Sunday, November 25, 2018

Renaissance Philosophy – Bernardino Telesio

Bernardino Telesio (1509 – 1588) was an Italian philosopher and natural scientist. Opposing the Aristotelianism which characterized medieval scholarship, he developed an empirical approach to natural philosophy and treated it as a separate field of study from theology and metaphysics. He abandoned the purely intellectual sphere and proposed an inquiry into the data given by the senses, from which he held that all true knowledge really comes. Telesio avoided Aristotle’s separation of the corruptible earth from the eternal heavens and regarded all matter as affected by two opposing elements of force: heat, which expands, and cold, which contracts. His system was a forerunner of subsequent empiricism, scientific and philosophical, and his famous work, De Rerum Natura Iuxta Propria Principia (On the Nature of Things according to their Own Principles), marked the period of transition from Aristotelianism to modern thought. Telesio inspired Tommaso Campanella and Thomas Hobbes, and sowed the seeds of the scientific method employed by Bruno, Bacon and Descartes. His anti-Aristotelianism aroused the anger of the Roman Catholic Church, and a short time after his death in 1588, his books were condemned and placed on the Index.


Bernardino Telesio was born of noble parentage at Cosenza, a town in Calabria, a region of Southern Italy. He was educated at Milan by his uncle, Antonio, himself a scholar and an eminent poet, and afterwards at Rome and Padua. His studies included the Renaissance curriculum of classics, science, and philosophy. Telesio began an attack upon the medieval Aristotelianism which then flourished in Padua and Bologna. Resigning to his brother the archbishopric of Cosenza, offered to him by Pope Pius IV, he began to lecture at Naples and finally founded the academy of Cosenza. In 1563, or perhaps two years later, appeared his great work De Rerum Natura Iuxta Propria Principia (On the Nature of Things according to their Own Principles), which was followed by a large number of scientific and philosophical works of subsidiary importance. The heterodox views which he maintained against Aristotelianism aroused the anger of the Roman Catholic Church, and a short time after his death in 1588, his books were condemned and placed on the Index.

Thought and Works

Telesio was the head of the great South Italian movement which protested against the accepted authority of abstract reason, and sowed the seeds from which sprang the scientific methods of Campanella and Bruno, and of Bacon and Descartes, with their widely divergent results. Telesio developed an empirical approach to natural philosophy, which he regarded as a separate field of study from metaphysics and theology. He abandoned the purely intellectual sphere and proposed an inquiry into the data given by the senses, from which he held that all true knowledge really comes. Instead of postulating matter and form, he based existence on matter and force. He believed that all natural beings were animate, and he avoided the Aristotelian separation of corruptible earth from the eternal heavens. Instead, he regarded all matter as affected by two opposing elements of force: heat, which expands, and cold, which contracts. These two processes accounted for all the diverse forms and types of existence, while the mass on which the force operated remained the same. The whole was harmonized by the concept that each separate thing develops in and for itself in accordance with its own nature, while at the same time its motion benefits the rest. The obvious defects of this theory, (1) that the senses alone cannot apprehend matter itself, (2) that it is not clear how the multiplicity of phenomena could result from these two forces, and (3) that he adduced no evidence to substantiate the existence of these two forces, were pointed out at the time by his pupil, Patrizzi.

His theory of the cold earth at rest and the hot sun in motion was doomed to disproof at the hands of Copernicus, but was at the same time sufficiently coherent to make a great impression on Italian thought. When Telesio went on to explain the relation of mind and matter, he was still more heterodox. Material forces are, by hypothesis, capable of feeling; matter also must have been from the first endowed with consciousness, for consciousness exists, and could not have been developed out of nothing. This led him to a form of hylozoism. The soul is influenced by material conditions; consequently the soul must have a material existence. He further held that all knowledge is sensation ("non ratione sed sensu") and that intelligence is, therefore, an agglomeration of isolated data, given by the senses. He did not, however, succeed in explaining how the senses alone could perceive difference and identity. At the end of his scheme, probably in deference to theological prejudices, he added an element which was utterly alien, namely, a higher impulse, a soul superimposed by God, in virtue of which we strive beyond the world of sense.

Besides De Rerum Natura, he wrote De Somno, De his guae in acre fiunt, De Mari, De Comelis et Circulo Lactea, De usu respirationis, and other works.


The whole system of Telesio showed lacunae in argument, and ignorance of essential facts; nevertheless it was a forerunner of all subsequent empiricism, scientific and philosophical, and marked clearly the period of transition from authority and reason, to experiment and individual responsibility. Telesio became the head of a school in Calabria, and his ideas were widely read and discussed during his own time. Though he opposed Aristotelianism, he drew many ideas from him and tried to transform, rather than undermine, Aristotle’s teachings. Tommaso Campanella followed Telesio in his early writings, and Thomas Hobbes was inspired by him.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Aristotle: Physics and metaphysics

Aristotle divided the theoretical sciences into three groups: physics, mathematics, and theology. Physics as he understood it was equivalent to what would now be called “natural philosophy,” or the study of nature (physis); in this sense it encompasses not only the modern field of physics but also biology, chemistry, geology, psychology, and even meteorology. Metaphysics, however, is notably absent from Aristotle’s classification; indeed, he never uses the word, which first appears in the posthumous catalog of his writings as a name for the works listed after the Physics. He does, however, recognize the branch of philosophy now called metaphysics: he calls it “first philosophy” and defines it as the discipline that studies “being as being.”

