Lenin: The Theory of Knowledge of Dialectical Materialism

Sensations and Complexes of Sensations

For every scientist who has not been led astray by professorial philosophy, as well as for every materialist, sensation is indeed the direct connection between consciousness and the external world; it is the transformation of the energy of external excitation into the fact of consciousness. This transformation has been, and is, observed by each of us a million times on every hand. The sophism of idealist philosophy consists in the fact that it regards sensation as being not the connection between consciousness and the external world, but a fence, a wall, separating consciousness from the external world – not an image of the external phenomenon corresponding to the sensation, but as the “sole entity”. Avenarius gave but a slightly changed form to this old sophism, which had been already worn threadbare by Bishop Berkeley. Since we do not yet know all the conditions of the connection we are constantly observing between sensation and matter organised in a definite way, let us therefore acknowledge the existence of sensation alone – that is what the sophism of Avenarius amounts to.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, 38

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Part one/to be continued…

Henri Bergson, Neoplatonist, and the Cubist Aesthetic: Part Seven

Bergson thought that there could be a possible interpenetration of human consciousnesses, that two consciousnesses can be united in a single experience, into a single duration1 and that intuition possibly opens the way into consciousness in general.2

Again, he thought that an impersonal consciousness linked our conscious ‘minds’ with all nature.

‘Such a consciousness would grasp, in a single, instantaneous perception, multiple events lying at different points in space; simultaneity would be precisely the possibility of two or more events entering within a single, instantaneous perception. What is true and what illusory, in this way of seeing things?’3

The more conscious we become of our progress in pure duration, the more we press against the future and know freedom.

For Bergson, memory is not a function of the brain but is independent of matter and ‘there is not merely a difference of degree, but of kind, between perception and recollection.’4 The brain is only an intermediary between sensation and duration – ‘in no case can the brain store up recollections or images’.5

‘Memory, inseparable in practice from perception, imports the past into the present, contracts into a single intuition many moments of duration and thus by a twofold operation compels us, de facto, to perceive matter in ourselves, whereas we, de jure, perceive matter within matter.’6

Memory gives us access to pure duration which is spirit – ‘pure memory is a spiritual manifestation. With memory we are, in truth, in the domain of spirit.’7

In reference to Platonism Bergson wrote

‘an invisible current (duration) makes modern philosophy tend to lift the Soul above the Idea. In this as in modern science and even more so, it tends to move in the opposite direction from ancient thought.’8

Not only is his terminology Neoplatonic, his philosophical heritage is clear

And this double movement of memory between its two extreme limits…sketches out…the first general ideas – motor habits ascending to seek similar images, in order to extract resemblances from them, and similar images coming down toward motor habits, to fuse themselves, for instance, in the automatic utterance of the word which makes them one. (my italics)’9

Bergson’s central thesis is that ‘reality’ must be grasped by intuition. Intuition is the immediate non-intellectual knowledge not of discontinuous moments but of the indivisible flow of ‘real’ time, comprising a plurality of multiple aspects and meanings.

Bergson defined intuition as ‘the metaphysical investigation of what is essential and unique in the object’10 and as the ability to immediately discern our own inner being as well as the thoughts of others.11 In apprehending reality in its true duration, we enter into the experience or thing itself.

Bergson referred to Schelling’s and Schopenhauer’s use of the concept ‘intuition’ in their search for the eternal whereas for him, it was a question of finding true duration. Not only is his work informed by Neoplatonism and peppered with concepts such as ‘essence’, ‘absolute’, ‘truth’, ‘perfection’ and ‘God’, for example

‘Coincidence with the person or object can alone give one the absolute. It is in this sense, and in this sense only, that absolute is synonymous with perfection,’12

consider the final sentence in two of his most influential books

‘Spirit borrows from matter the perceptions on which it feeds and restores them to matter in the form of movements which it has stamped with its own freedom’13

‘The animal takes its stand on the plant, man bestrides animality, and the whole of humanity, in space and time, is one immense army galloping beside and before and behind each of us in an overwhelming charge able to beat down every resistance and clear the most formidable obstacles, perhaps even death.’14

Intuition unites science and metaphysics in ‘the absolute’. It deals with mobility, and as I have shown earlier, this mobility applies also to the motionless.

To grasp the essence of a thing is to intuit it in its becoming, its movement. We must place ourselves within this evolution. This amounts to the coincidence of consciousness with ‘the living principle’ from which it derives. So duration is the intuitive apprehension of the passage of time.

Intuition is extremely difficult, since it requires us to use our ‘minds’ in a direction and manner the opposite of which our brains are used to function in, to reach ‘the inward life of things’.15

It therefore requires not only the act of seeing (the already-made) but that this be combined with the act of willing (the being-made). Intuition enables us to grasp reality directly, not superficially but in depth, unmediated by intellectual apprehension. Through intuition we can probe the meaning and nature of life and of evolution itself.

