Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Kant and the Sublime

Introduction

The sublime is at the heart of Kant’s aesthetic philosophy.

Kant defines sublime as that is beyond all comparison (that is absolutely) great, either mathematically in terms of limitless magnitude, or dynamically in terms of limitless power. This is the standard meaning, derived from Kant.

The term ‘sublime’ is used to designate natural objects that inspire a kind of awed terror through sheer immensity.

In the 18th century, it was common to consider asthetic experience under the paired concepts of the beautiful and the sublime. The sublime was held to be satisfying either, as for Edmund Burke, in virtue of of the pleasurable nature of the terror that it arouses, or, as for Kant, in virtue of its intimation of a capacity of the mind to apprehend the limitless or indeterminable.


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For Kant, a basic type of aesthetic experience is the sublime. The sublime names experiences like violent storms or huge buildings which seem to overwhelm us; that is, we feel we 'cannot get our head around them'. This is either mainly 'mathematical' - if our ability to intuit is overwhelmed by size (the huge building) - or 'dynamical' - if our ability to will or resist is overwhelmed by force (e.g. the storm). The problem for Kant here is that this experience seems to directly contradict the principle of the purposiveness of nature for our judgment. And yet, Kant notes, one would expect the feeling of being overwhelmed to also be accompanied by a feeling of fear or at least discomfort. Whereas, the sublime can be a pleasurable experience. All this raises the question of what is going on in the sublime

Kant's solution is that, in fact, the storm or the building is not the real object of the sublime at all. Instead, what is properly sublime are ideas of reason: namely, the ideas of absolute totality or absolute freedom. However huge the building, we know it is puny compared to absolute totality; however powerful the storm, it is nothing compared to absolute freedom. The sublime feeling is therefore a kind of 'rapid alternation' between the fear of the overwhelming and the peculiar pleasure of seeing that overwhelming overwhelmed. Thus, it turns out that the sublime experience is purposive after all - that we can, in some way, 'get our head around it'.

Since the ideas of reason (particularly freedom) are also important for Kant's moral theory, there seems to be an interesting connection between the sublime and morality. This Kant discusses under the heading of 'moral culture', arguing for example that the whole sublime experience would not be possible if humans had not received a moral training that taught them to recognize the importance of their own faculty of reason.

Traditionally, the sublime has been the name for objects inspiring awe, because of the magnitude of their size/height/depth (e.g. the ocean, the pyramids of Cheops), force (a storm), or transcendence (our idea of God). Vis-à-vis the beautiful, the sublime presents some unique puzzles to Kant. Three in particular are of note. First, that while the beautiful is concerned with form, the sublime may even be (or even especially be) formless. Second, that while the beautiful indicates (at least for judgment) a purposiveness of nature that may have profound implications, the sublime appears to be 'counter-purposive'. That is, the object appears ill-matched to, does 'violence' to, our faculties of sense and cognition. Finally, although from the above one might expect the sublime experience to be painful in some way, in fact the sublime does still involve pleasure - the question is 'how?'.

Kant divides the sublime into the 'mathematical' (concerned with things that have a great magnitude in and of themselves) and the 'dynamically' (things that have a magnitude of force in relation to us, particularly our will). The mathematical sublime is defined as something 'absolutely large' that is, 'large beyond all comparison' (sect.25). Usually, we apply some kind of standard of comparison, although this need not be explicit (e.g. 'Mt. Blanc is large' usually means 'compared with other mountains (or perhaps, with more familiar objects), Mt. Blanc is large'). The absolutely large, however, is not the result of a comparison

Now, of course, any object is measurable - even the size of the universe, no less a mountain on Earth. But Kant then argues that measurement not merely mathematical in nature (the counting of units), but fundamentally relies upon the 'aesthetic' (in the sense of 'intuitive' as used in the first Critique) grasp of a unit of measure. Dealing with a unit of measure, whether it be a millimeter or a kilometer, requires a number (how many units) but also a sense of what the unit is. This means that there will be absolute limits on properly aesthetic measurement because of the limitations of the finite, human faculties of sensibility. In the first place, there must be an absolute unit of measure, such that nothing larger could be 'apprehended'; in the second place, there must be a limit to the number of such units that can be held together in the imagination and thus 'comprehended' (sect.26). An object that exceeds these limits (regardless of its mathematical size) will be presented as absolutely large - although of course it is still so with respect to our faculties of sense.

However, we must return to the second and third peculiar puzzles of the sublime. As we saw above with respect to the beautiful, pleasure lies in the achievement of a purpose, or at least in the recognition of a purposiveness. So, if the sublime presents itself as counter-purposive, why and how is pleasure associated with it? In other words, where is the purposiveness of the sublime experience? Kant writes,

  “ We express ourselves entirely incorrectly when we call this or that object of nature sublime ... for how can we call something by a term of approval if we apprehend it as in itself contrapurposive?”

This problem constitutes Kant's principle argument that something else must be going on in the sublime experience other than the mere overwhelmingness of some object. As Kant will later claim, objects of sense (oceans, pyramids, etc.) are called 'sublime' only by a kind of covert sleight-of-hand, what he calls a 'subreption' (sect.27). In fact, what is actually sublime, Kant argues, are ideas of our own reason. The overwhelmingness of sensible objects leads the minds to these ideas.

Now, such presentations of reason are necessarily unexhibitable by sense. Moreover, the faculty of reason is not merely an inert source of such ideas, but characteristically demands that its ideas be presented. (This same demand is what creates all the dialectical problems that Kant analyses in, for example, the Antinomies.) Kant claims that the relation of the overwhelming sensible object to our sense is in a kind of 'harmony' (sect.27) or analogy to the relation of the rational idea of absolute totality to any sensible object or faculty. The sublime experience, then, is a two-layer process. First, a contrapurposive layer in which our faculties of sense fail to complete their task of presentation. Second, a strangely purposive layer in which this very failure constitutes a 'negative exhibition' ('General Comment' following sect.29) of the ideas of reason (which could not otherwise be presented). This 'exhibition' thus also provides a purposiveness of the natural object for the fulfillment of the demands of reason. Moreover, and importantly, it also provides a new and 'higher' purposiveness to the faculties of sense themselves which are now understood to be properly positioned with respect to our 'supersensible vocation' (sect.27) - i.e. in the ultimately moral hierarchy of the faculties. Beyond simply comprehending individual sensible things, our faculty of sensibility, we might say, now knows what it is for. We will return to this point shortly. The consequence of this purposiveness is exactly that 'negative pleasure' (sect.23) for which we had be searching. The initial displeasure of the 'violence' against our apparent sensible interests is now matched by a 'higher' pleasure arising from the strange purposiveness Kant has discovered. Interestingly, on Kant's description, neither of these feelings wins out - instead, the sublime feeling consists of a unique 'vibration' or 'rapid alternation' of these feelings (sect.27).

The dynamically sublime is similar. In this case, a 'might' or power is observed in nature that is irresistible with respect to our bodily or sensible selves. Such an object is 'fearful' to be sure, but (because we remain disinterested) is not an object of fear. (Importantly, one of Kant's examples here is religion: God is fearful but the righteous man is not afraid. This is the difference, he says, between a rational religion and mere superstition.) Again, the sublime is a two-layered experience. Kant writes that such objects 'raise the soul's fortitude above its usual middle range and allow us to discover in ourselves an ability to resist which is of a quite different kind...' (sect.28). In particular, nature is called 'sublime merely because it elevates the imagination to the exhibition of those cases wherein the mind can be made to feel [sich fühlbar machen] the sublimity, even above nature, that is proper to its vocation' (sect.28, translation modified). In particular, the sublimity belongs to human freedom which is (by definition) unassailable to the forces of nature. Such a conception of freedom as being outside the order of nature, but demanding action upon that order, is the core of Kant's moral theory. Thus we can begin to see the intimate connection between the sublime (especially here the dynamically sublime) and morality

This connection (for the sublime in general) becomes even more explicit in Kant's discussion of what he calls 'moral culture'. (sect.29) The context is to ask about the modality of judgments on the sublime - that is, to they have the same implicit demand on the necessary assent of others that judgments on the beautiful have? Kant's answer is complicated. There is an empirical factor which is required for the sublime: the mind of the experiencer must be 'receptive' to rational ideas, and this can only happen in a culture that already understands morality as being a function of freedom or, more generally, conceives of human beings as having a dimension which in some way transcends nature. The sublime, properly speaking, is possible only for members of such a moral culture (and, Kant sometimes suggests, may reciprocally contribute to the strengthening of that culture). So, the sublime is subjected to an empirical contingency. However, Kant claims, we are justified in demanding from everyone that they necessarily have the transcendental conditions for such moral culture, and thus for the sublime, because these conditions are (as in the case of the beautiful) the same as for theoretical and practical thought in general. The claims about moral culture show that, for Kant, aesthetics in general is not an isolated problem for philosophy but intimately linked to metaphysical and moral questions. This is one more reason why it is important not to assume that the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment is a book merely about beauty and sublimity. Moreover, this 'link' has an even greater significance for Kant: it shows reflective judgment in action as it were relating together both theoretical and practical reason, for this was the grand problem he raised in his Introduction.

