Emotion as a Way of Knowing: Introduction

“[Emotion] has the advantage of being open to all, the weak and the lowly, the illiterate and the scholar. It is seen to be as efficacious as any other method and is sometimes said to be stronger than the others, since it is its own fruition, while other methods are means to some other ends.” (Bhagavad-Gita)

“An thence it comes about that in the case where we are speaking of human things, it is said to be necessary to know them before we can love them…but the saints, on the contrary, when they speak of divine things say that we must love them before we can know them, and that we enter into truth only by charity…” Pensees, Pascal

“Once when Care was crossing a river, she saw some clay; she thoughtfully took up a piece and began to shape it. While she was meditating on what she had made, Jupiter came by. Care asked him to give it spirit, and this he gladly granted. But when she wanted her name to be bestowed upon it, he forbade this, and demanded that it be given his name instead. While Care and Jupiter were disputing, Earth arose and desired that her own name be conferred on the creature, since she had furnished it with part of her body. They asked Saturn to be their arbiter, and he made the following decision, which seemed a just one: ‘Since you, Jupiter, have given it spirit, you shall receive that spirit at its death; and since you, Earth, have given its body, you shall receive its body. But since Care first shaped this creature, she shall possess it as long as it lives. And because there is now a dispute among you as to its name, let it be called ‘homo’ for it is made out of humus (earth).”—Hyginus Fable 220 and Goethe, Faust, Part 2.

The more appropriate translation for the word in brackets [emotion] from the Bhagavad-Gita is “Love”. Everyone knows that love can have different meanings in different contexts, but we shall attempt to understand these “contexts” as the varieties of love that “participate” in the Form of Love in Plato’s use of the word. Just as an oak and an elm participate in “treeness”, so the shoe fetishist (Imelda Marcos) and someone driven by the love of otherness (Mother Teresa) participate in varying ways, and to varying degrees, in the fullness of the form of Love. We shall attempt to understand “emotion as a way of knowing” by attempting to understand the statement of Simone Weil’s: “Faith is the experience that the intelligence is illuminated by Love” and shall attempt to understand this illumination as a revelation of Truth.

Love has to do with the beauty of otherness. That there are other persons and a whole world apart from us is an obvious fact. Yet we can become so self-centered, so preoccupied with ensuring our own survival or so absorbed in our own pursuits, that we can live with an apparent refusal to consent to this otherness, seeing everything other than ourselves as simply subordinate to our own desires and purposes (and we shall examine how the technological way of knowing may be responsible for this stance within our being). When life becomes dominated by self-serving, the reality of otherness, in its own being, almost disappears for us.

What saves us from total solipsistic self-absorption is (according to Simone Weil) the beauty of others and the beauty of the world as a whole. In the contemplation of what is beautiful, our cravings for things that we do not already have is temporarily stilled. To desire that something should be, not because we want to use it or to possess it, but simply because of its beauty, is to love it with a particular purity. It is to recognize its goodness, not for one or another of our limited purposes, but absolutely. To see the beauty of the world in this way–not from the practical technological point-of-view, but contemplatively, in a way that provides rest from practical considerations–is to recognize its essential goodness. To see the whole of the natural order, not just the useful elements or those we consider ugly or noxious, as beautiful is to suggest that beauty and goodness inhere in the natural order itself rather than in “the eye of the beholder”. It is to suggest that beauty and goodness are “objective” features of the world and not just “subjective” functions of our various reactions to it (although this is not the proper way of making this point).

The ‘objectivizing’ stance of the technological world-view removes the term good of any definite meaning. It comes to be seen as a way of referring to what are really our own preferences or tastes. When we try to discover these ‘values’ by turning in on ourselves rather than outward, we find ourselves guided by only the fluctuating opinions and tastes of the Cave about us. When the “good” of something is only understood as the “usefulness” of something then Love, too, becomes lost in this domineering drive for an “objectivising” stance.

Modern science, as it is realized through the technological world-view obscures, stifles, and suffocates the apprehension of the good because it implicitly denies the possibility of understanding things through the conception of purpose. At the inception of modern scientific research four centuries ago (Galileo, Newton) the denial was explicit in the attacks on Aristotelian philosophy and science by writers such as Bacon, Descartes and Leibniz. The identification of scientific thought with basic doubt undermined the traditional understanding of what is good as what any being is fitted for. In the modern scientific view (i.e. 4 centuries ago), real knowledge is limited to temporally organized sequences of objectivity (that is, publicly) observable events, without reference to any conception of purpose or final cause. Without any final cause, then we cannot know what any being is really fitted for, since ultimately there is nothing knowable into which anything should fit. We are left with ‘subjective’ answers to what is due other beings; for instance, Socrates final insight that human beings are fitted to live well in communities and to try and think openly about the nature of the whole. We are fitted for these activities because we are distinguished from the other animals in being capable of rational language. In living well together or being open to the whole in thought we are fulfilling the purpose which is given to us in being human, not some other type of animal. Good is what is present in the fulfillment of our given purposes.

These statements presuppose a traditional understanding of the natural order as an eternal framework within which human actions can be measured and defined. To the extent that we accept the modern understanding of nature as the product of necessity and chance–that is, outside any idea of purpose–such statements will have at best an untraditional meaning. They may serve to indicate our own goals and purposes, but these will necessarily be our own rather than anything that we have been given. Within the limits of technological understanding (modern scientific and philosophic understanding) little or nothing can be said about the ultimate cause of being and certainly not enough to affirm its goodness. Nor does modern science hold out any promise that we will discover the right use of our power of choice by extending the frontiers of scientific knowledge. To affirm that our height as human beings is somehow our knowledge of goodness and that the absence of such knowledge is not ignorance but madness, or the loss of our distinctive nature, is to put oneself altogether outside modern assumptions. It is to make another Socratic assumption that “we are not our own”, a statement that flies in the face of what we conceive ourselves to be as human beings since we see our “essence” in our freedom and we see our height as human beings to be the “empowerment” found in the making of choices in the “how” of our existence.

Although many have felt the power of emotions in shaping thoughts and influencing behaviour, there are those who believe that emotions are an obstacle in the pursuit of knowledge, while at the same time failing to understand that at the root of their ‘seeing’ is an ’emotion’ and a pre-determined framing that shapes how they view the world. This emotion is the fear and dread that arises through the experience of the world as chaos and the need to secure this world in order to empower the Self and one’s very survival. While emotion may be a key to self-understanding and to understanding the world, the extent to which they contribute to both can be explored through a discussion of the questions inherent in the writings that follow and through an understanding that the confusion and detachment from emotion is something that is given to us in the arts and sciences through the technological world-view understood as “research” of the objects about us. It is a world-view where the good has degenerated into becoming subjective “values”; and where the otherness of love based on the experience of the world and the beings in it as beautiful and worthy of trust has become reduced to self-empowerment based on the experience of the world as chaos and the experience of dread and anxiety along with a response of doubt to this chaos.

Emotion as a Way of Knowing: The Banality of Evil

Simone Weil
Simone Weil

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)

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. If we remember our original starting point in Plato’s Cave, even the shadows contain some truth because they are made possible by the light of the fire and the diffused light of the sun, and the shadows experience the deprivation of the sun’s light and are deprived of the sun’s light. When things are “shadows”, one can only experience their surface; they lack any depth. This lack of depth is what Plato referred to as the non-being of the beings, and what Hannah Arendt referred to as “the banality of evil”.

What occurs when thinking is not involved in practical action? Again, we want to keep in mind that we are viewing emotion as a way of being-in-the-world as well as a way of knowing, and as ‘a way of knowing’ it must be connected with what we call ‘thinking’ in some way. What happens to thinking when we are submerged in the “they-Self” or the “One” within the technological world-view? We shall try to connect thinking to the ‘ethical’, the praxis of our practical actions within the world.

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 institution) 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 before 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.” It is not too difficult to extrapolate what Arendt is saying to current political events.

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 the routines of action 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 technological world-view) are incapable of the capacity for the thinking that reflects on the wholeness of their activities when they are given over to the “they-Self”. 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.

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” at this early stage, 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 an “extreme” manifestation of the phenomenon that it is, Weil sees evil as commonplace and 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, unless we are loving. 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? 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 the city/society/the culture (all forms of human community) as ‘a Great Beast’ that one gains some freedom from through recognizing it as such, and from this turning receives freedom to move towards the light. The metaphor of the Beast is an analogy to the ‘they-Self’, the social, 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 and from serving the Beast. The Great Beast in Republic is the greatest temptation or resistance which prevents one from seeking the Good. Today power, empowerment, the illusion of the control over necessity, is the temptation.

 

What is a work of Art?

Starry Night
Van Gogh “Starry Night”

What is a work of art? It is not present-at-hand like a rock or a tree, nor ready-to-hand like a computer or a car. Yet it has features in common with both. Like a rock and unlike a computer, it has no specific purpose and essentially contains conspicuous natural, ‘thingly’, materials. Like a computer and unlike a rock, it is made by humans, but the artist’s creativity has an affinity to the creation of nature in that it appears, like nature, the artist (and we are speaking only of great art here) is unaware of the processes that are going on within the project (see, for example, the letter of Mozart on the origin of his music in the post on the Arts as an Area of Knowledge).

We might like to consider art in terms of the artist’s choices, a choice of this theme rather than that, of this material, of his pigment, etc. But the artist does not choose. The work of art is more like a project or projection, which sets up a world in which choices can be made. Truth, the revelation of being, is ‘set into the work’ and ‘set to work’, illuminating the world and the earth on which it rests. As Human Being is thrown in its own project and understands itself in terms of it (life), so the artist is originated by the work of art. The point is not simply that no one is an artist until he/she creates a work, but that the artist is not in control of his/her own creativity: the artist is not her own.  Her only choice is whether to create the work or not, as it is for the audience to choose to enter into the world created by the artist’s work. To those artists who wish to send ‘messages’ through their art, I would suggest that they try email or some other medium; it is much easier and much more efficient. If by “message” one means that the artist is a “messenger” of a force or spirit greater than herself, then it is probable (and this is shown by all great artists) that they do not know where their “message” comes from i.e. they are acting as an intermediary, a daemon if you like.

Art is a sort of impersonal force that uses the artist for its own purposes. William Blake would say that this impersonal force is the Divine Imagination. A work is to be understood in terms of being and the world, not of its author or maker.  A work also needs an audience, or rather ‘preservers’ and ‘preservation’, which means: ‘Standing in the openness of beings that happens in the work’. A rock is what it is apart from any onlookers; the purpose of a computer is imminent in it, and in any case a computer, like any equipment in good working order, is essentially inconspicuous even when in use, let alone when set in sleep mode. But a work or art needs preservers (an audience) to bring out its meaning and to receive the light that it sheds on their lives. ‘Artificial intelligence’, or what is called such, is not capable of creating a true work of art because it is incapable of this world projection where choices can be made; the choices have already been pre-determined within the programming. This also applies to the elephants in Thailand that produce painted objects that the tourists pay their dollars for. If elephants were capable of projecting a world, then we would find evidence of the art

The focus in the modern is on aesthetics, from the Greek aisthesis, ‘perception’, since it focuses on the audience and their ‘subjectivity’ at the expense of the artist and the work, and on the superficial, perceptible beauty of the work: ‘The aesthetic […] turns the work of art from the start into an object for our feelings and ideas. Only when the work has become an object, is it fit for exhibitions and museums’. (Heidegger) The work embodies truth first of all, and sensory beauty only secondarily; but it is this beauty which leads us to the truth of the work and allows us to act (and wish to act) as preservers. (See the commentary on the role of beauty in Plato’s allegory of the Cave). The work, or art itself, is primary: it generates the artist and the audience/preservers as the sea fashions its own coastline. Both the audience and the artist engage in the happening of truth and in the preservation of truth that occurs in art.

Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche

To understand how we moderns have come to understand art, we need to examine the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s view of art and try to relate it to the theories of truth that we have written of up to this time. Nietzsche believes that:

  1. Art is the most transparent and familiar form of the will to power.
  2. Art must be understood in terms of the artist.
  3. Art is, on an extended concept of the artist, the basic happening of all beings; insofar as beings are, they are something self-creating and created.
  4. Art is the distinctive counter-movement against nihilism.
  5. Art is the great stimulant of life.
  6. Art is worth more than truth.

Nietzsche’s (and in using Nietzsche, I should also be using the royal ‘we’ since his view is what dominates our view) views of art remain focused on the Cartesian separation of mind and body, subject and object. Nietzsche ignores the primacy of the work and focuses on the artist as creator.  Truth, for Nietzsche, is the accurate portrayal of the current state of affairs in the arts in terms of rigid categories and concepts. Art ‘transfigures’ life, moves it into higher, as yet unlived possibilities, which do not hover “above” life, but rouse it from itself anew into wakefulness, for “Only through magic does life remain awake” (George, “The New Realm”)’. Although both truth (and knowledge) and art are required for life, art is superior to truth in Nietzsche’s sense of truth.

But Nietzsche’s notion of truth is overly traditional, and he retains Plato’s contrast between art and truth. Strictly, or ‘originally’, truth is not correspondence with fact, but what Nietzsche says art provides: the disclosure of a realm of new possibilities. Since art is this disclosure of new possibilities, art rebels against the status quo: the artist and the city (or society) are in constant strife against each other.

The aesthetic view of art stems from the human-centred metaphysic of modernity and is bound up with a view of being as humanism; it coheres with the conception of beings and things as what is ‘objectively representable’. My own states, the way I feel in the presence of something, determines my view of everything I encounter. Hence art, for us, is in danger of becoming a device for the provision of ‘experience’. This is abetted by the view that a work of art is a thing, a crafted thing, with aesthetic value superimposed on it. Despite the Greek use of techne for both ‘craft’ and ‘art’ (since techne means bringing forth beings, whether by craft or by art, into truth or unhiddenness, into presence), the origin of a work of art is not a product of craft, let alone a thing, with beauty added. It is where truth is sheltered, the truth that enables beings to appear as beings in the open region and craftsmen to produce their artifacts. Overcoming aesthetics is an integral part of overcoming metaphysics if one wishes to view the world in a new way. All art, whether it is the art of a William Blake or any other great artist, attempts to make us “see anew”, but this “seeing anew” is beyond the realm of aesthetics or sense experience. Whether art will decline into an ‘instrument of cultural policy’ (as is the case here in Singapore) or will set the truth (in) to (the) work once more is a matter for ‘decision’ (Heidegger); the outcome for art in the technological age is uncertain .

Art is ‘the letting-happen of the arrival of the truth of beings as such’. This means that all art is essentially ‘poetry’. But how is this so?

Is the work of art a Thing?

‘Thing’ is a distinct ‘thing, (subject-) matter, affair’. The Latin res, originally denoted a legal case or a matter of concern, and it is in this ‘case’ that it is related to ‘judgement’. A ‘thing’ implies something present-at-hand, an object of neutral contemplation, in contrast to ready-at-hand equipment and to human beings. This concept of the thing is especially associated with Descartes’ view that the self is a res cogitans, a ‘thinking thing’. We have distinguished a number of senses of the word “thing”: 1. the ‘present-at-hand’: the things of nature (the plants in the garden); 2. the ready-to-hand understood as instruments or equipment: pliers, clock, whiteboard marker, eraser, computer, etc;  3. a wider sense that includes stones, plants, etc., but also events: ‘plans, resolutions, thoughts, temperaments, deeds, the historical’; 4. the widest sense which includes 1 and 2, but also anything that is ‘a something not nothing’: the number 5, luck, courage.

We examined various accounts of the thing:  the physicist’s account of a sunset and a table; a thing as the occupant of a certain spatio-temporal position; Leibniz’s view that a thing is a ‘particular this’ independently of its spatio-temporal location; a thing as the unity of a manifold of perceptible qualities or categories (the thing as a ‘one’); and as a form superimposed on matter (our discussions of Plato’s forms and ideas). The most natural view of the thing is that it is a bearer of properties. It fits with the correspondence theory of truth. An assertion involves a subject and a predicate, corresponding to a bearer and its properties: ‘the structure of the thing coheres with the structure of the assertion’: the coherence theory of truth. What we understand as truth and the grammar of language as a way of knowing are inseparable.

‘The “natural” is always historical’, however, for we who are moderns. We have come to see that we view what the Greeks understood as the ‘natural’ view is an old prejudice originated by Plato and Aristotle. But we would need to ‘bring into play the whole of Greek existence, their gods, their art, their state, their knowledge, in order to experience what it means to uncover the like of a thing’. For the answer to the question ‘What is a thing?’ is not a proposition, but ‘the beginning of a change of our former attitude to things, a change of questioning and assessment, of seeing and deciding, in short: of Human Being in the midst of beings’. This is a true paradigm shift.

In the 1960s, our street slang referred to our being in the world as ‘our thing’: “It’s your thing” was a very popular saying among us (see above discussion of thing as ‘case’). In this sense, to thing meant ‘to assemble, gather’, and takes a thing to be something that ‘assembles’ the ‘fourfold’, earth, sky, gods and mortals. ‘The cup is a thing not in the Roman sense of res, nor in the sense of an ens as the medievals represented it, nor in the modern sense of a represented object. The cup is a thing insofar as it ‘things’, according to the German philosopher Heidegger.  By thinging, it detains a while earth and sky, the divinities and the mortals: that is, it creates a world; by detaining, the thing ‘brings the four close to each other in their distances’. The question ‘What is a thing?’ brings a whole world into play.

If the work of art is a thing, what kind of “thing” is it?

Why we have come to View Art as “Subjective”:

Descartes
Rene Descartes

To attempt to understand what the essence of art is, we need to speak about subject and object and to question the popular belief that “All art is subjective”. Object comes from the Latin objectum, literally “what is thrown (jacio) or placed against (ob)”.  In our being-in-the-world, we encounter the beings/things/entities that encounter us within the world. Beings come up against, en-counter, confront us, as they stand over against us.

Object has come to have many meanings: 1. a real object, 2. an intentional object, an object of a subject or of an intentional attitude such as knowledge, love or curiosity. A real object (e.g. an undiscovered island or planet) need not be the object of any subjective attitude, and an intentional object (e.g. the unicorn I dream about) need not be a real object.  Every object is an object for a subject, and not every being/thing is an object, since, for example, natural processes occur without being objects for a subject.

The category of “object” was alien to the Greeks. In its place stood pragma ‘a thing done, deed, thing, etc.’, that with which one has to do and deal – what is present for concernful dealings with things’. Remember the categories in which the Greeks classified things: the physical (rocks, the things that come forth from themselves in nature); the phenomena (artifacts, the things produced by human hands);  the chromata (things insofar as they are in use and stand at our disposal: they can be physica such as rocks or phenomena the things especially made); the pragmata the things insofar as we have to do with them at all, whether we work on them, use them, transform them, or we only look at them and examine them: pragmata with regard to practice: here praxis is all doing meaning practical use or moral action which also includes poiesismathemata the things that can be learned and taught: things insofar as they are in any respect whatsoever.

 Subject comes from the Latin subjectum, literally ‘what is thrown under’. Originally it differed little in meaning from substantia, lit. ‘what stands under’. Subject is ambiguous, meaning: 1. the underlying substratum or subject of predication, inquiry, e.g. “The book is green”, 2. the human subject. The Greeks knew nothing at all about man as an I-subject. How did a word that originally applied to everything come to be used especially for the human being? In the West, with the new freedom following the decline of traditional Christianity, human being becomes the centre around which everything else revolves and thus the subject, what underlies, par excellence. This paradigm shift occurs during the Renaissance. The human subject may be a disembodied I, whose certainty determines what there is. But it need not be: Nietzsche’s subject is embodied and governed by desire and passion more than by thought, but Nietzsche’s “I” is still Cartesian in that it is the arbiter of being and value.

Perhaps what we have come to take for granted as art is based on a misguided philosophical theory and is a central feature of our fallen modernity. The subject-object model ignores the world that is a precondition of our encounters with objects or beings as such: ‘”World” is something in which one can live (one cannot live in nor can one love an object).  The subject-object model implies that the subject and the object have the same mode of being, are both present-at-hand and things in the same manner. The subject-object model ‘thematizes’ entities, makes them conspicuous, neglecting what we see out of the corner of our eye, what we are vaguely, unobtrusively aware of. The subject-object model suggests that our primary mode of access to things is cognition or theoretical knowledge (our ways of knowing).  It implies that the subject is separated from the object by a gulf or barrier (like a snail in its shell), and its access to the object is mediated by a representation. The subject-object model suggests that a person is primarily an I or ego, detached from the body, the world and the They, and that one is aware of oneself by reflection on the I. In fact, it states that what Human Being is primarily aware of is itself in what it deals with (all things are pragmatic, and all things are equipment or tools and their value is determined by their ‘usefulness’).

Modern human being is not simply mistakenly regarded as an “I”/ the subject. An “I” is a subject, and to that extent he or she is not Human Being. This ‘subjectivity’ is descended from Descartes’ quest for an ‘absolute and unshakeable foundation’, but it has gone beyond Cartesian confines. The subject is no longer an individualized I: it is embodied man, even collective man. It is no longer restrained by a barrier; its dominance of producible and manipulable objects is unrestrained. Objects are still represented, but this means not that human being has a mental picture of them but that it is human being that decides whether and what they are (“art”, for instance). Everything is an object for this subject: there are no unexplored areas or aspects of the world beyond human beings’ theoretical and practical reach. Subjectivity, and the ‘objectivization’ it involves, may go so far that ‘subjects’ disappear in favour of a comprehensive utilizability or ‘usefulness’, and humanity becomes a ‘human resource’ to be managed and exploited like any other material, the threat of which grows exponentially in the technological world-view.

The subject-object model has given rise to the contrast between subjectivism (idealism) and objectivism (realism). Both alternatives are mistaken, since the subject-object model is misguided based on the points mentioned above, and because the subject and object are correlative: a subject has an object that stands on its own two feet, and an object is always an object for a subject. The distinction between the objective and the subjective is relative and shifting. Thus whenever the question is raised whether e.g. time, world, art or being is subjective, the replies are that they cannot be, since Human Being is not a subject, and if they are subjective, they are also objective, indeed ‘more objective than any possible object’, or ‘earlier than any subjectivity and objectivity’.

Art as Representation:

The manner of our seeing in the arts (and aesthetics comes from the Greek aisthesis which has to do with sense perception) has come to be primarily determined by our understanding of representation. If we look at the word re-present-ation, we can see that it means “that which is responsible for or occasions the making ‘present’ before us”. There are many ways that we can make something “present” before us. A representation is a performance, presentation, introduction, an idea, conception, imagination, etc., and each of these in some way makes some thing ‘present’ for us.

The views that are commonly asserted regarding the essence of art (and these are captured in the knowledge framework provided by the IB) is that it involves all of the ways of knowing that we are considering in the TOK course. Art, as is commonly understood, is a 1.representing; 2. judgement; 3.involving interest, emotions, etc. with emphasis on both the artist and the audience rather than on the work itself.

Representation is a letting something be seen, not something that is itself seen, like a picture or a painting. Seeing a painting or a picture, and seeing something in a painting or a picture, are quite different from seeing things in the flesh. Our Facebook walls, for example, open up a world for others on ourselves, but they are a quite shallow world. The page cannot convey the primary experience of the thoughts and emotions experienced in the capture of the pictures. The Wall closes down the experience of the real world and, we could say, operates in an opposite or opposing way from the work of art. With Facebook (or any other social media) there is both a simultaneous ‘hiddenness’ (hiding) and ‘unhiddenness’ (revealing) going on that is a characteristic of the logos itself, but this concealing/revealing is much like the shadows in Plato’s allegory of the Cave and the light that reveals things is a diffused light.

Our seeing or beholding is permeated by the language and categories of representation: We do not so much primarily and originally see objects and things; at first we speak about them; more precisely we do not express what we see, rather we see what one another say about the thing or matter. Our ‘personal knowledge’ is primarily a ‘shared knowledge’ for in the ‘sharing’ is determined how we will understand the matter or thing. There is a close affinity between the representational theory of perception and the correspondence theory of truth: both involve representations in the soul copying beings outside.

Representation goes with a view of the self as a subject: in Kant “the I was forced back again to an isolated subject, which accompanies representations in an ontologically quite indefinite way”, according to the German philosopher, Heidegger. Heidegger rejects this because it misrepresents our being-in-the world, and because Kant’s view does adequately represent our human-centred attitude to the world.

Representation can also mean ‘to make something stand (fast) in advance before us’. Art expresses how what we call ‘truth’ brings chaotic becoming to a standstill, converting it into a ‘static constancy’. We can also speak of ‘representation’ as meaning ‘to bring before’ a court, or a standing in for something or someone else (empowerment/empowering). Then it suggests that human beings are the judges who decide what being is and what qualifies as beings, who lay down the law and apply it to beings; what art is and what qualifies as art i.e. our ‘subjectivity’ expresses the ‘value’ of some thing. To be is then to-be-represented, to be presented before the bench of ‘judgement’. This is Descartes’ main achievement, not that he regarded the ego as a thing, but that he equated being with being-represented by a subject. It does not matter whether the subject is a pure ego or embodied ego or self. What matters is that everything comes to human beings for judgement. The two central features of modernity are that human beings are the centre of beings as a whole, the subject to which they are all referred (what is sometimes referred to as humanism), and that the beingness of beings (what some thing is) as a whole is conceived as the being-represented of the producible and explainable i.e. what we do in mathematics and the physical sciences.

