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.

The Man of Reason: Part Three

In the eighteenth century there took place a revaluation of the emotions which, in the previous century, as ‘the passions’, had been considered a disturbance to reason, because of the ‘mind’s’ union with the body. The emotions then were regarded as threats to the purity of reason, and they were to be transcended or ‘transformed by reason into higher modes of thought.’17 In the eighteenth century there was a defence of ‘the passions’ ‘as the well springs of action’.18 By the nineteenth century, in Romanticism, ‘passion’, ‘a motivating force in its own right’,19 represented a challenge to the domination of reason. This Romantic ‘exaltation’ of imagination and feeling resulted in the ‘pedestalising’ of women through Romantic love as the desired – again, leaving the Man of Reason intact. The dichotomy between reason and feeling was strengthened.

Although ‘the Man of Reason was created in, and largely in response to, savage times’, there is now a ‘decline in optimism about the eventual victory of reason…the eventual triumph of reason.’20 Lloyd notes that  the Man of Reason ‘himself’ poses a threat to humanity and that the reaction against reason in the nineteenth century has made it difficult to critically address current notions of rationality – for example, the value of intuition. Regarding this, she wrote favourably on the philosophy of Bergson and on Pirsig’s attempt in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ‘to get at the unity underlying “Classical” and “Romantic” thought styles’, which attempt ‘points to the possibility of an expansion of reason, rather than an abandoning of it.’21

Lloyd argues that a critique of the Man of Reason from a specifically feminist standpoint runs the risk of becoming ‘a catalogue of the atrocities he has perpetrated on women.’22 He is an ideal for both genders and has been maintained by both. The impoverishment of women with this sexual stereotype is accompanied by a less obvious impoverishment of men. Thus the critique of him as an ideal should be done with this in ‘mind’. ‘What is needed for the Man of Reason is realisation of his limitations as a human ideal, in the hope that men and women alike might come to enjoy a more human life, free of the sexual stereotypes that have evolved in his shadow.’23

Yet a spectre is haunting Lloyd’s essay…not the harbinger of a new understanding of reason and of a new ethics but the representative of stasis, of patriarchal control, of anti-life – what Plumwood considers the philosophy of death. Plato’s presence is everywhere in Lloyd’s essay – in the concepts she deals with and through the influence he and those who developed on his philosophy had on the work of those she analyses.

It is astonishing that she made no mention of him let alone include him in her analysis. Lloyd corrects this crucial omission in her book of the same title as her essay, published in 1984 (the essay was first published in 1979). The Man of Reason cannot be understood without reference to Platonism and Neoplatonism and this ‘male character ideal’ did not arise from the soil of seventeenth century philosophy – particularly (as Lloyd claimed) that of Descartes – but was a construct of Plato’s. Lloyd points to this in her book – ‘The maleness of the Man of Reason, I will try to show, is no superficial linguistic bias. It lies deep in our philosophical tradition’.24

Part three of nine/to be continued…

Notes

17. 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, 125

18.  Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid. 126

21. Ibid. 127

22. Ibid. 127

23. Ibid. 127

24. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy. London: Methuen, 1984, ix. The form and content of Plumwood’s analysis, though broader than Lloyd’s (in that she treats the mind/body dualism as one of a web of dualisms maintaining oppression, focusing on that of culture/nature), is very similar. On Plato she wrote: ‘It is difficult to overestimate the enduring influence of Plato’s thought…Elaborations of Platonic thought in the work of Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas and others formed the intellectual foundations of Christian doctrine, and of the dominant western intellectual and philosophical traditions of rationalism until the Enlightenment…(his philosophy) reaches its fullest development and distinctively modern form in the thought of Descartes and his successors…Plato thus foreshadows Descartes’ later denial of dependency on the senses and his treatment of the senses as sources of error’. V. Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. op. cit. 88-91