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MODERN PHILOSOPHY: A FRAMEWORK
Modern philosophy is a type of philosophy which originated in Western Europe in the 17th century, 1600 to 1700. It is now common worldwide, throughout the global community of professional and academic philosophers. This world of, and the term, 'modern philosophy' is not a specific doctrine or school, and should not be confused with terms like 'modernism' or 'modernity'. Before providing an overview of modern philosophy, an overview which readers can access at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_philosophy , I want to clear-up the ambiguities associated, for many readers who have little to no background in philosophy, with the terms modernism and modernity, terms which need to be put to the side when examining an introduction to modern philosophy. As this page goes on, I also attempt to clear-up other ambiguities associated with modern philosophy, and the various terms which I have found, as both a student and a teacher of philosophy, confuse people who want to get a handle on the field of philosophy. There are many things which turn people away from the study of philosophy and one of those things is the complexity of the language.
'Modernism', in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term 'modernism' describes the modernist movement in the arts, its set of cultural tendencies and associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term 'modernity' should also not be confused with the term 'modern philosophy.' For an overview of modernism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernism
'Modernity', as a term, typically refers to a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period, one marked by the move from feudalism, or agrarianism, toward capitalism, industrialization, secularization, rationalization, the nation-state and its constituent institutions and forms of surveillance. I encourage readers with an interest in these terms, and an interest in the content and context of 'modern philosophy' to Google to their heart's content starting with 'modernity': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernity
There are certain topics found in modern philosophy which help to distinguish it from earlier philosophy, philosophy before 1600(circa). Some of the major sub-sections of modern philosophy include:
1.3 Political philosophy
1.8 Analytic philosophy
It is impossible to adhere to the Socratic dictum, "Know thyself!" This is especially true, if one knows nothing else.-Henry David Aiken, The Age of Ideology: The 19th Century Philosophers, A Mentor Book, 1956, p.ix.
The 19th century philosophers became involved in a gigantic task of ideological and cultural reconstruction....They were involved in a prolonged crisis of reason, more profound than any that had occurred in Western culture since the original collision of paganism with primitive Christianity. -ibid., p.26.
ALBERT SCHWEITZER: A MODERN PHILOSOPHER
Albert Schweitzer(1875-1965) was a German—and later French—theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary in Africa, also known for his historical work on Jesus. He was born in the province of Alsace-Lorraine, at that time part of the German Empire, though he considered himself French and wrote mostly in French. For an overview of his life go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Schweitzer In addition to being a theologian, minister, and concert organist, Schweitzer was also a philosopher. Yet today, his philosophy has been forgotten. When he went to Africa, it became easy to tuck him away as a convenient symbol of humanitarian sacrifice, and to ignore the bothersome notions which had shocked thinkers of his day: Schweitzer argued as early as 1900, that civilization was already dead, and that we live in a barbarous society.
In arguing as Schweitzer does, he anticipated much of Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man, and C. Wright Mill's ideas, as well as the decline which now besets our society. In 1923 he published, The Philosophy of Civilization. While many of Schweitzer's ideas are quaint, seemingly outmoded, even naive, they contain a profound nature. In an age when "civilization" is either vilified as hierarchical, exploitive and environmentally unsound, or it is reduced to a sociological examination of cities, it may help to know that, at least according to Schweitzer, we are beating the wrong dead horse. Schweitzer argues that the concept of civilization has been forgotten, and the material infrastructure which accompanied it historically has been put over as the thing itself.
Schweitzer's philosophy is divided into two parts, The Decay and Restoration of Civilization (also published as a single volume by Unwin books) and Civilization and Ethics. In part I, Schweitzer argues that we live in a barbarous society because the concept of civilization has been forgotten. The notion has become confused with the trappings of the material infrastructure of civilization; the "modern" industrialized world of technological production. But, civilization is not merely in-door plumbing, telephones, and sky scrappers, it is a notion built on ethical assumptions. In part II, Civilization and Ethics, Schweitzer deals with a long and detailed analysis of the failure of ethical thinking which led to the decline of civilization.
Schweitzer defines Civilization as "the sum-total of progress made by `mankind' in every sphere of action and from every point of view, in so far as this progress is serviceable for the spiritual perfecting of the individual. It's essential element...is the ethical perfecting of the individual and the community". This definition, is fraught with the baggage of a terminology long outdated, and laced with the metaphysical assumptions of an age which we are coming no longer to understand. Nevertheless, it encodes the philosophical givens of Schweitzer's day ("progress," "individual," "spiritual"); they are anathema in our time. Rather than try and unpack these definitions at this point, because that would require unraveling an entire world view, it would be better to use them operationally at the moment, and to explain Schweitzer's use of them in the context of his notion of civilization. For more go to: http://www.datawranglers.com/negations/
THE MENTOR PHILOSOPHERS
The Mentor Philosophers was a series of 6 books each covering a period of philosophical thought, published by the New American Library. Each book was edited by an esteemed contemporary philosophy academic and contained analysis of a group of philosophers from a chosen period. The series was very influential during the 1950s and 1960s, and it went a number of editions in paperback. Literary historian Gilbert Highet called it a "very important & interesting series." I came across this series in 1964-5 when I was a student at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario majoring in history and philosophy. The series again came to my attention in the 1970s when I was a tutor and lecturer in several of the humanities and social sciences. I was far from absorbing their content because: (a) these books were just part of my exposure, as an academic generalist, to many fields of knowledge as a teacher & tutor, lecturer & adult educator, & (b) there were other series in philosophy, to say nothing of major texts and works by the philosophers themselves. Now, again, in my retirement, in these first decades of the 21st century, this series serves as a useful resource.
The 6 books include:
(i) The Age of Belief 1954, by Anne Fremantle: St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Boethius, Erigena,Anselm, Abelard, Bonaventure, Averroes--The Medieval Philosophers
(ii) The Age of Adventure 1956 by Giorgio de Santillana: Nicholas of Cusa, Da Vinci, Thomas More, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Erasmus, Martin Luther, Albrecht Dürer, Copernicus, Montaigne, Kepler, Jakob Böhme, Galileo, Richard Hakluyt, Giordano Bruno--The Renaissance Philosophers
(iii) The Age of Reason 1956 by Stuart Hampshire: Francis Bacon, Pascal, Hobbes, Galileo, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz--The 17th century philosophers
(iv) The Age of Enlightenment 1956 by Isaiah Berlin: John Locke, Voltaire, George Berkeley, David Hume, Thomas Reid, Condillac, La Mettrie, Johann Georg Hamann, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg--The 18th century philosophers
(v) The Age of Ideology 1956 by Henry David Aiken: Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Auguste Comte, Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Ernst Mach, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard--The 19th century philosophers
(vi) The Age of Analysis 1955 by Morton White Peirce: Whitehead, James, Edmund Husserl, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, Croce, Wittgenstein, Bergson, Rudolf Carnap, Sartre, Santayana--The 20th century philosophers
Of the above books, the one I enjoyed the most, and continued to read more than the others, was The Age of Ideology by Henry David Aiken. Aiken was a retired professor of philosophy at Brandeis University when he died at the age of 69 in 1982. He was the author of 15 books and an authority on esthetics and ethics; he lived in Cambridge, Mass. and was the Charles Goldman Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas. He also taught courses on the philosophy of history, modern ethics and European and American existentialism. He taught philosophy at Harvard University for 19 years. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and also taught philosophy at Columbia Unversity and the University of Washington in the mid-1940's.
MODERNISM AND POSTMODERNISM
Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped Modernism was the development of modern industrial societies & the rapid growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainties of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief. For more on modernism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernism
Postmodernism is a late-20th-century movement in the arts, architecture, and criticism that was a departure from modernism. Postmodernism includes skeptical interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, history, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism. It is often associated with deconstruction and post-structuralism because its usage as a term gained significant popularity at the same time as twentieth-century post-structural thought. For more go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism Readers might like to go to the following two links to get an introduction to (i) deconstruction & (ii) post-structuralism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism
POSTMODERNISM: 1995 TO 2015
The last 20 years, 1995 to 2015, have seen tremendous change across the board of the human and social sciences. Back in 1995 postmodernism was part of my agenda as a lecturer in sociological theory and literary criticism at what is now a polytechnic in Western Australia. Ancient certainties, trusted ideologies & tested methods had all been coming under immense pressure as so-called 'postmodern' ideas & concepts were slowly gaining wider currency particularly among those with an interest in social theory. I had taken an interest in social theory as far back as my four years at university in the 1960s, but my interest needed much time and much reading to begin to really get a handle on the content of social theory. By the 1990s I had taken a special interest in this field as a lecturer in various aspects of social theory at the Thornlie campus of a technical and further education college, what is now a polytechnic in Perth Western Australia.
No longer content with framing social reality according to the logic of one core metaphor, or one metanarrative, the human & social sciences were rediscovering the local particularity, as opposed to the universality, of truth. Hitherto a general explanation, what some had called a metanarrative, was deemed sufficient. The revitalizing and formative power of 'space' was acknowledged once again. More than ten years into the general debate around postmodernism which began back in the 1980s, students & teachers, lecturers & professors, began to assess the impact of postmodernism and the spatial social sciences. As a lecturer in the field I did not aim at solving contradictions and differences within the debate since such an effort would be both fruitless & immature; rather, I tried to understand the diversity of interpretations that had come about by the mutual discovery of postmodern discourses and human geography since the mid 1980s. My study of human geography had come a long way since my first contact with this field in 1963/4. For the online journal entitled: Postmodern Culture go to: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/postmodern_culture/
Celebrations of postmodernity, the insistence of a continuation of modernity, interpretations of globally-emerging postmodern spaces, even the call for an analysis of hypermodernity, began to coexist. A new discursive agenda for the spatial human sciences had been slowly emerging. This did not pave the way for a new orthodoxy, but simply allowed for the recognition of new ideas taking root in the academic environment of the 1990s. A book of 420 pages, Space and Social Theory : Interpreting Modernity and Postmodernity by Georges Benko, the editor, came out in 1997. Ulf Strohmayer, one of the contributors, was at once critical, provocative and accessible. The book was widely welcomed by advanced students of spatial and social theory in geography and related disciplines. The book was certainly welcomed by me. Go to this link for a recent collection of essays: http://www.erraticimpact.com/~20thcentury/html/postmodernism.htm
In 1996 in Negations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Social Thought in a paper entitled "Beyond Figuration, Below the Threshold: Some Observations on Postmodernism and the Sublime" Nicoletta Pireddu wrote as follows: "Hegel's Aesthetics marks a decisive turning point in the relationship between the beautiful and the sublime, with important consequences for the conception and the role of the work of art in the modern age. The inhibition of mental faculties vis-à-vis the vastness of nature, the tension between attraction and repulsion entailed by the unknown and the incommensurable, the feeling of awe for that which exceeds human limits: these are all threats to Hegel's aspiration to totality. Swerving from the standpoints of Burke and Kant, the Hegelian sublime unfolds a harmful infinity: any experience beyond figuration is negative since it makes perceivers powerless by compromising their expressive abilities. No longer a source of powerful emotions, nature is precisely the main obstacle to human superiority, the enemy against which the spirit struggles. Civilization attests to the victory of freedom over blind necessity, becoming a tangible sign of mankind's successful appropriation of the phenomenal realm." Pireddu's language is difficult and complex as is the language of many writers about postmodernism.