Aristotle’s contributions to the physical sciences are less impressive than his researches in the life sciences. In works such as On Generation and Corruption and On the Heavens, he presented a world-picture that included many features inherited from his pre-Socratic predecessors. From Empedocles (c. 490–430 bce) he adopted the view that the universe is ultimately composed of different combinations of the four fundamental elements of earth, water, air, and fire. Each element is characterized by the possession of a unique pair of the four elementary qualities of heat, cold, wetness, and dryness: earth is cold and dry, water is cold and wet, air is hot and wet, and fire is hot and dry. Each element has a natural place in an ordered cosmos, and each has an innate tendency to move toward this natural place. Thus, earthy solids naturally fall, while fire, unless prevented, rises ever higher. Other motions of the elements are possible but are “violent.” (A relic of Aristotle’s distinction is preserved in the modern-day contrast between natural and violent death.)

Aristotle’s vision of the cosmos also owes much to Plato’s dialogue Timaeus. As in that work, the Earth is at the centre of the universe, and around it the Moon, the Sun, and the other planets revolve in a succession of concentric crystalline spheres. The heavenly bodies are not compounds of the four terrestrial elements but are made up of a superior fifth element, or “quintessence.” In addition, the heavenly bodies have souls, or supernatural intellects, which guide them in their travels through the cosmos.

Even the best of Aristotle’s scientific work has now only a historical interest. The abiding value of treatises such as the Physics lies not in their particular scientific assertions but in their philosophical analyses of some of the concepts that pervade the physics of different eras—concepts such as place, time, causation, and determinism.


Every body appears to be in some place, and every body (at least in principle) can move from one place to another. The same place can be occupied at different times by different bodies, as a flask can contain first wine and then air. So a place cannot be identical to the body that occupies it. What, then, is place? According to Aristotle, the place of a thing is the first motionless boundary of whatever body is containing it. Thus, the place of a pint of wine is the inner surface of the flask containing it—provided the flask is stationary. But suppose the flask is in motion, perhaps on a punt floating down a river. Then the wine will be moving too, from place to place, and its place must be given by specifying its position relative to the motionless river banks.

As is clear from this example, for Aristotle a thing is not only in the place defined by its immediate container but also in whatever contains that container. Thus, all human beings are not only on the Earth but also in the universe; the universe is the place that is common to everything. But the universe itself is not in a place at all, since it has no container outside it. Thus, it is clear that place as described by Aristotle is quite different from space as conceived by Isaac Newton (1643–1727)—as an infinite extension or cosmic grid (see cosmos). Newtonian space would exist whether or not the material universe had been created. For Aristotle, if there were no bodies, there would be no place. Aristotle does, however, allow for the existence of a vacuum, or “void,” but only if it is contained by actually existing bodies.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Thomas More political thought - Utopia


The book begins with a short six-line poem, followed by a four-line poem and a letter of greetings from Thomas More, the author, to his friend Peter Giles. The two poems, written by Utopians, describe Utopia as an ideal state.

Thomas More was the Under-sheriff of the City of London, in the service of King Henry VIII. More's friend, Peter Giles, was a corrector at a printing press and a clerk of the city of Antwerp. The prefatory letter concerns the printing and editing of the manuscript and also tells a story of how More first learned of the Utopians.

More recalls his meeting with Raphael Hythloday, for it is Raphael who relayed the story of Utopia to More. More has simply recorded what he has heard, striving to be as accurate as possible. In this regard, Peter Giles can be of use for he was the one who first introduced More to Hythloday. In his letter, More apologizes for taking such a long time to send the manuscript to Giles‹nearly a year, when it was expected to take only six weeks. More explains that his work has kept him very busy and when he comes home very later he must devote time to his family. As a result, More has hardly any time left for himself. More is uncertain about a few small details, for example, the span of a bridge that crosses the Utopian river of Anyder. More hopes that Giles might remember the actual dimensions or perhaps for this and a few other questions, Giles might even make contact with Raphael Hythloday. Laughably, there is one major question that does need to be addressed rather urgently: More does not remember "in what part of that New World Utopia is located." The author confides that he is rather embarrassed "not to know in which ocean the island lies," especially since he has devoted so much time and energy to recounting less significant details.

There are a few individuals already prepared to go to Utopia including a theologian who would like to see the island and meet its inhabitants. He intends to ask the Pope to be made the Bishop of the Utopians. More concludes his letter expressing his hesitation to publish the work. Despite the good qualities of the work, Utopia will still be exposed to the unnecessarily fierce commentary of critics. More wonders whether it will be worthwhile in the end.


Throughout Utopia, More alludes to the scholarly and traditional literature of his period, also referencing earlier Greek and Latin works. Almost immediately, Utopia presents itself as a book whose form is different form other works. The full title of the work attests to this: "On the best form of a Commonwealth and on the New Island of Utopia: a Truly Precious Book No Less Profitable than Delightful by the most Distinguished and Learned Gentleman Thomas More, Citizen and Undersheriff of the Illustrious City of London." This book includes several things: it presents philosophy as well as a travel narrative about a foreign place. It poses as history but it is also a fictional adventure-story. Finally, parts of Utopia read much like a parable, aiming to improve the reader with a moral education by giving examples illustrated in stories.

Just as Utopia is a complex of genres, the Introduction is a "pastiche" (collage) of different literary forms including the poem, the pictogram and the epistle. Each of these serves a distinct narrative purpose.

The first poem is a six line stanza by Utopia's poet laureate. This poem creates a pun on the word Utopia as opposed to eutopia. Utopia actually means no-place, a fantasy. Eutopia means good place. The poem describes Utopia as a eutopia and compares it to "Plato's state." In one sense, Utopia is also a response to Plato's work, The Republic. More presents his political philosophy, albeit in a very abstracted way.

A quatrain written about Utopus (the general who founded the eponymous state) follows the sextet. Neither poem bears any significant resemblance to the established lyrical forms of More's society. Indeed, the poem is translated into prose. The poem tells us that utopia was made into an island by the general, Utopus. It has subsequently become a "philosophical state." Certainly, the image of the island parallels More's Britain. Unlike its neighbors on the continental mainland, the island is militarily secure enough to forge its own identity and isolated enough to become a unique philosophical state. Moreover, the security of the island makes it safe for the citizens to traffic in commerce as participate in the trade and exchange of ideas. According to the poem, Utopia eagerly shares its ideas and adopts the best practices of other societies.

