Jürgen Habermas, Guardian of Mystical ‘Rationality’ – Part Three

Meehan encapsulates Habermas’s theory of communicative reason: ‘(When subjects employ communicative reason they can) distance themselves from particular roles and recognise that all roles are structured by shared social norms. Thus the vantage of the generalised other is the vantage of a neutral observer, who can objectively survey the reciprocal expectations and interactions constitutive of these roles. Only then can the intersubjectively grounded character of norms which shape expectations and actions be grasped.’1 Not only is this theory utterly idealistic – a denial of class, of the reality of capitalism as a political construction, and of its property relations2 – that idealism signifies its true meaning and purpose.

Communicative reason for Habermas is far more than a thoroughly democratic experience of rationality, an equal exchange of reasoned and defensible views in debate, than action oriented toward mutual understanding and the development of ‘an intact intersubjectivity, which makes possible both a mutual and constraint-free understanding among individuals in their dealings with one another and the identity of individuals who come to a compulsion-free understanding with themselves. …(an) intact intersubjectivity (which) is a glimmer of symmetrical relations marked by free, reciprocal recognition,’3 it is an exercise which can never go beyond the theoretical for attaining a spiritual unity built on and sustained by a core mystical belief which Habermas acknowledged regarding the relationship between ego and alter, knower and known, subject and object.4

‘one doctrinal element of Jakob Böhme’s mystical speculations on the “nature” that arises through an act of contraction, or the “dark ground” in God, has been of great significance for me. …The rather “dark” tendency toward finitisation [Verendlichung] or contraction is intended as an explanation of God’s capacity for self-limitation. This was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. …In order to be able to see Himself confirmed in His own freedom through an alter ego, God must delimit himself precisely within this very freedom.’5

Böhme believed that for God to realise himself, he must dirempt from and oppose an other to himself, coming to fully be through the development of this negation.6 Hegel (amongst others) took this over from Böhme and built his master/servant dialectic on it – for Hegel, selfhood not only develops in opposition to the not-self but through communal intersubjectivity all find their existence and true, non-arbitrary freedom. In his essay ‘Communicative Freedom and Negative Theology: Questions for Michael Theunissen,’ Habermas wrote ‘The dialogical encounter with an other whom I address, and whose answer lies beyond my control, first opens the intersubjective space in which the individual can become an authentic self.’7

He approvingly writes that for Theunissen ‘True selfhood expresses itself as communicative freedom – as being-with-oneself-in-the-other…In such a relation one partner is not the limit of the other’s freedom, but the very condition of the other’s successful selfhood. And the communicative freedom of one individual cannot be complete without the realised freedom of all others.’8 Habermas acknowledged that the ‘metaphysical priority of unity above plurality and the contextualistic priority of plurality above unity are secret accomplices (my italics). …the unity of reason only remains perceptible in the plurality of its voices’.9

Habermas’s ideal ‘final opinion’ that transcends material space and time not only echoes Plato’s realm of Forms but has its source in The Enneads

‘The fact that the product contains diversity and difference does not warrant the notion that the producer must be subject to corresponding variations. On the contrary, the more varied the product, the more certain the unchanging identity of the producer.10

Part three/to be continued…

Notes

1. Johanna Meehan, Ed., Feminists Read Habermas: Gendering the Subject of Discourse, Routledge, New York, 1995, 3

2. Suitably for Habermas, also a denial of the very consciousness and its products in language that he, following Weber, otherwise gives precedence to. John Sitton, Habermas and Contemporary Society, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2003, pp. 151 ff.

3. ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices’, op. cit., 145

4. The oddness of Habermas’s assertion that ‘reason’ can only be found in intersubjective communication, that reason cannot be employed by a subject towards a material object is a further sign of his mystical motivation.

5. ‘A Conversation About God and the World’ Interview of Jürgen Habermas by Eduardo Mendieta op. cit., 160-161

6. This is essentially ‘the double negation of criticisable validity claims’ in my first quotation from Habermas. For Hegel, the double negation (Christ’s death and resurrection) enabled the life of Spirit and true religion (distinct from that of the Enlightenment) to come to the Lutheran cultus.

7. Habermas, ‘Communicative Freedom and Negative Theology: Questions for Michael Theunissen’ (1997), in Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, op. cit., pp. 110-128, 110

8. Ibid., 115

9. ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices’, op. cit., 116-117. Martin Beck Matustik wrote ‘mystery is ascribed by Habermas to communicative reason in history, rather than to an apocalyptic myth of a saving ‘God’. Secularising the mystical Protestant and Jewish traditions of Jakob Böhme and Isaak Luria, with the gnostic narrations of the salvation history, Habermas forms his intuitions about communicative nearness and distance, reciprocity and autonomy, vulnerability and separateness’ Martin Beck Matustik, Jürgen Habermas: A Philosophical-Political Profile, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2001, 226

10. Plotinus, The Enneads, Third ed., abridged. Trans. Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, IV. 4.11

Jürgen Habermas, Guardian of Mystical ‘Rationality’ – Part Two

Habermas fails to understand and denies the living relationship between concepts, language and the world. Neither concepts and language, if they are to be relevant, can be imposed arbitrarily on the world, rather they develop from the world, meeting our needs in a changing and dialectical relationship with it. Concepts, language and thought, reflecting the world, are and can never be final, thought is not only linguistic and propositional.1 Yet Habermas writes

‘The ideal character inherent in the generality of concepts and thoughts is interwoven with an idealisation of a wholly different sort. Every complete thought has a specific propositional content that can be expressed by an assertoric sentence. But beyond the propositional content, every thought calls for a further determination: it demands (my italics) an answer to whether it is true or false.’2

Truth for Habermas is not found in a dialectical relationship with the world but in a propositionally communicative use of language, beyond which (if we desire to or believe that we have direct access to the world) we cannot go.3 Habermas subscribes to a Meno-like universal and what he acknowledges is an idealised theory of grammar he attributes to Chomsky4 (no longer accepted by linguists, who recognise that both concepts and language develop through our relating with the world) and acknowledges that this is an assumption by Chomsky.5 More, Habermas longs for a ‘universal reason’ (my italics) that will most reinforce unity.6

The concept ‘validity’ has no place outside formal logic because the world and its reflection in thought is not a matter of logical rules and consistency, of ‘yesses’ or ‘nos,’ is driven by contradiction and cannot but always reflect that. Habermas’s second use of ‘validity’ carries us to the mystical core of his theory of communicative reason. Where his first reference to ‘validity’ is ‘context-dependent’ his second is transcendent – of context, material space and time. In ‘detranscendentalising’ Kant’s noumenal realm – the unknowable realm beyond appearances and what can be known and said to what transcends space and time – in other words, by not detranscendentalising Kant’s noumenal realm at all other than as a bare assertion, Habermas followed the Neoplatonic model of ‘detranscendentalising’ God – of bringing God to earth while leaving him, as with Habermas’s second use of validity – ‘transcendent’ – within.7 Habermas, following Wittgenstein, brought a mystical God to earth in language. Language for Habermas replaces God thought of as a metaphysical background that has the potential to unify all. This validity that transcends space and time is a metaphysical and absolute unconditionality,8 a guarantee for the normativity of Habermas’s lifeworld.