Kant's treatment of the sublime raises many difficulties. For example, only the dynamically sublime has any strict relationship to the moral idea of freedom. This raises the question of whether the mathematical and dynamically sublime are in fact radically different, both in themselves as experiences, and in their relation to 'moral culture'. Again, Kant gives an interesting account of how magnitude is estimated in discussing the mathematical sublime, but skips the parallel problem in the dynamically sublime (how does one estimate force?). Finally, many readers have found the premise of the whole discussion implausible: that in the sublime experience, what is properly sublime and the “We learn not philosophy, we learn to philosophize”



Monday, July 24, 2017

The Frankfurt School and Critical Theory

The Frankfurt School is a school of social theory and philosophy associated in part with the Institute for Social Research at the Goethe University Frankfurt. Founded during the interwar period, the School consisted of dissidents who felt at home in none of the existent capitalist, fascist, or communist systems of the time. Many of these theorists believed that traditional theory could not adequately explain the turbulent and unexpected development of capitalist societies in the twentieth century. Critical of both capitalism and Soviet socialism, their writings pointed to the possibility of an alternative path to social development.

Although sometimes only loosely affiliated, Frankfurt School theorists spoke with a common paradigm in mind; they shared the Marxist Hegelian premises and were preoccupied with similar questions.To fill in the perceived omissions of classical Marxism, they sought to draw answers from other schools of thought, hence using the insights of antipositivist sociology, psychoanalysis, existential philosophy, and other disciplines. The school's main figures sought to learn from and synthesize the works of such varied thinkers as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Weber, Simmel, and Lukács.

Following Marx, they were concerned with the conditions that allow for social change and the establishment of rational institutions. Their emphasis on the "critical" component of theory was derived significantly from their attempt to overcome the limits of positivism, materialism, and determinism by returning to Kant's critical philosophy and its successors in German idealism, principally Hegel's philosophy, with its emphasis on dialectic and contradiction as inherent properties of human reality.

Since the 1960s, Frankfurt School critical theory has increasingly been guided by Jürgen Habermas's work on communicative reason, linguistic intersubjectivity and what Habermas calls "the philosophical discourse of modernity". Critical theorists such as Raymond Geuss and Nikolas Kompridis have voiced opposition to Habermas, claiming that he has undermined the aspirations for social change that originally gave purpose to critical theory's various projects—for example the problem of what reason should mean, the analysis and enlargement of "conditions of possibility" for social emancipation, and the critique of modern capitalism.



Critical theory and the critique of ideology

The Frankfurt School's work cannot be addressed without understanding the objectives of critical theory. Initially outlined by Max Horkheimer in his Traditional and Critical Theory (1937), critical theory may be defined as a self-conscious social critique that is aimed at change and emancipation through enlightenment and that does not cling dogmatically to its own doctrinal assumptions. The original aim of critical theory was to analyze the true significance of "the ruling understandings" generated in bourgeois society, in order to show how they misrepresented actual human interaction in the real world, and in so doing functioned to justify or legitimize the domination of people by capitalism. A certain sort of story (a narrative) was provided to explain what was happening in society, but the story concealed as much as it revealed. The Frankfurt theorists generally assumed that their task was mainly to interpret the areas of society Marx had not dealt with, especially in the superstructure of society.


Horkheimer opposed it to traditional theory, which refers to theory in the positivistic, scientistic, or purely observational mode—that is, which derives generalizations or "laws" about different aspects of the world. Drawing upon Max Weber, Horkheimer argued that the social sciences differ from the natural sciences inasmuch as generalizations cannot be easily made from so-called experiences because the understanding of a "social" experience itself is always fashioned by ideas that are in the researchers themselves. What the researcher does not realize is that s/he is caught in a historical context in which ideologies shape the thinking; thus, theory would conform to the ideas in the mind of the researcher rather than to the experience itself:

“The facts which our senses present to us are socially performed in two ways: through the historical character of the object perceived and through the historical character of the perceiving organ. Both are not simply natural; they are shaped by human activity, and yet the individual perceives himself as receptive and passive in the act of perception.”



For Horkheimer, approaches to understanding in the social sciences cannot simply imitate those in the natural sciences. Although various theoretical approaches would come close to breaking out of the ideological constraints that restricted them, such as positivism, pragmatism, neo-Kantianism, and phenomenology, Horkheimer argued that they failed because all were subject to a "logico-mathematical" prejudice that separates theoretical activity from actual life (meaning that all these schools sought to find a logic that always remains true, independently of and without consideration for ongoing human activities). According to Horkheimer, the appropriate response to this dilemma is the development of a critical theory.

The problem, Horkheimer argued, is epistemological: we should reconsider not merely the scientist but the knowing individual in general.  Unlike orthodox Marxism, which merely applies a ready-made "template" to both critique and action, critical theory seeks to be self-critical and rejects any pretensions to absolute truth. Critical theory defends the primacy of neither matter (materialism) nor consciousness (idealism), and argues that both epistemologies distort reality to the benefit, eventually, of some small group. What critical theory attempts to do is to place itself outside of philosophical strictures and the confines of existing structures. However, as a way of thinking and "recovering" humanity's self-knowledge, critical theory often looks to Marxism for its methods and tools.

Horkheimer maintained that critical theory should be directed at the totality of society in its historical specificity (i.e., how it came to be configured at a specific point in time), just as it should improve understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences, including geography, economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology. While critical theory must at all times be self-critical, Horkheimer insisted that a theory is critical only if it is explanatory. Critical theory must, therefore, combine practical and normative thinking to "explain what is wrong with current social reality, identify actors to change it, and provide clear norms for criticism and practical goals for the future." Whereas traditional theory can only mirror and explain reality as it presently is, critical theory's purpose is to change it; in Horkheimer's words the goal of critical theory is "the emancipation of human beings from the circumstances that enslave them"


Frankfurt School theorists explicitly linked up with the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant, in which the term critique meant philosophical reflection on the limits of claims made for certain kinds of knowledge and direct connection between such critique and the emphasis on moral autonomy as opposed to traditionally deterministic and static theories of human action. In an intellectual context defined by dogmatic positivism and scientism on the one hand and dogmatic "scientific socialism" on the other, critical theorists intended to rehabilitate Marx's ideas through a philosophically critical approach.


Whereas both Marxist–Leninist and social democratic orthodox thinkers viewed Marxism as a new kind of positive science, Frankfurt School theorists such as Horkheimer instead based their work on the epistemological base of Marx's work, which presented itself as critique, as in Marx's Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. They thus emphasized that Marx attempted to create a new kind of critical analysis oriented toward the unity of theory and revolutionary practice rather than a new kind of positive science. Critique, in this Marxist sense, means taking the ideology of a society (for example, the belief in individual freedom or free market capitalism) and critiquing it by comparing it with a posited social reality of that very society (for example, social inequality and exploitation). Frankfurt School theorists grounded this on the dialectical methodology established by Hegel and Marx.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Aristotle: Logic

Syllogistic

Aristotle’s claim to be the founder of logic rests primarily on the Categories, the De interpretatione, and the Prior Analytics, which deal respectively with words, propositions, and syllogisms. These works, along with the Topics, the Sophistical Refutations, and a treatise on scientific method, the Posterior Analytics, were grouped together in a collection known as the Organon, or “tool” of thought.

The Prior Analytics is devoted to the theory of the syllogism, a central method of inference that can be illustrated by familiar examples such as the following:

    Every Greek is human. Every human is mortal. Therefore, every Greek is mortal.

Aristotle discusses the various forms that syllogisms can take and identifies which forms constitute reliable inferences. The example above contains three propositions in the indicative mood, which Aristotle calls “propositions.” (Roughly speaking, a proposition is a proposition considered solely with respect to its logical features.) The third proposition, the one beginning with “therefore,” Aristotle calls the conclusion of the syllogism. The other two propositions may be called premises, though Aristotle does not consistently use any particular technical term to distinguish them.

The propositions in the example above begin with the word every; Aristotle calls such propositions “universal.” (In English, universal propositions can be expressed by using all rather than every; thus, Every Greek is human is equivalent to All Greeks are human.) Universal propositions may be affirmative, as in this example, or negative, as in No Greek is a horse. Universal propositions differ from “particular” propositions, such as Some Greek is bearded (a particular affirmative) and Some Greek is not bearded (a particular negative). In the Middle Ages it became customary to call the difference between universal and particular propositions a difference of “quantity” and the difference between affirmative and negative propositions a difference of “quality.”

In propositions of all these kinds, Aristotle says, something is predicated of something else. The items that enter into predications Aristotle calls “terms.” It is a feature of terms, as conceived by Aristotle, that they can figure either as predicates or as subjects of predication. This means that they can play three distinct roles in a syllogism. The term that is the predicate of the conclusion is the “major” term; the term of which the major term is predicated in the conclusion is the “minor” term; and the term that appears in each of the premises is the “middle” term.

