Darwin and Nietzsche: Part 3: Truth as “Correctness”: Its Relation to “Values”

Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche

Artificial intelligence, “designer babies”, cybernetics are all the flowerings of decisions (“choices”) that have been made to the questions posited and the answers which we have decided regarding the “what” and the “how” of “what” human beings are and “how” human beings will be in modern times. To understand the grounds regarding these decisions, it is necessary to understand what philosophy and science have said about what human beings are, and these statements are to be found in the thinking and writings of Charles Darwin and Friedrich Nietzsche. Our decisions or “choices” are ontological/metaphysical decisions; and understanding the answers and the questions which the scientist and the philosopher have given to us will give us answers to what we believe we are and where we believe we are at.

As was said previously, truth is what is essential about knowledge. Nietzsche says: “Truth is the kind of error without which a certain kind of living being could not live” (WP #473).

What are truth and knowledge, knowing and science in Nietzsche? Nietzsche speaks of the “estimation of value” (WP #507), “I believe that such and such is so”, as the essence of truth. This is close to Plato’s definition of knowledge as “justified true belief” from his Theatetus. In estimations of value are expressed conditions of preservation (survival of the “fittest”) and growth (empowerment) as life-enhancement or “quality of life”. All of our Areas of Knowledge and our senses (sense perception as a way of knowing, empiricism) develop only with regard to conditions of preservation and growth. Trust in reason and its categories, in dialectic, the value-estimation of logic, proves only their usefulness for living, proved by experience—not their “truth”, according to Nietzsche. (WP #507) The full section of this passage from Nietzsche (WP #507) should be read. From it, one can understand the grounds for what is called “the pragmatic theory of truth” that is found in the writings of the Americans James, Pierce and Dewey.

Nietzsche constantly writes “truth” in quotation marks. In the history of the West, “truth” is understood as the correctness of representation, and representation means having and bringing before oneself or the bringing to presence of beings/things, a having that perceives and opines, remembers and plans, hopes and rejects. Truth means the assimilation of representing to what things are and how they are. The many positions and definitions of truth that have come to us are all based on this one definition that truth is the correctness of representing. Correctness is being directed toward something, making statements that are ‘fitted’ or ‘suitable’ for the things that are spoken about. In logic, the word correctness is “lack of contradiction”, “consistency”. Correctness as consistency means that a statement is deduced from another statement in accordance with the rules of reasoning. Correctness as “free from contradiction” and being “consistent” is called formal “truth”, not related to the content of beings in distinction from the material truth of content. “Correctness” is understood as the translation of the Latin adaequatio and the Greek homoiösis. For Nietzsche, too, truth is understood as correctness.

Nietzsche’s saying that “truth is an illusion” is truth as the correctness of representing. But for Nietzsche truth is an “estimation of value”. The phrase means to appraise something as a value and to posit it as such. “Value” is a perspectival condition for life-enhancement, the “growth” that enables “quality of life”.  Value-estimation is accomplished both by life itself, and by human beings in particular. Truth as value-estimation is something that “life” or human being brings about and, thus, belongs to human being. Value-estimation is in the words “I believe that such and such is so”. Values are in the belief. This is stated very clearly in the “pragmatic theory of truth” and in the writings of Dewey, James and Pierce.

Knowledge as “justified true belief” means to hold such and such as being this and this; it remains as opinion. “Belief” does not mean assenting to or accepting something that one oneself has not seen explicitly as a being or can never grasp as in being with one’s own eyes. “To believe” means to hold something that representation encounters as being in such and such a way. Believing is holding for something, holding it as in being. Believing, for Nietzsche, does not mean assent to an incomprehensible doctrine inaccessible to reason but proclaimed as true by an authority, particularly a religious authority, nor does it mean trust in a covenant or prophecy. Truth as value-estimation, as a holding for something as being in this or that way, stands in an essential connection with things as such. What is true is what is held in being as what is taken to be in being. What is true is being.

Truth is synonymous with holding to be true: it is synonymous with judgement. The judgement, an assertion about something, is the essence of knowledge; to it belongs the being-true in the history of Western metaphysics. To hold something for what it is, to represent it as thus and thus in being, to assimilate oneself in representing whatever emerges and is encountered as presence, is the essence of truth as correctness. Nietzsche thinks truth as correctness. Nietzsche appears to be in agreement with Kant who instigated a Copernican revolution in his doctrine of the essence of knowledge in which knowledge is not supposed to conform to objects but the other way around—objects are supposed to conform to knowledge. But how does Nietzsche think the essence of truth differently?

Nietzsche’s insight is that truth as correspondence, correctness is really a “value estimation”. This means that the essence of correctness will not be able to finds its explanation and basis by saying how human being, with representations occurring in his subjective consciousness, can conform to objects that are at hand outside his soul, how the gap between the subject and object can be bridged so that something like a “conforming to” becomes possible.

With truth defined as “estimations of value”, the essential definition of truth is turned in a completely different direction: “In estimations of value are expressed conditions of preservation (survival) and growth.” Here, value is defined 1) as a “condition” for life; 2) that in “life” not only is “preservation” but also and above all “growth” (quality of life) is essential. “Growth” is another name for “enhancement” or “quality of life”. “Growth” is understood as the autonomous development and unfolding of a living being through “empowerment”. “All our organs of knowledge and our senses are developed only with regard to conditions of preservation and growth.” (WP #507) Truth and the grasping of truth are not merely in the service of “life” according to their use and application; their essence, the way in which they are organized and their activity are driven and directed by “life”. Nietzsche is very closely related to Darwin in this thinking. How is this life to be understood?

We can see with our discussion of knowledge and truth that our journey has found its way back to Darwin, the scientist. In our classrooms, Darwinism is not taught as theory but as fact. Nietzsche, like Darwin, equates the basic words “world” and “life” both of which name beings as a whole. Life, the process of life and its course is called bios in Greek: “Bios” as in the word “biography” corresponds to the Greek meaning. “Biology”, on the other hand, means the study of life in the sense of plants and animals. In Nietzsche’s section of The Will to Power entitled “Discipline and Breeding” is the conscious regulation of life; its direction and “quality of life” are a strictly arranged life-plan as a goal and a requirement. The “discipline and breeding” of Nietzsche is similar to Darwin’s analogy of artificial selection in the way farmers choose livestock to the way that nature selects wildlife, including human beings. “Mutation” is seen as “modification”, the random choices of nature. The essential difference between animals and human beings is that human beings have a concept of “world” which they attempt to commandeer and control in order to secure the “self-preservation” and life-enhancement striving to eliminate the element of chance that rules in “natural selection” or “modification”. Now, most “modifications” in nature are done by human beings.

“Survival of the fittest” is not a reference to physical strength which is but one possible element, but refers to what a species is “fitted for” given its modifications and the environment in which it finds itself. This “fittedness” defines what a species is at any given time. “Fittedness” is related to justice.

Nietzsche said: “Only that which has no history can be defined”. By this he means that beings/things undergoing “modifications” through the process of Being (life) cannot be considered to “live’ within “horizons” which would delimit their being and make them definable. The essential realm in which biology moves as an Area of Knowledge can never itself be posited and grounded by biology as a science but can only be presupposed, adopted and confirmed through research and experimentation. This is true of every science. Every science rests upon propositions about the area of beings/things with which it operates. These pro-positions about what things are define the things beforehand. This is what is being called metaphysics here. The metaphysics of the sciences are already assumed beforehand. Darwin’s propositions of evolution, modification and natural selection are metaphysical propositions: they are ontological propositions and statements about the “what” and the “how” of beings. Nietzsche’s notorious definition of human being as a “blond beast of prey” which through discipline and breeding comes to secure and dominate its “world” is a next step in the ideas first put forward by Darwin. “The technology of the helmsman”, the one who directs the cybernetic future, is another description of Nietzsche’s “blond beast of prey”.

The point being made here is that science and reflection in the Areas of Knowledge which the science investigates are historically grounded on the dominance of a particular interpretation of Being (life) and they move within a particular conception of the essence of truth. Nietzsche’s “blond beast of prey” is a metaphysical not a biological conception of human being. From where does this conception of human being arise?

 

OT 4: Knowledge and Religion: Christianity: Thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer

OT 4: Knowledge and Religion: Christianity: Thoughts on The Lord’s Prayer

Pope Francis

The Roman Catholic Church’s Pope Francis recently provoked some discussion by suggesting that the Lord’s Prayer should be re-translated and re-worded in order to reflect his belief that it is Satan and not God that leads to temptation, presumably in the belief that God, being all-Good, is not capable of leading to temptation and evil. In this writing I hope to discuss the implications of this thinking and their consequences by examining the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 12 ) in light of the three temptations of Christ that occur earlier in Matthew’s gospel of Christ’s ministry on Earth (Matthew 4: 1-11).

To understand the metaphysics of Christianity, its grounds, one needs to recognize that there are three realms: the realm of Necessity in which beings dwell (including human beings) and are given over to its laws (such as gravity), the realm of Being wherein lie those things that do not change (our principle of reason and the mathematics that result from it, for instance) and the realm of the Good which is beyond both Being and Necessity and is the realm of God. The existence of and dominion over these three realms corresponds to the existence of the Triune God or Trinity: the Father (God), the Son (the Father’s Creation, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth, the Word made flesh), and the Holy Spirit (Grace, the Word). The Father is the Good, the Son is His creation and is the Word made flesh, and the Holy Spirit is the mediator between the two.

This is a Platonic interpretation of Christianity. Plato insists that there is a great gulf separating the Necessary from the Good and yet, paradoxically, they are related to each other. In Christianity, this relation is understood as the Holy Spirit who gives the gift of tongues to those who receive His grace.. (Logos)

In His creation of the world, God withdraws from His creation, the realm of Necessity, in order to allow it to be. He is, in a way, the great Artist who must also withdraw from his creation in order to allow it to be. The true act of creation is a denial of the Self; it is allowing something to be other than one’s self and is a recognition of “otherness” itself. We have this principle given to us in our great Art. God’s withdrawal is the example that He gives to us in our relation to ourselves and to the world: we must deny our Selves in order that we may be united with Him.

