Excellent words from a priest

The masses are the victims of the deception of a priesthood which, in its envious conceit, holds itself to be the sole possessor of insight and pursues its other selfish ends as well. At the same time it conspires with despotism which…stands above the bad insight of the multitude and the bad intentions of the priests, and yet unites both within itself. From the stupidity and confusion of the people brought about by the trickery of priestcraft, despotism, which despises both, draws for itself the advantage of undisturbed domination and the fulfilment of its desires and caprices, but is itself at the same time this same dullness of insight, the same superstition and error.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans., A.V.Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 330


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

The Abduction of Europa, Rembrandt, 1632. Oil on oak panel, Getty Centre, Los Angeles.

‘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?


Ian Whicher on Yoga and freedom


In his article ‘Yoga and Freedom: A Reconsideration of Patanjali’s Classical Yoga’1 Ian Whicher has sought to counter a dualistic and isolationist interpretation of Yoga he believes is presented by many scholars. He does this by analysing cittavrttinirodha (‘cessation of the turnings or modifications of the mind’), a notion central to Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra. He argues that far too often misinterpretations and misrepresentations have resulted from partial and misleading definitions of terms. His argument is built on the assertion that Patanjali defined Yoga as ‘the cessation of (the misidentification with) the modifications (vrtti) of the mind (citta)’.2 Rather than purusa misidentifying a relationship with prakrti – a relationship he holds to be of fundamental importance, Whicher locates the misidentification within that necessary relationship.

He claims that scholars and other writers argue that Patanjali taught a radical dualism on the basis of nirodha meaning a negation of the ‘mind’ for the purpose of spiritual liberation, resulting in the separation of purusa from prakrti (of which citta is an element), the divorce of pure consciousness from the world. By explaining nirodha as the cessation of vrttis, scholars have presented Yoga as a form of world-denial, rendering life in the world for the yogin as a purposeless existence that has no connection with consciousness. For Whicher, nirodha refers to the cessation of the empirical effects of the vrttis on the yogin’s consciousness, not the complete cessation of vrttis. He asks how one could attempt to obey a teaching that advises ‘death’ of the ‘mind’ when the ‘mind’ is what is necessary to both daily life and to the path of liberation. Exclusive identification with material existence as one’s true self is the source of duhkha. It is this misidentification and not the ‘mind’ that must be discarded. Not only is nirodha not the cessation of vrttis, it involves an expansion of perception such that the yogin can, as untainted pure consciousness or purusa, perceive the interconnectedness of reality. Further, the process of nirodha involves sacrifice of the yogin’s ego and surrender of his perspective and prepares him for a life of ethical compassion and service, a life very different from that led by the disengaged person who would result from the dualism that Whicher critiques.

Again, Whicher opposes those interpreters of Yoga who subscribe to a separation between purusa and prakrti leading to the eventual disappearance of prakrti. This impoverished split between spirit and matter derives from the Samkhya philosophy and Whicher argues that to apply this split to Patanajali’s Yoga trivialises it. Such separation implies the absence of the body. What Yoga involves is the absence of ego, towards the ending of samsara. Whicher writes that to even question why purusa would want to be integrated with prakrti is elitist. He questions when they have ever been separate – the integration of both is a unification and liberation of seer and seeing. Patanjali utilised the concepts of purusa and prakrti in the Samkhya world view to instil an orientation in the yogin that is both spiritual and practical, in which body, ‘mind’ and the world are not denied as is the case in idealistic interpretations. Purusa brings consciousness to prakrti and prakrti brings the content of experience to consciousness so that consciousness can function practically. To separate purusa from prakrti would result in an imbalance that would reflect on notions of the self inimical to Yoga – narcissism, egocentrism or a sense of isolation impelled towards self-negation might result.

Citta can be harnessed, not to ‘disentangle’ purusa from prakrti but to disentangle the nature of their true relationship, that between reality and appearance. The state of kaivalya (‘aloneness’) that Patanjali advocated was not one of solipsistic isolation nor a dualistic state in which there is a division between knower and known, seer and ‘seeable’ as is often maintained as the goal of Yoga, it is the ineffable ‘aloneness’ of the power of ‘seeing’ in its purity and clarity.3 Its attainment requires the integration purusa and prakrti in the act of pure seeing – purusa provides the consciousness of the seer and prakrti the realm of the seeable. In it, prakrti has been liberated from ignorance and purusa and citta attain a sameness of purity and balanced harmony. In it, the yogin has no misidentification with vrtti.

The yogin, having undergone the process of nirodha, lives a balanced and fulfilled life in this world, free of attachment, able to express the full range of emotions without being overtaken by them. This is obviously very different from the yogin who severs all ties with the world. Patanjali’s Yoga, defined as cittavrttinirodha is the eradication of spiritual ignorance. It is this ignorance that is the cause of our misidentification with and attachment to the world. Whicher argues that Yoga is a highly developed and integrated state of mystical illumination that enhances our self-identity, that Patanjali’s Yoga does not imply the extinction of our selfhood, together with the material world, but it entails the opposite.