In addition to inventing this technical vocabulary, Aristotle introduced the practice of using schematic letters to identify particular patterns of argument, a device that is essential for the systematic study of inference and that is ubiquitous in modern mathematical logic. Thus, the pattern of argument exhibited in the example above can be represented in the schematic proposition:

    If A belongs to every B, and B belongs to every C, A belongs to every C.

Because propositions may differ in quantity and quality, and because the middle term may occupy several different places in the premises, many different patterns of syllogistic inference are possible. Additional examples are the following:

    Every Greek is human. No human is immortal. Therefore, no Greek is immortal.

    Some animal is a dog. Some dog is white. Therefore, every animal is white.

From late antiquity, triads of these different kinds were called “moods” of the syllogism. The two moods illustrated above exhibit an important difference: the first is a valid argument, and the second is an invalid argument, having true premises and a false conclusion. An argument is valid only if its form is such that it will never lead from true premises to a false conclusion. Aristotle sought to determine which forms result in valid inferences. He set out a number of rules giving necessary conditions for the validity of a syllogism, such as the following:

    At least one premise must be universal.

    At least one premise must be affirmative.

    If either premise is negative, the conclusion must be negative.


Aristotle’s syllogistic is a remarkable achievement: it is a systematic formulation of an important part of logic. From roughly the Renaissance until the early 19th century, it was widely believed that syllogistic was the whole of logic. But in fact it is only a fragment. It does not deal, for example, with inferences that depend on words such as and, or, and if…then, which, instead of attaching to nouns, link whole propositions together.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, The Younger

(c.3 BCE-AD 65)

“We learn not in the school, but in life.”


Lucius Annaeus Seneca the younger was born in Corduba (present-day Córdoba), Spain, around 3 BCE. He was the second son of three in a wealthy family. His father was a famous teacher of Rhetoric in Rome. Early in life, Seneca went to Rome with his Aunt, who was wife to the prefect Gaius Galerius, and there he was educated in philosophy in the school of the Sextii. His schooling was a blend of Stoicism and ascetic neo-Pythagoreanism. While in school he earned the reputation for being an excellent orator. Seneca experienced some ill health and followed his aunt to Egypt to recover. He returned to Rome in 31 AD, and began his career in law and politics.

He gained prestige in Rome in the courts while he was also known as a writer of tragedies and essays. However, he fell out of favor with the emperor Caligula in 39 AD, and the emperor Claudius finally exiled Seneca to Corsica in 41 AD, charging him with committing adultery with Claudius' niece, the princess Julia Livilla. In Corsica he pursued his studies of philosophy and natural sciences, writing the three treatises titled Consolationes. In 49 AD he was invited back to Rome on the recommendation of the Emperor's wife, Agrippina. In 50 AD he married an influential and well-connected woman named Pompeia Paulina, and became praetor. His new friends included the prefect of the guard, Sextus Afranius Burrus, and Seneca was appointed tutor to the future emperor Nero. Upon Nero's succession, this lead to his unofficial appointment as chief minister.

Seneca has been credited with influencing a period of sound government during the first part of Nero's reign. However, Seneca's enemies gradually turned Nero against him, suggesting that his popularity and wealth made him a threat. In 62 AD he retired from public life to devote himself to writing and philosophy. It was during this time that he wrote the Letters to Lucilius. In 65 AD Seneca was accused of playing a part in a plot against Nero. As a noble gesture, Seneca complied with the emperor's wish that he commit suicide.

Seneca considered himself to be a Stoic, although his personal life seems to contradict the noble attitude of his texts. His philosophical works are influenced by "Middle Stoicism", an adaptation in response to the Roman market by Panaetius of Rhodes 200 years earlier, and developed by Poseidonius in the first century BC. The work of Poseidonius is the main influence behind Naturales Quaestiones, Seneca's books on natural science. The three texts of the Consolations are consolatory exercises for the loss of three sons: Ad Marciam consoles a woman on her son's death, Ad Helviam matrem Seneca's mother on his exile, and Ad Polybium, Polybium on his lost son. Seneca's work De ira is a study in the consequences and control of anger. His work De clementia is addressed to Nero, and argues that mercy is the great sovereign quality of an emperor. His studies on the life and qualities of a wise stoic include De tranquillitate animi, De constantia sapientis, De vita beata, and De otio. De beneficiis examines the benefits of both giver and receiver in an exchange, and De brevitate vitae is an argument that humans have a long enough life span only if time is used properly. Seneca's 124 essays entitled the Epistulae morales address a number of moral problems. Dedicated to his friend Lucilius Junior, these essays are considered among Seneca's best philosophical works.

Seneca's tragedies are perhaps his most influential works for Western literature. His stoicism and rhetoric, his use of gloomy atmosphere and horror, can all be seen as influential to Renaissance tragedy in particular. His plays are considered written for recitation, rather than stage performance. There are nine plays attributed to him, including Hercules Furens, Medea, Troades, Phaedra, Agamemnon, Oedipus, Hercules Oetaeus, Phoenissae, and Thyestes.


When Stoicism was seen to have affinities with Christianity it gained new life, which has kept Seneca's work from falling into obscurity. There are letters that substantiate the theory that Seneca knew St. Paul, indeed his older brother Gallio was said to have met Paul in Achaea in 52 AD. Seneca's works were studied by Augustin, Jerome, and Boethius, and were included in anthologies used in the Middle Ages. Dante, Chaucer and Petrarch were all familiar with his writings. The first English translation of his moral treatises appeared in 1614, edited by Erasmus. We can see his influence on writers of the 16th to 18th centuries in the work of Calvin, Montaigne, and Rousseau. His work was harshly critiqued in the 19th century, but since his 2000th year celebration in Spain, where he is included among the first "Spanish" thinkers, his work has been enjoying a revival. His 40 surviving books pay tribute to a unique writer of considerable versatility.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Friedrich Nietzsche “THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA”


Context

Friedrich Nietzsche was born in 1844 in Rocken, Germany, the son of a Lutheran minister. His father went insane and died while Nietzsche was quite young, and he grew up the only boy in a household of women. He was an excellent student, and so impressed his professor at university that he was granted a doctorate and a professorship in philology at the age of twenty-four, before he had even written a dissertation. At this time, he was deeply impressed with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer, though he would later come to criticize both these figures.

In 1870, the young Nietzsche served as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War, where he contracted dysentery, diphtheria, and perhaps syphilis. He suffered from increasing ill health, migraines, indigestion, insomnia, and near blindness for the rest of his life.
 While the Germany of Nietzsche's day was marked by an unbridled optimism in the future of science, knowledge, and the German people, Nietzsche characterized his age as "nihilistic." The Christian faith no longer held sway over European thought as it once had (a fact Nietzsche famously expresses in the phrase "God is dead"), and the rise of science and Darwinian evolution had led people to see the world increasingly as a meaningless and chaotic jumble. Nietzsche recognized the need for a set of positive values to direct the energy and will of Europe. Prophetically, he predicted that if European nihilism were to run unchecked, the following century would see wars of a kind this earth had never before experienced.

Nietzsche's first book, The Birth of Tragedy, was published in 1872, in which he praised the composer Richard Wagner, whom he had befriended. Nietzsche's admiration for Wagner cooled during the 1870s, largely owing to Wagner's anti-Semitism, nationalism, and Christianity. Because of Wagner's early influence, and also the influence of Nietzsche's sister, who was also a virulent nationalist and anti-Semite, Nietzsche was particularly outspoken against German nationalism and anti-Semitism (not to mention Christianity) throughout his career.

Nietzsche's mature period began with the publication of Human, All-Too- Human in 1878, and culminated with Thus Spoke Zarathustra, published in four parts between 1883 and 1885. Nietzsche wrote each of the first three parts in ten-day spurts, while living alone in modest conditions and battling horrendous ill health. They were each published separately, and the fourth part did not reach the general public until 1892. While his writing and thinking were incredibly energetic, he was miserably lonely and continued to suffer from indigestion, migraines, and insomnia.

As Nietzsche's health quickly declined, his writing became more and more prolific. He wrote ##Beyond Good and Evil##, ##On The Genealogy of Morals##, The Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, Ecce Homo, The Case of Wagner, and Nietzsche Contra Wagner between 1886 and 1888. In January 1889 he collapsed in the street and became insane. He remained in an incapacitated state for the last eleven years of his life, and died in 1900.
Nietzsche's sister was his literary executor, and she used her brother's fame to advance her own proto-Nazi views, distorting Nietzsche's opinions and publishing selectively to make Nietzsche seem to support her cause. For the first half of the twentieth century, Nietzsche was largely misconstrued as being the primary philosopher of Nazism even though he is quite explicit about his hatred for German nationalism and anti-Semitism in many of his writings.