‘To produce’ is to ‘lead or bring forward’ and is a type of ‘revealing’ that is often linked with representation to suggest the relationship of Cartesianism and technology. Two features of representation help to put human beings at the centre. First, representation means ‘to represent something’ in the sense of ‘to count, stand for something, to cut a fine figure’. Second, the reflexive representation stresses the subject: ‘every human representing is by an easily misinterpreted figure of speech a “self-representing”. This converges with Descartes’ view that whenever I think about anything I also think that I think. In Representation the representing and the representer are always co-represented as well. From this we can discern why “art is subjective” is the commonly held view. Because that which can be represented in art is not calculable, we speak of art in a pejorative sense when it comes to discussing its ‘truth’.

Representation gives a new sense to the equation of being with presence. For the Greeks being was ‘presence’. Greek presence concerns the ‘presencing of beings into the realm of the unhidden’. The closest Greek counterpart to representation is noein, (to think, etc.): ‘dwelling in the unhidden’, receptive rather than intrusive, and was concerned as much with the whole, unhiddenness as such, as with individual entities. Representation is the autocratic interrogation of and jurisdiction over entities i.e. it determines what will be defined as art for human subjectivity has come to represent the whole. From this representing, we can come to understand how technology is a ‘knowing’ and a ‘making’ and how it is a co-penetration of the arts and sciences.

Poetry and the Imagination: The Distinction between Poetry and Prose

Poesie, comes from the Greek poiesis, ‘making, fabrication, production, poetry, poem’, which in turn comes from poiein, ‘to make, to do’. Aristotle distinguishes poiesis, ‘making’ – which essentially has an end-product, a poiema – from praxis, ‘action’ – which does not. That the Greeks gave this inherently general name to poetry in particular is ‘evidence for the pre-eminence of this art within Greek art in general’ (Heidegger). Poesie has a narrower meaning than poiesis, applying especially to verse in contrast to prose.

Our idea of prose comes from the Latin dictare, ‘to say repeatedly, dictate, compose’. This has a wider meaning than Poesie or ‘poetry’. It applies to all creative writing, including novels, not only verse. The verb has the flavour of ‘to dispose, order, and shape’. In the wide sense, our understanding of ‘prose’ means ‘to invent, create, project’, but it is distinct from ‘untrammeled invention’.  For the essence of art, it happens that art in the midst of beings clears an open place in whose openness everything is other than before’. Art changes the way we ‘view’ the world; and this involves not only ‘sense perception’, but also our disposition or comportment (emotion as a WOK) toward beings/things and world. All artists, if they are true artists, attempt to change the way we see so that the world will give us new possibilities and new potentialities.

Invention:

The birch tree looks different in different seasons, weathers and perspectives, but I take it to be the same tree, not by elaborate comparisons of and inferences from its changing aspects; I have ‘always already’ taken it to be the same tree. Since the self-identical tree is not strictly given to me, the ‘positing of something “like” is thus an invention and fabrication. This inventive character is the essence of reason and thinking, the imagination. So before we think in the usual sense, we must invent. Kant ‘was the first to specifically notice and think through the inventive character of reason in his doctrine of the transcendental imagination. Even our words for sense-impressions – ‘red, green, sour, etc’ – depend on the fabrication of a likeness, sameness and constancy that are not given in the throng of sensations. ‘The categories of reason are horizons of fabrication, a fabrication that first clears  for what encounters us that free place, in which it is set up and from which it can appear as a constant, as a standing object. All thinking is ‘inventive’, but not all thinking is ‘poetic’, nor is it all ‘thoughtful’. (Heidegger) Here one can see how the principle of reason establishes the framework of “fabrication”, the knowledge framework, that is the essence of technology as a way of knowing and that pre-determines how we view the world.

‘Language itself is invention, writing, composing verses in the essential sense’ (Heidegger, OWA, 61/199). That is, language ‘first brings the entity as an entity into the open’ by naming it. It is ‘projective saying’ and this saying is invention, writing, composing: ‘the saying of the world and the earth, […] the saying of the unhiddenness of beings’ (OWA, 61/198). Hence ‘Poesie, invention, write, compose verses in the narrow sense, is the most original Invention, write, compose verses in the essential [i.e. wide] sense. […] Poesie happens in language because language safeguards the original essence of invention, writing, composing verses. Building and forming by contrast happen always already and always only in the open of the saying and naming’ (OWA, 61/199). Poesie, art in the form of language, is prior to the other arts – architecture (‘building’) and painting and sculpture (‘forming’) – since they operate in the realm already opened up by language (understood as conventions). Creative language, language that names things for the first time, in contrast to language as a means of communicating what is already disclosed, is Inventing, writing, composing verses in a narrow sense, i.e. poetry.

William Blake
William Blake

The German poet Hölderlin and the English poet, William Blake play a crucial role in the recovery of being. Hölderlin was torn between two loves: Greece and its gods, Germany and its God as Blake was torn by the traditional understanding of Christianity and its gods and England and his poetic attempt at “the recovery of Paradise”. Both Blake and Hölderlin were poets’ poets, concerned about the nature of poetry and the poet’s place in the cosmic order. Five of Hölderlin’s sayings about poetry as interpreted by Heidegger are considered here (all of these can be said to apply to Blake):

  1. Inventing, writing, composing ‘is the most innocent of all occupations’. Poetry is play with language, inventing a realm of images to inhabit, with no decisions that incur guilt.
  2. ‘Language, the most dangerous of all goods, is given to man so that he can testify to what he is’. Language opens up beings, and makes world and history possible. Humanity testifies to its central position by the worlds successively created and destroyed throughout history. By opening up beings, language exposes us to danger from them. Language is simplified to become our common possession; a message from the gods is diluted for mortal consumption: hence language puts us in danger of delusion.
  3. ‘Much men have learnt. Have called by their names many of those in heaven/Since we have been a conversation/And able to hear from each other.’ (Hölderlin) Language is essential to human beings, and language is essentially conversation, which involves both speaking and hearing, a giving an account. A single coherent conversation requires the identification of stable beings that persist through the flux of time. When we name things, and name the gods, a world appears. Naming the gods is a response to their claim on us. Our response is a fateful act for which we take responsibility.
  4. ‘But what is lasting the poets found’. Poets name, and thus invent, beings, bringing order and measure (i.e. being) to the measureless onrush of time and thus grounding human existence in the ‘lasting’.
  5. ‘Full of acquirements, but poetically man dwells upon this earth’. (Heidegger) Poetry names beings and grounds human life. Poetry makes language possible. Poetry endangers the poet: “… fellow poets, us it behooves to stand/Bare-headed beneath God’s thunder-storms,/To grasp the Father’s ray, no less, with our own two hands/ And wrapping in song the heavenly gift,/To offer it to the people” (Hölderlin). The apparent innocence of poetry disguises the danger. The poet’s free creativity has two constraints: the ‘hints’ of the gods and the ‘voice of the people’, the legends/stories that he has to interpret. The poet is a ‘medium’, between the gods and the people, standing in the between where it is decided who and what humanity is and where humanity is to dwell. The poet is, essentially, a prophet.

Hölderlin does not give the eternal essence of poetry. He says what poetry must be in the ‘impoverished time’ between the departure of the old gods and the arrival of the new god. The attempt drove him mad. What he said of Oedipus applies to himself: ‘King Oedipus has an eye too many perhaps.’

Aletheia and Truth

Aletheia is Greek for ‘truth; truthfulness, frankness, sincerity’. Alethes is ‘true; sincere, frank; real, actual’. There is also a verb, aletheuein, ‘to speak truly, etc’. The words are related to lanthanein, with an older form lethein, ‘to escape notice, be unseen, unnoticed’, and lethe, ‘forgetting, forgetfulness’. An initial a- in Greek is often privative, like the Latin in- or the Germanic un-. (The ‘privative alpha’ occurs in many Greek-derived words in English: ‘a-nonymous’, ‘a-theism’, etc.) Alethes, aletheia are generally accepted to be a-lethes, a-letheia, that which is ‘not hidden or forgotten’, or he who ‘does not hide or forget’. (These characteristics/meanings of truth can all be applied to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and doing so will provide an approach or an opening to an understanding of that play).

We reach the ‘essence of truth’, the ‘openness of the open’, from two directions: from ‘reflection on the ground of the possibility of correctness (adaequatio, ‘truth as correctness’ or ‘correspondence’)’ and from ‘recollection of the beginning (aletheia)’. Aletheuein is ‘to take out of hiddenness, to uncover; aletheia is ‘uncovering’; and alethes is ‘unhidden.

This has three implications: 1. Truth is not confined to explicit assertions and discrete mental, primarily theoretical, attitudes such as judgments, beliefs and representations. The world as a whole, not just entities within it, is unhidden – unhidden as much by moods (emotion as a way of knowing) as by understanding (reason as a way of knowing). 2. Truth is primarily a feature of reality – beings, being and world – not of thoughts and utterances (reason and language as ways of knowing). Beings, things, entities are, of course, unhidden to us, and we disclose them ‘to unconceal; -ing; -ment’, they can have an active sense: ‘alethes means: 1. unconcealed said of beings, 2. grasping the unconcealed as such, i.e. being unconcealing’. But beings, etc. are genuinely unconcealed; they do not just agree with an assertion or representation. 3. Truth as ‘unconcealment’ explicitly presupposes concealment or hiddenness. Human being and Being is in ‘untruth as well as truth. This means that ‘falling’ human being misinterprets things. (‘Falling’ has the character of being lost in the publicness of the They, or being absorbed in the shadows of the Cave. Macbeth’s first soliloquy: Act I sc. Vii and the imagery/metaphors associated with ‘leaping’ and ‘falling’.)

‘Untruth’ is not plain ‘falsity’, nor is it ‘hiddenness’: it is ‘disguisedness’ of the truth. In Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar and Macbeth, ‘untruth’ is still not ‘falsity’, but ‘hiding, concealing’. What conceals is no longer human being, but Being. There are two types of unconcealing: (a) of the open, the world or beings as a whole; (b) of particular beings within this open space. The first type (a) involves concealment: everything was hidden before the open was established, and concealment, persisting in that the open, reveals only certain aspects of reality, not its whole nature. It is not possible for human beings to have knowledge of the whole. Each area of knowledge provides a ‘field’ or an ‘opening’ in which the beings that it studies are illuminated and hidden simultaneously. The second type (b) involves a concealment that we overcome ‘partially and case by case’. Plato, in assimilating truth to light, and of the light to Love indicates the ‘openness’ that is necessary for things to be revealed in the ‘unconcealment’ (Stage 4 of the Cave where the human being is outside of the Cave; the journey outside of the Cave occurs ‘within’ the human being and the Cave). We choose, like Macbeth for instance, the idea of hiddenness or darkness over the light and ‘unhiddenness’ (thus the many metaphors of darkness and disguise, hiddenness and forgetfulness in the play; after the killing of Duncan, Macbeth loses all sense of ‘otherness’ and becomes a tyrant), and thus the privative force of a-letheia: the light is constant – never switched on or off (Jean Paul Sartre’s play No Exit as a reversal of this but also a denial) – and reveals everything there is to anyone who looks. We lose the idea of the open (and the comportment of Love), which must persist throughout our unconcealing of beings. For Plato, morality is purely internal; and it is here in the revealing that morality, ethics and ontology are given substance (as they are, for instance, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth).

In Plato, aletheia ‘comes under the yoke of the idea’. Idea, from the Greek idein, ‘to see’, refers to the visual aspect of entities or things. The ascent of the prisoners out of the cave is a progressive opening of their vision to this idea and the idea of the Good from which all ideas spring (although we cannot speak of the Good as an ‘entity’ in the sense of a ‘thing’ or ‘object’ whose idea it is). Hence aletheia is no longer primarily a characteristic of beings in themselves: it is ‘yoked’ together with the soul, and consists in a homoiösis, a ‘likeness’, between them which is generated through Beauty (or Eros). This can be understood as a triad (or triangle): the soul + the idea + Beauty. Homoiösis has since become adaequatio (in the Latin interpretation of the word, ‘correctness’ or ‘coherence’) and then ‘agreement’; and since Descartes, the relation between soul and beings has become the subject-object relation, mediated by a ‘representation’, the degenerate descendant of Plato’s idea. Truth becomes correctness, and its ‘elbow-room’, the open, or the experience of Beauty and of eros, is neglected. (‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’).

Some counterclaims to this version of truth: It is not certain that alethes comes from a- and lanthanein. Even if it does, it hardly ever means ‘unhidden’ in Homer, Hesiod (the earliest authors) and later authors, but has three main senses: the correctness of speech and belief (epistemological); the reality of being (ontological); the genuineness, truthfulness and conscientiousness of an individual or character (‘existential’). These three aspects of aletheia are united in Plato (and also for Shakespeare). The ascent from the cave is an ascent of being-in-the-world?, of knowledge and of existence. Throughout the history of philosophy, it is assumed that if Plato regards truth as correctness of apprehension, he has jettisoned its other senses; while if another sense reappears, this is because Plato is indecisive and ‘ambiguous’. The three senses are fused together in Plato. Interpreting truth as unhiddenness would not save it from modern subjectivity: unhiddenness must be unhiddenness to someone.

Plato says that the things we ‘make’ by holding up a mirror are not beings that are ‘unhidden’, and that the things painters make are not alethe (Republic, 596d,e). But perhaps this may be a joke of Plato’s since he himself has written a book, a dialogue, which is a ‘mirror’ of the being of Socrates. How is it that the things in mirrors and in paintings are not ‘unhidden’? How are we to understand how it can be said that to make things by holding up a mirror, we must take ‘making’ as Techne in the Greek sense? Are things no more hidden in a mirror than in their being in the world? To discuss this at length would be to have to examine the nature of the Platonic dialogue and particularly the dialogue Phaedrus which is the dialogue on writing, and this cannot be done here. In the allegory of the Cave the shadows, too, require light; but in their revealing the things that they are, the things are not fully ‘shown’.

(Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 3 sc. 2 may be of help here: “… let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”) Plato’s (and Shakespeare’s, through his use of personification: the feminine for the soul/the masculine for the body or material) point is that things in a mirror are not real, not alethe in the ontological sense, but that their revealing requires a special human beholding, a beholding that takes place in the open, that the mimetic art is directed to us and to the Forms themselves and what is created are the ‘images’ and outward appearances of these entities.

Correspondence theory of truth/truth as agreement

In the correspondence theory of truth, the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world, and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world.

Correspondence theories claim that true beliefs and true statements correspond to the actual state of affairs e.g. 1+2=3; the earth revolves around the sun; autumn is followed by winter (or here in Singapore, the rainy season follows the dry season); WWI began early August, 1914; Kant is a philosopher; the street is noisy outside; this room is air-conditioned, etc. This type of theory attempts to posit a relationship between thoughts or statements on the one hand, and things or facts on the other (a correspondence, in other words).

This class of theories holds that the truth or the falsity of a representation (a model, a theory) is determined solely by how it relates to a reality; that is, by whether it accurately describes that reality. (It is the truth test of the scientific method. Does the theory correspond, or account for, the behaviour of the object under study?). “A book is on a desk” is true if and only if, there is in the world a book and a desk and the book is related to the desk by virtue of being on it. If any of the three pieces (the book [subject], the desk [object], and the relation between them [‘is on’] which correspond respectively to the subject, object, and verb of the statement) is missing, the statement is false.

We see here the importance of language as a way of knowing (WOK). The “thing” and its “qualities” must correspond to a reality. The importance of grammar in our language stems from our construction of truth (the book, the desk, and the being of both [“is”] must all be established. A subject must have predicates (qualities).

Most advocates of correspondence theories have been ontological realists; that is, they believe that there is a ‘real’ world external to the minds of all humans. This is in contrast to metaphysical idealists who hold that everything that exists is, in the end, just an idea in some mind. However, some believe that it is not strictly necessary that a correspondence theory be married to ontological realism. It is possible to hold, for example, that the facts of the world determine which statements are true and to also hold that the world (and its facts) is but a collection of ideas in the mind. But this begs the question: what, in fact, is a fact and from where do “facts” come from i.e. the mind? Metaphysics or a real world? Does the real world ‘give us facts’ or are the ‘facts’ grounded in our understandings and interpretations of the world?

Truth as correspondence: The proposition (statement, assertion) is directed towards “the facts” and the state of affairs about which it says something. Truth is a correspondence, grounded in ‘correctness’ or agreement, between the proposition and the thing. Something is either ‘true’ or ‘false’. To be ‘false’ is to be ‘incorrect’ regarding the proposition and the state of affairs or it does not ‘correspond’ with the ‘facts’. “Correctness” is the criteria of truth in the correspondence theory of truth. We already know what the essence (“what” it is) of truth is in advance. This is what we call “shared knowledge” in TOK. This “shared knowledge” comes to determine and form what we understand as “personal knowledge” in advance. Something is either ‘true’ or ‘false’. To be ‘false’ is to be ‘incorrect’ regarding the proposition and the state of affairs or it does not ‘correspond’ with the ‘facts’. “Correctness” is the criteria of truth in the correspondence theory of truth.

The theory of truth as correspondence is only as plausible or usable as the phenomena are known to us in advance; that is, we must have already a pre-determined understanding of what some thing is. The theory succeeds in its appeal to the real world only in so far as the real world is reachable by us. (This is shown not to be the case in quantum physics where what is reachable is only known through the manner of our questioning and the equipment that we use to question. The manner of the questioning and the equipment are already pre-determined).

The direct realist believes that we directly know objects as they are. Such a person can wholeheartedly adopt a correspondence theory of truth. (But the direct realist does not have “knowledge” of these objects. The requirement for knowledge of these objects is “skipped over”. This is the case with those who hold to logical positivism; and our TOK course has been constructed by logical positivists. They have a pre-determined understanding of what knowledge and truth are.)

The rigorous idealist believes that there are no real objects. The correspondence theory appeals to imaginary undefined entities, so it is incoherent. (What is called “reality” fades the more precisely we view it, which is the experience in quantum physics). Most serious mathematicians are to be found here. The skeptic believes that we have no knowledge. The correspondence theory is simply false. Other positions hold that we have some type of awareness, perception, etc. of real-world objects which in some way falls short of direct knowledge of them. But such an indirect awareness or perception is itself an idea in one’s mind, so that the correspondence theory of truth reduces to a correspondence between ideas about truth and ideas of the world, whereupon it becomes a coherence theory of truth.

Truth as agreement

Truth now has two main senses: 1. ‘true, real, genuine’, in contrast to ‘apparent, sham, fake, flawed, etc.’: true love, gold, friends, etc.; 2. ‘true, factually correct, etc.’: a true account, statement, story, theory, etc. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘truth’ in sense 2 as: ‘conformity with facts, agreement with reality’, and thus embodies the correspondence theory of truth. This theory is usually supposed to have been originated by Aristotle, but this interpretation might be incorrect and we might be able to locate its origins in Plato and its full flowering in the scholastic definition of truth as adaequatio rei/rerum et intellectus, ‘conformity of thing(s) and the intellect’.

The German philosopher Heidegger attacks this view of truth, or at least its primacy, from several directions:

  1. What agrees with reality must be seen as a present-at-hand entity, an assertion or proposition distinct from the reality it is about. When I talk, I do not normally focus on the words I utter or hear. My mind is on what the talk is about. I often know what was said without noticing or remembering the precise words uttered. Silence can convey a message more effectively than words. There are no eternal propositions distinct from what is said on particular occasions, nor do words have fixed meanings or connotations, distinct from the entities they apply to and our beliefs about these entities. Here there is nothing, distinct from what the talk is about, to agree with it. What is said in the talk is, more or less, just what the talk is about. The agreement theory of truth, like the representative theory of perception, highlights a mental, logical or purely sensory entity intervening between ourselves and reality – a meaning, proposition, sensation, representation -when even if there are such entities we do not usually notice or attend to them. I can nevertheless focus on a sentence or assertion, such as ‘The cat is on the mat’, and ask whether it agrees with reality. Then I treat the words as present-at-hand. If the sentence does agree with reality, then it is true, or rather ‘correct’.
  2. A chunk of reality with which a given sentence or assertion agrees must also be seen as present-at-hand, severed from its connections with other entities within the world. When I assert ‘The hammer is heavy’, the workshop, nails, wood, and carpenter – everything that makes a hammer the tool that it is – are out of sight. Out of sight, too, are any reasons why one should care whether the assertion is true or not. If truth is valuable, and ‘truth’ amounts to ‘true propositions’, why not memorize the list of books located in our Resource Centre? Nevertheless, we can, and do, ‘de-world’ chunks of reality, and then the assertions that bear the equally present-at-hand relation of agreement with them are ‘correct’.
  3. Assertions or utterances in general, whether or not we interpret their truth as agreement or correspondence with reality, are not the primary locus of truth: ‘Proposition is not the place of truth; truth is the place of the proposition’. Truth is not primarily a property of assertions or judgements; it is what enables us, unlike stones, plants and animals, to make any assertions or judgements at all. Before a proposition can be uttered or understood, the world around us and entities within it must be disclosed in a way that cannot be equated with a set of discrete beliefs or expressed in a set of discrete propositions. In search of the cat, I enter the room and I am aware of the room as a whole. Then I see the cat on the mat, and say ‘It’s on the mat’. My seeing the cat on the mat amounts to a judgement or belief, and its being on the mat can be expressed in a proposition. But my overall awareness of the room cannot. I am aware of the room as a whole, not in all its details. Some details I am hazily aware of, I could not put them into words. I am aware of the general shape of the room, of the ‘involvement totality’, of the interconnections between areas and items, not of discrete chunks. Explicit assertion presupposes all this. The same goes for a scientific theory and the scientific method. It is not primarily a set of propositions. It is primarily a new way of looking at things, or certain things, and this, in turn, presupposes the familiar old way of looking at things that enables scientists to eat their meals and find their way to, and around, the laboratory. Truth does not require us to memorize the booklist of the Resource Centre. It involves having something to research, wanting to read a book or research other media, knowing how to do it and where to find the location of the resources, in short, knowing our way around in the space in which particular truths matter to us and can be unearthed. Correspondence theorists of truth typically deal not with the truths that we discover in the context in which we discover them, but with the sort of truth that gets ‘passed along in “further retelling”‘ (BT, 155), ‘The cat is on the mat’ and ‘Snow is white’. Heidegger’s account of truth as ‘unhiddenness’ has several consequences. Truth is no longer something we can or need to be certain of in a Cartesian manner. What we can be certain of is propositions: I am certain that such and such is so. The quest for truth is not a quest for certainty about what we already know or believe, but a quest for the disclosure of hitherto unknown realms. ‘Truth’ no longer contrasts with ‘falsity’. Propositions can be true or false, correct or incorrect. But false propositions presuppose an open realm of truth as much as true ones (e.g. the shadows in the Cave). Falsity, e.g. mistaking a bush for a person in the twilight, has three conditions: 1. The world is already disclosed to me and I can discover things within it: something is approaching. 2. I do not just gape at things, I interpret them as something.
  4. I know enough about my surroundings to know that a person is something that can appear in the environment; I would not mistake a bush for the President of the United States or the cube root of 69. Error is a localized distortion within a realm of truth. If ‘truth’ contrasts with anything, it is with ‘untruth’.

 

The Arts as an Area of Knowledge

The Arts:

Keats
John Keats

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,–that is all/ Ye know on earth and all ye need to know”—“Ode on a Grecian Urn”– John Keats

From the earliest cave paintings to contemporary performance installations, art and questions about the nature of beauty and taste have been fundamental to humankind. Changing modes of valuation – from Plato’s mistrust of poets to Kant’s theories on judgment through to post-Modern theories of art – have led to changing views of both what is considered artistic and beautiful and of the role of art and artists. But there has been insufficient reflection on the work of art itself and on the question “What is art?”. Students often have strongly held subjective viewpoints on taste and artistic merit across a broad spectrum of artistic forms, including television, music, and cinema. This writing will, hopefully, give students an opportunity to ground those judgments in a more questioning philosophical context.

By exploring the Western philosophical tradition as it relates to aesthetics (from the Greek ‘aisthesis’ which relates strongly to ‘sense perception’), students also have opportunities to expand and revise their own theories and beliefs. Students are encouraged to put art in the context of other Areas of Knowledge and to reflect on the manner of the ways of knowing in both the Arts and those Areas of Knowledge.

The arts are diverse: their content, forms and methods are often dissimilar, and the understanding and appreciation of them may possibly be more subjective than objective, but this view of art focuses on the artist and the audience rather than on the questions “What is art?” and “What is the work of art”? The students will be asked to reflect on the Greek word for the artist (‘techne’, ‘technite’) and question how ‘technology’ has come to mean the unity of ‘knowing’ and ‘making’ and towards the unity of the arts and sciences within the technological world-view.  The questions in the section, taken from older TOK guides, invite discussion of the ways in which the arts may affect individuals or groups, and the ways in which they embody and communicate knowledge; but the focus is on the work of art itself and how it ‘works’.