Because creation is from God, it must be Good for He is all Good and the good is One. Those artists who create from themselves and do not withdraw from their art do not create great art, and this is the foundation of one of our mistaken approaches to appreciating the works of art created where we focus on the biographical, historical and social contexts, and the techniques of artists, thus turning the art into an object over which we stand. This is what we call the philosophy of “aesthetics” or the “sensual” and its appearance is concurrent with the coming to be of the principle of reason in our philosophy and our sciences. Without this withdrawal of Self from that which is created, there can be no creation and certainly no great creation. There is only a “making”.

When God interacts within the web of Necessity and its physical laws, He Himself is subject to these laws and He submits to these laws. Without such submission on the part of God, a great injustice would occur since only human beings would suffer God’s creation and not God Himself. But God does suffer His creation and has chosen to do so. The most prominent and important example of this is the crucifixion of Christ where God Himself accepts the death of His Son without intervening to prevent it from happening even though Christ requests that God intervene on His behalf. God’s presence is His absence and silence in the crucifixion.  The Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world (creation) (Rev 13: 8) and is the creation itself.

Grand Inquisitor
Fyodor Dostoevsky

This preamble is to prepare us for an interpretation that will lead to an understanding of the three temptations of Christ; and from these to an understanding of the wording of the Lord’s Prayer and to see how they are interconnected. Fyodor Dostoevsky has written on the three temptations of Christ in his masterpiece “The Grand Inquisitor” from his great novel The Brothers Karamazov. One may find a link to this text here: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~freeman/courses/phil100/11.%20Dostoevsky.pdf

The three temptations or “tests” of Christ focus on “bread” or food for the body and its relation to grace or the “food for the soul”, “gravity” and the web of Necessity’s relation to the body and to the Self, and power, or the Self and its relation to the living of human beings in communities. They speak of our needs, or perceived needs, as human beings.

The Greek word that presents the difficulties for us (and for Pope Francis) is “πειρασθῆναι (peirasthēnai)” in the three temptations of Christ and “πειρασμόν (peirasmon)” in the Lord’s Prayer. It is translated as “to be tempted”, but it could also be understood as “to be tested” in the way that we test something to ensure its genuineness, its trueness. We might say that the three temptations of Christ are “tests” of Christ in order to ensure His genuineness prior to His Ministry on Earth.

The text from Matthew is as follows:

Matthew: 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur. 9And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.

The text of the three temptations suggests that it is the “Spirit” (the Holy Spirit) that leads Christ into the “wilderness” to be tested by the devil. The “wilderness” as the place of temptation or the test is present in many of our fairy tales, such as “Little Red Cap” (“Little Red Riding Hood”). It is sometimes metaphorically presented as “the dark woods” or “the belly of the Beast” and so on, and it is the place where the tests occur. Our stories and our cinema continue this tradition of the place of tests in multivarious forms and guises. Plato’s Cave in Republic is the “belly of the Great Beast” (the social) and the test is whether to recognize the light of truth coming from the Sun (the Good) and to begin one’s journey toward the Good, or to return to the world of the “shadows” and its pleasures and rewards (but this relates more to the third temptation).

“Every word that comes from the mouth of God” is the Holy Spirit and it is His grace that is given to us at every moment of our lives. This “spiritual bread” is as necessary as the bread that is the staple food required of our bodies if we are “to live”. If we are famished we could very well wish that the stones before us would become bread, but they will not do so (the miracles of manna from heaven, the loaves and the fishes, etc. aside) for our hunger, the stones and the lack of bread are of the realm of Necessity, the realm of time and space.

To insist that the stones before us become bread is to deny the will of God and to attribute evil to God: why does He feed others and not me? It is very easy for us to feel that we are favoured by God when we are well fed. But this, too, is a failure to pass the test: God’s justice is to visit rain upon the just and unjust, the fed and the unfed, in equal amounts. We fail the test in not being able to distinguish the realm of Necessity from the realm of the Good. The “spiritual bread” is omnipresent and available to anyone who asks. God is quite capable of turning stones to bread, but to turn stones to bread requires that God cross the vast distance that separates Himself from the Necessity of His creation and He must submit to Necessity’s laws when He does so.

This separation of the realm of Necessity from the realm of the Good and the crossing of the gap between the two realms is highlighted in the second temptation. It is the temptation or test of suicide, an act that we have within our capability but which is denied us because we are not our own.

The belief that we are our own, both body and soul (if we still believe in such a thing) is one that dominates our thinking and actions in the modern age. “To be or not to be” (and this speech of Hamlet’s encapsulates much that is trying to be said here and is Hamlet’s error, that which makes him a tragic hero) is a temptation or test of God to intervene on our behalf and to deny the law of gravity or the laws of Necessity that separate God from us. When the devil takes Christ to the top of the temple of Jerusalem and asks Him to throw Himself down, Christ’s response is that such an act is a “temptation” of God, and we are denied putting God to the test. To test God is a sin.  Our submission to Necessity is our submission to the will of God, and this submission on our part is one of our greatest tests and the denial of the will of God for our own desires is one of our greatest temptations.

The third temptation is that temptation or test given to us regarding our living in communities. The kingdoms of the world and their grandeur belong to Satan, and they, too, are products of Necessity and subject to the same laws that rule over all material things (gravity, for instance).  Satan’s temptation is to “test” us in our desire to serve him or to serve God. Satan can give to us the kingdoms of this world because they are his to give. He cannot give us the Good. He will give us these kingdoms if we are loyal to him. Money, fame, rewards, recognition, “social contacts” are all in his realm. The sin here is our deceiving ourselves that we have the power to achieve the Good: “the good end justifies any means”, a sin that has resulted in the deaths of countless millions of human beings throughout history for it is a sin that comes about through the worship of false gods, the pledging of loyalty to Satan. It is the placing of “interests” before “values” (to use a common phrase nowadays) of those who choose to fall prey to this third temptation which is thinking that they have it in their power to bring about the Good themselves. It is the sin that results from the deception that one is in possession of the sole truth, the highest light. It is to place oneself higher than Christ Himself who during His crucifixion utters the cry: “My God, my God why have you forgotten (forsaken) me?”

To recapitulate: the three temptations of Christ involve the three realms of Necessity, Being, and the Good which correspond to the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The temptations or tests occur because we are beings in bodies who must decide to serve God’s will or our own. To overcome the temptations or tests which the Spirit gives us, we are given the Lord’s Prayer, the Word.

This text on the three temptations of Christ can be compared with the text of the Lord’s Prayer. The text of the Lord’s Prayer follows. First the Greek, then the English:

Lord's_Prayer_-_Greek
The Lord’s Prayer

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς ἁγιασθήτω τό ὄνομά σου, ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου, γενηθήτω τό θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καί ἐπί τῆς γῆς. Τόν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τόν ἐπιούσιον δός ἡμῖν σήμερον καί ἄφες ἡμῖν τά ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, ὡς καί ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν καί μή εἰσενέγκης ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλά ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπό τοῦ πoνηροῦ.

Our Father, who is in heaven; holy be Your name, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses (debts), as we forgive those who trespass against us (our debtors); and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

 

As pointed out in the beginning, Pope Francis has called for a re-translation of the Lord’s Prayer in order for it to read: “and do not let us fall into temptation”.  From the three temptations above, we can see that we are already “fallen into temptation”. It is our human condition and temptation or the test is a constant presence or reality for us, just as the Holy Spirit Who is our guide in our moments of being tested is a constant presence for us if we choose to look in the right direction (“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Matthew 7: 7). The Holy Spirit is that Grace which can either lead or not lead us into the tests. God is not to be tempted, but we are to see whether or not we are genuine in our service to His Will.

The Lord’s Prayer is directed to God the Father and is our statement about our service to His Will, but it is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity that leads to temptation, that leads us to our “tests” as was shown in the three temptations passage. I am quite certain that Pope Francis isn’t asking us to deny the Trinity of God in order to remove the confusion present in the wording of the translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Since both the Lord’s Prayer and the Three Temptations come from Matthew, we can assume that the meanings or intentions of the words are to be taken as the same.

Our praying to God is to be done in secret; it is not a communal activity just as the temptations are ours alone as well as those of the communities of which we are a part. But our prayer is a claim for all other human beings, the children of God, when it is spoken. Let us examine the Prayer phrase by phrase.

Our Father who is in heaven: He is our Father and He is in heaven. “Heaven” is not a place in time and space. It is not a place “above” the Earth where the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin could have possibly seen God (although, paradoxically, Gagarin might have been able to see God had he been looking in the right direction with the right eyes!) God is infinitely distant from us as His realm is beyond Being and Necessity. Through the Holy Spirit we, or rather that infinitesimally small part of us that is God and made in His image, are yoked to God and this yoke is the principle of true Life. Since He is the Good Shepherd, His task is to seek for us, not for us to seek for Him. He seeks that infinitely small part of ourselves that is Him and that belongs to Him and Him alone. The infinitely small part is subject to the vicissitudes of Chance because we are beings in bodies and our only choice is the choosing of to whom we shall dedicate this infinite part of ourselves. It is this infinitely small part of us that allows us to see the light as light.

Holy be Your name: It is through our naming that things come to presence for us. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once spoke about “the god that sometimes wishes, and sometimes does not wish to go by the name of Zeus”. It is only God who can choose to name Himself; it is beyond our human capacity to do so. The Name is the eternal Life that is always present in the beauty of the world and its order and in that infinitely small part of ourselves that is His. We petition His Presence for us and to us; and in our petitioning He is present to us.

Your Kingdom come: In this part of the Prayer, the Kingdom of the Father is in the future, not in the past or the present. His kingdom where His will reigns is in contrast to the kingdoms of this Earth which, as indicated in the passage from Matthew 4, belong to Satan and where his rule reigns. The third temptation of Christ is the devil offering power in the political realm, and this may be the strongest of the temptations or tests that are devised for us for we believe that we may be able to potentially effect outcomes in the course of events that we believe are in conformity with the Will of God. In the course of human history, this belief in false “goods” and “false gods” has resulted in terrible human suffering and it carries on even today.