Nietzsche has influenced twentieth-century thought more than almost any other thinker has. He has been an inspiration to almost every new movement in European philosophy in this century, and his critiques and methodology were far ahead of his time. Among those who owe a debt to Nietzsche are Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats, ##James Joyce, Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud, and Jean-Paul Sartre.


 Synopsis

The novel opens with Zarathustra descending from his cave in the mountains after ten years of solitude. He is brimming with wisdom and love, and wants to teach humanity about the overman. He arrives in the town of the Motley Cow, and announces that the overman must be the meaning of the earth. Mankind is just a bridge between animal and overman, and as such, must be overcome. The overman is someone who is free from all the prejudices and moralities of human society, and who creates his own values and purpose.

The people on the whole seem not to understand Zarathustra, and not to be interested in the overman. The only exception is a tightrope walker who has fallen and who dies shortly thereafter. At the end of his first day among people, Zarathustra is saddened by his inability to move this "herd" of people in the marketplace. He resolves not to try to convert the multitudes, but rather to speak to those individuals who are interested in separating themselves from the herd.

The bulk of the first three parts is made up of individual lessons and sermons delivered by Zarathustra. They cover most of the general themes of Nietzsche's mature philosophy, though often in highly symbolic and obscure form. He values struggle and hardship, since the road toward the overman is difficult and requires a great deal of sacrifice. The struggle toward the overman is often symbolically represented as climbing a mountain, and the light-hearted free spirit of the overman is often represented through laughter and dance.

Zarathustra is harshly critical of all kinds of mass movements, and of the "rabble" in general. Christianity is based upon a hatred of the body and of this earth, and an attempt to deny them both by believing in the spirit and in an afterlife. Nationalism and mass politics are also means by which weary, weak, or sick bodies try to escape from themselves. Those who are strong enough, Zarathustra suggests, struggle. Those who are not strong give up and turn to religion, nationalism, democracy, or some other means of escape.

The culmination of Zarathustra's preaching is the doctrine of the eternal recurrence, which claims that all events will repeat themselves again and again forevermore. Only the overman can embrace this doctrine, since only the overman has the strength of will to take responsibility for every moment in his life and to wish nothing more than for each moment to be repeated. Zarathustra has trouble facing the eternal recurrence, as he cannot bear the thought that the mediocrity of the rabble will be repeated through all eternity without improvement.

In Part IV, Zarathustra assembles in his cave a number of men who approximate, but who do not quite attain the position of the overman. There, they enjoy a feast and a number of songs. The book ends with Zarathustra joyfully embracing the eternal recurrence, and the thought that "all joy wants deep, wants deep eternity."

Ideas
Zarathustra  -  Zarathustra was a Persian prophet (called "Zoroaster" by the Greeks, and most of the Western world) who lived and preached in the fifth century B.C.E. He was the first philosopher to conceive of a universe that is fundamentally defined by a struggle between good and evil. Nietzsche uses him as his protagonist, since, Nietzsche supposes, the first prophet to preach about good and evil should also be the first to move beyond good and evil. In the book, Zarathustra preaches about the overman who has moved beyond the concepts of good and evil, and has embraced the eternal recurrence. It is unclear whether or not Nietzsche means Zarathustra himself to be an overman, though if this is the case, he only becomes so in the fourth part of the book, when he finally embraces the eternal recurrence.

Overman  -  The goal of humanity. The overman is someone who has overcome himself fully: he obeys no laws except the ones he gives himself. This means a level of self- mastery that frees him from the prejudices and assumptions of the people around him, a creative will, and a strong will to power. Zarathustra suggests that no overman has yet existed, but that we must try to breed one. As a race, we are only justified by the exceptional people among us.

Nihilism  -  Essentially, nihilism means the belief in nothing. Nietzsche characterized late nineteenth century Europe as nihilistic, and would probably consider the late twentieth century even more so. He generalizes that we no longer believe that God gives meaning and purpose to our lives, but we have found nothing to replace God. As such, we see our lives as essentially meaningless, and lack the will to create or to become anything new. Nietzsche worried that without a purpose we would slide deeper and deeper into a dream world of mediocrity and comfort. He also rightly foresaw that nihilism might lead to a rabid nationalism that would cause horrific wars.

Eternal Recurrence  -  The doctrine that all events will be repeated over and over again for all eternity. Zarathustra outlines his vision of the eternal recurrence in Part III: If the past stretches back infinitely, then anything that could have happened must have happened already at some time in the past. By that logic, this very instant must have occurred at some time in the past. And similarly, if the future is infinite, everything—including this moment—must recur again sometime in the future. Walter Kaufmann reads this as a scientific hypothesis that is mistaken. Gilles Deleuze reads this as a fundamental expression of the fact that the universe is in a constant state of change and becoming, and that there is no moment of fixity, or being. Nietzsche would probably agree with Deleuze. The overman can look at his past and himself as something entirely willed by himself, and be delighted by the thought that this process (which includes changes) will recur forever.

Dance  -  Nietzsche often uses dancing as a metaphor for a lightness of spirit. Those who are too serious, and too bogged down by absolutes, such as God, truth, or morality, will be unable to dance. An overman, or a free spirit, who has freed himself from these absolutes will not be weighed down by any seriousness, and will be able to dance. Dancing also metaphorically suggests a kind of mental flexibility and agility that allows a creative spirit to think freely and for himself.

Will to Power  -  Nietzsche calls the fundamental force that drives all life a "will to power," though he might just as well call it an instinct for freedom. It is the drive to be as free from constraints as possible and to command the wills of others as much as possible. A refined will to power also learns to command and obey itself. The constant struggle for power and overcoming between wills means that nothing in the universe can remain fixed in place for long. Thus, all the universe is in flux.

Overcoming  -  The words "overcoming" and "overman" are only two of a number of "over-" words that appear throughout Zarathustra. The concept of overcoming is probably the most central, however. Any improvement in a person is made at the expense of what that person used to be. Thus, in order to improve myself, I must learn to overcome myself. In ##Beyond Good and Evil##, Nietzsche speaks of humans as being part creature and part creator, and that our refinement consists in the fact that the creator in us can torture and re-shape the creature in us. The overman is someone who has fully overcome himself so that he can claim to be all creator and in no way a creature: he is fully responsible for everything he is.

Nausea  -  In Zarathustra, the feeling of nausea, or disgust, is usually associated with contemplating the common people. In particular, Zarathustra has a hard time in part three facing the full consequences of the eternal recurrence, because he is overcome with nausea at the thought that the mediocrity of humanity must recur eternally without change.

Evil  -  This word is often given a meaning contrary to what we normally take it to mean. Something is "evil" only within the context of a given morality. In particular, anything that challenges or tries to destroy a morality is considered "evil" by that morality. Thus, for Zarathustra, "evil" is quite often good. It means doing away with older moralities in favor of something new. He often associates evil with freedom of spirit, and claims that it is essential to creating the higher man.

Laughter  -  Like dancing, laughter is a common characteristic of the overman. Nietzsche considers laughter to be the activity of someone looking down on someone or something else. As such, it denotes superiority. The overman has risen above everything and everybody, so there is nothing, including himself, that he does not laugh at.


Pity  -  One of Nietzsche's, and Zarathustra's, pet peeves. A person who shows pity is displaying a perverse and inappropriate amount of interest in the suffering of others. Furthermore, pity harms the person who is suffering, as it makes the sufferer feel pitiful and shamed.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Myth of Sisyphus - Albert Camus

The central concern of The Myth of Sisyphus is what Camus calls "the absurd." Camus claims that there is a fundamental conflict between what we want from the universe (whether it be meaning, order, or reasons) and what we find in the universe (formless chaos). We will never find in life itself the meaning that we want to find. Either we will discover that meaning through a leap of faith, by placing our hopes in a God beyond this world, or we will conclude that life is meaningless. Camus opens the essay by asking if this latter conclusion that life is meaningless necessarily leads one to commit suicide. If life has no meaning, does that mean life is not worth living? If that were the case, we would have no option but to make a leap of faith or to commit suicide, says Camus. Camus is interested in pursuing a third possibility: that we can accept and live in a world devoid of meaning or purpose.

The absurd is a contradiction that cannot be reconciled, and any attempt to reconcile this contradiction is simply an attempt to escape from it: facing the absurd is struggling against it. Camus claims that existentialist philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Chestov, and Jaspers, and phenomenologists such as Husserl, all confront the contradiction of the absurd but then try to escape from it. Existentialists find no meaning or order in existence and then attempt to find some sort of transcendence or meaning in this very meaninglessness.

Living with the absurd, Camus suggests, is a matter of facing this fundamental contradiction and maintaining constant awareness of it. Facing the absurd does not entail suicide, but, on the contrary, allows us to live life to its fullest.

Camus identifies three characteristics of the absurd life: revolt (we must not accept any answer or reconciliation in our struggle), freedom (we are absolutely free to think and behave as we choose), and passion (we must pursue a life of rich and diverse experiences).