In agreement with Wittgenstein’s core apophatic statement that bookends his ‘final solution,’ his mystical Tractatus – ‘What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence’9 – Habermas wrote that any truth claim refers to something transcendent, to an ideal ‘“final opinion,” a consensus reached under ideal conditions’10 – a unified, absolute audience or reference point that anchors the communicative interaction of all other audiences in ‘real’ space and time.11

Part two/to be continued…

Notes

1. Lloyd wrote that that intuition, which she argued is associated with ‘female’ thought, (and which Plotinus believed provides an immediate, non-discursive knowledge) can be part of a constructive assessment of reason. ‘The Man of Reason’, op. cit., 117. Plumwood’s discussion of the relevance of emotions to reason, consistent with feminist critiques of Habermas, is most valuable. She argued for a critiquing of the dominant forms of reason to redefine or reconstruct them in less oppositional and hierarchical ways and for an affirmative assessment of emotion as being both crucial and creative. She wrote of reason and emotions as capable of a creative integration and interaction and ties an inclusion and respect for the emotions to the development of rationality and ethics.

2. Habermas, ‘Law as Social Mediation Between Facts and Norms’, op. cit., 12

3. The materialist position is that in thought we are matter (objective reality) reflecting on itself. Contrary to language (or anything else) being a barrier to our knowing the world, every aspect of us including our use of language has developed from and to know the world through our senses. Our knowledge of the world is continually tested and refined – by nature – in practice. ‘Truth,’ as a result, is never absolute but always deepening.

4.‘The task of the theory of universal grammar is the rational reconstruction of a system of rules that is not yet recognised or theoretically specifiable even though it is already practically mastered and to that extent known. …Chomsky, in introducing the concept of linguistic competence, is compelled to perform an idealisation. He himself talks of the ideal speaker-hearer: “Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener”’ Habermas, ‘Universal Pragmatics: Reflections on a Theory of Communicative Competence’ in On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction, Trans., Barbara Fultner, MIT, Massachusetts, 2001, 68

5. ‘Chomsky uses this assumption of an innate linguistic capacity to support the further assumption that all normally socialised members of a speech community, if they have learned to speak at all, have complete mastery of the system of abstract linguistic rules.’ Ibid., 70

6. ‘nothing would stand in the way of the concept of one reason today if philosophy and science were able to reach through the thicket of natural languages to the logical grammar of a single language’, Habermas, ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices,’ Post-Metaphysical Thinking, MIT, 1992, pp. 115-148, 134

7. ‘The idea of the redeemability of criticisable validity claims requires idealisations that, as adopted by the communicating actors themselves, are thereby brought down from transcendental heaven to the earth of the lifeworld. The theory of communicative action detranscendentalises the noumenal realm only to have the idealising force of context-transcending anticipations settle in the unavoidable pragmatic presuppositions of speech acts, and hence in the heart of ordinary, everyday communicative practice.’, ‘Law as Social Mediation Between Facts and Norms’, op. cit., 18-19

8. Habermas acknowledges that his philosophy employs both an absolute and metaphysics: ‘The moment of unconditionality that is preserved in the discursive concepts of a fallibilistic truth and morality is not an absolute, or it is at most an absolute that has become fluid (my italics) as a critical procedure. Only with this residue of metaphysics (my italics) can we do battle against the transfiguration of the world through metaphysical truths’, ‘The Unity of Reason in the Diversity of Its Voices’ op. cit., 144

9. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 1921, Trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness, Introduction Bertrand Russell, Routledge, New York, 2005 (1st pub. in English in 1922). Habermas agreed, writing ‘There are indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical’ (2002: 46, emphasis added), in Mel Gray and Terence Lovat, ‘Practical Mysticism, Habermas, and Social Work Praxis’, Journal of Social Work, Vol. 8, Issue 2, 2008 pp. 149-162, 156. The authors conclude their article with ‘we believe we are on solid ground in inferring a conceptual link between Habermasian self-reflective knowing and practical mysticism.’ Ibid., 158

10. ‘Law as Social Mediation Between Facts and Norms’, op. cit., 14

11. ‘“Real” is what can be represented in true statements, whereas “true” can be explained in turn by reference to the claim one person raises before others by asserting a proposition. …we cannot break out of the sphere of language and argumentation, even if we must understand reality as what we can represent in true statements‘ Ibid., 14

Jürgen Habermas, Guardian of Mystical ‘Rationality’

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

‘I would not object to the claim that my conception of language and of communicative action oriented toward mutual understanding nourishes itself from the legacy of Christianity. The “telos” of reaching understanding – the concept of discursively directed agreement which measures itself against the standard of intersubjective recognition, that is, the double negation of criticisable validity claims – may well nourish itself from the heritage of a logos understood as Christian, one that is indeed embodied (and not just with the Quakers) in the communicative practice of the religious congregation.’

Jürgen Habermas, ‘A Conversation About God and the World’ Interview by Eduardo Mendieta1

It will be my argument that Habermas’s conceptions of language, of reasoned communicative action and of rationality itself are not only nourished from the legacy of Christianity but more specifically and in response to the rise of science, from a parallel rise in German mysticism since the late eighteenth century, particularly in the forms of Christian Neoplatonism and the closely related Böhmean theosophy. Habermas’s rationality is guarded by Lloyd’s Man of Reason – clothed mystically.

Habermas is vague and loose in his use of the concepts ‘rational’ and ‘reason’. He refers to ‘secular reason’, ‘natural’ reason, ‘philosophical reason’, ‘modern reason’, ‘practical reason’, ‘religious reason’ and ‘shared reason.’2 Wolterstorff wrote that he knew ‘of no place in his recent writings in which Habermas explains the concept of rational that he has in mind’.3 What compounds the confusion is Habermas’s use of the concept, taken from Weber’s psychological understanding of society, of ‘rationalisation’ – meaning the instrumental ‘de-magification,’ ‘de-sanctification’ of social life and the ‘robbing of gods’ from it – for Weber a religious negative4 but for Habermas a process that opens up social areas for the negotiation of all issues in the community.

Habermas believes that reason is to be found in the context of social interaction. It is not what a subject thinks in relation to an object (either metaphysically or ‘empirically’) but is what subjects do communicatively. Habermas claims he has moved philosophy from focusing on a subject/object relation to that of subject/subject, from ‘subjectivity’ to intersubjectivity. Rationality for Habermas is a discursive activity and it is this discursive and unifying activity that Habermas believes philosophy should remain the guardian of. Rationality lies not in what is claimed but in how the claim is made.