Part seven/to be continued…

Notes

1. Duration and Simultaneity, op. cit., 46-47

2. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 36

3. Duration and Simultaneity, op. cit., 45

4. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 236

5. Ibid., 225

6. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 49

7. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 240

8. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 229

9. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 243

10. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 28

11. Inventing Bergson, op. cit., 40

12. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 3

13. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 249

14. From Creative Evolution in Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 105

15. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 51

Mysticism: the pornography of academic philosophers – Nicholas of Cusa and Hegel

29.07.14

What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?

No direct connection has ever been established between Nicholas of Cusa and Hegel. It has been accepted that Hegel did not know of him.1 In fact, there is clear evidence that Hegel knew of Cusanus, and in detail. Not only did Bruno twice specifically refer to him, and with the highest praise, Buhle, whose history Hegel read, discussed Cusanus at length, citing all of his most important works.

In the first volume of his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Hegel quoted Eckhart from one of his sermons – ‘The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him.’2 In volume III of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy Hegel discussed Böhme – ‘the first German philosopher’ the reading of whose works was ‘wondrous,’ over eleven pages,3 giving five pages in the same volume to Bruno, yet he never even mentioned Cusanus – a figure in the German mystical tradition between Eckhart and Böhme.

But the ‘divine’ Cusanus who Bruno named, ‘the inventor of geometry’s most beautiful secrets,’ is Bruno’s guide in Cause, Principle and Unity,4 in which Bruno referred to key aspects of Cusanus’ philosophy. Bruno again named and referred to Cusanus as ‘divine’ in The Ash Wednesday Supper, citing his single most important treatise, De Docta Ignorantia.5

Particularly, in the same volume of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel wrote simply of Bruno ‘The fullest information about him is to be found in Buhle’s history of philosophy.’6 In that extremely interesting work (not only because of the sections on Cusanus but because in it Buhle discusses the impact of Neoplatonism, Kabbalism and Hermeticism in general on German philosophy) Buhle wrote on Cusanus in detail, naming his most significant treatises.7

Why did Hegel never even name Cusanus, in any of his writing – a man who was far more philosophical, and in the ‘Hegelian manner,’ than either Eckhart and particularly Böhme, of whom Hegel also wrote that his articulation was ‘unmistakably barbarous’ and that he ‘grasps the antitheses in the harshest, crudest fashion’?8

My contention in my thesis will be that Hegel never named Cusanus, not only because he was so indebted to one who was known to be a Christian mystic/Neoplatonist (I have identified more than thirty points in the philosophy of Cusanus which occur in that of Hegel), but because to do so would immediately open to question the nature of Hegel’s vaunted concepts (several of which, I will contend, came directly from Cusanus), the apparent intellectual rigour of his philosophy, and particularly, the meaning of his ‘reason’ – his claims to and for it.

In denying through his utter silence the significance of Cusanus and the foresight of his genius, Hegel was emblematic not only of the German intellectuals of his time (with regard to Spinoza then Swedenborg and Oetinger and later, Nietzsche with regard to ‘Saint Max’ Stirner) but of Western culture as a whole – suppressing key elements of our history, of what has made us, so that we may perceive ourselves, as Hegel did, the bearers and masters of ‘Reason.’9

We of the West believe it has been our ‘reason’ – understood as linguistic, conceptual and particularly propositional – that has enabled us to achieve so much and attain global domination. Mysticism, the myth goes, was only a stage that was shed long ago.

What if ‘reason’ were understood to function not only linguistically, conceptually and propositionally (the reason of patriarchy) but in a manner that has been relegated to and powerfully utilised in the mystical, in ‘the feminine’?

What if philosophers were to be materialists (Heaven forbid!) and recognise, consistent with science, that our brains function wholistically in relation to the world – and philosophise honestly about ‘reason’ on that material basis?

What would happen to our belief in our supremacy then – even as Asia rises?

And what new areas for philosophy might be opened up?

Part one/to be continued…

In subsequent posts I will publish a translation of Buhle’s writing on Cusanus.