Your will be done: Our most difficult test is our submission to the will of God. The temptation not to do so is the reality for us in every waking moment of our lives. We are unable to reconcile the love of God with the suffering of the innocent as being His Will for we do not see Justice in it. We do not have answers for Ivan Karamazov and his “Grand Inquisitor”. We know that what has happened in time, past events, are in accord with the will of God, but we cannot know what this Will is: God’s will is inscrutable to us, and we commit the sin of blasphemy in thinking that it is, in thinking that past events will show us what God’s will is for the future. For the saints and the great human beings, they are capable of an amor fati, a love of fate, which is simply beyond us. We must submit to the fact that what has happened is good because it is the will of God, but it is a Will that passes all understanding. Many have rejected God precisely here, as does Ivan Karamazov; but we notice that as Ivan leaves Alyosha, his novice brother, “He (Alyosha) suddenly noticed that Ivan swayed as he walked and that his right shoulder looked lower than his left. He had never noticed it before.” The image is of Ivan bearing his cross, and it is the cross that all of us, if we are thoughtful human beings, must bear while we are here upon this earth and subject to “Necessity’s sharp pinch” (King Lear).

On Earth as it is in Heaven: The will of God rules in all realms whether of the Good, Being or Becoming, Space, time and the contingency of future events are the limits, the boundaries of creation; and as beings in bodies we are subject to these limits. The existence of these limits are the will of God. Satan’s three temptations involve these limits and our attempts to overcome them in one form or another: the absence of our daily bread for our bodies, the constant presence of the universe and its physical laws, and the realm of human communities and their machinations. When, for example, Kent in King Lear tells Lear that his “good intentions” of dividing his kingdom to ‘prevent future strife’ is “evil”, he is not referring to a bad political decision on Lear’s part (though his decision is bad politically), but to Lear’s ignoring of the laws that are placed on human actions which are just as stringent as the laws placed upon the physical universe. At the beginning of the play, Lear mistakenly sees his will as the will of the gods. He is like most of us who think that our “good intentions” are choices that we can make in this realm because we, presumably, know the will of the gods. In the play Lear, through his great suffering which decreates his ego and his Self, is brought into the true relation of humility that should exist between human beings and God. When in this true relation, Lear shows us that we become “God’s spies” for God is able to see His creation through our eyes which have become His eyes because our selves, our most precious possession, no longer stand between God and His creation. But in this position we are nothing more than mere prisoners.

The first part of the Lord’s Prayer is our submission to God’s will. The second part is our petitioning of the Lord to minister to our needs.

Give us this day our daily bread: The first part of the Lord’s Prayer recognizes that the will of God prevails in the past, present and the future. As human beings we are only able to see the past and to be aware of the present. The good of the future is not within our capacity.

Bread is a need of our bodies. As human beings we are the “needing” beings for our energy comes to us from outside. In order for us to live some other living being/thing must be consumed in this realm of Necessity. As shown in the three temptations of Christ, only the “spiritual bread” which comes from the Holy Spirit in the form of Grace is that energy which is ever present for us and we have only to ask, seek and knock. By our asking, the “spiritual bread” is given to us and it is this spiritual bread that allows us to overcome the temptations that are ever-present and ubiquitous in our daily lives. We are led to evil by our being created bodies, and it is only through the pure energy of grace that we are able to overcome the evils that are ever-present for us. Our need for grace in overcoming the temptations is also ever-present. This is captured in the use of the obscure word epiousios which indicates that the bread is ousia or ever-present and yet it is epi which means “above” or “upon”. We could also translate this as the “supernatural bread”.

And forgive us our trespasses (debts) as we forgive those who trespass against us (those who are our debtors): A debt is an obligation that we have to others, promises we have made, something arising from our past. Our greatest debt to others is the recognition of their “otherness” and our taking care of their physical and spiritual needs through our attention to them. We are obligated to be attentive to the needs of others.

We are obligated to other human beings; when we do not meet these obligations, we “sin”. As we are obligated to others, so they are obligated to us (or at least we feel they are obligated to us from some action in the past). The saints tell us that they are the greatest sinners and we have trouble believing them. But the saints have a greater awareness of the “otherness” of human beings and of their obligation to this otherness. St. Francis’ ministrations to the lepers is an example of this. We are obligated to be charitable; and when we deny this obligation, we sin. How we judge the obligations of others to ourselves is how we will be judged. It is our reparation for our sins. King Lear is the most powerful play in the English language which illustrates this.

To “trespass” is to go beyond the limits or the boundaries that have been set for us as human beings. These limits or boundaries are those which are set by God in all three realms spoken of here and not those which we think we establish through imaginary lines drawn on maps. We are not our own. It is not our wills that we should wish to be recognized, and we should desire no recognition of our “ego” whatsoever. To do so is to “trespass”. We require Grace daily to help us meet our obligations to others and to prevent us from being led by the desires of others. In meeting these obligations, we fulfill the will of God. Our difficulty is that in living in communities with other human beings, we are constantly driven to “where we would not go” by their desires as they impinge on our wishes and we are constantly in danger of doing evil when we consider our actions as a “duty” to others whether it be god, country, or others in our communities.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: This is the phrase from the Prayer that has given rise to, provoked this writing. Pope Francis wishes it to be re-translated since it creates the confusion that it is God who leads us to temptation. From the Three Temptations passage it is clear that the Holy Spirit leads Christ, in a moment of deepest necessity, into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Again, “temptation” is to be understood as a test of faith.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we contemplate the name, the kingdom, and the will of God, and submit to this Will.  From this submission we receive the supernatural bread of Grace which purifies us from evil. Having been purified from evil, the soul is ready for that true humility which crowns all virtues.  Humility consists of knowing that in this world the whole soul, not only what we term the ego in its totality, but also the supernatural part of the soul, which is God present in us, is subject to time and to the vicissitudes of change (Weil) whether through Nature or through the actions of human beings.  There must be absolute acceptance that these are in accord with the will of God.

But how difficult this is for us! For Lear, Cordelia is hung through the machinations of Edmund and this, finally, breaks his heart. His “Howl, howl, howl, howl” is the suffering that passes all words and thus our understanding of such suffering. One thing is certain: the redemption from temptation and sin and our submission to the will of God is not to be cheaply bought.

The doxology “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” is a later addition to the original text and is redundant given the interpretation of the first part of the Lord’s Prayer given here. We we speak the words of the first part of the Prayer, our submission to the will of God is already given and does not need the repetition here, though its alignment with the third temptation of Christ illustrates how difficult it is for us to submit to His will.

 

Darwin and Nietzsche: Part II: The Essence of Truth as Representation

Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche

“To stamp becoming with the character of Being–that is the supreme will to power.” — Nietzsche, Will to Power # 617

“The apes are too good-natured for man to have originated from them.” — Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Knowledge: what is it? What are we really asking about when we ask about the “essence of knowledge”? These questions are questions that relate to the essence of Western human beings, what we think we ourselves are. How was this question understood by both Darwin and Nietzsche? What were the paths that they tread and what were the maps that they were using in their journeys on these paths?

In the 19th century, the question of knowledge focused on scientific inquiry: it becomes a psychological and a biological investigation due to the progress made in these sciences, the foremost being the discoveries of Charles Darwin. “Theory of Knowledge” becomes focused on “theory formation”, how we form theories and why we form theories. In Western history, knowledge is taken to be that behaviour and that attitude of representing by which what is true is grasped and preserved as a “possession”, an “owning”. The correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theories of truth are caught up in this grasping, possessing behaviour through representation. What is representation?

To “represent” is ‘to place something, make it stand’ ‘before, in front of’, ‘to bring, move forward; to put something in front of something else’, hence ‘to represent, mean, signify’ and ‘to introduce, present a person’, etc. Other meanings are ‘to represent to oneself, imagine, conceive’ – in a ‘performance, presentation, introduction’ and ‘idea, conception, imagination’. These many meanings are interrelated. We will try to understand how ‘representation’ relates to what Kant called “transcendental imagination” later in these writings.

Representation occurs, that is, it is an “event”, but this event is ‘letting something be seen’, not something that is itself seen, like a picture. Seeing a picture, and seeing something in a picture, are quite different from seeing things in the flesh. Seeing does not involve a mental picture: ‘Nothing of that sort is to be found; in the simple sense of perception: I see the house itself. Seeing is permeated by language and categories: ‘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 says about the matter’. In this quote from Heidegger’s Being and Time we have the introduction of the primacy of the logos or language when it comes to understanding and representing things to ourselves so that we may be able to perceive them as what they are. The French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, also asserts the primacy of the logos in the understanding of Being. 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’ (Heidegger, Being and Time, 321). This view of representation is a misrepresentation of our being-in-the world, but it adequately represents our human-centred attitude to the world. Two features of representation help to put human beings at the centre. First, ‘to represent something’ in the sense of ‘to count, stand for something’, that is calculability. Second: ‘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. In defining a thing/being we are also defining ourselves as human beings.

In our ‘visible thinking’, our efforts are ‘to make something stand (fast) in advance/ before us’ and to ‘produce’ or ‘bring forth’ the results of our efforts. Thus, it expresses Nietzsche’s view that, in what we call ‘truth’, we bring chaotic becoming to a standstill, converting it into a ‘static constancy’, our stamping becoming with the character of Being, the primary dichotomy of permanence and change. Representation can also mean ‘to bring before’ a court. Then it suggests that Human Being is a judge who decides what being is and what qualify as beings, who lays down the law and applies it to beings. To be is then to-be-represented. This is Descartes’ main achievement, that he equated being with being-represented by a subject. It does not matter whether the subject is a pure ego or, as Nietzsche believes, an embodied 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 the beings/things are all referred, and that ‘the beingness of beings as a whole is conceived as the being-represented of the producible and explainable’. ‘To produce’ or ‘bring forth’ indicates the relationship of Cartesianism and technology and how it is rooted in what has come to be called “humanism”.

Representation gives a new sense to the understanding of being as presence. For the Greeks being was ‘presence’, ousia or parousia. Greek presence concerns the ‘presencing’ of beings into the realm of the unhidden. The closest Greek counterpart to what we understand as representation is noein, ‘to think, intelligibility, intelligence, etc.’ It was ‘dwelling in the unhidden’, receptive, contemplative rather than intrusive, and concerned the whole, unhiddenness as such, and not only individual entities/things. Representation as it is understood in the modern sense is the human autocratic interrogation of and jurisdiction over entities/things, whose presence is now understood as correctness and correspondence rather than ‘presence’ as the Greeks understood it. It is the domineering, commanding stance of human beings over beings/things.