1. Ian Whicher, ‘Yoga and Freedom: A Reconsideration of Patanjali’s Classical Yoga’ Philosophy East and West, vol. 48, no. 2 (April, 1998), pp. 272-322

2. Ibid., p. 273

3. Compare with the concluding words of The Enneads VI,9.11: ‘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, third ed. abridged.,  Trans. S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, p.  549

The expunged two thousand year history of Indian materialism

How to retain the relevance of metaphysics (the primacy of consciousness over matter)

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

How to retain the primacy of consciousness over matter: attach a carefully worded lie to the greatest scientific hypothesis – thus Kant’s ‘Copernican turn’

Kant wrote: ‘…the fundamental laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies gave established certainty to what Copernicus had at first assumed only as an hypothesis, and at the same time yielded proof of the invisible force (the Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained for ever undiscovered if Copernicus had not dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator. The change in point of view, analogous to this hypothesis, which is expounded in the Critique, I put forward in this preface as an hypothesis only, in order to draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such a change, which are always hypothetical. But in the Critique itself it will be proved, apodeictically not hypothetically, from the nature of our representations of space and time and from the elementary concepts of the understanding.’ Immanuel Kant, Preface to the Second Edition, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1987, 25 (Footnote)

and ‘We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus’ primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility.’ (22)

Kant’s incorrect assertion that Copernicus had sought the observed movements in the spectator is not the crucial point – it is that Kant thereby had the pretext to give priority over matter to ‘mind’/consciousness – via concepts and the ‘forms of intuition’. Copernicus’ hypothesis is an objective hypothesis about the world, the functioning of which Copernicus recognised requires neither the spectator – nor their ‘mind’/consciousness.1

In On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Copernicus a couple of times referred to the spectator: ‘For every apparent change in place occurs on account of the movement either of the thing seen or of the spectator, or on account of the necessarily unequal movement of both. For no movement is perceptible relatively to things moved equally in the same directions – I mean relatively to the thing seen and the spectator.’ Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Ed., Stephen Hawking, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2002, 12

But the spectator did not figure in his hypothesis itself: ‘For the daily revolution appears to carry the whole universe along, with the exception of the Earth (my emphasis) and the things around it. And if you admit that the heavens possess none of this movement but that the Earth (my emphasis) turns from west to east, you will find – if you make a serious examination – that as regards the apparent rising and setting of the sun, moon, and stars the case is so. And since it is the heavens which contain and embrace all things as the place common to the universe, it will not be clear at once why movement should not be assigned to the contained rather than to the container, to the thing placed rather than to the thing providing the place.’ (12-13)

Not only – going beyond Kant’s noumenal barrier (and, most significantly, towards acquisition of knowledge of the world) – was careful observation crucial to Copernicus’ hypothesis: ‘Having recorded three positions of the planet Jupiter and evaluated them in this way, we shall set up three others in their place, which we observed with greatest care at the solar oppositions of Jupiter’ (291), not only was he entirely comfortable with appearances, repeatedly referring to them and setting out the means for counteracting them: ‘For in order to perceive this by sense with the help of artificial instruments, by means of which the job can be done best, it is necessary to have a wooden square prepared, or preferably a square made from some other more solid material, from stone or metal; for the wood might not stay in the same condition on account of some alteration in the atmosphere and might mislead the observer’ (61), he dealt with the reciprocal relationships between sun, earth and moon, irrespective of which body was moving: ‘It is of no importance if we take up in an opposite fashion what others have demonstrated by means of a motionless earth and a giddy world and race with them toward the same goal, since things related reciprocally happen to be inversely in harmony with one another’ (60), even writing ‘And for this reason we can call the former movement of the sun – to use the common expression – the regular and simple movement’ (161).

The Sage of Königsberg steps forth: ‘it is clearly shown, that if I remove the thinking subject the whole corporeal world must at once vanish: it is nothing save an appearance in the sensibility of our subject and a mode of its representations’ (Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., 354).

Sapere aude…



1. Bertrand Russell wrote that Kant should have ‘spoken of a “Ptolemaic counter-revolution (my italics)”, since he put man back at the centre from which Copernicus had dethroned him..’ Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1948, 9, in Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 3. Kant’s calculated nonsense was replicated by A.C.Ewing ‘“Just as Copernicus taught that the movement round the earth which men had ascribed to the sun was only an appearance due to our own movement,” stated Ewing, “so Kant taught that space and time which men had ascribed to reality were only appearances due to ourselves. The parallel is correct.”’ Ibid. Space is the objective distribution of matter, time (not the measure of time) is the objective movement of matter in space. Space, time, matter and motion (all objective) are inseparable. Kant’s crucial spectator with their consciousness is the product of these.

On philosophy as a sanctuary for an isolated order of priests

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

‘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

‘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



Aristotle, Hegel and Lenin on truth

François Lemoyne (1688-1737), Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, 1737 (completed on the day before the artist’s suicide), Wallace Collection, London

François Lemoyne (1688-1737), Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, 1737 (completed on the day before the artist’s suicide), Wallace Collection, London

Now it is also the case that there can be nothing intermediate to an assertion and a denial. We must either assert or deny any single predicate of any single subject. The quickest way to show this is by defining truth and falsity. Well, falsity is the assertion that that which is is not or that that which is not is and truth is the assertion that that which is is and that that which is not is not. Thus anyone who asserts anything to be or not to be is either telling the truth or telling a falsehood. On the other hand, neither that which is is said either not to be or to be nor is that which is not.