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Notes

1. ‘…Nicholas of Cusa (whom Hegel surprisingly never mentions)…’ Michael Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, 140. Magee, citing Beck, wrote ‘we know that Schelling was influenced by reading Nicholas (Lewis White Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and his Predecessors, The Belknap Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969, 71)…However, Hegel never mentions Cusa anywhere in his published writings or in his lectures.’ In the footnote to this Magee (who otherwise writes excellently on the relationship between Hegel, mysticism and Hermeticism, arguing that Hegel was an Hermetic mystic) expressed a standard view ‘David Walsh notes that although there is no evidence that Hegel ever read Cusa, he was indirectly influenced by him through J.G.Hamann and Giordano Bruno.’ Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2001, 28. Redding wrote ‘In Hegel’s case, Spinozistic and Cusan elements (were) reflected through the speculative thought of Schelling,’ Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 31, also ‘Jacobi had not only introduced the German reading public to Spinoza but also to Giordano Bruno, and thereby, indirectly to Nicholas of Cusa.’ Paul Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, Routledge, London, 2009, 126. Hodgson wrote ‘Hegel was familiar with Bruno through Schelling’s work as well as that of J.G.Buhle and F.H.Jacobi,’ Peter C. Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, Fortress, Minneapolis, 2007, 274. Jasper Hopkins wrote ‘Nicholas does not anticipate, prefigure, foreshadow, etc., Kant, so also he does not anticipate Copernicus or Spinoza or Leibniz or Berkeley or Hegel. …In retrospect, Nicholas must be regarded as a transitional figure some of whose ideas (1) were suggestive of new ways of thinking but (2) were not such as to conduct him far enough away from the medieval outlook for him truly to be called a Modern thinker. Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel never mention him, although Kepler, Descartes, and Leibniz do. …Nicholas’s intellectual influence on his own generation and on subsequent generations remained meager.’ Jasper Hopkins, ‘Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464): First Modern Philosopher?’, Renaissance and Early Modern Philosophy, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 26 (2002), pp. 13-29, 28-29.

2. The editor wrote that Hegel was familiar with the writing of Eckhart from 1794. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion vol. I, Ed. Peter C. Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, 347

3. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume III Medieval and Modern Philosophy, Trans. Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009, p. 95

4. Giordano Bruno, Cause, Principle and Unity (De la causa, principio e uno, 1584), Trans. and Ed., Robert de Lucca and Essays on Magic, Trans. and Ed., Richard J. Blackwell, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 96-7

5. Giordano Bruno, The Ash Wednesday Supper (La Cena de le Ceneri, London, 1584), Ed. and Trans., Edward A. Gosselin and Lawrence S. Lerner, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1995, pp. 139, 150

6. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume III, op. cit., p. 62

7. Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Widerherstellung der Wissenschaften, vol. 2, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, p. 81 and p. 342ff

8. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume III, op. cit., p. 103

9. Plotinus wrote his phenomenology of consciousness rising not through its ‘shapes’ or (with a Christian patina) ‘stations’ but hypostases one and a half thousand years before Hegel’s.

English translations of the works of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins

Hegel, mystic, and the ‘Reason’ of the ‘master’ race

‘the Old World exhibits the perfect diremption into three parts, one of which, Africa, the compact metal, the lunar principle, is rigid through heat, a land where man’s inner life is dull and torpid – the inarticulate spirit which has not awakened into consciousness; the second part is Asia, characterised by Bacchanalian extravagance and cometary eccentricity, the centre of unrestrained spontaneous production, formlessly generative and unable to become master of its centre. But the third part, Europe, forms the consciousness, the rational part, of the earth, the balance of rivers and valleys and mountains – whose centre is Germany. The division of the world into continents is therefore not contingent, not a convenience; on the contrary, the differences are essential.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004, 285

‘The principle of the European mind is, therefore, self-conscious Reason which is confident that for it there can be no insuperable barrier and which therefore takes an interest in everything in order to become present to itself therein. …In Europe, therefore, there prevails this infinite thirst for knowledge which is alien to other races. …the European mind…subdues the outer world to its ends with an energy which has ensured for it the mastery of the world.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., William Wallace, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, 45

*

What comprises the reason that this European master of ‘Reason’ and ‘the rational’ asserts? He rightly looks past the propositional but adheres to the linguistic and conceptual. Is it not philosophic to question beyond these as well? Does not his own life and work provide ample justification?

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A Materialist Critique of Skepticism: Part Six

Frede wrote that the skeptic ‘thinks of himself as following Socrates…What I want to suggest is that Arcesilaus and his followers thought of themselves as just following Socratic practice’54 They may have thought that, but their approach was vastly different to that of Socrates.

Although Socrates relentlessly questioned others and stated that he knew nothing, he never said that the truth could not be known. Rather, his life was committed to what was an uncompromising essentialist pursuit, and he gave his life for it. Skepticism, on the other hand, is inherently conservative.

Refusing to ‘take a position’ on the truth of their views, the skeptic lives according to the laws and customs of their society. Empiricus wrote ‘we live in accordance with everyday observances, without holding opinions…By the handing down of customs and laws, we accept, from an everyday point of view, that piety is good and impiety bad.’55 Montaigne expressed it more colourfully ‘“since I am not capable of choosing, I accept other people’s choice and stay in the position where God put me.”’56

The relationship between skepticism and Neoplatonism (the great hidden – and when raised, denied – influence in philosophy), particularly from the early modern period requires research. In his book, Popkin several times mentioned Neoplatonism and Nicholas of Cusa and with regard to a 1652 Dutch study of skepticism in which Cusanus was discussed, he referred to him as a ‘modern skeptic.’57 In his introduction to Montaigne’s essays, Screech also referred to Cusanus.