Although what is meant by ‘the arts’ may itself be a topic of discussion, the field considered here includes, at the least, a broad field of literature, such as is encountered by the IB student in Group 1 of the Diploma programme, and the visual arts, music and theatre encountered in Group 6

Scope/Applications: The Arts, Humanities and the Natural Sciences:

When students have finished their IB Programme and wish to pursue studies in the Arts and Humanities in university, they will find that these studies are dominated by “research”. What does this mean and what knowledge issues and questions present themselves to us as thinking human beings when this is the case?

If you have been following the thinking that has been occurring throughout the materials presented here in this blog, you will see that knowledge in the arts and humanities is dominated by a particular account of knowledge, and this account lies in the relation between a particular aspiration of thought and the effective conditions for its realization (this is what is called a “paradigm of knowledge” and it is closely related to Aristotle’s account of causality). The account of knowledge or what deserves to be called knowledge in the modern is in modern physics with all the beauty given in the discoveries of that science. Our account is that we reach knowledge when we represent things to ourselves as objects, summonsing them before us so that they give us their reasons for being as they are. This is what is referred to as the principle of reason. This requires well-defined procedures. Those procedures we call “research”. What we now mean by research is not then something useful for some ways of knowing and not for others. For us, it belongs to the very essence of what we think knowledge is because it is the effective condition for the realization of any knowledge. Research and team research have produced and will continue to produce extensive results in the human and natural sciences as well as in the arts.

What happens when the procedures for ordering objects before us to give us their reasons becomes dominant in the study of humanities and the arts? The very procedure of research means that the past is represented as an object. But anything in so far as it is an object only has the meaning of an object for us. When we represent something to ourselves as object, we stand above it as subject—the transcending summonsers. We therefore guarantee that the meaning of what is discovered in such research is under us, and in a very real way,  dead for us in the sense that its meaning cannot teach us anything greater than ourselves (this is the core problem in our study of history, also, due to history being an “art” as well as a “science”).

This subject-object distinction and their relation is at the core of the belief that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. But what then is “beholding”? Our be-holding is the stance that only sees “otherness” as object and this ‘seeing’ comes from the technological stance of framing which establishes the procedures for “re-search” (the “knowledge framework” and the “methodology” which it establishes are inseparable). The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, has shown this most clearly: the place that experiment plays in the human sciences is taken into the humanities and arts by “research” in the form of a critique of historical sources including biographical sketches of the artists’lives.

Previous scholarship and study of the past was a waiting upon the past so that we might find in it truths which might help us to live in the present. Research scholarship in the humanities and the arts cannot wait upon the past in the same manner because modern research represents the past to itself from a position of its own command. From that position of command you can learn about the past; you cannot learn from the past. The stance of command necessary to research therefore kills the past as teacher. What is strange is that the more the humanities and the arts have gained wealth and prestige by taking on the language and methods of the human and natural sciences, the less significance they have in the societies they inhabit.

The arts and humanities research that is being conducted at today’s universities is quite different from the traditional universities of the past. It comes from the mating of two untraditional partners: the post-Nietzschean 19th century German university and American capitalism. That students do not wish to engage in studies of the arts and humanities is not surprising: there is nothing living in the study of humanities and the arts…what is really living for them, the real culture is all around them in the pop culture. But there is no relation between the culture of the humanities and the popular culture. The first sterilizes the great art and thought of the past; the second is democratic but at least it is not barren. Why this has become the case can be attributed to Jean Jacques Rousseau and to Rene Descartes, and we need to try to understand what their thought is saying: that there is a realm of being called ‘history’ and we need to try to understand what the science of that realm was supposed to teach us.

Issues in and for the Arts:

Our modern technological world-view greatly increases the difficulty of understanding the languages of the Arts. By restricting knowledge to the demonstrable regularities we discover by holding objects at a distance from ourselves for our questioning, we ‘subjectivize’ whatever intimations we may have of the beauty and goodness of the world. (“Beauty is in the eye in the beholder”.) In treating everything as if it were simply an object for our inspection and analysis, we obscure its inherent beauty or goodness, suffocating whatever tendency we may have to love it. Our appreciation of works of art that have been created to enthrall us with their beauty—beautiful plays, poems, or musical compositions—can suffer from the stifling tendency of academic critics to hold them away from themselves (and ourselves) and treat them as objects for specialized explanatory research. In the end, this objectivising stance can gradually sap even the basic term good of any definite meaning, for it comes to be seen as a deceptive way of referring to what really are just our own preferences or tastes. And if we should try to discover these ‘values’ by turning in on ourselves, rather than outward, we find ourselves guided by no better standard than our own fluctuating tastes and opinions (most of which are created by the critics: what we call our shared knowledge). We can only learn of a work’s beauty or from its beauty only as that work stands before us in some relation other than the objective. All human beings can achieve these moments, but one has to concede that they are rare.

Modern science (and thus technology) has this obscuring, stifling, suffocating effect because it implicitly denies the possibility of understanding things through the conception of purpose. At the inception of modern scientific research four centuries ago (Descartes and Bacon), the denial was explicit in the attacks on Aristotle’s philosophy, particularly Aristotle’s teleology (telos=purpose) and ontology (ontos=being). Their identification of thought starting from and originating with doubt undermined the traditional understanding of what is good as what any being is fitted for. If, as Descartes, Bacon and Newton suggest, our real knowledge is limited to temporally organized sequences of publicly observable events (experiments, the scientific method) without any conception of an overall purpose (final cause), then we cannot know what any being is really fitted for, since ultimately there is nothing knowable within which anything should fit. We are left with subjective answers to what is due other beings and this ‘subjectivism’ and its confusion is demonstrated clearly in the Areas of Knowledge Ethics and in the Arts.

The idea of a traditional understanding of the natural order as an eternal framework within which human actions can be measured and defined is necessary for conceiving of any being (entity/thing) being “fitted”. To the extent that we accept the modern understanding of nature as the product of necessity and chance—that is outside any idea of purpose—such a statement will have an untraditional meaning. Giving to the world purpose and meaning will serve to be our own goals rather than anything that we have been given. Within the limits of modern scientific and philosophical language, little or nothing can be said about the ultimate cause of being and certainly not enough to believe in Plato’s affirmation that it is ultimately good. Nor does modern science hold out any promise that we will discover the right use of our power of choice, our freedom, by extending the frontiers of scientific knowledge. This has given rise to what has been called the fact/value distinction. To affirm, as Socrates does, that our height as human beings is somehow our knowledge of goodness and that the absence of such knowledge is not ignorance but madness, or the loss of our distinctive nature as human beings, is to place oneself outside all modern assumptions.

Key Terms/Concepts in the Arts:

What is art? What is the work of art? Who is the artist? Does the artist make the work or does the work make the artist? How are judgements made in the arts? What distinguishes great art from that which is not so great?

What is a work of art? It is not present-at-hand like a rock or a tree, nor ready-to-hand like a broom or a car, yet it has features in common with both. Like a rock and unlike a broom, it has no specific purpose and essentially contains conspicuous natural, ‘thingly’, materials. Like a broom and unlike a rock, it is made by humans, but the artist’s creativity has an affinity to the creation of nature in that it appears, like nature, that the artist (and we are speaking only of great art here) is unaware of the processes that are going on within the project (see, for example, the letter of Mozart on the origin of his music).

We might like to consider art in terms of the artist’s choices, a choice of this theme rather than that, of this material, of his pigment, etc., but he does not. The work of art is more like a project, which sets up a world in which choices can be made. Truth, the revelation/unconcealment of being, is ‘set into the work’ and ‘set to work’, illuminating the world of Human Being and the earth on which it rests. As Human Being is thrown in its own project and understands itself in terms of this project, so the artist is originated or becomes an artist by the work of art. The point is not simply that no one is an artist until he/she creates a work, but that the artist is not in control of his/her own creativity.  His/her only choice is whether to create the work or not as it is for the audience to enter into the world created by the artist’s work or not. Beauty is the drawing force (eros) for this entry, but the entering and the unconcealing remain the mystery.

Art, as the unconcealment of truth, is an impersonal force that uses the artist for its own purposes. A work is to be understood in terms of being and the world, not of its author or maker.  A work also needs an audience, or rather ‘preservers’ and ‘preservation’, which means: ‘Standing in the openness of beings that happens in the work’. A rock is what it is apart from any onlookers; the purpose of a broom is imminent in it, and in any case a broom, like any equipment in good working order, is essentially inconspicuous even when in use, let alone when stored in the cupboard. But a work needs preservers (an audience) to bring out its meaning and to receive the light that it sheds on their lives. As an audience, liking or disliking a work of art is quite irrelevant: either one enters into the world of its truth or one does not. How great that world of truth is distinguishes between art that is great and art that is not so great. Taste is a matter of the they-self or the Great Beast in the Platonic analogy and is determined by the opinion makers.

The focus in the modern is on aesthetics, from the Greek aisthesis, ‘perception’, since it focuses on the audience and their ‘subjectivity’ at the expense of the artist and the work, and on the superficial, perceptible beauty of the work: ‘The aesthetic […] turns the work of art from the start into an object for our feelings and ideas. Only when the work has become an object, is it fit for exhibitions and museums’. (Heidegger) It is not coincidental that our understanding of art as ‘aesthetics’ arrives simultaneously with the thinking that is found in Descartes and Newton or the unfolding of the principle of reason. The work embodies truth first of all, and sensory beauty is what draws us to this truth; this beauty leads us to the truth of the work and allows us to act (and wish to act) as preservers. The work, or art itself, is primary: it generates artists and preservers as a river fashions its own banks in the words of Heidegger. Both the audience and the artist engage in the happening/occurrence of truth and in the preservation of truth.

The Modern View of Art: Nietzsche

To understand how we moderns have come to understand art, we need to examine the German philosopher Nietzsche’s view of art and try to relate it to the theories of truth (correspondence, coherence, pragmatic, and unconcealment) that we have studied. Nietzsche believes that:

  1. Art is the most transparent and familiar form of the will to power. 2. Art must be understood in terms of the artist. 3. Art is, on an extended concept of the artist, the basic happening of all beings; so far as beings are, they are something self-creating and created (empowering, empowerment). 4. Art is the distinctive counter-movement against nihilism. 5. Art is the great stimulant of life. 6. Art is worth more than truth.

Nietzsche’s (and in using Nietzsche, I should also be using the royal ‘we’ since his view is what dominates our view) views of art remain focused on the Cartesian separation of mind and body, subject and object. Nietzsche ignores the primacy of the work and focuses on the artist as creator.  Truth, for Nietzsche, is the accurate portrayal of the current state of affairs in the arts in terms of rigid categories and concepts. Art ‘transfigures life, moves it into higher, as yet unlived possibilities, which do not hover “above” life, but rouse it from itself anew into wakefulness, for “Only through magic does life remain awake” (George, “The New Realm”)’. Although both truth (and knowledge) and art are required for life, art is superior to truth in Nietzsche’s sense of truth. But Nietzsche’s notion of truth is traditional, and he retains Plato’s contrast between art and truth. Strictly, or ‘originally’, truth is not correspondence with fact, but what Nietzsche says art provides: the disclosure of a realm of new possibilities.

The aesthetic view of art stems from the human-centred metaphysic of modernity, and coheres with the conception of beings as what is ‘objectively representable’. My own states (emotion, comportment), the way I feel in the presence of something, determines my view of everything I encounter. Hence art is in danger of becoming a device for the provision of ‘experience’. This is abetted by the view that a work of art is a thing, a crafted thing, with aesthetic value superimposed on it i.e. the art as an artist’s technique, etc. Despite the Greek use of techne for both ‘craft’ and ‘art’ (since techne means bringing forth beings, whether by craft or by art, into truth or unhiddenness), the origin of a work of art is not a product of craft, let alone a thing, with beauty added. It is where truth is sheltered, the truth that enables beings to appear as beings and craftsmen to produce their artifacts. Overcoming aesthetics and its ‘subjectivity’ is an integral part of overcoming metaphysics. Whether art will decline into an ‘instrument of cultural policy’ (as it has essentially done here in Singapore) or will set the truth (in) to (the) work once more is a matter for ‘decision’ (Heidegger); the outcome for the arts in the technological age is uncertain, but not hopeful .

Art is ‘the letting-happen of the arrival of the truth of beings as such’. This means that all art is essentially ‘poetry’. But how is this so?

Is the work of art a Thing?

 ‘Thing’, is a distinct ‘thing, (subject-) matter, affair’. The Latin res, originally denoted a legal case or a matter of concern, and it is in this ‘case’ that it is related to ‘judgement’. A ‘thing’ implies something present-at-hand, an object of neutral contemplation, in contrast to ready-at-hand equipment and to human beings. It is especially associated with Descartes’ view that the self is a res cogitans, a ‘thinking thing’. We have distinguished five senses of the word thing: 1.the physical: the ‘present-at-hand’: the things of nature (our plants in the classroom); 2.things as phenomena:  the ready-to-hand as understood as instruments or equipment: pliers, clock, whiteboard marker, eraser, etc;  3. Things as chromata: a wider sense that includes stones, plants, etc., those things we view as ‘resources’ or anything that we have a use for; 4. Things as pragmata such as events: ‘plans, resolutions, thoughts, temperaments, deeds, the historical’ i.e. things associated with human doing; 5. Things as ‘mathemata’:  the things in the  widest sense as anything which is ‘learnable’ or ‘teachable’ which includes 1 and 2, but also anything that is ‘a something not nothing’: the number 5, luck, courage, a mathematical formula, a computer.

We examined various accounts of the thing:  the physicist’s account of a sunset and a table; a thing as the occupant of a certain spatio-temporal position; Leibniz’s view that a thing is a ‘particular this’ independently of its spatio-temporal location; a thing as the unity of a manifold of perceptible qualities (the thing as a ‘one’); and as a form superimposed on matter (our discussions of Plato’s forms and ideas). The most natural view of the thing is that it is a bearer of properties. It fits with the correspondence theory of truth. An assertion involves a subject and a predicate, corresponding to a bearer and its property: ‘the structure of the thing coheres with the structure of the assertion’: the coherence theory of truth.

‘The “natural” is always historical’, however, for we who are moderns. We have come to see that we view what the Greeks understood as the ‘natural’ view is an old prejudice originated by Plato and Aristotle. But we would need to ‘bring into play the whole of Greek existence, their gods, their art, their state, their knowledge, in order to experience what it means to uncover the like of a thing’. For the answer to the question ‘What is a thing?’ is not a proposition, but ‘the beginning of a change of our former attitude to things, a change of questioning and assessment, of seeing and deciding, in short: of Human Being in the midst of beings’. This great change (paradigm shift) begins to flower in that age we call the Renaissance.

In the 1960s, our street slang referred to our being in the world as ‘our thing’: “It’s your thing” was a very popular saying among us. In this sense, to thing meant ‘to assemble, gather’, and takes a thing to be something that ‘assembles’ the ‘fourfold’, earth, sky, gods and mortals. ‘The cup is a thing not in the Roman sense of res, nor in the sense of an ens as the medievals represented it, nor in the modern sense of a represented object. The cup is a thing insofar as it things’, according to the German philosopher Heidegger.  By thinging, it detains a while earth and sky, the divinities and the mortals: that is, it creates a world; by detaining, the thing ‘brings the four close to each other in their distances’. The question ‘What is a thing?’ brings a whole world into play: some thing that ‘assembles’ the ‘fourfold’, earth, sky, gods and mortals.

Once again, the judgement that we place on the ‘value’ of a work of art is determined by how great a world it ‘opens’ for us and how much light it provides into that world. All things provide an ‘opening’; some are greater than others. What we call ‘personal knowledge’ is how we relate to the things of the world: not all things are precious to us; for some, the simplest objects hold a great value to them while they would hold little or no value to others. This relationship to things (and works of art especially) has come to be misunderstood as ‘subjectivity’. What is called ‘subjectivity’ relates to ‘possession’. The proper experience of a work of art is not one of ‘possession’; it is more of liberation.

If the work of art is a thing, what kind of “thing” is it?

Why we have come to View Art as “Subjective”:

To attempt to understand what the essence of art is, we need to speak about subject and object and to question the popular belief that “All art is subjective”. Object comes from the Latin objectum, literally “what is thrown (jacio) or placed against (ob)”.  In our being-in-the-world, we encounter the beings/things/entities that encounter us within the world. Beings come up against, en-counter, confront us, as they stand over against us.

Object has come to have many meanings: 1. a real object, 2. an intentional object, an object of a subject or of an intentional attitude such as knowledge, love or curiosity. A real object (e.g. an undiscovered island or planet) need not be the object of any subjective attitude, and an intentional object (e.g. the unicorn I dream about) need not be a real object.  Every object is an object for a subject, and not every being/thing is an object, since e.g. natural processes occur without being objects for a subject. The category of “object” was alien to the Greeks. In its place stood pragma ‘a thing done, deed, thing, etc.’, that with which one has to do and deal – what is present for concernful dealings with things’.

Subject comes from the Latin subjectum, literally ‘what is thrown under’. Originally it differed little in meaning from substantia, lit. ‘what stands under’. Subject is ambiguous, meaning: 1. the underlying substratum or subject of predication, inquiry, e.g. “The book is green”, 2. the human subject. The Greeks knew nothing at all about human being as an I-subject. How did a word that originally applied to everything come to be used especially for the human being? In the West, with the new freedom following the decline of traditional Christianity, human being becomes the centre around which everything else revolves and thus the subject, what underlies, par excellence (what has come to be called humanism). The human subject may be a disembodied I, whose certainty determines what there is. But it need not be: Nietzsche’s subject is embodied and governed by desire and passion more than by thought, but still Cartesian in that it is the arbiter of being and value.

Perhaps what we have come to take for granted as art is based on a misguided philosophical theory and is a central feature of our fallen modernity. The subject-object model: 1. ignores the world that is a precondition of our encounters with objects or beings as such: ‘”World” is something in which one can live (one cannot live in nor can one love an object)’. 2. It implies that the subject and the object have the same mode of being, are both present-at-hand, or things. 3. It ‘thematizes’ entities, makes them conspicuous, neglecting what we see out of the corner of our eye, what we are vaguely, unobtrusively aware of. 4. It suggests that our primary mode of access to things is cognition or theoretical knowledge based on the principle of reason. 5. It implies that the subject is separated from the object by a gulf or barrier (like a snail in its shell), and its access to the object is mediated by a representation or framework/grid. 6. It suggests that a person is primarily an I or ego, detached from the body, the world and the They, and that one is aware of oneself by reflection on the I (personal and shared knowledge). In fact, it states that what Human Being is primarily aware of is itself in what it deals with (all things are pragmatic, and all things are equipment or tools and their value is determined by their ‘usefulness’ to me and to the society of which I am a part).

Modern human being is not simply mistakenly regarded as an “I”/ the subject. An “I” is a subject, and to that extent he/she is not Human Being. This ‘subjectivity’ is descended from Descartes’ quest for an ‘absolute and unshakeable foundation’, but it has gone beyond Cartesian confines. The subject is no longer an individualized I: it is embodied human being, even collective human being. It is no longer restrained by a barrier; its dominance of producible and manipulable objects is unrestrained. Objects are still represented, but this means not that human being has a mental picture of them but that it is human being that decides whether and what they are (“art”, for instance). Everything is an object for this subject: there are no unexplored areas or aspects of the world beyond human beings’ theoretical and practical reach. Subjectivity, and the ‘objectivization’ it involves, may go so far that ‘subjects’ disappear in favour of a comprehensive utilizability or ‘usefulness’, and humanity becomes a ‘human resource’ to be managed and exploited like any other material.

The subject-object model has given rise to the contrast between subjectivism (idealism) and objectivism (realism). Both alternatives are mistaken, since 1. The subject-object model is misguided based on the points mentioned above, and 2. Subject and object are correlative: a subject has an object that stands on its own two feet, and an object is always an object for a subject. The distinction between the objective and the subjective is relative and shifting. Thus whenever the question is raised whether e.g. time, world, art or being is subjective, the replies are that 1. They cannot be, since Human Being is not a subject, and 2. If they are subjective, they are also objective, indeed ‘more objective than any possible object’, or ‘earlier than any subjectivity and objectivity’.

Art as Representation:

The manner of our seeing in the arts (and aesthetics comes from the Greek aisthesis which has to do with sense perception with a predominant emphasis on sight) has come to be primarily determined by our understanding of representation. If we look at the word ‘re-present-ation’, we can see that it means “that which is responsible for or occasions the making ‘present’ before us”. There are many ways that we can make something “present” before us. A representation is a performance, presentation, introduction, an idea, conception, imagination, etc., and each of these in some way makes some thing ‘present’ for us.

The views that are commonly asserted regarding the essence of art (and these are captured in the knowledge framework provided by the IB) is that it involves all of the ways of knowing that we are considering in the TOK course. Art, as is commonly understood, is a 1.representing; 2. judgement; 3.involving interest, emotions, etc. with emphasis on both the artist and the audience rather than on the work itself.

Representation is a letting something be seen, not something that is itself seen, like a picture or a painting. Seeing a painting or a picture, and seeing something in a painting or a picture, are quite different from seeing things in the flesh. Our Facebook walls, for example, open up a world for others on ourselves, but it is a quite shallow world. The page cannot convey the primary experience of the thoughts, emotions experienced in the capture of the moment of the picture. The Wall closes down the experience of the real world and, we could say, operates in an opposite or opposing way from the work of art. With Facebook (or any other social media) there is both a simultaneous ‘hiddenness’ (hiding, concealing) and ‘unhiddenness’ (revealing) going on, but this concealing/revealing is much like the shadows in Plato’s allegory of the Cave.

Our seeing or “beholding” (and notice in the word ‘be-hold-ing’ that there is a grasping that makes something ‘be’ or become ‘present’ for us, or determines some thing ‘being’ or what some thing is, taking “possession” of something) is permeated by the language and categories of representation: We do not so much primarily and originally see objects and things; at first we speak about them; more precisely we do not express what we see, rather we see what one another say about the thing or matter. Our ‘personal knowledge’ is primarily a ‘shared knowledge’ for in the ‘sharing’ is determined how we will understand the matter or thing. There is a close affinity between the representational theory of perception and the correspondence theory of truth: both involve representations in the soul (or mind) copying beings outside.

Representation goes with a view of the self as a subject: in the German philosopher Kant ‘the I was forced back again to an isolated subject, which accompanies representations in an ontologically quite indefinite way’, according to the German philosopher, Heidegger. Heidegger rejects this because it misrepresents our being-in-the world, and because Kant’s view does adequately represent our human-centred attitude to the world.

Representation can also mean ‘to make something stand (fast) in advance before us’. Art expresses how what we call ‘truth’ brings chaotic becoming to a standstill, converting it into a ‘static constancy’. We can also speak of ‘representation’ as meaning ‘to bring before’ a court, or a standing in for something or someone else (empowerment  or empowering). Then it suggests that human beings are the judges who decide what being is (‘be-hold’) and what qualifies as beings, who lays down the law and applies it to beings; what art is and what qualifies as art i.e. our ‘subjectivity’ expresses the ‘value’ of some thing. To be is, then, to-be-represented, to be presented before the bench of ‘judgement’. This is Descartes’ main achievement, not that he regarded the ego as a thing, but that he equated being with being-represented by a subject. It does not matter whether the subject is a pure ego or embodied ego or self. What matters is that everything comes to human beings for judgement. The two central features of modernity are that human beings are the centre of beings as a whole (what has come to be given to us in humanism), the subject to which they are all referred, and that the beingness of beings (what some thing is) as a whole is conceived as the being-represented of the producible, explainable, and the useful.

‘To produce’ is to ‘lead or bring forward’ and is a type of ‘revealing’ that is often linked with representation to suggest the relationship of Cartesianism and technology. Two features of representation help to put human beings at the centre. First, representation means ‘to represent something’ in the sense of ‘to count, stand for something, to cut a fine figure’. Second, the reflexive representation stresses the subject: ‘every human representing is by an easily misinterpreted figure of speech a “self-representing”. This converges with Descartes’ view that whenever I think about anything I also think that I think. In Representation the representing and the representer are always co-represented as well. From this we can discern why “art is subjective” is the commonly held view.

Representation gives a new sense to the equation of being with presence. For the Greeks being was ‘presence’. Greek presence concerns the ‘presencing of beings into the realm of the unhidden. The closest Greek counterpart to representation is noein, (to think, etc.): ‘dwelling in the unhidden’, receptive rather than intrusive, and was concerned as much with the whole, unhiddenness as such, as with individual entities. Representation is the autocratic interrogation of and jurisdiction over all things i.e. it determines what will be defined as art, for human subjectivity has come to represent the whole.

Poetry and the Imagination: The Distinction between Poetry and Prose

Poesie, comes from the Greek poiesis, ‘making, fabrication, production, poetry, poem’, which in turn comes from poiein, ‘to make, to do’. Aristotle distinguishes poiesis, ‘making’ – which essentially has an end-product, a poiema – from praxis, ‘action’ – which does not. That the Greeks gave this inherently general name to poetry in particular is ‘evidence for the pre-eminence of this art within Greek art in general’ (Heidegger). Poesie has a narrower meaning than poiesis, applying especially to verse in contrast to prose.