"The liberation of the spirit," she continued, "from the constraints of nature goes hand in hand with the development of representation. This is the reason why within the realm of art the presentable must prevail upon the unpresentable, and the finite must encompass the infinite. Art accomplishes a miracle of ideality whenever the depth of spiritual signification penetrates the exteriority and materiality of the object, that is, whenever the internal content of the spirit finds an adequate form in the sensible world. The work of art is generated by the encounter of the individual and particular character of nature with the universality of aesthetic representation. If the idea is in perfect harmony with the concrete reality of its form, the work embodies artistic beauty. We can therefore understand why Hegel confines the sublime to the lowest, hence most primitive, of 3 progressively ascending artistic levels, which he defines respectively as symbolic, classical and romantic art. The symbolic age which for Hegel is typical of Oriental civilizations represents the strife of art simultaneously against a content it cannot master & against an unsuitable sensible form."
I suggest to readers that, after reading the following paragraph, they go to the link I provide. "The association of form and content provided by the symbol," wrote Pireddu, "is in fact abstract and unstable: thus it materializes a world of pure inventions but creates no authentically beautiful work of art. In the aesthetics of the sublime, in particular, signification exceeds objective reality & makes the latter appear as a subordinate and unworthy entity. Any attempt to express a substance that is inaccessible to concrete intuition entails the disappearance of expression itself. Hegel thus sets up a contrast between, on the one hand, the inability to represent infinity through artistic objectivity and, on the other hand, the peaceful balance of form and content that characterizes the totality of classical art. It is by achieving such completeness that the work of art can attain a more advanced stage in the evolution of the spirit. In this process, Hegel shifts from the negative sublimity of Indian art and of Hebrew poetry which is founded precisely upon the recognition of human defectiveness vis-à-vis an unrepresentable and ineffable divinity to the absorption of the ideal and excess within finitude. Greek art incarnates the essence of the beautiful: its calm and its unalterable happiness are the result of a perfect accord of the idea with its sensible manifestation." For more go to: http://www.datawranglers.com/negations/
PHILOSOPHY AND GUN CONTROL
Philosophy & Gun Control is an essay by Christopher A. Riddle of Utica College. Chris Riddle received his Ph.D. from Queen's University at Kingston. He specializes in Applied Ethics especially philosophical issues arising from the experience of disability, & Social & Political Philosophy (especially the Capabilities Approach). He has conducted research at the Swiss Paraplegic Research Institute in Nottwil, Switzerland and has also advised for numerous national and international institutions, some of which include Health Canada, The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, The National Disability Authority of Ireland, and The International Development Committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.
This issue of the online journal Essays in Philosophy explores the difficult and thorny subject of gun control. The impetus for proposing this issue was the lack of critical and reflective philosophical dialogue on the subject and what I viewed to be an increased need for engagement in a rational and measured debate about the ethics of owning guns and the permissibility of regulating or restricting their ownership. Typical treatments of the topic engage with the conflict between individual rights of autonomy and self-defense and collective rights of freedom from assault and violence. There are also conflicting claims about the ideal way to protect individuals in a society. Some suggest that more private ownership of guns increases collective security and decreases crime, while others suggest the contrary: the presence of more guns decreases safety and increases the possibility of violent crime. More generally, there is a concern about the obligation of the state and its institutions in assuring autonomy rights, social security, and individual protection. There are six essays in this collection and the essayists reside in four different countries. They offer wide-ranging insights that will serve to advance this discussion in an interesting and productive manner. For more go to: http://commons.pacificu.edu/eip/vol16/iss2/ & to http://commons.pacificu.edu/cgi/viewcontent
DECONSTRUCTION AND HERMENEUTICS
Deconstruction is a form of philosophical and literary analysis derived principally from Jacques Derrida's 1967 work Of Grammatology. In the 1980s it designated more loosely a range of theoretical enterprises in diverse areas of the humanities and social sciences, including, in addition to philosophy and literature, law, anthropology, historiography, linguistics, sociolinguistics, psychoanalysis, political theory, feminism, and gay and lesbian studies. Deconstruction still has a major influence in the academe of Continental Europe & South America where Continental philosophy is predominant, particularly in debates around ontology, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, hermeneutics, and the philosophy of language. It also influenced architecture (in the form of deconstructivism), music, art, and art critics. Deconstruction pursues a decentering, separatist, function; hermeneutics works towards dialogue, conversation, and reconciliation. I also discuss deconstruction in the "modern literature" sub-section of this website at: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/Literature-Modern.html
For more on hermeneutics go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeneutics ; on deconstruction http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction Readers unfamiliar with both these terms really must do some reading at these two links to even begin to get a handle on these oft'-used words in the field of Lit Crit, modern literature and modern philosophy. I leave this to readers with the interest.
STRUCTURALISM AND POST-STRUCTURALISM
Structuralism is an intellectual movement which developed in Europe from the early to mid-20th century. It argued that human culture may be understood by means of a structure and modeled on language. Structural linguistics provided that language. Structuralism differs from concrete reality and from abstract ideas. It is a "third order" that mediates between concrete reality & abstract ideas. Post-structuralism is a label formulated by American academics to denote the heterogeneous works of a series of French & continental mid- 20th-century philosophers & critical theorists who came to international prominence in the 1960s & '70s. A major theme of post-structuralism is instability in the human sciences. This instability is due to the complexity of humans themselves, and the impossibility of fully escaping structures in order to study them.
Post-structuralism is a response to structuralism. Post-structuralist authors all present different critiques of structuralism, but common themes include: (i) the rejection of the self-sufficiency of the structures that structuralism posits and (ii) an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute those structures. Writers whose work is often characterised as post-structuralist include Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Jacques Lacan, Jean Baudrillard, and Julia Kristeva. Many theorists who have been called "post-structuralist" have rejected the label. For more on post-structuralism go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism I discuss Kristeva below due to my recent interest in her work and several of her ideas such as: the need for a corpus mysticum, the need to go deeper into creative experience and to work on the self, the investment of self in other, identity crisis, the dehumanizing affects of secularization, inter alia.
Kristeva(1941- ) is a Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, sociologist, feminist, and, most recently, novelist, who has lived in France since the mid-1960s. She is now a Professor at the University Paris Diderot. Kristeva became influential in international critical analysis, cultural theory and feminism after publishing her first book Semeiotikè in 1969. Her sizable body of work includes books & essays which address intertextuality, the semiotic, and abjection, in the fields of linguistics, literary theory and criticism, psychoanalysis, biography and autobiography, political and cultural analysis, art and art history. Together with: Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, Lucien Goldmann, Gérard Genette, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Algirdas Julien Greimas, and Louis Althusser, among other, she stands as one of the foremost structuralists, in that time when structuralism took a major place in humanities. Her works also have an important place in post-structuralist thought.
Kristeva, unlike Derrida, is aware in some ways of a distinctly feminine aspect to the spiritual deprivation associated with the contemporary era, in particular in her analysis of language. Following the work of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, Kristeva identifies language, the realm of the symbolic, with the authority of the father and the institutions of society in general. The child turns to these authority figures as a substitute for physical and psychic closeness to the mother. Unlike Lacan, however, Kristeva theorizes that language is not just a substitute for closeness to the mother. She asserts that language also contains a primal, physical quality. It contains not just abstract meaning but sounds and rhythm that connect it to our physical sense of self and our earliest physical connection to the mother, both before birth in the womb and after birth through being carried, sung to, and rocked.
Thus through this “semiotic” dimension of language, which ties language to our earliest relation with the mother, Kristeva finds a connection between mothering and the physical properties of language. For Kristeva, however, it is almost impossible to recapture this hidden connection to the mother through language. Kristeva is too aware of the difficulties and dangers involved in the mother-child relationship, specifically the difficulties involved in the child’s separation from the mother, both psychically and physically. She defines this separation in terms of setting boundaries between oneself and the mother. She defines the fear of crossing that boundary between the self and the mother: (i) as giving rise to a sense of confusion about the limits of one’s identity, and (ii) as the source of the feeling of separation or nothingness. Kristeva, like Derrida, is not easy reading and only readers with the interest and the persistence to wade through her writing are advised to go down that path of analysis and potential understanding. I have only begun my study of her ideas in the last decade. Her views are just one of many sources I draw on to articulate my own views.
In her book, Powers of Horror (1980), she identifies the attempt to control one's fear of being loathsome, of being undifferentiated, or of being nothing with the rise of religions. In the West this rise took the form of the three major monotheistic religions. This fear was controlled, argues Kristeva, with the prohibitions of Judaism, the internalized prohibitions that constitute the sense of sin in Christianity, and with other factors in Islam. Kristeva & Derrida both see these religions in modern society as illusions and no longer as possessing their power to absolve sin among other powers that they had in the past. The only recourse for the modern individual is a hedonistic materialism, a meaninglessness, a cry of loathsomeness & horror which is found in modern literature and a speaking of one’s self-horror and confusion to the therapist (Powers of Horror 133, 209). For more of this analysis go to: http://bahai-studies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/9.4-Sternberg-Perrakis.pdf , and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Kristeva
For her "innovative explorations of questions on the intersection of language, culture & literature", Kristeva was awarded the Holberg International Memorial Prize in 2004. She won the 2006 Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought. To her admirers, Julia Kristeva is one of the heroic band of French critics who injected "theory" into the sluggish Anglo-Saxon cultural bloodstream. To diehards on the other side, she is a prime exponent of impenetrable and unnecessary critical complexities. Some see her as somewhat crazy or "bonkers". One critic suggested she should get a Nobel prize. For an overview of Kristeva and her work in The Guardian in 2006 go to: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2006/mar/14/highereducation.research1
Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception & consideration. As moral relativism, the term is often used in the context of moral principles, where principles & ethics are regarded as applicable in only limited contexts. There are many forms of relativism which vary in their degree of controversy. The term often refers to 'truth' relativism which is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths; that is, that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture, cultural relativism.
The term "relativism" often comes up in debates over postmodernism, post-structuralism & phenomenology. Critics of these perspectives often identify advocates with the label "relativism"; for example, the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is often considered a relativist view because it posits that linguistic categories and structures shape the way people view the world. Stanley Fish has defended postmodernism and relativism. For more go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relativism#Postmodernism_and_relativism
MY TIME AS A STUDENT AND TEACHER OF PHILOSOPHY
Go to this link for an outline of my experience teaching philosophy and studying it over 60 years, from 1955 to 2015: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/PHILOSOPHY.html
THE TIME FRAME FOR MODERN PHILOSOPHY
The 17th and early 21st centuries roughly mark the beginning and the end of modern philosophy. How much if any of the Renaissance, that cultural movement which spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Florence in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe---which should be included under the umbrella of modern philosophy is a matter for dispute. In a similar sense 'modernity' may or may not have ended in the twentieth century, and may have been replaced by 'postmodernity'. How one decides these questions will determine the scope of one's use of the term 'modern philosophy'. Despite the pervasive and dominant presence of 'modernity' as a term, a concept, in all walks of life, there is little agreement over the formal definition of this common term, and far less about the presumed reality to which it refers.