In her 1935 essay on Montaigne and Melville, Camille La Bossière stated that Montaigne owned a copy of the 1576 edition of Cusanus’ single most important treatise De docta ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance). Montaigne’s skepticism is inseparable from his religious perspective which he powerfully exemplified in the closing section of his Apology, quoting at length from Plutarch and Seneca.

His adopted son summarised this ‘The only possible way of knowing God is to know him negatively, knowing what he is not. Positively, “True knowledge of God is a complete ignorance of Him. To approach God is to be aware of the inaccessible light and to be absorbed by it.”’58

The materialist acknowledges the importance of skepticism (doubt, self-criticism), but this is a skepticism which is not absolutised to the point of agnosticism and which recognises that theorising about the world is always a reflection of the world in thought and therefore must be anchored in the world, as the key element of cognition. In science this is the ‘the scientific method.’

Philosophical skepticism distinguishes between us and the world – in its prioritising of consciousness over objective reality through its concepts ‘mind’ and a ‘truth’ which is formal and absolute. In its treatment of our senses and reason. In its response to appearance as a barrier to knowledge rather than its entrance. In its denial of causality and inability to understand contradiction and its effect – change.

Philosophical skepticism fails to recognise and acknowledge that we have developed in order to know the world, as every part of our material structure, on the basis of engagement with the world, is the most astonishing evidence of. We are of the world (matter), will never leave it, and will vanish back into it. The very self-doubt that made philosophical skepticism so useful as a weapon makes it so useful ideologically. As Paul Lafargue wrote of the workingman’s sausage

‘The workingman who eats sausage and receives a hundred sous a day knows very well that he is robbed by the employer and is nourished by pork meat, that the employer is a robber and that the sausage is pleasant to the taste and nourishing to the body. Not at all, say the bourgeois sophists, whether they are called Pyrrho, Hume or Kant. His opinion is personal, an entirely subjective opinion; he might with equal reason maintain that the employer is his benefactor and that the sausage consists of chopped leather, for he cannot know things-in-themselves.

The question is not properly put, that is the whole trouble…In order to know an object, man must first verify whether his senses deceive him or not…The chemists have gone deeper – they have penetrated into bodies, they have analysed them, decomposed them into their elements, and then performed the reverse procedure, they have recomposed them from their elements. And from the moment that man is able to produce things for his own use from these elements, he may, as Engels says, assert that he knows the things-in-themselves. The God of the Christians, if he existed and if he had created the world, could do no more.’59

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Notes

54. ‘The sceptic’s two kinds of assent and the question of the possibility of knowledge’ op. cit., 258

55. Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Scepticism, op. cit., 9

56. The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle, op. cit., 52 For Montaigne, Pyrrhonism annihilates man’s ‘judgement to make more room for faith; neither disbelieving nor setting up any doctrine against the common observances; humble, obedient, teachable, zealous; a sworn enemy of heresy…He is a blank tablet prepared to take from the finger of God such forms as he shall be pleased to engrave on it.’ ‘Montaigne and Scepticism’ op. cit., 187

57. Ibid., 162. Also ‘Prior to the period I shall deal with, there are some indications of a sceptical motif, principally among the antirational theologians, Jewish, Islamic, and Christian. This theological movement, culminating in the West in the work of Nicholas of Cusa in the fifteenth century, employed many of the sceptical arguments in order to undermine confidence in the rational approach to religious knowledge and truth.’ xix. Skepticism is not the same as apophaticism – the primary difference being that where the skeptic holds that the truth cannot be known, the apophaticist holds that while the truth (meaning God) cannot be known linguistically, through ‘reason’, it (He) can be known (attained) intuitively. Cusanus wrote with profound foresight about the world.

58. Ibid., 58 Popkin added ‘Once having joined the negative theologian’s contention that God is unknowable because he is infinite to the skeptic’s claim that God is unknowable because of man’s inability to know anything, Charron employed this double-barrelled fideism to attack the atheists.’ 58-9

59. Paul Lafargue, ‘Le matérialisme de Marx et l’ idéalisme de Kant,’ Le Socialiste, February 25, 1900

Australia: Shame-based, Conformist and Servile

Look for the sickness beneath sunny skies and the walrus fat of affluence

Australian Defence Force personnel will be walking unprepared into a volatile situation at the MH17 crash site in Ukraine, a senior defence figure has warned.

Abbott’s mission to Ukraine branded ‘nuts’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s announcement of Australia’s intention to send 190 armed Australian Federal Police and an unknown number of ADF personnel to help recover bodies and evidence from the site has been met with incredulity in some parts of Europe, with one analyst branding it ”nuts”.

The senior defence figure, who did not wish to be named, said it was a poor idea for Australia.

”They can’t secure the site,” he said. ”It’s kilometres long and wide. They could escort Australian officials and provide close protection, but this is a civil task rather than a military task and it’s a terribly volatile area.

”We don’t have the language skills or knowledge of the area.

”For any military deployment, you have to look at a status of forces agreement with the government and, given the area the aircraft is in, I don’t think there is anyone to make that agreement with. What I’ve heard is the rebels don’t want more than 30 investigators there.”