In the question of what is knowledge we are really asking about truth and its essence. In the TOK guide, it is sometimes recommended that the question of truth be avoided altogether! This is one of the reasons why this alternative approach is required and made necessary. Knowledge and truth are intimately related to each other and cannot be discussed separately. Without questioning our understanding of what truth is we are simply left with a pre-determined “system” that has pre-determined “robust” answers which are what we perceive truth to be based on calculation.

In the question of what knowledge is we are basically asking about truth and its essence (its “whatness”). What is true means what is. This is sometimes confused with the notion of facts. To grasp what is true means to take beings/things in representation and assertion (judgement) and to repeat, pass on and retain them as they are. What is truth and true stand in intimate relation to beings/things. The question of knowledge, about its essence, is a question about beings/things—what they are as such. As has been asserted many times in this blog, the question of what is knowledge is a metaphysical question and is prior to the questioning of knowledge as an epistemological question, a “theory of knowledge”.

In Nietzsche, the essence of truth must be defined in terms of “will to power”. Truth grants beings to human beings in such a way that human beings relate to beings. This relation we have called logos. Truth is what human beings strive for in all their doings and thinking. It is what is “valued”. But Nietzsche in Will to Power (#602; hereafter referred to as WP) says that truth is “the consequence of an illusion”. Yet if a will to truth is vital for our “life”, and if life is enhancement of life, the ever higher realization of life and the vitalizing or giving life to what is real (“quality of life”), and if truth is only “illusion”, “imagination”, thus something unreal, truth then becomes a de-realization, a hindrance to and destructive of life. Truth then becomes an “unvalue”. “Truth” is the fixity or permanence which we impose on the “chaos” of becoming in order to “secure” the “enhancement” or “quality of life”. This securing is what Nietzsche called “justice” and it related to his concept of “perspectivism”.

But modern science tells us that all “values” are of equal value i.e. valueless, and   therefore the appropriate response in action is “tolerance” of all values. What is this but nothing more than the nihilism that Nietzsche points out? It is Nietzsche’s desire to overcome nihilism since will to truth belongs to life and life enhancement, and nihilism is ultimately “deadly”, that Darwinism is, at bottom, nihilistic. But, as Nietzsche fully realized, since will to truth belongs to life then truth, since its essence is “illusion”, cannot be the highest value. There must be a “value”, a condition of perspectival life-enhancement (quality of life) that is of greater value than truth. Nietzsche says “that art is worth more than truth”. (WP #857)

Art arouses the quality of life through its vitality in the possibilities of life’s enhancement against the power of truth: “We have art in order not to perish from the truth”. (WP #822, 1888) For Nietzsche, art is considered as a condition of beings/things not merely as aesthetically pleasurable, not merely a biologically/anthropologically expression of life and humanity (culture), and not merely politically as proof of a position of power (possession). Nietzsche’s notion of art goes back to Aristotle’s Poetics as in a metaphysical opposition to truth as illusion.  But is this not saying that art and truth are both….illusions? Shall we not say that if Nietzsche is to be “consistent” his statement about truth is also an illusion and we needn’t bother about him any longer (as, in fact, was said by many Harvard and Oxford “philosophers” following WW2)? This circular argument is not a refutation of Nietzsche.

How is truth connected with illusion? A refutation of Nietzsche’s statement cannot be based on its incorrectness. Nietzsche’s statement is prior to conceptions of truth as correctness of representations. For the ancient Greeks, what “shows itself” is taken as what is. To be “in being” means to “grow”, “phyein”.  The rise to presencing, what comes to a stand as present, is physis—what we call Nature. Plato’s “Idea” is what is most in Being of all beings: to be in Being is the self-showing that arises to presence: presenting an outward appearance (eidos) which makes up the appearance (idea) that something has. This appearance or image is not a fabrication. By image the Greeks meant what “comes to the fore”, what comes to presence. Truth was imaging for the Greeks.

When Nietzsche says that truth is an “illusion”, he is speaking about what is still happening in the history of the West: in the past, in the present, and what is to come. This event is the essence of truth. Beings/things show themselves and are grasped as this self-representing in representation. Representation is what we understand as thinking. When Nietzsche says that “truth is illusion”, the initial fundamental decisions concerning thought are transformed in this definition; but also, the dominion of this thinking in the modern age is established. One need not look far to see the spurious sophistry that has entangled Nietzsche’s original thinking. We shall make an attempt to clear some of this intentional obfuscation so that we shall see the praxis, the “doing”, that is the making the techne and the logos that is the “knowing” of the techne logos that is technology.

Many of the ideas expressed here will be further developed in later writings in this blog.

Darwin and Nietzsche: Part I

Darwin
Charles Darwin

In approaching a discussion of the thinking of Nietzsche and Darwin, we must first establish the basic terms that ground the thinking of the scientist, Darwin, and the philosopher, Nietzsche and show what distinguishes them. Nietzsche once wrote that Darwinism is “true, but deadly”. What did he mean by that?

From our earlier writings we can see that the essential distinction between the ancients and the moderns is the understanding of nature and eternity (beings and Being) and of nature and history (beings and Time). Both Darwin and Nietzsche are 19th century thinkers and both are responsible for much of the thinking that grounds what we have called the “modern”. What students study in the Areas of Knowledge and how these beings/things are understood will help us to understand the origins of the language that we use everyday unthinkingly.

In what manner are beings understood (knowledge) and what is the ‘what’ of beings in both the “essentia” of beings, and ‘how’ these beings ‘are’ (the “existentia” of beings) in both these thinkers?

Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche

For Nietzsche three terms: 1) “will to power” as the “what” of beings and 2) “eternal recurrence of the same” as the “how” of beings will be described. Among those human beings who have understood the what and the how of beings are, according to Nietzsche, the 3) “overman”.  From within these three terms the grounds of the thinking of Nietzsche will be shown, what Nietzsche called “knowledge”, and we will attempt to understand the concepts “values”, “empowerment” and “quality of life” or “enhancement of life” that arise from this understanding/knowledge of beings as “will to power”. How these beings are in their being as the “eternal recurrence of the same” will also be explicated. From these we can make some preliminary statements about the fact-value distinction that rules today in the methodologies of the human and natural sciences as well as come to some conclusions about John Dewey’s idea of “growth” as “empowerment” and the role that the principle of reason (technology) plays in this “growth” and in the establishment of the “values” that are realized through the improvement of “quality of life”. These are essential assumptions that are made in the thinking that one is exposed to today and it is essential to clarify what they mean. We will attempt to explore the roots of these concepts.

In discussing Darwin, we will attempt to understand two terms: 1) “evolution” or the progressive development of the species through time by chance, or the “what” of beings; and 2) “modification” as the “how” of beings in time will attempt to be clarified. The essential question for Darwin the scientist was an “ontological” question: the what and the how of beings; it was not a scientific question. We will show this to be the case and how analytical philosophy enjoins Darwinism to give us the substance of what is taken to be knowledge in the Western world today. For both Darwin and Nietzsche, Being is “Life” or bios, and this bios was to be understood “historically”.

Nietzsche: Will to Power as Knowledge

Nietzsche is the most comprehensive modern thinker. By “comprehensive” is meant that he thought through the explicit and implicit assumptions of modernity and their consequences.

What is “knowledge” for Nietzsche? Knowledge is “will to power”. His last writing is entitled Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is?  In the book Nietzsche writes about the destiny of the West, not merely about himself as an individual for he sees his thinking as the destiny of the West. It is in this book that the understanding of “personal knowledge” as “empowerment” and “will to power” is made clear.

In TOK, you inquire in order to reach useful reasons, responses and approaches to problems and questions that can be placed in oral presentations and essays. Your “thinking” is driven by a “scientific methodology” (research, if you like) that always operates on a ground or foundation of what has already been decided: the fact that nature, history, art are beings/things that have been defined and are made Areas of Knowledge. Real thinking questions the surety of this knowledge framework approach because it tries to understand the horizons of how these things/beings have come to be determined. It inquires into the “de-fin-ition” of these things: that which is responsible for the establishment of the “limits” or horizons of the things/beings that are being examined.

Nietzsche is the transition from the preparatory phase of the modern age—1600-1900—to the beginning of its consummation, the revealing of its essence. We do not know the time span of this consummation. It will either be very brief and catastrophic or else very long and experienced as the self-perpetuating novelty of what has already been attained through the discoveries of the modern age. These possible outcomes are based on what we have defined beings/things as being.

The history of the West is to be understood as “metaphysics” – “physics” in the Greek sense means the “physical” or “beings that as such subsist and come to presence of themselves”. “Meta” means “over and away from, beyond” to the things/beings Being. From the beings/things, we think of their Being as their most universal definition, as their ground and cause. So, for example, the Christian idea of creation from a First Cause is metaphysical. The Enlightenment idea of a governance of all beings/things under the principle of reason or a cosmic reason is metaphysical. Beings/things are that which lays claim to an explanation: “reasons” for the “why” and the “how” of beings.

Nietzsche is the consummation of Western metaphysical thinking. By this is meant that in his thinking one finds the end of the tradition, the essence, of Western metaphysics in the same way that one finds the end of the acorn in the oak. For those of us from the English-speaking West, what Nietzsche’s thinking had to think will rule (though his being a German, many in the West have determined that since he was one of the “losers” of history, because of the Great Wars of the 20th century, he was not in touch with the evolving truth of things). This perception has delayed Nietzsche’s arrival on the English-speaking scene, and his thoughts and ideas have been given to us through lesser minds and, in many cases, other language than that in which they were originally thought. The idea of the “superman” (although the original idea from Nietzsche is best translated as “overman”) is just one, although extreme, example of what occurred to Nietzsche’s thought in the North American setting.

Nietzsche’s fundamental thoughts of “will to power” and “eternal recurrence of the same” say the same and think the same about the “how” and the “why” of beings/things.