And if there were an intermediate of contradictory statements, then it would either be like grey between black and white or like the non-man-non-horse between man and horse.

Aristotle, The Metaphysics, Trans and Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, Penguin, London, 2004, 107 (Gamma 7 1011b)

*  *  *

It is admitted that the law of identity expresses only a one-sided determinateness, that it contains only formal truth, a truth which is abstract, incomplete. In this correct judgement, however, it is immediately implied that truth is complete only in the unity of identity with difference, and hence consists only in this unity.

G.W.F. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V. Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 414

the truth is concrete; that is, while it gives a bond and principle of unity, it also possesses an internal source of development

G.W.F. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, 19-20

For what subject matter can cognition have that is more sublime than truth itself!

G.W.F. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V. Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 575

*  *  *

Contemporary fideism does not at all reject science; all it rejects is the “exaggerated claims” of science, to wit, its claim to objective truth. If objective truth exists (as the materialists think), if natural science, reflecting the outer world in human “experience”, is alone capable of giving us objective truth, then all fideism is absolutely refuted. But if there is no objective truth, if truth (including scientific truth) is only an organising form of human experience, then this in itself is an admission of the fundamental premise of clericalism, the door is thrown open for it, and a place is cleared for the “organising forms” of religious experience.

V.I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 110

Dialectics—as Hegel in his time explained—contains an element of relativism, of negation, of scepticism, but is not reducible to relativism. The materialist dialectics of Marx and Engels certainly does contain relativism, but is not reducible to relativism, that is, it recognises the relativity of all our knowledge, not in the sense of denying objective truth, but in the sense that the limits of approximation of our knowledge to this truth are historically conditional.

V.I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 121

The standpoint of life, of practice, should be first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge. And it inevitably leads to materialism, sweeping aside the endless fabrications of professorial scholasticism. Of course, we must not forget that the criterion of practice can never, in the nature of things, either confirm or refute any human idea completely. This criterion too is sufficiently “indefinite” not to allow human knowledge to become “absolute”, but at the same time it is sufficiently definite to wage a ruthless fight on all varieties of idealism and agnosticism. If what our practice confirms is the sole, ultimate and objective truth, then from this must follow the recognition that the only path to this truth is the path of science, which holds the materialist point of view.

V.I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, 1908, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 126-27



What capitalist societies can learn from China’s barefoot doctors

The people who were chosen by their communities to become barefoot doctors studied anatomy, bacteriology, disease diagnosis, acupuncture, family planning, maternal and infant care, and traditional and Western medicines with teams of medical staff. All received a barefoot doctor’s manual - a comprehensive guide to the many health issues they were trained to treat.

The people who were chosen by their communities to become barefoot doctors studied anatomy, bacteriology, disease diagnosis, acupuncture, family planning, maternal and infant care, and traditional and Western medicines with teams of medical staff. All received a barefoot doctor’s manual – a comprehensive guide to the many health issues they were trained to treat.

*   *   *

There is a great deal of potential for health care in a society by reflecting on how China’s barefoot doctors were trained, how they were organised and how they worked:

  • though not fully qualified doctors, they had the possibility of becoming so
  • their funding sources were both broad and local
  • they focused on preventive care
  • their role reduced health care costs
  • qualified doctors were sent from the cities, as part of their social obligation, to work with them – in other words, social obligation was fundamental to Chinese health care.
  • they used both traditional and ‘Western’ medicine
  • they lived and worked as members of a community – they also farmed – thereby earning the trust of their community
  • above all, they were motivated by a social ethic. When I discussed the barefoot doctors with a Chinese friend who was a doctor in Beijing she said ‘they came from a different time, more moral’
An herb grower teaches barefoot doctors about medicinal plants, Mount Huangshan, China, 1977

An herb grower teaches barefoot doctors about medicinal plants, Mount Huangshan, China, 1977

Doctors in Australia have been extremely reluctant both to give up any of their procedures to those less qualified and to accept a perspective on health care other than one consonant with their mantra of ‘evidence-based’ (so often shown to amount to pro-the drug industry and pro-surgery, and often amounting to the rejection of evidence), arguing a concern for patient safety.

The reluctance, even refusal, still, of Western doctors to have an wholistic approach to health care and medicine (contrary to all the evidence), to appreciate the relationship between how a person thinks and feels and the health of their body would be incomprehensible if one didn’t see the forms for surgery and all the little hand-outs from drug companies on their desks.

An equivalent of the barefoot doctors could form another level in the provision of health care not only in urbanised regions but particularly in sparsely populated areas – such as in Australia. It should not be a matter of either (the fully qualified professional)/or (none at all)

I have no doubt that the traditional methods and ways of thinking (communal and grounded in nature) of Australia’s Aboriginal people would have a great deal to offer in this regard.