Mr Abbott confirmed on Saturday that 230 Australian officials would be sent to help with the recovery. This, he said, would include a small number of defence personnel. …

Mr Abbott said that, despite the dangers, armed personnel are needed to secure the site.

”The last thing we want to do is to place anyone in danger,” he said. …

The Sun-Herald 27.07.14

Some international historical context:

List of airliner shoot down incidents

A Materialist Critique of Cosmopolitanism: Part Six

Pogge correctly states that ‘democracy may take many forms’49 and Caney argues a most important point, that ‘it is of vital importance to explore traditions of thought other than those prevalent in the west.’

The rapid rise of hundreds of millions into a middle class in China, pressing increasingly on both the constraints and the potential of their one-party state of 1.3 billion, in my belief, will present a new model for the world in distributive justice and economic and human rights, but whatever develops there will certainly be very different from the outdated Western model.

One can, however, construct wish-lists to one’s heart’s content50 but, and going beyond Nagel’s position – that ‘we should keep in mind that political power is rarely created as a result of demands for legitimacy’51 – political power is a reflection of economic relations, and whatever determinations are made at the political level (including the recognition of rights and justice) will ultimately be constrained and shaped by those unwilled contradictions between the forces of production and the relations of production.

Nussbaum expresses a very negative perception regarding the future of cosmopolitanism52 and in this, she is by no means alone. Held and Benhabib write similarly.53 Yet Benhabib also makes an excellent point on the basis of ‘Europe’s lumpen proletariat

‘As European social democracy has shrunk in the last decades under the impact of global economic competition, the costs of German unification and the dislocations caused by the common Euro-market, these groups have become subject not only to continuous discrimination but also to socioeconomic cutbacks and increasing unemployment. In the current context, it is desirable to find a language of universalistic solidarity which also would be a language of integration (my italics) through socioeconomic equality rather than that of assimilation through denial of difference. Redistribution and recognition struggles need to go hand in hand. This process may move the liberal nation toward the more democratic kind of cosmopolitanism that I have proposed in these lectures.’54

Benhabib recognises the need not merely for institutional reform but a thorough-going redistribution towards socio-economic equality, and the potential for rights, democracy and justice thereby. But this could never happen to any significant degree under capitalism because, at its core, as I have processed earlier, is the necessity of exploitation – nationally and globally.

Brown warns of the problems facing Europe and notes ‘just how important it is to understand the deeper forces and issues (my italics) brought to the surface by the processes of political restructuring currently under way in Europe.’55 It is my understanding of these underlying forces and that their primacy must be recognised in any considerations regarding rights, democracy and justice that I have been arguing for in this essay.56

Part six/to be continued…

Notes

49. ‘The human right to political participation also leaves room for a wide variety, hence regional diversity, of decision-making procedures – direct or representative, with or without political parties, and so on. Democracy may take many forms.’, Pogge, ‘Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty’ op. cit., 69

50. ‘Once we think about present human misery in global terms, other reforms come readily to mind’ Pogge, ‘The Bounds of Nationalism’, op. cit., 148

51. Nagel, ‘The Problem of Global Justice’ op. cit., 145

52. ‘One must acknowledge that we do not see a triumph for cosmopolitanism right now in the United States, which seems increasingly indifferent to cosmopolitan goals and increasingly given over to a style of politics that does not focus on recognising the equal humanity of the alien and the other; which seems increasingly hostile, too, to the intellectuals whom Kant saw as crucial to the production of such an enlightenment. …Nor is it only in America that cosmopolitanism seems to be in grave jeopardy. The state of things in very many parts of the world gives reason for pessimism’, Martha C. Nussbaum, ‘Kant and Cosmopolitanism’, The Cosmopolitan Reader, op. cit., pp. 27-44, 41

53. ‘For many, it is already “apocalypse now”; for the rest of us it may well be “apocalypse soon” unless our governance arrangements can meet the tests of solidarity, justice, democracy and effectiveness.’ David Held, ‘Reframing Global Governance: Apocalypse Soon or Reform!’, ibid., pp. 293-311, 311; ‘This is the truth behind contemporary theories of empire: the flight of power from the control of popular jurisdiction. …The interlocking of democratic iteration struggles within a global civil society and the creation of solidarities beyond borders, including a universal right of hospitality that recognises the other as a potential co-citizen, anticipate another cosmopolitanism – a cosmopolitanism to come.’ Benhabib, ‘Hospitality, Sovereignty, and Democratic Iterations – Reply to Commentators’, op. cit., 177

54. Benhabib, ‘Hospitality, Sovereignty, and Democratic Iterations – Reply to Commentators’ op. cit., 175

55. Chris Brown, Ed., Political Restructuring in Europe: Ethical Perspectives, Routledge, London, 2001, 3

56. Held writes ‘The deep drivers of this process (i.e. globalisation) will be operative for the foreseeable future’. For him they are the changing infrastructure of global communications, the development of global markets, the pressure of migration, the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a new type and form of global civil society. Held, ‘Reframing Global Governance: Apocalypse Soon or Reform!’, op. cit., pp. 296-297

