Paul Redding and Hegel on the pinnacle of ancient philosophy – was it Plato, Aristotle…or Neoplatonism?

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

‘Plato and, especially Aristotle, represent the pinnacle of ancient philosophy…’

Paul Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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‘The revival of the ancient Greek philosophy was tied to the decline of the Roman Empire, which was so vast, wealthy, and splendid, but inwardly dead; the greatest flowering of philosophy, the Alexandrian philosophy, emerged only then.’

So Greek philosophy has the thinking that determines itself within itself. It develops itself into a totality of the idea (the world spirit does nothing by half measures). Its consummation comes in Neoplatonic philosophy, with which the history of Greek philosophy draws to a close.’

‘The third [epoch of the first] period takes the shape of Alexandrian philosophy (Neoplatonism, but likewise Neo-Aristotelian philosophy too). The consummation of Greek philosophy as such, it established the realm of noumena, the ideal realm. This philosophy therefore incorporated all earlier forms of philosophy within it. Plotinus lived in the third century and Proclus in the fifth. By choosing to regard Proclus as the culmination of this philosophy, the entire period of Greek Philosophy then amounts to about one thousand years.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume I: Introduction and Oriental Philosophy, Together With the Introductions from the Other Series of These Lectures, Trans. Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009, 69, 162-3, 202

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‘We need not concern ourselves with the interpretative adequacy of Hegel’s reading of Aristotle’s noesis noeseos doctrine, but simply note how it is this allegedly ‘speculative’ dimension of Aristotle that allows Hegel to link Aristotle to subsequent forms of thought. First, it is linked to what for Hegel was the most developed form of Greek philosophy, late antique Neoplatonism, (my italics) which could equally be considered a form of Neo-Aristotelianism (Hegel 1995: vol. 2, 381), especially in its Proclean form (ibid.: 438), and thereby to the trinitarianism of the succeeding Christian theology (ibid.: 440-49), which Neoplatonism had influenced.’

Paul Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, in Graham Oppy and N.N.Trakakis eds., Nineteenth-Century Philosophy of Religion: The History of Western Philosophy of Religion, vol. 4, Routledge, New York, 2014, 49-61, 58

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Aristotle, theology, contemplation and matter

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

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

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Russell wrote that philosophy lies between science and theology. Aristotle wrote in the Metaphysics that first philosophy is the science of theology. I would like to make a couple of points before discussing Aristotle’s theology in that book and some points regarding Aristotle on contemplation.

It has been argued that the central doctrine of the Metaphysics is that the foundation of the world is natural ‘substance’ and not some separate and ideal entity, whether mathematical or other. For Aristotle, the subject of his book was those things that lie beyond process and change, the science of things transcending what is physical or natural. In my view, the central doctrine of the Metaphysics is that the foundation of the world is an eternal substance beyond process and change.

Nothing lies beyond process and change.

Nothing transcends what is physical and natural.

Lenin wrote that the scholastics took all that was dead in Aristotle and left what was questioning, what was living. An example of brilliance in Aristotle’s thought is the following quotation:

‘It is…impossible that movement should either come-to-be or be destroyed. It must always have been in existence, and the same can be said for time itself, since it is not even possible for there to be an earlier and a later if time does not exist. Movement, then, is also continuous in the way in which time is – indeed time is either identical to movement or is some affection of it. (There is, however, only one continuous movement, namely spatial movement, and of this only circular rotation.)’

Yet he denied the heart of dialectics and the engine of movement: ‘it is not possible for the same thing both to be and not to be at one and the same time, or indeed harbour any other such pair of contraries.’ Again, for Aristotle, nothing that has matter can be eternal.

More than referring to what can be seen, heard, etc., ‘matter’ indicates what exists independently of us, of our consciousness and ability to think – and of which we are its products. Matter, space, time and motion are inseparable.

Aristotle’s theology and the role that contemplation plays in relation to it is at both the core and the pinnacle of his Metaphysics – they cannot be passed off while we get into the meat of the text. He wrote that divinity is ‘the primary and fundamental principle.’ God or the Unmoved Mover, the ‘eternal actual substance’, not subject to process of any kind, is the object of desire and the focus of memory for the world and everything in it. As such the Unmoved Mover is the final cause of the world. Because of it there is motion in the world.