Precisely because the ethic of the barefoot doctors represents an approach to health care contradictory to the nature of capitalism (socialist, not exploitative and profit-driven), the lessons they embody will most probably be lost on a capitalist West.

I understand that with the gradual loosening of economic constraints in China (a necessary but complex and delicate development that the Chinese have so far managed very well since a process of reform was initiated by Deng Xiaoping) the Western view of health care is also, most unfortunately, (re)gaining influence.



Wikipedia: Barefoot doctor

God is not dead: Nietzsche’s aesthetics of self

Michelangelo, ‘The Young Slave’, marble, c. 1530-34, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

Michelangelo, ‘The Young Slave’, marble, c. 1530-34, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

‘…since Kant, transcendentalists of every kind have once more won the day – they have been emancipated from the theologians: what joy! – Kant showed them a secret path by which they may, on their own initiative and with all scientific respectability, from now on follow their “heart’s desire.” ’1

When we begin to study a text, we place our craft on a flow of words and are borne away. Are we won by their cogency? Or convinced by their force – by the impulse from their origin? Might we know them by the friends they keep, and by the deeds they commit upon us? Or do we engage with them and seek the contradictions – where the eddies, the cross movements, and the undertow – where the richer signs of life? …And to what are we blind, and why?…

We have understood Nietzsche, a man who wrote so much on the relation between form and content, largely according to his will. His writing on and against philosophical idealism sustains his work – he boasted that he had risen above that current running from Plato, through Christianity (‘Platonism for the people’, for which he felt the most bitter antipathy) to Hegel, Kant and Schopenhauer.2 He told us that Dionysus and Apollo overthrew this sickly orientation, that perspective should replace universals, that binary oppositions are false, and that the best art is synonymous with creativity, life and truth. And we welcomed his perspective.

Evocative of Proverbs 1: 20-31, Diogenes the dog in search of an honest person and Macbeth, Nietzsche’s madman entered the market place, lantern in hand, and cried words which have echoed through a much larger marketplace – ‘God is dead’. If not a shout of victory, these words convey the stamp of finality, emphatic in their simplicity. But why have they been ripped from their context, why has their meaning been torn from them, and both context and meaning discarded?

‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives – who will wipe this blood off us?…Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?‘ (my Italics)3

This quotation indicates how Nietzsche ‘solved’ his primary concern, the problem of God(’s death). Having willed His death in eternity…Nietzsche resurrected (created) Him in the temporal flesh. He brought back to earth and maintained in ‘life’ that which he attacked Plato and Christianity for having sent beyond. But it was to an earth beyond time, the life of ‘mind’.4 And he proselytised God in the name of another faith – his own creation, Dionysus.5

Nietzsche’s Dionysus and Apollo arose from a chain of inspiration originated by Plato, which has continued across generations, with inevitable developments and variations in emphasis. The Timaeus, a dialogue from Plato’s ‘middle’ or ‘late’ period, and generally and mistakenly regarded as a minor work, is his attempt to give a scientific explanation for the divine creation of this world  – for that reason alone positioning it as a major work by him. In it is written an encapsulation of a process and purpose which is of the greatest importance to Western philosophy, Christian theology and Western art theory and practice

‘And (the Demiurge) gave each divine being two motions, one uniform in the same place, as each always thinks the same thoughts about the same things, the other forward, as each is subject to the movement of the Same and uniform; but he kept them unaffected by the other five kinds of motion, that each might be as perfect as possible.’6

This little group of words summarises the dual yet undifferentiated pathway Plato established between perfection, its divine medium, and creation; it asserts that creation and ‘thought’ in its motion are equivalent; it defines the nature of that process. The motions of his divine beings differ from those of the sensory world, they are effects of the soul in its activity.

Plotinus’ mystical and emotive development on this (on the Soul’s contemplation of and desire for its source, his development of the realm of Forms into that of Intellect, and differentiation between its lower and higher aspects as the ascending Soul’s activity quickens, culminating in its unity with its source, his hypostasis of the One – which he defined as the greatest activity in the greatest stillness) was absorbed into Christian theology and Western philosophy as the methods of contemplation of form and (the movement through) desire, passion and the emotions, toward union with that which was desired (God).

These methods underlie Kant’s notions of the beautiful and the sublime,7 they echo in Schopenhauer’s writing and recur in his aesthetics8 – and again in Nietzsche’s Apollinian and Dionysian.9 As Plato’s Demiurge created the world and gave it form, as Plotinus’ Soul brought form from the far more ‘real’ universe of Intellect to Intellect’s eternal creation in matter, as the God of Christianity created the world to which He sent His Son as the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, so Dionysus eternally creates the world and gives of himself through the beauty of Apollinian form (which Nietzsche applied to appearance). Demiurge, Soul, Jesus and Dionysus are the media, ‘mind’ the message.10

For Nietzsche, the ‘tragic’ artist attains the Dionysian state through Apollinian apotheosis, the perfecting of man’s self.11 Obsessive self-love has its justification.12 Nietzsche emphasised the fecundity of Dionysus, destroying as he eternally creates – in so doing he drew from the work of Plotinus, who had an immense impact on Nietzsche’s own thought and of whom it was written that because of his mysticism, he has been a greater inspiration for Western philosophy than even Plato13