Values and Valuation:

The word “values” is a relatively new, and frequently used, term though it is a word used in an unthinking manner. Nietzsche did not coin the term, but it is through his thinking that it has come to common parlance in Western English. Even recent Popes of the Roman Catholic Church have spoken of “values” when talking about morals, cultures, aesthetics and religious topics. Nietzsche used the word “values” to indicate a “condition of life”, a condition of life’s being “alive”, what has come to us in the phrase “quality of life”. “Life”, for Nietzsche, refers to what is and for beings/things as a whole as well as our own lives.

Nietzsche does not see the essence of life in “self-preservation”, the struggle for existence, as suggested in Darwinism, but rather as self-transcending enhancement—what we understand as “empowerment” or “will to power”. “Values” are that which supports, furthers and awakens the enhancement of life, “quality of life”. Only what enhances life, and beings as a whole, has value, is a value. “Values” as conditions make “life” dependent on them; the essence of what conditions (“values”) is determined by the essence of that which it is supposed to condition (Life). Enhancement of the kind that is achieved through life is an “over beyond itself” (metaphysics). In enhancement, life projects higher possibilities of itself before itself and moves itself forward into something not yet attained, something first to be achieved, what we call invention, creativity. In these writings we have called this enhancing projecting the technological.

Enhancement as the looking ahead to something higher is called by Nietzsche “perspectivism” and finds its grounding in art. “Values” condition and determine “perspectively” the fundamental conditions of life.

“Valuation” in Nietzsche means that we determine and ascertain the “perspectival” conditions of life that make life what it is i.e. assure its essential enhancement. Nietzsche reverses or inverts the ancient, longstanding human being-in-the-world that is the Platonic-Christian one because it “de-values” the beings at hand in the here and now as what “ought not to be” because they represent a falling away from what “truly” is; the falling away from the Ideas and from God’s will  and the divine order of Being. One finds this inversion of Nietzsche’s in his use of Biblical language in his great work Thus Spake Zarathustra. Nietzsche places consequences (what we call social/cultural “contexts”) before deeds as grounds, the perspectival conditions for “life”. While this notion is now commonplace in our thinking, it originates in the thinking of Nietzsche.

But this is not the whole of it. For Nietzsche, we must re-determine the essence of life itself, and the perspectival conditions for this new essence. The conditions that seek for self-preservation (Darwinism) are downgraded to those that basically hinder or even negate life and life’s perspectival enhancement.

If life is merely understood as “self-preservation” in the service of other, later things then life as “life-enhancement” is not provided the ground for the “essence” from which life comes forth and remains rooted: its principles. Life understood as “self-preservation” floats upon a great sea of nihilism, which is “deadly”. Nietzsche’s contrary assertion is that life is “will to power”. The Greeks began Western philosophy and metaphysics by saying “being as a whole is physis” understood as Nature. Nietzsche completes Western metaphysics by stating that “being as a whole is will to power”.

Therefore for Nietzsche, science in general, knowledge in general, is a configuration of will to power. But what is science? What is knowledge? To further explore these questions will help us to understand what it is that Nietzsche means by “will to power”.

Knowledge and knowing were conceived as techne by the Greeks. Will to power is the final dominance of Being “over” beings as a whole, but in the veiled, shadowy form of Being’s abandonment of beings (to use Platonic/Heideggerian terminology).

 

 

OT 4: Knowledge and Religion: Dewey and Education

Personal Reflection: Historical Background

In other sections of this blog it is written that religion is “what we bow down to or what we look up to”. It is written that the world religion moving forward is and will be technology as it is technology that determines and will determine our way of being in the world in a global context and this will determine who and what we are as human beings within this technological future. It is a fate to which we have chosen to consign ourselves as human beings. The grounding of this technological world-view is the metaphysics that arose in the West and found its flowering in Western European sciences. It was and is through the application of those mastering sciences that the current political powers of the world achieve their positions of power: communism, fascism and capitalism are predicates of the subject technology. Their world-pictures are embraced within and by the technological world-view that has come to be our fate for those who are from the West, and it will soon become the world’s fate.

Dewey
John Dewey

As someone who grew up in North America, learning the techniques that were made possible through the application of those mastering European sciences dominated the educational system. Though the façade of the North American education is different, the essence of the education is much the same in the IB Diploma program. The flavour of the month in terms of a philosophy of education in my youth came from the American philosopher John Dewey, and the movement of the thinking that established the paradigm for what education was thought to be was Deweyism. Through Dewey it was believed that technology, science and democracy could come together in an ever-widening horizon of progress thought within the evolutionary principles of Darwinism. His first principles rest in the faith and belief that all modification is progress toward the better. Two questions that arise within this faith and belief are whether technology and democracy are compatible? Is Darwinism and democracy compatible?

My personal education was an attempt to overcome the paradigm of education given to me in Deweyism having been brought up under the principles that were presented to me in Roman Catholicism: but, as the Spanish proverb says, a scavenging mongrel in a famine claims no merit in scenting food (if any food has, in fact, been scented here).  I will attempt to make some points about what occurs when the curriculum in education is based on a false metaphysics and will do so under the rubric of knowledge and religion for the understanding of both is that they are ‘religions’ as understood in these writings.

Whatever else may be said about “religious knowledge systems”, they may be defined as the search by human beings for their being-in-the-world as “a good soul”. What is the height for being human? What is the good life and how does one lead it? Plato in Book IX of his Republic describes the decline of the society and of the soul in a democracy. Prior to Book IX he had described the good society and the good soul; in Book IX he describes the despot and despotism as the bad soul and the bad society. Neither the ideally good nor the ideally bad society are possible in this world: for Plato, these ideally bad and good politeia are ethical principles of attraction and repulsion: they are matters of choice from which, in our freedom, our actions may be chosen. Just as Macbeth has a choice in determining the manner in which he will become the king he appears to be fated to be, the choices that individuals appear to have seem to rest in the virtues of the individual soul.  In the scale of ranking societies and of the individuals within those societies, Plato places democratic society and the democratic soul very low, next to despotism, in fact. Now why does he do this?

Much silly ink has been spilt criticizing Plato’s low view of democracy, not the least of which are Karl Popper’s comments on Plato in The Open Society and Its Enemies. To claim, as Popper does, that Plato does not hold freedom very highly is not to have read Republic very carefully. Why does Plato view the democratic society as just a few steps before despotism? Plato describes democracy as that state in which the lowest common denominator of desire (the appetites) rules and every institution is dominated by this lowest common denominator within the demos, or the people. By lowest common denominator Plato means that the desires arising from the appetites have taken over the person and have become the ruling principle within the person. Reason is dethroned (to use a Shakespearean analogy that, in one way or another, involves all of his tragic characters), or reason is used simply as instrument to simply achieve personal ends. Because of this, according to Plato, democracy must destroy itself because it will degenerate into chaos; people will give themselves over to the immediate claims of appetite; democracy’s full realization is in the culture of mass consumerism.  Such consumerism is shown in its flowering in many of the advanced industrial economies of our present age.

The criticisms of Plato with regard to democracy have been based on a misunderstanding/misreading of his understanding of the relation of freedom to liberation. Education and schools have become the servants of expanding economies understood as progress in production and consumption through the keeping of technology dynamic and novel within those societies. These expanding economies are dominated by the institution that is called ‘the corporation’. The schools are the places where the young go to be taught techniques that will allow them to enter or remain in the more prosperous parts of their societies, to become what we have viewed in Plato’s cave as ‘the keepers of the fire’. Science only has value in so far as it can be applied and “useful” in its service to human beings. The educational institutions are largely servants of that appetite which is dominant among the clever in that part of our society—namely, greed. This observation is as ubiquitous as to be viewed as common sense.

The future of democracy under the ‘technology of the helmsmen’ brings to light a knowledge problem for thought and action that is difficult to reconcile: how does one reconcile a deep loyalty to the traditions of democracy with the debasement of education that occurs within democracy? Why do I use the negative word ‘debasement’ here?

John Dewey’s philosophy of education received an enthusiastic reception in North America. The society that accepts a very low view of human nature, of what human beings are and their destiny, or that accepts the view of human existence and the purpose of education as the worship of the appetites which Plato describes cannot, or will choose not to, provide the environment in which a true education can flourish. Education ceases to be a “leading out” and becomes an organizing within. I have seen this in my lifetime through the evolution of the schools of which I have been a member.

A similar environment to North America’s flourished in Britain through the influences of logical positivism and its evolution within British educational systems; Oxford, for example, is the home and birthplace of analytical philosophy, a philosophy grounded in the principle of reason which we have come to understand as the essence of technology. This past influence continues to this day: Britain has recognized and understood its place in the Western empire as handmaid to the master, the USA. This has occurred because North Americans speak (for the most part) English.

Not to recognize this paradox of democracy and true education is simply not to know where one is at, both on the political level (social) and in relation to one’s own self. A solution to the paradox is to eliminate one of its difficulties: one can ignore the tendencies towards debasement or this attention to the appetites and embrace the religion of progress and this is what most of us have chosen to do. We jump on the bandwagon of vulgarity and ride it with varying degrees of success i.e. we become the keepers of the fire in Plato’s analogy of the Cave. One can, possibly, discard all faith in a democratic education: for those of us within the “traditional” religious traditions this is wrong in principle because it commits us to practical action that eliminates the mystery of our religions and ultimately finds expression in will to power (empowerment) and a retreat from the modern world. Of this retreat (and I can speak of this with some confidence at my age), I can only say that we may dislike the world and the human beings in it, but it’s the only one we’ve got—and it is the world in which we are called to act. The only alternative, it seems to me, is that to escape the paradox we must learn to live within its tension.

One can view this tension when one looks at the curriculum and the Learner Profile of the IB. One of the questions that arises when viewing the IB Curriculum and its ordering (hierarchy) along with the Learner Profile as the outcomes of the core learning is that the Learner Profile or the student learner outcomes are divorced from reality. One simply has to listen to the young and their parents to realize what they think education is for and what studies should be undertaken. It is a partaking of the dominant view of what reality is understood as.

