. As the wife of Macbeth observes about her husband: he is “too full of the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way” indicating that the tragic hero, Macbeth, is a “virtuous” man who through his actions loses that virtue and in so doing ceases to be a full human being becoming a tyrant and a monster. We shall explore these connections further as we discuss phronesis as a way of knowing and its relation to “virtue”.
Phronesis deals with “opinion” as opposed to episteme which is knowledge itself, according to Aristotle. Phronesis deals with arete itself as opposed to techne. The object of phronesis is human being itself and what constitutes its perfection. The human being who exercises phronesis “deliberates well, appropriately over that which is good (full and perfect)” and which is also good for the deliberator himself. The object of phronesis is some thing that can be otherwise but which from the outset has a connection or a relation to the deliberator. The deliberation of techne, on the other hand, deals simply with the production of something else, the “work”, for someone else. Phronesis is concerned with the work in so far as it relates to the individual directly.
A phronemos is not someone who thinks correctly with regard to particular personal advantages such as health and bodily strength but one who deliberates in the right way regarding “what is conducive to the right mode of Human Being as such and as a whole”. Phronesis is concerned with the right and proper way to be a human being and this is where it becomes connected historically with what we refer to as “morals”. Phronesis promotes “seriousness” in “relation to such things which cannot be the theme of a making or production” i.e. that “seriousness” is the proper attitude or relation to those things upon which phronesis deliberates.
In the case of phronesis the object of deliberation is Life itself where, unlike techne, the purpose or outcome is not separated from the deliberator himself as is the case with the “work” and techne. Phronesis’ goal or aim (telos) is the “best practice” or action and this is the “uncovering” and “revealing” itself. The purpose is disclosed and preserved in the life of the deliberator himself.
The “lifestyles” of the phronemos and the technite are each directed to a different mode of being-in-the-world: phronesis views oneself and one’s own acting while techne is cleverness, ingenuity, and resource regarding things I do not want to necessarily carry out or I am unable to carry out myself. Techne leads to “machinations”. The thinking of the phronemos, on the other hand, is a drawing of conclusions: if such and such is supposed to occur, if I am to behave and be in such and such a way, then…The deliberation is different in every case. The deliberation of phronesis is a “discussing”. Shakespeare’s soliloquies are probably the best examples that we have in the English language of “phronetic deliberation”. Macbeth’s “If it ’twere done when ’tis done” (Act I sc vii) is a brilliant example.
Macbeth is a play regarding truth and phronesis. It is not a play about “ambition” per se but about the appropriation of that which is “fitting” to one’s self in the appropriation, the acquisition of that which is appropriate or “right and fitting” to one’s own human being and the consequences of choosing that which is not appropriate for one’s self. The motif of ill-fitting clothing running throughout the play illustrates both the “hiddenness” of truth in the play regarding that which is appropriately one’s own and that one should make one’s own by taking possession of it, and that which is not “suitable” to one’s self. Macbeth is a great warrior, soldier but he is not a king because he does not have the temperament to be a king such as that exhibited by Duncan and Banquo. The temperament that makes for a great warrior is not that which makes for a great king, and so it is not “fitting” that great warriors attempt to make themselves kings.
Like techne but unlike episteme the deliberations of phronesis are regarding things that can be otherwise. The goal or aim of the deliberation of the phronemos is “such a disposition of human being that it has at its disposal its own transparency” i.e. self-knowledge, the proper being of a human being. The arche or beginning of phronesis is human life itself embodied in the human being. Life and the human being finds itself disposed and comports itself to itself in this way or that way. What phronesis deliberates about is not what brings praxis or an action to an end. Results are not what constitutes the being of an action. What constitutes the being of an action is the “how”. The purpose in phronesis is the human being himself; in the case of the “production” of the technite, the purpose is something other, to “bring forth” some thing over and against the human being. Not so with the action of phronesis which is “it’s thing”.
If human being itself is the object of phronesis then it must be characteristic of human beings that they are “covered up” to themselves and do not see themselves. A mood or disposition (attitude) can cover a human being up to themselves. A person can be concerned with things of minor significance; we can be so wrapped up in ourselves that we do not genuinely see ourselves and others. Phronesis is necessary to bring to light human beings to themselves. According to Aristotle and Plato, the “truth” of who and what we are must be wrested away from “hiddenness”. “Prudence” or sophrosyne is what saves us from being “covered over”, for “pleasure and pain can confuse every action” because they are corruptions, according to Aristotle. But because pleasure and pain are determinations of what human beings are, we are constantly in danger of covering ourselves up to ourselves in our search for the one and the avoidance of the other. Lethe “forgetfulness”, “oblivion” must become a-lethe “uncoveredness”, “revealed”. This “uncovering” occurs through the logos. We must talk to ourselves. The end of phronesis is where the “disposition of human being is such that in it I have at my disposal my own transparency” or my own self-knowledge. Its purpose is “the good life”, eudaimonia, or “happiness” which is “through action” and the action is transparent in itself also. Phronesis serves to guide the action which is a “truth” itself.
How does phronesis differ from episteme and techne in revealing truth and in so doing become a ground of ethical action since the grounds of ethical action are revealed in the things that these ways of knowing reveal i.e. knowledge? Phronesis differs from techne in that it possesses its outcome or its “work”; techne does not. As mentioned earlier, arete or “virtue” is the perfection of something, something brought to completion regarding a thing that has the potentiality to be completed. Techne possesses this; phronesis does not. We may complete a project, an exhibition, an essay but we cannot complete Life itself.
In the deliberations of techne, of “know how”, there are various degrees of development. Techne can presume things and concede things; trial and error are appropriate to it and through techne one discovers whether something works or not. The more techne risks failure the more sure it is of its methods and procedures. It is through failure that certainty is formed. It is precisely the individual who is ingrained in a definite technique, a set routine, but who continues to start anew and cuts through rigid procedures (who “thinks outside of the box”), who acquires the correct possibility of “know how” and has at her disposal the proper kind of “revealing” that corresponds to techne and who acquires more and more of that kind of “uncovering”. The possibility of failure is essential to the development of knowledge in techne.
In phronesis, however, the outcome is human Being or Life itself: mistakes are a shortcoming. The shortcomings are not “higher possibilities” but “miss the mark” or goal of phronesis. Aristotle called this missing the mark hamartia, a “flaw in character”. It is one of the essential characteristics of his tragic hero outlined in his Poetics. In moral action, one cannot experiment with oneself as one can say Macbeth does in his deliberations. The deliberation in phronesis is ruled by an “either-or”, the outcome determined by success or failure. There is no “this as well as that”; there must be “a road not taken”. Phronesis has a permanent orientation as it pursues its goal and this permanent orientation is agathon, the Good. This orientation will bring about the “best action”. Good and evil are not opposites; evil is the deprivation of good, the lack of light, the lack of knowledge. From this we can now understand why Socrates says: “No one knowingly does evil” for it is not possible to do evil “knowingly”. Evil is the product of a “lack of light”, a lack of “unconcealment”, a lack of “truth” whether this be due to “intentional ignorance” (as is the case in Macbeth or any number of politicians currently in power) or otherwise. The root of all “sin” is the “sin against the light”, the denial of truth, the denial of the light.
While with techne there is always the possibility of making things “bigger and better”, with phronesis the end, the action, is complete and finished in itself. Phronesis is not the “virtue” of techne. The object of techne is a “product” or “work” while the object of phronesis is a praxis or action. For this reason, phronesis is “virtue” or arete itself. In this it differs from techne, even though the object of both types of deliberation are “things that can be otherwise”.
How does phronesis differ from episteme? In relation to things that can also be otherwise, knowledge of these things is “opinion”. We all have views and opinions on the things of everyday life which come to pass and change. Aristotle takes up the relation of “opinion” to phronesis: “Phronesis is not a desire to disclose for the sake of disclosing, but is a desire for truth which is practical”. Phronesis is not the deliberation that aims at the acquisition of views and opinions and is, thus, not “subjective”. The “revealing” that rests in “opinion” is what the Greeks called mathesis from which our word “mathematics” is derived. What I have experienced, noticed or learned I can forget. “Forgetting” for the Greeks is lethe. It is a concealment, a hiddenness of things that “theory” can fall into. I can experience, notice and learn what has already been experienced, noted and learned, what the Greeks called mathemata and what we have called “shared knowledge”, whereas phronesis is in each case new and is “self-knowledge”. There is no lethe in phronesis since the light is always present in the here and now.
Phronesis is not a mode of “theoretical knowledge” and is not a “virtue” of theoretical knowledge or the knowledge of techne. What is most notable in Aristotle (and where he differs from Plato to a very great extent) is that he designates sophia as the “virtue” of techne whereas Plato designates sophia as the “virtue” of phronesis. Sophia is the highest mode of human existence and deals with things that do not change whereas techne deals with things that do change. We will have more to say on this at a later time.
In phronesis the good can show itself purely and simply or it can show itself in a momentary glance in which the concrete action is clear and then a decision can be made. It would appear that since phronesis concerns the being of human beings that the manner in which phronesis reveals things would be the highest and most important mode of disclosure of truth, way of knowing, and therefore the highest being or “virtue” of a human being. But this is not the case. Phronesis is not an autonomous mode of disclosure such as sophia. Aristotle points out that “The good (agathon) does not show itself except to the good person (agathos)”.
An evil disposition or a generally bad constitution can bring it about that the good presents itself to a human being as something it is not. So it follows that only someone who is already an agathos (a good person) can be a phronimos (a person who possesses phronesis). The possibility of the “uncovering” of the best action is bound up with the proviso that the person carrying it out must already be a good person. It is not enough that the person is guided by the circumspection that is phronesis; the anticipation of the good end as the mode of carrying out the action is only possible with the good person. Macbeth, in succumbing to the temptation of the three Weird Sisters, has already ceased to be a “good man”, and his subsequent confusion over the decision he is going to make indicates this.
Nous as a Way of Knowing
“Faith is the experience that the intelligence is enlightened by love.” — Simone Weil Gravity and Grace, Plon, Paris, 1948
Truly, truly, I say to you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it stays alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. John 12:24
Aristotle says: “If therefore the ways in which we disclose beings truly (“knowledge”) and thereby do not distort them by deceiving ourselves are episteme, phronesis, sophia and nous, and if the three first mentioned episteme, phronesis, and sophia do not properly make the archai thematic, then all that remains is that nous is that manner of disclosing truth which discloses the archai as archai.” Techne is left out here because trial and error, making mistakes, are part of its way of knowing. In the other modes of revealing we have certainty and are not subject to deception according to Aristotle.
Nous is that “seeing” which is dependent on “speech” i.e. it is an “intellectual” rendering of the beings and their archai. It is “discussion”, what we call “dialectic”, in that it proceeds in an algorithmic fashion, step by step, from the universals or the first things to the particular things being discussed. It holds within itself the natural divisions of the ideas as Plato presented them to us, those things that are permanent, and nous attempts to demonstrate how the individual thing, the specific thing, participates in its idea so as to become “standing” and be available for discussion. Nous prevents those errors that arise from language when something is presented “as something”, not what it is in itself. Something can be distorted only when it is grasped in terms of something else; in our language, all things are presented in words or symbols or numbers and are, therefore, subject to errors. This is the danger with all discussions using analogies and the like. The errors occur in the synthesis of the categories that are used to describe them. Every judgement or denial about something whether true or false is a synthesis. The rampant nonsense regarding “alternative facts”, etc. is the false or pseudo treatment of the nous and the logos.
It should be clear from these descriptions of the ways of knowing given here that we do not “use” the ways of knowing so much as they “use” us. With nous what we call the classification of things and the determination of their limits helps us to define what the things are and where they shall be “placed”. Nous is particularly concerned with our praxis and our choices that we make in our words. From the nous comes the step-by-step procedures to realize the ends that we desire from our apprehension of the situations and the circumstances.
The connection between nous and logos is shown in the manner in which we understand intelligence and intellect as that “place” where reason is grounded, where it resides. For the Greeks, human beings were defined and described as the zoon logon echon, the living being capable of discourse or speech; for the Latins, human beings became defined and described as the animale rationale, the animal capable of reason, the animal that uses logic which is derived from the logos; and today we would describe human beings as that species of animal that has evolved from the ape and which has discovered reason historically.
Today, we refer to nous as “the brain”, “the mind”, or “the psyche”. Nous relies on language for its uncovering in order to make possible the handing over of knowledge through the dialectic that is the distinguishing feature of human beings: the zoon logon echon. Sophia and episteme rely on “sense perception”, primarily sight, to see the permanent things and have direct experience of the permanent things, whereas nous uses the permanent things, the first things, the archai, in order to go forward and “produce” knowledge from those things which in themselves do not have to be directly experienced.