More's letter to Peter Giles combines actual people with fictional characters. This is what we would expect, considering the mix of fictional and non-fictional genres incorporated within the work. More has made himself into a character. Peter Giles is an actual friend of More's and Giles assists in the publication of Utopia. Neither More nor Giles had a friend named Raphael Hythloday. The New World remains, in 1516, largely unexplored by Europeans, but there was no "Utopia" nor had More traveled to any distant lands.

In the letter (the "epistle") to Giles, More is actually writing to the reader indirectly. Details which Giles would already know are supplied to give the reader context. This is a form of apostrophe because the speaker is addressing his intended audience indirectly. The themes of truth and virtue are very important in Utopia. Narrative accuracy certainly involves issues of truth, but the definition of truth depends upon what sort of narrative is being written: in the same way that we can judge the philosophy of the Utopians as true or false, we can judge the philosophy of Utopia as true or false. If Utopia as a travelogue, we would look to see whether its descriptions were true (i.e., accurate). On the other hand, as a work of history, Utopia would be true if it were "objective." And if we are reading Utopia as a fictional work, an adventure story or fantasy, "truth" is more a matter of consistency and believability: Do the characters sound like themselves? Is that how Utopians would really act?

The idea of public service is another major theme of this work. More is the under-sheriff of London and he serves in several other roles before he dies. Giles is a clerk for the city of Antwerp. Raphael Hythloday presents ideas regarding the individual's obligations to society. To the extent that Utopia was written to enhance the public debate on the "ideal" state, the book is an act of public service.

Finally, the idea of travel to the "New World" is an obvious theme of Utopia. We cannot travel to Utopia because it does not exist and furthermore, it is far away and the passage is dangerous. The next best thing is to receive an account of the New World from Hythloday and this is what More faithfully presents to us. There were plenty of travelogues and "accounts of the Indies"‹mostly spurious‹on the market during More's era. Utopia borrows the idea of the New World, but More does not argue that Utopia is actually a location somewhere in the actual New World.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


excerpted from Socrates Café 
by   Christopher  Phillips 

Socrates Café are gatherings around the world where people from different backgrounds get together and exchange philosophical perspectives based on their experiences,

The Socratic method is a way to seek truths by your own lights.It is a system, a spirit, a method, a type of philosophical inquiry an intellectual technique, all rolled into one. 
Socrates himself never spelled out a "method." However, the Socratic method is named after him because Socrates, more than any other before or since, models for us philosophy practiced - philosophy as deed, as way of living, as something that any of us can do. It is an open system of philosophical inquiry that allows one to interrogate from many vantage points. 
Gregory Vlastos, a Socrates scholar and professor of philosophy at Princeton, described Socrates’ method of inquiry as "among the greatest achievements of humanity." Why? Because, he says, it makes philosophical inquiry "a common human enterprise, open to every man." Instead of requiring allegiance to a specific philosophical viewpoint or analytic technique or specialized vocabulary, the Socratic method "calls for common sense and common speech." And this, he says, "is as it should be, for how man should live is every man’s business." 

I think, however, that the Socratic method goes beyond Vlastos’ description. It does not merely call for common sense but examines what common sense is. The Socratic method asks: Does the common sense of our day offer us the greatest potential for self-understanding and human excellence? Or is the prevailing common sense in fact a roadblock to realizing this potential? 
    Vlastos goes on to say that Socratic inquiry is by no means simple, and "calls not only for the highest degree of mental alertness of which anyone is capable" but also for "moral qualities of a high order: sincerity, humility, courage." Such qualities "protect against the possibility" that Socratic dialogue, no matter how rigorous, "would merely grind out . . . wild conclusions with irresponsible premises." I agree, though I would replace the quality of sincerity with honesty, since one can hold a conviction sincerely without examining it, while honesty would require that one subject one’s convictions to frequent scrutiny. 
 A Socratic dialogue reveals how different our outlooks can be on concepts we use every day. It reveals how different our philosophies are, and often how tenable - or untenable, as the case may be - a range of philosophies can be. Moreover, even the most universally recognized and used concept, when subjected to Socratic scrutiny, might reveal not only that there is not universal agreement, after all, on the meaning of any given concept, but that every single person has a somewhat different take on each and every concept under the sun.
What’s more, there seems to be no such thing as a concept so abstract, or a question so off base, that it cant be fruitfully explored at Socrates Café. In the course of Socratizing, it often turns out to be the case that some of the most so-called abstract concepts are intimately related to the most profoundly relevant human experiences. In fact, it’s been my experience that virtually any question can be plumbed Socratically. Sometimes you don’t know what question will have the most lasting and significant impact until you take a risk and delve into it for a while. 

What distinguishes the Socratic method from mere nonsystematic inquiry is the sustained attempt to explore the ramifications of certain opinions and then offer compelling objections and alternatives. This scrupulous and exhaustive form of inquiry in many ways resembles the scientific method. But unlike Socratic inquiry, scientific inquiry would often lead us to believe that whatever is not measurable cannot be investigated. This "belief" fails to address such paramount human concerns as sorrow and joy and suffering and love. 
Instead of focusing on the outer cosmos, Socrates focused primarily on human beings and their cosmos within, utilizing his method to open up new realms of self-knowledge while at the same time exposing a great deal of error, superstition, and dogmatic nonsense. The Spanish-born American philosopher and poet George Santayana said that Socrates knew that "the foreground of human life is necessarily moral and practical" and that "it is so even so for artists" - and even for scientists, try as some might to divorce their work from these dimensions of human existence.