Admittedly, the term 'modernity' appears to accommodate, rather generously, ambiguities and contradictions, yet it is not, wholly arbitrary or incoherent, or necessarily vague. One way to define 'modernity' might be to contrast it with other epochs: archaic or ancient, primitive or premodern. I examine my experience and my reading as the basis, as the key, to my particular understanding of 'modernity'. This is my MO, so to speak. It is through forms of my understanding peculiar to the modern age that I try to capture the core of what 'modernity' consists of and means. As I sift the term 'modernity' through my forms of understanding, I see modernity as a term whose salient features are autonomy, creativity, and freedom.
Generally, for my purposes, it is the category of experience, or more precisely ‘the sovereignty of experience’, that epitomises 'modernity'. That is, there is no higher authority than human experience. In contrast to the pre-modern world, experience is no longer subordinate to extra-empirical or mysterious divine reality. Mountains and monkeys, for example, have an objective mode of existence since their being does not depend on being experienced by a subject. But: emotions, feelings, intentions, and so on, as well as perceptions and ideas, are all examples of subjective states; they have a subjective mode of existence. They exist only as experienced by some human or other conscious subject. Subjective states have what one might call a first-person ontology: they exist only from the point of view of some self, agent or organism that has them. For a more detailed discussion here go to:http://www.minerva.mic.ul.ie//vol7/modernity.pdf
There is a convention in the study of philosophy to refer to the philosophy of the Renaissance(1300-1600) prior to René Descartes(1596-1650) as "Early Modern Philosophy." Twentieth-century philosophy, or sometimes just philosophy since Wittgenstein(1889-1951), is often referred to as "contemporary philosophy." This is the framework I use for my focus on the history of modern philosophy. It begins with Descartes and goes through to the early twentieth century ending with Ludwig Wittgenstein. Contemporary philosophy is the philosophy of the last six decades: 1952 to 2013.
The years 1952-1953 marked a turning point in modern physiology, medicine and biology. This, of course, has nothing to do with philosophy; it is just interesting to me as a piece of synchronicity. James D. Watson and Francis Crick suggested what is now accepted as the first correct double-helix model of DNA structure in the journal Nature. Their double-helix molecular model of DNA was then based on a single X-ray diffraction image taken by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling in May 1952, as well as the information that the DNA bases are paired. In 1962, after Franklin's death, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Nobel Prizes were awarded only to living recipients at the time. A debate continues about who should receive credit for the discovery.
René Descartes(1596-1650) was a French philosopher, mathematician, andscientist who spent most of his life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the father of modern philosophy, and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day. In particular, his Meditations on First Philosophy continues to be a standard text at most university philosophy departments. Descartes's influence in mathematics is equally apparent; the Cartesian coordinate system — allowing reference to a point in space as a set of numbers, and allowing algebraic equations to be expressed as geometric shapes in a two- or three-dimensional coordinate system (and conversely, shapes to be described as equations) — was named after him. He is credited as the father of analytical geometry, the bridge between algebra and geometry, crucial to the discovery ofinfinitesimal calculus and analysis. Descartes was also one of the key figures in the scientific revolution and has been described as an example of genius.
Descartes refused to accept the authority of previous philosophers, and refused to trust his own senses. He frequently set his views apart from those of his predecessors. In the opening section of the Passions of the Soul, a treatise on the early modern version of what are now commonly called emotions, Descartes goes so far as to assert that he will write on this topic "as if no one had written on these matters before". Many elements of his philosophy have precedents in late Aristotelianism, the revived Stoicism of the 16th century, or in earlier philosophers like Augustine. In his natural philosophy, he differs from the schools on two major points: First, he rejects the splitting ofcorporeal substance into matter and form; second, he rejects any appeal to final ends—divine or natural—in explaining natural phenomena. In his theology, he insists on the absolute freedom of God's act of creation. For a u-tube item on Descartes go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAjWUrwvxs4&feature=em-subs_digest
Evolutionary philosophy applies findings from the study of our shared evolutionary history to the shared eternal questions that are asked in philosophy. While there are many thinkers who do this, there are surprisingly few, if any, who use this exact terminology to label their thinking. Evolutionary theory is a scientific theory dealing with scientific data, not a system of metaphysical beliefs or a religion. It does, however, set the sorts of general problems biology deals with, and also acts as a philosophical attitude in dealing with complex change. Some claim that evolution is a metaphysic equivalent to a religion. To attack evolution, these critics feel the need to present it not as just a scientific theory, but as a world view that competes with the world views of the objectors. For example: "When we discuss creation/evolution, we are talking about beliefs: i.e. religion. The controversy is not religion versus science, it is religion versus religion, and the science of one religion versus the science of another." "It is crucial for creationists that they convince their audience that evolution is not scientific, because both sides agree that creationism is not." For a series of papers on evolutionary philosophy, and a directory which contains links to quality resources relating to the philosophical implications of the theory of evolution go to: http://evolutionary-philosophy.net/library.html
Metaphysics is the name given to a branch of philosophical thought that deals with issues of the fundamental nature of reality and what is beyond experience. It literally means "after the physics", so-named because Aristotle's book on the subject followed his 'Physics'. His Physics dealt with the nature of the ordinary world, which in classical Greek was and is 'physike.' It is defined in the 1994 Webster's Dictionary(Brittanica CD edition) as "a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being; that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology. Ontology deals with abstract philosophical studies, and is a study of what is outside objective experience". Metaphysical systems come in three main flavors: (i) philosophical systems, that is, overall systems such as Kant's or Hegel's, or more recently Whitehead's or Collingwood's; (ii) ideologies which are usually political, moral or other practical philosophical systems; and (iii) religions which in their theologies attempt to create comprehensive philosophical structures.
A metaphysic is often derived from first principles by logical analysis. Aristotle, for example, started with an analysis of "being" and "becoming", that is, what is and how it changes. Kant started with an analysis of knowledge of the external world, & Hegel with an analysis of historical change. Religious metaphysics often attempt to marry a philosophical system with basic theses about the nature and purpose of God, derived from an authoritative scripture or revelation. For more go to: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/metaphysics.html For an outline and a series of papers on evolutionary philosophy go to: http://www.evolutionary-philosophy.net/
Michel Foucault(1926-1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, philologist and literary critic. His theories addressed the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions. Though often cited as a post-structuralist and postmodernist, Foucault rejected these labels, preferring to present his thought as a critical history of modernity. His thought has been highly influential both for academic and for some activist groups. For an overview of Foucault's life and work go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault Born in Poitiers France into an upper-middle-class family, Foucault was educated at the Lycée Henri-IV, and then at the École Normale Supérieure, where he developed an interest in philosophy. There he came under the influence of his tutors Jean Hyppolite and Louis Althusser. After several years as a cultural diplomat abroad, he returned to France and published his first major book, The History of Madness. After obtaining work between 1960 & 1966 at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, he produced 2 more significant publications, The Birth of the Clinic & The Order of Things. These two books displayed his increasing involvement with structuralism, a theoretical movement in social anthropology from which he later distanced himself. These first three histories exemplified a historiographical technique Foucault was developing which he called "archaeology", not to be confused with the academic discipline of archaeology.
From 1966 to 1968, Foucault lectured at the University of Tunis, Tunisia, before returning to France, where he became head of the philosophy department at the new experimental university of Paris VIII. In 1970 he was admitted to the Collège de France, membership of which he retained until his death. He also became active in a number of left-wing groups involved in anti-racist campaigns, anti-human rights abuses movements, and the struggle for penal reform. He went on to publish The Archaeology of Knowledge, Discipline and Punish, & The History of Sexuality. In these books he developed archaeological and genealogical methods which emphasized the role which power plays in the evolution of discourse in society. Foucault died in Paris of neurological problems compounded by HIV/AIDS; he became the first public figure in France to die from the disease, and his partner Daniel Defert founded the AIDES charity in his memory. A generation ago, Foucault’s untimely death meant that his final genealogical investigations were never transformed into published monographs. However, with the publication of his last 3 years of lectures at the College de France, new insights have been revealed about the self in Antiquity and the present day. Specifically, the following paper argues that Foucault’s final investigations reveal: (i) a theorization of the Hellenistic self which “cares for itself” so as to gain “access to the truth” from within an existing “agonistic” field; (ii) an oppositional “standpoint” self which goes beyond those found in the phenomenological, anti-sociology tradition; and (iii) Foucault’s apparent acknowledgement that he had tacitly “cared for himself”at: https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/
For a u-tube on Foucault go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBJTeNTZtGU&feature=em-subs_digest
CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY: A SECOND VIEW
Contemporary philosophy is the present period in the history of Western philosophy beginning at the end of the 19th century with the professionalization of the discipline and the rise of analytic and continental philosophy. The phrase "contemporary philosophy" is a piece of technical terminology in philosophy that refers to a specific period in the history of Western philosophy. However, the phrase is often confused with modern philosophy (which refers to an earlier period in Western philosophy), postmodern philosophy (which refers to continental philosophers' criticisms of modern philosophy), and with a non-technical use of the phrase referring to any recent philosophic work. For a more detailed view of contemporary philosophy go to this link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemporary_philosophy
MAJOR FIGURES IN MODERN PHILOSOPHY: two groups
The major figures in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and metaphysics during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the period from 1600 to 1800, are roughly divided into two main groups. First, the "Rationalists," mostly in France and Germany, assumed that all knowledge must begin from certain innate ideas in the mind. Major rationalists were Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and Nicolas Malebranche. Second, the "Empiricists," by contrast, held that knowledge must begin with sensory experience. Major figures in this line of thought were John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. The philosopher Immanuel Kant(1724-1804) established these two categories.
Ethics and political philosophy are usually not subsumed under these categories, though all these philosophers dealt with ethics in their own distinctive styles. Other important figures in political philosophy from this period include: Thomas Hobbes(1588-1679) & Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1788). I deal with the subject of politics and political philosophy in the latter half of the sub-section of this website dealing with "Philosophy: Introduction" at this link:http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/PHILOSOPHY.html
Readers who want to get a grounding in modern philosophy for this period: 1600 to 1800 are encouraged to Google the names I have mentioned above. There is a very wide-ranging list of philosophers from the Western traditions of philosophy. Included in this list are not only philosophers, like Socrates and Plato, but also those who have had a marked importance upon the philosophy of the day. The list at the following link stops at the year 1950, after which philosophers fall into the category of Contemporary philosophy. The following link places the period of philosophy from 1600 to 1800 in a broader context: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Western_philosophers
In the late eighteenth century Immanuel Kant set forth a groundbreaking philosophical system which claimed to bring unity to rationalism and empiricism. Whether or not he was right, he did not succeed in ending philosophical dispute. More than two centuries after his death the world of philosophy is still the subject of endless disagreement and dispute, hair-splitting and polarization.