‘…the tragic artist…creates his figures like a fecund divinity of individuation…and as his vast Dionysian impulse then devours his entire world of phenomena, in order to let us sense beyond it, and through its destruction, the highest artistic primal joy, in the bosom of the primordially One.’14

The notions of vitality and creativity are fundamental to Plotinus’ philosophy. Not only are Intellect and particularly its source, the One, overflowing with activity, there is in Intellect an ‘…endlessness for ever welling up in it, the unwearying and unwearing nature which in no way falls short in it, boiling over with life…’15 The language Plotinus used to describe this excess of life resonates in Nietzsche’s description of Dionysian creativity.16 Creation is not for its own sake, but to produce objects of ‘vision’, to enable knowledge and ultimately the unity of seer, seeing and seen.17

Even Nietzsche’s description of man’s perfecting of himself

‘(In a Dionysian state, man) is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art: in these paroxysms of intoxication the artistic power of all nature reveals itself to the highest gratification of the primordial unity. The noblest clay, the most costly marble, man, is here kneaded and cut, and to the sound of the chisel strokes of the Dionysian world-artist rings out the cry of the Eleusinian mysteries…Do you sense your Maker, world?’18

is shaped not by Kant’s hand of nature, but by that of Plotinus, who  commanded, in reply to the question ‘But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness?’

‘Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine…the Primal Good and the Primal Beauty have the one dwelling-place and, thus, always, Beauty’s seat is There.’19

Consistently, this current in philosophy is not driven by a will to life in this world but to one, as the hero in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities said as he mounted the scaffold, in ‘a far better place’. What connects Plato, Plotinus and Nietzsche in this is their artistry, their immense sensitivity to the creative process and therefore their intense spirituality.

But they theorised about spirituality not as a fundamental quality of community but only of the male self and its Soul. They were unable to reconcile the elements of their brain’s functioning (from the emotional and non-discursive to cognition) both internally and to the world in which they lived.20 Their philosophies, ostensibly developed as a guide to life, grew in reaction to it. They direct away from life. Plotinus concluded his Enneads

‘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.’21

The metaphor of flight illustrates their desire to break free from the gravity of objective reality – the flight of the poet in the Ion, the flight of the Soul in the Enneads, the flight of angels in Christianity, the flight of man in The Birth of Tragedy.22 This flight was aided by the non-discursive tools of intuition23 and, as Nietzsche was the first to acknowledge, the self-deceptive art of lying

‘…there is only one world, and this is false, cruel, contradictory, seductive, without meaning – A world thus constituted is the real world. We have need of lies in order to conquer this reality, this “truth,” that is, in order to live…To solve it, man must be liar by nature, he must be above all an artist…This ability itself, thanks to which he violates reality by means of lies, this artistic ability of man par excellence – he has it in common with everything that is. He himself is after all a piece of reality, truth, nature: how should he not also be a piece of genius in lying!…In those moments in which man was deceived, in which he duped himself, in which he believes in life: oh how enraptured he feels! What delight! What a feeling of power! How much artists’ triumph in the feeling of power! – Man has once again become master of “material” – master of truth! – …(man) enjoys the lie as his form of power.’24

Nietzsche wrote

‘An artist cannot endure reality, he looks away from it, back: he seriously believes that the value of a thing resides in that shadowy residue one derives from colours, form, sound, ideas; he believes that the more subtilised, attenuated, transient a thing or a man is, the more valuable he becomes; the less real, the more valuable. This is Platonism, which, however, involved yet another bold reversal: Plato measured the degree of reality by the degree of value and said: The more “Idea,” the more being. He reversed the concept “reality” and said: “What you take for real is an error, and the nearer we approach the ‘Idea,’ the nearer we approach ‘truth.’” – Is this understood? It was the greatest of rebaptisms; and because it has been adopted by Christianity we do not recognise how astonishing it is. Fundamentally, Plato, as the artist he was, preferred appearance to being! lie and invention to truth! the unreal to the actual! But he was so convinced of the value of appearance that he gave it the attributes “being,” “causality” and ‘goodness,” and “truth,” in short everything men value.

The concept of value itself considered as a cause: first insight.

The ideal granted all honorific attributes: second insight.’25

In the above, Nietzsche stated his belief that the artist cannot ‘suffer’ reality and that there is a profound connection between the artist, Plato and the Christian. He wrote that this connection, developed by Plato, opposes the equivalents of Idea or form (as Apollinian appearance), lie and the unreal, to being, and the actual. He tied their retreat from reality to the creation of and faith in a higher one in ‘mind’. For Nietzsche, Apollo and Dionysus were the gods bringing form and content to his new and lonely faith – a faith in which he was torn, as Plato revealed of himself in his writing of the Timaeus.