In this activity, according to Habermas, subjects make ‘truth claims’ concerning ‘facts’5 which can be defended with reasons when necessary, in order to gain the rationally motivated agreement of the relevant interpretative community as a whole. When agreement is found, validity (which like reason, is discursively contextual) is established.6

Habermas’s philosophy is utterly consistent with the Man of Reason identified by Lloyd which she defined as ‘the ideal of rationality associated with the rationalist philosophies of the seventeenth century. And, secondly, something more nebulous – the residue of that ideal in our contemporary consciousness, our inheritance from seventeenth century rationalism.’7 For Habermas reason is linguistic and propositional. Rejecting a dialectical understanding,8 Habermas holds that the aim and result of this intersubjective activity is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.9 His philosophy, beneath a seeming commitment to democratic discursiveness, is rigid and steeped in philosophical idealism.10

Part one/to be continued…

Notes

1. ‘A Conversation About God and the World’ Interview of Jürgen Habermas by Eduardo Mendieta in Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, Ed., Eduardo Mendieta, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2002, pp. 146-167, 160

2. Reason is very little understood, particularly in patriarchal Western philosophy in which it is simply presumed to be only linguistic, conceptual and predominantly propositional.

3. Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘An Engagement with Jürgen Habermas on Postmetaphysical Philosophy, Religion, and Political Dialogue’, pp. 92-111, in Craig Calhoun, Eduardo Mendieta, Jonathan VanAntwerpen, Eds,. Habermas and Religion, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2013, 97

4. In Weber’s account, religion plays a fundamental role in producing ‘modernity.’

5. Habermas wrote ‘The world as the sum total of possible facts’, ‘Law as Social Mediation Between Facts and Norms’, Between Facts and Norms, MIT 1996, pp. 9-27, 14 repeating 1.1 of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus ‘The world is the totality of facts, not of things.’ When our species becomes extinct we will take consciousness, thought, language and every fact with us – a totality of things on an ultimately dead planet will remain.

6. For Habermas contextual ‘validity’ means a justified claim that can be defended with reasons aimed at attaining a rationally motivated consensus.

7. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy. Eds. A. Garry and M. Pearsall. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 111. Lloyd was most concerned ‘to bring into focus…his maleness’ since the Man of Reason is an idealisation of the male, not of the human being – yet he still embodies fundamental ideals of our culture. Ibid. The Man of Reason is the dominant model in Western philosophy, reaching back to the patriarchal theologian Plato. Both Lloyd and Plumwood exposed the anti-female and anti-human dualisms of this model.

8. ‘Habermas ventures that the Hegelian “paradigm” is unworkable because as scholars, “we cannot live with the paradoxes of negative dialectics” – of a totalising Reason that is supposed to be positive in the very “moment” of negation. The paradigm simply does not work: it is too negative in the plain garden sense of the term’ Michael Pusey, Jürgen Habermas, Tavistock, London, 1987, 34. Yet Habermas’s position regarding reason continued the (Neoplatonically sourced) teleology of Hegel and Marx: ‘The release of a potential for reason embedded in communicative action is a world-historical process; in the modern period it leads to a rationalisation of life-worlds,’ From ‘A Philosophical-Political Profile’, New Left Review, 151, 1985, pp. 75-105, 101; ‘as more settled traditional worldviews are fragmented and “liquefied”, we – you and I and everyone else – are together forced, to reach “forwards” (and “upwards”!) for understandings and agreements at an every higher level of abstraction and generality. …critical reflection achieved in one domain is supposed to release the “repressed traces of reason” that are latent in the others’ Pusey, op. cit., 117; ‘it is clear that this theory is guided by the idea of (a) more comprehensive notion of rationality that underpins his whole theory. How is this notion to be justified?…It seems clear that this underlying but orientating concept echoes past substantive concepts of reason like those embodied in the Marxian notion of socialism and the Hegelian concept of spirit.’ John Grumley, notes for University of Sydney seminar 20.03.14

9. ‘(these approaches regarding deliberative democracy) negate the inherently conflictual nature of modern pluralism…They are unable to recognise that bringing a deliberation to a close always results from a decision which excludes other possibilities and for which one should never refuse to bear responsibility by invoking the commands of general rules or principles.’ Chantal Mouffe quoted by Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics, Duke University Press, 2009, 13

10. ‘Habermas continues to assert that his critical theory is inspired by remnants of utopianism. He will not give up the search for a way of identifying the reasonableness of utopian hopes. …Habermas undertakes to rescue the utopian credentials of achievements whose significance had been overlooked by a tradition of critical theory shaped by Marxism. He not only considers that we have been looking in the wrong place for our utopian potentials but also that we have misunderstood the character of a utopianism relevant to a historicising and pluralistic age.’ Pauline Johnson, Habermas: Rescuing the public sphere, Routledge, London, 2006, 118

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What is ‘reason’?

What is ‘reason’? How do we reason? Ask a philosopher these questions about what they claim is their practice and what they most pride themselves on, and you will most likely be met with examples or…by a rabbit in the headlights. They take it for granted – you do philosophy, ipso facto, you reason. In philosophy, suffused with overt and – post the rise of science – concealed gods, reason is held to be linguistic and primarily propositional. On this, philosophy is its own worst argument. The time is long overdue for the Man of Reason with his patriarchal dualisms that Lloyd and particularly Plumwood exposed so well to be got rid of, so it is good to hear another and at least equally important form of reason – non-linguistic, non-propositional, rich, dialectical, wholistic, fluid and instantaneous (on this occasion in relation to morality) – to get a smidgen of a run on The Philosopher’s Zone – I refer to intuition.

(Academic) philosophers, you will be hearing a lot more of intuition (and of more ‘primitive’ forms of ‘reason’) as brain science develops and what is increasingly getting an airing in adult education courses with the decline of that stage of bourgeois ideology known as postmodernism – I refer to mysticism, to which intuition is central – is absorbed by an eager public, leaving those who are committed to that which is only linguistic and propositional further behind.

Reasoning is what the brain does towards our acquiring knowledge of the world (matter reflecting on matter) and the brain draws on all of its potential towards that end – the truth of the achievement of that end being tested in practice (distinct from the linguistic contemplation, divorced from practice, of philosophy). As Lenin wrote ‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature’  Collected Works, Vol., 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 171.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our philosophic dead!

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Jürgen Habermas: ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’ – ‘the Kingdom of God on Earth’

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

I will first summarise what I think are the most salient points made by Habermas in his chapter ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’ and I will then respond to what I think are the main issues raised.

The chapter is a study in the relation between reason (knowledge) and faith. It begins with a funeral service for an agnostic held in a church, indicating that ‘modernity’ could not offer a replacement for a religious ritual in order to mark a person’s death.

Habermas argues that the secular and the religious should engage in communicative dialogue. They share a common source in the Axial Age and while the secular must not presume to speak on religious truth the religious must accept the domination of the secular state and the ‘factual knowledge’ of science.