Scholars call Socrates’ method the elenchus, which is Hellenistic Greek for inquiry or cross-examination. But it is not just any type of inquiry or examination. It is a type that reveals people to themselves, that makes them see what their opinions really amount to. C. D. C. Reeve, professor of philosophy at Reed College, gives the standard explanation of an elenchus in saying that its aim “is not simply to reach adequate definitions" of such things as virtues; rather, it also has a "moral reformatory purpose, for Socrates believes that regular elenctic philosophizing makes people happier and more virtuous than anything else. . . . Indeed philosophizing is so important for human welfare, on his view, that he is willing to accept execution rather than give it up." 
Socrates’ method of examination can indeed be a vital part of existence, but I would not go so far as to say that it should be. And I do not think that Socrates felt that habitual use of this method "makes people happier." The fulfillment that comes from Socratizing comes only at a price - it could well make us unhappier, more uncertain, more troubled, as well as more fulfilled. It can leave us with a sense that we don’t know the answers after all, that we are much further from knowing the answers than we’d ever realized before engaging in Socratic discourse. And this is fulfilling - and exhilarating and humbling and perplexing. We may leave a Socrates Café - in all likelihood we will leave a Socrates Café - with a heady sense that there are many more ways and truths and lights by which to examine any given concept than we had ever before imagined. 

In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche said, "I admire the courage and wisdom of Socrates in all he did, said - and did not say." Nietzsche was a distinguished nineteenth-century classical philologist before he abandoned the academic fold and became known for championing a type of heroic individual who would create a life - affirming "will to power" ethic. In the spirit of his writings on such individuals, whom he described as "supermen,’, Nietzsche lauded Socrates as a "genius of the heart. . . whose voice knows how to descend into the depths of every soul . . . who teaches one to listen, who smoothes rough souls and lets them taste a new yearning . . . who divines the hidden and forgotten treasure, the drop of goodness . . . from whose touch everyone goes away richer, not having found grace nor amazed, not as blessed and oppressed by the good of another, but richer in himself, opened . . . less sure perhaps... but full of hopes that as yet have no name." I only differ with Nietzsche when he characterizes Socrates as someone who descended into the depths of others’ souls. To the contrary Socrates enabled those with whom he engaged in dialogues to descend into the depths of their own souls and create their own life - affirming ethic. 
Santayana said that he would never hold views in philosophy which he did not believe in daily life, and that he would deem it dishonest and even spineless to advance or entertain views in discourse which were not those under which he habitually lived. But there is no neat divide between one’s views of philosophy and of life. They are overlapping and kindred views. It is virtually impossible in many instances to know what we believe in daily life until we engage others in dialogue. Likewise, to discover our philosophical views, we must engage with ourselves, with the lives we already lead. Our views form, change, evolve, as we participate in this dialogue. It is the only way truly to discover what philosophical colors we sail under. Everyone at some point preaches to himself and others what he does not yet practice; everyone acts in or on the world in ways that are in some way contradictory or inconsistent with the views he or she confesses or professes to hold. For instance, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the influential founder of existentialism, put Socratic principles to use in writing his dissertation on the concept of irony in Socrates, often using pseudonyms so he could argue his own positions with himself. In addition, the sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne, who was called "the French Socrates" and was known as the father of skepticism in modern Europe, would write and add conflicting and even contradictory passages in the same work. And like Socrates, he believed the search for truth was worth dying for. 

 The Socratic method forces people "to confront their own dogmatism," according to Leonard Nelson, a German philosopher who wrote on such subjects as ethics and theory of knowledge until he was forced by the rise of Nazism to quit. By doing so, participants in Socratic dialogue are, in effect,"forcing themselves to be free," Nelson maintains. But they’re not just confronted with their own dogmatism. In the course of a Socrates Café, they may be confronted with an array of hypotheses, convictions, conjectures and theories offered by the other participants, and themselves - all of which subscribe to some sort of dogma. The Socratic method requires that - honestly and openly, rationally and imaginatively - they confront the dogma by asking such questions as: What does this mean? What speaks for and against it? Are there alternative ways of considering it that are even more plausible and tenable? 
At certain junctures of a Socratic dialogue, the "forcing" that this confrontation entails - the insistence that each participant carefully articulate her singular philosophical perspective - can be upsetting. But that is all to the good. If it never touches any nerves, if it doesn't upset, if it doesn't mentally and spiritually challenge and perplex, in a wonderful and exhilarating way, it is not Socratic dialogue. This "forcing" opens us up to the varieties of experiences of others - whether through direct dialogue, or through other means, like drama or books, or through a work of art or a dance. It compels us to explore alternative perspectives, asking what might be said for or against each. 
Keep this ethos in mind if you ever, for instance, feel tempted to ask a question like this one once posed at a Socrates Café: How can we overcome alienation? Challenge the premise of the question at the outset. You may need to ask: Is alienation something we always want to overcome? For instance, Shakespeare and Goethe may have written their timeless works because they embraced their sense of alienation rather than attempting to escape it. If this was so, then you might want to ask: Are there many different types, and degrees, of alienation? Depending on the context, are there some types that you want to overcome and other types that you do not at all want to overcome but rather want to incorporate into yourself? And to answer effectively such questions, you first need to ask and answer such questions as: What is alienation? What does it mean to overcome alienation? Why would we ever want to overcome alienation? What are some of the many different types of alienation? What are the criteria or traits that link each of these types? Is it possible to be completely alienated? And many more questions besides. 

