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?


Plato, the poet, inspiration and change

Raphael’s imagining of Plato and Aristotle, The School of Athens, fresco, 1509-11, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

Plato believed that art is essentially mimetic and used ‘mimesis’ in different ways to express what the product of a craftsman is on a scale of diminishing degrees of reality and knowledge (from knowledge [pure thought and reason] to opinion [belief and illusion]), in relation to the true objects of knowledge – the Forms. Using the example of a bed: the eidos of Bed, made by the god is a unique, eternal and unchanging and therefore fully real essence, embodied in all beds.

A bed made by a carpenter participates in the essence of Bed, but because it is in the world of change, is less real. An artist’s painting of the bed is a mere image or illusion because it is only of the appearance of the bed – the bed painted from one perspective, as though seen in a mirror – so the painting is thrice removed from true reality and knowledge. Similarly, the mimesis produced by the poet (who creates pictures with words) is the re-presentation of life – mere imitation.

While an artist can paint a bit and bridle he does not understand the form that is proper to these objects, he has neither knowledge nor correct belief of what he depicts because he has no experience of them. The smith and leather-worker can make them – but even they don’t have the understanding of them that the horseman has. As with the soul, the tripartite Platonic divisions apply in the arts: here – the art of use, the art of making and the art of representation. The implied equation between ‘art of use’ and (knowledge of) eternal reality is on the basis of ‘complete engagement with’ – developed in Neoplatonism. The poet is the counterpart of the painter – their work too is thrice removed from reality, for the same reasons. The poet knows nothing more than their own craft – how to re-present appearances. They have no knowledge on the basis of experience of what they write about but employ their mere imagination.

Plato held that the only poetry that should be allowed in the commonwealth is that which praises the gods and ‘good’ men. He had particular hostility to ‘imitative’ poetry because it was to this that the Greeks had traditionally looked for moral and intellectual guidance (his prime target was Homer). He wanted to establish philosophy as that sole source, denying not only the parallels between poetry and philosophy – that they were both art forms that could be literary and pedagogical, but also the cognitive potential of poetry and the arts. He believed that ‘wisdom’ could be gained not through the study of the poet’s portraits of heroes but only through rigorous dialectic.

He argued that whereas (his) philosophy had as its summum bonum true knowledge on the basis of reason’s engagement with what was most real through strict training, the poet’s (particularly tragic) aim was to appeal to the ‘non-rational’ part of the soul and the arousal of emotion in their audience, on the basis of the poet’s imitation of appearances. The experience of the emotions aroused would then carry over into the daily lives of the citizens, to their detriment.

What was particularly threatening to Plato (because of his sensitivity to and capacity for inspiration and his determination to deny lived emotions and change with his controlled, rationalist system, and whom Guthrie correctly described as a philosophical theologian) was that the poet is ‘divinely inspired’. Poets work from inspiration not (linguistic) reason, they don’t understand the meaning of their language, they present a semblance of life with no grasp of reality. Such poetry, like all art, is play and not to be taken seriously. Thus Plato argued that the poet should be not allowed into a just commonwealth ‘because he stimulates and strengthens an element which threatens to undermine the reason.’

Driven by his antipathy to change and his incapacity to accept its necessity and by the manifestation of this in his division and opposition between ‘reason’ and ‘emotions’, Plato banished from his republic (from what was in effect his model for the perfection of self) that which, as evidenced by his own writing, he had the deepest appreciation of – poetry – and those whose business it was – including, by implication and most particularly, himself.



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



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





Newnes 3

Newnes woman


This strange eventful history 4

Face of an actor

Face of an actor


‘Decency’ as an extremely powerful control mechanism

The constraints of ‘decency’ and ‘respect for authority’ on display. Middle-class, white-dominated Australian culture is choking on both.

The implications of this skit are far from humorous.

The questioning of the ‘Citizen Infringement officer’ and even the over-the-shoulder instruction to him to ‘stick (the ticket) up your arse’ from those he wrote ‘fines’ for were all contained within the bounds of this ‘decency’, this ‘respect for authority’.

What Morrow was doing was not exposed and he continued doing it.

Being challenged and asked for identification and firmly questioned (i.e. not on the basis of hurt or offence) about what he was doing would have gone beyond those bounds.

Ideologies function the same way – they have inbuilt tolerances that can cater for hurt, offence, difference and questioning within the limits of ‘decency’ and ‘respect for authority’ that are carefully monitored by ideologues and updated according to requirements or developments.

What ideologues can’t tolerate is a direct, principled challenge, a push to expose those limits and to go beyond them – thereby smoking out that it is an ideology they are defending, a system of belief limited by the interests of the dominant class they serve.

There was another similar skit (I couldn’t find a copy) done at least twice by the Chaser team in which one of them, wearing the semblance of a uniform, stood at the bottom of up/down escalators and as everyone coming down got to the bottom, he told them to go back up the other one. Every person did as they were told.

All power-plays short of overt domination are made on the back of ‘decency’ and a blind submission to authority.

Question everything


A window on the world


NGC 3324 in Carina


NGC 3324 is also called the Gabriela Mistral nebula, because of the striking resemblance with the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet, who was born and raised in the Elqui region, home to the Cerro Tololo, Cerro Pachon and Cerro Morado professional observatories.

A man that looks on glasse

On it may stay his eye,

Or if he pleaseth, through it passe

And then the heav’n espie

George Herbert

If the glass through which we look is the sensible world, then with ‘heav’n’ we have Platonism. Substitute ‘atoms and void’ and it is Democritean. If the word were ‘real’, it would fit either philosophy.

W.K.C.Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, The Presocratic tradition from Parmenides to Democritus (vol. 2), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, 464


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