  • modern science compelled philosophical reason to break with metaphysics and little more was left to philosophy
  • modern reason can only come to understand itself when it addresses religious consciousness
  • Habermas rejected the Enlightenment’s unenlightened view of denying religion rational content and Hegel’s position regarding religion’s subordination to philosophy
  • Habermas states that his motive ‘for addressing the issue of faith and knowledge is to mobilise modern reason against the defeatism lurking within it.’ He is referring to postmodernism’s relativism and to scientism.
  • where ‘practical reason can justify law and morality, it falls short in motivating collective action in response to threats. Kant aimed to counter this with God as postulate. Habermas asks if an engagement with religion might resolve this dilemma for ‘postmetaphysical thinking’. Such an engagement would bear on current religious conflicts around the world ‘triggered…by (an) unexpected spiritual renewal’ and the politicisation of religion. The main religious winners are the Catholics, Evangelicals and Muslims. The Protestants in Germany and Britain, due to their national organisations, not so. The primary issue since the destruction of the World Trade Centre has been the instrumentalisation of Islam.
  • the neutrality of the state towards worldviews has set off conflicts which are either power struggles between state authority and religious movements or conflicts between those with secular or religious convictions. The liberal state cannot continue with this position – it requires convictions. And to acquire legitimation, it requires reasons to justify its neutrality which can be accepted by both the religious and the secular. On the basis of this the religious must accept the neutrality of the state in relation to worldviews, broad religious freedom and the independence of scientific research and its monopoly in producing factual knowledge. The secular state must at the same time protect freedom of belief for all. Habermas asks if the state might require the religious to justify themselves non-religiously with regard to politics or should a worldview-neutral language only be expected of politicians?
  • the liberal state must expect its secular citizens not to treat religious ideas as irrational. This engenders the question of how ‘modern’ reason and religion should relate with the other.
  • Habermas concludes with a brief genealogy of the rise of secular reason, arguing its development through a ‘shared reason’ of people of faith, unbelievers, and members of different religions.’

Criticisms:

> Habermas refers to several ‘reasons’: ‘secular reason’, ‘“natural” reason, ‘philosophical reason’, ‘modern reason’, ‘practical reason’, ‘religious reason’, ‘shared reason’, ‘secular knowledge’ and ‘revealed knowledge’ – not to mention ‘postmetaphysical thinking’. There is one reason – and that very poorly understood, particularly in philosophy where Lloyd’s Man of Reason with his dualist exclusions is dominant. And this reason is that of Habermas – linguistic, propositional, undialectical, ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

> Habermas writes that ‘modern science compelled…philosophical reason…to break with metaphysical constructions of the totality of nature and history.’ But metaphysics is not the point – it is a straw man for the question which underlies all others – ‘Which takes precedence and which the derivative – consciousness and language or ‘matter’ – the philosophical concept for objective reality?’ What modern science compelled was that God come from heaven to earth and go within. I refer to the rise of mysticism in the West, its primary manifestation Neoplatonism. And this mysticism, this ‘secret accomplice’ via Böhme, Habermas acknowledged was of great significance to him – in fact his theory of communicative reason, his magnum opus, is built on it.

> Habermas writes of the blinkered, unenlightened enlightenment, which denies religion any rational content. He takes his place on a continuum from Hegel through Nietzsche and Weber, critical of the enlightenment from a spiritual perspective, particularly from that of unity. Habermas wrote ‘the decision to engage in action based on solidarity when faced with threats (such as the tensions and fracturings of ‘modernity’) which can be averted only by collective efforts calls for more than insight into good reasons. Kant wanted to make good this weakness of rational morality through the assurances of his philosophy of religion.’ Hegel’s answer was that philosophers find sanctuary as an isolated order of priests and that the Holy Spirit come to a speculative Lutheran cultus; that man of god, Nietzsche’s, his mystical Übermensch; Weber’s his no less mystical hero of Beruf and Habermas’s a linguistified God, detranscendentalised in the mutual recognition of communicative subjects – for all, truly a ‘Kingdom of God on earth’.

> ‘Could an altered perspective on the genealogy of reason rescue postmetaphysical thinking from this dilemma?’ Certainly, but not in the direction Habermas advocates. The grounding would need to be material (which would immediately remove religion from claims to reason) not an abstract normative.

> Habermas writes of ‘conflicts which are currently being triggered around the world by the unexpected spiritual renewal and by the unsettling political role of religious communities.’ When the only form of organised resistance available is one’s religious structure, because the government of one’s country is so compromised and democracy crushed, undoubtedly this spiritual renewal will come as unexpected to many in the West.

> Habermas writes of ‘the neutrality of the state towards worldviews.’ I disagree. The state is the organ of the capitalist class and its fundamental purpose is to embody and represent the world-view of that class. While it is necessary for cohesion that the state give the appearance of impartiality, this is not the case in practice. Perhaps the potentially most dangerous instance of this is the delicate two-faced two-step between the state and the media with regard to China. At regular intervals a story is fed to the media on China – a recent one concerning Chinese spies on this campus. Could anyone possibly argue against there being Australian and American spies here as well? Wikileaks exposed the disgusting servility of Australian political leaders to the US on the subject of China. These stories keep the tension ‘just right’ so that if and when the state with the assistance of the media needs, at the behest of the US, to whip the majority into the acceptance of war, all is in place.

And on the point of public and religious schools, Habermas’s words do not stand up – funding by Federal and state governments for decades has increasingly been taken from the public education system and given to religious and so-called private schools. If it weren’t so serious, the rorting by religious schools that occasionally appears in the media would be amusing.

> Habermas writes that ‘the liberal state must…expect its secular citizens…not to treat religious expressions as simply irrational.’ There is everything right with calling the irrational such. What would be wrong would be to do so with intolerance, abusively and with the intention of provoking violence. Habermas writes of ‘the rational core of faith’ yet in ‘Fundamentalism and Terror’ he wrote ‘Every religious doctrine rests on a dogmatic kernel of belief’.

Habermas’s late concern with religion is that of its prodigal son.