Our idea of prose comes from the Latin dictare, ‘to say repeatedly, dictate, compose’. This has a wider meaning than Poesie or ‘poetry’. It applies to all creative writing, including novels, not only verse. The verb has the flavour of ‘to dispose, order, and shape’ and our works of prose ‘say repeatedly’ (what James Joyce indicates in his novel Finnegans Wake). In the wide sense, our understanding of ‘prose’ means ‘to invent, create, project’, but it is distinct from ‘untrammeled invention’.  For the essence of art, it happens that art in the midst of beings clears an open place in whose openness everything is other than before’.  Art changes the way we ‘view’ the world; and this involves not only ‘sense perception’, but also our disposition or comportment (emotion as a WOK) toward beings/things and world. It is the area of the overlapping between our personal and shared knowledge. It is more than merely “experience”.

The birch tree looks different in different seasons, weathers and perspectives, but I take it to be the same tree, not by elaborate comparisons of and inferences from its changing aspects; I have ‘always already’ taken it to be the same tree. Since the self-identical tree is not strictly given to me, the ‘positing of something “like” is thus an invention and fabrication. This inventive character is the essence of reason and thinking. So before we think in the usual sense, we must invent, using both intuition and imagination. Kant ‘was the first to specifically notice and think through the inventive character of reason in his doctrine of the transcendental imagination. Even our words for sense-impressions – ‘red, green, sour, etc’ – depend on the fabrication of a likeness, sameness and constancy that are not given in the throng of sensations. ‘The categories of reason are horizons of fabrication (and its association with a making), a fabrication that first clears  for what encounters us that free place, in which it is set up and from which it can appear as a constant, as a standing object. All thinking is ‘inventive’, but not all thinking is ‘poetic’, nor is it all ‘thoughtful’. (Heidegger)

‘Language itself is invention, writing, composing verses in the essential sense’ (Heidegger, OWA, 61/199). That is, language ‘first brings the entity as an entity into the open’ by naming it. It is ‘projective saying’ and this saying is invention, writing, composing: ‘the saying of the world and the earth, […] the saying of the unhiddenness of beings’ (OWA, 61/198). Hence ‘Poesie, invention, writing, composing verses in the narrow sense, is the most original Invention, writing, composing verses in the essential [i.e. wide] sense. […] Poesie happens in language because language safeguards the original essence of Invention, writing, composing verses. Building and forming by contrast happen always already and always only in the open of the saying and naming’ (OWA, 61/199). Poesie, art in the form of language, is prior to the other arts – architecture (‘building’) and painting and sculpture (‘forming’) – since they operate in the realm already opened up by language (understood as conventions). Creative language, language that names things for the first time, in contrast to language as a means of communicating what is already disclosed, is Inventing, writing, composing verses in a narrow sense, i.e. poetry.  (See Shakespeare’s coining of the word ‘assassination’ in Macbeth: it is coined because Macbeth is unable to say the word ‘murder’ in Act I sc. vii).

Friedrich_hoelderlin
Friedrich Holderlin

The German poet Hölderlin plays a crucial role in the recovery of being for Heidegger. Hölderlin was torn between two loves: Greece and its gods, Germany and its God. He was a poet’s poet, concerned about the nature of poetry and the poet’s place in the cosmic order. Five of his sayings about poetry as interpreted by Heidegger are considered here:

  1. Inventing, writing, composing ‘is the most innocent of all occupations’. Poetry is play with language, inventing a realm of images to inhabit, with no decisions that incur guilt.
  2. ‘Language, the most dangerous of all goods, is given to man so that he can testify to what he is’. Language opens up beings, and makes world and history possible. Humanity testifies to its central position by the worlds successively created and destroyed throughout history. By opening up beings, language exposes us to danger from them. Language is simplified to become our common possession; a message from the gods is diluted for mortal consumption: hence language puts us in danger of delusion (c.f. the play Macbeth and the many implications of this).
  3. ‘Much men have learnt. Have called by their names many of those in heaven/Since we have been a conversation/And able to hear from each other.’ (Hölderlin) Language is essential to human beings, and language is essentially conversation, which involves both speaking and hearing. A single coherent conversation requires the identification of stable beings that persist through the flux of time. When we name things, and name the gods, a world appears. Naming the gods is a response to their claim on us. Our response is a fateful act for which we take responsibility.
  4. ‘But what is lasting the poets found’. Poets name, and thus invent, beings, bringing order and measure (i.e. being) to the measureless onrush of time and thus grounding human existence in the ‘lasting’.
  5. ‘Full of acquirements, but poetically man dwells upon this earth’. (Heidegger) Poetry names beings/things and grounds human life. Poetry makes language possible. Poetry endangers the poet: “… fellow poets, us it behoves to stand/Bare-headed beneath God’s thunder-storms,/To grasp the Father’s ray, no less, with our own two hands/ And wrapping in song the heavenly gift,/To offer it to the people” (Hölderlin). The apparent innocence of poetry disguises the danger. The poet’s free creativity has two constraints: the ‘hints’ of the gods and the ‘voice of the people’, the legends/stories that he has to interpret. The poet is a ‘medium’ between the gods and the people, standing in the Between where it is decided who humanity is and where humanity is to dwell. (Notice the allusion to Shakespeare’s King Lear in Hölderlin saying on the poets.)

Hölderlin does not give us the eternal essence of poetry. He says what poetry must be in the ‘impoverished time’ between the departure of the old gods and the arrival of the new god. The attempt drove him mad. What he said of Oedipus applies to himself: ‘King Oedipus has an eye too many perhaps.’

From A Letter of Mozart’s:

mozart“The question is how my art proceeds in writing and working out great and important matters. I can say no more than this, for I know no more and can come upon nothing further. When I am well and have good surroundings, travelling in a carriage, or after a good meal or walk or at night when I cannot sleep, then ideas come to me best and in torrents. Where they come from and how they come I just do not know. I keep in my head those that please me and hum them aloud as others have told me. When I have that all carefully in my head, the rest comes quickly, one thing after another; I see where such fragments could be used to make a composition of them all, by employing the rules of counterpoint and the sound of different instruments etc. My soul is then on fire as long as I am not disturbed; the idea expands, I develop it, all becoming clearer and clearer. The piece becomes almost complete in my head, even if it is a long one, so that afterwards I see it in my spirit all in one look, as one sees a beautiful picture or a beautiful human being. I am saying that in imagination I do not understand the parts one after another, in the order that they ought to follow in music; I understand them altogether at one moment. Delicious moments. When the ideas are discovered and put into a work, all occurs in me as in a beautiful dream which is quite lucid. But the most beautiful is to understand it all at one moment. What has happened I do not easily forget and this is the best gift which our God has given me. When it afterwards comes to writing, I take out of the bag of my mind what had previously gathered into it. Then it gets quickly put down on paper, being strictly, as was said, already perfect, and generally in much the same way as it was in my head before.”

The following Wallace Stevens’ poem illustrates some of the points which have been made in this consideration of the Arts:

Wallace_StevensAnecdote of the Jar

Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Literature and Theory of Knowledge Links From Previous Guides:

  1. Is a work of literature enlarged or diminished by interpretation? What makes something a good or bad interpretation? (How is our “viewing” towards an “interpretation” already pre-determined by what is understood as “research” in the arts and humanities?)
  2. How can literary works of fiction, which are by definition non-factual, convey knowledge? How can “truth” reside in a work of fiction?
  3. What is the proper function of literature: to capture a perception of reality? to teach or uplift the mind? to express emotion? to create beauty? to bind a community together? to praise spiritual power? to provoke reflection? to promote social change?
  4. Does familiarity with literature itself provide knowledge and if so of what kind: knowledge of facts? of the author? of the conventions of the form of the tradition? of psychology or cultural history? of oneself?
  5. What knowledge of literature can be gained by focusing attention on the author? Can, or should, authors’ intentions and the creative process itself be understood through observing authors or knowing something about their lives? Is the creative process as important as the final product, even though it cannot be observed directly? Are an author’s intentions relevant to assessing his/her work? Can a work of literature contain or convey meaning of which the artist is oblivious?
  6. What knowledge of literature can be gained by focusing attention solely on the work itself, in isolation from the author or the social context?
  7. Is the study of literature important in individual/ethical development? In what ways?
  8. What constitutes good evidence within the study of literature?
  9. What are the things that can get lost in translating a work from one language to another? Why?

IB Guiding Questions:

  1. ‘Art upsets; science reassures’. Analyze and evaluate this claim.

Linking Questions:

            Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth. (Pablo Picasso)  

Definition of the Arts

What is the origin and nature of a sense of beauty? Is this sense specific to the individual or to the culture, or is it universal?

Some languages have no generic word for ‘the arts’. To what extent might the concept be a culturally relative one? To what extent, even within those languages which have a generic term, is the term ‘the arts’ elastic in definition?

Do all the arts have features in common? What might these be?

What roles do the arts play in people’s lives? Are these roles unique to the arts?

Are the arts a kind of knowledge, or are they a means of expressing knowledge? If the latter, what knowledge might they express? What are the implications of the following claim?

 ‘Life is very nice but it lacks form. It’s the aim of art to give it some.’ (Jean Anouilh)

The Arts: Methods of Gaining Knowledge

To what extent and in what ways might the arts be regarded as a representation of reality? What kinds of art might be seen as ‘realistic’?

What is the proper function of the arts: to capture a perception of reality, to teach or uplift the mind, to express emotion, to create beauty, to bind a community together or to praise a spiritual power? Are there functions omitted here? Do the various arts have the same functions? Is originality essential in the arts? Is the relationship between the individual artist and tradition similar in all cultures and times?

In what ways does technology influence the arts? What, for example, might be lost or gained aesthetically by recycling visual images, or by composing music by computer?

The Arts and Knowledge Claims

Does familiarity with an art form itself provide knowledge and, if so, of what kind? Knowledge of facts? Of the creator of the art form? Of the conventions of form? Of psychology or cultural history?

Does art, or can art, tell the truth? If so, is artistic truth the same as truth in the context of the natural sciences, the human sciences, or history? How might the truth claims of art be verified or falsified? What are the implications of the following claims?

‘Far from being engaged in opposing or incompatible activities, scientists and artists are both trying to extend our understanding of experience by the use of creative imagination subjected to critical control, and so both are using irrational as well as rational faculties. Both are explaining the unknown and trying to articulate the search and its findings. Both are seekers after truth who make indispensable use of intuition.’ (Karl Popper)

Is explanation a goal of the arts? How do the arts compare in this regard with other Areas of Knowledge?

What did Frank Zappa mean when he claimed that ‘Talking about music is like dancing about architecture’?

The Arts and Values

How are value judgements in the arts justified? How is ‘good art’ recognized or decided on?

What are the justifications and implications of claiming that there are absolute standards for good art, or that the only standard for good art is individual taste?

Does the artist carry any moral or ethical responsibility? Is it possible for an artwork to be immoral? Should art be judged on its ability to shock?

What is the role of education in creating art, and in appreciating it? Is an art form legitimate if it can be enjoyed only by those trained in its appreciation through having had relevant education or through having become familiar with it in their own cultural context?

Is a critical assessment of an art form legitimate if it is made by someone with no relevant education or cultural familiarity?

What relationships exist between the arts, on the one hand, and power over the public mind, on the other? Should art be politically subversive? Conversely, should it serve the interests of the community or the state?

Why would governments, corporations, advertisers, and ideologically based groups of many kinds concern themselves with visual artists, musicians and writers?

To what extent can one reasonably separate values in the arts from the definitions of the field, its methodologies and its knowledge claims?

The Arts and Knowledge Perspectives

What knowledge of art can be gained by focusing attention on the artist? Can artists’ intentions, and the creative process itself, be understood through observing artists or knowing something of their lives?

Is the creative process as important as the final product, even though it cannot be observed directly?

Are an artist’s intentions relevant to assessing the work? Can a work of art contain or convey meaning of which the artist is oblivious?

What knowledge of art can be gained by focusing attention solely on the work itself, in isolation from the artist or the social context?

Can technical virtuosity in itself, a skilled mastery of the medium, be enough to distinguish a work of art?

Are certain compositions, ways of structuring sounds or shapes, inherently more pleasing than others? Can a work be judged primarily by the harmony of form and content, the way in which structure and style work effectively to create or support the subject matter?

Is the form of a work its true meaning?

What knowledge of art can be gained by focusing on the reader or audience’s response? Can it be plausibly argued that art is brought into being only in the response of the audience, that a work is created anew each time it is viewed, heard or read?

What is the role of the critic in judgement of the worth of art?

Are any of the following sufficient indicators of the value of a work: its popularity, its commercial value in the market, its universality in its appeal beyond its cultural boundaries, and/or its longevity?

What knowledge of art can be gained by focusing attention on its social, cultural or historical context?

To what extent do power relationships determine what art or whose art is valued?

Is all art essentially a product of a particular place and time in terms of its subject matter and conventions of expression?

Is art best seen as anthropological or historical documentation, bringing to life a remote society or era, but understood esoterically, only with independent knowledge of that remote life?

Does art become obsolete?

Is art understood more fully by emphasizing what all cultures have in common rather than by stressing what is unique to each?

 

 

 

A Reading of William Blake’s “The Tyger”: Technology as Knowing and Making

Blake The Tygeer
The Tyger

William Blake’s “The Tyger” from his Songs of Innocence & Songs of Experience is a poem about “making”, or artistic creation if you will. Using Aristotle’s understanding of poiesis (as the making that ‘brings forth’ and is ‘responsible for’) and its relation to the four causes we will give a view upon this poem and attempt to see and to hear and to understand the world that it ‘reveals’ to us.

 

In the first stanza of the poem, the ‘tyger’ is spelt with a “y” and we must ask “why the ‘y’?” and not an ‘I’ (‘eye’?). To simply say “that’s the way Blake spelled tiger in his time” is to stop our minds from having to think about the poem. The error of the spelling alerts us to be alert, to be awake: we are not dealing with our pre-conceptions of what tigers are in this poem. “Tyger” is repeated, meaning that there are two; but in Blake’s print for the poem we have another tiger which would appear to indicate that there are actually three tigers present.

If we think about the poem “The Lamb” from Songs of Innocence (and we will not question that this poem is the ‘contrary’ or the negation of the state to the poem that is given to us in “The Tyger”), we can see that there are three lambs present: The Lamb=Christ, the lamb=child (the speaker of the poem), and the lamb to whom the child is speaking. Each is identified as being one. In “The Lamb”, the child has all the answers to the rhetorical questions asked; in “The Tyger”, there are no answers to the questions of the speaker of the poem and the ‘tyger’ itself remains concealed in the ‘forests of the night’, even though he is ‘burning bright’ is these forests. The burning brightness of the fire is this poem is a fire that gives heat (suffering in Blake), but no light.

In the poem “The Tyger” we have a Tyger=the fire, a tyger=the maker or the artist who attempts to seize the fire that dwells in the ‘deeps’ or ‘skies’ and is unknown for it dwells ‘in the forests of the night’, and the tiger that we know is the product of Nature.

The Tyger that is the Fire remains a mystery even in its bright burning for what has no ‘light’ cannot be seen to be understood; its Fire belongs to the “forests of the night” and is, in essence, ‘error’ or untruth in Blake’s mythology. It is this fire which the second Tyger seizes in order to make all the things that human beings make. The second tyger must dwell also in the forests of the night if he is to seize the Fire that is present there. But these forests of the night are not the real dwelling place of the second tyger. The third ‘tiger’ is revealed to us in Blake’s print. The second tyger is the mediator who attempts to hold the natural tiger and the Fire of the Tyger in ‘fearful symmetry’. Symmetry is a mathematical operation, or transformation, that results in the same figure as the original figure (or its mirror image). It is everywhere, in the sciences, in the arts, in architecture, in nature, and in our everyday life. The term symmetry is used both in the arts and in the sciences. In Blake, this holding of the ‘fearful symmetry’ is both a ‘daring’ and a knowing framing (“could”) that attempts to grasp the fearfulness of the Tyger. The double-fold grasping is both hubris (the allusion to Icarus or to Lucifer, who both fell due to excess pride) and a heroic deed (but also hubristic) in aid of humanity (the allusion to Prometheus who dared to seize the Olympian fire of Zeus). Both of these ‘heroic’ acts are “revolution” or the attempt to overthrow what are seen as oppressive powers. Technology is ‘revolutionary’ in this sense that it is conceived as the knowing and the making that relieves the oppressiveness of the human condition (the Promethean aspect of the act). For Blake all artists are the “immortals”; there is no reference to a god here except in the allusions that are used.

But what a strange tiger it is that is presented to us in the print; and what a strange tyger remains burning bright in the forests of the night! It would appear that, unlike in the poem “The Lamb” where the three ‘lambs’ are joined into one by ‘the name’,  the three ‘tigers’ here are not united for their naming is different. They are held together in a ‘fearful symmetry’ rather than in a ‘joyful symmetry’ such as that shown to us in the poem “The Lamb”. It is this which distinguishes the Songs of Innocence from the Songs of Experience.

Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds of making or poiesis: 1) that making which human beings carry out through the use of tools (such as shoes, handicrafts, sculptures, etc.) and the making of laws, conventions, societies ; and 2) physis or the making of Nature, a making that is brought forth out of itself such as flowers and tigers. The first making, that making of human beings, is brought about ‘in another’. It is called by the Greeks techne and it is a ‘knowing one’s way about in something’, or ‘being skilled at’. So a shoemaker is someone who knows his way about the making of shoes. He is a techne. The poet, too, is also a techne in that he is skilled in making poems, or in a most general way, the poet is skilled in the naming of things. For Aristotle, poetry is the naming of things; and it was because of this naming of things that poetry was considered, for the Greeks, the highest of the arts. The making done by human beings requires both the hand and eye (but the eye that  be-holds and grasps is prior to the hand that grasps, although Blake places the eye after the hand in the line of the poem; and this, too, reflects the ‘fearful symmetry’ of the poem. Something is not in sync, if you like. Something is out of joint).

In Blake’s poem, the making is a technological making deriving from the framing that sees with the ‘eye of the tyger’, if one may use such a phrase. The seeing is also a grasping. It is the attempt to grasp, seize the Tyger, to seize the fire and gain control and  power over the Tyger. This occurs at the beginning of the third stanza.

The ‘shoulder’ and ‘the art’ of the second tyger ‘twists the sinews ‘of the ‘heart’ of the first Tyger. Hearts are muscles; sinews tie the muscles to the ‘frame’ that is the skeleton of the animal. Here, however, the heart itself is the sinew that does the tying to the frame. The heart that is the comportment of the artist towards what is, and that heart is a tying to a frame. For Blake, the artist is the “immortal hand or eye” that frames the ‘fearful symmetry’ of the tyger to the Tyger. It is only after the heart has been tied to a frame that it can begin to beat; the spirit (fire) gives life (air) to matter for Blake. We can see how the four elements: earth, air, fire, water are tied together in the poem (“deeps”, “skies”, “fire”, and nature/earth “forests of the night”). This tying to a frame is the unification of both the Tyger and the tyger and its unification is in a seeing, grasping and making (hand or eye).

But the making of this tiger in the poem is not the making of Nature. The tiger of the print given to us by Blake is not the tyger that is made in the poem. The tiger of the print is not made with anvils, hammers and chains and its ‘brain’ is not to be found or made in a furnace, the ‘fire’ that is present in the poem and is a man-made fire along with the fire that is in the eye of the Tyger in the ‘forest of the night’. The end products of technology are not the essence of technology. The tiger in the print is more of a “pussycat” than the beast that occupies the top of the food chain in Nature. Certainly, if Blake wanted to present to us a more ferocious beast closer to that presented in the poem, he could have done so. His other work demonstrates his ability to present horrifying objects and things to us.

This poem is not about, as is traditionally understood, the question of evil and its unanswerability. It is not about the question “If God is good how is it possible for Him to make the tiger?” The Tyger and the Lamb are made by human beings through the manner in which they be-hold the world. The “be-holding” is in the realm of possibilities. The “evil” is present in the beholding itself and is present prior to its manifestation in actions. God does not make the Tyger of this poem anymore than He makes “the Satanic mills” of the Industrial Revolution. As is shown in the writing on Imagination as a Way of Knowing, the be-holding is the desolation or nihilism that is in the grounding of the ‘single vision’ that is ‘Newton’s sleep’.  To ‘be-hold’ is the grasping (hold) that brings to presence (be) the things that are. The beauty that is in the eye of the beholder is not the beauty that is in Blake. Although the bringing of truth into the beautiful is solely and exclusively the work of human beings through their ‘works’, human beings are not at the centre of art. Art is in and beyond the individual.

 

 

Imagination as a Way of Knowing

Imagination as a Way of Knowing

http://www.blakearchive.org/          

“What,” it will be Questioned, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

“I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight: I look thro it & not with it.”—William Blake from “The Last Judgment”

 “I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty of both body & mind to exercise the Divine Art of Imagination” (Jerusalem, 77).



Blake newton
Newton by William Blake

It may seem odd to begin discussing Imagination as a way of knowing by presenting a copy of William Blake’s Newton. Isaac Newton is shown sitting at the bottom of the sea, naked and crouched on a rocky outcropping covered with algae that, suspiciously, appears to be shaped like a toilet bowl or urinal. Newton’s attention is focused on mathematical diagrams he draws with a compass upon a scroll that first appears as cloth and then seems to unravel from over his left shoulder and then seems to turn to paper once it is grounded upon the sea-bed. He ignores the nature that is behind him and his attitude towards it is somewhat comparable to that which we have towards that which goes into our toilet bowls: it is placed there to be disposed of. A jellyfish or Polypus swims by toward the rocks upon which Newton is sitting. The compass in Newton’s left hand is a smaller version of that held by Urizen in Blake’s The Ancient of Days as well as the compasses or tongs (that which grasps things) which the mythical figure of Los holds in Blake’s other paintings. What is grasped with the left hand and what is grasped with the right hand are significant for Blake and more will be said later about this significance.

The imagination as a way of knowing is not “fantasy” and must be distinguished from fantasy. For many of us, we have such a difficult time distinguishing between what is and what is not reality. We must, if we are to live, have a conception of reality. Our conception of what reality is is prior to our experience of that reality. The conception determines ahead of time how we experience reality: what we see when we see a road, a flower, a child, or a computer; and this conception of reality comes to define what reality is for us. It provides us with our “understanding” of what we believe reality to be.The purpose behind this beginning is to show what the imagination as a way of knowing is not firstly, and then to proceed to try to identify what exactly the imagination is when we speak of it as a way of knowing. William Blake will be used to identify what the imagination is since he is the greatest example of its use that we English speaking peoples have. When finished, some will view Blake’s idea of the imagination as “madness”, which is what many of his contemporaries did. But in contrast to Blake’s “madness”, we shall have to look at, and question, what we have chosen in its place as our ways of viewing and knowing the world.

For most of us, the world of Newton is the world of “reality”; but is this really the case? Is the “truth” revealed by our mathematics and calculations the only possible “truth” and is it the “ultimate truth”, what we sometimes call “objective truth”?

Please do not misunderstand that what is being proposed here is a “subjective” idea of truth. This is not the case. Fantasies are indeed subjective; truth is not. And imagination as a way of knowing is not the generation of fantasies; it is, in a way, the generation of truth brought about through truth’s apprehension in the human soul; the logos gives and the soul responds. Imagination as a way of knowing is the artist or poet or scientist as “mid-wife” (the Greek philosopher, Socrates, saw himself as a ‘midwife’) assisting and nurturing the birth of the truth that had been given. Blake called this nurturing and abetting “the Divine Humanity”.

Theosis
Theosis

Blake’s conception of the Divine Humanity arose out of a conviction that “man is divine because he participates in the life of God through the faculty of the imagination.” The imagination is the realm of supreme reality in which the divine-human theosis is actualized. Theosis or deification is a transformative process whose aim is likeness to or union with God.  According to Eastern Christian teaching, theosis is very much the purpose of human life.

When the imagination is viewed as a generator of fantasies, the imagination has no ground upon which to stand except that of “the box” of rationalism, and this “box” or conception of the logos is prior to the fantasies that emerge from within it. The literary genre of science fiction is an example of this use of fantasy, and this use of fantasy accounts for much of what we consider the imagination to be.

Newton’s Sleep: The Single Vision

“Now I a fourfold vision see/ And a fourfold vision is given to me/ Tis fourfold in my supreme delight/ And three fold in soft Beulahs night/ And twofold Always. May God us keep/ From Single vision & Newtons sleep.”— Blake, Letter to Thomas Butt, 22 November 1802. Quoted in Geoffrey Keynes (ed.), The Letters of William Blake (1956)

How does the imagination as a way of knowing reflect the poetizing of a poet like Blake and the thinking of a thinker? Imagination may be said to be the way of knowing that is the mediation that opens up the realms in the areas of knowledge and the questioning that occurs in those realms or domains. It can be a dominant way of knowing in the open region of our personal and shared knowledge.