   Those who become smitten with the Socratic method of philosophical inquiry thrive on the question. They never run out of questions, or out of new ways to question. Some of Socrates Café’s most avid philosophizers are, for me, the question personified.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Petrarca, the first Humanist

Petrarca’s Ethical Humanism 1345-53

Petrarca continued to live at Vaucluse, and in 1346 he began writing his Solitary Life and Bucolicum Carmen. He contrasted solitude to urban living and gave examples of famous men and women who preferred solitude. Petrarca also valued friendship and wrote that he would rather be deprived of solitude than a friend. He did not impose his values on others, and the independence of thought he claimed for himself he did not deny to others. The first four eclogues of the Bucolicum Carmen discuss how his brother Gherardo’s life differs from his, the death of King Robert of Naples, his love for Laura and coronation, and his poetic work. The fifth eclogue is about Cola di Rienzo, and the sixth and seventh denounce the corruption of the papal court at Avignon. The eighth justifies his leaving Cardinal Colonna to return to Italy. He also wrote three sonnets on the “Babylonian captivity” of the papacy. Yet Pope Clement VI offered to make Petrarca his secretary or a bishop, but the poet declined to sacrifice his freedom to study and write.

Petrarca visited his brother Gherardo at the Montrieux monastery in 1347 and was inspired to write On Monastic Freedom (De otio religioso) on the Biblical injunction in the 46th Psalm, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The treatise discusses how to be liberated from the devil, the world, and the flesh. It is dedicated to the monks of Montrieux; but Petrarca admitted that he wrote it more for his own benefit than theirs.

Petrarca had begun writing his Secretum (My Secret Book) in 1342, and he completed it about 1347. In the introduction he explained that he did not write it for others and glory, but only so that he could remember the conversation. No copy of the book was made during his lifetime. Thinking about his death, he thought he saw a woman, and talking with her, he identified her as Truth. As she entered his inmost solitude, he noticed the priestly Augustine.

After this introduction the book consists of three dialogs between Francesco and Augustine. In the first Augustine asks him if he has forgotten that he is mortal, and he recommends being conscious of our own unhappiness and meditating constantly on death. Augustine argues that anyone who recognizes one’s unhappiness and wants to be happy can be so. However, the foolish try to gain happiness with the chains of earthly pleasures. He should study and work for his own improvement, not to impress others. No one can be made unhappy except by one’s own fault.

Francesco is concerned that he will not be able to free himself from his own faults. Augustine warns him that people esteem themselves more highly than others and thus deceive themselves. Francesco realizes that the root of his unhappiness is in his will. Augustine reflects that he did not change himself until deep meditation helped him see his unhappiness. He advises the poet to consult his conscience to interpret virtue and judge deeds and thoughts in order to strengthen his faith. The desire for virtue is a large portion of virtue. This desire can only function fully when all other desires are ended. By being conscious of mortality one can despise transient things and aspire to a life of reason. When the soul leaves its body, it is presented for judgment on every deed and word in one’s life. If one truly desires to be better, one may be confident that God will rescue you. Francesco asks his mentor what is holding him back. Augustine quotes Virgil that conflicts arise and produce fear, desire, grief, and joy. Cicero advises, “The superior intellect moves away from the senses and abstracts its thoughts from everyday matters.” Augustine tells Petrarca that his mind is distracted by various obsessions.

In the second dialog of Secretum Augustine warns Francesco that despair is the worst evil. He observes that Francesco is proud of his intellect, the books he has read, his eloquence, and the beauty of his body which will die. When Francesco asks what leads him astray, the saint replies that it is his desire for worldly things. Augustine encourages him to endure poverty and recommends the middle way between wealth and poverty. He refers to the proverb that the covetous person is always in need. He should limit his desires. When he overcomes his passions and is wholly under the sway of virtue, then he will be free. Francesco admits that he suffers from depression, and Augustine asks him what is its cause. Petrarca sees many causes, especially his contempt for the human condition. He contrasts the sight of miserable beggars to the absurdities of the voluptuous rich. Augustine warns him that anger is the worst mental disturbance but advises him that it can be controlled by reason. He must learn to calm the tumult in his own heart to obtain a peaceful mind.

In the third dialogue Augustine describes Petrarca’s greatest problems as his passionate love for Laura and his desire for worldly glory. She has distracted him from the love of God to a creature. Francesco realizes that his deviation from the right path began when he met Laura in 1327. Again Augustine counsels him that the love of earthly things causes one to neglect the love of God. He recommends that he live in Italy but avoid solitude until he is cured of his illness. Cicero advised that satiety, shame, and reflection can help one take one’s mind off love. The saint advises him to put away childish things and the desires of youth. In regard to glory the desire for vain immortality may block his way to true immortality. Augustine believes he is wasting his life writing his Africa and other poetry when death may snatch him before he completes them. Instead of striving for glory, he should be working to be worthy. By making the true end of life one’s goal and by aiming at worth, true glory will follow. Worldly ambitions are not worth the name of glory. The whole life of a philosopher should be meditating on death. Finally, Francesco expresses gratitude for the understanding he has gained, and he thanks Truth for helping them to see. Francesco asks Augustine not to desert him. The two voices in this dialog represent two sides of the author Petrarca. Augustine may be considered his higher, spiritual self while Francesco represents his conscious self making decisions in the world.

In his “Letter to Posterity” Petrarca described his life up to about 1351. In this letter he also mentioned that he disliked the dishonesty in the legal profession and so could not practice it. He admitted that he was deluded as a young man and went astray as an adult before his experience convinced him of the truth and helped him to correct his life. He did not strive for riches because he did not want the worries and effort that is involved in achieving and maintaining wealth. He always felt contempt for wealth and hated the anxiety it demanded; so he practiced plain living and ordinary fare. At the age of forty he renounced carnal relationships with women, thanking God for the liberation while he was still strong and healthy. He admitted that he has known and been honored by great princes who gave him advantages. He believed he had a well balanced intellect rather than a sharp one and that he was most inclined to moral philosophy and the art of poetry. He concentrated mostly on the knowledge of antiquity and disliked his own age, except for the affection of his friends.