Kant's writings sparked a storm of philosophical work in Germany in the early nineteenth century, beginning with German idealism. The characteristic theme of German idealism was that the world and the mind equally must be understood according to the same categories; it culminated in the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel(1770-1831), who among many other things said that "The real is rational; the rational is real." For an excellent u-tube item on Hegel's life and work go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5JGE3lhuNo&feature=em-subs_digest
Kant(1724-1804) argued that there was an inexorable process in history which would very gradually bring about an increasing enlightenment, and a cosmopolitan world federation. It was not something humanity could finally resist. Thus, in effect, he was claiming history was on his side, no matter what we do. However, as rational beings we have a moral obligation to assist this historical process "to make the state of public right actual." One might want to cite environmental awareness as one rational point which history is forcing us to acknowledge, whether we approve of it or not.
It is worth noting that the concept of the inevitable progression of, or progress in, history has very ancient roots in the Old Testament. The Old Testament notion that God is on Israel's side and that He has a covenant with the faithful could be seen as the beginning of this concept, at least in the Judaeo-Christian root of western civilization. God would lead them, the Isrealites, to the promised land. God's providence, acting through history, will resolve issues eventually; however, that does not release the individual Israelite from the religious obligation to follow the rules, to contribute to the progress of history. Kant has, of course, thoroughly secularized this notion--seeing perpetual peace as the end goal and a rational idea working itself out in history as the engine of progress.
The following quotation from Kant's 1795 work, Perpetual Peace, captures an idea that has been at the centre of my life since my late teens: "Since, however, from her highest tribunal of moral legislation, reason without exception condemns war as a means of right, and makes a state of peace an absolute duty; and since this peace cannot be effected or be guaranteed without a compact among the nations, they must form an alliance of a peculiar kind, which might be called a pacific alliance...It can be proved, that the idea of federation, which should insensibly extend to all states, and thus lead them to a perpetual peace, may be realized." --Immanuel Kant, 1724 - 1804, from Perpetual Peace. Go to this link for more details on this work:https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/kant/kant1.htm
Kant wrote this work as the chief precursor of the Babi Faith, Shaykh Ahmad, then in his 40s, was prepairing the soil of the Islamic world for that world's "end times". We should also alert ourselves as to the extent to which Kant's ethics, his philosophy, and his view of history has roots in some of the most deeply held and ancient convictions of Western civilization, particularly one of the main Protestant versions of those beliefs. For an excellent context for Kant's views go to the following links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_peace and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_philosophy_of_Immanuel_Kant and http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/introser/kant.htm
HEGEL, MARX, KIERKEGAARD, SCHOPENHAUER. AND NIETZSCHE
The philosophy of Hegel(1770-1831) was carried in many directions by his followers and critics. Karl Marx( 1818-1883)appropriated both Hegel's philosophy of history and the empirical ethics then dominant in Britain. In the process Hegel's ideas were transformed into a strictly materialist philosophy, setting the grounds for the development of a science of society. Søren Kierkegaard(1813-1855) dismissed all systematic philosophy as an inadequate guide to life and meaning. For Kierkegaard, life is meant to be lived, not a mystery to be solved. Arthur Schopenhauer(1788-1860) took idealism to the conclusion that the world was nothing but the futile endless interplay of images and desires, and advocated atheism and pessimism. Schopenhauer's ideas were taken up and transformed by Nietzsche(1844-1900), who seized upon their various dismissals of the world to proclaim "God is dead" and to reject all systematic philosophy and all striving for a fixed truth transcending the individual. Nietzsche found in this not grounds for pessimism, but the possibility of a new kind of freedom. For a u-tube item on Shopenhaurer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0zmf . I leave it to readers to access the writings and ideas of the major figures here.
RUSSELL, MOORE AND FREGE
19th-century British philosophy came increasingly to be dominated by strands of neo-Hegelian thought, and as a reaction against this, figures such as Bertrand Russell(1772-1970) and George Edward Moore(1773-1958) began moving the direction of analytic philosophy(AP). AP was essentially an updating of traditional empiricism in order to accommodate the new developments in logic of the German mathematician Gottlob Frege(1848-1925).(1) For a detailed overview of "Modern Philosophy" go to Wikipedia or the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_philosophy
PHILOSOPHY IN AN AGE OF SCIENCE
In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson delivered the following assessment of contemporary philosophers: “they are a sorry bunch of dwarfs. They are thinking deep thoughts and giving scholarly lectures to academic audiences, but hardly anybody in the world outside is listening. They are historically insignificant.”
The Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam might seem a dwarf at first glance, and his latest collection of essays, Philosophy in the Age of Science, another scholarly text for academics. It is a weighty book from a university press with foreboding chapter titles like “Axioms of Set Existence.” It will likely be ignored by non-philosophers. This is a shame because Putnam, in lucid and readable prose, confronts some of the most philosophically rich debates out there. Can science produce an exhaustive description of the universe? Are moral values subject to rational scrutiny? Can we give an account of mind that is compatible with what we know about cognitive psychology? For a useful overview of Punam and his book go to:http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/blog/philosophy/hilary-putnam-philosophy-in-the-age-of-science-kant-wittgenstein/#.UohGprCIrMM
Baruch Spinoza(1632-1677) was a Dutch philosopher of Sephardi Portuguese origin.The breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until many years after his death. By laying the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and, arguably, the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. His magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed Descartes' mind–body dualism, has earned him recognition as one of Western philosophy's most important thinkers. In the Ethics, "Spinoza wrote the last indisputable Latin masterpiece, & one in which the refined conceptions of medieval philosophy are finally turned against themselves and destroyed entirely." Hegel said, "You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all." His philosophical accomplishments and moral character prompted 20th-century philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him "the prince of philosophers." For more on Spinoza, and a video about his life and work go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baruch_Spinoza and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVEeXjPiw54
WHY DOES THE WORLD EXIST?
Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story is a portrait gallery of leading modern philosophers. Holt visited each of them in turn, warning them in advance that he was coming to discuss with them a single question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He reports their reactions to this question, and embellishes their words with descriptions of their habits and personalities. Their answers give us vivid glimpses of the speakers but do not solve the riddle of existence.
The philosophers are often more interesting than their philosophy. Many of them are eccentric characters who have risen to the top of their profession. They think their deep thoughts in places of unusual beauty such as Paris and Oxford. They are heirs to an ancient tradition of academic hierarchy, in which disciples sat at the feet of sages, and sages enlightened disciples with Delphic utterances, at least in ancient Greece. The universities of Paris and Oxford have maintained this tradition for eight hundred years. The great world religions have maintained it even longer. Universities and religions are the most durable of human institutions. Only institutions like the family, the tribe, and the clan, among several others have that kind of durability. For more on this subject go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/nov/08/what-can-you-really-know/
SYNTHESIS OF THE 8 MAJOR MODERN PHILOSOPHIES
In my own philosophy, a Baha'i philosophy, I draw on the 8 major streams listed above. I leave it to readers to get their own overviews of the major modern streams. There is a great deal on the internet in relation to Baha'i philosophy and interested readers can go to these two links: https://www.google.com.au/#hl=en&gs_nf=1&tok=WeTmmWoIj0uB7BHm_s_OkA&cp=16&gs and: http://http://www.bahaiphilosophystudies.com/index.php
SECTION 1.5 EXISTENTIALISM
Existentialism is generally considered to be the philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual, that moral thinking and scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human existence, and, therefore, that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence. (Authenticity, in the context of existentialism, is being true to one's own personality, spirit, or character.)
Existentialism began in the mid-19th century as a reaction against then-dominant systematic philosophies, with Søren Kierkegaard generally considered to be the first existentialist philosopher followed closely behind by Frederick Nietzsche. Opposed to Hegelianism and Kantianism, Kierkegaard posited that it is the individual who is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and for living life passionately and sincerely. Existentialism became popular in the years following World War II and influenced a range of disciplines besides philosophy, including theology, drama, art, literature, and psychology. For an overview of existentialism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentialism
Karl Jaspers(1883-1969) was a German psychiatrist and philosopher who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry and philosophy. He has been associated by most commentators with the philosophy of existentialism. This is, in part, because he draws largely upon the existentialist roots of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, and in part because the theme of individual freedom permeates his work. In Philosophy (3 vols, 1932), Jaspers gave his view of the history of philosophy and introduced his major themes. Beginning with modern science & empiricism, Jaspers points out that as we question reality, we confront borders that an empirical (or scientific) method simply cannot transcend. At this point, the individual faces a choice: sink into despair and resignation, or take a leap of faith toward what Jaspers calls Transcendence. In making this leap, individuals confront their own limitless freedom, which Jaspers calls Existenz, and can finally experience authentic existence. For more on Jaspers go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Jaspers#Contributions_to_philosophy For a paper in the online journal Negations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Social Thought go to: http://www.datawranglers.com/negations/
Emmanuel Levinas(1906-1995) was a French philosopher of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry who is known for his work related to Jewish philosophy, existentialism, ethics, and ontology. In the 1950s, Levinas emerged from the circle of intellectuals surrounding Jean Wahl as a leading French thinker. His work is based on the ethics of the Other or, in Levinas's terms, on "ethics as first philosophy". For Levinas, the Other is not knowable and cannot be made into an object of the self, as is done by traditional metaphysics (which Levinas called "ontology"). Levinas prefers to think of philosophy as the "wisdom of love" rather than the love of wisdom (the literal Greek meaning of the word "philosophy"). In his view, responsibility precedes any "objective searching after truth". For more on Levinas and an obituary in The New York Times https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmanuel and http://www.nytimes.com/1995/12/27/world/emmanuel-levinas
ALBERT CAMUS and NIHILISM
Albert Camus(1913-1960) was a French author, journalist, and philosopher. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. For an overview of absurdism go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absurdism Camus wrote in his essay "The Rebel" that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom. The roots of nihilism go far back into the late 18th and 19th centuries and, by the years of Camus' life after WW I and then WW2 they stared him, and humankind, in the face. In the half century after Camus' death, 1963 to 2013, the half century that has been of my adult life, nihilism has become even more pervasive. For a review of 2 recent books on Camus: (i) Albert Camus: Solitaire et Solidaire by Catherine Camus(Lafon, 200 pages, 2009), and (ii) Albert Camus: Elements of a Life by Robert Zaretsky(Cornell, 200 pages, 2010) go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n16/michael-wood/losing-the-light
The following books on the subject of nihilism are useful: Michael Gillespie, Nihilism Before Nietzsche, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995; Stanley Rosen; Nihilism: A Philosophical Study, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1969; Donald A. Crosby; The Specter of the Absurd: Sources and Criticisms of Modern Nihilism, Albany, SUNY Press, 1988; Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1987; Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life, New York, Harper and Row, 1966; Karl Löwith, Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism, trans. Gary Steiner, New York, Columbia UP 1995; Nishitani Keiji, The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism, trans. Graham Parkes, Albany, SUNY Press, 1990; David Michael Levin, The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation, New York, Routledge, 1988. For a general overview of nihilism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism
Nihilism is a problem, even if those immersed in popular culture, having fun and parting, and bent on filling their time with gardening, sport, dinners with friends and raising their families---know nothing about nihilism. The inertia of most people in affluent Western nations in the face of the corruption of the core institutions of their democracies, including their universities, their disempowerment, the plundering of public wealth, growing economic injustice and economic insecurity, environmental degradation and the threat of a global ecological collapse, has impelled a search for explanations. Some, of course, search, and many don't. Searching for answers is itself another question. But, for those involved in this search, they have been forced to confront the nihilism of modern civilization. It appears that the devaluation of the highest values, and of life itself, and the consequent loss of meaning in people’s lives, is having practical consequences. Nihilism threatens our liberty, the future of civilization and even the global ecosystem which sustains the conditions for life, at least such is an argument found among some of the cognoscenti.