It is a sad, miserable sight to look into the eyes of parents when they realize that Johnny is not going to become a doctor because Johnny cannot handle Higher Level Math or Biology. The irony, of course, is that our educational systems, for the most part, are producing the very kind of doctors that we do not want. In the schools where the grounding of the teaching or the ultimate reality is that human beings can be totally understood as animals, where theory is not taught as theory, an hypothesis, a possibility, we are appalled when one of our students cheat  in order to meet the standards we require of our doctors; and we stridently try to push the morality or ‘values’ inherent in the Learner Profile.  Or we become offended when in our societies we see old medical ethics break down before the growing love of money among our doctors. But should we be? If human beings are simply animals and morality is merely an illusion (the grounds of the metaphysics of Deweyism), then why shouldn’t students cheat; why shouldn’t one try to become an alpha squirrel and amass more nuts than the other squirrels? Why be moral at all? (These are general statements and are not directed at those wonderful human beings involved in Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders, many of whom are former IB graduates). The current President of the USA, for example, is not the cause of the disease within American society but one of its flowerings or outcomes.

Within Deweyism, the purpose of education is successful living in this world, the Lockean principle of comfortable self-preservation; there is no transcendent end to education (I am not attacking the principle of comfortable self-preservation: there is much to be said for it!). This grounding of the purpose of education does not seem to change much (it appears to me) when ‘successful living’ becomes the ‘empowerment of the self’; this self-empowerment is simply ensuring that one is holding the ‘pointy end of the stick’, and that one is able to fulfill the desires that arise from the appetites and enhance one’s ‘quality of life’. These terms all had their first appearance as concepts in the thinking of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Here I am speaking of those societies where capitalism has reached the advanced stage: those states that see themselves as the ‘mental health states’. I have come to realize that in schools where the best teachers understand that the real is the world of a materialism that is apprehended in space and time, it is foolish to try to impose a set of values which come from a different view of reality. All you do is produce chaos: the clever children see the inconsistency and the stupid are meanly tricked.

The IB Learner Profile says that ‘brotherhood’ matters in the world; we have updated this antiquated term to ‘international-mindedness’. But when the young go out into the world, they learn that ‘brotherhood’ does not bring success in worldly terms (‘networking’ might, but networking is the use of people as means, not ends; and it is certainly not brotherhood/sisterhood, but it could be ‘international mindedness’ in the new glossary) and that if they attempt to put the IB Learner Profile attributes into practice they just get ‘hosed’. The Learner Profile is quietly understood as just pious nonsense that IB schools put forward, but which no one takes seriously as the grounding for practical action in the world, and it rests on the belief that theory and practice are separate entities. This is the tension which is spoken of here.

Within the framework of knowledge and religion, the tsunami that is the new world religion (technology) moves inexorably to cover the world in a profound irrationalism. How is this so? How can something which is based on the principle of reason be irrational at its core? The understanding is that the natural and human sciences are the way we find out what is real (science, after all, is “the theory of the real”) while religion and ‘values’ are concerned with subjective preferences arising largely from emotions. Religion is thought of as a kind of emotional certainty; and faith as a way of knowing is seen as a commitment of the will, or resolute decision. Values, in one of the many understandings of that term, are thought of as the right emotional attitudes the democratic society wants to inculcate and these are captured in a recent catch-phrase from the 1990s “emotional intelligence”. Reality is seen as the sensuous world of space and time and truth is the accumulation of “facts” that are transformed into data which become information through the application of the sciences. Historically reason, both practical and theoretical, was seen as that which apprehends ultimate reality or that reality beyond the merely sensible, the permanent as contrasted with those things that are in motion. Today, the assumption throughout is that values and religion are matters of opinion based on personal preferences and taste and not matters where truth can be discovered by the proper use of the mind. But this begs the question: what is the proper use of the mind?

Emotion as a WOK: Care/Caring as a Way of Being in the World

“The pedagogical principles that underpin IB programmes recognize, and indeed emphasize, that learning is a social process. Such learning must be underpinned by an ethic of care in which all those involved as teachers and students share an interest in supporting the learning of each other. This study has highlighted the importance of creating cultures in schools that have at their foundation an ethic of care.”—IB summation of Stevenson, H, Joseph, S, Bailey, L, Cooker, L, Fox, S and Bowman, A. 2016. “Caring” across the International Baccalaureate continuum.” Bethesda, MD, USA. International Baccalaureate Organization.

Care as a Way of Knowing

“[Care/Love/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)

“And 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.

If one has been following the thoughts expressed in the other units on the Ways of Knowing, they will see that, in the West up until the 20th century, sense perception and reason have been given primacy as to “how we know things” and that this cognition finds its flowering in what has been called the technological. This primacy gained its prominence in the Cartesian separation of subject/object as well as through the separation of theoretical knowledge from practical knowledge, one example of which is the fact/value distinction. This primacy of sense perception and reason still retains its strength in the movement called logical positivism which has found substance for its thinking in the thought of the philosopher Kant and those who have been termed “neo-Kantians”. While the IB attempts to be everything to everyone, it is the thought of the neo-Kantians who view Kant as an epistemologist (what is knowledge?) that is the core of this “Theory of Knowledge” course that is given to us from the IB.

paul-ekman
Paul Ekman

Today, a significant proportion of the thinking on human emotions is focused on the attempt to discover universal facial expressions of emotion, or to find a universality that is at the basis of emotions and to, thus, say something of what it means to be a human being. Paul Ekman’s original hypothesis, “that particular facial behaviors are universally associated with particular emotions,” has been reaffirmed in numerous studies, often using sets of photographs of faces prepared by Ekman. The “particular emotions” that Ekman identified—happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise, anger, and fear—are now generally assumed to be the “basic emotions” common to all human beings. “Normal” people are expected not only to express these emotions as they are shown in Ekman’s photographs but also to correctly see and interpret these emotions on the faces of others. Thus, some psychologists have come to associate mental abnormalities with an individual’s failure to correctly identify emotions from Ekman’s prototypes.

ekman facial prototypesUpon a quick analysis, one can see that Ekman’s studies of emotions remain in the realm of Western metaphysical thinking, and his ‘discoveries’ were already something understood by Aristotle (see Language as a WOK and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics) and viewed as ‘common sense’. There is much that goes on in today’s human sciences that was understood by the Greeks to be “common sense”, and many studies in the human sciences are of the “how many angels are on the head of a pin” variety.

These outward expressions of emotion do not really identify the ‘being’ or the ground of these expressions and it is from here I wish to begin our exploration of Emotion as a Way of Knowing. We need to distinguish between the fleeting emotions which Ekman’s study “universalizes”, to emotion as a “ground of being” or Emotion as a Way of Knowing in much the same way as we distinguish between the knowledge problems of TOK which are permanent (freedom vs. determinism, for example) and the questions that attempt to provide ways or paths towards those permanent knowledge questions or problems which are the result of our current social and historical contexts. The fleeting emotions as “experiences” ignore the way in which Emotion discloses our world and being to us as human beings. Is anxiety or dread the ground of our emotional response to being in the world experienced as chaos, or is some other ground or emotion possible if one does not experience the world in this way?

Emotion as a Way of Knowing in the West is a late arrival on the scene, and its “lateness” is due to the fact that it springs from the philosophical movement known as existentialism. In the USA, “emotional intelligence” as a way of knowing and discerning emotions was the response of schools to the calling of President George H. W. Bush for a “kinder, gentler nation.”

There is much on the periphery that is said about or is called “existentialism”, but its hard core rests in the writings of two German philosophers: Nietzsche and Heidegger. This hard core rests on their critiques of the Greeks and on the “history of philosophy” which we have come to see is the history of Western metaphysics. (Some may argue that I should include Soren Kierkegaard and Jean Paul Sartre into this “existential core”, but Heidegger in his “Letter on Humanism” and elsewhere states that both these thinkers are still enveloped in what he has called Western metaphysical thinking. The term “existentialism” is attributed to Sartre, but Sartre used the term from his exposure to Heidegger’s and Karl Jaspers’ thinking and lectures in the early 1920s Germany).

Through existentialism we can come to see that many of the “knowledge problems” or “knowledge questions” that arise in TOK are due to the Cartesian separation of the world and being into “subject/object”. Unlike Descartes, “doubt” is not the primary mode of human being-in-the-world for the existentialists: “care” is for some, “angst” or “dread” is for others (and this shall be discussed at greater length later). The connection between human being and the world is the projection of Human Being (human being), the sense in which human beings “are” in that world. We have called this projection logos in other sections of this blog.  “Emotion” or mood of human being reveals the character of the world as seen by human beings, but more than that, it is Human Being’s world (and we shall look at whether or not this “emotion” or “mood” is properly understood as angst or “dread” or whether it can be seen as “love”). Human beings are in the world differently than occurrent things; for example, rocks, animals. To use a musical analogy, human beings’ care and projections give the world a certain “tonality” (C-major, for example, but other “tones” are possible) and thus the relation between human beings and their world does not differentiate between two kinds of things (subject/object, mental/physical). It is, rather, a mutually constitutive relation yoked together in the logos.

Human being is the “farthest ontological entity” (the most difficult to understand, to grasp) because we are not just entities; we are processes (ultimately the processes of understanding, being-towards-death, anticipatory resoluteness, caring in the existential understanding of the world). As the philosopher Nietzsche once remarked: “Human being is the as yet undefined animal”.

Care and the IB Learner Profile:

heidegger
Martin Heidegger

“Man is not the lord of beings. Man is the shepherd of Being. Man loses nothing in this “less”; rather, he gains in that he attains the truth of Being. He gains the essential poverty of the shepherd, whose dignity consists in being called by Being itself into the preservation of Being’s truth.” (Heidegger–Letter on Humanism, 1964)

In attempting to deal with emotion as a WOK, we shall examine and try to provide clarification for this concept in relation to the ten characteristics of the IB Learner Profile. What follows could be described as no more than impertinent précis of much of the difficult thought of the 20th century.  I believe it was the poet T. S. Eliot who once remarked: “Do I repeat myself? Very well, I repeat myself” with regard to some of his poetic ideas. The same could be said about this writing.

It will be noticed that Love is not included among the ten characteristics in the Profile, and this may be due to the fact that Love has become associated with a biological activity of human beings (sexuality) rather than the emotional disposition or mode of being that allows human beings an opening and access to the most profound things and the most profound questions through a recognition of the “otherness” of things as is noted in the quote from Pascal above. It seems that love and charity are two terms that have been conspicuously avoided in the determination of the Learner Profile characteristics. The fact that these words carry Christian theological overtones is not appropriate in the secularized, tolerant world-view that is the world of the universal, homogeneous state.