Nietzsche’s philosophy has much to offer, not least because it details the tension in his thought between life and Life, between perspective and religious vision. That he was a man of ‘god’, no less than his father and both grandfathers, who were all ministers in the Lutheran faith, he could not have denied. That his faith was strongly flavoured by the Christianity he despised he would have rejected, but it underpins his mask of the myth of Oedipus

‘Sophocles understood the most sorrowful figure of the Greek stage, the unfortunate Oedipus, as the noble human being who, in spite of his wisdom, is destined to error and misery but who eventually, through his tremendous suffering, spreads a magical power of blessing that remains effective even beyond his decease.’26

and his greatest mask, his ‘counterdoctrine’ of Dionysus

‘One will see that the problem is that of the meaning of suffering: whether a Christian meaning or a tragic meaning. …The god on the cross is a curse on life, a signpost to seek redemption from life; Dionysus cut to pieces is a promise of life: it will be eternally reborn and return again from destruction.’27

Not only does Christianity teach that Christ on the cross is the symbolic promise of eternal ‘life’, as Dionysus was for Nietzsche a signpost to seek redemption from the life of objective reality, both the god on the cross (who was also ‘cut to pieces’) and Nietzsche’s creative interpretation of his own god embody Platonic and Neoplatonic influence.

Nietzsche never lost the ‘intense piety’ of his youth – he adapted it.28 He was a major figure in the development of twentieth-century Modernism, and as we contemplate art that bears his influence, we might think of him and his heritage not as he willed, but critically.29

The epistemological flow which I have addressed here – this pathway to perfection, this stairway to heaven – is intimately bound to patriarchal power. Plato was born into a prominent Athenian family with many political connections – his mother’s second husband was a close friend and supporter of Pericles. Porphyry wrote that Plotinus was ‘greatly honoured and venerated’ by the emperor Gallienus.

It is a current suffused with exclusions – the exclusion of the complexity and possibilities of life in this world from what has been redirected and appropriated to a ‘higher’ one, the exclusion of ‘the feminine’ from ‘the masculine’ – of the intuitive and non-linguistic from the discursive – the exclusion of women from power, the exclusion from true power of the majority by the minority. The content of this current constitutes the core of the visual ideology of capitalism and permeates capitalist ideology.

The creativity which most fully involves the range of our brain’s capacities is that which can stimulate the viewer to recognise and embrace the necessity of contradiction and to engage ethically with the one (theoretical) absolute – that of change in a material world. Such a view is diametrically opposed to the philosophical current discussed, which aims to stimulate the viewer to the denial of contradiction and change – ultimately to a commitment to ideological stasis – through an orientation towards and a desire for God the Father, God the Self.



1. In extracts from On the Genealogy of Morals (1887) Third Essay, Section 25. Trans. W.Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1969, 156. The ‘secret path’ which Nietzsche bestowed underlay creative respectability.

2. ‘…the worst, the most tiresome, and the most dangerous of errors hitherto has been a dogmatist error – namely, Plato’s invention of Pure Spirit and the Good in Itself…this nightmare…It amounted to the very inversion of truth, and the denial of the perspective – the fundamental condition – of life, to speak of Spirit and the Good as Plato spoke of them…Christianity is Platonism for the “people”.’ From the Preface to Beyond Good and Evil: A Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. (1886) In G.Clive. Ed. The Philosophy of Nietzsche. New York: Mentor, 1965, p.123.

3. From the madman’s speech in The Gay Science. (1882) 125. In the Introduction by R.J.Hollingdale to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. (1883-1885). Trans. R.J.Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969, p.14.

4. Nietzsche wrote about the ‘…rare ecstatic states with their elevation above space, time, and the individual.’ The Birth of Tragedy (1872) Section 21, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Trans. W.Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967, p.124.

5. ‘As a philologist and man of words (?!) I baptised it, not without taking some liberty – for who could claim to know the rightful name of the Antichrist? – in the name of a Greek god: I called it Dionysian.’ In ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’ (1886), Section 5, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner op. cit., p.24. Also: ‘Whoever approaches these Olympians with another religion in his heart, searching among them for moral elevation even for sanctity, for disincarnate spirituality…will soon be forced to turn his back on them, discouraged and disappointed. For there is nothing here that suggests asceticism, spirituality, or duty. We hear nothing but the accents of an exuberant, triumphant life in which all things, whether good or evil, are deified.’ ibid., Section 3, p. 41; ‘(Dionysus is) a deification of life…the religious affirmation of life’. The Will to Power  (1901), Bk IV, 1052. Trans. W.Kaufmann. and R.J.Hollingdale. New York: Vintage, 1968. p.542; ‘I am a disciple of the philosopher Dionysus, and I would prefer to be even a satyr than a saint.’ (two gods and their ministers?) From the Preface to Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is? (1888), Section 2, in G.Clive. Ed. The Philosophy of Nietzsche. op. cit., p.134. Christianity has long had a central place for the passage of Spirit into flesh in its own mythology, under the rubric ‘et incarnatus est’. And this arose from a complex and rich heritage which Nietzsche correctly traced to the immeasurable influence of Plato (obviously Plato was not the only source).