The world of Newton emphasizes reason as a way of knowing through the principle of reason. This “reason” has come to us in the form of judgment in our assertions about the way things are and what things are. It is the correspondence theory of truth. We have inherited, in our shared knowledge, the belief that “judgment is the seat of truth” (Kant). This is because we are able to hear. Our judgments arise from language as a way of knowing: the book is on the table; 1+1= 2; etc. As we have said elsewhere, language is more than words. It can be numbers, images, words, symbols (such as the mathematical equation above) or anything that establishes a relationship or a relation between ourselves and what is outside ourselves.

It is through language as logos that we establish our relationship with our world. Logos means “relation” and “a gathering together”, a “laying down” and the establishment of a “ground” or a foundation. It is the logos that “gathers together” our individual sense perceptions, our seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, and allows us to arrive at the word that identifies something as the thing it is for us. It is the logos that establishes and “grounds” our concepts, our “first principles” and, thus, determines the direction of our further thinking.

Logos became translated as ratio by the Latins and from this translation came our “reason” or “rationality” as a way of knowing and as assertion about the nature of things. This understanding has come to dominate our relation to the world since, within it, there was our understanding of what the essence of things are and our understanding of what we are as human beings, the animal rationale.

With the arrival and within the tradition of Christianity, with its emphasis on the salvation of the “soul” and the rejection of the material world, came the final separation of “soul” from the body and from the corporeal or material world; and from this separation came the development of the subject/object distinction. Blake’s rejection of Newton’s “single vision” is that in Newton’s vision, objects cease to be objects or to become objects and become, rather, abstract mathematical constructions of, and within, the mind. (See the writing on the historical background of The Natural Sciences). The “ob-” or the “against” towards which the mind in its activity is the “jacio” or “the thrown forward” is no longer present. The “ob-“, the outside world, becomes a shadow, an abstraction. This relation is much more complex than what is presented here, but to go into it in depth would take us too further afield from that which we wish to discuss here and one can find a greater depth of discussion in Reason as a way of knowing and in the Arts as an Area of Knowledge.

Blake’s Rejection of Logos as Reason

“I turn my eyes to the Schools & Universities of Europe/ And there behold the Loom of Locke whose Woof rages dire/ Washd by the Water-wheels of Newton. black the cloth/ In heavy wreathes folds over every Nation; cruel Works/ Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic/ Moving by compulsion each other: not as those in Eden: which/ Wheel within Wheel in freedom revolve in harmony & peace.” (Jerusalem 15.14–20, E159)

The overcoming of the subject/object distinction was the motivation for all of Blake’s efforts in his lifetime. For Blake, the understanding of logos as “the Word” became the definition of the imagination. It is through words that we establish our concepts and our understanding of the concepts or universals that are given to us. From these universals we come to sight all the particulars that exist in the external reality that we call the Being of our world. For Blake, the Word is Christ (Gospel of John I.i.) ( If one changes the tense of the beginning of St. John’s Gospel, one can capture the essential meaning of Blake’s efforts and work as a whole: “Firstly, there is the Word (Logos), and the Word (Logos) is with God and the Word (Logos) is God. The Logos is, first, with God. All things come into Being through Him (the Logos), and apart from Him, nothing can come into Being that has come into Being. In the Logos is life, and the Life is the light of humanity”. For Blake, the imagination is human existence or the Life itself. It is essential not to confuse Logos here with the principle of reason understood as “causation”.)

But this concept of the Word takes on many more meanings within the work of Blake, not the least of which is his inclusion of Christ as the Being of our world both in the corporeal and spiritual sense (“The Lamb slain from the foundation of the World” Rev. 13:8) . For Blake, the human soul united with the logos understood as the divine imagination comes to see the world as it is: it is the logos that reveals the reality of the world; and for Blake, like those he rejected such as Aristotle, Bacon, Locke and Newton, the reality of the world rests in the intellect. But the things of the world as we currently perceive them through the intellect in the work of Newton, Locke and Aristotle are but shadows to Blake. There is a great difference from Blake’s understanding of the intellect and that which has traditionally come down to us; so what is the difference in this understanding of the intellect?

The artist and poet William Blake rejected the understanding of the logos as merely reason only. With the emphasis of the logos understood as reason, too much weight was given to the mind or intellect and too much stress was placed on reason, understood as a certain type of reason. With the view of truth as revealed through reason understood as “logic”, Blake felt that the seeing or viewing of the god (Christ) and the looking back upon the god by human beings was withdrawn from the world. What replaced it came to be understood as Law, whether religious laws or scientific laws. No longer could the living God be sighted, he felt, and it required a great ‘cleansing of the doors of perception’ in order for human beings to see the world of the God once again. Blake’s understanding occurred early in his life, and this understanding never changed throughout the whole of Blake’s life.

( In his text “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” begun in 1789 and completed in 1790, Blake describes the world that results from viewing the logos as Reason:                            “Here, said I! is your lot, in this space, if space it may be call’d. Soon we saw the stable and the church, & I took him to the altar and open’d the Bible, and lo! it was a deep pit, into which I descended driving the Angel before me; soon we saw seven houses of brick; one we enter’d; in it were a number of monkeys, baboons, & all of that species, chain’d by the middle, grinning and snatching at one another, but witheld by the shortness of their chains; however I saw that they sometimes grew numerous, and then the weak were caught by the strong, and with a grinning aspect, first coupled with & then devour’d, by plucking off first one limb and then another till the body was left a helpless trunk; this after grinning & kissing it with seeming fondness they devour’d too; and here & there I saw one savourily picking the flesh off of his own tail; as the stench terribly annoy’d us both we went into the mill, & I in my hand brought the skeleton of a body, which in the mill was Aristotle’s Analytics.

So the Angel said: thy phantasy has imposed upon me & thou oughtest to be ashamed.                                                    

I answer’d: we impose on one another, & it is but lost time to converse with you whose works are only Analytics.”

It is in the Analytics that Aristotle makes explicit the correspondence theory of truth through syllogisms and mathematics. Notice the irony that it is not the Angel that, like Virgil in Dante’s Inferno, leads the poet down into the depths of Hell, but it is the poet Blake who “drives the Angel before”. It is Blake who is the guide, not the Angel.)

His rejection of logos as reason provided the foundation and grounding for his view of reality, the role of the imagination in that reality, and of his view of the world itself for the rest of his life. He saw, as no one else did, the consequences of the type of rationality that began with Aristotle in his Analytics as well as its revelation and extrapolation in the rest of the corpus of Aristotle’s works. How this rationalism became understood through the filtering influence of traditional Christianity in Medieval times and was inherited by Bacon, Locke and Newton became, for Blake, the figure of Urizen in his art and poetry. In the opening hymn of his book Milton, the well-known “dark Satanic Mills” are not merely the enormous mills of the Industrial Revolution as they are traditionally interpreted. They are the inevitable outcomes of the thinking and seeing that finds its roots in Aristotle’s Analytics.

Blake Book of Urizen
The Book of Urizen

If we look at the painting of Urizen provided here, we can see the figure of an old man (Blake’s Urizen or, perhaps, King Jehovah, or Nobodaddy) sitting on top of a book which is under his foot which, like our own feet, provides the contact with the “grounding” or the “ground”, while he writes into two books behind him which have the shape of an altar. The two books could be the Old and New Testaments of the Bible or they could be the works of Newton and of John Locke, or they could be a combination of both: the arts and sciences. In Urizen’s right hand is a quill; and in his left, a pen. Tears flow from his eyes. The movement in the painting is from our left to right and the colors grow darker as they move to the right. Behind the figure of Urizen are two stones which have the traditional appearance of the Ten Commandments. The two stones serve as a door or a gate barring the way behind them or providing an entrance. For Blake, this would be our “shared knowledge”. It is the limitations placed on the imagination by the use of reason in what we have inherited from our past in reason’s interpretation of what reality is. It is captured in our second tier questioning beginning “To what extent…”, that ask us to reason and compare.

For Blake, it is the Divine Imagination which originates the movement or the action of knowing and making, not the artist or poet. The Divine Imagination is the logos which, through intuition (not understood as “instinctive feeling” but as an a priori givenness of time and space, of Being i.e. ordinary perception), is grasped and then comes to stand and is preserved in the ‘work’ that is the poem or the painting. The poet or artist is not primary in this process for Blake. The poet or artist actively/ receptively receives the “visions” that are given to her by the Divine Imagination, the logos, and these visions, through the artist’s techniques and skills are given birth in the works that are the result of the visions. A poet or artist has the choice to either receive the visions or ignore them. These visions are not to be understood as abstractions, but are the realities (the “whatness” or the essence) of the things that are. The visions are, in themselves, the real beings while the corporeality of the material world is but ‘shadows’.

Modern science deals with formulas and abstractions. It denies this intuitive “looking” and receiving of the imagination. ( Blake in his poem Jerusalem states: “And this is the manner of the Sons of Albion in their strength/ They take the Two Contraries which are call’d Qualities, with which/ Every Substance is clothed, they name them Good and Evil/ From them they make an Abstract, which is a Negation/ Not only of the Substance from which it is derived/ A murderer of its own Body: but also a murderer/ Of every Divine Member: it is the Reasoning Power/ An Abstract objecting power, that Negatives every thing/ This is the Spectre of Man; the Holy Reasoning Power/ And in its Holiness is closed the Abomination of Desolation”).

For Blake, the Ideas of the imagination are not abstractions; they are beings, realities that must be apprehended, seen in the souls and minds of human beings. Modern science, on the other hand, must have recourse to the abstractions that are mathematics as its logos because, as is seen in Blake’s painting of Newton, mathematics serves a viewing that sees nature as a collection of disposables. If we as human beings see nature as having no end or purpose in and of itself then the scientist’s (Newton’s) recourse to mathematics, to formulas, to the calculation and quantification of things as matter in motion necessarily abstracts from the things as they really are and does not allow those things to stand as ‘objects’ in their own right. Science can never renounce this gathering or understanding of the world as calculable because the calculations provide a view of nature that is secure in its predictability; but as is seen in the painting of Newton, this predictability of nature is at the cost of ignorance of nature. It is our mastering, commandeering disposition towards the things that are that determines what their being is; and what the things are is determined by our own reasoning or what we have come to understand as the “design” of our own reasoning (“What immortal hand or eye/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry”—Blake, “The Tyger”).

Modern physics provides a picture of nature that is coherent in that its picture of nature is dependable, predictable and calculable. Modern science constrains nature to present itself in a certain way, frames it, so that it will respond to the questions that arise from a specific design or understanding of reason (logos), as the philosopher Kant, a contemporary of Blake’s, notes. Blake (as does Plato because both have an understanding of the Ideas) would reject Kant’s view that ‘reason’ is higher than understanding. Science unlocks nature’s secrets by creating its own phenomenon (light observed through a cloud chamber, for instance) and by recording the results through its own measuring instruments which of themselves produce the contents that science is meant to see. As the scientist Werner Heisenberg has noted, science has abandoned its goal of knowing the contents or things of nature as such in favor of gaining knowledge of the order of the contents or things, the frame in which the contents or things appear. Science records which contents will regularly appear together and which will succeed one another whether in physics, chemistry or biology. The predictability of the results is key and this predictability must be rendered in the logos of mathematical, calculative reasoning.

Science is able to guarantee the order of appearances but can claim no insight into exactly what is appearing. The connections in the causality of modern science are customary ones, not essential ones because modern science can claim no knowledge of the “essence”, and would indeed claim that there is no such thing as the “essence” of some thing. Heisenberg’s own indeterminacy principle is the realization of this. This realization presents a crisis for science: that this crisis for science goes unnoticed by many scientists indicates that they themselves are more “fundamentalist” in their faith than the religious fanatics that some of them rail against. Science knows only the results of the causality it examines and it knows these results with certainty, but it has no understanding of what is causally connected or what that causal connection is or might be. Science, as a predicate of the subject technology, is a manifestation of technology as the highest form of will to power.

Today’s scientists can be compared to the prisoners in Plato’s cave. If we will recall, the prisoners in Plato’s cave have been in their situation since childhood and they are ignorant of the nature of that which they see. They are unaware that the shadows which they are seeing are shadows. The cave-dwellers develop, as is said in Republic 516:  “the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were sharpest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of the shadows went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to their future appearances”, or the predictability of the shadows that would appear. The prisoners are those who are basically content with their condition.  Plato’s allegory appears to be prescient with regard to the “Nobel Prize-itis” that grips many in today’s scientific community.

That the prisoners would do violence to anyone who would challenge their understanding of their shadow reality is but another example of Plato’s prescience. This “violence”, which sometimes covers itself over under the banner of “free speech”, is the proneness of the dispositions of those who claim to be in possession of the truth even if it is the claim that there is no truth. The “violence” that is done to nature in our imposing on nature to give an account for its being the way it is, is done in our “posing” towards nature. It is in this “posing” towards nature that the determination that nature will show itself as “dis-posable”: nature is so “posed” as to be “dis-posable”, and nature shows itself as such. This viewing of nature is then trans-posed into how we relate to each other as human beings when we see each other as “resources” or “disposables”.

We call the sciences of today the “positive” sciences: Positive > ponere > to “posit”, “lay”; positurn > “what has been laid down”, what already lies there. Positive sciences are those sciences that deal with what already lies there as a result of the “posing”. Numbers are already there, spatial relations exist, nature is at hand, language is present, and so is the literature that is “re-searched”. All this is positurn and it is what is laid down beforehand, our “shared knowledge”.

The mastery of the shadows is all that counts to the cave dwellers. The resignation of today’s scientists appears to correspond to the contentment of the prisoners in Plato’s cave. The lack of insight or understanding into nature, the object of mastery, is compensated for by the dependability and predictability of the results that can be applied in order to make nature disposable to human ends. Not only Plato but also Blake was prescient to these ultimate consequences of seeing nature as a “shadow” and as “disposable”.

Blake in “There is no Natural Religion” provides the following insights into the logos as ratio.

  • Reason, or the ratio of all we have already known, is not the same that it shall be when we know more.
  • The bounded is loathed by its possessor. the same dull round, even of the universe, would soon become a mill with complicated wheels.
  • If the many become the same as the few when possess’d, More! More! is the cry of a mistaken soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man.

Blake continues:

Conclusion. 
If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic Character the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, and stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again.
Application. 

He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only.

What Blake is saying here is that what we understand as “essence” is not what is grasped by the science of Newton or modern science. The “essence” will change once we know something more, something new, when a new paradigm shift comes about. Historically, it was believed that reason grasped “essences” in the “looking” of the theory, but for Blake, this is not the case. Our framing ratiocination of nature is, in fact, “loathed” by us for it is merely an eternal recurrence of the same, a “mill with complicated wheels”, the nihilism that realizes itself in the viewing of nature as disposable. Blake’s writings are filled with his rage against the nihilism that is the modern sciences.

For Aristotle, the end of sophia is the ‘looking’ which is knowledge of the first things (the “essences”) and of the whole. It has those things which do not change as its theme, the necessary, the essences of the things, so that for Aristotle the highest end is the Being or existence of the theoretical man, the scientific man. This Being, end for man, has priority over the practical man, practical action. It is important to note that this view required Aristotle to coin the term the “theoretikos”: the theoretical man, since it was not a view present in Greek philosophy prior to Aristotle. The bios theoretikos replaces the bios philosophos as the highest disposition of human being. The life of theory, the “seeing” for itself as an end in itself, is given a higher priority than the “love” or “friendship” (philo), the logos, the relation with that wisdom that is found in the two-way “looking” and the “looking back” that is the understanding of the philosopher. This removal of the love for wisdom and this love of wisdom is, or was, the first step in the concealment or withdrawal of the gods and the withdrawal of the Good, for Aristotle’s bios theoretikos was a denial of that gulf which separates the necessary from the Good. It lead to the life absorbed in abstractions rather than the concrete reality of human existence.

Reason and the Imagination in Blake

“Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.”

“The eye altering, alters all”.

Blake Los
Los

Blake’s life and work was a reaction to the traditional views of rationality as understood in the mathematical sciences, and he sought for some way of bringing the contraries of imagination and reason together into one imaginative figure who could provide his understanding of what both the imagination and reason are. This figure became the mythic or daemonic character of Los for Blake, an anagram of Sol or the Sun. (By daemonic I do not mean “demon” or what is commonly associated with that word, but rather the daemonic in its original sense as an intermediary between the world as we experience it and the world of the Divine Imagination or the spiritual world, the world of essences. The angels, too, are daemons). The use of anagrams in Blake implies a “mirror image” of things or a ‘fearful symmetry’ of things, if you like. Through the figure of Los, Blake’s view of the imagination, art, poetry and truth came together and determined all of his artistic efforts and all of his poetry. For Blake, poetry and philosophy are one and emanate from the Divine Imagination. This attempt to hold together the poetry of the Word and the techne of the “know how” of artistic making and creativity (technology) was something Blake struggled with for most of his life for both are of a kindred essence (Los and Urizen are of a kindred essence: the logos). This struggle can be seen most clearly in his poem “The Tyger” which is not a poem about the conflict of good and evil (as it is traditionally understood), but is a poem about the conflict of ‘knowing’ (the first two stanzas), ‘making’ (the second two stanzas), and the daring to find and frame the ‘fearful symmetry’ of the two (the final two stanzas). In Blake’s poetry and art, “The Book of Los” is in fearful symmetry with “The Book of Urizen” as both, in a way, mirror each other. Blake’s use of capitalization indicates the “essence” of something prior to its “fall” into the material universe, so the “immortal hand or eye” of the maker of the “Tyger” is the fallen Los depicted in “The Book of Los”, the Los overwhelmed by consciousness of self as ‘maker’ and by the ‘experimentation’ of ‘making’ that is driven by the looking and the seeing that is technology.

As an anagram of Sol or the sun, Los is associated with the traditional understanding of light as the revealer of truth. The Sun as a representation of light becomes Reason or Intellect as revealer of truth and is primarily given in the figure of the Greek god Apollo who is Urizen in Blake’s work. Los and Urizen are continually in conflict in Blake’s work, but they are also bound to each other through this conflict.

Reason has always been understood as a ‘revealer’ of the things that are hidden. For Blake, coming as he does from within the Christian tradition, Reason is associated with Lucifer, who is also associated with light, for Lucifer’s name derives from both the Old English and from the Latin and means the ‘light-bringing, morning star’, from luxluc- ‘light’ + -fer ‘bearing’. Lucifer is by association the ‘son of the morning’ (Isa. 14:12), believed by Christian interpreters to be a reference to Satan. In Blake’s work, both Christ and Lucifer are united as contraries in a binary relationship in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, a poem written at the beginning of Blake’s career as a poet and artist. Los becomes a Christ-figure in his later poem “Jerusalem”.

Blake Los Spectre
Los and his Spectre

For Blake, the human soul is composed of four parts: Humanity, Emanation, Spectre and Shadow. In Blake’s painting, we see Los dealing with his Spectre, which was for Blake Reason as it was and is traditionally understood. Spectre’s wings are black and he has his hands to his ears. He does not wish, or cannot wish, to hear. Spectre is much like the prisoners in Plato’s cave. Spectre is associated with the Shadow in Blake. Shadow, in Blake’s mythology, is associated with everything that blocks imaginative redemption. Our seeing of the world through our understanding of reason blocks the “cleansing of the doors of perception” that Blake sees as necessary to humanity’s redemption, the ‘eye altering’ which removes delusions. Redemption here is not to be understood as “redemption from” sin as it is traditionally understood, but redemption to the full essence of our humanity and to the things of the world as they truly are.

For Blake, “The Spectre is the Reasoning Power in Man; & when separated/ From Imagination. and closing itself as in steel. in a Ratio/ Of the Things of Memory. It thence frames Laws & Moralities/ To destroy Imagination! the Divine Body, by Martyrdoms & Wars”. (J 74: 11-14)

The Difficulty of Classifying Blake within the Tradition: Art as Aesthetics

“I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s. I will not Reason & Compare; my business is to Create.”

It is difficult to speak of the imagination as a way of knowing without relating it to the arts in general. Our understanding of art is as “aesthetics”. Aesthetics today is, emphatically, the philosophy of art. Art is understood today in aesthetic terms, humanistic (humanism) terms, and we examine and explore art’s effects on human sense experience (aesthesis). We believe that Art is given to us in the worlds we inhabit for the sake of deepening our experiences. “We” are the centre of this world view and understanding of art. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an assertion to which one will get an almost universal response in the affirmative. This humanistic view and aesthetic approach to art is the flowering of the technological outlook of art where art is viewed as a “disposable”. (  See Blake’s Preface to Milton:

“Rouze up O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court, & the University: who would if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War. Painters! on you I call! Sculptors! Architects! Suffer not the fash[i]onable Fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works or the expensive advertizing boasts that they make of such works; believe Christ & his Apostles that there is a Class of Men whose whole delight is in Destroying.” )

The artists among us place artworks at our disposal, and we experience their creations for precisely what we can get out of them. Blake’s art, however, went in the opposite direction.

This view of beauty being in the eye of the beholder is not how or what Blake viewed as beauty in art. For Blake, art is the bringing forth of the true into the beautiful. For the Greeks, this was called techne. Beauty is not a “subjective” response to art in our human beholding as it was not for Blake and the Greeks. Aesthetics arises when the Divine Imagination is supplanted and overcome by human subjectivity. The original Greek attitude to art was not a matter of aesthetics. They did not surround themselves with their art for “subjective reasons” or to elevate their experiences. The Greeks did not “value” art for that which it brings “in return”: art was not something that brought returns. We call this return “appreciation” of art. Art had a higher function or purpose than human creativity or “appreciation”, or human refinement or to make humans more “cultured”. For the Greeks, the attitude toward art was one of “piety”; an examination of the piety of Greek theatre will quickly illustrate this: they were not the beholders but the beheld. If the purpose of art is simply for art to be appreciated then art is debased; the bringing of art down to the subjective level, as is done in the aesthetic view of art, debases art. In the aesthetic view of art, we see art as an expression of culture. Art programs are instituted in the schools to “enrich” the culture; art museums are considered the containers of our “culture”. Life without art is seen as mere bestiality.

In the aesthetic view of art, what is highlighted is the artistic ability or creativity of the individual artist. An artist’s skill, dexterity, originality or ingenuity is what is focused upon. This techne of the artist or of a human being, the subject, the human genius, was not the source of art for the Greeks, nor for Blake. The soul of the poet or artist was assimilated in the Poetic Genius or the Divine Imagination, the theosis; the logos was given forth and its shining was beheld in visions (inspiration). This beholding of the artist led to the bringing forth of the work, through the artist’s techne, into the sensuous or material realm. Artworks were not, principally, human creations; but, of course, humans have to participate in the bringing forth of truth into beauty through their techne. But their role is secondary.

Aesthetics is the view of art that only relates art to humanity; it is the flourishing of that growth that we call humanism. With the withdrawal of the gods, humanity comes to supplant and fill the vacuum left by them and their absence. One may find this filling of the vacuum in the works of a modern playwright like Arthur Miller. The role or place that was once held by the gods in the works of the Greek tragedians and Shakespeare is supplanted by the role or place of the social or society in the playwright Miller’s work. In Platonic terminology, it becomes worship of the Great Beast.

Blake’s work was an attempt to overcome this vacuum, what he called “Newton’s sleep”, “the single vision”. This “single vision” of the Newtonian sleep is a destiny for modern human beings for in the “single vision”, a kind of truth is revealed which determines what we are and what we think the world is outside of ourselves. Our misunderstanding and thoughtlessness towards this destiny, this mistaking of our “single vision” as the only vision and disregarding the possibility of seeing with a “whole” vision in Blake’s sense, creates “blindness” in all the actions that are determined from this prior manner of “seeing”. Our pride in the accomplishments and achievements of our technology and sciences is Oedipus’ pride in resolving the riddle of the Sphinx: he does so and is able to do so because he is “destined” to do so. This pride “blinds” him to who he really is, to his essence, and the price for this blindness is his sight.

For ourselves, we pose as “masters of the earth”, but our self-blindness makes us slaves to the institutions that we have constructed from our “disposable” viewing. The illusion spreads that everything human beings encounter exists only insofar as it is their construct and that everywhere human beings only encounter themselves. The great physicist Heisenberg has pointed out that reality must present itself to human beings in this way in our modern age. If we are heedless of our essence and misconstrue ourselves as the authors of the disposables around us, including nature, then we will come to see all things as entirely human constructs. Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle states that we have no access to an independent nature; nature is an abstract reduced to scientific formulas of our own doing and making. What exactly the formulas apply to is unknown to us. All things, both the natural ones and the man-made ones, are our own creations; they are the mirrors in which we see ourselves and only ourselves. We are as Newton sitting upon a rock at the bottom of the sea.

For Blake, we have lost sight of who and what we really are as human beings as we move forward in our Newtonian sleep; and certainly this is the case much more now than 200 years ago when Blake first gained this insight into human existence. Or as Blake says:

God Appears & God is Light/ To those poor Souls who dwell in Night;/ But does a Human Form Display/ To those who Dwell in Realms of day.