Petrarca had become friends with the flamboyant Cola di Rienzo in 1343 when Cola spent several months in Avignon on a diplomatic mission. When the demagogic Cola di Rienzo became tribune of Rome in 1347, he expelled aristocratic families and declared a Roman republic with himself as ruler. Petrarca wrote Cola several letters urging him to unite Italy, return the papacy to Rome, and bring peace to the region; but Cola’s attack with militia that killed Stefano Colonna the Younger and his son alienated Petrarca from Cardinal Colonna. On November 29 he wrote to Cola, complaining that he favored the basest faction and pleading that he not destroy his own work. After Cola was arrested, Petrarca wrote a letter to the Roman people urging them to intervene; he complained that the magistrates denied Cola legal counsel, though this was the common practice of the Inquisition. Concern over German mercenaries and the hired soldiers called condottieri and the violent calamities in Italy stimulated Petrarca to write a canzoni called “My Italy,” which he concluded as follows:

My song, be humble, for you are addressed to haughty folk,
ever hostile to the truth.
Speak then to those few high hearts that love virtue.
Say to them: “Who gives me strength to speak,
as I go crying: ‘Peace! Peace! Peace!’”

Conditions were so violent in Italy that when Petrarca first visited Rome, his friends provided an escort of a hundred horsemen to protect him from the Orsini family.

In 1348 Petrarca survived a major earthquake and the Black Death which took his beloved Laura. He became a friend of Padua’s ruler Jacopo II da Carrara and visited him in 1349. Jacopo procured a canonry for Petrarca in Padua. From this time on Petrarca always hired at least one copyist to make transcripts of valuable manuscripts. He became archdeacon in Padua on June 20, 1350 and immediately left to visit Mantua. In October of that year Petrarca visited Boccaccio for the first time in Florence as he made the pilgrimage to Rome during the Jubilee. He also met the eminent scholar and lawyer, Lapo da Castiglionchio, who sent him many manuscripts by Cicero including the Philippics. Lapo was given a manuscript of the last thirteen books of Petrarca’s Familiar Letters which survived with his notes. Petrarca visited his birthplace at Arezzo in December, and Lapo sent him a copy of the newly discovered Institutions by Quintilian. Petrarca was so impressed that he wrote a letter of appreciation to the dead author.

In April 1351 Boccaccio came to Padua and gave Petrarca a letter from the priors of Florence revoking the banishment of his father’s family and restoring the confiscated property. They invited him to teach in Florence, but after the death of Jacopo da Carrara, Petrarca returned to Vaucluse in the summer of 1351. In November he wrote a letter to a commission of four cardinals appointed to resolve problems in Rome in which he recommended that the rival Colonna and Orsini families both be excluded from the city government and that the Roman Senate be limited to Roman citizens. However, the commission was ineffective.

Petrarca spent much of his life studying and writing at his retreat in Vaucluse near Avignon, and even this place was once plundered and burned. Starting in 1350, Petrarca began writing letters to persuade Holy Roman Emperor Karl IV of Bohemia to come to Rome to be crowned, and Karl finally did so in 1354; but he soon left. Like Dante, Petrarca hoped that one head could establish peace and order in Italy. Prior to the war between Genoa and Venice, in March 1351 Petrarca had sent exhortations for peace to the doges of both cities, explaining to himself, “I thought myself blameworthy if, in the midst of warlike preparations, I should not have recourse to my one weapon, the pen.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Medieval Political Philosophy - John of Paris

John of Paris, also called John the Deaf or John Quidort, French Jean de Paris, Jean le Sourd, or Jean Quidort, medieval Latin Johannes de Soardis (born c. 1255, Paris, France—died Sept. 22, 1306, Bordeaux, Gascony [France]) Dominican monk, philosopher, and theologian who advanced important ideas concerning papal authority and the separation of church and state and who held controversial views on the nature of the Eucharist.

A lecturer at the University of Paris and the author of several works defending the doctrines of St. Thomas Aquinas, he was condemned in 1286 for some of his theological propositions but cleared himself by further explanation.

In De potestate regia et papali (c. 1302; “On Royal and Papal Powers”), he held that church and state both derived power from God but were independent of each other, the church serving spiritual ends and the state serving secular ends. The pope could intervene in secular matters only if the moral or theological order was involved. John also held that since the pope was elected by men, he could be removed by men for good reason. De potestate, directed against the extreme papal claims of Pope Boniface VIII, was a valuable contribution to theology.

In his eucharistic doctrines expressed in Determinatio (1304), John suggested an alternative to transubstantiation, namely, the proposition that the Person of Christ somehow enters into a kind of hypostatic, or essential, union with the material elements. John’s heterodoxy was censured, and he was sentenced to perpetual silence; he died before his appeal to Pope Clement V could be decided.

John of Paris reasserts the traditional distinction between ownership and rulership. The fact that a ruler adjudicates property disputes does not make him supreme owner. A community (a state, or the Church, or particular communities) acquires property only from individuals, and the head of the community is the administrator of the community's property, not its owner. This is true also of the Pope, who does not have unrestricted power over Church property, still less over the properties of lay people (pp. 96–105).[80] John's assumption that original appropriation is by individuals, and his remark that individuals acquire property by “labour and industry” (pp. 86, 103), have led to suggestions that he anticipated Locke's theory of property. However, John indicates that individuals acquire property under human law (pp. 148, 154, 225–6) which is the view traditional among medieval theologians, following Augustine . Property is acquired under human law, but it is acquired by individuals, not directly by rulers.