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Three

Schelling and Nietzsche both made excellent criticisms of Kant. Schelling who wrote that to philosophise, one cannot neglect the issue of matter,1 that matter is the foundation of all experience2 also wrote

‘It is quite possible to drive even the most convinced adherent of things-in-themselves as the causes of our ideas into a corner by all sorts of questions. One can say to him, I understand how matter affects matter, but neither how one in-itself affects another, since there can be no cause and no effect in the realm of the intelligible, nor how this law of one world extends into another altogether different from it, in fact completely opposed to it. You would then have to admit, if I am dependent on external impressions, that I myself am nothing more than matter’3

He not only argued the priority of matter over thought but the impossibility of a law completely opposed to the material world and its causal determination, itself functioning in this world. Kant defined matter as ‘that in the appearance (of an empirical intuition) which corresponds to sensation’.4

Yet matter, as with space and time, is a concept for what exists independently of consciousness and thought – of us. Space is not a thing in which matter is distributed, it is the distribution of matter itself, time is not a measure which we rely upon, it is matter in motion. In the functioning of matter there is no requirement for us. We are manifestations of matter. This is the unity that Kant rejected.

It is most interesting that Schelling, the same person who wrote so well about matter (although his discussion of it, indicatively, slipped into the metaphysical), who, on this basis identified the flaw in Kant’s noumenon, then proposed as the solution that philosophy take over the role of religion, later that nature itself be deified and mythologised – that mythology supplant matter.5 He developed his ‘cure’ by drawing on a Platonic/Neoplatonic/Christian current present in German philosophy long before Kant, and in Kant’s philosophy itself.6

Nietzsche’s relation of Christianity and ‘god’ to metaphysics and Kant is justified – his thoughts are tersely, astutely and (as one would expect from him) acerbically expressed. His defence of becoming and praise for the senses themselves warrant praise.

But if one has any concern for what is preached and philosophically practised, when one examines Nietzsche’s arguments more closely, his own position becomes ‘the last smoke of evaporating reality’.7 I know of no more contemptuously hypocritical and self-contradictory philosopher than Nietzsche. In relation to his own writing, his condemnation of Kant warrants Homeric laughter. His indebtedness to Kant was profound.

Part three/to be continued…

Notes

1. Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature op. cit., p. 181

2. Ibid., p. 179

3. Ibid.

4. The Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., p. 65, A20

5. ‘(mythology) is the world and as it were the ground in which alone the exotic plants of art are able to bloom and grow.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 45, #38

6. In his writing on morals, Kant advocated not only belief in God as ‘a postulate’ but Christian morals and ‘practical’ faith in the Son of God. Schelling wrote: ‘(the divine imagination) is the means by which the universe is populated; according to this law life flows out into the world from the absolute as from that which is without qualification one.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 37, #30

7. Twilight of the Idols, op. cit., p. 481, section 4

Henri Bergson, Neoplatonist, and the Cubist Aesthetic: Part Six

Pablo Picasso, Maquette for a sculpture of a guitar; paperboard, cardboard, paper, string, wire, before November 15, 1913. Museum of Modern Art, New York

Pablo Picasso, Maquette for a sculpture of a guitar; paperboard, cardboard, paper, string, wire, before November 15, 1913. Museum of Modern Art, New York

Bergson held that because the brain is a ‘biological instrument’ its capacity for intelligence is restricted to the taking of ‘snapshots’. Modern science likewise substitutes signs for the objects themselves. These signs or Ideas are the moments of becoming and are plucked from eternity – ‘we end in the philosophy of Ideas when we apply the cinematographical mechanism of the intellect to the analysis of the real’.1

The above may appear to contradict my thesis that Bergsonism was an adaptation of Platonism and Neoplatonism. However, not only did Bergson use Platonic terminology and do so in often contradictory ways as I have shown, his maintenance of the relationship between eternal truth (as duration) and appearance (as snapshots of that truth), and of the way by which that truth can be attained (through non-propositional intuition) derives from a Platonic and particularly Neoplatonic heritage.2

Bergson argued that an accumulation of points of view place one outside the subject and that the only way of attaining the subject’s essence (the absolute, perfection) would be by coinciding internally with the subject, by placing oneself within it. By entering it we attain absolute knowledge, by moving around it and remaining on its exterior we can acquire only relative knowledge.