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Jürgen Habermas, ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’ in An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010

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The Man of Reason: Part Nine

The conclusion of the Republic with the myth of Er reveals Plato’s belief in the (truth-revealing) power of imagination. By his own criteria, Plato himself would have been banned from his Republic.78

In her essay Lloyd wrote that ‘the seventeenth century rationalists were aware of the limited, and limiting, character of systematised reason’,79 that this reason could not reflect the flux of consciousness. In her treatment of Romanticism, she commented that the emotions are a motivating force in their own right.80 Further, that intuition is associated with female thought styles and ‘deserves to be part of a constructive assessment of the claims and the ideals of reason.’81 In her book The Man of Reason, she wrote ‘the hierarchical relations between reason and its opposites – or between higher and lower forms of reason – have undoubtedly contributed to the devaluing of things associated with the feminine.’82

Plumwood’s discussion of the relevance of emotions to reason is most valuable. She argued for a critiquing of the dominant forms of reason to redefine or reconstruct them in less oppositional and hierarchical ways and for an affirmative assessment of emotion as being both crucial and creative. She wrote of reason and emotions as capable of a creative integration and interaction and ties an inclusion and respect for the emotions to the development of rationality and ethics.83

There is no marker in the brain with the words ‘Emotions please move quietly to the left, Reason, you may go to the right.’ Reason and emotion are inseparable. Lloyd wrote of higher and lower forms of reason, Plumwood of the overcoming of opposition and hierarchy. I propose a scale of cognition – at the ‘lower’ end, those elements to which Ilyenkov referred:

‘It was necessary to go even further back, to uncomprehended contemplation, sense perception, aesthetic intuition, i.e. to the realm of lower forms of consciousness (lower, that is, in relation to conceptual thinking), where there was really no contradiction for the simple reason that it had still not been disclosed and clearly expressed.’84

Together with this, dreams, general intuitions, and ‘above’ – conscious cognition.

The gulf in theory between reason and emotion has its paraphrase in the distinction between philosophical idealism and idealism. Was not the founder of objective idealism idealistic? How rational is it that there could be a heaven above or on earth, how rational the desire, justified by God, to have complete mastery of one’s ‘mind’ or of nature?

I define idealism as the inspiration towards that which is felt to be higher than, and argue that much of this brain function has been appropriated to Reason itself through definition – ‘(philosophical) idealism is the thought that…’,  thereby severing that part from its source, ‘below’ rationality, denying the non-rational. In so doing, Reason and rationalisation are inter-changeable.

Reason as philosophical idealism and ‘non-intellectual’ elements as idealism have both had an immense impact on life. They are driving forces and sources of creative power. What is necessary is that their material basis and inter-relationship in life is reflected in theory. In his ‘Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic’ Lenin wrote:

‘The thought of the ideal passing into the real is profound: very important for history. But also in the personal life of man it is clear that this contains much truth. Against vulgar materialism. N.B. The difference of the ideal from the material is also not unconditional, not excessive…The Idea is Cognition and aspiration (volition) [of man]…The process of (transitory, finite, limited) cognition and action converts abstract concepts into perfected objectivity.’85

Lenin argued that the absolute exists within the relative and is revealed through the development of the ideal in reality by practice.

Sexless Reason has not only been conceived as a transcendence of the feminine, not even of the male, but of life, of matter. The heavens are reflected in the gutter, as Tolstoy thought – but they exist only as elements of the material world. Much has been achieved despite the Man of Reason. He is bare. His upholding is a dissipation and distraction of energy from addressing the reflection in theory of the inter-relationship of reason, the emotions and elements ‘below’ consciousness in practice. His function is the justification and maintenance of division, exploitation and oppression. What is needed for the Man of Reason is not the realisation of his limitations as a human ideal, but the realisation of his passing, in order that men and women alike might come to enjoy a more humane life, free of the dualisms that have developed in his shadow.

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Notes

78. This same dichotomy can be seen in Marx’s life. Failing to unite science and art in his dialogue ‘Cleanthes’, which also carried him ‘like a false-hearted siren into the clutches of the enemy’, (my italics) Marx (who developed his epistemology primarily on Hegel’s philosophy) abandoned poetry for philosophy in which he hoped to discover ‘our mental nature to be just as determined, concrete, and firmly established as our physical’. In E. Fischer, The Necessity of Art, A Marxist Approach, Trans., A. Bostock, 1959, reprint. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986, 4. In his doctoral thesis of 1841 he wrote ‘In order for man to become his only true object, he must have crushed within himself  (my italics) his relative mode of being, the force of passion and of mere nature’. (Ibid.) Lenin, Gorky and Lunacharsky wrote that although Lenin loved music, to listen to it disturbed him very much. In Lenin on Literature and Art, Progress: Moscow, 1978, 270, 284, 285. Trotsky also admitted to ‘resisting’ art. In M. Solomon, Ed., Marxism and Art, Essays Classic and Contemporary, 1973; reprint. Detroit, 1986, 192.
Hitler, another idealistic male system-builder, this time of the thousand-year-Reich, who once painted reasonable water-colours for a living, stated ‘As long as a people exists, however, it is the fixed pole in the flight of fleeting appearances. It is the being and the lasting permanence. And, indeed, for this reason, art as an expression of the essence of this being, is an eternal monument – in itself the being and the permanence’ From the speech inaugurating the ‘Great Exhibition of German Art’, 1937, Munich, published in ‘Der Führer eroffnet die Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung 1937’, Die Kunst im Dritten Reich (Munich), I, 7-8, (July-August, 1937) 47-61, in H. Chipp, Ed., Theories of Modern Art, A Source Book by Artists and Critics., University of California Press, 1968, 478; Plotinus wrote: ‘”Let us flee then to the beloved Fatherland”: this is the soundest counsel.’ In Plotinus, The Enneads., Third ed. Abridged. Trans., S. MacKenna. op. cit. 54

79. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy. Eds., A. Garry and M. Pearsall. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 124

80. Ibid. 125

81. Ibid. 124

82. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London: Methuen, 1984, x (Preface to 1993 edition)

83. ‘The resolution of human/nature dualism is closely linked with the resolution of other closely associated reason/nature dualisms, such as the reason/emotion dualism…We have noticed how emotion is constructed as the opponent and dualised underside of reason, so that it is identified as an unreliable, unreflective, irrational and sometimes uncontrollable force reason must dominate. We should certainly challenge the narrowing and dominating role of reason…Emotion, like other areas reason has excluded, can be treated affirmatively, as a crucial and creative element, but in doing this we affirm neither the irrational nor the anti-rational.’ V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 1993, 189

84. E. Ilyenkov, Dialectical Logic, Essays on its History and Theory, Progress: Moscow, 1977, 189

85. V. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress, Moscow, 1976, 114, 195

The Man of Reason: Part Eight

Lloyd wrote ‘What is new is the decline in optimism about the eventual victory of reason.’64 An extraordinary statement for a philosopher to make. Why the negativity? Victory over what? ‘Irrationality’? If so, isn’t this the great fear of the Man of Reason?65 Plumwood addressed the issue with pertinent questions – ‘Where does the remarkable set of values enshrined in the Platonic system of thought come from? Why is reason developed in oppositional ways as hostile to nature? The attractions of choosing the shadowy, abstract world of the Forms over the living world of experience are not immediately obvious.’66

A constituent running strongly through the existence of the Man of Reason is his retreat from life. In his Seventh Letter Plato wrote of the experience of his youth:

‘I had much the same experience as many other young men. I expected, when I came of age, to go into politics…When I saw all this (the treatment of Socrates), and other things as bad, I was disgusted and drew back from the wickedness of the times.’67