Camus gives four examples of the absurd life: the seducer, who pursues the passions of the moment; the actor, who compresses the passions of hundreds of lives into a stage career; the conqueror, or rebel, whose political struggle focuses his energies; and the artist, who creates entire worlds. Absurd art does not try to explain experience, but simply describes it. It presents a certain worldview that deals with particular matters rather than aiming for universal themes.

The book ends with a discussion of the myth of Sisyphus, who, according to the Greek myth, was punished for all eternity to roll a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he reaches the top. Camus claims that Sisyphus is the ideal absurd hero and that his punishment is representative of the human condition: Sisyphus must struggle perpetually and without hope of success. So long as he accepts that there is nothing more to life than this absurd struggle, then he can find happiness in it, says Camus.


Camus appends his essay with a discussion of the works of Franz Kafka. He ultimately concludes that Kafka is an existentialist, who, like Kierkegaard, chooses to make a leap of faith rather than accept his absurd condition. However, Camus admires Kafka for expressing humanity's absurd predicament so perfectly.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Aristotle : Philosophy of science and mind

In his Posterior Analytics Aristotle applies the theory of the syllogism to scientific and epistemological ends. Scientific knowledge, he urges, must be built up out of demonstrations. A demonstration is a particular kind of syllogism, one whose premises can be traced back to principles that are true, necessary, universal, and immediately intuited. These first, self-evident principles are related to the conclusions of science as axioms are related to theorems: the axioms both necessitate and explain the truths that constitute a science. The most important axioms, Aristotle thought, would be those that define the proper subject matter of a science (thus, among the axioms of geometry would be the definition of a triangle). For this reason much of the second book of the Posterior Analytics is devoted to definition.

The account of science in the Posterior Analytics is impressive, but it bears no resemblance to any of Aristotle’s own scientific works. Generations of scholars have tried in vain to find in his writings a single instance of a demonstrative syllogism. Moreover, the whole history of scientific endeavour contains no perfect instance of a demonstrative science.


Philosophy of mind

Aristotle regarded psychology as a part of natural philosophy, and he wrote much about the philosophy of mind. This material appears in his ethical writings, in a systematic treatise on the nature of the soul (De anima), and in a number of minor monographs on topics such as sense-perception, memory, sleep, and dreams.

For Aristotle the biologist, the soul is not—as it was in some of Plato’s writings—an exile from a better world ill-housed in a base body. The soul’s very essence is defined by its relationship to an organic structure. Not only humans but beasts and plants too have souls, intrinsic principles of animal and vegetable life. A soul, Aristotle says, is “the actuality of a body that has life,” where life means the capacity for self-sustenance, growth, and reproduction. If one regards a living substance as a composite of matter and form, then the soul is the form of a natural—or, as Aristotle sometimes says, organic—body. An organic body is a body that has organs—that is to say, parts that have specific functions, such as the mouths of mammals and the roots of trees.

The souls of living beings are ordered by Aristotle in a hierarchy. Plants have a vegetative or nutritive soul, which consists of the powers of growth, nutrition, and reproduction. Animals have, in addition, the powers of perception and locomotion—they possess a sensitive soul, and every animal has at least one sense-faculty, touch being the most universal. Whatever can feel at all can feel pleasure; hence, animals, which have senses, also have desires. Humans, in addition, have the power of reason and thought (logismos kai dianoia), which may be called a rational soul. The way in which Aristotle structured the soul and its faculties influenced not only philosophy but also science for nearly two millennia.

Aristotle’s theoretical concept of soul differs from that of Plato before him and René Descartes (1596–1650) after him. A soul, for him, is not an interior immaterial agent acting on a body. Soul and body are no more distinct from each other than the impress of a seal is distinct from the wax on which it is impressed. The parts of the soul, moreover, are faculties, which are distinguished from each other by their operations and their objects. The power of growth is distinct from the power of sensation because growing and feeling are two different activities, and the sense of sight differs from the sense of hearing not because eyes are different from ears but because colours are different from sounds.

The objects of sense come in two kinds: those that are proper to particular senses, such as colour, sound, taste, and smell, and those that are perceptible by more than one sense, such as motion, number, shape, and size. One can tell, for example, whether something is moving either by watching it or by feeling it, and so motion is a “common sensible.” Although there is no special organ for detecting common sensibles, there is a faculty that Aristotle calls a “central sense.” When one encounters a horse, for example, one may see, hear, feel, and smell it; it is the central sense that unifies these sensations into perceptions of a single object (though the knowledge that this object is a horse is, for Aristotle, a function of intellect rather than sense).

Besides the five senses and the central sense, Aristotle recognizes other faculties that later came to be grouped together as the “inner senses,” notably imagination and memory. Even at the purely philosophical level, however, Aristotle’s accounts of the inner senses are unrewarding.

At the same level within the hierarchy as the senses, which are cognitive faculties, there is also an affective faculty, which is the locus of spontaneous feeling. This is a part of the soul that is basically irrational but is capable of being controlled by reason. It is the locus of desire and passion; when brought under the sway of reason, it is the seat of the moral virtues, such as courage and temperance. The highest level of the soul is occupied by mind or reason, the locus of thought and understanding. Thought differs from sense-perception and is the prerogative, on earth, of human beings. Thought, like sensation, is a matter of making judgments; but sensation concerns particulars, while intellectual knowledge is of universals. Reasoning may be practical or theoretical, and, accordingly, Aristotle distinguishes between a deliberative and a speculative faculty.

In a notoriously difficult passage of De anima, Aristotle introduces a further distinction between two kinds of mind: one passive, which can “become all things,” and one active, which can “make all things.” The active mind, he says, is “separable, impassible, and unmixed.” In antiquity and the Middle Ages, this passage was the subject of sharply different interpretations. Some—particularly among Arab commentators—identified the separable active agent with God or with some other superhuman intelligence. Others—particularly among Latin commentators—took Aristotle to be identifying two different faculties within the human mind: an active intellect, which formed concepts, and a passive intellect, which was a storehouse of ideas and beliefs.


If the second interpretation is correct, then Aristotle is here recognizing a part of the human soul that is separable from the body and immortal. Here and elsewhere there is detectable in Aristotle, in addition to his standard biological notion of the soul, a residue of a Platonic vision according to which the intellect is a distinct entity separable from the body. No one has produced a wholly satisfactory reconciliation between the biological and the transcendent strains in Aristotle’s thought.

Friday, June 30, 2017

HERACLITUS OF EPEHESUS

 Heraclitus (540 BCE - 480 BCE) is certainly the most important and influential pre-Socratic philosopher. His significance is undisputable even though all we have of his work is a few more than a hundred sentences. This relative scarcity and fragmentation of material in no way consigns his thoughts to a mere collection of unconnected and tangent ideas. Heraclitus’ philosophy has a clear essence and focus. That ‘everything is flux’, that ‘all things are one’, and the ‘unification of opposites’, are the fundamental and lasting ideas of Heraclitus, as well as the very heart of his philosophy of dynamic equilibrium.

Heraclitus argued that there was an objective truth about everything, an underlying current flowing across a time, and on to the next one. This constancy he called Logos, which was not a personal subjective thought of his, rather, he thought of himself as merely conduit of it. Logos, for Heraclitus, was the world’s rationale, its determining formula, the truth, and thus the key to everythings nature. Logos, as such, was accessible because it was within everything, even that derogatorily called ‘common’ or ‘public’. The gap between realizing Logos and raveling in the banality of opinions was not a matter of something other, but of a different perspective on the same ‘common’ reality. Heraclitus, therefore, was understandably opposed to the naïve empiricism of his time, and pleaded that men come to discover the ‘depth of the soul’s own logos’. The obscurity and ambiguity of Heraclitus’ style is widely acknowledged as intentional, that is, it is believed that Heraclitus’ style was intended to provoke his audience to discover the logos in and by themselves.
What the exact topic of Heraclitus’ philosophy is, is a question debated since his contemporaries, and a question which has seemingly found no decision to this day. Claims range from saying that he was a moralist, a psychologist, an ontologist, a critic of society, cosmologist, or that his philosophy concerned itself with everything from the universe to theology to politics.

The central idea of Heraclitus’ thought is undoubtedly the unity of opposites. Moreover, Heraclitus claimed that all things are one. This ‘unity of all things’ is based on the fact that there is a common formula, i.e. logos, which is at work in everything to which we attribute temporal and spatial identity and continuity. Heraclitus should not be misunderstood as denying the phenomenal difference between day and night, hot and cold, up and down, and even death and life, rather, his claim is that each opposite is inseparable from its other, and that they depend on one another for their own identity. In other words, if one of the pair is removed the other immediately disappears.
Heraclitus’ famous phrase that ‘you can’t step in the same river twice’ should be understood as the claim that things which seem to have a stable identity, in fact depend upon a continual interchange or succession of their constitutive parts, or outright antagonistic forces, for their identity. The statement that ‘all things are one’, has two particular consequences: first, from a divine perspective, the contrary evaluations accorded to sets of opposites are transcended, and second, that human discrimination between pairs of opposites are ultimately arbitrary. The first of these consequences was certainly endorsed by Heraclitus, the second however, was held only with qualification, namely, that the point is that humans must adjust those of their views which are purely subjective, and bring them into accord with the objective truth of the way things are. In short, people must come to realize the dynamic interplay of opposing forces as the essence of all things, both natural and cultural. Moreover, conflicting forces as the structure of the world, and our awareness of them as constitutive of all things, is essential to both order and balance.