It is essential to understand the most significant place that theology plays in philosophy in general. Aristotle did not understand its place in Plato’s philosophy. He wrote, amongst his numerous criticisms of Plato in the Metaphysics: ‘it was perceptible particulars that the Forms were postulated to explain.’

I disagree – the Forms were postulated to justify Plato’s theology. In his criticism of the Forms, Aristotle gave the appearance of having been blind to their theological purpose – he has analysed them ‘logically’ – the very criticism he made of Plato, that he thought ‘logically’. This also points to the weakness of his metaphysics – that they, like Plato’s Forms, are built on contemplative reason, reason divorced from testing in practice.

Aristotle believed that contemplative philosophy brings a philosopher as close as possible to a divine state – that philosophy nurtures the divine fragment in us. He wrote that ‘contemplative study is to be chosen above all other sciences, but it is this First Science of Theology that we must prefer to all other kinds even of contemplation.’ He drew on his ethical theory to argue that the highest form of life is contemplative thought.  The prime mover enjoys that life, necessarily.

For Aristotle, God is permanently engaged in the contemplation of contemplation (noesis noeseos), in thinking about thinking. In activating thought, God activates life (compare this with John 1:1 ‘In the beginning was the word [my emphasis], and the word was with God and the Word was God.’).

Contemplation (matter reflecting on matter, objective reality reflecting on itself) and its determinations, divorced from testing in practice, is the greatest, most pernicious failure of philosophy.

Its etymology, appropriately, traces to a place apart, for the observation of auguries – con-templum.

It has always played into dominant ideologies, been used by the ideologues of dominant classes to guide away from the world, as their masters exploit it.

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.’

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Reply to Austin 2: on reason and the emotions in philosophy

phaedrus

Hi Austin,

When I process about a lack of hope, I refer not to self-pity but to a loss of faith in others – the same loss of faith that results in the countless ways people use to escape from life (Hegel in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion recommended a priesthood of philosophers, caring nothing for the world),1 particularly in the capitalist West, where it is encouraged to believe and practice that exploitation (‘What’s in it for Me?’) forms the basis of all relationships – with others and nature.

I needed someone to recognise my need, and to step forward unasked and help me (why? because I knew I was putting to the test for the first time for myself what I had believed in and acted on for others). My need was recognised  – a friend lent me the money to get my car registered.

‘So what? It’s only a car’ one might reply, but it was a very important symbolic point for me at the time. This ‘small’ act renewed my hope, my belief in humanity and trust in my idealism and sustained me through two degrees, enabling me to develop my philosophy and work, contrary to the dominant capitalist ideology and its academic proponents.

We are animals and our brains function holistically. Thoughts – linguistically structured and those from ‘below’ language seamlessly generate emotions which in turn feed back into thoughts. There is no such thing as a thought without an emotion or vice versa.

There are those who argue that conscious linguistic thought is simply the end point of a very long ‘subterranean’ process – the conscious thought simply manifests ‘decisions’ already ‘taken’. Then there is the degree of development of areas of our brains – which are more literally primitive and which the most advanced and how do they bear on the working of our brains? All these inter-related processes take place constantly in the one brain.

Which brings me to the key justification for Western supremacism – our ‘reason’ – the Great Lie of patriarchal philosophy. What is held up as the most rigorous is often suffused with the most intuitive, the most ‘subterranean’, poetic and dialectical. Mysticism, its influence pervasive in our culture and its philosophy, is built on these processes.

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, structured with impressive, imposing numerically sequential divisions and taught by academics as a model of intellectual rigour is nothing more than disingenuous mystical gobbledygook book-ended by the core apophatic statement that what we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence.

Russell, in his introduction, discussed Wittgenstein’s attitude to the mystical, pointing out ‘after all, Mr Wittgenstein manages to say a good deal about what cannot be said’ including on ethics – and I would add, aesthetics and God, no less.

The Tractatus (by one whom I regard as Heraclitus without the Heraclitus, by one who was a model for everything philosophy is not) can be consigned with confidence, in terms of worth, to the bottom end of this mystical current.

Hegel’s philosophy, again deeply disingenuous patriarchal mysticism in the name of ‘Reason’ is, as Marx recognised, at the top end of this scale. His philosophy is not only the richest and most complex expression of mysticism, it was, till then, the closest reflection in philosophical language of how the world works. Marx stood Hegel’s structure on its ‘feet’.