The papers collected in the 2011 edition, V.7, N.2, of the online journal Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, can all be seen as grappling with and attempting to overcome this nihilism. As such this collection of papers forms a coherent body of work. The problematic state of philosophy, among many other academic disciplines, to say nothing about both popular culture and everyday life for the 7.4 billion humans on earth, can also be understood in relation to the subject of nihilism. Nihilism is now so pervasive that the discourse through which its source can be identified and challenged is being ignored and undermined. It is both ignored and undermined by those who now control the funding and management of education and research. Philosophy itself is becoming a victim of nihilism. To read this collection of papers on nihilism go to:http://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/issue/view/13
Although often cited as a proponent of existentialism, the philosophy with which Camus was associated during his own lifetime, he rejected this particular label. In an interview in 1945, Camus rejected any ideological associations: "No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre & I are always surprised to see our names linked..." For more go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Camus
Of all the major French literary figures of the 1950's and 1960's, the ''hommes engages'' who combined books with political activism, Albert Camus has perhaps best stood the test of time. His friend and later bitter rival Jean-Paul Sartre seems, in retrospect, was but a trendy poseur discredited by his abject failure to repudiate left-wing totalitarianism. Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre(1905-1980) was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism, however trendy a poseur he may have been. Sartre has undoubtedly dominated his generation and had no successor. This is the verdict on his work in a school text-book, a critical study of post-war French literature, published in the 1970s. For a delightful video on Sartre go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bQsZxDQgzU&list=PLwxNMb
It is not for the sociologist to agree or disagree with this verdict; he has to take it for what it is, i.e. an indisputable social fact, and to endeavour to account for it, to make it intelligible. What made Sartre, the French intellectual par excellence, possible? What were the enabling conditions for this total intellectual, active on every front, as philosopher, critic, novelist & dramatist? These are typically anti-Sartrian questions. Sartre, who created the intellectual as an uncreated creator, never ceased, in the many self-analyses and self-critiques he produced throughout his career, to assert his capacity for exhaustive knowledge of his own truth, as an individual and as an intellectual. In so doing, he ruled out in advance, as reductive, any attempt to circumscribe the uncircumscribable, to classify the unclassifiable. Sartre created a new character: the writer-philosopher and metaphysician-novelist.
Simone de Beauvoir(1908-1986), was a French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist, and social theorist. While she did not consider herself a philosopher, Beauvoir had a significant influence on both feminist existentialism & feminist theory. She is remembered in the main for her pioneering feminism; her novels have been largely forgotten, especially outside of France. It seems a fair bet that Camus, too, is less than widely read these days; and yet he endures, or he should, for two reasons. First, his major works of fiction, especially ''The Stranger'' and ''The Plague,'' retain the moral immediacy that made them celebrated when they were first published half a century ago, and so do the philosophical books, ''The Myth of Sisyphus'' and ''The Rebel,'' that accompanied them. Equally important, Camus, especially in his willingness to denounce the atrocities of Stalin and the third-world dictators, is now embraced by the romantic left. He demonstrated a political clearheadedness lamentably rare among his literary peers. For a u-tube item on Camus go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2esQwof8G0
In his highly autobiographical novel, The First Man(1995), published 35 years after his death, the reader can see the roots of Camus's philosophy in his fatherless childhood. The roots of his social vision are seen in the anomalous political and cultural landscape of post-World War I Algeria. Camus had been in the habit, throughout his life, of reworking everything he wrote, and his daughter, Catherine Camus, observes in her introduction that he probably would have "masked his own feelings far more" in a completed version of the book. The very unfinished quality of "The First Man," however, lends it an appealing directness missing in much of his other writing. Unlike so many of his letters and journal excerpts, these pages contain little self-consciousness or grandiosity; unlike much of his expository writing, they shimmer with a lyricism and sensuousness that subsume the formalism of his prose.
In this autobiographical work, The First Man, Camus covered only the first 14 years of his life, with a long section called "Search for the Father" which poignantly evoked his struggle to fill "the terrible vacuum" left when his father was killed in the first battle of the Marne in 1914, when Albert was just a year old. For more on this subject go to:http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/25/books/books-of-the-times-a-fatherless-boy-in-algeria-like-camus.html For a review of Olivier Todd's 1997 biography of Camus in The New York Times on 19/12/'97: Camus: A Life go to this link: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/19/books/books-of-the-times-camus-as-a-principled-rebel-among-poseurs.html
NIHILISM AND MARTIN HEIDEGGER
I have discussed Martin Heidegger(1889-1976) briefly my my introduction to philosophy webpage. He was a German philosopher, widely seen as a seminal thinker in the Continental tradition, particularly within the fields of existential phenomenology and philosophical hermeneutics. From his beginnings as a Catholic academic, he developed a groundbreaking philosophy that influenced literary, social & political theory, art & aesthetics, architecture, cultural anthropology, design, environmentalism, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. His relationship with Nazism has been a controversial and widely debated subject. For a discussion of his Black Notebooks in a review in The New York Review of Books, 9/10/'14, go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/oct/09/heidegger-in-black/?insrc=toc
Martin Heidegger(1889-1976) was a German philosopher and a seminal thinker in the Continental tradition, particularly within the fields of existential phenomenology and philosophical hermeneutics. From his beginnings as a Catholic academic, he developed a groundbreaking & widely influential philosophy. His best known book, Being and Time (1927), is considered one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century. In it and later works, Heidegger maintained that one's way of questioning defines one's nature. He argued that Western thinkinghad lost sight of being, and that by people finding themselves as "always already" moving within ontological presuppositions, they lose touch with their grasp of being and its truth thus becomes "muddled". As a solution to this condition, Heidegger advocated a change in focus from ontologies based on determinants known as ontic. These are the fundamental ontological elucidation of being-in-the-world in general, allowing it to reveal, or "unconceal" itself as concealment. He wrote extensively onFriedrich Nietzsche and Friedrich Hölderlin in his later career. For more on Heidegger go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Heidegger
ECO-ETHICS AND ECON-ETHICS
‘We are learning the fundamental principle that ethics is everything.’ E. O. Wilson, Consilience (1998)
Ethics have a long history. Their origins date back to the birth of human consciousness: the awakening of creativity and abstract thinking, the roots of faith and religion, the evaluation and organisation of human activities. As humanity itself, ethics are subject to evolution. Over thousands of years different traits of traditional ethics have evolved, guided and controlled by religion, philosophy and politics. Traditional ethical traits focus on inter-human relationships and relations between humans and supernatural phenomena such as spirits, and gods. They have led to anthropocentric and geocentric models of our world, models that do not sufficiently acknowledge the realities around us. The models overemphasise the importance and the positive sides of our species Homo sapiens, as well as the role of Earth in the Universe.
We now know: H. sapiens is not the centre of Earth, and Planet Earth is not the centre of the Universe. H. sapiens is one species among many millions and part of the life process like any animal, plant or virus. Our survival as a species, as well as the survival of all life forms depend on the extension of traditional ethics to include eco-ethics and econ-ethics. Earth is one planet among billions in our galaxy, and there are billions of such galaxies. For more go to: http://www.int-res.com/articles/esep/2002/e23.pdf
MORE ON NIHILISM
The inertia of most people in affluent Western nations in the face of the corruption of the core institutions of their democracies, including their universities, their disempowerment, the plundering of public wealth, growing economic injustice and economic insecurity, environmental degradation and the threat of a global ecological collapse, has impelled a search for explanations, and in doing so, has forced people to confront the nihilism of modern civilization. It appears that the devaluation of the highest values, and of life itself, and the consequent loss of meaning in people’s lives, is having practical consequences. One of these consequences is the seductive and not-so-seductive spread of nihilism.
Nihilism threatens our liberty, the future of civilization and even the global ecosystem which sustains the conditions for life. The papers collected in this edition of the online electronic journal Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy(Vol. 7, No. 2, 2011) were not solicited; nevertheless they can all be seen as grappling with and attempting to overcome this nihilism. As such they form a coherent body of work. There was a second group of papers submitted in 2010 united by their concern for the future of philosophy. These will be published shortly in another edition. However, even the problematic state of philosophy can only be understood in relation to nihilism. Nihilism is now so totally taken for granted by most people that the discourse through which the source of this nihilism could be identified and challenged is being ignored and undermined by those who now control the funding and management of education and research. Philosophy itself is becoming a victim of nihilism.
David Storey's ‘Nihilism, Nature, and the Collapse of the Cosmos’ provides a much needed history of the concept of nihilism and of those who have recognized it and struggled against it. For more on nihilism: http://www.cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/viewFile/257/379 For several more essays on the subject of nihilism go to: http://www.cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/issue/view/13
SECTION 1.8 ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY
Analytic or analytical philosophy(AP) is a generic term for a style of philosophy that came to dominate English-speaking countries in the 20th century. In the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand, the vast majority of university philosophy departments identified themselves as "analytic" departments. It’s reputed to be rather dry and technical — long on logical rigor, short on lyrical profundity. Analytic philosophy(AP) got its start in Cambridge in the first decade of the 20th century, when Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore revolted against the rather foggy continental idealism prevailing among English philosophers at the time. Under their influence, and that of Ludwig Wittgenstein (who arrived in Cambridge in 1912 to study with Russell), philosophers came to see their task as consisting not in grand metaphysical system-building, but in the painstaking analysis of language. This, they thought, would enable them to lay bare the logical structure of reality and to put all the old philosophical perplexities to rest.
Readers, with the interest, might like to examine the biographies of some of the leading lights of AP. Russell's biography is especially insightful. For a review of one of the many biographies, one by Ray Monk in the London Review of Books(Vol. 23 No. 5, March 2001), a biography entitled: Bertrand Russell 1921-70: The Ghost of Madness(Cape, 600 pages, 2000) go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v23/n05/adam-phillips/dealing-with-disappointment ....For a broad outline of AP philosophy, and its several variants go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic_philosophy
In the electronic journal for 1999 Humanitas Randall E. Auxier, a professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University, has written a review of Nicholas Capaldi's 1998 book The Enlightenment Project in the Analytic Conversation. Capaldi is McFarlin Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tulsa. Since some readers, if not most, have never heard of Capaldi, and might be somewhat puzzled as to exactly what analytic philosophy is, I will introduce this section 1.8 the way that Auxier does with an illustrative image. I found the image clever, if not convincing insofar as the field of analytic philosophy is concerned, and so I leave readers of this section 1.8 with the following image.