Although Heraclitus, as judging from the fragments, did not focus on cosmology, many of his ancient interprets, including Aristotle, claimed that this was his main focus. The basis for such a reading of Heraclitus is in virtue of his repeated reference to fire, for example All things are an exchange for fire, and fire for all things, as goods for gold and gold for goods’, or ‘ever-living fire, kindling in measures and going out in measures’. In short, Heraclitus continually refers to an ‘ever-living fire’ which is not only transformative of all else, but functions almost like a universal currency. From such pronouncements, interpreters have induced that Heraclitus proposed the following doctrines: that fire is the underlying principle of everything, i.e. all things; or, that the world as a whole is a endlessly repeating process of temporal cycles, all of which begin from and end in fire; or, that particular phenomena are both constituted by and determined into fire by condensation or rarefaction. Regardless of which of these, if any, are correct inductions of Heraclitus’ thought, it is next to impossible to deny that fire held the dominant position in Heraclitus’ thought, as the primary principle or element, or the most explanatory phenomenon. Fire, for Heraclitus is not only the most dynamic element, but also the most self-regulating one. It consumes all the material surrounding it, and by consuming it, it also changes it. As such we can say that fire lives by destroying another, or that it destroys itself in creating something else. Fire, as such, is therefore more than a river the most emblematic example of both ‘all things are one’ and ‘everything is in flux’, but also perhaps of logos and the ‘unity of opposites’.

The question which often arises regarding Heraclitus is whether he identified fire with the god he occasionally referred to, and moreover, whether either or both of these were material manifestations of Logos. The Stoics believed that Heraclitus both identified fire with god, and saw them as manifestations of logos. Consequently, we can think of Heraclitus as perhaps the first to think the universe as an automatic field of counterbalancing forces, and yet still affirm the existence of some teleology.

Prior to Socrates and Plato, Heraclitus proposed that cultivation of the psyche was the prerequisite for the good life; where psyche is understood as not merely as the life of human being, but as signifying mind and intelligence. To live authentically, Heraclitus taught, one must interpret empirical phenomena correctly, namely, as an expression of logos. Moreover, the full use of the psyche’s capacity involved that one also ‘inquires into oneself’. Therefore, for Heraclitus there was an inside-outside relationship between logos and psyche, that is, there was an intimate relationship of identity between the formula of nature’s processes and the mind’s thinking through and understanding that formula.

Heraclitus forges a relation between these two manifestations of logos, by referring to fire in his comments on the psyche. While fire and dryness are related to life, excellence and intelligence, death and drunkenness are related to water and moisture, as he states: it is ‘death for souls to be come water’, while a drunk ‘has a soul that is moist’. He, therefore, again arrives at the conclusion that fire is most the constitutive of nature and understanding. The vitality of life, moreover, is also drawn from the ever-living fire, and a soul of fire contributes not mere life to humanity, but ‘light and intelligence’.


Heraclitus’ aim is, as mentioned before, to awaken drunken souls and entice them to rethink their beliefs about religion, society, death and life. He also makes a firm distinction between those who seek and attain immortal fame, and those who revel in mindless satisfactions. Heraclitus also stresses man general inability to come to terms with his own mortality, that is, with death. In accordance with these diagnoses, Heraclitus prescribes the realization that men are intelligent but mortal instances of the cosmic life of ever-lasting and ever-changing fire. The influence of Heraclitus’ though is rather extensive, especially in, but not restricted to, the ancient world. His influence is felt in Parmenides, Cratylus, Plato, Aristotle, and even the Stoics. In more recent times, perhaps the greatest influence of Heraclitus can be found in the Young Hegelians of the 19th century.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Political Philosophy

The Social Contract

Summary

Rousseau begins The Social Contract with the most famous words he ever wrote: “Men are born free, yet everywhere are in chains.” From this provocative opening, Rousseau goes on to describe the myriad ways in which the “chains” of civil society suppress the natural birthright of man to physical freedom. He states that the civil society does nothing to enforce the equality and individual liberty that were promised to man when he entered into that society. For Rousseau, the only legitimate political authority is the authority consented to by all the people, who have agreed to such government by entering into a social contract for the sake of their mutual preservation.

Rousseau describes the ideal form of this social contract and also explains its philosophical underpinnings. To Rousseau, the collective grouping of all people who by their consent enter into a civil society is called the sovereign, and this sovereign may be thought of, metaphorically at least, as an individual person with a unified will. This principle is important, for while actual individuals may naturally hold different opinions and wants according to their individual circumstances, the sovereign as a whole expresses the general will of all the people. Rousseau defines this general will as the collective need of all to provide for the common good of all.

For Rousseau, the most important function of the general will is to inform the creation of the laws of the state. These laws, though codified by an impartial, noncitizen “lawgiver,” must in their essence express the general will. Accordingly, though all laws must uphold the rights of equality among citizens and individual freedom, Rousseau states that their particulars can be made according to local circumstances. Although laws owe their existence to the general will of the sovereign, or the collective of all people, some form of government is necessary to carry out the executive function of enforcing laws and overseeing the day-to-day functioning of the state.

Rousseau writes that this government may take different forms, including monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, according to the size and characteristics of the state, and that all these forms carry different virtues and drawbacks. He claims that monarchy is always the strongest, is particularly suitable to hot climates, and may be necessary in all states in times of crisis. He claims that aristocracy, or rule by the few, is most stable, however, and in most states is the preferable form.

Rousseau acknowledges that the sovereign and the government will often have a frictional relationship, as the government is sometimes liable to go against the general will of the people. Rousseau states that to maintain awareness of the general will, the sovereign must convene in regular, periodic assemblies to determine the general will, at which point it is imperative that individual citizens vote not according to their own personal interests but according to their conception of the general will of all the people at that moment. As such, in a healthy state, virtually all assembly votes should approach unanimity, as the people will all recognize their common interests. Furthermore, Rousseau explains, it is crucial that all the people exercise their sovereignty by attending such assemblies, for whenever people stop doing so, or elect representatives to do so in their place, their sovereignty is lost. Foreseeing that the conflict between the sovereign and the government may at times be contentious, Rousseau also advocates for the existence of a tribunate, or court, to mediate in all conflicts between the sovereign and the government or in conflicts between individual people.


Analysis

Rousseau’s central argument in The Social Contract is that government attains its right to exist and to govern by “the consent of the governed.” Today this may not seem too extreme an idea, but it was a radical position when The Social Contract was published. Rousseau discusses numerous forms of government that may not look very democratic to modern eyes, but his focus was always on figuring out how to ensure that the general will of all the people could be expressed as truly as possible in their government. He always aimed to figure out how to make society as democratic as possible. At one point in The Social Contract, Rousseau admiringly cites the example of the Roman republic’s comitia to prove that even large states composed of many people can hold assemblies of all their citizens.

Just as he did in his Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau borrows ideas from the most influential political philosophers of his day, though he often comes to very different conclusions. For example, though his conception of society as being akin to an individual person resonates with Hobbes’s conception of the Leviathan (see chapter 7, Thomas Hobbes ), Rousseau’s labeling of this metaphorical individual as the sovereign departs strongly from Hobbes, whose own idea of the sovereign was of the central power that held dominion over all the people. Rousseau, of course, believed the sovereign to be the people and to always express their will. In his discussion of the tribunate, or the court that mediates in disputes between governmental branches or among people, Rousseau echoes ideas about government earlier expressed by Locke. Both Locke’s and Rousseau’s discussions of these institutions influenced the system of checks and balances enshrined in the founding documents of the United States.

The Social Contract is one of the single most important declarations of the natural rights of man in the history of Western political philosophy. It introduced in new and powerful ways the notion of the “consent of the governed” and the inalienable sovereignty of the people, as opposed to the sovereignty of the state or its ruler(s). It has been acknowledged repeatedly as a foundational text in the development of the modern principles of human rights that underlie contemporary conceptions of democracy.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Stoic Ethics - Theory

In many ways, Aristotle's ethics provides the form for the adumbration of the ethical teaching of the Hellenistic schools. One must first provide a specification of the goal or end (telos) of living. This may have been thought to provide something like the dust jacket blurb or course description for the competing philosophical systems—which differed radically over how to give the required specification.