In applying Hegel’s philosophy to materialism, Marx developed materialism dialectically (while it is a philosophy not a science, it is the only philosophy for the development of science, which goes ever deeper into the contradictory nature of the world).

But Marx retained a commitment to the place of language in philosophy – that thought, in reflecting the world, is only linguistic and conceptual. And it is in this area that dialectical materialism must be further developed.2

The mystical philosophy that Marx acknowledged he built his own philosophy on, his own method of knowing the world, not only has at its core another way of reasoning – intuition, mysticism’s appreciation of the importance of the emotions to thought and of the complexity in the relations between emotions and thought found expression in the very dialectics Marx positioned at the heart of materialism.

Best regards,

Filippo

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Notes

1. ’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, 161-162

2. The same problem the artistic patriarch Plato had with ‘the emotions’ can be found in the lives of the leading Marxists: Unable to unite science and art in his dialogue ‘Cleanthes’, which also carried him ‘like a false-hearted siren into the clutches of the enemy’, Marx 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.

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Plato and Aristotle on emotional release – the philosophy and art of social control

Rock band SCREAM ARENA

Plato believed that in the poet’s presentation, what is at third remove from reality, he appeals not to (linguistic) reason – the highest part of the soul (and the reason of patriarchy) – but to the lowest, seeking to provoke the non-rational emotions. In so doing he undermines and corrupts character.

When citizens enter into the emotions expressed by a character on stage their reason is obstructed by their own emotional arousal and they will carry this arousal from the theatre into their daily lives. Since emotions struggle against their control by reason, they are dangerous for the polis. For this reason, the poet should be banished from the commonwealth.

Contrary to Plato’s rigid opposition between (linguistic) reason and the emotions, but with equal though far more nuanced recognition of the relation between art, emotion, society and control, Aristotle’s theory of art in his Poetics is built on an understanding of the emotions which considers them not only bound, appropriately, to the functioning of reason (evocative of the Ethics, there is a ‘right’ emotion for a particular circumstance) but essential to the life of the citizen.

Where for Plato art is the poorest imitation of the Forms, for Aristotle, although he agreed that art is intentional, representational and that it appeals to the emotions, it imitates human interactivity by means of universals (kinds of people) and the possible consequences. We enjoy and learn by mimesis – art is educational, with nature as the teacher of practical not theoretical knowledge.

Aristotle defined tragedy as ‘the imitation of an action that is serious…in language with pleasurable accessories (my italics)…in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions’.

Through the arousal of fear we identify with the tragic hero, burdened by a fatal flaw (‘The best-laid plans of mice and men…’); through that of pity (for the hero’s suffering) we distance ourselves from him.

The tragedy brings about a catharsis or therapeutic purging of those emotions, with the spectator leaving the theatre emptied of them. It could be argued that the tragedy simply serves a pedagogical purpose provoking insights into the human condition without endangering society – ‘you don’t leave the theatre wanting to burn chariots’.

But Aristotle’s purpose was not merely pedagogical – his writing is too comprehensive, too considered, too hard for that interpretation alone.

Neither Plato nor Aristotle were ‘men of the people’. Both weighed their philosophising in relation to the practice and maintenance of power. Aristotle’s dry and formal language in the Poetics conveys an understanding which is anything but dry and formal.

He chose the most powerful art form in his society to conduct a study of how two of the most powerful emotions can be used – socially, pedagogically and for the maintenance of power (compare with the Ethics – while the ‘common man’ can gain a lot from reading it, it was not primarily intended for him – rather it is a guide to the perfection of self for the self-focused ‘man of substance’, culminating in the philosopher).

Not only did Aristotle choose tragedy (the most concentrated and powerful presentation of life – more so than the epic), employing chorus, song, stage-setting and acting, he analysed every possible element and means to maximally concentrate its potential for the arousal and purging of fear and pity – wrapped in pleasure: plot, characterisation, diction, thought, spectacle, melody, that the tragedian must be as realistic as possible, must develop, like Homer, an aspect rather than a whole, should not speak in his own person, should use a convincing impossibility rather than an unconvincing possibility, should employ consequential surprise.

Maximum realism (with which the audience can most immediately and powerfully relate) with optimal sensory engagement to most powerfully draw out and release two particular emotions. Why? And why fear and pity?