 Blake’s work is grounded in the view of art as an ontology, a way of being in the world, rather than a humanism which is a metaphysical grounding of human being and its subsequent consequence, the aesthetic view of art. Blake’s is a mythopoeic art rather than a representational art. It is an art where poetry and philosophy are one, and where reason and the imagination are one.

Exactly where Blake belongs in the canon of art and in the history of art has been a problem for the classifiers of art when they try to put Blake somewhere in the traditional schools of art. This should not come as a surprise since the classification of art and art history arose simultaneously with Cartesianism, but it has its roots in Aristotle’s categories which are the application of the logos to beings, what can be said about things. Blake’s whole enterprise was to overcome the view of art that arose with the Cartesian separation of the “subjective/objective” worlds and the worlds of human making which he had inherited (‘the Satanic mills’, a reference not only to industrialization which Blake saw all about him, but also to the thinking and seeing which brought that ‘Satanic’ world view about).

Imagination and Love

“The Imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself/ Affection or Love becomes a state when divided from imagination.”– Blake, “Milton”

“…the milk of the joy of eternity must be more substantially present, if the ravages of fate are to be looked on, and one is not to be turned to stone.”– George Grant, The George Grant Reader, p. 368

For Blake, the Self is the innate selfishness with which we are born; it is opposed to our central Humanity or our “essence”, “what we are fitted for” as human beings. It appears in his paintings as a polypus or jellyfish.  The Polypus is organized and motivated by materialism and traditional religion (Mil: 34: 24-31). In Blake, assimilation and communication in and through the logos creates the human body and prevents it from being merely formless  jelly or the human being of “Mortal & Vegetable” birth; in other words, the logos is what makes us truly human and allows us to reach beyond ourselves as merely “bodies”.

As our Self develops, it becomes the Spectre (J 33:19) and is one’s Satan (Mil 14:50). The Self is protean in its development and appearances (J 17-24), but its chief appearance in Blake’s art is as a jellyfish or squid (Polypus), such as is seen in the painting of Newton. For Blake, human beings are enjoined by “invisible hatreds” from which they form the “worldly society”, which is the opposite of his conception of the Brotherhood of Man.

Blake Orc
Orc Son of Los and Enitharmon

They are represented by the figure of Orc: the hatred men bear each other. In the painting, the child Orc is seen with his parents Enitharmon and Los, and it is quite clear that the relationship between Orc and Enitharmon is one with Oedipal complexities. For Blake, revolution is the opium of the masses and it is from the spirit of Orc. In his poems America and Europe, Blake looked at the outcomes of those revolutions, the American and French Revolutions, and saw the turning wheels to be those of oppression and tyranny. Mass political movements are not the solution to man’s ills, according to Blake. We must all individually be the change we wish to see in the world and this change must first come through knowledge of ourselves which can only come about through the ‘cleansing of the doors of perception’.

Blake unites the imagination with human affection and love and sees these as “human existence” itself, a way of being in the world for human beings that is both temporal and atemporal. A “state”, understood as a noun, is the particular condition that someone or something is in at a specific time. As a verb, to state is to make an assertion about something, about its being what it is. “State”, both as noun and verb, are related to logos and are indicators of representational thinking. Representational thinking is contrary to love and imagination.

How are we to understand love and the imagination as the logos that is contrary to representational thought? “Love” is attention to otherness, receptivity to otherness, and consent to otherness whether that “other” be other human beings, nature, or Being itself. Such an account of love might sound somewhat abstract until it is given content through all the occasions of life, from elementary human relations to the love of the truth of Being itself. The attention and receptivity to otherness is not a passive acceptance. When we love other human beings, we know those human beings because we have paid attention to them, have received something of what they are, and consented to what they are as good.

Our paying attention is not a passive onlooking; it is an active loving which nurtures and abets the other as is the case in all true friendships. True attention to otherness is the freedom and dignity of human being; it is what we are fitted for.  Love is only love in so far as it has passed through the flesh by means of actions, movements, attitudes which correspond to it as an active giving of itself (Weil). If this has not happened, it is not love, but a phantasy in which we pamper ourselves. We are all capable of this attention: when I am absorbed in watching a football match and I hear the cries of my child, I attend to my child and forget myself and my own pleasures. Such attention and giving is elementary and easy. Such attention requires a thoughtful, imaginative choice and response. But most of life’s requirements for our attentiveness to otherness are, obviously, not as easy nor as simple as this example. Love that is a denial of the Self in our day-to-day being in the world is a redemption that is not cheaply bought.

The Imagination in other Traditions

What is said about the imagination in other traditions? “The Sufi tradition of Islam offers an analogue of imagination in the concept of barzakh, referring to “the whole intermediate realm between the spiritual and the corporeal.” Since this world of imagination is “closer to the World of Light” than the corporeal world (Chittick, p. 14), it can give valid knowledge of higher reality.

In the Buddhist tradition there is no systematic view of imagination; the Sanskrit word for it is prtibha (“poetic genius”), but it is not given much emphasis in Buddhist thought.

Hinduism, on the other hand, offers in the Vedic tradition a highly developed view of imagination as both the transcendent power by which the gods create and sustain the harmony of the universe, and the human faculty by which the human artist, priest, or sage recognizes and celebrates this harmony. It is, in short, the imagination that “joins the human spirit with ultimate reality itself” (Mahoney, p. 2). One can see here that Blake’s concept of the imagination closely resembles that of the Sufi and Vedantic traditions. ( Imagination – Non-western Traditions – World, Human, Harmony, and Reality – JRank Articles http://science.jrank.org/pages/9769/Imagination-Non-Western-Traditions.html#ixzz3pzLqQjw2 )

There is no Natural Religion

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_is_No_Natural_Religion

(a)

The Argument. Man has no notion of moral fitness but from Education. Naturally he is only a natural organ subject to Sense.

  1. Man cannot naturally perceive but through his natural or bodily organs.
  2. Man by his reasoning power can only compare & judge of what he has already perceiv’d.
  3. From a perception of only 3 senses or 3 elements none could deduce a fourth or fifth.
  4. None could have other than natural or organic thoughts if he had none but organic perceptions.
  5. Man’s desires are limited by his perceptions; none can desire what he has not perceiv’d.
  6. The desires & perceptions of man, untaught by anything but organs of sense, must be limited to objects of sense.

(b)

  1. Man’s perceptions are not bound by organs of perception; he perceives more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover.
  2. Reason, or the ratio of all we have already known, is not the same that it shall be when we know more.
  3. [This proposition is missing.]
  4. The bounded is loathed by its possessor. the same dull round, even of the universe, would soon become a mill with complicated wheels.
  5. If the many become the same as the few when possess’d, More! More! is the cry of a mistaken soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man.
  6. If any could desire what he is incapable of possessing, despair must be his eternal lot.
  7. The desire of Man being infinite, the possession is Infinite & himself Infinite.

Conclusion. 
If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic Character the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, and stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again.
Application.
He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only.

 Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.                                                                                                                                  

Summation:

In Blake, the imagination is the essence of both God and Human Being; the two are indistinguishable. “The Eternal Body of Man is the Imagination; that is, God Himself, the Divine Body, Jesus: we are his Members.” (Laocoon, K. 776) “Man is all Imagination. God is man and exists in us & we in him.” (On Berkeley, K 775) For Blake, the logos exists as the relationship between two unequal members, a friendship among unequals, the relation between the Divine and the Mortal.

Imagination is the “Divine Humanity” (Jerusalem 20:19); imagination is the Divine Body of the Lord Jesus (the Word made flesh). (Milton 5:3; Jerusalem 5:58, 24:23, 60:57, 74:13; Laocoon K776) It is the gift of the Holy Ghost (“the gift of tongues”); it is the Holy Ghost himself.

For Blake, the imagination is existence: Being: “All Things Exist in the Human Imagination”. (Jerusalem 9:25) “All Animals & Vegetations, the Earth & Heaven are contained in the All Glorious Imagination”. (Jerusalem 19:10) “In your own Bosom you bear your Heaven and Earth & all you behold; tho’ it appears without, it is within, in your Imagination, of which the World of Mortality is but a Shadow.” (Jerusalem 71:19)

The Imagination is the basis of all art. “One Power alone makes a Poet: Imagination: The Divine Vision (On Wordsworth, K782). “Nature has no Outline, but Imagination has: Nature has no Tune, but Imagination has. Nature has no Supernatural & dissolves: Imagination is Eternity”.

In the creative act, the Imagination is the completest liberty of the spirit. “Imagination is surrounded by the daughters of Inspiration, who in the aggregate are called Jerusalem”. “I know of no other Christianity and no other Gospel than the liberty of both body and mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination” (Jerusalem 79). It is the exploring “inwards into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination.” (Jerusalem 5:19)

“Abstract Philosophy” (metaphysics) is the enemy of the Imagination (Jerusalem 5:58; 70:19; 74:26) and is the Reasoning Spectre (Jerusalem 36:24; 74:7; 11). The Daughters of Memory (tradition, “shared knowledge”) are contrasted with the Daughters of Inspiration: “Imagination has nothing to do with memory”.

The Self or Selfhood: For Blake, the Self is the innate selfishness with which we are born; it is opposed to our central Humanity or our “essence”, what we are fitted for as human beings. As our self develops, it becomes the Spectre (Jerusalem 33:19) and is one’s Satan (Milton 14:30). It is protean in its development and appearances (Jerusalem 17-24), but its chief appearance is as a jellyfish or squid, such as is seen in the painting of Newton. For Blake, human beings are enjoined by “invisible hatreds” and they form the “worldly society” which is the opposite to his conception of the Brotherhood of Man. They are represented by the figure of Orc: the hatred men bear each other.

The polypus or the Self is organized and motivated by materialism and traditional religion (Milton 34: 24-31). In Blake, assimilation and communication in and through the logos creates the Human body and prevents it from being merely formless jelly or a man of “Mortal & Vegetable” birth such as a human being is when dominated by materialism and traditional religion.

For Blake, the Spectre is “the Great Selfhood Satan, Worship’d as God by the Mighty Ones of the Earth” (Jerusalem 33: 17-34). “The Spectre is the Reasoning Power in Man; & when separated/ from Imagination and closing itself as in steel in a Ratio of Things of Memory/ It thence frames Laws and Moralities to destroy Imagination! The Divine Body, by Martyrdoms & Wars” (Jerusalem 74:11-14).

Ethics: Scope/Applications: Technology and Ethics: The Ubiquity of Evil

Below are the first hesitating steps to approach Ethics as an Area of Knowledge. This requires the clearing of the ground of the assumptions that we have about what ethics are and the obfuscation that surrounds the topic. In discussing Ethics it is most important to clarify the viewing so that technology as a way of knowing can be understood. This understanding will, hopefully, open the domain of that area that we call ethics which we will make clear are not principles but the actions themselves as understood in the philosophy of Aristotle from which the word ethics gets its origin.

In the thinking on technology that we have been concerned with in these writings on TOK, we have discovered that our “understanding” of technology as instrument and as human activity, or a means to an end, is a notion so commonplace and prevalent in everything we say and do that this “understanding” has become self-evident. This self-evident nature is, as we have come to understand it, a “correct” understanding, but it does not go far enough in reaching towards what technology is; that is, while it is “correct”, it is not the truth of what technology is, or rather, it is not the true nature of the situation we find ourselves in. Framing (in both Heidegger’s and William Blake’s understanding) is the essence of technology and the technological.

Plato-raphael
Plato

If we remember from our reading of the Cave in Bk. VII of Republic, for Plato the essence of something is not the same thing as the thing itself. In thinking of the essence of a tree, “that which pervades every tree, as tree, is not itself a tree that can be encountered among all the other trees. Likewise, the essence of technology is by no means anything technological.”(Heidegger, QT, p. 4) The “un – usual” or “uncanny” nature of this situation, whereby we see no essential difference between modern technology and older forms of craftsmanship and agricultural methods, is due to technology’s framing nature. The instrumental definition of technology in a sense has blocked our access to the fundamental differences between modern machine technology and the older tools of farmers and craftsmen. This has happened as a result of Framing or, in German, Gestell. Technology is a way of knowing and a way of being in the world. The “knowing” (logos) precedes the “making” (techne: “the knowing one’s way about”, the praxis) that forms the root words “techne” and “logos” or “technology”. The logos is the gathering and the rendering of the techne.

heidegger
Martin Heidegger

In his essay on “The Question Concerning Technology” (which is the foundational core of the writing on Technology as a Way of Knowing here) the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, says that in order for us to understand technology we must proceed along the “path of thinking” which is illuminated for us in an “extraordinary manner” by language.  In giving ourselves to thinking, we do an activity which subverts much of what we take to be ordinary (and for many of you that has been, or should be, your experience of the TOK course: a subversion of what you take to be the ordinary); the thinking leads us to the extra-ordinary, the extra-mundane. Thinking involves the privation of the usual, of the normal, the ‘un’-doing of what we take to be the usual. In German, the root wohnlich means “homely,” something we are at-home-with and familiar with, and Heidegger likes to use this term regarding thinking. The root in turn of wohnlich is the verb wohnen – to live, to dwell, where we are at home. When we think that we drive and control the issues that arise from within technology itself, we fail to see the true nature of our comportment, our role, how our thinking proceeds, how one can properly answer the call of thinking and the kind of attention (See Glossary of Key Terms) that is necessary to think. In thinking, rather than deluding ourselves with the idea that we can bend technology to our will, and lead it or drive it somewhere (progress), we need to see that we can only respond appropriately to what thinking and technology give us when we allow thinking to open the technological to our reflection. That is, that what is called thinking in the technological framing is not the thinking that will allow us to understand the essence of this framing in itself. To understand this essence requires a different kind of thinking altogether. That is, the thinking is outside what has come to be called the “knowledge framework” in our TOK course.

But what is this framing and how are we to understand it? For Heidegger, framing is a “revealing” or a bringing into “unconcealment” of that which was previously hidden. “To reveal” or to bring to “unconcealment” is, in Greek, aletheia, or “truth”; so framing involves “truth” in some way. The type of revealing or truth that rules in modern technology is the setting-upon and challenging forth that regulates and secures some thing as a resource and a disposable. Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by and to be immediately at hand so that it may be on call for further ordering or use. This is sometimes referred to as logistics. When we order some thing to stand by we determine some thing’s “value” for us.

Whatever is on call and stands by in the sense of resource no longer stands over against us as object. When human beings investigate, observe, ensnare nature as an area of their own conceiving, human beings are already claimed by a way of revealing truth that challenges them to approach nature as an object of research, until the object disappears into the objectlessness of resource. (M. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, tr. W. Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977 herein after referred to as QT, p. 19). Framing is, thus, a way of being in the world and enfolds what we understand by cognition, our understanding of what we call our “ways of knowing”.

How is framing a way of being in the world, and as a way of being, how does it determine what we call “ethics”? While framing is a way of revealing, it is also a way of “concealing”; for example, it conceals the very nature of instrumentality that is our common understanding of what technology is. Our common collective assumption is an anthropological (human) and an instrumental definition of technology.  These definitions reciprocate each other insofar as technology involves human activity (anthropological) and technology seems to facilitate the securing of various human needs and desires by providing the means (instrumental) to securing both which, in turn, involves all of human activity.  The anthropological definition must require an instrumental definition of technology since all human action seems to be for-the-sake-of something – it is teleologically oriented (purpose, goal-oriented).

The purpose or goal oriented root of the instrumental view of technology was, as we have seen in our unit on Technology as a Way of Knowing, found in the discussion of Aristotle’s four causes and in our discussion on the Greek word aition or “to occasion”. The four modes of occasioning (material, formal, final and efficient) are said to be “unifiedly ruled over by a bringing that brings what presences into appearance”, what we call “cognition”. (Heidegger, QT, p. 10).  Plato in his Symposium has Diotima say through Socrates: “Every occasion for whatever passes over and goes forward into presencing from that which is not presencing is poiesis, is bringing-forth.” (Symposium. 205b.) Poiesis is where something is brought forward, pro-duced, and becomes something that is present for us. Heidegger distinguishes the production (the bringing-forth) that belongs to nature (which is of itself i.e. a flower bursting forth in bloom, physis), and the production or bringing-forth that belongs to human beings which is the result of the occasioning in the four causes that we have spoken about. “…every bringing–forth is grounded in revealing…If we inquire, step by step, into what technology, represented as means, actually is, then we shall arrive at revealing. The possibility of all productive manufacturing lies in revealing.” (QT p. 12) This is the essence of many TOK essay titles where “the production of knowledge” is being considered.

Aristotle_Altemps_Inv8575
Aristotle

Technology then is not simply a means to an end; it is a way of revealing the world we live in: the essence of technology is the realm of truth. As a way of revealing, it is a way of knowing. How human beings determine what truth is will determine how they will live, their actions, in the world i.e. their ethics. Ethics are not morals or laws. This understanding is a result of the influence of Christianity on the thinking of the Greeks. Ethics are the end products of human beings’ deliberations on what the essence of truth is. A reading of Aristotle’s The Ethics illustrates this; and it is this text which is the origin of the word ethics. 

Heidegger claims that techne (making) has, from the Pre-Socratics until Plato, been connected with episteme (knowing): “Both words are names for knowing in the widest sense. They mean to be entirely at home in something, to understand and be expert in it. Such knowing provides an opening up. As an opening up it is a revealing.” (QT p. 13 ) Heidegger goes on to argue that “what is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in the aforementioned revealing. It is as revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is a bringing–forth. (QT p. 19) “But man does not have control over revealing or unconcealment itself, in which at any given time the real shows itself or withdraws…Only to the extent that man for his part is already challenged to exploit the energies of nature can this ordering revealing happen. If man is challenged, ordered to do this, then does not man himself belong even more originally than nature within the resource?” (QT p. 19) Any human activity, and by this we can take Heidegger to mean any activity by humans at any time in history, does not occur within the vacuum of a false sense of autonomy but rather involves humans being “brought into the unconcealed. The unconcealment of the unconcealed has already come to pass whenever it calls man forth into the modes of revealing allotted to him.” (QT p. 19) It is not so much straightforward human progress which has led us to treat nature as a phenomenon to be investigated in this manner; rather there is something beyond us which seems to challenge us to reveal nature in this way:

Modern technology as an ordering revealing is, then, no merely human doing. Therefore we must take that challenging that sets upon man to order the real as resource in accordance with the way in which it shows itself. That challenging gathers man into ordering. This gathering concentrates man upon ordering the real as resource. (QT p. 19)

ArendtFraming is the hegemonic force at the heart of the essence of modern technology (that which “spreads like a fungus”, as Hannah Arendt would say in her discussion on evil) which is itself nothing technological; evil itself is not a construct of the human mind but, as Plato would say, is the deprivation of the good. It is the deficiency of the truth of things, the deficiency of knowledge. Framing is the manner in which the real, and our understanding of the real, is revealed by us such that modern human activity and behaviour is something which resembles what we now understand as modern technology.  Technology is our way of being in the world. Techne, which we understood as a primordial or original kind of revealing from our brief discussion of the passages from Aristotle regarding “occasioning” which Heidegger cites earlier, has now come to be shown as the essence of modern technology, and has come to be shown to be the kind of revealing that modern technology ordains; however, it is a very particular kind of revealing and is not a revealing as poiesis:

In Framing, that unconcealment comes to pass in conformity with which the work of modern technology reveals the real as resource. This work is therefore neither only a human activity nor a mere means within such activity. The merely instrumental, merely anthropological definition of technology is therefore in principle untenable. (QT p. 21)

The revealing at work from out of Framing does not happen “decisively” through humans, though it does happen exclusively through us. We are not in a position where we can bend the real to our vision or will, try as we might to overcome and conquer necessity and chance. In trying to take up a position with respect to Framing, we can only assume any comportment to framing subsequently, that is, after we have already articulated its manner of revealing the real.  Since we have been granted by Being that we are always and everywhere the beings who reveal, our attempts to grasp that which allows us to reveal can only ever be subsequent to its actual appearance as the precursor to our activities or thoughts.

But, as Heidegger states: “Never too late comes the question as to whether we actually experience ourselves as the ones whose activities everywhere, public and private, are challenged forth by Framing.”(QT p. 24-25) The essence of modern technology then pushes us in a direction, or as Heidegger puts it “starts man upon the way,” with a view to constraining us to reveal the real everywhere as resources to be at human disposal. To be so affected is to be delivered or “sent” by Framing. But in the process of being delivered over in this way, we are gathered up into effecting a unified and unidirectional way of being in the world; we are drawn together into a course of action, we are made to cohere, as what we are, as beings that reveal in this way. Heidegger calls this “sending-that gathers” destining. In this destining, both East and West come together in their mode of being and in their mode of revealing in the world. This coming together has sometimes been referred to as globalization.

Framing, so construed then, is “an ordaining of destining, as is every way of revealing.”(QT p. 25) Even poiesis is an ordinance of destining when we understand things in this manner. Framing ordains the manner in which we are ‘sent’ such that we tend to reveal the real in a specific, pre-determined, predestined way (the mathematical, calculable). That we reveal and are destined to reveal in a specific way has always been the case for humanity throughout history, but the destining we are subject to, so Heidegger argues, “is never a fate that compels.” (QT p. 25) The reason that we are not utterly given over to destining as an ineluctable fate relates to the fact that, as the beings who are called forth in this way and, as such, are capable of listening to and hearing this summons, we are more than simply beings who are “constrained to obey” but are beings who can hearken. (See Glossary of Key Terms) It is through the “hearing” that we can attain “freedom” within the technological. “The essence of freedom is originally not connected with the will or even with the causality of human willing.” (QT p. 25) When speaking of freedom, Heidegger insists that it is freedom understood as that which “governs the open in the sense of the cleared and lighted up, i.e., of the revealed. It is to the happening of revealing, i.e., of truth, that freedom stands in the closest and most intimate kinship.” (QT p. 25)

For Heidegger, this revealing, however, fundamentally and at the same time belongs within a concealing and harbouring.  Aletheia, as “unconcealment”, “revealing”, “truth”, is the dis-closure or un-concealing.  Privation, the “a-“ in a-letheia, involves the privation of the opposite state, “lethe”, which is “oblivion”, “forgetfulness”. The state of being closed/covered over or concealed becomes un-covered, dis-closed, unconcealed. Similarly what frees is itself concealed already and is perpetually concealing itself. If something is freed, it had to come from the opposite state which preceded that event, namely, being confined or unfree. The happening of revealing occurs from out of the open “goes into the open, and brings into the open.” (QT p. 25) But freedom, as that which governs the open, has nothing to do with “unfettered arbitrariness” or the “constraint of mere laws.” Rather freedom is something that in concealing sheds light and opens up so that light can penetrate through to what was concealed, “in whose clearing there shimmers that veil that covers what comes to presence of all truth and lets the veil appear as what veils.” (QT p. 25) Freedom is our allowing the light to be as light and as such “Freedom is the realm of the destining that at any given time starts revealing upon its way.” (QT p. 25) For Heidegger, and as we shall see later for Simone Weil, any other conception of freedom is an illusion which captures us within the confines of the Framing which holds sway and which causes us to turn from the light as light.

The alternative that Heidegger sees for modern human being is “…that man might be admitted more and sooner and ever more primally to the essence of that which is unconcealed and to its unconcealment, in order that he might experience as his essence his needed belonging to revealing” (QT p. 26). But, “The destining of revealing is as such, in every one of its modes…. danger.” (QT p. 26) What is the danger of which Heidegger speaks? Is it that the technological has led us to the possibility of nuclear annihilation or climate catastrophe? No. When the unconcealed is no longer revealed for us as an object or objects but rather is revealed “exclusively as standing reserve” or “disposables”, those who allow the real to be so revealed become nothing more than the orderers and organizers of the resource. We are, at that stage, on “the very brink of a precipitous fall” as we are now in a position such that we ourselves have come to be “taken as standing reserve.”  (QT p. 26) Cybernetics, the unlimited mastery of men by men, is the ineluctable and inevitable conclusion to this “precipitous fall” for it is within cybernetics that human beings are seen, ultimately, as merely disposables or resources to be manipulated and used.

We fail to understand what our essential situation is if we fail to attune ourselves to the way in which we are determined in advance by Framing and how this essentially dictates the manner we comport ourselves toward reality and towards others within that reality. Framing in its revealing everything as ordered and calculable excludes all the other possibilities available to us with respect to how the real can be revealed. Framing binds us so that there is nothing other than a challenging, calculating view of the world and this view is one which endures at the expense of all others. Framing ultimately blocks the advent of ‘truth’, again truth as the revealing or unconcealment, which is the ultimate danger. Technology itself is not what threatens us but rather “the mystery of its essence.” (QT p. 28)  Framing threatens to separate us completely from where originary truth happens, leaving us abandoned and forlorn on an Earth where contact with our essence as human beings is impossible and denying any possibility of true human freedom.