For Plato and Plotinus, the return of soul to its source is the escape from matter. More than once in his Enneads, Plotinus calls it a flight, an escape. He cited Plato – “ ‘Likeness to God’, he says, ‘is a flight from this world’s ways and things’…”68 Such a proposition, resulting in union with God in solitude is individualist and elitist. It is a doctrine of the salvation of the self from the world. The Enneads conclude:

‘This is the life of gods and of godlike and blessed men, deliverance from the things of this world, a life which takes no delight in the things of this world, escape in solitude to the solitary.’69

Lloyd noted the Man of Reason’s ‘transcendence’ of the feminine,70 Plumwood called it ‘the flight from the feminine’.71

In her essay, Lloyd quotes Descartes from a letter to Princess Elizabeth: “True philosophy teaches that even amid the saddest disasters and most bitter pains a man can always be content, provided that he knows how to use his reason.”, adding ‘His own mastery of reason over the passions, he claims, has cured him of his hereditary dry cough and pale colour and ensured that even his dreams are pleasant.’72 In view of my criticism of the Man of Reason’s flight from the engagement of his complete being in life, Spinoza’s desire to transcend ‘the passions’, hatred, anger, envy, derision, pride, ‘excessive love’, suspicion and enmities can be interpreted as having a more prosaic motive than his Man of Reason would have us believe. This same desire to transcend (escape) ‘the vagaries’ and obligations of life lies at the heart of Neoclassicism, Romanticism and the philosophy of Bergson.

The Man of Reason personifies a rejection of those aspects of ‘mind’ and life which are beyond his control. Poets were to be banned from Plato’s Republic.73 ‘The gravest charge against poetry still remains. It has a terrible power to corrupt even the best characters, with very few exceptions’.74

‘Poetry has the same effect on us when it represents sex and anger, and the other desires and feelings of pleasure and pain which accompany all our actions. It waters them when they ought to be left to wither, and makes them control us when we ought, in the interests of our own greater welfare and happiness, to control them.’75

Yet not only is Plato’s writing, with his notion of eternal Forms and their shadows and his use of simile highly creative, his own writing reveals a rich and idealistic emotional life and a great sensitivity to art  and inspiration:

‘arranged as they are in the plumes of rapid imagination, (poets) speak truth. For a Poet is indeed a thing ethereally light, winged, and sacred, nor can he compose anything worth calling poetry until he becomes inspired, and, as it were, mad, or whilst any reason remains in him…(they compose) from the impulse of the divinity within them’76

His treatment of the ‘divided soul’ is exemplified in the Phaedrus, in which the sexual love of beauty is an inspirational bridge between matter (appearance) and knowledge (of the realm of Ideas):

‘the whole soul of him whose wings begin to grow seethes and throbs with an itching irritation such as is felt in the gums at the forming of the teeth…And as it looks upon the beauty of a boy and particles then come flowing thence upon it, which is called desire, it is warmed and refreshed, it is relieved of its pain and rejoices.’77

Part eight of nine/to be continued…

Notes
64 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Eds., A. Garry and M. Pearsall, Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 126

65 Lloyd argues Hegel’s faith in Reason can be taken not only ‘as the expression of an ideal’, but ‘as an affirmation of faith that the irrational will not prevail. Such a faith may well appear naive; but that does not mean it is bad faith.’ G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London: Methuen, 1984, 107

66 V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 1993, 97

67 Plato, The Republic, Trans., D. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979, 14

68 Plotinus, The Enneads, Third ed. Abridged., Trans., S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, 18 (I,2,3)

69 Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H. Armstrong. In seven volumes. London: William Heinemann, 1966-1988, Volume VI, 345 (VI,9,11). Armstrong referred to this as ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’.

70 G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit. 104

71 V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 74. Also 112 ‘Descartes is plainly the heir of the Platonic and rationalist flight from and devaluation of the body, nature and the feminine.’ 116 For Plato and Descartes, knowledge is not only freedom from doubt, but also ‘freedom from the body and its deceptions, weaknesses and hindrances, its personal and emotional ties…In Cartesianism, as in earlier rationalism, the excluded and inferiorised contrast of ‘pure’ thought includes much more than the feminine. Its contrasts now include not only animality and the body itself, but also material reality, practical activity, change, the emotions, sympathy and subjectivity.’

72 Descartes to Elizabeth, 6 October 1645, in Descartes Philosophical Letters, Ed. and Trans., A. Kenny. Oxford University Press: Oxford. 1970, in G. Lloyd. ‘The Man of Reason’. op.cit. 118

73 Cf. Rousseau’s exclusion of women from citizenship.

74 Plato, The Republic, Trans., D. Lee. op. cit. 436

75 Ibid. 437

76 Plato, ‘Ion’, Five Dialogues of Plato Bearing on Poetic Inspiration, London, 1929, 7

77 Plato, Phaedrus, In S. Mainwaring. ‘Winckelmann and the Platonic Educative Eros’, Fine Arts IV thesis, University of Sydney, 1988, 65

*   *   *

I will soon begin a series on the philosophy of the Neoplatonist Henri Bergson

The Man of Reason: Part Seven

Lloyd’s exposure of what has been done through history, and still is done to women, by men and women in the name of the Man of Reason, is excellent. Her perspective, as that of Plumwood, offers a great deal of insight. Lloyd wrote that a previously existing contrast between men as rational and women as impulsive, emotional etc., between man in God’s image and woman as his companion was deepened by Descartes and Spinoza and carried into a separation of functions – ‘We now have a separation of functions backed by a theory of mind…reason – the godlike, the spark of the divine in man – is assigned to the male. The emotions, the imagination, the sensuous are assigned to women.’50 But this Man was not born in the seventeenth century.

Plato made repeated associations between maleness (as form) dominating femaleness (as matter).51 Lloyd wrote ‘During life, Plato concluded, the god-like rational soul should rule over the slave-like mortal body.’52 Plumwood argued that Plato’s ‘contempt for’ and debasement of’ women and ‘the feminine’ is a major element of his philosophy, in which reason is oppositional to and exclusive of the lower order with which women are associated.53 She noted that  he classed most women with slaves, children and ‘other animals’ – distant from the logos.54 In Plato’s society, women and slaves were excluded from voting.55 Even when he argued in the Laws that women must join the communal meals, Plato wrote:

‘half the human race – the female sex, the half which in any case is inclined to be secretive and crafty, because of its weakness – has been left to its own devices because of the misguided indulgence of the legislator…women have got used to a life of obscurity and retirement, and any attempt to force them into the open will provoke tremendous resistance from them’ 56

The thought of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and Aquinas have not only had a great impact on western thought but therefore, the impact has been on western life. Not only does Lloyd observe in her own area the dominance through history by males with a definite effect on philosophy,57 she stated ‘The content of femininity, as we have it, no less than its subordinate status, has been formed within an intellectual tradition.’58