Nous allows us to see the limits of things and so be able to define and classify them. These limits were seen through the use of geometry in the Greeks. Nous is the deliberations of the doctor before he prescribes a course of action to treat a disease. In the structure of ethical deliberations, nous begins with the phronetic “for the sake of this, for the sake of the good” such and such is to be done. The circumstances and the situations of the action are such and such. This is the second premise of the deliberation. The second premise is determined by the outermost limits, the consequences. Next to be required is sense perception. All deliberation ends in a sense perception. All deliberation ends in a sense perception through the specific objects. The objects of this sense perception i.e. seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching reveal their specificity in different ways: seeing – color, hearing – tone; etc. The situation is sized up “in the blink of an eye”, what we would call “intuition”. The specific ways of sensing a thing are the permanent “uncovering” of things for sense perception. These came to be called the “categories” and can be measured in their intensity. For Plato, these things were to be seen in the triangles, the elementary figures of geometry.
What is the connection between nous or intelligence and ethical action? Our paradigm of knowledge is that we have knowledge when we represent anything to ourselves as object and question it so that it will give us its reasons. In other writings I speak about this as “the mathematical projection”, the “throwing forward” of reason or what we understand as reason. This “throwing forward” is also called “research”. The limitations of the human mind in synthesizing facts necessitates that we separate that which is being researched into different areas of knowledge. This has led to many astounding practical achievements in all of those areas of knowledge. But what is being said about our ontology when we come to define ourselves in such a way?
What does Simone Weil mean when she says: “Faith is the experience that the intelligence is enlightened by love”? For the past 500 years or so, we have viewed the world and our being in it as a “subject/object” relation. We view our “freedom” to make this world as we wish to be the ground of our actions within it. What is the relation of this knowledge which is driven by domineering and commandeering to “faith”? And what could possibly be meant by “love” in Weil’s statement?
A number of years ago, students were asked to distinguish between knowing a mathematical theorem, riding a bicycle, and knowing a friend in one of the prescribed titles that were offered to them for writing an essay. In the responses to the title, the essays found that knowing a mathematical theorem and riding a bicycle were not so difficult to describe and explore. When it came to knowing a friend, however, they had some difficulty: they found that they turned their friends into objects such that if they had fleas, they would have counted them. In no essay that I read on the title (and I read more than 60) did students discuss that they knew their friend because they “loved” their friend and that it was this love which distinguished their friends from others.
When we speak of ethics, we are speaking about our living in communities or societies. We have formed societies because we have needs, and we depend on others to meet them. As we grow up, our self-consciousness brings the tendency to make ourselves the center of things, and with it the common sense understanding that our very survival depends on our own efforts. When we allow ourselves to be dominated by self-serving, the reality of “otherness” almost disappears for us. In Plato’s writings, the tyrant is described as the worst human being because his self-serving has reached the furthest point. The tyrant is mad because otherness has ceased to exist for him. In Shakespeare, King Lear and Macbeth are “mad” because otherness has ceased for them at different points in the plays. Plato says that the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance, but madness, and this may be found in the statement by J. P. Sartre that “Hell is other people” or, in its opposite sense, “Hell is to be one’s one”. One should not forget the “deformity” of the soul that Aristotle speaks about when he is talking of phronesis as a way of knowing and how this “deformity” may be at the root of our own madness today.
The Greeks loved otherness not because it is other but because it is beautiful. The beauty of otherness is open to all and it is experienced in different forms and at different stages in the journey toward that perfection which we have outlined in the section on phronesis. A shoe fetishist and a saint are at different stages in that road; a gamer and a philosopher experience a beauty of a different quality, but all beauty, like truth, is One.
Any statements about the beauty of the world appear meaningless given the language of today’s modern sciences whether human or natural. We speak of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, but what is beholding? What way of knowing has determined how we “behold” the world? What are its grounds? How does it answer the “Why” that is at the core of human desiring and determines our nature as human beings? In all scientific explanations of the world and the beings in it, we are required to eliminate any assumption of the world as beautiful. Plato’s assumption that the world is beautiful and love is the appropriate response to it is seen as “naive” today since we believe that the proper way of viewing the world is as object, and it is not possible to love an object. Plato’s and Aristotle’s trust in the beauty and goodness of the world was changed to “doubt” through the thinking of Descartes and the arrival of the modern sciences in the 16th and 17th centuries through the work of Newton.
Because the presence of Nature was permanent or eternal for the Greeks, the seeing of the beautiful was open to all human beings. With the modern development of the subject/object distinction, the beauty of the world has been obscured for us. If we confine our thinking and attention to any being as if it were only an object for us (such as the students who attempted to describe “knowing a friend”), it cannot be loved as beautiful. Only as something stands before us in some relation other than the “objective” can we learn of its beauty and from its beauty.
The beauty of the world was related to the goodness of the world by its being considered an image of goodness itself in both Plato and Aristotle. With the discovery of modern science in the 16th and 17th centuries, a great paradigm shift occurred for human being-in-the-world and the discussion of “goodness” shifted to human ethical questions. The “good” has been replaced by “values” in our modern discourse regarding the ethical questions but what “values”, in fact, are has become something of a conundrum for us.
Being those beings which are permanent, beauty and goodness transcend the thinking of nous, techne and phronesis and are related to sophia and episteme and, thus, to sense perception. They can be seen. “Good” is not to be understood as a feeling associated with the appetites but is being itself. A lot of silly writing has been done associating religion with “feeling” and with being, ultimately, irrational. Our ability to perceive or conceive of “good ends” or purposes to our willing and actions are because the “goodness” that is in them is something that is permanent and is there, and remains there, whether we choose to see it or not.
In Plato’s Republic we are shown that we start with trust in our knowledge of those things that are immediately present for us, and then doubt is the means of moving to an understanding of what makes that trust possible in an educated human being. In Aristotle’s episteme and nous, things are described with the conception of purpose, and the ultimate purpose was the good in his science. Modern understanding is to view things in terms of necessity and chance, and through algebraic calculation to control that chance outside of any idea of purpose and there is certainly no room for a conception of the good.
One can see quite clearly from the new TOK guidelines for May 2022 that there is an awareness and concern regarding the darkness that has fallen upon our ethics and our justice in recent times. We can also see this darkness with regard to the ethical as having risen from our current understanding of the arts. Much of our time is filled with works of art and their purpose is the agreeable occupation of our attention. But the purpose of a great work of art is not properly presented when represented as “entertainment” nor as “aesthetics”. It is not chiefly “entertainment” that we have consumed when we are consumed by great beauty. The viewing of a Greek tragedy’s beauty was understood by the Greeks themselves as a “religious activity” wherein they were “looking back at” the gods who they believed were looking upon them; and it should be remembered that Greek tragedy initially arose from religious rituals to the god Dionysus. Even though the metaphor has been used to speak of the modern cinema as a “house of worship”, one can hardly, with any seriousness, compare the consumption of a flic on a Marvel action hero to a “religious activity”.
The question of whether there are some works of art more worthy of our attention than others must finally be answered in that there are some works of art more worthy of attention than others because they point to a goodness which is quite unrepresentable to us and that is quite beyond us.
When nous as reason and logic is exalted above understanding (as is the case in modern science today), we invert the Platonic and Aristotelian view of the world in order to view human beings as “autonomous” and this lessens our receptivity to otherness in the name of our freedom. One key difficulty in the present is that our viewing of the world is no longer a viewing which beholds the beauty of the permanent things of sophia and episteme, but is a viewing dominated by a science whose chief desire is to change the world based on its combination of nous and techne. When the objects of the world are apprehended as “resource”, they cannot be apprehended as beautiful, and it cannot be forgotten that in the public realm human beings are viewed as “human resources” and “human capital”.
The beauty of the world is made most manifest for us in the beauty of other people whether sexually or as family or simply as others, but it must be understood that with our being-in-the-world based as it is on modern sciences, what we have done to nature, we first had to do to our own bodies. The connection to ethics here is that it is through our bodies that we participate most directly in what we have come to call ethics, whether in the actions that we carry out for ourselves or for the sake of others. As Simone Weil said: “Matter is our infallible judge” when it comes to ethical questions.
The ways in which sexual instinct and love are held together and detached from each other make up much of our being-in-the-world. (Prior to the arrival of Facebook, pornographic sites were the most viewed on the internet). Sexual desire can be our recognition of others as beautiful or it can be a calculated self-centredness that makes other people the instruments for producing sensations. Sexual desire can be the occasion where the light of what others are is enflamed for us or it can lock us into the madness of ourselves so that nothing is real but our own imaginings. In the past, when love and the beautiful were considered “sacred” things, it was necessary to remove these sacred restraints because they were not instrumental to the forwarding of “production” in capitalist societies. The social sciences themselves are a product of capitalist society. In the past, “to love” and “to know” were considered the same thing.
The division of love from intelligence or nous is seen when we speak of our knowledge of justice, our ethics. In Aristotle and Plato, justice is defined as the rendering to anything what is its due. Political justice was the attempt to render what is due among human beings, both body and soul. In the non-human world, it was a rendering what is due to cattle and polar bears, stones and wheat, to God or gods. Justice was not only the arrangements to be realized in any given society, but also in the being-in-the-world of the individual, the realization of the individual’s perfection or “virtue”.
The philosopher Martin Heidegger made a statement that raised a great deal of controversy in the recent publications of his Notebooks: “Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs. Man is not the lord of beings.” Many claimed that this quote justified the accusation against Heidegger that he was anti-Semitic and should have been properly shot following World War 2. What distinguishes Heidegger from his critics is that he is consistent in his thinking; his critics would like to have it both ways. The modern thinking that separates techne and nous from phronesis and sophia and provides the drive to domineering and commandeering the world as disposable resource, has cast a pall on the consistency of any modern theories of justice and ethics and has led to the confusion that is evident in many writings and actions of human beings today and, thus, provides the rationale for the TOK guidelines for May, 2022.
The journey to the perfection of individual virtue is not isolated from the requirements of living in the world. We can only fulfill those requirements and retain some relation to that perfection to the extent that we partake of that perfection. What we have come to call our freedom is simply our potential indifference to such a high end as Plato indicates and as Shakespeare shows so brilliantly in his Macbeth.
In the political writings of Plato and Aristotle, it was recognized that the wicked were not only individual criminals but those who wished to rule for their own self-assertion. Such tyrants were more destructive of justice than those who ruled simply in terms of the property interests of one class. They were worse than those who were simply ambitious for political power. Because tyrants were the most dangerous for any society, the chief political purpose anywhere was to ensure that those who ruled had at least some sense of justice which mitigated self-assertion and this was the purpose of their education. Such education is lacking in today’s leaders in many parts of the world.
The central distinction between ancient and modern theories of justice, where some limitation must be placed on individual liberties, can be seen in the hierarchy that has been outlined in this writing regarding the ways of knowing. The limitations in ancient societies are vertical in that they are understood by what the ancients knew about the whole which transcended the individual. What is given in knowledge of the whole is knowledge of the good which we do not measure and define but by which we are measured and defined. The modern theories are horizontal in the sense that one human being’s right to do what he or she wants has to come to terms with the rights of other human beings to do what they want. The basis of society was the rational calculation of the social contract. The contractarian basis of the state was both communist and capitalist: Marx’s dependence on Rousseau; the American founders dependence on Locke’s right to “life, liberty and property”. Kant’s Perpetual Peace emphasizes that we could have a just society composed of a nation of clever devils if they were clever enough to negotiate a social contract. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights owes a great deal to the ethical thinking of Kant.
In ancient societies, virtue was at the core of the just political order while the moderns have given freedom that central position. Modern theories of justice show it to be something human beings make and impose for human convenience. In the coming to be of technological science, the dependence of science upon calculus has been matched by the dependence for knowledge of justice upon calculation. These calculations are based on the logic and reason that has come to dominate what we understand as nous in our modern age.
We will finish up this overly long entry with an example which illustrates the disjunction of beauty and truth, the implications that this has for our understanding of ethics today, and why there is such confusion regarding our ethics. That the way of knowing called sophia has all but disappeared for us and with it the sense of the permanence of beauty and truth goes without saying. We can also say that the connection between love and intelligence has also experienced a rift in most aspects of our being-in-the-world. We shall speak of this with regard to Darwin.
Darwin’s discoveries and statements about what human beings are are taken as “fact” and not theory in our defining of what human beings and other species are. If we reflect on what we mean by loving something with intelligence, we could say that it is to want them to be. What is it about animals as products of modification through natural selection which would make us want them to be? Since Darwin, human beings have been responsible for the extinction of more species than at any other time in history. There is some connection between what we think other species to be and how we treat them. Facts and values are not as disjointed as we have been led to believe.
Darwin’s discoveries required disciplined attention, but what was discovered in his syntheses does not call forth love for the objects of his studies. To know that human and non-human species are modified through natural selection does not throw light on ourselves and others, on defining what human beings and other species are, but there is no reason for us to find “beautiful” that about which his formulation is made. It gives us no reason why we should love ourselves or other animals. Can we love ourselves and others just because we have come to be through natural selection? Darwin’s viewing provides us with no reason why we should. Darwin’s discoveries about natural selection do no make the animals ugly, but neither do his discoveries tell us why the animals are beautiful. The “fact/value” distinction is that separation in our seeing of the world where the true and the beautiful are disjointed, where scientific theorizing and propositions are ‘value neutral’ or ‘value free’.