For Heidegger, we are not completely lost to Framing. For him, within Framing is the “saving power also”. “To save,” for Heidegger means to reunite something with its essence (See Glossary of Key Terms) and in that sense to readmit something into that for which it is fitted i.e. its justice. In discussing Framing’s danger, Heidegger looks to finding its essence. He, like Socrates, finds its essence to be related to human being in communities and he speaks of the site of a village (we might even say “the global village”) where the “city hall” is the place where the community gathers or the “they-Self”:

that share in revealing which the coming-to-pass of revealing needs. As the one so needed and used, man is given to belong to the coming-to-pass of truth. The granting that sends in one way or another into revealing is as such the saving power. For the saving power lets man see and enter into the highest dignity of his essence. This dignity lies in keeping watch over the unconcealment – and with it, from the first, the concealment – of all coming to presence on this earth. (QT, p. 32)

How are we to counter the “unholy blindness” (QT p. 33) that presents itself to us in the essence of Framing? “Here and now and in little things, that we may foster the saving power in its increase. This includes holding before our eyes the extreme danger.” (QT p. 33)

What is the “extreme danger”? The extreme danger is that which threatens all revealing, “threatens it with the possibility that all revealing will be consumed in ordering and that everything will present itself only in the unconcealedness of resource. Human activity can never directly counter this danger. Human achievement alone can never banish it. But human reflection can ponder the fact that all saving power must be of a higher essence than what is endangered, though at the same time kindred to it.” (QT p. 33)

Heidegger goes on to find that it is in the revealing that is to be found in art that is the manner that human beings may hope to find the “saving power” from the manner of revealing that lies in the essence of Framing. In this way, Heidegger turns from Socrates who in his thinking did not find in art the “saving power” or the way to the revealing of the good, beauty and truth, and turns, instead, to Nietzsche.

Ethics and the They-Self: Finding The Link between Duty and Evil

If Framing as a way of being in the world is to be overcome and transcended, then it is through and within thinking that this overcoming and transcendence will take place. By “overcoming” is not meant conquering; Heidegger makes it quite clear that we cannot conquer “Framing”. But if Framing is the essence of modern human being in the world, and if this essence is part of the fallenness of human being, how will it be possible to overcome it? We do not wish to use the words “optimism” and “pessimism” here; as modes of Being-in, these words are products of the technological world-view. (“Optimism” and “pessimism” as world-views are first found in the writings of Spinoza. These later become taken up by Leibniz in his securing of the principles of reason.)

For the existentialists (Heidegger, although this term is used guardedly with reference to him since he rejected the term to describe his philosophy), the German word verfallen carries connotations of “lapsing” or “deterioration”, the “lethe” of oblivion and forgetfulness as distinct from the “alethe” of disclosure, unconcealment, and truth. One “falls into” bad habits.  Despite these connotations, Heidegger insists that Verfallen is not a term of moral disapproval and has nothing to do with the Christian fall from grace (It is interesting to note (and cannot be forgotten) that of all the great German philosophers of modernity, Heidegger is the only one that was from a Roman Catholic and not from a Protestant sect.) “Human Being has first of all always already fallen away from itself as authentic ability-to-be-itself and fallen into the “world” (Sein und Zeit (15th ed. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1979) Being and Time, tr. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962) referred to as BT throughout. BT, 175). The fall is an Angst-driven ‘flight of Human Being from itself as authentic ability-to-be-itself (BT, 184). Heidegger gives three accounts of what Human Being has fallen into and, implicitly, of what it has fallen away from (BT, 175):

  1. 1- Verfallen means: ‘Human Being is firstly and mostly alongside the “world” of its concern’ (cf. BT, 250).
  2. ‘This absorption in . . . mostly has the character of being lost in the publicness of the They’.
  3. “Fallenness into the “world” means absorption in being-with-one-another, as far as this is guided by ‘idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity’.

For Heidegger, the Fallenness suggested in Account 1 is that in virtue of falling Human Being attends to its present concerns. It is shopping at the shopping mall, busy at the word-processor. In what sense has Human Being fallen away from its ‘authentic ability-to-be-itself’? It does not have in view its whole life from birth to death. It interprets itself in terms of the world into which it falls, ‘by its reflected light’ (BT, 21; perhaps Plato’s allegory of the Cave should be kept in mind here as well as the understanding of Framing); it thinks of itself in terms of its current preoccupations. It is not making a momentous decision about the overall direction of its life. It is not suspended in Angst, aware only of its bare self in a bare world.

In Account 2, Human Being’s present concern is mostly a publicly recognized and approved activity, even if done in private. Heidegger implies that Human Being is doing what it does only because it is what THEY recommend. Within the Framing mode of the technological, the separation of public and private spheres becomes blurred and, perhaps, there is in fact no separation. The they-Self rules and takes predominance. We might think about this with regard to our social networks and virtual world activities.

In Account 3, what I do may be tacitly guided by others (the They, corporations, the State, ideologies). The self becomes ‘absorbed’ in togetherness and in ‘idle talk’, curiosity and ambiguity. The essential feature of Human Being here is in the way its concern is for the present and for the public recognition of its activities. It needs to be remembered that all of these activities are conducted within Framing.

Human Being’s falling impairs its ability to think: as well as falling into its world, Human Being also ‘falls prey to its more or less explicitly grasped tradition (Framing) or our ‘shared knowledge’. This deprives it of its own guidance, its questioning and its choosing. That applies not least to the understanding rooted in Human Being’s very own being, to ontological understanding and its capacity to develop it’ (BT, 21).

Concern with the present, which is central to falling in all three accounts, obstructs a critical inspection and introspection of what is handed down from the past, since that would require an explicit examination of the tradition in its foundations and development (what we have been attempting to do here in TOK by understanding Framing as the essence of technology and how it impacts our understanding of our “shared knowledge”). This is the sense in which Human Being, engrossed in its present concerns, is ‘lost in the publicness of the They’: it mostly continues to act and think in traditional ways or in the mannerisms of Framing, but its actions are characterized by “rootlessness”. Busy businessmen and women do business and network in the same old ways; consumers busy themselves with ‘getting and spending’; students attempt to make their ‘thinking visible’ within ‘design cycles’ which are themselves within the same old ontology of Framing which does not question its own origins. For Heidegger, ‘Being abandons beings, leaves them to themselves and so lets them become objects of machination’.

To understand “machination” is to remember that technology is not primarily a ‘making’, but the ‘knowing’ that guides our dealings, our making, with and within the world about us, nature and other human beings. Technology is a way of ‘revealing’ that precedes the making: ‘That there is such a thing as e.g. a diesel engine has its decisive, ultimate ground in the fact that the categories of a “nature” utilizable by machine technology were once specifically thought and thought through by philosophers’. Heidegger retrieves its link with making and interprets it as ‘makership, machination, productivity’, the tendency to value only what we have made and what we can make into something, including human beings (empowerment). “Machination” also includes our understanding of “producing” knowledge.

Glossary of Key Terms/Concepts Used

Aletheia and Truth

Aletheia is Greek for ‘truth; truthfulness, frankness, sincerity’. Alethes is ‘true; sincere, frank; real, actual’. There is also a verb, aletheuein, ‘to speak truly, etc’. The words are related to lanthanein, with an older form lethein, ‘to escape notice, be unseen, unnoticed’, and lethe, ‘forgetting, forgetfulness’. An initial a- in Greek is often privative, like the Latin in- or the Germanic un-. (The ‘privative alpha’ occurs in many Greek-derived words in English: ‘a-nonymous’, ‘a-theism’, etc.) Alethes, aletheia are generally accepted to be a-lethes, a-letheia, that which is ‘not hidden or forgotten’, or he who ‘does not hide or forget’. (These characteristics/meanings of truth can all be applied to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and doing so will provide an approach or an opening to an understanding of that play).

We reach the ‘essence of truth’, the ‘openness of the open’, from two directions: from ‘reflection on the ground of the possibility of correctness (adaequatio, ‘truth as correctness’ or ‘correspondence’)’ and from ‘recollection of the beginning (aletheia)’ Aletheuein is ‘to take out of hiddenness, to uncover; aletheia is ‘uncovering’; and alethes is ‘unhidden.

This has three implications: 1. Truth is not confined to explicit assertions and discrete mental, primarily theoretical, attitudes such as judgments, beliefs and representations. The world as a whole, not just entities within it, is unhidden – unhidden as much by moods (emotion as a way of knowing) as by understanding. 2. Truth is primarily a feature of reality – beings, being and world – not of thoughts and utterances (reason and language as ways of knowing). Beings, things, entities are, of course, unhidden to us, and we disclose them ‘to unconceal; -ing; -ment’, they can have an active sense: ‘alethes means: 1. unconcealed said of beings, 2. grasping the unconcealed as such, i.e. being unconcealing’. But beings, etc. are genuinely unconcealed; they do not just agree with an assertion or representation. 3. Truth as ‘unconcealment’ explicitly presupposes concealment or hiddenness. Human being and Being is in ‘untruth as well as truth. This means that ‘falling’ human being misinterprets things. (‘Falling’ has the character of being lost in the publicness of the They, or being absorbed in the shadows of the Cave. Macbeth’s first soliloquy: Act I sc. Vii and the imagery/metaphors associated with ‘leaping’ and ‘falling’; his second soliloquy “Is this a dagger that I see before me…” where the dagger is ‘revealed’ to him as the ‘instrument’ that he will use to kill Duncan rather than as the last warning sign at that last moment where Macbeth still has a choice.)

Shakespeare 2
William Shakespeare

Untruth’ is not plain ‘falsity’, nor is it ‘hiddenness’: it is ‘disguisedness’ of the truth. In Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar and Macbeth, ‘untruth’ is still not ‘falsity’, but ‘hiding, concealing’. What conceals is no longer human being, but Being. There are two types of unconcealing: (a) of the open, the world or beings as a whole; (b) of particular beings within this open space. The first type (a) involves concealment: everything was hidden before the open was established, and concealment, persisting in that the open, reveals only certain aspects of reality, not its whole nature. It is not possible for human beings to have knowledge of the whole. Each area of knowledge provides a ‘field’ or an ‘opening’ in which the beings that it studies are illuminated and hidden simultaneously. The second type (b) involves a concealment that we overcome ‘partially and case by case’. Plato, in assimilating truth to light, and of the light to Love indicates the ‘openness’ that is necessary for things to be revealed in their full ‘unconcealment’ (Stage 4 of the Cave where the human being is outside of the Cave; the journey outside of the Cave occurs ‘within’ the human being and the Cave). We choose, like Macbeth for instance, the idea of hiddenness or darkness over the light and ‘unhiddenness’ (thus the many metaphors of darkness and disguise, hiddenness and forgetfulness in the play; after the killing of Duncan, Macbeth loses all sense of ‘otherness’ and becomes a tyrant), and thus the privative force of a-letheia: the light is constant – never switched on or off (Jean Paul Sartre’s play No Exit as a reversal of this but also a denial) – and reveals everything there is to anyone who looks. We lose the idea of the open (and the comportment of Love), which must persist throughout our unconcealing of beings. For Plato, morality is purely internal; and it is here in the revealing that morality, ethics and ontology are given substance (as they are, for instance, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth).

In Plato, aletheia ‘comes under the yoke of the idea’. Idea, from the Greek idein, ‘to see’, refers to the visual aspect of entities or things. The ascent of the prisoners out of the cave is a progressive opening of their vision to this idea and the idea of the Good from which all ideas spring (although we cannot speak of the Good as an ‘entity’ in the sense of a ‘thing’ or ‘object’ whose idea it is). Hence aletheia is no longer primarily a characteristic of beings in themselves: it is ‘yoked’ together with the soul, and consists in a homoiösis, a ‘likeness’, between them which is generated through Beauty (or Eros). This can be understood as a triad (or triangle): the soul + the idea + Beauty. Homoiösis has since become adaequatio (in the Latin interpretation of the word, ‘correctness’ or ‘coherence’) and then ‘agreement’; and since Descartes, the relation between soul and beings has become the subject-object relation, mediated by a ‘representation’, the degenerate descendant of Plato’s idea. Truth becomes correctness, and its ‘elbow-room’, the open, or the experience of Beauty and of eros, is neglected. (‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’).

Homer
Homer

Some counterclaims to this version of truth: It is not certain that alethes comes from a- and lanthanein. Even if it does, it hardly ever means ‘unhidden’ in Homer, Hesiod (the earliest authors) and later authors, but has three main senses: the correctness of speech and belief (epistemological); the reality of being (ontological); the genuineness, truthfulness and conscientiousness of an individual or character (‘existential’). These three aspects of aletheia are united in Plato (and also for Shakespeare). The ascent from the cave is an ascent of being, of knowledge and of existence. Throughout the history of philosophy, it is assumed that if Plato regards truth as correctness of apprehension, he has jettisoned its other senses; while if another sense reappears, this is because Plato is indecisive and ‘ambiguous’. The three senses are fused together in Plato. Interpreting truth as unhiddenness would not save it from modern subjectivity: unhiddenness must be unhiddenness to someone.

Plato says that the things we ‘make’ by holding up a mirror are not beings that are ‘unhidden’, and that the things painters make are not alethe (Republic, 596d,e). But perhaps this may be a joke of Plato’s since he himself has written a book, a dialogue, which is a ‘mirror’ of the being of Socrates. How is it that the things in mirrors and in paintings are not ‘unhidden’? How are we to understand how it can be said that to make things by holding up a mirror, we must take ‘making’ as Techne in the Greek sense? Are things no more hidden in a mirror than in their being in the world? To discuss this at length would be to have to examine the nature of the Platonic dialogue and particularly the dialogue Phaedrus which is the dialogue on writing, and this cannot be done here. In the allegory of the Cave the shadows, too, require light, but in their revealing the things that they are, they are not fully ‘shown’.

(Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 3 sc. 2 may be of help here: “… let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”) Plato’s (and Shakespeare’s, through his use of personification) point is that things in a mirror are not real, not alethe in the ontological sense, but that their revealing requires a special human beholding, a beholding that takes place in the open, that the mimetic art is directed to us and to the Forms themselves and what is created are the ‘images’ and the outward appearance of these entities.

Attention

Simone Weil
Simone Weil

Simone Weil’s thinking on attention is that it is really a “thoughtful waiting” where we try to empty ourselves of “goals” or ends so as to let truth arrive and come-to-presence in ourselves. She will say: “Attention is the purest and rarest form of generosity”; and for Weil, this “generosity” is directed both to other human beings and to nature itself. See the writing “What is Thinking?”in the TOK materials here.

Being in the world

Human being, a properly functioning human being, is essentially in the world, and conversely, a world – in contrast to a collection of things – essentially has Human being in it. ‘Being-in-the-world’ is almost equivalent to ‘Human being’. Only Human being is in the world, and the adjective ‘worldly’ with the abstract noun ‘worldliness, worldhood’, can be applied only to Human being, and to features of Human being, such as the world itself. Non-human entities/things are said to be ‘within the world’ but never ‘worldly’ or ‘in the world’. It is this possession of “a world” that distinguishes human intelligence from artificial intelligence and human beings from other animals.

Van Gogh Shoes

  1. The world is introduced by way of the familiar ‘being-with’ and being-in-the-world has a sense of familiarity, of knowing one’s way around in the world. Things are knit together to form a unified world by significance: the tools we use refer to other tools, and together they form a workplace, which in turn refers to the wider world beyond the workplace. The craftsman’s hammer refers to his nails, to wood and leather, and the bench on which he works; beyond the workplace are his customers, the cows that supply the leather, the forest that supplies the wood, and so on in indefinitely expanding circles of decreasing familiarity. (Look at the painting by Van Gogh on the left and reflect on the manner in which it reveals “world”).
  2. In certain moods, notably anxiety or angst, everyday things lose their significance: ‘Everyday familiarity collapses. Human being has been individualized, but individualized as being-in-the-world. Being-in enters into the existential “mode” of the “not-at-home”‘. Human being is no longer ‘at home’ in the world, but it has not ceased to be in it; it could not do so without ceasing to be Human being.

Being-in-the-world refers to Human Being and its relation to the entities/things within the world or beings as a whole and Human Being’s relation to them. The essence of Human Being is not how we handle a knife and fork or travel by train. It is not, for instance, concerned about whether Pluto is a ‘planet’ or a ‘dwarf planet’ and with the definitions of these. It is concerned with how beings as a whole stand with Human Being. The world of the Human Being is a ‘with-world’.

Worlds are contrasted with ‘earths’: ‘Worlds ordain themselves and decline, earths open up and suffer destruction’. Worlds and earths (roughly, civilizations and their natural locations) come and go. The world, and beings as a whole, is not a being, nor simply a collection of beings.

Essence

The ‘essence’ is the inner nature or principle of a thing. Used alone it means “the quintessence of a thing”, “its basic nature”, “its essential nature”, “inner being”. But it can also mean the way this essence manifests itself outwardly. It is ‘to be, stay, last, happen’, and originally meant ‘dwelling, stay, life, way of being, etc.’ The verb essence also supplies the perfect participle ‘to be’, and survives in compounds: ‘to be present’ and ‘to be absent’.

The Greek ousia or ‘presence’ can mean ‘essence’, but essence is associated with Aristotle’s expression to ti en einai, ‘essence, lit. The what [it] was to be’, which, like essence, has to do with the past. He explains it as meaning what a thing was, or has been, before it is actualized, and also what we understand ‘earlier’, already or apriori about something. In Aristotle, these discussions centre around his thinking on dynamis (potentiality) and energeia (actuality, or energy). The Latin essentia invariably contrasts with existentia; they refer respectively to the What-being and the How-being of something. The Greek saying: “The future comes to meet us from behind”.

Essence is often used in the non-verbal sense of ‘essence’. In ‘clarifying the essence’ of e.g. freedom we determine three things: 1. it’s What-being, what freedom is; 2. the inner possibility of the What-being, how it is intrinsically possible; 3. the ground of this inner possibility. This is more than an analysis of the concept of freedom or of the meaning of the word ‘freedom’: it involves our transcendence to a world. The essence of truth changes over history, though there is a persistent core that preserves the identity of the essence. And ‘not only the essence of truth, but the essence of everything essential has a wealth of its own, from which each historical age can only ever draw a little as its share’. (Heidegger) A significant statement of the essence of e.g. poetry is a persuasive definition of an essentially contested concept: it ‘forces us to a decision, whether and how we take poetry seriously in the future.

Owing in part to the historicality of essences, essence can also be linked directly to ‘essencing’. Another reason for this innovation is the unsuitability of the non-verbal Essence for the question about being. ‘If we ask about the “essence” in the usual sense of the question, the question is about what “makes” a being what it is, thus about what makes up its What-being, about the beingness of beings. Essence is here just another word for being (in the sense of beingness). And accordingly means the event, so far as it happens in what belongs to it, truth. Happening of the truth of beyng, that is essencing. Heidegger’s ‘essencing’ is an original unity of What- and How-being, and for him it belongs only to being and to truth. Essencing means the way in which beyng itself is, namely beyng’ (Heidegger changes the word ‘being’ to beyng in order to distinguish it from its traditional usage). Beyng neither has nor is a non-verbal essence. Like Plato’s idea of the good or Aquinas’s God, it confers essences on beings by the light it sheds on them. It is not; it ‘essences’.

For Heidegger the unessence of truth is a degenerate concept of truth: ‘correctness’ or ‘reason’ and the rational: the degeneration of the concept of truth is itself a crucial ‘errancy’ (much like for William Blake who sees Satan as ‘error’).

To think of being as a ‘value’ is to think of it ‘in its Unessence’. The ‘inauthenticity of nihilism lies in its essence. The Unessence belongs to the Essence’. That is, 1. Earlier phases of nihilism such as the ‘devaluation of the current highest values do not exhaust its essence’, but are nevertheless essential to the long historical process by which nihilism ‘enters into its own essence’. Since we are ourselves entangled in nihilism, it is essential to nihilism that its essential nature eludes us. Even Care has its Unessence: it is not ‘gloom and apprehension and agonized distress about this and that. All this is just the Unessence of care’.

Hearing

Hearken/hearing Hören goes back to a root-word that meant ‘to attend, notice, hear, see’, but it now means ‘to hear (of, about); to listen (to); to attend, obey’. Horchen, ‘to listen (to, in), hearken, hark’, developed out of hören, but has more the flavour of listening to sounds, while hören involves understanding. Thus one can horchen without hören: ‘Someone who cannot hear in the genuine sense (as when we say of a person, “He cannot hear” – which does not mean he is deaf) may listen [horchen] very well and for that very reason, since mere listening is a definite privative modification of hearing and understanding’. But even listening involves understanding: ‘Even listening is phenomenally more original than the mere sensing of tones and the perceiving of sounds. Even listening is hearing with understanding, i.e. “originally and at first” one hears not noises and sound-complexes but the creaking wagon, the electric tram, the motor-cycle, the column on the march, the North wind. It takes a very artificial and complicated attitude to “hear” such a thing as a “pure noise”‘.
Hören forms several compounds connected with hearing, such as überhören, ‘not to hear, ignore’, and hinhören, ‘to listen’ (cf. BT, 271). It also gave rise to gehorsam, ‘obedient’, and hörig, ‘in thrall, in bondage, enslaved’. The most important for Heidegger is gehören, which once meant ‘to hear, to obey’, but then lost contact with hearing and came to mean ‘to belong (to), be fitting, etc.’ Gehörig, ‘belonging, fitting’, and zugehörig, ‘accompanying, belonging’, developed out of gehören. Thus: ‘Human Being hears because it understands. As understanding being-in-the-world with others it is “in thrall” to Human Being-with and to itself, and in this thralldom it belongs to them’ (BT, 163). And: ‘Being-with has the structure of hearing-obedient-belonging to others, and only on the basis of this primary belonging are there such things as separation, group-formation, development of society, and the like’. Hearing is essential to talk: ‘Hearing belongs to talking as being-with belongs to being-in-the-world’. Nevertheless, we ‘hear first of all what is said, what the talk is about, not the saying of it and the talk about it’. Physiology, like acoustics, is secondary: ‘That there are for hearing such things as ear-lobes and ear-drums is pure chance’.
Later, Heidegger argues that we hear not only others, but language itself: ‘We do not just speak language, we speak out of it. We can do this only by having always already listened to language. What do we hear there? We hear the speaking of language. The ‘language speaks in that it says, i.e. shows. Its saying [Sagen] wells up from the saying [Sage] that was once spoken and is so far still unspoken, the saying that pervades the structure of language. Language speaks in that it is the showing that reaches into all regions of presence and lets whatever comes to presence from these regions appear and fade away’ (On the Way to Language, 124). Language opens up, reveals and orders the world for us. It reveals aspects of the world of which particular speakers are not usually aware. The affinity of gehören and hören, for example, was ‘once spoken’ explicitly, but it is long forgotten, ‘so far still unspoken’. It is still there in language, waiting for us to hear it.  (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962) referred to as BT throughout.)

 

 

The Natural Sciences: Historical Background

Introduction:

The answer to the question “why has algebraic calculation become the paradigm of knowledge for our times” is not a proposition: it reveals a transformed basic position, or a transformation of the initial existing position towards things, a change of questioning and evaluation, of seeing and deciding, a transformation of what we are as human beings and what we think we are as human beings in the midst of what is. This transformation is a true paradigm shift.

We cannot use science to tell us what science is: we cannot conduct an experiment or use the other methodologies of the sciences to teach us what science itself is. The question concerning our basic relations to nature (including our own ‘human nature’, our own bodies), our knowledge of nature as such, our rule over nature is itself in question in the question of how we stand in relation to all the things that are. This questioning will lead to the ‘abyss’, and our response to our questioning can only come through discussions that will make us mindful of the implicit assumptions which we hold with regard to what we call knowledge.

In connection with the historical development of natural science, things become objects, material, and a point of mass in motion in space and time and the calculation of these various points. When what is is defined as object, as object it becomes the ground and basis of all things, their determinations as to what they are, and the kinds of questioning that determine those determinations. In TOK we call this grounding our “knowledge framework”.  This “knowledge framework” is grounded in the principle of reason: nothing is without a cause, or nothing with reason (reasons). That which is animate is also here in this determination of object: nothing distinguishes humans from other animals or species (Darwin’s Origin of Species). Even where one permits the animate its own character (as is done in the human sciences), this character is conceived as an additional structure built upon the inanimate. This reign of the object as material thing, as the genuine substructure of all things, reaches into the area that we call the “spiritual”; into the sphere of the meaning and significance of language, of history, of the work of art, and all of the areas of knowledge of TOK. Works of art, poems, and tragedies are all perceived as “things”, and the manner of our questioning about them is done through “research”, the calculation that determines why the “things”/the works are as they are.

Scientific and everyday “things” are not at all the same. In ordinary language, the sun “rises” and “sets” while science says that it does not. What is the relation between the sun of science and the sun of common sense? An original reference to things is missing between the things rendered by science and the ordinary things around us. To relate these two “approaches” (stances), we need to understand how approaches come to be.

Ordinary things are always particulars, this one or that one; science studies universalities. The common sense things are a “this one” or “that one”; for science, any specific thing or event must be “derivable” from general theories or concepts (“Nothing is without (a) reason”–Leibniz). We say that we lack an “explanation” (a scientific account) of a thing as long as we cannot derive its nature and occurrence from universal, basic theoretical postulates (axioms, principles, premises, postulates). This is the basic “axiomatic” character of modern science. In contrast, any ordinary thing is always a “this one”, a singular, particular thing. Like your TOK oral, science moves inductively from the particular to the universal, from the thing to the theory about the thing. But the theory was always presumed to begin with.