A bit of reflection tells us that the goal that we all have is happiness or flourishing (eudaimonia). But what is happiness? The Epicureans' answer was deceptively straightforward: the happy life is the one which is most pleasant. (But their account of what the highest pleasure consists in was not at all straightforward.) Zeno's answer was “a good flow of life” (Arius Didymus, 63A) or “living in agreement,” and Cleanthes clarified that with the formulation that the end was “living in agreement with nature” (Arius Didymus, 63B). Chrysippus amplified this to (among other formulations) “living in accordance with experience of what happens by nature;” later Stoics inadvisably, in response to Academic attacks, substituted such formulations as “the rational selection of the primary things according to nature.” The Stoics' specification of what happiness consists in cannot be adequately understood apart from their views about value and human psychology.

The best way into the thicket of Stoic ethics is through the question of what is good, for all parties agree that possession of what is genuinely good secures a person's happiness. The Stoics claim that whatever is good must benefit its possessor under all circumstances. But there are situations in which it is not to my benefit to be healthy or wealthy. (We may imagine that if I had money I would spend it on heroin which would not benefit me.) Thus, things like money are simply not good, in spite of how nearly everyone speaks, and the Stoics call them ‘indifferents’ (Diog. Laert., 58A)—i.e., neither good nor bad. The only things that are good are the characteristic excellences or virtues of human beings (or of human minds): prudence or wisdom, justice, courage and moderation, and other related qualities. These are the first two of the ‘Stoic paradoxes’ discussed by Cicero in his short work of that title: that only what is noble or fine or morally good (kalon) is good at all, and that the possession (and exercise) of the virtues is both necessary and sufficient for happiness. But the Stoics are not such lovers of paradox that they are willing to say that my preference for wealth over poverty in most circumstances is utterly groundless. They draw a distinction between what is good and things which have value (axia). Some indifferent things, like health or wealth, have value and therefore are to be preferred, even if they are not good, because they are typically appropriate, fitting or suitable (oikeion) for us.

Impulse, as noted above, is a movement of the soul toward an object. Though these movements are subject to the capacity for assent in fully rational creatures, impulse is present in all animate (self-moving) things from the moment of birth. The Stoics argue that the original impulse of ensouled creatures is toward what is appropriate for them, or aids in their self-preservation, and not toward what is pleasurable, as the Epicureans contend. Because the whole of the world is identical with the fully rational creature which is God, each part of it is naturally constituted so that it seeks what is appropriate or suitable to it, just as our own body parts are so constituted as to preserve both themselves and the whole of which they are parts. The Stoic doctrine of the natural attachment to what is appropriate (oikeiôsis) thus provides a foundation in nature for an objective ordering of preferences, at least on a prima facie basis. Other things being equal, it is objectively preferable to have health rather than sickness. The Stoics call things whose preferability is overridden only in very rare circumstances “things according to nature.” As we mature, we discover new things which are according to our natures. As infants perhaps we only recognised that food and warmth are appropriate to us, but since humans are rational, more than these basic necessities are appropriate to us. The Greek term ‘oikeion’ can mean not only what is suitable, but also what is akin to oneself, standing in a natural relation of affection. Thus, my blood relatives are—or least ought to be—oikeioi. It is partly in this sense that we eventually come to the recognition—or at least ought to—that other people, insofar as they are rational, are appropriate to us. Cicero's quotation of Terence's line ‘nothing human is alien to me’ in the context of On Duties I.30 echoes this thought. It is not only other rational creatures that are appropriate to us, but also the perfection of our own rational natures. Because the Stoics identify the moral virtues with knowledge, and thus the perfection of our rational natures, that which is genuinely good is also most appropriate to us. So, if our moral and intellectual development goes as it should, we will progress from valuing food and warmth, to valuing social relations, to valuing moral virtue. Ideally, we'll have the recognition that the value that moral virtue has is of a different order to those things that we were naturally attracted to earlier. We then come to see that virtue is the only good.

Is that all there is to Stoic ethics? Some writers, such as Annas (1993), suppose that Stoic moral philosophy largely floats free of Stoic metaphysics, and especially from Stoic theology. Other writers, such as Cooper (1996, and 2012), suppose that Stoic moral philosophy is intimately intertwined with Stoic metaphysics. The latter reading draws our attention to the fact that the unfolding of God's providential plan is rational (and therefore beneficial) through and through, so that in some sense what will in fact happen to me in accordance with that plan must be appropriate to me, just like food, warmth, and those with whom I have intimate social relations.

When we take the rationality of the world order into consideration, we can begin to understand the Stoic formulations of the goal or end. “Living in agreement with nature” is meant to work at a variety of levels. Since my nature is such that health and wealth are appropriate to me (according to my nature), other things being equal, I ought to choose them. Hence the formulations of the end by later Stoics stress the idea that happiness consists in the rational selection of the things according to nature. But, we must bear in mind an important caveat here. Health and wealth are not the only things which are appropriate to me. So are other rational beings and it would be irrational to choose one thing which is appropriate to me without due consideration of the effect of that choice on other things which are also appropriate to me. This is why the later formulations stress that happiness consists in the rational selection of the things according to nature. But if I am faced with a choice between increasing my wealth (something which is prima facie appropriate to my nature) and preserving someone else's health (which is something appropriate to something which is appropriate to me, i.e. another rational being), which course of action is the rational one? The Stoic response is that it is the one which is ultimately both natural and rational: that is, the one that, so far as I can tell from my experience with what happens in the course of nature (see Chrysippus' formula for the end cited above, 63B), is most in agreement with the unfolding of nature's rational and providential plan. Living in agreement with nature in this sense can even demand that I select things which are not typically appropriate to my nature at all—when that nature is considered in isolation from these particular circumstances. Here Chrysippus' remark about what his foot would will if it were conscious is apposite.

    As long as the future is uncertain to me I always hold to those things which are better adapted to obtaining the things in accordance with nature; for God himself has made me disposed to select these. But if I actually knew that I was fated now to be ill, I would even have an impulse to be ill. For my foot too, if it had intelligence, would have an impulse to get muddy. (Epictetus, 58J)

We too, as rational parts of rational nature, ought to choose in accordance with what will in fact happen (provided we can know what that will be, which we rarely can—we are not gods; outcomes are uncertain to us) since this is wholly good and rational: when we cannot know the outcome, we ought to choose in accordance with what is typically or usually nature's purpose, as we can see from experience of what usually does happen in the course of nature. In extreme circumstances, however, a choice, for example, to end our lives by suicide can be in agreement with nature.

So far the emphasis has been on just one component of the Stoic formulation of the goal or end of life: it is the “rational selection of the things according to nature.” The other thing that needs to be stressed is that it is rational selection—not the attainment of—these things which constitutes happiness. (The Stoics mark the distinction between the way we ought to opt for health as opposed to virtue by saying that I select (eklegomai) the preferred indifferent but I choose (hairoûmai) the virtuous action.) Even though the things according to nature have a kind of value (axia) which grounds the rationality of preferring them (other things being equal), this kind of value is still not goodness. From the point of view of happiness, the things according to nature are still indifferent. What matters for our happiness is whether we select them rationally and, as it turns out, this means selecting them in accordance with the virtuous way of regarding them (and virtuous action itself). Surely one motive for this is the rejection of even the limited role that external goods and fortune play in Aristotelian ethics. According to the Peripatetics, the happy life is one in which one exercises one's moral and theoretical virtues. But one can't exercise a moral virtue like liberality (Nic. Eth. IV.1) without having some, even considerable, money. The Stoics, by contrast, claim that so long as I order (and express) my preferences in accordance with my nature and universal nature, I will be virtuous and happy, even if I do not actually get the things I prefer. Though these things are typically appropriate to me, rational choice is even more appropriate or akin to me, and so long as I have that, then I have perfected my nature. The perfection of one's rational nature is the condition of being virtuous and it is exercising this, and this alone, which is good. Since possession of that which is good is sufficient for happiness, virtuous agents are happy even if they do not attain the preferred indifferents they select.

One is tempted to think that this is simply a misuse of the word ‘happiness’ (or would be, if the Stoics had been speaking English). We are inclined to think (and a Greek talking about eudaimonia would arguably be similarly inclined) that happiness has something to do with getting what you want and not merely ordering one's wants rationally regardless of whether they are satisfied. People are also frequently tempted to assimilate the Stoics' position to one (increasingly contested) interpretation of Kant's moral philosophy. On this reading, acting with the right motive is the only thing that is good—but being good in this sense has nothing whatsoever to do with happiness.

With respect to the first point, the Stoic sage typically selects the preferred indifferents and selects them in light of her knowledge of how the world works. There will be times when the circumstances make it rational for her to select something that is (generally speaking) contrary to her nature (e.g., cutting off one's own hand in order to thwart a tyrant). But these circumstances will be rare and the sage will not be oppressed by the additional false beliefs that this act of self-mutilation is a genuinely bad thing: only vice is genuinely bad. For the most part, her knowledge of nature and other people will mean that she attains the things that she selects. Her conditional positive attitude toward them will mean that when circumstances do conspire to bring it about that the object of her selection is not secured, she doesn't care. She only preferred to be wealthy if it was fated for her to be wealthy. These reflections illustrate the way in which the virtuous person is self-sufficient (autarkês) and this seems to be an important component of our intuitive idea of happiness. The person who is genuinely happy lacks nothing and enjoys a kind of independence from the vagaries of fortune. To this extent at least, the Stoics are not just using the word ‘happiness’ for a condition that has nothing at all to do with what we typically mean by it. With respect to the second point, the Stoic sage will never find herself in a situation where she acts contrary to what Kant calls inclination or desire. The only thing she unconditionally wants is to live virtuously. Anything that she conditionally prefers is always subordinate to her conception of the genuine good. Thus, there is no room for a conflict between duty and happiness where the latter is thought of solely in terms of the satisfaction of our desires. Cicero provides an engaging, if not altogether rigorous, discussion of the question of whether virtue is sufficient for happiness in Tusculan Disputations, book V.