Human beings will, obviously, go on loving otherness because they find it beautiful. But what is the result when they cannot hold in unity the love they experience with what they are being taught in the technological sciences? This is at the core of what appears to me to be an attempt by IB, through TOK, to deal with the most important issues that face us today in our everyday lives.
Our dominant paradigm of knowledge may not be of much concern to many of the young in IB schools because it is their ticket to professionalism and that is the name of the game. But there is little room for reflection in our paradigm of knowledge. The bios theoretikos of Aristotle has long since past away. The bios ethikos embodies all our waking hours, but there is hardly the opportunity to apply phronesis to most of the actions we take when the value of those actions are determined according to their efficiency and their results. How is it possible to think that the modern paradigm is sufficient to meet the needs of human beings?
When we speak of “knowledge and politics”, we are speaking about “political philosophy” or “political science” because knowledge is “science” or “philosophy”. The turbulence of our times in not unique to them; the history of human beings shows that as long as we have had societies, we have had difficulties living within them. These difficulties for us today are that the problems of living in societies are exacerbated by the judgements of our social sciences which state that we cannot make judgements about what is the “best” society or what is “good or bad” when speaking about societies and the actions of the human beings who live within them because we must distinguish between “statements of fact” and “statements of value”. To judge the good or bad or what is “best” is to make a value judgement, and the modern social sciences are forbidden from making “value judgements” (or so they claim, although they do so all the time). “Political philosophy” or “political science” would claim to have knowledge of “political things”, but what are “political things”? Our modern social sciences resist making such claims to knowledge.
Our modern social sciences are a product of, and a consequence of, the great change in the viewing of Nature that occurs with the modern Natural Sciences of the 17th century. It was the Greeks who first distinguished Nature (physis) from “convention” (nomos) and thus raised the issue of whether social things, the political things, were “by nature” or “by “convention”. This distinction raised all kinds of thorny questions: is justice merely “conventional” or are there things which are by nature just? do laws have natural content or are they merely the inventions of human beings and thus conventions? These questions are still with us. When Americans say: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” they are saying something which is by nature, “self-evident truths”, and not something which is mere convention. Nowadays we aren’t quite sure that there are any “self-evident truths” and this is one of the major reasons that we find ourselves in the turmoil and confusion that we are in today no matter where we dwell on the planet.
Plato in Bk. VI of his Republic states that those who follow the opinion of what we today would call the “pragmatic theory of truth” would be the followers of a Great Beast, and in their following of the Beast, their actions or ethics would be determined accordingly. The sophism of today’s Social Science is outlined clearly by Socrates in the passage which here is quoted in full because of its importance:
“…That each of the private wage earners whom these men (technites) call sophists and believe to be their rivals in art, educates in nothing other than these convictions of the many, which they opine when they are gathered together, and he calls this wisdom. It is just like the case of a man who learns by heart the angers and desires of a great, strong beast he is rearing, how it should be approached and how taken hold of, when—and as a result of what—it becomes most difficult or most gentle, and, particularly, under what conditions it is accustomed to utter its several sounds, and, in turn, what sort of sounds uttered by another make it tame and angry. When he has learned all this from associating and spending time with the beast, he calls it wisdom and, organizing it as an art, turns to teaching. Knowing nothing in truth about which of these convictions and desires is noble, or base, or good, or evil, or just, or unjust, he applies all these names following the great animal’s opinions—calling what delights it good and what vexes it bad. He has no other argument about them but calls the necessary just and noble, neither having seen nor being able to show someone else how much the nature of the necessary and the good really differ. Now, in your opinion, wouldn’t such a man, in the name of Zeus, be out of place as an educator?” (Republic 493b trans. Allan Bloom)
In his description of the Great Beast, Plato outlines what he will call the Cave in Bk VII of Republic and what dwells in the Cave. The Cave is the world in which we dwell everyday. Societies are the Great Beast that we dwell alongside, among and with in the Cave, and the societies are determined by the nature of their rulers and the regimes and rules (laws) that they establish. The “regime” is what the Greeks called the polis, from which our word “politics” is derived. The word has more connotations than the translations “country” or “city” or “State” provide.
Plato lists five types of regimes, from best to worst, in his Republic: 1. monarchy; 2. aristocracy; 3. oligarchy; 4. democracy; 5. tyranny. Democracy is placed just above tyranny because, according to Plato, democracy appeals to the “lowest common denominator” in human beings, the “appetites”, and these are insatiable in nature and lack sophrosyne or “moderation” without “proper education” and guidance. Democracy neglects the education to “virtue” of its citizens within it or domestically, and appeals to an imperialism in the State without in its relations to its neighbouring states because of its avariciousness. Democracy inevitably devolves into tyranny through time because it is unable to develop a sense of “otherness” among its inhabitants i.e. it is not able to establish the virtue of “friendship” among its members. “Friendship” is established through logos or “speech”.
When things are known through “speech”, they can become what we call “opinion”. Ethics is not “opinion” because it deals with praxis, concrete actions, and these actions are taken in the direction of some perceived “good”, and the actions and their results can be seen by all. An opinion is directed to something; it is a maintaining that some thing is such and such. Opinion is an orientation towards things as they would show themselves to a correct investigation and examination. “Opinion” is an attempt to “reveal” the truth of something covered over or hidden. “Opinion” is Plato’s “justified true belief” which he outlines in his dialogue Theatetus. Opinion is not a seeking for knowledge but is something someone already has whether it be true or false because an opinion can be true or false. Sophia and episteme arenot “opinion” because they are already complete i.e. they are not underway towards something because they already possess knowledge of the things about which they deliberate and those things are the things which are permanent. “Opinion” regards those things that can be otherwise and that is why it can be true or false. Opinion is the handing over of knowledge through “language” and what the thing is that is handed over. It is not a “truth relativism”; it may reveal or it may not. It reveals when it is true; it does not reveal when it is false.
To speak about “knowledge and politics” is to recognize that ours is an age of sophistry. Because this is so, we wish to look at the dialogue by Plato which follows Theatetus called Sophist. In this dialogue Plato provides the “lineage” of the sophist so that we are able to grasp from where and how the sophist came to be. Plato’s dialogue “uncovers” the Sophist as well as those things with which his techne deals. How the sophist speaks about and deals with things reveals that his comportment towards things is that of a technite. His is an art or a craft which involves the “speaking about everything”. We have come to call this techne “rhetoric”. Sophistry is the “know how” that deals with speaking about everything there is; his is the “know how” about speaking about things, but his “know how” is a deception of that which is spoken about: the speech of the sophist presents its object as something which it is not; what he speaks about is not as he shows it to be. In a Platonic sense, the sophist demonstrates “the Being of non-beings” and in doing so demonstrates that illusion and trickery are. But surely, illusion and trickery, deception and lies are real things, are they not? Not so for Plato, but we must remember that for Plato even those things which we consider “good” are not “real” but merely “shadows” of their true being.
By showing what the sophist is through words, the Being of the philosopher is also shown in silence. Throughout this dialogue, Socrates is silent, his is the Being of the philosopher, and the conversation is conducted by the Stranger from Elia and carried out with Theatetus. We have two opposite “triangles”: the politician – the sophist – the madman, on the one hand, and the Statesman – the philosopher – the human being/citizen on the other. Each of these triangles illustrate the Idea of the objects that they are attempting to bring to light or to “presence”.
The language used by Plato in his dialogues is an attempt to get beyond the chit-chat of everyday speech, the language we most commonly use in our everyday dealings with things. The language and engagement in the conversation that is dialectic is not the attempt to out-argue someone, but getting one’s partner in the conversation to open their eyes and see. Logos is an assertion about something and an addressing of some thing as some thing. It is concerned with the proper naming of the things. While language first has to do with hearing, its purpose is to make us see. We do not have to look far for examples of disputes with the proper naming of things. Any reading of the daily news will provide them, and as this is being written a great debate is going on in America over what is the thing that is to be called “bribery”.
Plato’s Sophist shows the being of the sophist and the being of the philosopher and how the two “reveal” the beings with which they are concerned: the sophist in his comportment reveals the “non-being” of the things of which he speaks; the philosopher reveals the true being of the things, and as we engage in reading this dialogue we ourselves participate in philosophy. What we will attempt to show is the “non-being” of the political and ethical things of which the sophist speaks and in doing so, how Plato relates to “revealing” in our own age regarding these things. How do the political and the ethical things “look” when encountered and spoken of by the sophist and the philosopher? How do these things “look” in our age?
Each area of knowledge is “cut out”of the whole of things and has a definite aisthesis or “lens” (as we now call it) in which its perceptions have been shaped and honed regarding the objects which it inquires about. In geometry, the objects are the relations of space or place, things as they are “by and within nature”. The objects of physics are beings that are “in motion”. The physicist does not first prove that his objects of inquiry are in motion; they are seen that way in advance. Philosophy and the philosopher distinguish themselves from sophists and dialecticians by the type and mode of competence, and mode of existence which they demonstrate. The philosopher is dedicated to “substance”; the sophist to “semblance”. The sophist claims to educate by enabling his hearers to “speak well” about anything and everything. The sophist disregards completely anything substantial in his speaking.
In contrast to the philosopher, the sophist does not take things seriously because he is not concerned about the substantive content of his “speeches”; nothing gets too “heavy” in the speeches of the sophist simply because there is no substantive content to give them weight. The philosopher, on the other hand, wishes to bring about understanding; the sophist attempts to persuade and cajole through his speeches’ apparent reasonableness and brilliance. The sophist’s unconcern for substance is a matter of principle because the sophist is concerned with semblance, the false, the not, and negation. The sophist is well aware of the importance of speech and the speaking person and of the spoken word’s dominance in the individual and the community. The form which the speeches take is most decisive. In the view of human being-in-the-world and ethics, Plato associates the sophist with the politician and the madman.
Today’s politician is a sophist if we look at the character and mode of being of the sophist as outlined by Plato and Aristotle. Because the sophist is a “complicated” thing to “describe”, comparisons of commonplace things which no one will dispute will be used. The first commonplace comparison that is familiar to everyone is an “angler”. So what similarities do the “angler” and the sophist “reveal”? The methodological approach used by Plato is one of diaresis, a separation in which the two things, the thematic=sophist and the example=angler, are placed side by side so that they may be compared and “brought to light”, similar to the methodology that you will be using in your Exhibition.
The “angler” is shown to be a technite, one who has “know how”. Someone who has no “know how” whatsoever is what is called an “idiot” by the Greeks. This is the origin of our word meaning the same thing. This “know how” of the angler is called by the Greeks dynamis “an ability, a capacity, an aptitude for something”. Techne is a “producing”, a bringing into being what is not there at first, “a bringing forth into presence”, a “revealing”. The angler brings to presence what before was hidden in the depths. Learning is a “bringing something close to oneself”, “making oneself familiar with something”, “getting to know someone or something”, “taking something into awareness”. In Greek, the word pragma means “something there that one can do things with”, “something one can use”, “something one can appropriate”. The demiourgos is one who makes things for public use. The relation of all these terms is that they concern something that is already there; the things may be appropriated or “grasped” in logos or in praxis. The prey which the angler hunts is already there, though hidden.
What is appropriated in knowledge and speech is the truth of things that are already there in their “unconcealment”. Knowledge was developed by the Greeks without any “theory” or “epistemology”; they did not have a “theory of knowledge”. Knowledge, for the Greeks, was a taking to oneself of something that was already there on hand such that the being, the thing that is taken up remains precisely what and where it is. The things offer themselves in their full presence without distortion, and knowledge and discourse is allowing the beings or things to give themselves as they are. To contrast the Greek understanding of what knowledge is to our understanding of knowledge would take much more writing than this entry will allow. How do all of these concepts relate to the sophist?
The sophist’s comportment to the world is speech/logos. We have referred to it as “language as a way of knowing” and, as we have mentioned, each way of knowing is a comportment to the world, a “lens” through which the world is perceived in some way. Speech, words is the means the sophist uses to procure his objects which are other people. “Correct speaking” is what he himself has to give. His techne brings about “disputatiousness” in others; that is what his “education” brings about in other people produces “divisions” rather than the “understanding” that leads to “friendship”. The goal of “correct speaking” or rhetoric is the inculcation of opinions in others. The aim is to prevail in public opinion to procure power and reputation. The intention of speaking is not to comprehend those things about which the speeches are made, but to prevail in public opinion and procure power thereby. (Gorgias453 A2)
The Greeks define human being as the zoon logon echon, the animal capable of discourse. Since language is crucial to understanding who and what the sophist is, we must look at how language relates to the techne and to the comportment of the sophist in relation to the world and the beings in it. Plato believes that the sophists are misinformed about the nature of their techne. Deception can only be carried out if one sees the truth. This deception must first begin with the self.