If one has been following the thinking that is present in the other sections of this blog, one will see that the approach to thinking, questioning and reflecting taken here is an analysis and questioning of the West’s meta-physical approach to knowing and understanding. Like our wonderment at Blake’s “why the ‘y’?” in “The Tyger”, we must ask ourselves why the “why” of our questioning of the things that are and come to an understanding of the manner of our questioning; that is, we must come to a self-reflective thinking regarding what we consider to be our understanding . When Socrates says that “it is fitting” for human beings to live in communities and to think openly about the whole, he is defining for us what being a human being is i.e. what human being is ‘fitted’ for. When human beings are referred to as ‘human resources’ and ‘human capital’, a quite different understanding of the ‘fittedness of human beings’ is understood and undertaken.

Simone Weil
Simone Weil

The more appropriate translation for the word in brackets [emotion] from the Bhagavad-Gita is “Love” or, perhaps, “Care”. Earlier, we began the TOK blog with the statement: “Faith is experience that the intelligence is enlightened by Love” from the French philosopher Simone Weil. The manner in which Love enlightens or illuminates or ‘reveals’ will be central to our understanding of the questions that occur in the TOK, not only in such an obvious AOK as Ethics, but also in all the Areas of Knowledge that are dealt with in the IB Diploma and in TOK. It is quite clear that we cannot love “resources” or “capital”; at least we cannot if we are sane.

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” and so allow the tree to be seen as a tree and not something else, so the shoe fetishist (Imelda Marcos as an example, but there are others) and someone driven by the love of otherness (Simone Weil and Mother Teresa as examples) participate in varying ways, and to varying degrees, in the fullness of the form of Love.

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 should examine how the technological way of knowing may be responsible for this stance within being). When life becomes dominated by self-serving, the reality of otherness, in its own being, almost disappears for us, as it does for Macbeth in Shakespeare’s great play. Like Macbeth, tyranny over others becomes a real possibility for many of us, but it is quite clear from Shakespeare’s writing that this tyranny is evil. Today, for example, much is being written about abusive sexual relations and encounters by men in power over women who come into their worlds (Weinstein, Moore et. al.) These tyrannic relationships can be said to be evil.

What saves us from the evil of 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 the things that we do not already have are 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 and release 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 features of the world and not just “subjective” functions of our various reactions of our experiences to it and the things in it. It is, as William Blake once wrote, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/ Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour”.

As a personal anecdote, some years ago one of the titles for the Prescribed Essays asked students to distinguish between knowing how to swim, knowing a mathematical formula, and knowing a friend. In the the 60 or so papers that I read on the title, none of the students wrote that they ‘knew’ their friend because they ‘loved’ their friend. They usually went on at length about “knowledge by acquaintance” as the manner in which they distinguished their friends from other human beings. If their friends had fleas, they would have counted them. But not a single individual used the word ‘love’ as the source of the knowledge of their friends from others and that it was charity that motivated their actions towards their friends rather than to other human beings that they did not know.

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(s) about us, the They-self, our social and cultural contexts. If we examine and reflect on the word ‘value’ closely, we can see that it contains that which we consider ‘beautiful’ and ‘good’, but these are spoken of ‘subjectively’; our values are what we ourselves create in our own willing. How we have come to understand the word “values” is its bringing to prominence in the writings of Nietzsche and how these were incorporated into the social sciences by Dilthey and others.

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 or ‘ends’. At the inception of modern scientific research four centuries ago (Galileo, Newton) this 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. four 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 or purpose, then we cannot know what any being is really fitted for, since ultimately there is nothing knowable into which anything should fit. As Sartre would say: “Existence precedes essence”. 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 or logos; or, for lack of a better word, we are capable of ‘thought’ or ‘thinking’. 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 for us 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, what was once understood as ‘natural law’ in the writings of the ancients. 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.  You can see that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger questions this view through his understanding of Being as ‘es gibt’, ‘it gives’. 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; the power of choice is limited to the empowerment of reason itself through its results i.e. there is no real ‘choice’ within this box. 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 as Socrates said, or the loss of our distinctive nature, is to put oneself altogether outside modern assumptions. One of the great questions, and a question that has almost disappeared for us, is whether or not we are our own as human beings. In today’s world, the answers to this question are not distinguishable whether one is listening to the thoughts of atheists or of religious thinkers.

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 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 i.e. that at the bottom of reason as a way of knowing or the principle of reason is a prior emotional response to how they, as human beings, experience their world). While emotions may be a key to self-understanding and to understanding the world, the extent to which emotions contribute to both can and should be explored and examined. Through this exploration and examining, 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. This confusion is illustrated in our ethics, the confusion of our actions in the world and how we should act.

Emotion as a WOK: Being-in-the-world as Care (Concern):

The first Learner Outcome of the IB Learner Profile that will be discussed is that the IB Learner should exhibit “caring” in their being-in-the-world.  Here, “being-in-the-world” is hyphenated to indicate that it is a “process”, not a static state of “being”. As can be seen from the introductory remarks to the writing (and to the blog overall), contemplation and charity as ends for human beings have been considered for many centuries in both the West and the East; and these ends have been seen to be in conflict with other ends throughout these centuries. This conflict can best be presented as the conflict between the life of theoria or ‘the seeing’ that manifests itself in contemplation (the life of philosophy as it was known to the ancients), and the life of praxis– the life of practical activity that manifests itself in caritas or charity or what we have come to call ethics. Discussions of this conflict are present in all the world’s great religions as part of their “religious knowledge systems”. It should be remembered that one of the primary reasons for the coming into being of the technological world-view was to make the practical activity of charity possible: that is, to give substance to our ideas of justice. If, as is stated in the writing Technology as a Way of Knowing,  poiesis may help and empower us to confront the unfolding of technology in its essence through our thinking by its being beyond or beneath the distinction of theory and praxis, is our thinking also untouched by the apparent split between poiesis and praxis or ethics?

What is Care? (Caring, Concern):

In thinking and reflecting on emotion as a way of knowing (and here we must try to make the vague term ‘emotion’ a little clearer), it is essential to understand the thinking that is present in the modern movement of thought known as existentialism. When one discusses “existentialism”, one must try to address the thought of Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher who died in 1976. Why Heidegger? Because Heidegger is the modern philosopher who has thought most pro-foundly (the looking-forward that establishes the ‘ground’ or foundation), most deeply, and most completely about the whole; and thinking about the whole is what “philosophy” is and what the aim of the TOK course is. TOK is a philosophy course; in fact it is the only philosophy course in the IB curriculum. What is called “philosophy” is the history of philosophy…and the history of philosophy is not philosophy itself.

Human being in the world depends on the relation between care, reality, and truth and how these are understood and have come to be understood. When we think of emotion as a way of knowing in relation to human being in the world, it is necessary to enter into a discussion of this way of knowing by thinking about the modern movement of philosophy called existentialism.

Heidegger uncovers the Being of Human Being (the living-human-being) as “care” [Sorge]: “Ahead-of-itself-Being- already-in-(the world) as Being-alongside (entities encountered within the world).”  The hyphens are used to indicate that this “care” is an essential unity that constitutes human being. Through his analysis of anxiety (angst) as a state-of-mind (comportment or emotion) which provides the phenomenal basis for explicitly grasping the whole of human being, Heidegger reveals Human Being’s Being to itself as care. Care is the response to anxiety.

Care is a word that has multiple meanings and possible emotional dispositions. All of these meanings are taken into account in Heidegger’s understanding of “care” as the Being of Human Being. One notices from the myth in the heading for this writing that Care is a thoughtful, meditative figure. It is not sufficient to think of ‘care’ as simply ‘worry’ or the ‘cares of the world’, etc. “Care” is also concerned with the “thoughtful, mindful” tending of the ‘other’ as it is experienced by human beings, whether this ‘other’ is other human beings or the environment and world about us.

“Falling”, explains Heidegger, is a turning-away or fleeing of Human Being into its “they-self.” This turning-away is grounded in anxiety (angst). Anxiety is what makes fear possible. Yet, unlike fear, in which that which threatens is other than Human Being, anxiety (angst) is characterized by the fact that what threatens is nowhere and nothing. In anxiety, Human Being is not threatened by a particular thing or a collection of objects present-at-hand. Being-in-the-world itself is that in the face of which anxiety is anxious. In anxiety, first and foremost, the world as world is disclosed as that which one can fall into. This ‘falling’ is experienced as “thrownness”.

Heidegger defined Being-in as “residing alongside” and “Being-familiar with.” This Being-in is understood in the everyday publicness of the “they” as a ‘Being-at-home,” a tranquillized self-assurance. However, as Human Being falls, anxiety brings it back from its absorption in the ‘world’ and “everyday familiarity collapses.” Thus, Human Being is individualized as Being-in-the-world; it is “my Human Being”. Being-in enters into the existential mode of the “not-at-home”, of uncanniness. “Being-not-at-home” is the basic kind of Being of Human Being, even though in an everyday way Human Being flees from this understanding in the tranquillized “at-homeness” of das Man, or the “publicness” of everydayness (think of our social networks, as an example). Yet, what is the nature of this uncanniness which pursues Human Being as the “they”?  Human Being, writes Heidegger, is uncanny in that uncanniness “lies in Human Being as thrown Being-in-the-world, which has been delivered over to itself in its Being.”

Human Being is tempted into the lostness of das Man (the “they”) by the tranquility which disburdens Human Being from having to face its own potentiality-for-Being, its empowering of itself. In its inauthentic tranquility, Human Being compares itself with everything and thereby drifts along towards an alienation in which its own potentiality-for-Being is hidden from it; we do not know who we are. Human Being engages in a downward plunge in which it becomes closed off from its authenticity and possibility. Human Being, as fallen, is characterized by idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity which involve a leveling down of all possibilities of Being. In idle talk, the “they” closes off the meaning and ground of what is talked about” (not getting into the “heaviness” of any interactions) so that discourse or the logos remains “concealed”. In curiosity, Human Being is constantly uprooting itself and concerned with the constant possibility of distraction. Our desire for novelty in our engagements with the world characterizes this state. As ambiguity, the “they” acts as though it “knows everything,” yet, at bottom, this understanding is superficial in that nothing is genuinely understood (this could be an analysis of the knowledge issues/questions which are present throughout the current structure of the TOK course and its assessments). The “they” is essentially death-evasive in that it conceals Human Being as Being-towards-death; as well as being evasive of the ‘good’, which in its recognition, places limits on our realization of our appetites and desires. Whether human beings in their essence are beings-toward-death as Heidegger would say or beings-toward-the-good as Socrates would say is a very difficult, problematic question.