As for rulership, John argues that the Pope cannot be the supreme temporal ruler because the spiritual and temporal powers should be held by different persons. John gives the traditional reasons , emphasizing the argument that the priest should be exclusively devoted to spiritual affairs (pp. 117–8). The temporal power is not established by, or in any way caused by, the spiritual power. Both come from God, but neither comes through the other. The spiritual is in some sense superior, but not as being the cause of the temporal power (pp. 93, 192). The basis of the distinction between the two powers is not subject matter or ends, but means. Each power is limited to its own appropriate means of action; the secular power uses natural means, the Church uses supernatural means (pp. 142–61). This is very much like Thomas Aquinas's picture of two powers leading mankind toward the goals of human life in ordered hierarchy, one using natural means and the other supernatural. Thomas infers from the fact that the Church is concerned with the highest end the conclusion that the Pope ought to direct the secular ruler . John explicitly rejects this line of argument. Teaching is a spiritual function, but in a household the teacher does not direct the physician. The physician exercises a higher art than the pharmacist, but, though the physician guides the pharmacist, he cannot give authoritative directions or dismiss the pharmacist. Such officials in a great household do not direct one another, but are all under the direction of the head of the family. Similarly both Pope and prince derive their authority from God, who sets the limits of their power, and he has not subordinated one to the other (pp. 182, 184–6, 93).

Monday, October 29, 2018

A shortlist of the most influential philosophers alive.

Alain Badiou
Alain Badiou studied at the Lycée Louis-Le-Grand and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, and is a key figure in French philosophy and Marxist and Communist thought in the last half-century. He holds the title of the René Descartes Chair and Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School, is the former Chair of Philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, and a founder of the faculty of Philosophy at the Université de Paris VIII, along with such major names as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard. Badiou, who has always been known for being politically active and outspoken, was involved in militant leftist groups as a young man, such as the Union des Communistes de France Marxiste-Léniniste, and is a founding member of the Unified Socialist Party in France. Badiou’s work combines mathematics, political theory, and ontology, to focus on issues of truth, being, and subject. Having studied under Louis Althusser, Badiou’s philosophical approach has been influenced by Althusserian Marxism, and the psychoanalysis of Jacque Lacan. His most famous work is Being and Event (1988), which presents a shift away from these initial influences, establishes and brings together many of his key ideas.

Jurgen Habermas
Born in 1929, Jurgen Habermas. The most prominent philosopher, and also public intellectual, of Germany and perhaps the whole of Europe, Habermas’s corpus of work is extensive and comprehensive, combining philosophers as disparate as Austin and Derrida, or Gadamer and Putnam. He is an adherent of the glorious Critical theory of the erstwhile Frankfurt school whose main attitude is, well, critical of the current socio-political human condition. Hence, his daring criticisms of such colossal figures like the Enlightenment folk, Marx, or Foucault. His major work, “The Theory of Communicative Action”, is a brilliant attempt to settle questions of meaning, language, and an optimal moral framework for communication.

Martha Nussbaum
In a field severely dominated by men, even more so than hardcore sciences, Martha Nussbaum compensates for this in two ways. Born in 1947, in New York, she is now a professor at the University of Chicago, she is a passionate and fervent advocate of women’s rights and her views on feminism are elaborate, bold, and always fruitfully controversial. Her open confrontation with another feminist philosopher of a different school of thought, Judith Butler, in the later 90s made history and, in the end, promoted the feminist cause to new heights. Moreover, the sheer volume of her output makes her one of the most laborious and productive philosophers in ethics and political science, with significant work on animal rights, emotions, and gay rights.

Gianni Vattimo
Gianteresio Vattimo, also known as Gianni Vattimo (born January 4, 1936) is an internationally recognized Italian author, philosopher, and politician. Many of his works have been translated into English.

His philosophy can be characterized as postmodern with his emphasis on "pensiero debole" (weak thought). This requires that the foundational certainties of modernity with its emphasis on objective truth founded in a rational unitary subject be relinquished for a more multi-faceted conception closer to that of the arts.

Judith Butler

Judith Butler earned her Ph.D. from Yale in 1984, and currently holds the title of Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School. She is primarily known as a major proponent of gender theory and criticism, and her work has been influential to many areas of critical thought, both in and out of philosophy, including ethics, political philosophy, feminist theory, queer theory, and literary theory. Butler has seen influence and sparked controversy as a globally vocal advocate of LGBTQ rights and as a critic the politics and actions of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With many books published to her name, Butler is probably most famous for her 1990 work Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Much of her work has been focused on developing the ideas of gender performativity and construction, which are significantly addressed in this text. Essentially, Butler argues that sex, gender, and sexuality are all culturally constructed normative frameworks, and as such, the individual uses their body in the performance of identifying with or against these norms. This book has been very influential in feminist and queer theory, as well as in political discourse of gender and identity issues.

Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky may be the “father of modern linguistics,” and Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT, but his interests and influence extend into philosophy, cognitive science, history, logic, social criticism, and political activism. His work is widely cited (making him one of the most cited scholars in history), and he has encountered more than his fair share of controversy, both in academia, and in his public life. As a child, Chomsky took trips to New York City, where he found (and was encouraged to read) books that introduced him to ideas of resistance and anarchism. In 1945, at just 16 years old, Chomsky began his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, from where he would study linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, and eventually earn a Ph.D., before being appointed to Harvard University’s Society of Fellows.

Chomsky’s work in linguistics challenged the school of thought that dominated linguistics at the time, structural linguistics, and helped establish the field as a natural science, by approaching the study of linguistics through the lens of cognitive science, such as in his book Syntactic Structures (1957). In the process, Chomsky developed the ideas of universal grammar, transformational grammar, and generative grammar, giving rise to the “linguistics wars” with his critics. Besides generating academic controversy, Chomsky is well known for his political views and publications, which are anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war, with his essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” (1967) being a prime example. For his political activism, Chomsky has been arrested multiple times, and was even on President Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List.”

Jean-Luc Nancy
Jean-Luc Nancy received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1973 from the Institut de Philosophie in Strasbourg, studying under Paul Ricouer. He eventually became a Professor at the University of Strasbourg, and, though he is now retired, continues to add publication credits to his already lengthy bibliography. His approach is associated with continental philosophy and deconstructionism, and his work is primarily focused in ontology and literary criticism. Much of his early work focused on commenting on and interpreting the work of [Book Image]other major thinkers, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Immanuel Kant, René Descartes, and Martin Heidegger, but he is best known for his writings that apply deconstructionist thought to issues of freedom, existence, and community. His most influential work, The Inoperative Community (1986) presents and explores this focus, arguing that much of society’s problems result from designing society around pre-conceived definitions of what society should be, and failing to understand it for how it actually is.