In his dialogue Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates describe his love for speeches and why he does so: his love of speeches is driven by his desire for “self-knowledge”. It is a love of learning, or literally, “hearing what people say”. Socrates does not leave the city because he has nothing to learn from the fields, meadows and trees. Phaedrus itself is a dialogue regarding the human comportment in Love to speech, the soul, and the Good. But the dialogue itself takes place outside of the city, under a tree by a brook. Socrates’ love is not referring to the degenerate speeches of orators and the like; his love is of the speech with substance. The speeches of the sophist, however, concern the needs, demands, dispositions, inclinations, and the manners of the many, and these serve as the guidelines for discourse. The sophist must first have knowledge of the audience to whom he is speaking (See the Great Beast passage above). Socrates does not distinguish between the speech about serious, important matters and the speech about trivialities and chit-chat. The one who is competent in the techne of speeches is also the one who is able to deceive in a perfect way by this same techne.The condition of the possibility of genuine self-expression is also the possibility of perfect deception and misrepresentation.
For example, deception is to speak about something in such a way that it looks like something else which it is not but which it is to be seen as. This “being seen as”, this sight, is to be formed by logos. The actual “what” of the thing needs to be hidden and the thing depends on the “face” that it wears, how it is made to appear. The face of the deception must be precisely revealed. The one who knows the truth of the thing must have this first before the deception is possible. One can see specific examples of this techne of deception running throughout the attempt to impeach Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. The thing, the “crime”, is made to not look like a crime by Trump’s defenders. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth must deceive himself first through the logos which he does by not addressing the act which he contemplating to be “murder”. Macbeth refers to the murder as “it” and he invents a new word, “assassination”, in order to hide from himself the “face” of the action that he is considering doing. (Act I sc. vii) This self-deception is “evil”, for evil is the denial of the light as light, and this denial must occur first prior to the action being carried out. An element of “intentional ignorance” must be present and a denial of the truth as truth.
Where and how does this denial of truth originate? In Plato’s Sophist the discussion is of the relation between the soul and the body, and the themes of “sickness” and “ugliness” or “deformity” (c.f. Macbeth). The “sickness” that arises in the soul is when one mode of comportment or way of knowing the world comes into conflict with another mode of comportment. This results in what we would call “stress” today and it is experienced in the body. “Ugliness” is considered to be a condition of the soul and is understood as “inadequacy” or “unfittedness” for the goal or aim that the individual is trying to achieve. This does not relate to the different modes of comportment but is something residing in the comportment itself. The “aim” or telos, the “aspiration” is not appropriate to the nature of the individual’s thinking nor to the individual’s psyche or soul thus resulting in a “deformity”. Where the “ugliness” is, things do not have “the proper outward look”; disfiguration in the things that are seen occurs because the soul itself does not have the proper “outward look”.
We will continue to attempt to explore the nature of political things in Part II of this writing on knowledge and politics. For a conclusion to this writing, as we rest along our journey along the path to the arriving at the origin of political things, let us just say that the modern thought reaches its culmination in the most radical historicism. It condemns to oblivion the notion of eternity or the permanence of things. Oblivion of eternity is our estrangement from our deepest desire, the desire of and for the Good, according to the Greeks. This estrangement has resulted in our present confusion regarding political and ethical things due to our estrangement from the primary issues. We do not know what the questions are that we need to ask. It is the price that we have had to pay for our attempt to control necessity and become masters and owners of nature.
“Now I am tempted to say that the right expression in language for the miracle of the existence of the world, though it is not any proposition in language, is the existence of language itself.”—Wittgenstein
“Language is the house of Being. In its home humans dwell.”—Heidegger “Letter on Humanism”
“‘En arche ‘en ‘o Logos” (“In the beginning was the Word”)—John 1:1
“…we ourselves no longer have the power to trust that the word is the essential foundation of all relations to beings as such.”—Heidegger: “Aristotle’s Physics”
Language is probably the most important theme of 20th century philosophy and will be of the philosophy that moves into the 21st century. Why this has come to be the case will be the outline of these writings on language and knowledge.
The very essence of what we are as human beings, our ontology or way of being-in-the-world (to use the philosophical word) is contained in our language and in our understanding of language. To understand language is to contrast instruction with teaching; and to do so is to recognize the teaching in TOK and to characterize its “uselessness” and why it must be “useless” in order to be true learning and teaching. The issue of “uselessness” and “usefulness” is to connect these seemingly varying themes here to the status of education in our modern technological age. In order to do so, we must rethink language.
The rethinking of language takes place from and within the rethinking of technology. The relation between technology and language is crucial for a rethinking of language in our modern technological age. It is therefore necessary to talk about the technological language, which defines “a language that is technologically determined by what is most peculiar to technology”, that is, by framing (or enframing). It is imperative that we ask what is language and in what special way it remains exposed to the dictates of technology. Such imperatives to our thinking about language are only met in the rethinking of the current conception of language that we might characterize in the following way:
Today we think speech is: (1) a faculty, an activity and achievement of humans. It is: (2) the operation of the instruments for communication and hearing. Speech is: (3) the expression and communication of emotions accompanied by thoughts (dispositions) in the service of “information”. Speech is: (4) a representing and portraying (picturing, the making of pictures) of the real and unreal. Speech deals with the “correspondence theory of truth”.
The traditional metaphysical connection (subject “the things”) + (predicate “the qualities of the things”) between language and thinking defines language in terms of thinking, thinking as the human activity of representing objects, and thus language has been seen as a means for conveying information about objects. This “information” we call “data”. Traditional metaphysics places thinking as “reason” (reason, “logic” which has its root in “logos”) as the determining factor in the relation between language and thinking. The Greeks called this way of knowing nous. It is through reason that we attain truth and, thus, knowledge. This is shown in our current conception of language as an “instrument of expression” in the “service of thinking”. The common view believes that thought uses language merely as its “medium” or a means of expression. The problem with regard to language as a means of “uncovering” truth is that the uncovering of truth is not intrinsic to language. In language, things can come to presence and be revealed as either true or false (pseudos). And this is the major problem or difficulty with language.
We assume that language is a tool used by human beings to communicate information. We think that the same fact can be expressed in many different languages. We think a competent speaker is in control of language and can use it efficiently to convey data to his/her audience. In the quest for efficiency in communication, we have devised artificial languages that give us more control over language. Symbolic logic, computer programming languages, and the technical languages of the sciences are set up as systems in which each sign can be interpreted in only one way. Each sign points clearly to what it represents so that the sign itself becomes completely unobtrusive. The perfect language is a technique for perfect representation. Algebraic calculation is a dominant influence in this type of thinking.
There are two major schools of thought on language: the “structuralist” or “analytical” school which has been the one described up to now, and the “continental” school. The “continental” school’s foremost representative is Martin Heidegger: “Language is the house of being. In its home humans dwell” is a quote that captures Heidegger’s understanding of language. But what does this statement mean? In attempting to understand language and knowledge, we will speak about written and spoken language.
The conception of language, as a mere means of exchange of information, undergoes an extreme transformation in our modern technological age that is expressed in the definition of language as “information”. The analytic school of thought on language offers a prime example of a “metaphysical-technological explanation” of language stemming from the “calculative frame of mind”. This view believes that thinking and speaking are “exhausted by theoretical and natural-scientific representation and statements”, and that they “refer to objects and only to objects”. Language, as a tool of “scientific-technological knowing”–which “must establish its theme (thesis, theory) in advance as a calculable, causally explicable framework”– is thus “only an instrument that we employ to manipulate objects”. Think of this in terms of our computers and our other tools of “information technology”, particularly the speed reading technologies and applications that are becoming available. Heidegger notes the influence and understanding of language by analytic philosophy in our modern technological age:
Of late, the scientific and philosophical investigation of languages is aiming more resolutely at the production of what is called “metalanguage.” Analytic philosophy, which is set on producing this super-language, is quite consistent when it considers itself metalinguistics. That sounds like metaphysics -not only sounds like it, it is metaphysics. Metalinguistics is the thoroughgoing technicalization of all languages into the sole operative instrument of interplanetary information. Metalanguage and sputnik, metalinguistics and rocketry are the Same.
Heidegger is speaking this in the late 1950s, but the connection to today’s information technology illustrates the truth of his statement. Given the logical bent of analytical philosophy, the modern mathematical and symbolic logic or “Logistik” is metaphysics. Logistics was for Heidegger the “unbroken rule of metaphysics” establishing itself everywhere; and modern epistemology (theories of knowledge, theory itself) acquire a “decisive position of dominance.” It was a matter of grave concern for Heidegger to see that logistics was being considered everywhere “the only possible form of strict philosophy” on the grounds that its procedures and results are deemed productive for what he called “the construction of the technological universe.” Have a look at the etymological roots of “logistics” on dictionary.com. They might alarm you. This manner of thinking must be thought about in relation to what we understand as “artificial intelligence” or AI. The consequences are very grave for the future.
Heidegger’s negative characterizations of logistics abound: It is a “logical degeneration” of traditional categorical logic, and its development is a sign of the “decay of philosophy”, an indication of its “dissolution” and “completion.” At another point, Heidegger states: “Technique is the metaphysic of the age.”
Language and Concepts:
If we think about what we call “dead” languages for a moment, we will notice that they are called “dead” because they are no longer subject to changes in meaning. Any “living” language will have changes in meaning and interpretation according to the historical time in which it occurs. Our modern attempts to fixate language into an unambiguous tool for communicating information and representing beings/things illustrate our desire to fulfill the revealing of truth as representation, to follow the correspondence theory of truth and the principle of reason. There is “truth” (according to Heidegger), but this truth is relative to the historical situation in which it occurs; it is not a “subjective” truth, but a communal truth: that is, it is not based on personal knowledge, but is the knowledge that we all share. In our current situation, this is the global “revealing” through technology and drives us to realize the “global village” or “internationalism”. This view of truth is sometimes called “the pragmatic theory of truth”. Heidegger was not a holder of the pragmatic theory of truth.
If Heidegger is correct, the same fact cannot be expressed in many different languages because beings and “information” present themselves differently according to different cultural contexts. The quest for a universal, unambiguous language can only succeed in creating stillborn languages. These languages are locked into a particular interpretation of the world and the things in it (representational revealing) and are incapable of responding creatively to new experience. Artificial languages (and one might say artificial intelligence since it will be based on these languages) are not more “objective” than natural languages—they are just narrower and more rigid. They are the language of commandeering and dominance.
Language cannot be merely a tool that we use because we can control it: we owe our own Human Being to language and in this sense, it is language that uses us. What distinguishes human beings from other animals and species is that we are the zoon logon echon the animal capable of discourse. Language is fundamental to the revelation of the world in which we live; it is an essential part of what enables us to be someone and notice things in the world in the first place. Language has the power to reveal our world and transform our existence. But the lucid and creative moments are few both in individuals and in societies; the rest is inauthentic and derivative or what we have come to call ‘shared knowledge’. Everyday “idle talk” is a pale, dull reflection of “creative meanings” that are first revealed and achieved in poetry.
Where does the understanding of language as “representation” come from? As the “doctrine of the logos” in Aristotle is interpreted as assertion or statement, logic is the doctrine of thinking and the science of statement (or the making of statements—propositions, the creation of “pictures”), that is, logic (the principle of reason) provides the authoritative interpretations of thinking and speaking that rule throughout the technological. More specifically, logistics has as its basis the modern interpretation of the statement or assertion as the “connection of representations” (the coherence theory of truth). It is in this sense that Heidegger regards it as another manifestation of the “unchecked power of modern thinking” itself. Heidegger depicts the connections between logic and modern technology in very dramatic tones:
Without the legein (the saying) of [Western] logic, modern man would have to make do without his automobile. There would be no airplanes, no turbines, no Atomic Energy Commission. Without the logos, of logic, the world would look different.
The general form of modern metaphysical thinking is thus a “scientific-technological manner of thinking”. This thinking, this world-view, threatens to “spread to all realms” thereby magnifying the “deceptive appearance which makes all thinking and speaking seem objectifying”. This thinking and speaking finds its full realization in algebraic calculation. It is this form of objectifying thinking that strives to “represent everything henceforth only technologically-scientifically as an object of possible control and manipulation”. With it, language itself takes a corresponding form: it becomes “deformed into an instrument of reportage and calculable information” or what we call “data”. However, while the form that language takes is thus instrumental, in such a form of thinking, language itself exerts its own influence insofar as it is “treated like a manipulable object to which our manner of thinking must conform”. Language itself allows itself to be treated in such a way. Language and reason are, in the end, inseparable. They allow themselves to create our box, the “lens” through which we view the world.