Existentialism as Emotion as a Way of Knowing: Historical Background

What knowledge questions and knowledge issues does existentialism present to us when we try to think about emotion as a way of knowing? Existentialism, through the thinking of Heidegger, has reminded many people that thinking is incomplete and defective if the thinking being, the thinking individual, forgets himself as what he is. It is the old Socratic warning: know thyself. One might say that even Heidegger himself forgot this Socratic warning in 1933 when he aligned himself with the movement of National Socialism in Nazi Germany.

We can compare Theodorus in Plato’s Theatetus, (from where the definition of knowledge as ‘justified true belief’ derives) the purely theoretic, purely objective man who loses himself completely in the contemplation of mathematical objects, who knows nothing about himself and his fellow human beings, and in particular about his own defects. Blake’s painting of Newton is also an illustration of this purely theoretic man. In existentialism, the thinking or contemplative man is not a ‘pure mind’ (as in Descartes’ view), or a ‘pointer-reading’, ‘sign reading’ observer (as in the Aristotelian view), for instance. The question ‘what am I’ or ‘who am I’ cannot be answered by science, for this would mean that there are some self-forgetting Theodoruses and Newtons out there who have gotten hold of the limits of the human soul by means of the scientific method. For if they have not done so, if their scientific results are necessarily provisional, hypothetical, it may be possible that what we can find out by examining ourselves and our situation honestly, without the pride and the pretense of scientific knowledge given to us in the natural and human sciences, that this means and approach to Being (that is found in existentialism) is more helpful than science. In many cases science as we know it simply dismisses any notion of “soul”.

As we have seen in our other ways of knowing, our primary understanding of the world in the thinking of ‘existentialism’ is not an understanding of things as objects but of what the Greeks indicated by pragmata, things which we handle and use, or the ready-to-hand.

Knowledge Problems and Questions Arising From Existentialism:

Existentialism appeals to a certain experience or emotion (anxiety/dread) as the basic experience in the light of which everything must be understood. Having this experience is one thing; regarding it as the basic experience of human being is another thing. It is to say that doubt is the primary experience of human being. This experience’s basic character is not guaranteed by the experience itself. It can only be guaranteed by argument.  This argument may be invisible because it is implied in what is generally admitted in our time. What is generally admitted may imply, but only imply, a fundamental uneasiness which is vaguely felt but not faced. Given this context, the experience to which Existentialism refers will appear as a revelation (the moment-of-vision), as the revelation, as the authentic interpretation of the fundamental uneasiness.

But something more is required which, however, is equally generally admitted in our time: the vaguely felt uneasiness must be regarded as essential to man, and not only to present day man. Yet this vaguely felt uneasiness is distinctly a present day phenomenon which appears to have arisen from human beings’ basic experience of ‘rootlessness’ or ‘homelessness’. Let us assume however that this uneasiness embodies what all earlier ages have thought, and is the result of what earlier ages have thought; in that case the vaguely felt uneasiness is the mature fruit of all earlier human efforts: no return to an older interpretation of that uneasiness is possible. Now this is a second view generally accepted today (apart from the fundamental uneasiness which is vaguely felt but not faced); this second element is the belief in progress through the technological will to power. This fundamental uneasiness is projected in the attempts to secure human being in its beingness; it the root of technology and of technology as the highest form of will to power. It is experienced as the eternal recurrence of the Same.

You all know the assertion that value-judgments are impermissible to the scientist in general and to the social scientist in particular. This means certainly that while science has increased man’s power in ways that former human beings never dreamt of, it is absolutely incapable of telling human beings how to use that power. Science cannot tell us whether it is wiser to use that power wisely and beneficently or foolishly and devilishly. From this it follows that science is unable to establish its own meaningfulness or to answer the question whether and in what sense science is good. Science is only capable of finding its purpose in its applications or its ‘usefulness’.

We are then confronted with the enormous apparatus of the technological whose bulk is ever increasing, but which in itself has no meaning. Nietzsche defined this as the nihilism which is at the ground of modern science. If a scientist would say as Goethe’s Mephisto still said that science and reason is man’s highest power, he would be told that he was not talking as a scientist but was making a value judgment which from the point of view of science is altogether unwarranted. Einstein, in his debates with Heisenberg and Bohr,  had spoken of a flight from scientific reason. This flight is not due to any perversity but to science itself. I dimly remember the time when people argued as follows: to deny the possibility of science or rational value judgments means to admit that all values are of equal rank; and this means that respect for all values, universal tolerance, is the dictate of scientific reason. But this time has gone. Today we hear that no conclusion whatever can be drawn from the equality of all values; that science does not legitimate/legitimize nor indeed forbid that we should draw rational conclusions from scientific findings. The assumption that we should act rationally and therefore turn to science for reliable information is wholly outside of the purview and interest of science proper. The consequences of this thinking may account for the recent rise in populism and fascism in many countries in the world.

The flight from scientific reason is the consequence of the flight of science from reason, from the notion that man is a rational being who perverts his being if he does not act rationally. It goes without saying that a science which does not allow of value judgments has no longer any possibility of speaking of progress except in the humanly irrelevant sense of scientific progress: the concept of progress has accordingly been replaced by the concept of change or modification. If science or reason cannot answer the question of why science is good, of why sufficiently gifted and otherwise able people fulfill a duty in devoting themselves to science, science says in effect that the choice of science is not rational: one may choose with equal right other pleasing and satisfying myths. The primary difference is that studying science pays well.

Furthermore, science no longer conceives itself as the perfection of the human understanding; it admits that it is based on fundamental hypotheses which will always remain hypotheses (Popper, et. al.). The whole structure of science does not rest on evident necessities. If this is so, the choice of the scientific orientation is as groundless as the choice of any alternative orientation. But what else does this mean except that the reflective scientist discovers as the ground of his science and his choice of science a groundless choice, an abyss. For a scientific interpretation of the choice of the scientific orientation, on the one hand, and the choice of alternative orientations, on the other, presupposes already the acceptance of the scientific orientation, the technological world-view. The fundamental freedom is the only non-hypothetical phenomenon. Everything else rests on that fundamental freedom. With this, we are already in the midst of Existentialism, and the next step is decisionism. 

The uneasiness which today is felt but not faced can be expressed by a single word: relativism. Existentialism admits the truth of relativism but it realizes that relativism, so far from being a solution or even a relief, is deadly. Friedrich Nietzsche said of Darwin that his thinking was “true but deadly”.  Existentialism is the reaction of serious men to their own relativism.

Existentialism begins then with the realization that at the ground of all objective, rational knowledge we discover an abyss. This is found most clearly and most profoundly in Nietzsche’s writings. All truth, all meaning is seen in the last analysis to have no support except man’s freedom. Objectively, there is in the last analysis only meaninglessness, nothingness. This nothingness can be experienced in anguish or angst, but this experience cannot find an objective expression because it cannot be made in detachment from human being-in-the-world.

Human Being freely originates meaning; he originates the horizon, the absolute presupposition, the ideal, the projection and project within which understanding and life are possible. Man is man by virtue of such a horizon-forming project, of an unsupported project, of a thrown project. More precisely man always lives already within such a horizon without being aware of its character; he takes his world as simply given; i.e. he has lost himself; but he can call himself back from his lostness and take the responsibility for what he was in a lost, inauthentic way. Man is essentially a social being: to be a human being means to be with other human beings. To be in an authentic way means to be in an authentic way with others: to be true to oneself is incompatible with being false to others. Thus, there would seem to exist the possibility of an existentialist ethics which would have to be, however, a strictly formal ethics. However this may be, Heidegger never believed in the possibility of an ethics.

It becomes necessary to make as fully explicit as possible the character of human existence; to raise the question what is human existence; and to bring to light the essential structures of human existence. This inquiry is called by Heidegger analytics of Existenz. Heidegger conceived of the analytics of Existenz from the outset as the fundamental ontology. This means he took up again Plato’s and Aristotle’s question ‘what is being?’  ‘What is that by virtue of which any being is said to be?’ Heidegger agreed with Plato and Aristotle not only as to this, that the question of what is to be is the fundamental question; he also agreed with Plato and Aristotle that the fundamental question must be primarily addressed to that being which is in the most emphatic or the most authoritative way i.e. the human being. Yet, while according to Plato and Aristotle to be in the highest sense means to be always (or, later in Nietzsche, the eternal recurrence of the same), Heidegger contends that to be in the highest sense means to exist, that is to say, to be in the manner in which man is: to be in the highest sense is constituted by mortality.

[1] The reason for the incompleteness of this unit is that it is the most difficult to write, perhaps because it is the most important and in it one has to confront the most important and profound questions. In attempting to look at Emotion as a way of knowing and the grounding of it in the IB Learner Profile and to make connections to the thinking that goes on elsewhere in the course materials is a challenge that still lies ahead. For now, this constitutes ‘rough notes’ towards an understanding of emotion as a way of knowing.

[2]  The classic paper is Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen, “Constants across Cultures in  the Face and Emotion,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 17(2) (1971), pp. 124–39.  For a recent reaffirmation, see Marc D. Pell et al., “Recognizing Emotions in a Foreign Language,” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 33(2) (2009), pp. 107–120: “Expressions of basic emotions (joy, sadness, fear, disgust) can be recognized pan-culturally for the face.” (from the article Abstract, p. 107). For a recent critique, see Ruth Leys, “How Did Fear Become a Scientific Entity and What Kind of Entity Is It?” Representations no. 110 (2010): 66-104.

 

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 current view of the Arts and their judgements is what is known as “aestheticism” and it occurred simultaneously with the viewing of the world as “object”.

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 Greeks wept when the Romans robbed them of their art. Is there anything about our art which would cause us to weep for its disappearance?

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.

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.

 

 

Theory of Knowledge: An Alternative Approach

Why is an alternative approach necessary?

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