The particularity of things seems to completely depend on their space and time, that each is here or there, now or then. If two things are alike, this one is different from that one only because it is here now, while the other is there, or is here later. It is space and time that makes ordinary things particulars and space and time are created by our encounter with the things as particulars.

Scientific propositions, too, concern events in space and time and not only generalizations. How does science use space and time so that events can be both specifically determined and derivable from universal theory?

Space and time are generated in the encounter between human beings and the things that humans point out, locate and make specific. Is space really involved in the very make-up of specific things? Is not space merely a system of external relations between things?  Space seems to be not really “in” the thing but is only the “possibility” of arrangements of its parts (designated by the prepositions “next to”, “in”, “out”, etc.) How does the possibility of spatial structuring come into what something is?

“Possibility” or potentia refers to how our basic approach makes it “possible” for things to be as they are encountered, located, and found by us. The thing is given there, over against us. Just as we cannot see space, we cannot see time in the thing. Yet, only space and time are in the particularity of each thing.  The thing’s character of being always a “this one” is derived in the thing’s relation to us and our relation to the thing. We point at things and so call them “this one” or “that one”. Space and time are generated in this interplay. This generation of space and time creates the “open” region where we and the thing come to stand in our relation to each other. This generation of the “open” region is done through what the Greeks called logos. Logos  is the interplay of how we relate to the things: it is our ways of knowing the thing in question, the interaction between our personal and shared knowledge.

“This” and “that” is the most original and earliest mode of saying anything and thereby selecting and determining a thing.  Only after our interplay with things do they come to have a resulting nature of their own. A noun becomes possible only on the basis of our pointing i.e. “things” arise only in the context of their relation to us and our pointing them out. The interplay, the “between” is not something subjective. What something is depends on us and the thing itself. This “between” is not as though first we and things could have existed separately and then interacted. Rather, what a human being is is always already a having things given and a thing is already something that “gives” and encounters us in this “giving”.

What a thing is depends on whether we take the thing of science or the thing of common sense. What a thing is depends on some interplay with us, upon some truth in which it stands. Our stance towards things and the things’ stance towards us is the ‘unconcealment’ or the ‘disclosure’ of what the things come to be for us.

It is through human action in concrete situations that “things” come to be acted on and taken as of a certain character. The character of things is no mere viewpoint (subjectivity), but is made in our actions and in situations whether we are applying the scientific method to a closed system that we have made or riding the bus to the mall. Only in perceiving and acting upon things do we constitute ourselves as humans, what we call our personal knowledge, just as only thereby do the things become things.

The model of the thing gives it a separate location in space and we impute a separate location to anything we approach as a thing. This leads to a great many separations: we separate subjects and objects, inside and outside, feelings and situations, individuals and inter-personal relationships, individual and community, the time moment “now” and the time moment “later”, symbol and knower, body and mind, etc.  These many divisions are not separate issues, since each involves the same conceptual construct of things, such as separately located, a unit “thing” existing here now in a certain unit of space and at a “moment” i.e. a unit bit of time. Time, too, is conceived as made up of bit things, units, moments. Why? It is not because we perceive and study time and find it to be such and such. One does not perceive time as such. We perceive of time as moments because our approach is one of thing units.

Ancient and Modern Physics: The Aristotelian and Newtonian World Views

The understanding of Greek natural science can be said to be encapsulated in Aristotle’s three works: Metaphysics, Physics, and Categories. Modern science begins with Newton’s The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Philosophy and science are one and the same thing: they are the theory of the real. In saying this we are saying that both science and philosophy are ontological i.e. a theory or way of looking that considers the being of beings; and they are metaphysical in that they attempt to understand the “what” and the “how” of beings or the things that are. The metaphysical assumptions of modern science are contained within the framework established by the principle of reason (Leibniz) and its realization within the language of mathematics used by natural scientists.

This history of the ‘thing’ model approach begins with the Greeks and it was an attempt to derive universals from the particularity of the things. We will likely take for granted that “space” is everywhere the same until we realize that the notion of such a space was lacking among the Greeks. Instead, they thought that each thing had its own proper place, and that the movement of a thing was always back to its proper place. Unless externally restrained, an earthen thing tended “downward” and a fiery one “upward.” Each thing thus tended to move in a certain way of its own accord, and this was termed each thing’s “internal principle of motion”. Greek things were not mere bodies that had to be moved. If allowed to do so, they moved themselves back to their own places. Thus, there were different kinds of places in the Greek model. We realize that our own everywhere-uniform space, too, is very much a model, perhaps better than the Greek, perhaps not, but at any rate not self-evident as the remarks on quantum and relativity physics below illustrate.

In the Newtonian model, just as in the Greek, the nature of space is related to what a thing and motion are. For us there is no “internal principle of motion” by which a body moves itself. Rather, bodies are moved, put into motion only by something else, and they remain in motion until stopped by something else. All our “principles of motion” are “outside principles”: something else outside the body is always posited to explain why a body comes into motion. Our laws of motion are the same for all places, and, hence, there is “space,” everywhere just the same. Of course the earthen things, when allowed to, can still be observed to move “downward” just as they did in ancient Greece. But how we grasp what the things are differs. We posit gravitational attraction outside the thing to explain why it moves.

When the different motions of different things are explained by different outside causes, all “bodies” (things) are viewed as fundamentally the same in their basic nature. Of course they do not all look or act the same, but then we think of them as made up of little “things” (a few types, each always the same: atoms, electrons, protons), and we explain all differences as different arrangements of these same things. What, where, and when anything is or moves will always be derivable according to the same basic principles.

The world is conceived as made of arrangements of uniform units of matter and space. If two constellations are made of the same parts and in the same patterns, exactly the same events will occur. And if time and space do not make two otherwise identical constellations different (as for Leibniz they do not), such two things would really be only one thing. The idea of parallel universes and string theory in modern physics is encapsulated here.

This aspect of the scientific approach is its basic “mathematical” character. Modern science is mathematical, not because it so widely employs mathematics but because the basic plan of uniform units makes it possible to quantify (calculate) everything one studies. It makes everything amenable to mathematics. From this, modern algebra and calculus arise, and needed to arise as well as modern statistics. What is crucial is whether or not Greek number and modern number are the same, and if they are not, what essential changes in our human being occur as a result of this change in our understanding of the mathematical logos.

Two related reasons for calling the basic scientific approach “mathematical” can be derived i.e., two reasons for mathematics becoming such an important tool in this approach: First, because it is a model of uniform units and hence makes uniform measurement possible everywhere, and, second, because it is “axiomatic”—that is, it is posited (as an axiom in geometry). Furthermore, the model copies our own thought procedures. Its uniform units are uniform thought steps transformed into a ground plan (framework) postulated as the basic structure of things i.e. the principle of reason rules not only our own thoughts but also the being of the universe. Here these two lines of argument will be discussed in turn:

  1. The approach to things as consisting of uniform units makes mathematics applicable to things: numbers are compositions of uniform units. Seventeen consists of the same units as fourteen, only there are three more of them. Since the units are the same, it would not matter which three of the seventeen units were considered to be three more than fourteen. There is a serial procedure employed in counting. In this procedure we obtain various numbers because we always keep in mind the units already counted. Our counting “synthesizes” (puts together) fourteen and another, another, and another. We keep what we have with us as we add another same unit. Our own continuity (the thinking subject) as we count gets us to the higher number. As Descartes phrased it, without the unity of the “I think,” there would be only the one unit counted now, and no composition of numbers. We get from fourteen to seventeen by taking fourteen with us as we go on to add another, another, and another. Thus, our activity of thinking provides both the series of uniform steps and the uniting of them into quantities (calculation). These units and numbers are our own notches, our own “another,” our own unity, and our own steps. Why do two plus two equal four? The steps are always the same; hence, the second two involves steps of the same sort as the first two, and both are the same uniform steps as counting to four. Thus, the basic mathematical composing gives science its uniform unit-like “things” and derivable com-positions. Therefore, everything so viewed becomes amenable to mathematics or algebraic calculation. If we remember our description of TOK through our Venn diagram involving personal and shared knowledge, the ‘nature’ we encounter is the Same as the uniform units which measure it. In the Open region or the overlapping of the two circles of the Venn diagram, what is opened is revealed or ‘unconcealed’ as mathematical units.
  2. The modern model of things is “mathematical” for a second reason. “Mathematical” means “axiomatic”: the basic nature of things has been posited as identical to the steps of our own proceeding, our own pure reasoning. The laws of things are the logical necessity of reason’s own steps posited as laws of nature. It is this that makes the model/framework/approach “mathematical” and explains why mathematics acquired such an important role. The everywhere-equal units of the space of uniform motion of basically uniform bodies are really only posited axioms. They are the uniform steps of pure, rational thought put up as axioms of nature. Descartes had said it at its “coldest” and most extreme: Only a method of reducing everything to the clear and distinct steps of rational thinking grasps nature.

Is not such an approach simply unfounded? Everything may follow from the starting assumptions, but what are the founding assumptions based upon? How can that be a valid method?

The axiomatic method lays its own ground. “Axiomatic” means not only to postulate axioms and then deduce from them; it does not refer to just any unfounded assumptions one might posit and deduce from. Rather, the axioms that rational thought posits assert the nature of rational thought itself (the principle of reason and reasons as explanations). Axiomatic thought (reason) posits itself as the world’s outline. It is based on itself. It creates the model (framework, approach) of/to the world, not only by means of but also as its own steps of thought. As we have seen, it is rational thought that has uniform unit steps and their composites, logical necessity and so forth. The axiomatic ground plan of nature is simply the plan of the nature of rational thought asserted about nature. This, then, is the basic “mathematical” character of modern science. It is founded on the “axiomatic” method of “pure reason” which Kant retains but limits in his Critique of Pure Reason.

In Descartes and Leibniz is the extent to which science’s axiomatic thought-plan reigns. Even God is subject to it. Philosophically explicated (Descartes and Leibniz), the lawful character of nature meant that God’s thinking (the thinking that creates nature) was axiomatic, logical thought. The power of axiomatic thought is thus limitless. It creates nature. And so it was held that God himself could not act otherwise than he does and that he is subservient to logical thought. Nature could not possibly be otherwise than along the lines of that which follows logically. These concepts are radically challenged by relativity and quantum physics.

Medieval philosophy had bequeathed three different main topics of philosophy: God (theology), world (cosmology), and man (psychology), which are similar to the three sorts of “things” identified in the beginning of this discussion. All three now became determined by man’s axiomatic thought. There was thus a “rational theology,” a “rational psychology,” and a “rational cosmology”. Reason was limitless. Using pure reason, man could conclude not only about man, world, and God but also about what was possible and impossible in any possible reality. It was this God that is spoken of in Nietzsche’s famous statement: “God is dead”.

Modern Physics: Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

Planck and Einstein
Albert Einstein and Max Planck

In the natural Sciences, true paradigm shifts involve changes in the concepts on which physics, chemistry and biology are based. They are not merely the spectacular discoveries and advances in understanding that occur in how the object under study is understood such as is suggested by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In the beginning of the 20th century, the physicists’ “world view” was radically and irreversibly changed through the thinking put forward in relativity and quantum physics, whose chief “discoverers” were Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg respectively.

Einstein’s theory is of space, time and motion and is called The Theory of Relativity. There are the theories of special and general relativity. The quantum theory involves the nature of matter and the forces that act upon it. Max Planck made observations that electromagnetic radiation was emitted in discrete packets or quanta. Heisenberg, with his “uncertainty principle”, developed the mathematical matrices which elaborated the results of quantum physics’ experiments. Heisenberg also clarified the revolutionary implications of the discoveries in the quantum field. Heisenberg was well aware of the profound philosophical implications that flowed from quantum theory, and he explained these by saying that the language and concepts that are familiar to us from common sense and common everyday experience lose their meaning in the world of relativity and quantum physics. Questions about space and time, or the categories that are used based on the qualities of material objects such as movement and position which are entirely “reasonable” in our everyday language, cannot always be answered in any kind of meaningful way. That this is the case raises profound implications and consequences for our understanding of the nature of reality and for our “world view”.

The change in concepts made necessary by Einstein’s theory of relativity are more easily accommodated into what is called Classical Physics or Newtonian Physics than the changes in concepts demanded by quantum physics. Concepts such as time dilation and length contraction, curved space and black holes as odd as they are to common sense can be related to the concepts of Classical Physics to such an extent that even Roman Catholic Pope Francis can assert that they are “real” and aspects of God’s creation. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/pope-francis-declares-evolution-and-big-bang-theory-are-right-and-god-isnt-a-magician-with-a-magic-9822514.html. His Holiness, while asserting that God does not or did not wave a magic wand in His creative act, nevertheless comes dangerously close to the blasphemy of making God’s will scrutable in his recognition of the principle of reason in his statements regarding evolution and the origin of the universe.

If we ask at what time an event occurs or whether two events separated in space occur at the same moment, these questions may not be answerable as the language of the questions stand because the theory tells us that there is no absolute universal time and also no concept of simultaneity. Such things are relative and need a specific frame of reference before the questions can have any meaning. While the ideas are strange and unfamiliar, they are not absurd to common sense. They also do not present problems for interpretation. The theory of relativity in both its special and general forms is not controversial.

St. Augustine
St. Augustine 5th Century

The deepest philosophical problem presented by the theory of relativity is its possibility or potentia, contrary to the thinking of Aristotle, that the universe had its origin at a finite moment in the past and that this origin represented the abrupt coming into being not only of matter and energy but of space and time as well.  The Big Bang Theory illustrates that time and space are not categories of intuition as Kant understood them but are as much a part of the physical universe as matter. The idea, first presented in the thinking of the Greeks, was that time was a moving image of eternity and the universe itself was eternal. The theory of relativity and subsequent theories developed from it gives a scientific counterpart to the notion of creation ex nihilo first proposed by St. Augustine in the 5th century. Our traditional understanding of physical causation (the principle of reason) changes with modern physics and it is only through quantum cosmology that a new picture of the origin of space-time (such as in the work of Stephen Hawking) has been arrived at.

Quantum mechanics on the other hand presents us with much greater conceptual and philosophical problems. The metaphysical questions, the “what” and the “how” of beings, become extremely murky in the quantum field. In your IB Higher Level Physics you learn quantum physics prescriptively and apply it without thinking of the metaphysical problems it poses. No one questions the results and the applications of quantum physics–the questions arise only when we think about what quantum physics means, about what knowledge is.

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle shows us that all physical quantities that can be observed are subject to unpredictable fluctuations so that their values are not precisely defined. The position x and the momentum p of a quantum particle such as an electron cannot be measured precisely simultaneously. The “uncertainty”of the values, Ax and Ap respectively, are such that the product of the two, AxLp, cannot be less than a certain constant number. More accuracy in position must be traded for less in momentum, and vice versa. Planck’s constant (after Max Planck) is numerically very small so that the quantum effects are seen only in the atomic domain. They are not noticeable to our everyday lives and common sense.

This uncertainty is inherent in nature and not merely the result of technological limitations in measurement i.e. our sense perception as a way of knowing nature. The particle simply does not possess simultaneously precise values of these two categories or attributes.

The misapplication of the uncertainty principle in analyzing risk possibilities in stock markets (i.e. its application to economic “realities”) was one of the causes leading to the collapse of the banking system in the 2008 financial crisis. The uncertainty present in this case is due to missing information rather than to any fundamental limitations in what may be known about the economic system: money does not behave in the same manner as atomic particles; the things of common sense do not behave in the same manner as quantum particles.

Rutherford atomic model
The Rutherford Atomic Model

The implications of the uncertainty principle are deep in that they are a challenge to the principle of reason itself. The quantum particle does not move along a well-defined path through space. An electron may leave position A and arrive at position B, but it is not possible to ascribe a precise trajectory linking the two. The Rutherford atomic model of the atom, with electrons circling a nucleus in distinct orbits, is badly misleading. Heisenberg says that such a model of the atom can be useful in creating a certain picture or representation in our minds but it is only a representation that has a vague correspondence with reality i.e. it is not the truth of the situation as it is.

The smearing of position and momentum leads to an inherent indeterminism in the behaviour of quantum systems. Even the most complete information about a system, which may be as simple as a single free moving particle, is insufficient to enable a definite prediction to be made about the behaviour of the system: two identical systems may produce different results.

This uncertainty of results in quantum systems is overcome by its enablement of indicating the relative  probabilities of the alternatives to be specified and calculated precisely. Quantum mechanics is a statistical theory. It can make definite predictions about ensembles of identical systems, but it can tell us nothing definite about a single individual system. Where it differs from other statistical theories such as weather forecasting or economics’ predictions is that the chance element is inherent in the nature of the quantum system and not due to the lack of information of our limited grasp of all the variables that effect the system i.e. the current debate regarding climate change as an example.

alberteinstein quote stupidity vs genius
Albert Einstein

The famous historical debate between Einstein and Heisenberg indicates the importance of the discoveries of quantum physics and its implications. Einstein famously stated: “God does not play dice with the universe”. He maintained that the correctness of quantum physics was incomplete and that there must exist a deeper level of hidden dynamic variables that give to the system an apparent indeterminism and unpredictability. Einstein hoped that beneath the chaos of the quantum world might lie a scaled-down version of the well-behaved, familiar world of cause and effect dynamics i.e. that the principle of reason was still operable and its systems did indeed shed light on a world outside ourselves. Up to this time, the experimental results have confirmed the propositions inherent in the viewing and the mathematical results of quantum physics.

Neils Bohr
Neils Bohr

Both Heisenberg and Neils Bohr strongly opposed Einstein’s attempt to hold on to the classical world view presented through the systems established by the principle of reason. The debate began in the early 1930s with Einstein suggesting what is known as the EPR paradox (see below for a description of the experiments based on this paradox conducted by John Bell in the 1980s). Einstein’s classical world view is in agreement with our common sense world view: there is an external world that has objective reality. It recognizes that our observations intrude and distort that world but their disturbance is incidental and can be made arbitrarily small. The micro world of atoms and particles is different only in size but not in ontological status from our macro world of common sense experience. An electron is a micro version of the billiard ball and has the same potentia or possibilities: being somewhere i.e. having a fixed position, moving in a certain predictable way, and so on. In the classical world view, our observations do not create reality but uncover it. The atoms and particles continue to exist, having a presence within well-defined categories even when we do not observe them.

Heisenberg rejects the objective reality of the quantum world. An electron does not have a  well-defined position and a well-defined momentum without an actual observation of its position or it momentum; but both cannot be measured simultaneously. An electron cannot be regarded as a thing in the same sense that a billiard ball is a thing. Heisenberg asserts that we cannot meaningfully talk about what an electron is doing in between observations because it is the observations alone that create the being of the electron. An electron’s position when measured creates an electron-with-a-position; a measurement of its momentum creates an electron-with-a-momentum. Neither entity can be considered to be already in existence prior to the measurement being made.

What is an electron according to Heisenberg’s view? It is not a physical thing but an algebraic calculation of a sort of potentia or possible outcomes of measurements. It is a manner of connecting different observations through the logos of quantum mathematics as formulated by Heisenberg. The “reality”is in the observations and the logos, not in the electron. Heisenberg states: “In the experiments about atomic events we have to do with things and facts, with phenomenon that are just as real as any phenomenon in daily life. But the atoms or elementary particles themselves are not as real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.”

The “dogmatic realism” of Einstein is the one to which the majority of scientists hold. They believe that their investigations actually refer to something real “out there”in the physical world and that the lawful physical universe is not just the invention of scientists. The enormous successes that the the principle of reason and its systems have produced, through simple mathematical laws, upholds their belief that science is dealing with an already existing external reality. Heisenberg reminds us that quantum mechanics is also founded on simple mathematical laws that successfully explain the physical world but do not require that world to have a separate, independent existence in the sense of the dogmatic realism of Einstein.

Heisenberg asks how we are to speak about the “being”of atoms and sub-atomic particles when their existence is so “shadowy”? What is the meaning of the words we use when related to the qualities (categories) of these “things”? Are atoms, electrons, and protons “things”at all? The “facts”on which we build the world of experience are all based on macroscopic things: measurements on a Geiger counter, spots on a photographic plate, etc. These are “things” we can meaningfully communicate to each other in plain language. Without this existence of classical, common sense, familiar objects, the reality of which seems assured and unquestionable, we can make no sense at all of the atomic and sub-atomic worlds. All our measurements and observations of the quantum world are made with reference to classical equipment using the scientific method, and everyone can agree that no vagueness or ambiguity is present in the concepts and categories used to describe them.

Neils Bohr
Neils Bohr

Neils Bohr’s principle of complementarity recognizes the ambiguity in quantum systems: the same system can display contradictory properties. An electron can behave as a wave or as a particle. Bohr asserts that these are complementary rather than contradictory. Bohr asserts that there are complementary faces of a single reality. One experiment may reveal wave features while another may reveal the particle nature of an electron. Both cannot be revealed at once; the scientist chooses which qualities to reveal through her choice of experiment. Position and momentum are complementary qualities: space is position, time is momentum. The experimenter must decide which quality to observe.

The question “Is an electron a wave or a particle?” is like asking “Is the USA above or below Australia?” The answer is “neither and both”. The electron possesses particle-like qualities as well as wave-like properties, either of which can be manifested but neither of which has any meaning without a specific experimental context. It is the viewing which determines the result. The presents a problem for language in that familiar words such as wave, position, particle, etc. are used but they do not have precise meanings. The physicist, according to Heisenberg, has to use the mathematical framework which gives very precise accounts of the experimental facts. Results can only be communicated mathematically.

Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics is a mathematical grid that relates results in statistical fashion. Any talk about “what is really going on” is our attempt to represent and model a world of which we have no knowledge. In examining the thinking of Descartes and Kant in the light of modern physics, Heisenberg shows that words and their associated concepts do not have absolute and sharply defined meanings. They arise through our experiences of the world and we do not know the limits of their applicability. We cannot expect to unconceal any fundamental truths about the world through the manipulation of words and concepts.

Although the problems presented by quantum physics are primarily epistemological (what is knowledge and what is it knowledge of?), some experiments have been conducted to explore the EPR thought experiment of Einstein. John Bell in 1965 contended that any theory based on “objective reality”for which faster-than-light indicators are forbidden must satisfy certain mathematical inequalities. Quantum physics should fail to satisfy them, according to Bell, and that one is obliged to give up either “objective reality” (with Bohr and Heisenberg) or the special theory of relativity. To test Bell’s theory, experiments were performed in the 1980s using pairs of photons from a common atomic source. After many careful tests, the results were clear: Bell’s inequalities were violated in conformity with the predictions of quantum physics. Quantum scientists were not surprised by the results saying they could not have been otherwise.

Quantum physics requires that the mathematical formalism (the principle of reason) that has characterized the history of classical physics needs the addition of epistemological assumptions for it to be applied to the atomic world. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics accepts the prior existence of the classical macroscopic world. The effects arrived at exist in principle. Using inductive reasoning, physicists would like to derive the classical world as some sort of macroscopic limit of the quantum world, not assume it a priori. 

schroedinger catWhat actually happens inside a piece of measuring equipment when the measurement of a quantum particle is made? Copenhagen physics treats the apparatus classically, but if it is treated more “realistically” as a collection of quantum particles grave difficulties arise. The same shadowy vagueness of the quantum world invades the entire system. Instead of the sense perception of the apparatus bringing to presence a “real”actuality from a range of potential possibilities, the combined system of apparatus + particle adopts a state that still represents a range of potentia or possibilities. The Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment is an example of this. If the apparatus is set up to measure whether an electron is in the right or left half of the box, and to display this a pointer is thrown either to the right or left respectively, the end result is to put the combined system into a state in which neither outcome is selected. Instead, the state is a superimposition of the two states, one consisting of the electron and the pointer on the right, the other consisting of them on the left. If the two alternatives are mutually exclusive, the problem might not be insurmountable, but in experiments there can also be interference between the alternatives so that there is no clear either/or dichotomy and no actual measurement can be said to have taken place. The states remain superimposed.

Quantum cosmologists attempt to apply quantum mechanics to the universe as a whole in an effort to understand the mystery of the questions of the origins of matter, becoming and being. If the entire universe is a quantum system, there is no greater macroscopic environment into which quantum shadowness can fade away.  Quantum cosmologists accept the full range of quantum potentia as actually existing realities. The above example of the pointers would be considered two universes, one with an electron and pointer to the left, the other with them on the right. For the cosmologists, a measurement involves postulating an infinity of co-existing parallel worlds or “realities”.

There are many knowledge problems that can be elaborated through thinking about the implications and consequences of quantum and relativity theories. Certainly “knowledge” itself is not now considered what it has been understood as traditionally in our shared knowledge. Applying quantum systems to our “common sense” macro world has given rise to many irrational movements and theories as can be seen in their application to the human sciences of economics and politics specifically. But in our macro world an apple remains an apple, a banana a banana, and a gun a gun.