The traditional metaphysical manner of thinking in our age is a “one-track thinking,” (in Heidegger’s words) and this ‘one track’ can be understood and associated with technology. It is a “one-sided thinking” that tends towards a “one-sided uniform view” in which “[everything] is leveled to one level”, and “[our] minds hold views on all and everything, and view all things in the same way.” Our manner of thinking is the box. (*A link can be made to the uniformity of our understanding of number and its correspondence to Newton’s view of the uniformity of matter. See the AOKs Mathematics and Natural Sciences.)
There is a kind of language that, as the expression of this form of thinking, is itself one-tracked and one-sided. One “symptom” of the growing power of the technological form of thinking is in our increased use of designations consisting of abbreviations of words or combinations of their initials. Our text messaging and our love of acronyms is a technological form of language in the sense that these herald the ordering in which everything is reduced to the univocity of concepts and precise specifications. This reduction and ordering also leads us to view all activities we engage in to be leveled to one level: the student who is asked to create a work of art either in words or other media, sees their activity as nothing more than their being in a shopping mall or at a supermarket. The activity ceases to have any priority in importance. In this view, “speed reading” will come to flourish since we cannot learn from texts anything other than “information”.
Such interpretations are the “technological”; they are a given only “insofar as technology is itself understood as a means and everything is conceived only according to this respect (technology understood as “tools”).” If our way of thinking is one that values only that which is immediately useful, then language is only conceived and appreciated from this perspective of its usefulness for us. More importantly, this suggests it is the essence of technology as framing that somehow determines the “transformation of language into mere information.” We refer to this framing as “the box” that inhibits our thinking. The word information itself is composed of in+form+ation: “that which is responsible for “the form” so that it may “inform”.
If the essence of modern technology is “framing”, then there is also a “language of framing.” (See the unit on Technology as a WOK for an understanding of the concept of “framing”).
[All] ordering finds itself channeled into calculative thinking and therefore speaks the language of framing. Speaking is challenged to correspond in every respect to framing in which all present beings can be commandeered. –Heidegger
It is within framing (the “form”), then, that “speaking turns into information” and that which is responsible for the framing is what is referred to as “technology”.
We can look at the computer as one manner in which modern technology controls the mode and the world of language as such. We can infer that the computer is one crucial way in which this language of framing speaks.
“To compute”, obviously, means to calculate. With the construction of artificial intelligence, calculating, thinking and translating machines, speed reading applications, the computer is made possible insofar as its activities take place in the element of language. The term “computer” should not be taken as merely talking about calculators and computers. Machine technology itself is “the most visible outgrowth of the essence of modern technology”, (Heidegger) and that ours is the age of the machine (and the Age of Information) is due to the fact that it is the technological age, and not vice versa. More importantly, framing (the form) itself is not anything technological in the sense of mechanical parts and their assembly. Thus, the language of framing cannot itself be reduced to anything technological in this narrow sense. The computer intrudes by regulating and adjusting through its hardware and software and their functions how we can and do use language. Think of our smart phones and other assemblages that are linked to our computers and the manner of their linkages and how they assemble information and how this information must be assembled.
If there is a transformation of language in the computer that speaks the language of framing, then the question is what is the essence of language itself that it allows for its transformation into a technological language, into information? The essence of language is defined from the essence of language: It is a Saying that shows, in the sense of letting-appear. The possibility of a technological language lies here, for it is itself a Saying-Showing that is limited to the mere making of signs for the communication of information. Let us now examine some of the historical background for this development of language.
Historical Background of Language as Representation:
St. Augustine in his autobiography Confessions gives us the common understanding of how language comes about:
When they [my elders] named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shown by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples: the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires. (Augustine, Confessions, I. 8)
Here, Augustine speaks of language as “signs”. They are a “pointing out”, a “directing of the gaze or glance” and from them, the thing that is pointed out comes to stand for us as what it is in the saying so given and becomes “grasped” or “captured” by us. But notice that in Augustine’s description there are a number of steps involved in the “grasping” of the thing that is “pointed out”. First there is the pointing, then there is the bodily movement, then there is the sound uttered, then there is the notice of the “disposition” made when the sound is uttered; and, all of this occurs within a social context; there is “dialogue”. From this follows the “grammatical” structure of language, “the placing of the signs in their proper places in various sentences” which allows one to “express their own desires”.
Augustine is speaking of language as “representational”: the picture created is a word or a sign that stands for or represents a thing by virtue of that word or sign’s meaning. Each word means just one thing, and it does so by virtue of a meaning that we can think of or understand. Language is, then, the communication of meanings from one person to another in the package of a sign: to communicate with you, I “frame” my intended meaning within the appropriate sign, and then give you the sign in speech or writing, whereupon you “decode” (interpret) it again, supplying the meaning for the sign I have given from within the same frame. To speak language, then, is to imbue dead signs with life, to breathe air into the otherwise mute forms of signs. Language is thought of as the breath of life animating lifeless form; language is the soul of meaning infusing and animating the bodies of signs. Hence Aristotle discusses language as the “showing” of the soul’s “dispositions”:
Now, whatever it is [that transpires] in the creation of sound by the voice is a showing of whatever dispositions there may be in the soul, and the written is a showing of the sounds of the voice. Hence, just as writing is not identical among all [human beings], so too the sounds of the voice are not identical. However, that of which these [sounds and writing] are in the first place a showing are among all [human beings] the identical dispositions of the soul; and the matters of which these [dispositions] form approximating presentations (pictures) are likewise identical.
Aristotle construes language as a kind of showing (in pictures), but taken in the view of the history of Western metaphysics that we have outlined in our writing on “Reason as a Way of Knowing”, Aristotle’s pictures imply that language is a mere instrument (tool) for the expression of inner intentions or thoughts (dispositions). Within the tradition of Western thinking, the picture will imply that the relationship between signs and the thoughts they express is purely arbitrary, or to use the term favored by logical positivist philosophers “conventional”; language is a system of arbitrary correlations (conventions) of signs to common meanings. Notice, though, that Aristotle insists that the “dispositions” themselves are the identical common meanings. It is important to note that Plato wrote “dialogues”; Aristotle wrote treatises. If one reads Plato’s dialogues in the same manner as one reads an Aristotelian treatise, one will fail to understand the dialogue. This manner of reading Plato is one of the fates that have befallen us within the English-speaking community. British and American thinkers of previous generations read Plato as if they were reading a treatise of Aristotle. It has only been recently that this has changed.
The traditional picture of language found in Augustine, Aristotle, and the logical positivists, also has deep connections with the metaphysics of subjectivity (Descartes, Kant). In this traditional picture, the sign stands for an object (subjectum), but it is also the sign for a concept or image in the speaker’s mind (the frame). The concept, or mental image, is a representation in the speaker’s mind or brain. Even though we can exchange signs in communication, we can never be sure, in the traditional picture, that we are successful in communicating the mental representations, concepts, or images that go with them (the predicates). The connection between a particular sign and the mental image that it evokes is the connection (or lack thereof) between something public and communicable, and something essentially private and incommunicable. Mathematics as “symbolic language” or “signs” overcomes this sense of arbitrariness in the public realm and is one of the reasons for its dominance in the realm of what can be called “knowledge”.
How can we rethink language and meaning, outside the traditional picture, in a way that reveals its essence as a showing (aletheia), rather than portraying it as a conventional correlation of signs to meanings, a mere instrument for the expression and communication of thoughts and dispositions? To rethink the essence of language, we must attempt to “bring language as language to language.” But how is this to be done?
To recapitulate: in the traditional view, language turns out to be “the eternally self-repeating labor of spirit to make articulated sound capable of being an expression of thought.” Language is what humans do to make sound able to express thought: it is the infusion of articulated sound with the spirit of meaning or intention. It is an action. This way of “bringing language to language,” this labor of the spirit, the infusing of sound with meaning, has been the intellectual development of mankind. But because it construes language as a human doing, as a labor of soul upon body, this traditional way of thinking of language remains trapped within the metaphysics of our age and fails to reveal the essence of language. According to Heidegger: “[this] way to language goes in the direction of man, passing though language on its way to something else: the demonstration and depiction of the intellectual development of the human race.” Heidegger continues:
“However, the essence of language conceived in terms of such a view does not of itself show language in its essence: it does not show the way in which language essentially unfolds as language; that is, the way it comes to stand; that is, the way it remains gathered in what it grants itself on its own as language.”
To determine what language is, we need to determine what pertains to language as language.
We list what pertains to language in order to understand what is essential to language, what is at the root of everything that happens in, and through, language. One of the things that pertains to language as language is the speaker. “To speech belong the speakers.” In speaking, we presence things; we make present the objects of our concern and our common interest by “pointing them out”. “In speech, the speakers have their presencing. Where to? Presencing to the wherewithal (purpose) of their speech, to that by which they linger (the “things” that are present-at-hand), that which in any given situation already matters to them. Which is to say, their fellow human beings and the things, each in its own way; everything that makes a thing a thing and everything that sets the tone for our relations with our fellows. All this is referred to, always and everywhere, sometimes in one way, at other times in another.” (Heidegger “The Way to Language”).
What else belongs to the essence of language? We can run through the things that belong to language – the speaker, what is spoken, also the unspoken – but we do not thereby think their unity. Their unity, the unity of the essence of language, remains hidden to us. What we are saying here becomes obvious, though hardly pondered in its full scope, when we indicate the following. To speak to one another means to say something to one another; it implies a mutual showing of something, each person in turn devoting himself or herself to what is shown. To speak with one another means that together we say something about something, showing one another the sorts of things that are suggested by what is addressed in our discussion, showing one another what the addressed allows to radiate of itself.” To speak, then, is not to talk to someone else; it is to participate in the “saying” (logos) that is a showing.
This “showing”, according to Heidegger, is older and more essential than the definition of language as a system of signs. “What unfolds essentially in language is saying as pointing. Its showing does not culminate in a system of signs. Rather, all signs arise from a showing in whose realm and for whose purposes they can be signs.” This showing (aletheia) is not simply something that we do, but a self-showing of that which shows (a revealing of what we are as human beings), a manifesting in which language itself speaks. When we think of language as this self-showing, we can begin to understand it as something to which we ourselves belong and with which we ourselves may come into a more or less direct relationship: “If speech as listening to language lets itself be told the saying, such letting can be given only insofar – and so near – as our own essence is granted entry into the saying. We hear it only because we belong to it. However, the saying grants those who belong to it their listening to language and hence their speech. Such granting comes-to-stand in the saying; it lets us attain the capacity of speech. What unfolds essentially in language depends on the saying that grants in this way.” (Heidegger “The Way to Language”). When we think language essentially, as a self-manifesting showing that points, we are well on the way to bringing language as language to language. We experience language, then, as a possibility or a granting, an essence that allows manifestation (aletheia), rather than as something we do, make, or control. Thus, language as the saying (legein, logos) holds its own in the realm of truth.
In a world in which language and speaking has become the mere exchange of information, “the framing…sets upon human beings – that is, challenges them – to order everything that comes to presence into a technical inventory (standing reserve or “disposable”), [and] unfolds essentially after the manner of appropriation (a “grasping” and an “owning”); at the same time, it distorts appropriation, inasmuch as all ordering sees itself committed to calculative thinking and so speaks the language of framing. Speech is challenged to correspond to the ubiquitous orderability of what is present. Speech, when posed in this fashion, becomes information.” (Heidegger “The Way to Language).
All that remains of language in information is “the abstract form of writing that is transcribed into the formulae of a logic calculus” whose clarity “ensures the possibility of a secure and rapid communication” (our text messaging and our public discourse as media bytes). The principles transforming language are technological-calculative. It is from the technological possibilities of the computer that the instruction (command) is set out as to how language can and shall still be language. Such instruction (command) spells out the absolute and overriding need for the clarity of signs and their sequences. The fact that the computer’s structure conforms to linguistic tasks such as translating (i.e. whether the command/instruction is in Chinese or English does not matter) does not mean that the reverse holds true. For these commands are “in advance and fundamentally bound up” with the computer. With the “inexorability of the limitless reign” of technology, the insatiable technological demand for a technological language, its power increases to the point that the technological language comes to threaten the very essence of language as Saying-Showing. It is “the severest and most menacing attack on what is peculiar to language,” for language is “atrophied” into the mere transmission of signals according to Heidegger.
Moreover, when information (in the form of command) is held as the highest form of language on account of its univocity, certainty and speed, then, we have a “corresponding conception” of the human being and of human life. Norbert Wiener, a founder of Cybernetics, said that language “is not an exclusive attribute of man but is one he may share to a certain degree with the machines he has constructed”. This view is itself possible only when we presuppose that language is merely a means of information. This understanding of language as information represents, at the same time, a “threat to the human being’s ownmost essence.” (Heidegger) The fact that language is interpreted and used as an instrument has lead us into believing that we are the masters of the computer, but the truth of the matter might well be that the computer takes language into its management and masters the essence of the human being creating a fundamental change in human ontology (human being-there-in-the-world).
These assessments of the metaphysical-technological interpretation and form of language are indisputably critical. Why? What is at stake? Why should this be important for us?