‘Were all the photographs of a town, taken from all possible points of view, to go on indefinitely completing one another, they would never be equivalent to the solid town in which we walk about.’3

Cubism and photography

Through entering and identifying with the original, we become it. Bergson’s distinction between an accumulation of points revealing a subject and its perfect essence is the same as Plato made between the art of representation and truth. The former is a long way removed.4

In his philosophy, Bergson sought to bring the flow of reality to consciousness as opposed to a succession of changing states. He thought that it is only by an effort that we can overcome our natural practice of taking ‘views’ of reality and apprehending a succession of changing states. Antliff suggests that these multiple views can be interpreted as a Kantian attempt to grasp the thing-in-itself.5

Bergson however referred to Kant’s thing-in-itself and stated we can know part of reality – ourselves – in our ‘natural purity.’ The taking of ‘snapshots’ is a function of the brain and is necessary for mere existence. Duration, which is entirely different, is a function of consciousness which in turn is distinct from the brain. Although Bergson acknowledged objective reality, ‘true’ reality lay only in conscious duration.6

In Creative Evolution, Bergson addressed the difficulty of portraying the marching past of a regiment. He wrote that we could take a series of snapshots and throw them on a screen so they very rapidly replace each other. But photography is not animation and from this we could never get movement. Even the motion in film can’t bring us to the full duration of this event. To do so, we must attach the images to an invisible becoming ‘situated at the back of the apparatus of knowledge, in order to imitate what there is that is characteristic in this becoming itself’.7

Even when they are successive, states of consciousness permeate one another ‘and in the simplest of them the whole soul can be reflected’.8 Memory, which is the progression from past to present, enables us to place ourselves immediately in the past.

‘We start from a “virtual state” which we lead onwards, step-by-step, through a series of different planes of consciousness, up to the goal where it is materialised in an actual perception; that is to say, up to the point where it becomes a present, active state – up to that extreme plane of our consciousness against which our body stands out. In this virtual state, pure memory consists.’9

Cubism and photography 1

For Bergson, these planes of consciousness move between the plane of ‘pure’ memory and the plane of action. He believed that between these two planes are thousands of different planes of consciousness. The plane of ‘pure’ memory is the place of dreaming. The plane of action is the plane of ‘motor habits’. Bergson referred to these planes of consciousness as an infinite number of planes of memory.10 Further, ‘These planes…exist virtually, with that existence which is proper to things of the spirit’.11

Part six/to be continued…

Notes

1. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 315. This quotation appears to contradict my thesis, but the contradiction is Bergson’s – see next note.

2. Numerous connections can be argued between Plato, Plotinus and Bergson. Some more will be argued by myself and quoted from Bergson in this essay. Also, for example ‘ “And what about life? Is not that a function of mind?” “Very much so”, he said’, Plato, The Republic, trans. D. Lee, London, 1984, 100. This essay is primarily a setting out of Bergson’s philosophy. Where Plato’s Ideas exist in stasis, Plotinus incorporated them (in his second hypostasis) into a profoundly dynamic system of emanation and return.

3. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 22

4. ‘The art of representation is therefore a long way removed from truth and it is able to reproduce everything because it has little grasp of anything, and that little is of a mere phenomenal appearance. For example, a painter can paint a portrait of a shoemaker or a carpenter or any other craftsman without understanding any of their crafts.’ The Republic, op. cit., 426. Also, the well-known example of the painter of a bed being at third remove from God’s creation.

5. R. Antliff, ‘Bergson and Cubism: A Reassessment’, op. cit., 342

6. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 30

7. In A. Papanicolaou, P. Gunter, eds., Bergson and Modern Thought, Towards A Unified Science, London, 1987, 220

8. Time and Free Will, op. cit., 98

9. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 239

10. Ibid., 170

11. Ibid., 242

Image sources:

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– black and white, Cubism, Edward F. Fry, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978

Nietzsche, Western mysticism and philosophy’s concealed priesthood

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), ‘Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb’, 1630-1634, oil on canvas, Milwaukee Art Museum

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), ‘Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb’, 1630-1634, oil on canvas, Milwaukee Art Museum

Philosophy, rather than some abstract ‘love of wisdom,’ should be a critical practice – of never accepting ‘at face value’ a person’s statements (particularly those of a philosopher) but of always analysing those statements, looking for the inconsistencies, for what is really being argued, seeking to understand how it is being argued – and of developing one’s own argument in response.

This should be all the more so in the case of Nietzsche, who was a master rhetorician, and more broadly, with regard to the impact of mysticism on Western culture. Mysticism (its primary Western form Neoplatonism) has provided the theoretical justification and tools both for what philosophers have presented as the achievements of the most rigorous thought, the most punctilious ‘reason’ and for an attack on that.

Nietzsche is exemplary of what happened in philosophy, particularly after the late eighteenth century, in response to the rise of science. In a nutshell, God was brought from heaven and placed – concealed – within. Nietzsche himself identified a concealed priesthood in philosophy1 – a priesthood Hegel overtly argued for in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion.2 Nietzsche and Hegel themselves were of that priesthood.

Unless one is familiar with mysticism (how it is expressed, its theory and developments on it) one cannot fully appreciate its pervasive influence. Nietzsche’s philosophy, from The Birth of Tragedy (in which he repeatedly referred to the Primal Oneness and paraphrased the core simile of the sculptor in The Enneads) to his final published work The Will to Power (which contains, in its final ‘aphorism,’ a synopsis of The Enneads) is suffused with the influence of mysticism – particularly Neoplatonism.