Lloyd cautions against a critique of the Man of Reason from a specifically feminist standpoint since such might amount to ‘a catalogue of the atrocities he has perpetrated on women.’ She argued ‘What is needed is (a) critique of his standing as an ideal, whether as an object of male self-esteem or of female envy…What is needed for the Man of Reason is realisation of his limitations as a human ideal’59

Lloyd’s writing has gone some way to expose the Man of Reason (what state of dress is the Emperor really in?!) and the exclusion and domination done in his name. Surely Lloyd’s essay and book evidence that what is needed is the rejection of (the ideal of) the Man of Reason. Lloyd seems unable to decide. In her book she referred to the ideal as both a ‘self-deceiving failure’ and ‘as embodying a hope for the future’.60

Plumwood argued that reason in the western tradition has been constructed from the perspective of master, to justify not only the oppression and exploitation of women, but also of class and of nature. In this, Plumwood’s analysis is deeper than Lloyd’s. The fundamental point about the Man of Reason is not his maleness but his ideality, his inhumanity.61

Short of engaging in a discussion on the difference in brain structures and functions between male and female, those qualities recognised in the name of the Man of Reason as female and banished to ‘woman’ are also qualities the men who have constructed and those who have argued for him have denied in themselves. ‘The Man of Reason’, to borrow  from Plato, is half a man. Plumwood addresses this in her excellent writing on virtue ethics.

She ties particularity, empathic generalisation (as opposed to universalisation), and an inclusion of the emotions to the development of rationality and ethics. Virtues include openness to others, generosity, friendship, responsibility, loyalty to place, interconnection, continuity and respect for difference and independence – the latter three in particular she applies to our relationship with nature.62

‘(These ethics) are moral “feelings” but they involve both cognitive elements, ethical elements and emotion in ways that do not seem separable…The feminist suspicion is that no abstract morality can be well founded that is not grounded in sound particularistic relations to others in personal life, the area which brings together in concrete form the intellectual with the emotional, the sensuous and the bodily. Such an approach treats ethical relations as an expression of identity’.63

Part seven of nine/to be continued…

Notes

50. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Eds., A. Garry and M. Pearsall, Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 117

51. In the Timaeus, the major metaphor of Plato’s cosmology is that of rational male form (cosmos) ruling irrational female matter (chaos). Plumwood considers this dualism has a parallel in ‘deep ecology’ which she thinks draws on a psychology of incorporation. ‘deep ecology proposes a “unifying process”, a metaphysics which insists that everything is really part of, indistinguishable from, everything else…such treatment is a standard part of subordination; for example, of women, servants, the colonised, animals.’ 177-178. Also ‘deep ecology gives us another variant on the superiority of reason and the inferiority of its contrasts’. 182. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature,  op. cit.

52. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London: Methuen, 1984, 6

53. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 76 -79

54. Ibid.78

55. Plumwood argued that it is not only a masculine identity underlying the Platonic conception of reason ‘but a master identity defined in terms of multiple exclusions, and in terms of domination not only of the feminine but also of the slave (which usually combines race, class and gender oppression), of the animal, and of the natural.’ V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 72

56. Plato, The Laws, Trans., T. Saunders, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984, 262-263 (781)

57. ‘Philosophers…have been predominantly male; and the absence of women from the philosophical tradition has meant that the conceptualisation of Reason has been done exclusively by men. It is not surprising that the results should reflect their sense of Philosophy as a male activity…there has been no input of femaleness into the formation of ideals of Reason.’ G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit.108

58. Ibid. 106. Also ‘Contemporary consciousness, male or female, reflects past philosophical ideals as well as past differences in the social organisation of the lives of men and women.’ 107

59. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op.cit. 127

60. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit.107

61. Plumwood noted that Plato’s abstract realm of Forms is maximally distanced from the inferior world of change and that (as developed in Descartes’ metaphor of the machine) permits the emotional distance which enables power and control. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 81, 119

62. ‘(Such an ethics) abandons the exclusive focus on the universal and the abstract associated with egoism, and the dualistic and oppositional accounts of the reason/emotion and universal/particular contrasts given in rationalist accounts of ethics.’ V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 184

63. V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 183

The Man of Reason: Part Six

Lloyd asserted that ‘Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance represents an attempt to get at the unity underlying “Classical” and Romantic” thought styles. This is a very different kind of critique of reason from that attempted by the Romantics, who were concerned rather with affirming one side of the dichotomy.’42 It is generally thought that Romanticism followed Neoclassicism – in fact they existed roughly concurrently, Neoclassicism beginning about forty years earlier and waning by 1820 whilst as a movement, Romanticism is generally considered to have passed by 1830.

The Romantics, though they did consider themselves to be in passionate opposition to those who maintained the ‘reason’ side of a dichotomy, in fact represented the other side of a coin – they affirmed the ‘Plotinian’ strand of Platonism, as Neoclassicism affirmed the ‘Platonic’. Whereas Romanticism involved the subordination of form to content and the evocation of the Ideal through dynamism, positioning Nature at the centre of all things, Neoclassicism involved the subordination of content to form and the evocation of the Ideal through stasis, positioning Man at the centre of all things. The Ideal in both cases is ultimately the same – a return through contemplation to unity with the self as God. The contemplation of ‘pedestalised’ (idealised) female form (as opposed to thought about the lived content/reality) was a means to this for the male.

I strongly disagree with Lloyd’s reading of Bergson. His philosophy was a rejection of reasoning in favour of a non-rational mode of access to reality. His notion of ‘mind’ was plainly dualist. He thought that consciousness does not spring from the brain.43 He also thought that ‘there is more in the motionless than in the moving’44 and that Ideas are contained in matter, that we are all born Platonists 45 and that there exists nothing positive outside Ideas.46 Bergson acknowledged his profound obligation to Plotinus 47 and gave a course of lectures on him at the College de France in 1897-98. He suggested the possibility of applying the term ‘God’ to the source from which all things flow.

He claimed that intuition (for him, the immediate non-intellectual knowledge not of discontinuous moments but of the indivisible flow of ‘real’ time), brought the flow of reality (‘duration’) to consciousness as opposed to a succession of changing states. Yet (consistent with the function of Plotinus’ primary hypostasis) he referred to this duration as lifting the soul above the Idea.48 His notion of duration amounts to the intuitive apprehension of the passage of spiritual reality. Bergson’s intuition is the same non-discursive contemplation of perfection in ‘mind’ as that advocated by Plotinus.

If the philosophy of Bergson had any energy to its élan vital, or any flow to its durée, it did so because it was a pale image and a shadow of a vast structure created by a man of far greater integrity to his purpose and of far greater historical and cultural significance.49

In Plotinus’ system, a system containing an Intellect ‘teeming’, ‘boiling’ and ‘seething’ with creative energy and life are all of the concepts central to the philosophy of Bergson – particularly the relationship between contemplation, movement or flow (Bergson’s durée) and the ultimate goal of oneness achieved through that process of ‘mental’ activity in stillness. In that system, exists the source of Bergson’s multiplicity-in-unity, the same distinction between discursive reasoning and intuition, the same aspiration of soul to the Absolute, the same stance on time and space, on extension or absence of extension, the same desire to reject the material world and to orient his audience to their true, perhaps unconsciously remembered, spiritual purpose.