The gripping, mastering effect technological language has over our very essence (ontology) makes “the step back out of metaphysics difficult.” (Heidegger) Language itself “denies us its essence” and instead “surrenders itself” to us as our “instrument of domination over beings.” (Heidegger) It is extremely difficult for us moderns to even understand a non-instrumental concept of language. The interpretation and form of “language as information” and of “information as language” is, in this sense, a circle determined by language, and in language, within “the web of language.” (Heidegger) Hence, Heidegger has referred to language as “the danger of all dangers” that “necessarily conceals in itself a continual danger for itself.” In fact, “we are the stakes” in the “dangerous game and gamble” that the essence of language plays with us.
According to the currently provisional TOK Guide 2022, the TOK course will examine “knowledge” according to four elements: 1. Scope; 2. Perspectives; 3. Methods and Tools; and 4. Ethics. These elements provide a framework in order to aid us in our examination of ourselves and the things that are. The framework of “conceptual tools” indicate how knowledge is produced or “brought forward”: how we come to know the things that are either in our own experience, or from the “shared knowledge” that has been handed over to us from our traditions and from other social contexts. What we call “knowledge” comes to be and is in this area that we experience as our “freedom”. This “freedom” is a realm that is distinguished from Nature or Necessity and we call it “History”.
This writing’s objective is to investigate how technology can be said to be a “way of knowing” and as a way of knowing how it determine our “cognition”, our “mindset” and thus how we define ourselves as human beings and what we think “knowledge” to be. What does “freedom” mean in relation to “technology” and why and how do we need to reflect on technology in order to prepare for a “free relationship” to that technology itself?
How do we relate to technology? How do we think about it? What do we imagine it to be? How is technology a “way of knowing” the world? What is technology’s relationship to reason and to the principle of reason that determines and drives it? How does technology determine our cognition and thus our understanding of what we think human beings are and what the things about us are i.e. how does technology determine our current “mindset”, our current “hard wiring”?
How do we stand, or what is our under-standing, with regard to technology? The problems that have arisen and are posed by technology cannot be answered simply by making technology better and we cannot ignore these difficulties simply “by opting” out of technology. What does it mean to say that “technology is our fate”?
We cannot experience the essence of what technology is so long as we are merely conceiving and pushing forward the technological, putting up with it, or evading it. Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology whether we passionately affirm or deny it. Technology is our fate as human beings. Why and how has this become the case?
In looking for the essence of technology, we will be looking for something that is not “technological”; the essence of technology actually precedes the historical emergence of the “concrete” forms of technology in the 18th and 19th centuries. To understand the essence of technology and thus our “key concepts”, our “scope”, “perspectives”, “methods and tools” and “ethics” that we use to understand knowledge in our AOKs, we must go back to Greek philosophy for some guiding concepts to help us with our analysis. Our ways of being-in-the-world shape how we view our world; and in that shaping both we and the knowledge we produce affect both the maker and what is made. The essence of technology remains a mystery to us and it is up to us to choose to remain thoughtfully within that essence.
Our method of questioning will strive to expose the unexamined assumptions that shape our understanding of the world we live in and the “key concepts” that we use to understand that world. Our purpose is to attain a more “empowering” way of conceiving the world and our place in it, even though we hesitate in using the word “empowering” and must pose it in an ironic mode since the idea of “empowerment” is itself a product of, or a predicate of, the technological world-view we want to examine.
Our Current Understanding of Technology:
How do we generally think about technology? What is said about technology in the current TOK Guide? We think about technology in two ways: 1. technology is a means to an end; 2. technology is a human activity. These answers indicate what is the current “instrumental” (aimed at getting things done) and anthropological (a human activity) definition of technology. These definitions define technology accurately; however, they do not go far enough. They do not give us the essence of what technology is. (Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology” trans. Lovitt) We will examine the instrumental and anthropological views of technology more closely in this writing.
Our everyday understanding of technology as instrument has many implicit assumptions that prevent us from understanding more fully our relationship to technology. Even our attempts to maintain control over technology, to master it so that it doesn’t destroy us, are informed by our “instrumental conception” of what technology is. “The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control” (Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”). This fear of “loss of control” over technology is emphasized in the current discussions and critiques of Artificial Intelligence or AI.
For a fuller understanding of how humanity stands in relation to technology, we need to consider what we mean by “instrumental”: what assumptions lie behind our understanding of “getting things done” or “achieving our goals”? The basic idea in any attempt to “get something done” is that one thing (e.g. a student in the Arts class) has an effect on something else (the paper, paints, etc. that make up the student’s next piece of work or project). Our effects on other things to achieve an end is sometimes referred to as the application of “algorithms”, a schema or plan for organizing the world we live in. “Algorithms” and the question concerning the meaning of “instrumentality” (tools used to solve problems) leads to an old problem in philosophy: the question of causality. We will look at the role of reason as the primary approach to “how” we solve the problems that we encounter in our day-to-day lives or “real life situations”.
The original meaning of the Greek techne is “know how”, a feeling of “being at home in” the things that surround us. This understanding can be said to combine our understanding of the word technique or “applications” and the “know how” of the techne. Our applications, our uses of methods and tools, come after we have already determined what it is that we want to achieve through our technique in the schema or plan which we have already projected onto the world about us. An interpretation of that world is already present so that the techniques will be “applicable” or “appropriate” for the task to be carried out. This suitability is tied in with our understanding of reason (logos) which, in turn, is tied in with our understanding of causality.
Historical Background: The Four Causes: A Tea Ceremony Cup
We will examine the question of causality by examining Aristotle’s understanding of causality and applying his four causes to the making of a tea ceremony cup. For Aristotle, there are four components to what can be understood as causality:
the material cause (clay)
the formal cause (the form; its “cupness”, its “outward appearance”)
the final cause (the end or purpose for which it is to be used; a tea ceremony)
the efficient cause (the tea cup maker; the artist)
What exactly do we mean by “cause” anyway? Let us look at a cup prepared for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony to illustrate the traditional model of the four causes. What do these modes of causality all have in common?
Our English word “cause” comes from the Latin word causa. Causa stems from the verb meaning “to fall”, and is used to designate “that which brings it about that something turns out as a result in such and such a way”. Our current use of the word “algorithm” carries this Latin meaning of “cause” within it.
Philosophical tradition traces the doctrine of the four causes back to Aristotle, but the Greek words Aristotle uses are quite different from the later words for “cause” that emphasize effecting as used by the Latins. Instead, the Greek word aition carries the sense of “that which is responsible for something else”, or “that which is obliged to” something else for its being as it is. So our word “education” comes from the Latin educare “to lead out” combined with the Greek suffix aition “that which is responsible for” or “obliged to” something or someone else: education is that to which we are obliged to for the “leading out”. “To educate” means that which is responsible for the “leading out” (think of Plato’s Cave here), or that which is obliged to something else for the leading out. The “leading out” cannot occur on its own initiative. We have to hear the words “responsible” and “obliging” in a different tonality than what we normally hear in these words. Think of these terms in relation to your “shared knowledge”, your own “education”.
Let us return to our example of the Japanese tea ceremony cup and try to understand it in a Greek way as opposed to our understanding which comes from a Latin interpretation of the Greeks. The “key concepts” that we use are Latinate in origin because philosophical English language is Latinate in origin.
Clay is the material (hyle) that is shaped into the form (eidos) of “cupness”. Both the clay and the form are responsible for or are obliged to the tea ceremony cup being a cup. These are known as the “material cause” and the “formal cause”, but we must not hear the words as “causes” which bring about “effects”. The cup has been produced in order to be used in a particular kind of activity—a Japanese tea ceremony. Its existence is determined by this context, which literally defines the cup in the sense that it gives it clear boundaries: it is neither a water glass nor a coffee cup. This drawing of defining boundaries is telos and is responsible, along with the material and the form, for the tea ceremony cup’s existence as a tea ceremony cup and not something else.
Aristotle and the Greeks had no such category as the “causa efficiens”. Instead of seeing the cupmaker or artist as the agent that “effects” the production of the cup as we moderns do, Aristotle’s model would view the careful consideration of the artist—the logos, a term derived from apophainesthai, “to reveal”—as a kind of point of departure for the cup’s coming into being. Rather than mastering the material by wrestling it into a particular form, the Greek version of our Japanese artist brings together the various potentialities of clay, the abstractness of “cupness”, and the context in which the cup will serve, and through this method allows the Japanese tea ceremony cup to come into being.
For the Greeks, the way in which the material, the form, the context, and the thought or consideration of the artist all “give themselves up” to the existence of the cup, is bound up with the Greek idea of Being. Giving as a “giving to” the existence of the cup, helps us understand the Greek word aition as “that to which something else is indebted” or “obliged”, “responsible for”. The cup is indebted to the clay, the idea of cupness, and the artist. The artist is responsible for the Japanese tea ceremony cup; the cup is “indebted” to the artist for its being. The artist, in turn, is indebted or obliged to the material and the form for the making of the cup. These are not products of the artist’s mind or “creativity”; they should not be understood as the artist imposing on the material but as being obliged to the material, much as I am obliged to the young student who offers me her seat when I am travelling on the public bus and I respond to her offering with “Much obliged”, “Thank you”.
But what do responsibility and indebtedness mean here?
It should be clear that our method here is to return to earlier and more fundamental meanings of commonly used terms and concepts, what we understand as our “key concepts” or the conceptual tools that we use to understand what we call “knowledge” or to produce what we call knowledge. All of us constantly “skip over” what our words mean and in this “skipping” gaps are created so that we lose our way (or have lost our way) and become exhausted and despair because of our neglect of the real, original sense of our basic ideas. I’m sure many of you have experienced this “exhaustion” in many of your TOK class discussions.
We do not want to think of “being responsible” or “being indebted” in an overly moralistic manner (although what we think “ethics” are is involved in them); we’ll think of them, for the moment, as “to occasion”. We sometimes think of “to occasion” as “to cause” such as “His presence in the room occasioned much concern” or “President Trump’s tweets occasioned much concern for his fellow citizens”. For the Greeks, however, the sense of “responsibility” and “indebtedness” was more “to make present”, in the sense of bringing something that was not present before into time and space, what we mean when we say “to produce” some thing. Being responsible for is a “bringing that thing into appearance” or “starting something on its way to arrival”. Think of your exhibition “presentation” in this fashion: that which is responsible for bringing the event of the present-ation into “presence”; it is an “ex-hibition”, a “showing forth”, a “bringing out of hiding”. The four causes in the example of the Japanese tea ceremony cup all serve less to “create” the cup than to assist the potential cup in the clay, in the idea of cupness, and in the context of the tea ceremony, in making its appearance. All four causes are contributors to the cup’s appearance and the maker of the cup is not the sole or primary contributor. Our modern emphasis on the human being as the centre of this “making” is attributable to our historical, Western “humanistic” or “humanism” world view. In this “humanist” view, the “effect” (the artist’s purpose and the artist himself) are the primary “cause” of the cup’s coming into being.
We have to imagine that the cup is “on its way” to existence; the four ways of “being responsible” help it to “arrive” there. They are responsible for what the Greeks called hypokeiesthai, which designates how something that we see as “present” is made present for us. From the roots of this word comes our word hypothesis and we should remember the relationship of hypothesis to “theory” or the “looking” that is prior to the bringing into “presence”.
Let us look at a second type of cup. Both the tea ceremony cup and the Styrofoam cup contain the form of “cupness” but their material, purpose and sufficient causes are quite distinct. Comparing and contrasting these two cups will give us a much better understanding of causation as it is understood today and how it was first understood by Aristotle. With the Styrofoam cup, one can arrive at an understanding of what is meant by technology in the writing here.
The essence of technology is shown in the “arrival” of the Styrofoam cup. The cup is a “com-posit” of materials brought together by human beings whose “pose” is to “impose” on Nature in their “com-posing”. Their “bringing together”, their “ordering and gathering” is of something not found in Nature; the polystyrene molecule is the invention of human beings. The end purpose of the cup, its usefulness, also demonstrates the essence of technology and an understanding of modern human being in the modern world. The cup is intended to be “disposable”.
The Japanese tea ceremony cup represents an arrival or a “bringing into presence” that is of a different essence of technology, an ancient understanding of technology. Whereas the Styrofoam cup is replicable to an unlimited number, the tea ceremony cup is unique. The “bringing forth” of the tea ceremony cup is what the Greeks understood as poiesis. The “bringing forth” of the Styrofoam cup is not a poiesis. What do both these artifacts say about the nature of “bringing forth” or “producing”? What do these two things “say” about the “cultures” of which they are the products? What is valued as “useful” and not “useful” in the making of these two products in each of the cultures of which they are products?
For the Greeks, this “making present” and “being responsible” is termed poiesis from which our word “poetry” is derived. That the Greeks would designate poiesis as what we understand as poetry shows the regard they held for poets in their society and how important language was in the “making present” of things for them.