Nietzsche was through and through a man of ‘god’ (he came from a family of Lutheran pastors and was referred to when he was young as ‘the little pastor’). This bowerbird told us that the Christian God (which he hated, not least, because he was so damaged by it) was dead (he got the ‘death of god’, as did Hegel, from a Lutheran hymn) only so his god, a Dionysian Übermensch, similarly tortured and sacrificed like Christ (whom Nietzsche loved), could appear centre stage.

He, like many before and after on this matter, feared the disapproval of his fellow educated. Safranski wrote that, wanting to read the writing of Max Stirner (Johann Caspar Schmidt – Marx and Engels referred to him in The German Ideology as ‘Saint Max’), Nietzsche sent one of his students (Adolf Baumgartner) to the Basel library in 1874 to get it. On another occasion, Safranski reports, he was quoted by his friend Ida Overbeck as saying that she would not let on that he was familiar with Stirner’s writing.

Nietzsche was accused of not only having been influenced by Stirner but of having plagiarised him. Safranski quotes one contemporary of Nietzsche’s having written that Nietzsche would have been ‘permanently discredited in any educated milieu if he had demonstrated even the least bit of sympathy for Stirner’. (Rudiger Safranski, Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography, Trans., Shelley Frisch, Granata Books, London, 2002, 126)

Similarly, the lyricism, the centrality of creativity and the progression towards unity in the philosophy of Plotinus (and developments on it) became absorbed into Nietzsche’s philosophy (as it had been into Hegel’s) as an anchor for a Romanticism that had outlived its time, against the rising tide of the Common Man.

Once the learned and deep thinkers who had so thoroughly rejected the Neoplatonic vitalism of the outcast Nietzsche’s philosophy came to appreciate its usefulness (as they did Bergson’s equally vitalist Neoplatonism around the same time) against the rise of science, against the acknowledgement that we can and do know the world and particularly against materialism with its recognition of the primacy of objective reality (‘matter’) over consciousness and thought – their response changed and Nietzsche’s ascent – in memoriam – was underway.

Other examples: the same secrecy and denial was held by many with regard to their avid study of the writing of Spinoza and by Schelling, likewise, with regard to Swedenborg. And it is all in the same area – of ‘subjectivism’ (‘pantheism,’ mysticism etc.)’.

In hiding and denying this influence, academic philosophers – who have arrogated behind cloistered walls what Socrates practised on the streets of Athens and gave his life for – have utterly failed in both social and intellectual responsibility.

I have set up this blog to contribute to exposing and addressing their failure. I should also add that with the passing of those stages of capitalist ideology known as ‘modernism’ and increasingly, ‘postmodernism’, some academics are slowly coming to acknowledge and engage with this ‘unpleasant’ – and dangerous ‘subjectivism’ (‘dangerous’ because to do so threatens to expose not only so much dishonesty – particularly by career philosophers – but the central cultural arrogance they serve – that we in the West are the bearers of Reason and it is this reason that has enabled us to achieve all that we have).

To recognise the immense contribution mysticism has inspired in Western culture, to understand its ‘reason’ and to stop appropriating achievements made on that basis to a Reason foreign to it – I refer to the Neoplatonic distinction between the reason of dynamic unity and that of static analysis, between that which was for Hegel ‘speculative’ and that which separates, which pulls apart – would only be to the great benefit of philosophy.

Magee wrote ‘an appreciation of the role of mystical ideas in the thought of Hegel and other modern thinkers opens new vistas, new paradigms for the history of modern philosophy and for the philosophy of history. Modernity is a project, a social and historical movement with a linear trajectory: from unreason to reason, superstition to science, domination by nature to dominion over it, mastery and slavery to universal freedom, darkness to light.’3

I strongly recommend Stephen MacKenna’s magnificent translation of The Enneads (abridged) and William Franke’s two volume anthology On What Cannot be Said, which exemplifies the extent to which mysticism has shaped and continues to shape Western culture and its reason.

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Notes

1. ‘The decisive sign that reveals that the priest (-including the concealed priest, the philosopher) has become master not only within a certain religious community but in general is that décadence morality, the will to the end, counts as morality in itself, is the unconditional value everywhere accorded to the unegoistic and the hostility accorded the egoistic.’
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo 1908, Trans. R.J.Hollingdale, Introduction Michael Tanner, Penguin, 2004, 66-67

2. ‘Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. In philosophy itself the resolution is only partial. These lectures have attempted to offer guidance to this end.
Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’
G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III, Ed., Peter C. Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, pp. 161-162

Plotinus wrote ‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’
Plotinus, The Enneads, (Abridged), Trans. Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, VI, 9.11, p. 549

3. Glenn Alexander Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Frederick C. Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009, 253-280, 280

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