Part six of nine/to be continued…

Notes
42 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Eds. A. Garry and M. Pearsall. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 127

43 H. Bergson, Creative Evolution, 1907, Trans. A. Mitchell. New York, 1911,  reprint. 1983, 262

44 Ibid. 316

45 H. Larrabee, Ed.  Selections from Bergson,  New York, 1949, 64

46 H. Bergson, Creative Evolution, op. cit. 316

47 H. Larrabee, Ed. Selections from Bergson, op.cit. xiii

48 H. Bergson, The Creative Mind, Trans. M. Andison. New York, 1946, 229

49 Bergson used the achievements of science to refute the ‘positive sciences’ and justify his theories. For example, discoveries concerning the atom. He also tried to argue that his philosophy was consistent with Einstein’s theories. See H. Bergson, Duration and Simultaneity, with Reference to Einstein’s Theory, Trans. L. Jacobson. 1922, reprint. New York, 1965. That Plotinus and Neoplatonism are not taught (distinct from mysticism being advocated) at every institution where philosophy is taught is, because of the implications, the most gross failure of social and intellectual responsibility by time-serving academics.

*   *   *

I will soon begin a series on the philosophy of the Neoplatonist Henri Bergson.

The Man of Reason: Part Five

Descartes’ method is based firmly on the development of Platonism and Neoplatonism.  Although he did not use the divided soul model of Plato’s later work, Lloyd notes his antithesis between ‘mind’ and matter, his isomorphism between reason, reality and God, his positioning of intellect in opposition to the emotions and down-grading of the senses, and that towards attaining ‘clear and distinct ideas’, ‘shedding the non-intellectual from our mental states is something that demands training’.30

This is precisely what lay behind the education of the Philosopher Ruler in Plato’s Republic:

‘Then would you like us to consider how men of this kind are to be produced, and how they are to be led up to the light, like the men in stories who are said to have risen from the underworld to heaven?’
‘I should like it very much.’…
‘What is at issue is the conversion of the mind from a kind of twilight to the true day, that climb up into reality which we shall say is true philosophy.’
‘Yes, of course.’…
‘Well, Glaucon,’ I asked, ‘what should men study if their minds are to be drawn from the world of change to reality? Now it occurs to me that we said our rulers must be trained…’31

Plotinus, who, like Descartes, considered intuition free of the ‘fluctuating testimony of the senses’,32 providing ‘fresh, spontaneous, unclouded apprehensions of a mind operating in accordance with its understanding of its own nature’,33 recommended a more mystical method:

‘No eye ever saw the sun without becoming sun-like, nor can a soul see beauty without becoming beautiful. You must become first all godlike and all beautiful if you intend to see God and beauty. First the soul will come in its ascent to intellect and there will know the Forms, all beautiful, and will affirm that these, the Ideas, are beauty; for all things are beautiful by these, by the products and essence of intellect.’34

Another variation with a different emphasis through ‘Scientia Intuitiva’ (‘a kind of knowledge superior to reason’) is in Spinoza’s philosophy. Whereas Descartes’ Man favoured the ordered method of systematised reason and ‘clear and distinct ideas’, Spinoza’s Man sought to harness intuition (which ‘gives adequate knowledge of the essences of things and proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of the attributes of God’)35 and ‘active, intellectual emotion’36 in his  desire for ‘detachment from the particular, the specific, the transient, in order to turn (his) attention increasingly to the general, the universal, the unchanging’,37 in the pursuit of his goal – ‘nothing less than the attaining of eternity of the mind’.38

Plato, in his later work (as Lloyd wrote in her book The Man of Reason) recognised both the power and tension in ‘harnessing’ non-intellectual elements to reason.39 Intuition and emotion appropriated by reason – ‘rational emotions’ (to quote Lloyd),40 disembodied passions (in that they are redirected from life), were fundamental means for enabling the soul of Plotinus’ Man of Reason to move to reunite with Intellect and the One. In the Enneads, the more active the soul in contemplation, the closer to stillness and unity with God. As Lloyd stated, ‘what remains with us as the character ideal expressed in (Spinoza’s) Man of Reason is mainly the negative detachment from all that gives warmth and compassion to human existence’.41

Part five of nine/to be continued…

Notes
30 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op. cit. 116

31 Plato, The Republic, Trans. D. Lee. op. cit. 326-327

32 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op.cit. 116

33 Ibid. 123

34 Plotinus, Enneads. Trans. A.H. Armstrong, op. cit. Volume 1, 261, (1,6,9). This quotation refers both to the simile of the sun in Republic, Book VI and probably to that of the cave in Book VII. The better known quotation from Plotinus on the necessary method for the Man of Reason’s ascension to the realm of Intellect, beautifully translated by MacKenna, is: ‘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.
When you know that you have become this perfect work, when you are self-gathered in the purity of your being, nothing now remaining that can shatter that inner unity, nothing from without clinging to the authentic man, when you find yourself wholly true to your essential nature, wholly that only veritable Light which is not measured by space, not narrowed to any circumscribed form nor again diffused as a thing void of term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and more than all quantity – when you perceive that you have grown to this, you are now become very vision: now call up all your confidence, strike forward yet a step – you need a guide no longer – strain, and see.’ In Plotinus. The Enneads, Third ed. Abridged. Trans. S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, 54-55, I,6,9

35 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op.cit. 122

36 Ibid. 119

37 Ibid

38 Ibid. 118

39 ‘The cultivation of Reason remained at the centre of the Platonic life-style, but non-intellectual elements were now incorporated into the life of the soul, as energising psychic forces on which Reason draws. On the other hand, it also complicated Reason’s struggle for purity. Both aspects of the divided-soul model emerge in the Phaedrus metaphor of the soul as a pair of winged horses, joined together in natural union with their charioteer. One horse is white, noble and easily guided; the other is a dark, crooked, lumbering animal, shag-eared and deaf, hardly yielding to whip and spur.’ In the Phaedrus, Socrates argues that conflicting desires enables the love of wisdom. 21 ‘The later Plato…thus saw passionate love and desire as the beginning of the soul’s process of liberation through knowledge…’ 22 In the Symposium, ‘…in Diotima’s version of the lover’s progress Reason does not simply shed the perturbations of passion but assimilates their energising force. Reason itself becomes a passionate faculty and a creative, productive one.’  G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit.

40 Rousseau sought to utilise this potential with his ‘virtuous’ and ‘restrained passion’, on which Reason was to be modelled.

41 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op.cit. 121