Michel Onfray

Michel Onfray is a French philosopher. Born to a family of Norman farmers, he graduated with a Ph.D. in philosophy. He taught this subject to senior students at a technical high school in Caen between 1983 and 2002, before establishing what he and his supporters call the Université populaire de Caen, proclaiming its foundation on a free-of-charge basis, and the manifesto written by Onfray in 2004 (La communauté philosophique). However, the title 'Popular University' is misleading, although attractive, as this 'University' provides no services other than the occasional delivery of lectures - there is no register of students, no examination or assessment, and no diplomas. After all, 'ordinary' French University lectures are open to all, free of charge. Nor is the content of the Université populaire de Caen radical in French terms, it is in its way, a throwback to less democratic traditions of learning. Both in his writing and his lecturing, Onfray's approach is hierarchical, and elitist. He prefers to say though that his 'university' is committed to deliver high-level knowledge to the masses, as opposed to the more common approach of vulgarizing philosophic concepts through easy-to-read books such as "Philosophy for Well-being".

Onfray writes obscurely that there is no philosophy without psychoanalysis. Perhaps paradoxically, he proclaims himself as an adamant atheist (something more novel in France than elsewhere - indeed his book, 'Atheist Manifesto', was briefly in the 'bestsellers' list in France) and he considers religion to be indefensible. He instead regards himself as being part of the tradition of individualist anarchism, a tradition that he claims is at work throughout the entire history of philosophy and that he is seeking to revive amidst modern schools of philosophy that he feels are cynical and epicurean. His writings celebrate hedonism, reason and atheism.

He endorsed the French Revolutionary Communist League and its candidate for the French presidency, Olivier Besancenot in the 2002 election, although this is somewhat at odds with the libertarian socialism he advocates in his writings.[citation needed] In 2007, he endorsed José Bové - but eventually voted for Olivier Besancenot - , and conducted an interview with the future French President, who he declared was an 'ideological enemy' Nicolas Sarkozy for Philosophie Magazine.
Onfray himself attributes the birth of a philosophic communities such as the université populaire to the results of the French presidential election, 2002

Mario Bunge

Mario Augusto Bunge is an Argentine philosopher, philosopher of science and physicist mainly active in Canada.
Bunge began his studies at the National University of La Plata, graduating with a Ph.D. in physico-mathematical sciences in 1952. He was professor of theoretical physics and philosophy, 1956–1966, first at La Plata then at University of Buenos Aires. He was, until his recent retirement at age 90, the Frothingham Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at McGill University in Montreal, where he had been since 1966.

Mario Bunge has been distinguished with sixteen honorary doctorates and four honorary professorships by universities from both the Americas and Europe. Bunge is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1984– ) and of the Royal Society of Canada (1992– ). In 1982 he was awarded the Premio Príncipe de Asturias (Prince of Asturias Award), in 2009 the Guggenheim Fellowshipand in 2014 the Ludwig von Bertalanffy Award in Complexity Thinking

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovene sociologist, philosopher, and cultural critic.

He was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia (then part of SFR Yugoslavia). He received a Doctor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Ljubljana and studied psychoanalysis at the University of Paris VIII with Jacques-Alain Miller and François Regnault. In 1990 he was a candidate with the party Liberal Democracy of Slovenia for Presidency of the Republic of Slovenia (an auxiliary institution, abolished in 1992).

Since 2005, Žižek has been a member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Žižek is well known for his use of the works of 20th century French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan in a new reading of popular culture. He writes on many topics including the Iraq War, fundamentalism, capitalism, tolerance, political correctness, globalization, subjectivity, human rights, Lenin, myth, cyberspace, postmodernism, multiculturalism, post-marxism, David Lynch, and Alfred Hitchcock.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País he jokingly described himself as an "orthodox Lacanian Stalinist". In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! he described himself as a "Marxist" and a "Communist.

Giorgio Agamben
Giorgio Agamben, born 22 April 1942 is an Italian philosopher best known for his work investigating the concepts of the state of exception, form-of-life (borrowed from Ludwig Wittgenstein) and homo sacer. The concept of biopolitics (borrowed and adapted from Michel Foucault) informs many of his writings.

Agamben was close to the poets Giorgio Caproni and José Bergamín, and to the Italian novelist Elsa Morante, to whom he devoted the essays "The Celebration of the Hidden Treasure" (in The End of the Poem) and "Parody" (in Profanations). He has been a friend and collaborator to such eminent intellectuals as Pier Paolo Pasolini (in whose The Gospel According to St. Matthew he played the part of Philip), Italo Calvino (with whom he collaborated, for a short while, as advisor to the publishing house Einaudi and developed plans for a journal), Ingeborg Bachmann, Pierre Klossowski, Guy Debord, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida, Antonio Negri, Jean-François Lyotard and others.

His strongest influences include Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault. Agamben edited Benjamin's collected works in Italian translation until 1996, and called Benjamin's thought "the antidote that allowed me to survive Heidegger". In 1981, Agamben discovered several important lost manuscripts by Benjamin in the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Benjamin had left these manuscripts to Georges Bataille when he fled Paris shortly before his death. The most relevant of these to Agamben's own later work were Benjamin's manuscripts for his theses On the Concept of History. Agamben has engaged since the nineties in a debate with the political writings of the German jurist Carl Schmitt, most extensively in the study State of Exception (2003). His recent writings also elaborate on the concepts of Michel Foucault, whom he calls "a scholar from whom I have learned a great deal in recent years".