At a social level, arousal and purging are facilitated by the pleasure of tragedy both as theatre and illusion and through the experience of fear and pity as an audience member (symbolic of one’s larger society), thereby allowing both identification and distancing from the emotions because they are shared.

At a pedagogical level, in experiencing fear and pity ‘safely’ and in the most concentrated way, one can later reflect on these two emotions that are both ‘unhealthy’ (consider Epicurus on fear) and would be best purged from our lives.

At the level of control, ‘catharsis’ can be understood both as ‘purification’ – getting rid of the ‘baser’ (more primal, less ‘decent’, less ‘nice’) aspects of one’s character, symbolised by fear and pity and, through that experience, as ‘safety valve’.

As the bourgeoisie leave their operatic and symphonic performances, the working class leave their rock concerts…

Rock concert audience

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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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Plato, the Poet and Change

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.

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What does materialism have to do with mysticism?

Michelangelo, ‘The Awakening Slave’, marble, c. 1520-23, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

Michelangelo, ‘The Awakening Slave’, marble, c. 1520-23, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

Not only is materialism indebted to mysticism – as Marx implicitly acknowledged when he correctly described Hegel’s philosophy as mystical1 – mysticism and its influence pervade Western culture.

The contribution of mysticism in all areas has been profound – to literature, the visual arts, religion, particularly to and through philosophy with its concealed priesthood (which priesthood was identified by the Dionysian priest Nietzsche), to science – it inspired Copernicus to the greatest scientific hypothesis (the Divine Light not the earth is at the centre of the world), and Kepler (in a wonderful yet imperfect world the planetary orbits are elliptical, not circular).

In the West its primarily Neoplatonic form, in reflecting the contradictory, poetic dynamism of the world and having been ‘stood on its feet’ by Marx became the philosophical engine of dialectical materialism itself.2

We in the West, on the back of all that has been achieved, believe a monumental lie, a monumental arrogance, a monumental delusion – that while others worship idols, stare at their navels, are committed to ‘failed’ or ‘backward’ ideologies or are obsessed with filial piety, we have risen above this to become the triumphal bearers of linguistic, conceptual ‘Reason’.

We wear this self-awarded badge as a cultural definition. It is the belief we have relied on to most distinguish the West from the rest.

The impact of mysticism argues against this. Linguistic reason, a core tool of all authoritarians from Plato onwards is not the only form of reason. At the heart of mysticism is another – powerful and fluid, complex, subtle and evanescent. And in the inspiration of its ‘connectedness’, immensely creative.

Linguistic reason draws on this ‘connectedness’ as its proponents seek to contain and deny it. The artist and theologian Plato is a prime example. I refer you to the lyrical power of the Ion

For a Poet is indeed a thing ethereally light, winged, and sacred…

Linguistic reason, while reason’s jewel, is but its tip. When we wake in the middle of the night with the solution to a long-standing problem, had we been dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’, or might trotting chairs and fluttering wings have borne fruit in creative ‘space’?3

Or when you round a corner and bump into a stranger – no time for considered words and structured sentences – think of the richness, at multiple levels, of what has taken place in your brain – in a moment’s silence. Such a cognitive experience (that of ‘first impressions’) is so intense it merges seamlessly with the physical. This thinking is the ever-present underlay of what is done linguistically.

Intuitive thought draws most directly on our connectedness – to all that comprises us, to what we remember, and to the world. It provides us with perhaps our deepest cognitive experience of the world. That this has been given mystical meaning does not detract from its objective nature and potential.

In considering what comprises ‘reason’, the materialist must begin with how the brain functions in totality, recognising that its functions bear on the whole dialectically, that they are inseparable and plastic, and not focus only on the brain’s capacity for its highest product – linguistic expression.

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Notes

1. Marx wrote: ‘I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker…The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.‘ Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Postface to the Second Edition 1873, Penguin, London, 1982, p. 103.

2. See William Franke’s two volume anthology On What Cannot Be Said: Apophatic Discourses in Philosophy, Religion, Literature, and the Arts, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 2007

3. Hegel himself wrote ‘it is also inadequate to…(say) vaguely that it is only in the waking state that man thinks. For thought in general is so much inherent in the nature of man that he is always thinking, even in sleep. In every form of mind, in feeling, intuition, as in picture-thinking, thought remains the basis.’
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, 69

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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

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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.

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