6. Timaeus, 8, 40. ‘And he bestowed two movements upon each, one in the same spot and uniform, whereby it should be ever constant to its own thoughts concerning the same thing; the other forward, but controlled by the revolution of the same and uniform: but for the other five movements he made it motionless and still, that each star might attain the highest completeness of perfection.’ The Timaeus of Plato. Ed. R.D.Archer-Hind. New York: Arno, 1973, pp.131-133. Plato is too often simplistically remembered as having given us eternal Forms (Plato as an eternal Form?). This quotation also points to the importance and complexity of motion in his philosophy. Lee argued that a major concern of the Timaeus is human psychology and that ‘…as the first Greek account of a divine creation, containing a rational explanation of many natural processes, it remained influential throughout the period of the Ancient World, not least towards its end when it influenced the Neo-platonists and when its creator-god was easily assimilated by Christian thought to the God of Genesis.’ In his Introduction to Plato Timaeus and Critias. Trans. D.Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin,1977, p.7.

7. ‘…the feeling of the sublime involves as its characteristic feature a mental movement combined with the estimate of the object, whereas taste in respect of the beautiful presupposes that the mind is in restful contemplation and preserves it in this state.’ I.Kant, Critique of Judgement. Bk II, Analytic of the Sublime, 24. Trans. J.Creed Meredith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952, p.94.

8. Consider his distinction between the methods of science and experience – the rational method which is alone of use in practical life and in science (the method of Aristotle) – and ‘the method of genius’ – which is valid and of use only in art (the method of Plato). ‘The first is like the mighty storm that rushes along without beginning and without end, bending, agitating, and carrying away everything before it; the second is like the ray of sun that calmly pierces the storm and is not deflected by it. The first is like the innumerable, violently agitated drops of the waterfall, constantly changing, never for an instant at rest; the second is like the rainbow, silently resting on this raging torrent.’ A.Schopenhauer, The World As Will And Idea. Book III, 36. (Abridged in One Volume) 1819. Trans. J.Berman. London: Everyman, 1995, p.109. His aesthetics, expounded in Bk III were overtly Platonic – simply, he believed the object of art is the Platonic Idea. ‘Raised by the power of the mind, a person relinquishes the usual way of looking at things…He does not allow abstract thought…to take possession of his consciousness, but, instead, gives the whole power of his mind to perception, immerses himself entirely in this, and lets his whole consciousness be filled with the quiet contemplation of the natural object…he can no longer separate the perceiver from the perception, but the two have become one…then what is known is no longer the individual thing as such, but the Idea, the eternal form…The person rapt in this perception is thereby no longer individual…but he is a pure, willess, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.’ Book III, 34, p.102; also ‘(Art) repeats or reproduces the eternal Ideas grasped through pure contemplation, the essential and abiding element in all the phenomena of the world…it plucks the object of its contemplation out of the stream of the world’s course, and holds it isolated before it. And this particular thing, which in that stream was a minute part, becomes for art a representative of the whole, an equivalent of the endless multitude in space and time. So art pauses at this particular thing; it stops the wheel of time, for art the relations vanish; only the essential, the Idea, is its object.’ Book III, 36, p.108.

9. Nietzsche wrote of ‘…that splendid mixture which resembles a noble wine in making one feel fiery and contemplative at the same time.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 21, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.125.

10. Nietzsche was very aware of the heritage on which he drew – he creatively blended its elements in his writing ‘…the whole divine comedy of life, including the inferno, also pass before him, not like mere shadows on a wall – for he lives and suffers with these scenes – and yet not without that fleeting sensation of illusion.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section I, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.35. Here Nietzsche refers to Plotinus through Dante’s great Christian allegory of the Way to God – ‘to that union of our wills with the Universal Will in which every creature finds its true self and its true being.’ – from the Introduction by Dorothy L. Sayers, in Dante. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri The Florentine. Cantica 1: Hell. Trans. D.L.Sayers. London: Penguin, 1988, p.19 (in which Dante is guided by the shade of the poet Virgil and then led by the beautiful revelation of God through philosophy, Beatrice, to Paradise), and directly to the simile of the cave in the Republic. Sayers referred to the ‘cold passion’ of Dante’s style (p.42). It might have been better described as repressed.

11. Nietzsche was consistent with the patriarchy of this philosophical current. In the Enneads, Soul, on its way to pure unity with itself, aspires to and unites with Intellect.

12. ‘If we conceive of it at all as imperative and mandatory, this apotheosis of individuation knows but one law – the individual…’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 4, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.46. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote ‘Sense and spirit are instruments and toys: behind them still lies the Self…Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, stands a mighty commander, an unknown sage – he is called Self. He lives in your body, he is your body.’ and ‘Your Self can no longer perform that act which it most desires to perform: to create beyond itself. That is what it most wishes to do, that is its whole ardour.’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra. op. cit., pp.62, 63. Likewise, Plotinus’ philosophy is concerned with the creation and perfection of self: ‘If there had been a moment from which He began to be, it would be possible to assert his self-making in the literal sense; but since what He is He is from before eternity, his self-making is to be understood as simultaneous with Himself; the being is one and the same with the making, the eternal “bringing into existence”.’ Enneads VI,8,20.

13. P. Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought’. In The Enneads. Third ed. Abridged, Trans. S.MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, xlii-lxxxiii.

14. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 22, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.132. Plotinus wrote: ‘Is that enough? Can we end the discussion by saying this? No, my soul is still in even stronger labour. Perhaps she is now at the point when she must bring forth, having reached the fullness of her birth-pangs in her eager longing for the One.’ Enneads V,3,17. The same religious belief in creativity was held by another extremely influential voluntarist and vitalist contemporary of Nietzsche’s – Bergson, whose best known work is titled Creative Evolution (1907). Plotinus believed that through loving oneself in God, one becomes God, one becomes the Creator.

15. Enneads VI,5,12.

16. ‘…in order that being may exist, the One is not being, but the generator of being. This, we may say, is the first act of generation: the One, perfect because it seeks nothing, has nothing, and needs nothing, overflows, as it were, and its superabundance makes something other than itself…Resembling the One…Intellect produces in the same way, pouring forth a multiple power – this is a likeness of it – just as that which was before it poured it forth. This activity springing from the substance of Intellect is Soul…(which) does not abide unchanged when it produces: it is moved and so brings forth an image. It looks to its source and is filled, and going forth to another opposed movement generates its own image, which is sensation and the principle of growth in plants…So it goes on from the beginning to the last and lowest, each [generator] remaining behind in its own place, and that which is generated taking another, lower, rank…’ Enneads V, 2, 1-2. Nietzsche wrote: ‘(The aesthetic state) appears only in natures capable of that bestowing and overflowing fullness of bodily vigour: it is this that is always the primum mobile…“Perfection”: in these states (in the case of sexual love especially) there is naively revealed what the deepest instinct recognises as higher, more desirable, more valuable in general, the upward movement of its type; also toward what status it really aspires. Perfection: that is the extraordinary expansion of its feeling of power, riches, necessary overflowing of all limits.’ The Will to Power op. cit., Bk 3, 801, p.422.

17. The points of focus Nietzsche created to enable his longed for ascent to Truth are the Dionysian reveller, the satyr and Dionysus: ‘Such magic transformation is the presupposition of all dramatic art. In this magic transformation the Dionysian reveller sees himself as a satyr, and as a satyr, in turn, he sees the god, which means that in his metamorphosis he beholds another vision outside himself…With this new vision the drama is complete.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 8, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.64. Compare Nietzsche’s words: ‘Only insofar as the genius in the act of artistic creation coalesces with this primordial artist of the world, does he know anything of the eternal essence of art; for in this state he is, in a marvellous manner, like the weird image of the fairy tale which can turn its eyes at will and behold itself; he is at once subject and object, at once poet, actor, and spectator.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 5, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.52, with the chain of inspiration in Ion and Plato’s use of the metaphor of sight in the Republic’s simile of the cave, in which the philosopher attains the supreme ‘vision’ – that of the absolute form of the Good (Bk VII 514-521), ‘the brightest of all realities’.

18. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 1, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.37.

19. Enneads I,6,9. Nietzsche responded powerfully to the same ‘intoxicated’ drive to ‘shape’ and control the self in Plato in whom ‘…as a man of overexcitable sensuality and enthusiasm, the charm of the concept had grown so strong that he involuntarily honoured and deified the concept as an ideal Form. Intoxication by dialectic: as the consciousness of exercising mastery over oneself by means of it – as as tool of the will to power.’ The Will to Power. op. cit., Book 2, 431, p.236.

20. ‘Thrown into a noisy and plebeian age with which he has no wish to eat out of the same dish, he (‘who has the desires of an elevated, fastidious soul’) can easily perish of hunger and thirst, or, if he does eventually “set to” – of a sudden nausea. – We have all no doubt eaten at tables where we did not belong; and precisely the most spiritual of us who are most difficult to feed know that dangerous dyspepsia which comes from a sudden insight and disappointment about our food and table-companions – the after-dinner nausea.’ Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (1886), 282. Trans. R.J.Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 1990, p.213. Nietzsche’s writing details over and again the gulf he felt between himself and others:  ‘I don’t want to be lonely any more; I want to learn to be human again. Alas, in this field I have almost everything still to learn!’ From a letter to Lou Salomé, 2 July 1882. From the Introduction by R.J.Hollingdale to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. op. cit., p.21.

21. Enneads VI,9,11.

22. ‘…(man) has forgotten how to walk and speak and is on the way toward flying into the air, dancing…he feels himself a god…’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 1, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.37.

23. ‘(Dionysian) music incites to the symbolic intuition of Dionysian universality…’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 16, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.103.

24. The Will to Power. op. cit., Book 3, 853, pp.451-452.

25. Ibid., Book 3, 572, p.308.

26. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 9, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.67.

27. The Will to Power. op. cit., Book 4, 1052, p.543.

28. I use Hollingdale’s expression, in his Introduction to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. op. cit., p.12.  Also: ‘What the Christian says of God, Nietzsche says in very nearly the same words of the Superman, namely: “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.”’ ibid., p.29.

29. ‘Art raises its head where creeds relax. It takes over many feelings and moods engendered by religion, lays them to its heart, and itself becomes deeper, more full of soul, so that it is capable of transmitting exultation and enthusiasm, which it previously was not able to do.’ From Human, All-Too-Human. A Book for Free Spirits. (1878) vol. I, 150, in The Philosophy of Nietzsche. op. cit., p.516.






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