If one imagines that the truth is like a big Water Buffalo, then analytic philosophers are sort of like a pride of lions hunting it down. And indeed the best hunters, the most clever among analytic philosophers, brought down a Water Buffalo at the beginning of the twentieth century. What remains to us today, sad-to-say, are the scrawnier lions quarreling over the privilege of gnawing on a bit of bone, long since picked clean of anything digestible. One might well call into question the hunt itself, as Capaldi does throughout the book, remarking that truth never was a Water Buffalo, but one might as well tell a lion to be an owl. Analytic philosophers are what they are, and the wise philosopher or lay-man is advised to leave them to their hunting.
The search of the analytic philosopher is barbarous, but it is at least an honest barbarism, expressing the genuine nature of the beast. Capaldi was trained by lions and hunted with them for a long time, bringing down a gazel or two along the way, but one suspects he was never a lion. For what sort of lion eats the kill and then thinks privately: “there is nothing of wisdom in this”? No true lion can have such a thought. To be a lion is to live in forgetfulness that truth is valued for its rumored ability to make one wise. Wisdom is not a word in the vocabulary of analytic philosophy. As Capaldi consistently points out, analytic philosophers have substituted scientific knowledge of a certain sort for wisdom, and allowed themselves to think that knowledge of the truth either automatically makes one wise or, if it does not. wisdom is of no value. Lions will be lions, and when one gets them in a group, “pride” does indeed seem the aptest collective noun. For more on Capaldi and analytic philosophy go to this link: http://www.nhinet.org/humsub/auxi12-2.pdf For access to the articles in the archives of The Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy go to: http://opac.library.usyd.edu.au/search~S2?/fElectronic+Journal+Analytic+Philosophy/
WHAT IS AFTER ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY?
We have grown accustomed to the censure and abuse of the philosophic sages of former times, especially from our contemporaries in Anglo-American philosophy. It is no longer shocking to read of Kant's achievement, "Like all great pioneering works in philosophy the Critique is full of mistakes and confusions...the Critique still has much to teach us, but it is wrong on nearly every page"; or of Aristotle, "[he], like Adam, began right, but soon wandered in to a wrong path, with disastrous consequences for his posterity." Such judgments about pre-twentieth century philosophy are the results of the success of logical positivism of the early part of the century and its transformation into the linguistic philosophy of more recent times. In this decade linguistic philosophy has itself been described as "that now distant philosophical style." Richard Rorty finds his 1965 essay "Metaphilosophical Difficulties of Linguistic Philosophy" partly embarrassing, partly a musing, saying of it, "The controversies which I discussed with such earnestness in 1965 already seemed quaint in 1975. By now they seem positively antique,"
But this does not signal that earlier philosophy has been somehow redeemed or enjoyed any renaissance. It is rather that there is despair in the ranks of those former linguistic philosophers: they no longer believe they can save even that tenuous link with the past which their linguistic reinterpretation of Plato, Descartes, Hume, Kant, etc. attempted. Philosophy as a discipline with a method of its own, philosophy as "anything unified, continuous or structured" does not for them exist. Go to this link for more: http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%202/andrew
POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY: ISAIAH BERLIN
Between 1965 and 2009 The New York Review published over thirty articles and letters by the historian of ideas and political philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997). The following is an extract from “The Question of Machiavelli,” which appeared in the 4 November 1971 issue. What has been shown by Machiavelli, who is often, like the philosopher Nietzsche, congratulated for tearing off hypocritical masks, brutally revealing the truth, and so on, is not that men profess one thing and do another---although no doubt he shows this too---but that when they assume that the two ideals are compatible, or perhaps are even one and the same ideal, and do not allow this assumption to be questioned, they are guilty of bad faith. The existentialists call this bad faith, or “false consciousness,” to use a Marxist formula. People's actual behavior exhibits this bad faith.
Machiavelli calls the bluff not just of official morality—the hypocrisies of ordinary life—but of one of the foundations of the central Western philosophical tradition, the belief in the ultimate compatibility of all genuine values. His own withers are unwrung. He has made his choice. He seems wholly unworried by, indeed scarcely aware of, parting company with traditional Western morality. To read more on Isaiah Berlin go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaiah_Berlin To read more of this comment in The New York Review of Books go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/mar/07/isaiah-berlin-machiavelli/ For even more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/oct/08/unique-qualities-joe-alsop/
POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY: LIBERALISM
David Walsh’s most recent book puts him squarely into the discussion about whether "liberalism" or the "liberal soul" is worth defending. In recent years this topic has been treated by academic luminaries Alan Ryan, Stephen Holmes, John Gray, John Rawls, and William Galston. While Walsh covers at least some of the same ground as these other authors, his treatment differs from most of theirs owing to his view of liberalism as a distillation of inherited values. Having come down to us out of a civilizational past, these values now inform human dispositions and outlooks. In this respect Walsh stands farthest from self-described liberals Galston, Rawls, and Holmes, who stress the disjunction between liberal attitudes and institutions and what preceded them historically.
Whether Walsh, a devotee of Eric Voegelin, will accept this association or not, there is a good deal of Hegel rattling around in his work. His stress on a composite and historically shaped liberal tradition recalls the writings of the liberal and centrist Hegelians of the last century and the works of Croce in our own. The reason such an approach is rejected by Galston, Rawls, and Holmes is that contemporary "liberals" need a rootless liberalism as a basis for social experiment. Their improvised Lockeanism, with imaginary states of nature or preferred beginning points leading into Bill Clinton’s America, allow them to assign "liberal" to whatever it pleases them to designate as such. For more on liberalism go to:http://www.nhinet.org/humsub/gottfr11-2.htm
John Stuart Mill may well be the most important liberal thinker of the nineteenth century. In countless respects, his once-revolutionary arguments have become familiar, even part of the conventional wisdom. Certainly this is so for his great 1869 essay The Subjection of Women, which offered a systematic argument for sex equality at a time when the inferior status of women was widely taken for granted. It is also true for On Liberty, published in 1859, which famously argued that unless there is harm to others, people should have the freedom to do as they like. A strong advocate for freedom of speech, Mill offered enduring arguments against censorship. He also had a great deal to say about, and on behalf of, representative government. For more on Mill go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stuart_Mill
Friedrich Hayek was the twentieth century’s greatest critic of socialism, and he won the Nobel Prize in economics. A lifelong defender of individual liberty, he argued that central planning is bound to fail, even if the planners are well motivated, because they cannot possibly assemble the information that is ultimately incorporated in the price system. Hayek described that system as a “marvel,” because it registers the knowledge, the preferences, and the values of countless people. Hayek used this insight as the foundation for a series of works on freedom and liberalism. Committed to free markets and deeply skeptical of the idea of “social justice,” he is a far more polarizing figure than Mill, beloved on the political right but regarded with ambivalence by many others. Nonetheless, Hayek belongs on any list of the most important liberal thinkers of the twentieth century. For more on Hayek go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Hayek
For a review of a new book Hayek on Mill: The Mill–Taylor Friendship and Other Writings by Friedrich Hayek, edited by Sandra J. Peart(University of Chicago Press, 400 pages) go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/apr/02/john-stuart-mill-harriet-taylor-hayek/?insrc=toc
JOHN RAWLS: Freedom, equality and justice
John Bordley Rawls(1921-2002) was an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. He held the James Bryant Conant Professorship at Harvard University, and the Fulbright Fellowship at Christ Church, Oxford. I did not come across Rawls and his writings until I taught philosophy in the 1990s at what is now a polytechnic in Perth Western Australia.
His magnum opus, A Theory of Justice (1971), was hailed at the time of its publication as "the most important work in moral philosophy since the end of World War II," and is now regarded as "one of the primary texts in political philosophy." In 1971 I had just arrived in Australia at the age of 26, and was at the beginning of my teaching career in secondary schools and post-secondary colleges and universities. I did not teach any philosophy until later in the ‘70s, and I did not seriously get into Rawls’ writings until I retired from paid employment, and from my extensive community responsibilities in the Baha’i community.
In 1962, Rawls became a full professor of philosophy at Cornell, and soon achieved a tenured position at MIT. That same year, he moved to Harvard University, where he taught for almost forty years, and where he trained some of the leading contemporary figures in moral and political philosophy, including Thomas Nagel, among others.(1)
During those 40 years, from 1962 to 2002, I finished my secondary education, and completed five years of post-secondary studies and training, as well as a 32 year teaching career; I married twice, raised three children, and travelled-pioneered to many towns and cities for the Canadian and Australian Baha’i communities. I also retired from all FT paid employment during the last of those 40 years, and gradually reinvented myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, reader and scholar, and online blogger and journalist. Rawls died at the age of 81 in 2002, just as a retired from all my PT paid work.
Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, the British philosopher Jonathan Wolff recently observed that while there might be a dispute about the second most important political philosopher of the 20th century, there could be no dispute about the most important: John Rawls. His student Samuel Freeman says that Rawls’s work will be recognized “for centuries to come.” For more of these words in an online journal, The American Conservative, in an article by David Gordon entitled "Going Off the Rawls" (28/7/'08) go to: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/going-off-the-rawls/
Rawls seldom gave interviews and, having both a stutter and a "bat-like horror of the limelight", he did not become a public intellectual despite his fame. He instead remained committed mainly to his academic and family life. On his religious views, Rawls was an atheist. I have given over two dozen interviews, spent decades in the limelight in varying degrees. I am a theist, a Baha’i. Since my retirement, life on an old-age pension, and new meds for my bipolar 1 disorder in and after 2009, I have become more solitary, more reclusive, and more involved in literary-intellectual activities, the life of the mind.-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Wikipedia, 23/9/’13.
As I was heading into retirement
in the 1990s, you had a series of
strokes and, by 2002….you were
gone. Your intellectual years had
an immense fertility, an erudition,(1)
and a prolificacy far above all my
mediocre earthly achievements in
education and teaching. Capacities
of some lie in a thimble…...and of
others it is a gallon measure.…To(2)
each their own as we travel the road,
and slowly discover those talents and
faculties with which we are endowed
at the different stages in the lifespan
from toddlerhood to late adulthood,
from 60 to 80, and into to old-age, the
years after 80, if we last that long. May
I, too, last as long as you did Dr Rawls.
(1) Rawls's tried to demonstrate that the authentically valuable features of the common notions of freedom and equality could be integrated into a seamless unity which he called justice. By elucidating the proper perspective we should take when thinking about justice, Rawls hoped to demonstrate the apparent conflict between these two values, freedom and equality, to be illusory.