How do these general considerations about the goal of living translate into an evaluation of actions? When I perform an action that accords with my nature and for which a good reason can be given, then I perform what the Stoics call (LS) a ‘proper function’ (kathêkon, Arius Didymus, 59B)—something that it “falls to me” to do. It is important to note that non-rational animals and plants perform proper functions as well (Diog. Laert., 59C). This shows how much importance is placed upon the idea of what accords with one's nature or, in another formulation, “activity which is consequential upon a thing's nature.” It also shows the gap between proper functions and morally right actions, for the Stoics, like most contemporary philosophers, think that animals cannot act morally or immorally—let alone plants.

Most proper functions are directed toward securing things which are appropriate to nature. Thus, if I take good care of my body, then this is a proper function. The Stoics divide proper functions into those which do not depend upon circumstances and those that do. Taking care of one's health is among the former, while mutilating oneself is among the latter (Diog. Laert., 59E). It appears that this is an attempt to work out a set of prima facie duties based upon our natures. Other things being equal, looking after one's health is a course of action which accords with one's nature and thus is one for which a good reason can be given. However, there are circumstances in which a better reason can be given for mutilating oneself—for instance, if this is the only way you can prevent Fagin from compelling you to steal for him.

Since both ordinary people and Stoic wise men look after their health except in very extraordinary circumstances, both the sage and the ordinary person perform proper functions. A proper function becomes a fully correct action (katorthôma) only when it is perfected as an action of the specific kind to which it belongs, and so is done virtuously. In the tradition of Socratic moral theory, the Stoics regard virtues like courage and justice, and so on, as knowledge or science within the soul about how to live. Thus a specific virtue like moderation is defined as “the science (epistêmê) of what is to be chosen and what is to be avoided and what is neither of these” (Arius Didymus, 61H). More broadly, virtue is “an expertise (technê) concerned with the whole of life” (Arius Didymus, 61G). Like other forms of knowledge, virtues are characters of the soul's commanding faculty which are firm and unchangeable. The other similarity with Socratic ethics is that the Stoics think that the virtues are really just one state of soul (Plutarch , 61B, C; Arius Didymus, 61D). No one can be moderate without also being just, courageous and prudent as well—moreover, “anyone who does any action in accordance with one does so in accordance with them all” (Plutarch, 61F). 

When someone who has any virtue, and therefore all the virtues, performs any proper function, he performs it in accordance with virtue or virtuously (i.e. with all the virtues) and this transforms it into a right action or a perfect function. The connection here between a perfect function and a virtuous one is almost analytic in Greek ethical theorizing. Virtues just are those features which make a thing a good thing of its kind or allow it to perform its function well. So, actions done in accordance with virtue are actions which are done well. The Stoics draw the conclusion from this that the wise (and therefore virtuous) person does everything within the scope of moral action well (Arius Didymus, 61G). This makes it seem far less strange than it might at first appear to say that virtue is sufficient for happiness. Furthermore, because virtue is a kind of knowledge and there is no cognitive state between knowledge and ignorance, those who are not wise do everything equally badly. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as moral progress for the Stoics (if that means progress within morality), and they give the charming illustration of drowning to make their point: a person an arm's length from the surface is drowning every bit as surely as one who is five hundred fathoms down (Plutarch, 61T). Of course, as the analogy also suggests, it is possible to be closer or farther from finally being able to perform proper functions in this perfected way. In that sense, progress is possible.

We are finally in a position to understand and evaluate the Stoic view on emotions, since it is a consequence of their views on the soul and the good. It is perhaps more accurate to call it the Stoic view of the passions, though this is a somewhat dated term. The passions or pathê are literally ‘things which one undergoes’ and are to be contrasted with actions or things that one does. Thus, the view that one should be ‘apathetic,’ in its original Hellenistic sense, is not the view that you shouldn't care about anything, but rather the view that you should not be psychologically subject to anything—manipulated and moved by it, rather than yourself being actively and positively in command of your reactions and responses to things as they occur or are in prospect. It connotes a kind of complete self-sufficiency. The Stoics distinguish two primary passions: appetite and fear. These arise in relation to what appears to us to be good or bad. They are associated with two other passions: pleasure and distress. These result when we get or fail to avoid the objects of the first two passions. What distinguishes these states of soul from normal impulses is that they are “excessive impulses which are disobedient to reason” (Arius Didymus, 65A). Part of what this means is that one's fear of dogs may not go away with the rational recognition that this blind, 16 year old, 3 legged Yorkshire terrier poses no threat to you. But this is not all. The Stoics call a passion like distress a fresh opinion that something bad is present (Andronicus, 65B): you may have been excitedly delighted when you first saw you'd won the race, but after a while, when the impression of the victory is no longer fresh, you may calm down. Recall that opinion is assent to a false impression. Given the Stoics' view about good and bad, as against merely indifferent things, the only time that one should assent to the impression that something bad is present is when there is something which might threaten one's virtue, for this and this alone is good. Thus all passions involve an element of false value-judgement. But these are false judgements which are inseparable from physiological changes in the pneuma which constitutes one's commanding faculty. The Stoics describe these changes as shrinkings (like fear) or swellings (like delight), and part of the reason that they locate the commanding faculty in the heart (rather than the head, as Plato in the Timaeus and many medical writers did) is that this seems to be where the physical sensations which accompany passions like fear are manifested. Taking note of this point of physiology is surely necessary to give their theory any plausibility. From the inside a value-judgement—even one like “this impending dog bite will be bad”—might often just not feel like such an emotional state as fear. But when the judgement is vivid and so the commanding faculty is undergoing such a change, one can readily enough see that the characteristic sensations might inexorably accompany the judgement.

Another obvious objection to the Stoic theory is that someone who fears, say pigeons, may not think that they are dangerous. We say that she knows rationally that pigeons are harmless but that she has an irrational fear. It might be thought that in such a case, the judgement which the Stoics think is essential to the passion is missing. Here they resort to the idea that a passion is a fluttering of the commanding faculty. At one instant my commanding faculty judges (rightly) that this pigeon is not dangerous, but an instant later assents to the impression that it is and from this assent flows the excessive impulse away from the pigeon which is my fear. This switch of assent occurs repeatedly and rapidly so that it appears that one has the fear without the requisite judgement but in fact you are making it and taking it back during the time you undergo the passion (Plutarch, 65G).

It is important to bear in mind that the Stoics do not think that all impulses are to be done away with. What distinguishes normal impulses or desires from passions is the idea that the latter are excessive and irrational. Galen provides a nice illustration of the difference (65J). Suppose I want to run, or, in Stoic terminology, I have an impulse to run. If I go running down a sharp incline I may be unable to stop or change direction in response to a new impulse. My running is excessive in relation to my initial impulse. Passions are distinguished from normal impulses in much the same way: they have a kind of momentum which carries one beyond the dictates of reason. If, for instance, you are consumed with lust (a passion falling under appetite), you might not do what under other circumstances you yourself would judge to be the sensible thing.

Even in antiquity the Stoics were ridiculed for their views on the passions. Some critics called them the men of stone. But this is not entirely fair, for the Stoics allow that the sage will experience what they call the good feelings (eupatheiai, Diog. Laert. 65F). These include joy, watchfulness and wishing and are distinguished from their negative counterparts (pleasure, fear and appetite) in being well-reasoned and not excessive. Naturally there is no positive counterpart to distress. The species under wishing include kindness, generosity and warmth. A good feeling like kindness is a moderate and reasonable stretching or expansion of the soul presumably prompted by the correct judgement that other rational beings are appropriate to oneself.


Criticisms of the Stoic theory of the passions in antiquity focused on two issues. The first was whether the passions were, in fact, activities of the rational soul. The medical writer and philosopher Galen defended the Platonic account of emotions as a product of an irrational part of the soul. Posidonius, a 1st c. BCE Stoic, also criticised Chrysippus on the psychology of emotions, and developed a position that recognized the influence in the mind of something like Plato's irrational soul-parts. The other opposition to the Stoic doctrine came from philosophers in the Aristotelian tradition. They, like the Stoics, made judgement a component in emotions. But they argued that the happy life required the moderation of the passions, not their complete extinction. Cicero's Tusculan Disputations, books III and IV take up the question of whether it is possible and desirable to rid oneself of the emotions.