Poiesis means “bringing forth” and there are two forms of bringing forth. The first is directly associated with poiesis, as it is the bringing forth into existence that the craftsperson and the poet (and anyone who “produces” things) practices. The activities, the making of poets and craftspeople, was called “techne” by the Greeks, “know how”. The products of these activities are brought forth by something else (en alloi—“in another”), that is, the poet makes the poem, the artist makes the tea ceremony cup, etc. The second type of “bringing forth” is physis, the bringing forth that occurs in nature, in which things such as flowers are brought forth in themselves (en heautoi). Both instances, however, fall into the category of poiesis in the sense that something that was not present is made present.
This “bringing forth” out of concealment into “unconcealment” is what the Greeks termed “aletheia” which literally means “revealing” or “unveiling”. It is the Greek word for “truth”. This disclosing or unveiling is of something that was always already present and the four causes all participate in the revealing of this thing that was always already present. We need to keep this original concept of truth in mind when we discuss the other theories of truth: correspondence, coherence and pragmatic.
we began with our everyday understanding of technology as instrumentality, as a way of getting things done
we moved from what we mean by instrumentality into a discussion of “cause”
the examination of “cause”, in turn, lead to a discussion of poiesis as a bringing forth, a revealing of something that was concealed
we arrived at the conclusion that this “bringing forth” was related to the Greek word aletheia or “truth” and that all bringing forth, “production”, is related to what the Greeks understood as “truth”. We call this “knowledge”.
Technology as “Techne” + “Logos”:
But what has poetry to do with technology? Technology is a kind of poiesis, a bringing forward, a revealing. In this way it is associated with “truth”. We need to grasp a different view of “technology” than our current view of it as “instrumentality” or “methods and tools”. What does the word “technology” mean? We overlook this word and assume that we know its meaning because we are surrounded by technological things like a fish is surrounded by water.
Our word “technology” comes from the Greek technikon, someone who uses techne. This is where the word techne comes from and means “know how” or “knowing one’s way about or in something”. For the Greeks, a techne was a “maker”, whether of shoes or of poems. In the sense of “technique”, techne refers to both manufacturing (the techniques of shoemakers and tailors, for example) and to the arts (the techniques of poets and graphic designers, for example). Techne is part of poiesis. “Know how” is one definition of a type of “knowledge”, the knowledge that is a “knowing one’s way about or in something”.
In Greek thought from Plato on, the word techne is used in connection with the word episteme, from which we get the word “epistemology”–the branch of philosophy that examines how we know things. Our course is called “Theory of Knowledge”. It is a course dealing with “epistemology”. The Latins interpreted this type of knowledge as “science”: “Science is the theory of the real”: “knowledge is the looking at that determines what will be called the real”.
Techne is a kind of knowing. We might think of it as “expertise” which we generally understand as more than a set of practical skills. It is “know-how”. What is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in the revealing mentioned before. Our word “technology” thus means “making” (“making” as “producing” or “bringing forth”) + “knowing” (knowing as a kind of expertise or “know how”). It is the kind of knowing that makes the “making” possible.
If we understand technology as deriving from this concept of techne, then we will see that its essence lies not in the instrumental production of goods through the use of tools or manipulation of materials or data, but in “revealing”. The artisan, through his techne, brings together the form (a cup) and the matter (the clay) of the tea ceremony cup within the idea of “cupness” to reveal the cup that has been “on its way” to existence. The cup was always already there. Its coming into being or presence was the partial responsibility of the artist but not the sole responsibility of the artist.
So far, we have been focusing on the arts and their relation to “technology”; but when we think of technology, our focus is on the sciences, in particular the physical sciences. We think of “technology” as a product of the physical sciences and its applications, the computers we use, the medical achievements that we have made.
The example of the tea ceremony cup might seem irrelevant to a discussion in the technological age in which virtually all of our artisans’ work can be performed by a machine. One of the differences, we might assume, is that modern technology is based on modern physics. But the development of the physical sciences has been so dependent upon the technological development of devices for testing, measuring, etc. (the enhancement of our sense perception, our “viewing”), that science cannot be seen as a “cause” or “origin” of technology.
The difference lies elsewhere. It lies in modern technology’s orientation to the world. Modern technology’s mode of revealing is not poiesis, according to Martin Heidegger.
The “revealing” that rules in modern technology is a challenging which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such. (Money is really “congealed energy”, for instance. It is stored energy.) This challenging, demanding viewing of nature is grounded in the principle of reason: we challenge, demand reasons for why some thing is the way it is. The principle of reason determines how we understand causality nowadays.
The difference between older forms of technology (the windmill, for example, which draws its energy from the wind but does not extract and store that energy) and modern technology which exploits and exhausts–“challenges”–our planet’s resources is an example of the difference of our orientation to the world. Our challenging looks at the environment as “disposables”, how the resources can be of some use to ourselves. Unless they have some relation to ourselves as “usefulness” for our conceived ends, then they are not allowed or recognized as having any independent being in their own right; they are not allowed “to be”. They are not “objects” as these have traditionally been understood. Reflect on both the Styrofoam cup and the tea ceremony cup once again. The Styrofoam cup has no reason for its existence beyond its “usefulness”; and once used, it is disposable and meant to be disposable. The relation of the tea ceremony cup to its users is quite different.
Another example illustrates the difference between technology’s “challenging forth” and poetry’s “revealing”. Let us look at China’s Three Gorges, a potent symbol in Chinese national culture, to show how technology transforms our orientation to the world. When we build hydroelectric dams on the rivers, the meaning of the rivers change: they become an energy resource. There is a contrast between “the Three Gorges” viewed as a source of hydroelectric power and “the Three Gorges” as it appears in the work of many Chinese artists and poets, in which the rivers appear as the source of philosophical inspiration and cultural pride. It is interesting to note here that technology also includes the tourism industry, which in its own way transforms the natural world into raw materials, a source of profit. Now, Chinese pride is in their mastery of nature and millions of tourists, both domestic and foreign, flock to see this Chinese mastery of nature at its height.
It might help to recall at this point the Greeks’ description of things being “on their way into arrival”. The tea ceremony cup “arrives” when the artisan’s work brings it “out of concealment”. Before, it was only potentially a cup; in the work of the artisan (techne), that potentiality is realized and the cup is “revealed” or brought into actuality.
Modern technology also reveals. But its revealing is different from that of the older crafts. To explain this difference more fully, we need to introduce the idea of the “resources” or “disposability”.
“Resources” is closely related to the idea of technology as “instrumentality” with which this writing begins. Technology’s instrumental orientation to the world transforms the world into “resources” or “disposables”; it transforms the world into “disposables” so that all the things we encounter, including other human beings, are “disposables”. We might say that for technology, nothing in the world is “good” in and of itself, but only “good for” something. In the grip of technology, things that are always already present no longer get to “arrive”; our striving is to “change the world”, but this changing is to make the things of the world “disposables”. The airplane that stands on the Changi airport runway, for example, has no meaning or value in and of itself; it is merely a means of transportation and its value to humanity is completely tied to its being at humanity’s disposal. The computers we use have no meaning outside of their uses; after a short period of time we “recycle” them with the loss of an incredible amount of wasted energy that has gone into their making. Our networking and relationships are turned into what “use” we can make of the human beings (resources) we are in contact with.
Technology transforms humanity itself into resources; humanity itself becomes “disposable”. We have become “human resources” or “human capital”. Today, the burning of Sumatran forests to replace them with palm oil trees is perhaps a better example of how our own well-being and health is placed at risk; and for the majority of people, this goes well beyond the profits of the palm oil companies. The chemical sciences have determined the “value” of palm oil, which is used in many, many products that we use as consumers.
Our use of the expression “human resources” aligns human beings with raw materials such as coal or petroleum or palm oil or agricultural products (and this use of human beings as “resource” by other human beings is what is called “cybernetics”.) If one reflects on the consequences of such thinking and viewing, one may understand why there are so many reservations regarding AI among many learned people. AI is the outcome of a particular human way of thinking and viewing the world.
But because humanity is, as it were, in the “driver’s seat” of technological advances, humanity never completely becomes mere raw material. By the same token, nature and nature’s mode of revealing never fall completely under human control. Even though humanity has now acquired the capacity to destroy nature utterly (atomic energy), the natural world reveals itself to human beings on its own terms. Humanity doesn’t directly control the formation of coal deposits or the accumulation of nitrogen in the soil; we can only control the way we orient ourselves, our thinking and our actions, in relation to such resources and to other human beings.
This fundamental relationship between humanity and the world gives rise to a particular human orientation or comportment to the world, an orientation or attitude referred to as Framing which in turn determines our “composing”.
What is framing? The “Hard-Wiring” of Our World-Views
The German word Gestell has a number of meanings: “rack”, “skeleton”–the basic sense is of an armature or framework. In the history of philosophy, it finds its origins in Leibniz and Kant, and through them to Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. This term is used to describe how human beings have come to relate to the natural world. It can also be found in the poetry of William Blake where he refers to the “framing” of the “fearful symmetry” of “The Tyger”. (Blake in an earlier draft, originally used “German forged manacles” for “mind forged manacles” in his poem “London”).
Let’s return to the Greek word eidos, familiar to us from the example of the tea ceremony cup, and explain how Plato redefined this word. Eidos originally designated the outward, visible appearance of an object; Plato, however, uses the word to mean the abstract, universal essence of that object: the “cupness” of the cup is the eidos, not the individual outward appearance of any individual cup. From Plato’s redefinition comes our word “idea”. The use of Gestell, or “Framing”, follows a similar path: a word meaning something concrete (a bookshelf, for example), is used to designate something abstract when given its philosophical applications. The new TOK guide speaks of “conceptual frameworks”.
We often hear people criticized for wanting to “put everything into boxes”; we are exhorted to “think outside of the box”. This expression usually means that a person thinks uncreatively, narrowly, with too high a regard for established categories.
The “frame” in the concept of “Framing” corresponds to these “boxes”, but all of us have a tendency to think in this way. We call it our “mindset”.
We noted before that nature reveals itself to us in its own terms, and all that humanity can directly control is its orientation to the natural world. We should think of “nature” here in the broadest sense, as the entire realm of the non-human–but also including such things as our physical bodies, over which we have only limited control. But what we have done to Nature, we first had to do to our own bodies. What characterizes the essence of modern technology is the human impulse to put the world “into boxes”, to enclose all of our experiences of the world within categories of understanding–mathematical equations, physical laws, sets of classifications–that we can control. The need to domineer and control is what has determined our “looking” at nature as calculable, orderable and this is grounded in the axiom that is principle of reason.
When the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, for example, states that “the essence of technology is by no means anything technological”, he means that technology’s driving force is not located in machines themselves, nor even in the various human activities that are associated with modern modes of production. In the example of the computer, the parts that make up the machine as well as the labor of the factory workers all belong to technology, but are not its essence. The “frame of mind” that views the world–its reserves of rare earth metal ores, its chemical structures, its human populations–as raw materials for the production of computers approaches more closely what we mean by the essence of technology. It is our “ordering and gathering” that determines how we will live in our societies and how we will view other members of our societies. The technological world-view, however, is still more far-reaching. Framing or the viewing of the world as disposables stems, historically, from the human drive for a “precise” and “scientific” knowledge of the world.
What is technology’s place within the history of the modern sciences? In at least one sense modern technology comes before the development of modern physics and actually shapes that development. This claim will make sense to us if we remember that the essence of technology is that orientation to the world called “Framing”. Insofar as the human drive for a precise, controllable knowledge of the natural world paves the way for modern physics, we can say that “Framing”, and thus the essence of modern technology, precedes and determines the development of modern science. Technology is not applied modern science; modern science is applied technology.
The essence does not reveal itself till the end. The instruments and devices, the tools of technology, are the revealing of what technology is in its essence in much the same way that the oak tree is the revealing of the essence that is contained in the acorn or the full human being from the fertilized embryo.
Where does this Framing tendency of human thought begin? The philosophical context in which that question can be asked must be considered here. The task for ourselves in TOK is to question the implicit assumptions in our thinking, assumptions that are in the “key concepts” that we use to understand what knowledge is. To do this, we must undertake the painstaking effort to try to think through still more primally what was primally thought. Greek philosophy and the tracing back of the meanings of words is closely related to the larger project of uncovering the implicit significance of important concepts. What is most “original” or “first” is also that which is most enduring; the most fundamental concepts are those that will continue to shape the concepts that come after. I am here pointing to the principle of reason.
One of clearest statements of what we mean by “Framing” appears in the dilemma of modern physicists, who are discovering that the physical world does not lend itself to measurement and observation as readily as they once thought. Physics is bound to a particular way of looking at the world: that nature reports itself in some way or other that is identifiable through calculation and that it remains orderable as a system of information. This system is then determined by a causality that has changed once again. As Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum physics, has said: “”What we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning. Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means that are at our disposal.” Mathematics is the language of modern physics.