(2) Baha’u’llah wrote, referring to the talents and capacities of individuals, that: “the portion of some might lie in the palm of a man’s hand, the portion of others might fill a cup, and of others even a gallon-measure.” There is much in the corpus of the Baha’i writings on freedom, equality and justice.
PS English philosopher Jonathan Wolff argues, and just to reiterate, that "while there might be a dispute about the second most important political philosopher of the 20th century, there could be no dispute about the most important: John Rawls." For more on Rawls go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rawls
In the essay "Philosophy as a Humanist Discipline: The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire and Bernard Williams", in The New York Review of Books, we read: "On June 22, 2013, at Wadham College, Oxford, The New York Review held a free conference to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary and to honor the lives, work, and legacy of: Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire and Bernard Williams. Co-sponsored by The New York Review of Books Foundation, Fritt Ord, All Souls College, The Europaeum, Wadham College, and Wolfson College, the conference included remarks by: Avishai Margalit, Alan Ryan, Mary Warnock, John Gray, Helena Kennedy, Mark Lilla, Naomi Eilan, Edward Skidelsky, Jerome Bruner, Samuel Scheffler, Jeremy Waldron, Timothy Garton Ash, and Marc Stears. The sessions were chaired by Robert Silvers, John Vickers, Hermione Lee, and Ken Macdonald. The recorded proceedings of this event were made available at: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/gallery/2013/aug/15/philosophy-humanist-discipline-berlin-hampshire/?utm_medium=email&utm
SOME THOUGHTS ON NIETZSCHE
THUS SPOKE ZOROASTER
Two months before the passing of Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, the philosopher Nietzsche published his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Published in March 1892 it had been written at various times in the 1880s. The book consisted of fictionalized speeches of the Persian prophet Zarathustra or Zoroaster. I find it interesting, as a Baha’i, that the book was written and published in the late evening of Baha’u’llah’s life. Bahá'u'lláh's truth claims were anchored in several apocalyptic traditions one of which was Zoroastrianism. Bahá'u'lláh claimed to be the Sháh Bahrám Varjávand, the Zoroastrian messiah. Bahá'u'lláh's appeal to the Sháh Bahrám tradition radically reinterprets the Zoroastrian prophecies themselves, thereby reinventing the figure of Sháh Bahrám. Every Bahá'í doctrinally becomes a Zoroastrian to the extent that he or she accepts the authenticity of the ancient Persian prophet. And this Baha’i who took an interest during his university days forty years ago(1963-67) in the beginnings of the existentialist tradition in the philosopher Nietzsche, takes a significant interest, too, in a book whose title is named after the Persian prophet Zoroaster.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, April 16th 2006. For a u-tube on Nietzsche go to:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHWbZmg2hzU
Thus spoke Zoroaster
or, to be more precise,
He came and was on His
last legs when you finally(1)
got this your magnum opus
published, your greatest
present to mankind, & so….
had the greatest soul ever to
draw breath on this planet,
He that was hidden from mortal
eyes had now been revealed in
a day so blest that past ages can
never hope to rival it, a day in
which the countenance of the
Ancient of Days hath turned
towards His holy seat and will
sail His Ark upon this new City
which is the promised City of God.(2)
(1) Nietzsche’s book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1892.
(2) Baha’u’llah, “Tablet of Carmel,” Gleanings, pp. 14-16.
16/4/'06 to 20/2/'13
Nietzsche does not belong entirely to philosophers. He was a philosopher-poet concerned not simply with describing and explaining the world as he found it, but with identifying and employing the electrifying arts that make the world appear uncanny and ineffably deep. The current Anglophone literature on his work for the most part maintains an embarrassed silence about this poetic power. But Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler would not have been moved to set to music a novel critique, say, of the neo-Kantian form of epistemic skepticism. The early intellectual and artistic loves of Nietzsche’s life, Arthur Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner, both wielded convoluted metaphysical arguments in support of their transfiguring visions and Nietzsche was aware from the start (as we know from his letters and notebooks) that their philosophical justifications were slightly preposterous. But he allowed himself, like so many nineteenth-century bourgeois Germans, to be moved if not to belief then at least to tears by their religiosity without religion. For more on this review of The Flame of Eternity: An Interpretation of Nietzsche’s Thought by Krzysztof Michalski, translated from the Polish by Benjamin Paloff Princeton University Press and located in the New York Review of Books, 24/10/'13 go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/oct/24/nietzsche-lightning-fire/
I will conclude this section on Nietzsche with some of a review in the London Review of Books of Nietzsche’s Sister and the Will to Power: A Biography of Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche by Carol Diethe. The reviewer writes: "We more or less know about Nietzsche, but Elisabeth, the little sister and living embodiment of everything the mad philosopher disdained, who took control of her brother’s thought, should not on any account be overlooked. Her life is a story of mediocrity triumphing over inspiration, meanness over excess, ressentiment over the Übermensch. Her transformation of her brother’s work into a Nazi cookbook bears an uncanny resemblance to the rise of National Socialism itself in a chaotic Germany. After a lifetime of failing to keep up with her brother, she finally appropriated him, body and what was left of his mind: not so much will to power as determined opportunism. Little beasts that lay their eggs in a larger creature and whose offspring use the living body of their host as a food store come to mind." For an interesting video on Nietzsche go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHWbZmg2hzU&feature=em-subs_digest-vrecs
"Since the late 1950s scholars have been busy releasing Nietzsche’s reputation from the grip of Nazification. Elisabeth’s role in creating Nietzsche-the-Nazi-Philosopher has been well attested, and his notebooks and published writings have been restored to something like the form they had before his sister cut, forged, destroyed and elided them. In fact, according to Michael Tanner, the work has been so extensive that Nietzsche has been reappropriated by just about everyone: ‘existentialists, phenomenologists, and then increasingly, during the 1960s and 1970s . . . critical theorists, post-structuralists and deconstructionists’. Not to mention anarchists, libertarians, hippies, yippies, radical psychiatrists, religious cultists..." For more of this review go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n18/jenny-diski/it-wasnt-him-it-was-her
TO THIS DEGREE: INVENTIVE SPIRITS
Take a close look at the lives of all the great, fruitful, inventive spirits....you will always encounter...to a certain degree the three ascetic ideals: poverty, chastity and humility. But they are not so regarded as ideals, they are simply seen as the most appropriate and natural conditions for their best existence, their fairest fruitfulness. -F. Nietzsche in Nietzsche: Life As Literature, Alexander Nehamas, Harvard UP, London, 1985, p. 116.
Yes, a certain degree Frederick,
the boiling up of the sea of thoughts,
the nerves and arteries stirring into life
with that will to struggle, the very soul
of life, unflagging efforts in at least one
direction, some natural sense
of human dignity and honour emerging,
growing out of life in the midst
of this fleeting and inconstant,
fast-fading morning wind;
and a ceaseless endeavour in the direction
of excellent human qualities far, far,
from that desire which reduces to ashes
a lifetime harvest of reason,
close to those means which attract
the hearts of men: to this degree Frederick.
28 December 1996
SOREN KIERKEGAARD: SOME THOUGHTS
However one cuts the cake, so to speak, telling one’s story autobiographically is not easy. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard put his finger on part of the problem when he wrote that: “it is perfectly true that life must be understood backwards. But philosophers tend to forget that it must be lived forwards and, if one thinks over that proposition it becomes clear that at no particular moment can one find the necessary resting place from which to understand it backwards.” Belief to Kierkegaard was based on the view that it was absurd. He was, of course, referring to the then typical view of Christianity: credo quia absurdum.
The information I have sought and the experience I have had has been used and lived over these many decades in the service of a commitment I grew into, insensibly, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This information and this experience I now frame as I did while I travelled along the path within the context of goals I have had, goals which have determined what I needed to do on the journey. This information and this activity has been part of a life of committed action, what Kierkegaard called life in the ethical sphere.(1) Now, in this first dozen years of my retirement from the world of paid employment, the information I am obtaining in abundance is supporting an engaged intellectual activity, furthering the coordination of my action in the Baha'i’ world and the life I live in relation to that world. My everyday commitments have always had a context within an overall framework of what ultimately makes sense to me. And that is still the case providing, as this framework does, the terms of reference in which I obtain the information I do.
There is a passion and energy in my work and now a harmony; this is no mere dabbling. Kierkegaard says that “will is the real core of man. It is tireless, spontaneous, automatic and reveals itself in many ways.”(2) Seven or eight hours a day in the service of ideas and print is all my will can muster in these middle years, 65-75, of late adulthood, the years from 60 to 80 according to one model of human development. There is spontaneity and there is the automatic in this exercise of writing and reading. For the remaining five or six hours a day during which I am awake I must turn my will to other things: (i) to refresh my spirit and (ii) to survive in the world of the practical, the world of people, places, and things. Like the American poet Emily Dickinson and the Americna philosopher Henry David Thoreau more than a century before me, I travel widely within the confines of my small town with and in my mind.(3) I confront life in and with my own spirit which is the most trying battleground life gives us. Only time will tell the extent of my mastery. For a u-tube item on this philosopher go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9JCwkx558o&feature=em-subs_digest
(1) I first came across the ideas of Soren Kierkegaard in 1964 or 1965 at the University of Waterloo when a Baha'i, Elizabeth Rochester, gave a talk on the relevance of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to our modern world. He is a difficult philosopher to unravel(1815-1855) but his ideas I have found useful in a general Baha’i perspective.
(2) Kresten Nordentoft, Kierkegaard’s Psychology, trans from Danish by Bruce Kirmmse, Duquesne University Press, 1978, p.130. In my 3 arch-lever files on philosophy Kierkgaard only occupies 14 pages of notes, hardly a just amount given the significance and relevance I have found his ideas in the last four decades.
(3) John Pickard, Emily Dickinson: An Introduction and Interpretation, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1967, p.31.
DEFINING THE WHOLE BUSINESS
Life is a dangerous bridegroom and to survive we need to approach each day as if we were going to war. We must take our battle to the very centre of the earth and defeat the right and left wings of the hosts of all the countries. We must be faithful to our principles. In these three sentences I have drawn on John Cowper Powys, ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Carl Von Clausewitz in an attempt to synthesize their attitude to life insofar as it is a struggle, as it is a war.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, December 15, 1996.
John Cowper Powys wrote a book
that came out in that Holy Year(1)
with a beautiful articulation of much
that is a Baha’i philosophy about:
driving off the evil of self-worship,
being a good companion to ourselves
accepting our loneliness, the power of
belief and wishful thinking, never getting
angry, laughing at life and at ourselves,
travelling lightly and simply, keeping our
spirit up, as far as possible, drawing on
poetry to deal with those slings & arrows
of outrageous fortune. And as a natural
gesture of both defiance and enjoyment,
but still we must all decide what is this
whole business that we call life itself!!