The model of causality that shapes modern physics is neither the “original” Greek one of “ways of being responsible” nor the traditional Latin one of the four causa, but a model of “numbers crunching” in which things exist and come into existence only insofar as they can be measured. An atom, for instance, is a mathematical equation, not an “object” in the traditional sense of that term.
We often think of technology as the “application” of the discoveries of science. Much of the discipline of “Applied Physics” is devoted to the construction and testing of useful devices. It is not enough to have identified Framing as the essence of modern technology. We need to determine how we, as human beings, stand in relation to technology. The essence of technology precedes the historical emergence of both modern science and modern machine production. In that sense, we might view modern science as the “application” of Framing. But what, exactly, is Framing?
Is humanity’s “Framing” orientation to the world an inevitable outgrowth of the history of human consciousness as is suggested by many of the latest biological and sociological studies? The question about how we are to relate to technology always comes “too late”, since we are already caught up in a Framing view of nature which sees nature as disposable as much as we are caught up in the concrete realities of technological development. We can, however, gain some perspective on our own orientation to the world, and thus achieve a perspective on technology.
How is human history related to the historical development of technology, and how can humanity come into the “free relationship to technology”–which is, remember, the aim of this TOK course for both the teachers and the students and are questions we must consider throughout our studying and questioning.
Geschichte, the German word for “history”, and Geschick, the word for “destiny”, deriving from the verb schicken, “to send”, are related etymologically. The human drive to obtain a quantifiable and controllable knowledge of the world “sends” humanity on the way to an orientation that views the world as a set of raw materials, as “resources”, disposables, culminating in modern technology. From the primal relationship in which the physical world reveals itself to humanity on its own terms, humanity moves or is sent into a Framing relationship with the world. Within this relationship, however, the earlier relationship is maintained: humanity is still experiencing the world as the world reveals itself. Oedipus is “sent” on the road to his destiny, ironically, once he visits the oracle of Delphi and learns that his destiny is to marry his mother and murder his father. Oedipus attempts to escape this fate by fleeing Corinth and the parents that have adopted him only to meet his fate, his real parents, and realize his fate in his journey. Oedipus completes his fate because of his “blindness” to the things that are and through the rashness of his character. We, too, are in Oedipus’ position and we, too, must open our ears and eyes in order to re-orientate ourselves to our being-in-the-world.
Because Framing does not utterly change humanity’s connection to the world, there is room, even within Framing, for a different–we might say “renewed”–orientation to the world, according to Heidegger. It is not exactly right to speak of Framing as an inevitable development of humanity’s interaction with the world—we must caution against a fatalistic view of technology’s incursion into our lives. We can neither throw up our hands in the face of the problems brought on by technology, nor can we “rebel helplessly against it and curse it as the work of the devil” (Heidegger).
Once we realize that our own orientation to the world is the essence of technology, once we “open ourselves” to this essence, we find an opportunity to establish a free relationship to technology. We have a choice, according to Heidegger:
Humanity can continue on its path of Framing, of “pushing forward nothing but what is revealed in ordering”, seeing the world as disposables, and structure our lives according to the rules and values of this orientation. This is the world-view that ultimately devolves and arrives in nihilism, meaninglessness.
The continuation of this viewing would cancel out the other possibility:
Humanity can come to realize that it, too, is “on its way” to an arrival, and that only by re-orienting itself to the way in which nature reveals itself can humanity establish a relationship with the world that is not ultimately self-destructive. Our self-destruction does not come about through atomic weapons or climate change or any of the other problems or crises that our technological world-view has brought about. Our self-destruction is the ultimate loss of the essence of our own humanity. We have intimations of this loss of our essence when we view our world situation today.
The danger associated with technology is not so much the direct effects of mechanization. The danger is the threat to humanity’s “spiritual” life. This danger has four main elements:
In continuing on the path of Framing, humanity will eventually reach a point at which the human, too, becomes only so much “resources” or disposables.
Humanity’s over inflated sense of its power over the natural world will result in humanity’s coming to believe that humanity has control over all existence.
This excessive pride leads ultimately to the “delusion” that humanity encounters itself and only itself everywhere it looks–a kind of narcissism at the species level and the extreme end of “humanism”.
Finally, such an orientation to the world will blind humanity to the ways in which the world reveals itself. In spite of (in fact, because of) the entire set of scientific apparatuses and theories which are meant to guarantee our precise knowledge of our world, we will miss the truth of what the world is.
In Heidegger’s words: “The threat to humanity does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatuses of technology. The actual threat has already afflicted humanity in its essence.” The rule of Framing threatens humanity with the possibility that it could be denied to us to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth.
Another Orientation to the World: The Return to Plato’s Cave
Within the “supreme danger” of humanity’s Framing orientation to the world lies the potential of a rescue from that very danger.
To help us to understand this paradox, we turn our attention to the meaning of “essence”. The traditional philosophical sense of “essence” means “what” [in Latin, quid] something is. It names a genus, a class of things that are all the same kind of thing. All trees, for example, have “treeness” in common; “treeness” is their essence. From their inquiries into essence, the ancient Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle, developed the concept of eidos, which we have already encountered in the example of the tea ceremony cup.
This traditional understanding of essence, however, does not apply to modern technology. For Plato and Aristotle, the essence is what “remains permanently”, what outlasts any particular manifestation of a thing. The particular oak that has grown out of the acorn has its essence in being both an oak (and not an elm) and in being a tree (treeness) already, permanently held in the acorn. In trying to “get behind” the assumptions and established formulations that shape traditional philosophical thinking, the model of essence as a “genus” does not adequately represent the relationship between the essence of a thing and the thing as it appears before us. This raises questions for all of our AOKs.
If Framing, as the essence of technology, cannot be thought of as a category to which all technological things belong, how are we supposed to think of it? We can return to Plato’s Cave at this point. For Plato, the eidos and “idea” are in Being and allow beings (things) “to endure permanently”. The Sun’s light “grants” the appearance of beings to humanity (remember that the Sun is a metaphor of the Good in the Cave analogy and this light is a metaphor for all of our ways of knowing and seeing things). There is a connection of the concept of “enduring”–a quality of essence in the traditional model of essence–and “granting.” This “granting” is the sense of “otherness” that is “given” to humanity and not “created” or made by humanity.
The idea of “giving” or “granting” is crucial, and the phrase “to be” is, in German, es gibt–literally, “it gives”. If we return for a moment to the example of the tea ceremony cup, the ceremonial cup is used in a “transformative practice”, in particular that of “wabi-sabi”. “Wabi” represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives. Its original meaning indicated quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste “characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry emphasizing simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrating the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials.” “Sabi”, on the other hand, represents the outer or material side of life. Originally, it meant “worn,” “weathered,” or “decayed”. Particularly among the nobility, understanding emptiness was considered the most effective means to spiritual awakening, while embracing imperfection was honored as a healthy reminder to cherish our unpolished selves, here and now, just as we are – the first step to “satori” or enlightenment (Wikipedia). The tea ceremony and its cup is the opposite of the technological fast-food industry and its ubiquitous Styrofoam cups, plastics and other petro-chemically composed and produced materials. The Japanese tea ceremony experiences life as a ‘gift’ while the ‘quick’ breakfast is efficient, useful and non-reflective and emphasizes that there are other more important things to be done.
The world “gives” itself to us insofar as it reveals and opens itself to us. Our response to this “gift” as “Framing” is at once a grave danger (our instrumental, exploitative, disposable, blind orientation to the world sets us on a self-destructive course) and an opportunity to see ourselves as a part of the coming-into-being, the revealing, and the “granting” of the world, what has been called the “otherness” of the world in other writings here. Life gives us a choice: to view it as a “problem to be solved” or as a gift to be cherished.
Furthermore, since humanity is as we have said “in the driver’s seat” of technology, we must realize that our capacity to manipulate nature entails a solemn responsibility to “watch over” nature. Again, we can easily see the argument in terms of today’s environmental movement, but we need to remember that it is not simply speaking of nature in the sense usually assumed by environmentalists. Everything that exists must be cared for–humanity’s responsibility is to care for Being itself. In this activity, memory is of crucial importance. It would also be a simplification of the argument to associate it too directly with the anti-nuclear movement, but the specter of the total devastation of the planet does bring home the gravity of our/the concerns with our technological world-view. In the question concerning technology and knowing everything is at stake.
Let us sum up the major points:
We tend to think of technology as an instrument, a means of getting things done as shown in the Styrofoam cup and the fast-food breakfast. This definition, however, misses the actual essence of technology, and tends to make us think that by making the technology better–better able to “get things done”–we will master technology and solve the problems that technology has itself created (the environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists remain within the technological way of revealing).
This instrumental way of thinking stems from our assumptions about causality. If we come to understand modes of causality as ways of being responsible for the arrival of things into existence, we can begin to understand that the essence of technology has to do with the way we are oriented to the coming-into-existence, or the “revealing” of the world.
Humanity’s orientation to the world takes the form of a Framing which views the world only as “resource”, a source of raw materials, disposables, as “good for something”. In this Framing, however, lies the potential for another orientation.
Framing is the essence of technology. Framing is ambiguous, in that it contains two possibilities:
It is a danger that sets man on a destructive and self-destructive course. “On the one hand, Framing challenges forth into the frenziedness of ordering that blocks every view into the coming-to-pass of revealing and so radically endangers the relation to the essence of truth”. (Heidegger)
At the same time, it is a “saving power” and an opportunity: humanity’s Framing orientation to the world makes clear the responsibility of human beings to the world. If we reflect upon the Framing as the essence of technology, we will find not only that we are a part of the world, but that the world “needs” us to care for it, that humanity “is needed and used for the safekeeping of the essence of truth” (Heidegger).
Let us try to clarify the relationship between these two opposing orientations contained within Framing.
The danger of technology’s essence and the saving power inherent in it are joined in the way stars are joined in a constellation: part of a whole, but separate entities. The individual is one part of a whole that is encompassed by Life (Being). Enclosed as we are within our Framing orientation to the world, what can we do to save ourselves from the consequences of Framing? How can we nurture an alternative way of looking at things that will help us to change the ways of thinking that drive technology and thus to evade some of the horrific dangers that inhere in technology?
Against an orientation that investigates all aspects of the world and assumes that the world can be grasped and controlled through measurement and categorization (classification), an alternative may be found in art (although the saving power of art was denied by Socrates). In the history of the West before the onset of Framing, in ancient Greece, where the concept of techne–which, as we have seen, is the source of our word “technology”–included both instrumentality and the fine arts, that is, poiesis we may find the source of a possible alternative. In Greece art was not a separate function within society, but a unifying force that brought together religious life, political life, and social life. The art of ancient Greek culture expressed humanity’s sense of connectedness with all Being. Art was a kind of “piety”; it was the outgrowth of humanity’s care–in the sense of “stewardship”–of all existence. It was no one less than Socrates who said, however, that art cannot be the “saving” of humanity: only reason can do this. This is something that must be pondered for what is the “reason” that Socrates is talking about here and is it how we have come to understand reason? Is it the principle of reason and causality as algorithm?
In our own time, the paradox of how “Framing” can hold within it a saving power can be resolved by viewing the artistic or poetic orientation to the world as the alternative dimension of “Framing”. The poet looks at the world in order to understand it, certainly, but this reflection does not seek to make the world into a “standing-reserve”, a resource, or a disposable; the seeing does not seek to change the world. The poet takes the world “as it is”, as it reveals itself—which is the world’s “true” form (remember that the Greek word for truth, aletheia, literally means “revealing” or “unveiling”).
“Truth” is a “revealing,” the process of something “giving” or “showing” itself. Art is the realm in which this “granting” of the world to us is upheld. Art’s relationship with the world is different from technology’s in that art is less concerned with measuring, classifying, and exploiting the resources of the world than it is with “taking part” in the process of coming-to-being and revealing that characterize our existence and our essence as human beings.
In the second Bremen lecture of 1949, Heidegger said the following extremely controversial statement: “Agriculture is now a mechanized food industry, in essence the same as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockading and starving of countries, the same as the production of hydrogen bombs.” Such a statement shocks our liberal humanist sensibilities and “values” when the deaths of millions of human beings are said to be essentially the same as our slaughtering of animals to provide food in the most efficient way. But here Heidegger is being consistent in his thought regarding the uncanny essence of technology. Within the technological world-view, that there are human beings to whom no justice is due, to whom nothing is due but extermination is the stuff of today’s headlines. What is the alternative to this?
We are not suggesting that we all go out and become artists, but rather that we incorporate more of the artist’s and poet’s vision into our own view of the world. In “Imagination as a Way of Knowing” I have tried to illustrate this through the example of William Blake. In incorporating the artist’s vision into how we view the world, we can guard against the dangers of Framing, and enter into a “free”–constantly critical, constantly questioning, constantly listening and hearing–relationship with the technology that in its persistence is constantly making new incursions into our lives. No matter how we view and live within the technological, the issues are of the most importance for ourselves as human beings and our future on this planet.