15 December 1996 to 10 September 2011
(1) He finished the book in 1952 and it was published in 1953---In Spite Of: A Philosophy for Everyone. That Holy Year spanned November 1952 to November 1953
SOME INTERNET SITES: at which readers will find some of my thoughts, my writing and the writing of others, on philosophy:
Confused Alarms of Struggle and Flight
I went for my daily constitutional-walk a little earlier today in mid-afternoon in this the early evening of my life. I dropped-in on a colleague, an old-school principal now retired, had an early dinner of home-made soup with a hot-salami sandwich. I then settled-down for my daily sleep. On waking, putting in my false-teeth and going downstairs, I saw the closing ceremonies of the 31st Australian Masters. They were played at the Victoria Golf Club from 11 to 14 November 2010. I have no interest in golf, although I like golf’s quiet sound-over, the gentle voices and all the green on the television screen. I also like my wife of more than 35 years.
My wife enjoys watching golf and I enjoy watching her, at least most of the time. Familiarity, as we all know breeds, or can breed, many things. After about five minutes of the golf’s closing ceremonies my wife pressed the remote button and up popped ABC1 and its A Poet’s Guide to Britain.1 It was the content of this program which has led to this prose-poem.-Ron Price with thanks to ABC1 TV, A Poet’s Guide to Britain: Matthew Arnold, 5:00-5:30 p.m., 14 November 2010.
I first came across your work, Matthew,
back in 1960 when my life had scarcely
begun, when I had begun to fall in love
with girls who never knew my feelings,
when I was also in love with baseball &
getting as high a set of marks as I could
at high school. Poetry was the last thing
on my mind, that’s for sure, except that
I had to understand the poems for those
essays and exams, if I wanted to get into
university, and avoid all those tedious &
boring jobs which people got who didn’t
go to university. I had no interest in the
practical subjects like woodwork & that
metalwork, the art and crafts & all those
extra-curricular activities kids took-part
in way back then. I must say, Matthew,
that I came to your work so slowly over
these last fifty-plus years and the focus.....
........on Dover Beach which this TV program
was all about in some ways has become one
of my favourites. Its eternal note of sadness
which you struck; Oxford’s 1st Professor of
Poetry in 1857, the first who was not a cleric
also struck a note, a sign of much that was
to come in my world and our world today,
Matthew. That sea of faith has gone, as you
say. You could only hear its long and very
melancholy withdrawing roar & it has been
withdrawing for these last 16 decades, and
it has been at least in some of its forms.....(1)
We are still, like you, Matthew: Swept with
confused alarms of struggle and flight......
Where ignorant armies clash by night.(2 & 3)
(1) Fundamentalism, of course, and a pervasive secular spirituality have become very dominant forms of religious influence in our global world.
(2) These are the last two lines of Arnold’s famous poem Dover Beach.
(3) See Matthew Arnold, ed. M. Allott and R. Super, Oxford UP, 1986. It was in this book that I came across the words of Goethe: (1) “Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one's thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world;” and (2) "To act is easy; to think is hard."
14 November 2010 to 6 May 2011
Richard Rorty is well-known for his provocative prose. From his ground-breaking Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) to the latest volume of his Philosophical Papers (2007), he has written with rhetorical flair and colourful elegance, prompting Harold Bloom, one of the greats in literary criticism, to describe him as “the most interesting philosopher in the world.” Ian Hacking, the Canadian philosopher specializing in the philosophy of science. in his review of Rorty's most recent book describes it as “so blissfully right or infuriatingly wrong.” (book jacket, Philosophy as Cultural Politics: Philosophical Papers, Volume 4). Few philosophers are as engaging to read as Rorty, and few can boast his happy knack for presenting radical views. Among these radical views is his outright rejection of truth and objectivity. Rorty urges others to take what he sees as a simple, easy and agreeable shift of their current perspective. His is a voice that is urbane, witty, lively and eloquent, and characteristically inflected by American cadence and idiom, Rorty’s stirring prose is one of his supreme philosophical achievements.
His general position, however, is that argument is not the be all and the end all of philosophy. Consequently, he has increasingly attempted to move away from argument towards “re-description” and to replace the language of logical reasoning with one of presentation & comparison. Instead of invoking premises and conclusions or drawing on inference, consistency or refutation, Rorty “urges” and “recommends”, he “offers”, “nudges” and “suggests”. The following analysis of his work will focus on this stylistic development. For more on his stylistic development go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Rorty and:http://www.minerva.mic.ul.ie//vol12/Rorty.pdf
1953: A VERY BIG YEAR
In 1953 Isaiah Berlin(1909-1997) published a book called The Hedgehog and the Fox. Foxes, he wrote, are people who know many things; hedgehogs know one big thing. It was in part a study of Berlin's literary hero, Leo Tolstoy(1828-1910), whom he described as a fox who wished at times that he was a hedgehog. Isaiah Berlin was perhaps also a fox, intrigued by many ideas, unendingly curious, open-minded and pleading above all for tolerance.
Hedgehogs view the world through the lens of a single defining idea; for example: Plato, Lucretius, Dante, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, and Proust. Foxes draw on a wide variety of experiences and they do not boil down the intellectual world to a single idea. Such foxes include: Herodotus, Aristotle, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce, Anderson).-Ron Price with thanks to several internet sites especially Wikipedia on the topic of Isaiah Berlin.
That erudite Australian raconteur, Clive James, informs us that Berlin was "sexually inoperative but incorrigibly flirtatious; he loved the high-born ladies, who loved him right back, although his paucity of physical response — a desert under the ocean of talk — led several of them to despair, and one of them to the mad-house." Readers might enjoy more of this short essay on Berlin by Clive James on at: http://www.clivejames.com/articles/clive/isaiah-berlin
There is little doubt that I am both
hedgehog and fox. And, like Berlin,
I find solemnity & public seriousness
to be fatal qualities after many years
of life in Australia…..In academic and
private life my thoughts go deeper &
richer and more sacred. Although I do
relate everything to a single & central
vision, still I pursue many ends, often
unrelated and contradictory ones so
prepared as I am now to fight against
whatever odds & whatever the threat
might be with swords made of words
that are sharper than blades of steel
and hotter than summer heat...........
Such is my aim. My view of myself as
well as the view taken by others appears
to be strangely dissimilar. For all of this
I thank Isaiah Berlin, his short runs, and(1)
1953, a very big year for both Berlin & the
vision-the realization of the vision that has
been at the centre of my life all these days.(2)
1 Quotations from Isaiah Berlin on the Internet.
2 The completion of a Divine Ediface in Chicago, the Baha’i temple, and the coextensive appearance of a “most wonderful and thrilling motion in the world of existence.”-Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Wilmette, 1957, p.351.
10/9/'11 to 2/7/'14.
OTHER SECTIONS OF MODERN PHILOSOPHY
Rationalism and Empiricism, Idealism and Phenomenology as well as Pragmatism were outlined at the outset of this webpage as major sections, or topics, within modern philosophy. I have hardly touched on these topics and now leave it to readers, with the interest, to access these aspects of modern philosophy at the following links:
(i) rationalism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationalism
(ii) empiricism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism
(iii) idealism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idealism
(iv) phenomenology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenomenology_(philosophy)
(v) pragmatism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatism
In his introduction to The Journals of Kierkegaard(1834-1854) Alexander Dru writes that at the age of 33, from 1846 on, the whole significance of what Kierkegaard had written “suddenly dawned on him.” “His gifts and talents,” Dru went on, were to be his vocation. He had understood his mission.” It was a mission implicit in the work he had written. In 1846 he began a series of what he called his “proper” Note-books a continuation of his previously haphazard ones. Dru says that the reader can see Kierkegaard’s extraordinary destiny taking shape in these Notebooks, a destiny in the service of an idea, an idee fixe, a destiny linked to an “idea for which he could live and die.”-Ron Price with thanks to Alexander Dru, Introduction to The Journals of Kierkegaard, Fontana, 4th impression 1967, Oxford UP, 1938, pp.7-10.
Your posterity your confidant
by means of your journal,
your most trusted confidant:
"The thing is to find a truth
which is true for me, to find
the idea for which I can live
and for which I can die......1
My posterity my confidant
as I leave behind all these
words--after I found a truth
which was true for me and
for which I have lived, found
a mission, a destiny, a service
to an idea, an idee fixe whose
time had come in this dark
heart of an age of transition
and gradually unfolded by
stages to array my life with
the fruits of consecrated joy.
1 This was written in Kierkegaard’s Journal on August 1, 1835. The entire collection of his Danish journals has been edited and published in 13 volumes which consist of 25 separate bindings including indices. The first English edition of his Journals was edited by Alexander Dru in 1938. A third official translation contained 55 volumes and was completed in 2009.
2 “Were I to die now the effect of my life would be exceptional,” Kierkegaard wrote, “much of what I have simply jotted down carelessly in the Journals would become of great importance and have a great effect.” --Journals, December 1849.
4 July 2007 to 11 September 2011
SORTING THINGS OUT IN HOT SUMMERS
In the early years of my pioneering-travelling life, beginning perhaps as early as 1964 living in Hamilton Ontario at the far west end of Lake Ontario, until my second or third year in Ballarat Victoria in 1977-8, I read every book written by Eric Fromm. Erich Fromm(1900-1980) was a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. He was associated with what became known as the Frankfurt School of critical theory.
Fromm was a theorist that brought other theories, especially psychology theorists, together: Freud, Adler, Horney, Marx. He was part humanist, part Marxist, part Freudian, a large part existentialist. I read at least seven of his books, perhaps more, during these years. I remember trying to connect the Baha’i teachings to the ideas of this eclectic, synthesizing psychologist who argued that, among other things, one’s identity and rootedness come from one’s religion, one’s development as a person comes from a religious framework, philosophy and one’s choices. Memories, Fromm argued, often block one's development and the aim of one’s life is to live intensely.
I read and reread the writings of what I found to be a stimulating psychoanalyst. He seemed to be saying so many things that my religion espoused in different ways with different words; things like: (a) the psyche adapts to the dominant sociopolitical structure of society, (b) character is the result of our solution to and our resolution of existential needs for: survival, relatedness, expression and meaning; (c) character shapes instincts, and (d) we need hope as well as spiritual teachers. -Ron Price with thanks to Michael Maccoby, "The Two Voices of Erich Fromm: The Prophetic and the Analytic," Society, July/August, 2001, Internet, 25 November 2001, pp. 1-16.
We have the inverse of Christianity
here: not the individual changing
society, but society changing the
individual. I knew Fromm was on
to something; it was just too good
to be true and I was still so young.
The messianic view of history was here;
many words about liberation, the paradox
was kept before our eyes: that we were
the most important thing in the universe
but powerlessness and humility was our
reality before that utterly Unknowable....
Essence which the wisdom of the wise
and the learning of the learned would
never ever comprehend: Mystery with
a capital 'M'.
There was a great split between
the ideal and the actual in life,
much of which we had to accept.
There was a dialogue with Fromm,
with the Central Figures of my Faith
for a dozen years in hot Canadian
summers and the hotter Australian
summers as I tried to sort out those
dynamics, the intellectual parameters,
the paradigmatic shifts and bases of
a new religion which was emerging
slowly from its chrysalis, from its
obscurity into the glaring light of
a vast-complete public recognition.
26 November 2001 to 10 September 2011