P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 134
18th March 2008
I. 'Significance of the Sense of Holiness' by Richard Schain
II. 'Time for the Leviathan?' by Martin Jenkins
III. 'Some Remarks on the Nature of Philosophy (Part 2)' by Hubertus Fremerey
IV. 'Comment on Pouget' by Peter Raabe
All the contributions in this issue focus in different ways on the question,
'What is it to be human?', one of the perennial questions of philosophy.
Richard Schain's concern in his essay on the sense of 'the holy' is not with
the philosophy of religion as such, but rather with the more inclusive concept
of 'the spiritual' which he claims is an a priori feature of human experience,
that is to say, a permanent possibility of experience as fundamental to our
nature as the capacity to make empirical discriminations.
Martin Jenkins challenges Thomas Hobbes' argument for the necessity of an
absolute power to which human beings surrender as a condition for avoiding a
war of 'all against all'. Hobbes relies on an overly simplistic, mechanistic
view of human nature. We are capable, through negotiation and reasoning, of
creating the conditions for peace without recourse to an absolute Sovereign.
In a continuation of his essay in the last issue, Hubertus Fremerey argues for
the bold claim that, 'man is what nature invented to overcome its own natural
limits'. We are children of nature, yet by that very fact we have the capacity
to create that which our parent nature has not provided for us. 'What shall we
do?' cannot therefore be answered by appeal to our natural 'essence'. The main
limitation of analytical thinking is its failure to engage with the
implications of this question.
Finally, Peter Raabe comments on Pierre Pouget's article from the last issue,
in which Pouget grapples with the question of the relation between ethics and
neuroscience. In Raabe's view, Pouget has strayed too far towards the
reductionist view that a human being is nothing more than a body controlled by
a brain. The concept of a person is primary and cannot be analysed into more
I. 'SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SENSE OF HOLINESS' BY RICHARD SCHAIN
The German theologian Rudolf Otto, in his classic study on holiness (Das
Heilige, 1927 -- freely translated into English as The Idea of the Holy),
states that 'Holiness is a category of interpretation and valuation peculiar to
the sphere of religion.' This unquestionably has been the place of the concept
of holiness in western thought. The holy is a quality attributed to the
presence of God in situations in which holiness is felt. Otto stresses the fact
that holiness is a feeling and not a rationally conceived thought.
According to the theologian-philosopher Paul Tillich, a sacred realm is
established wherever the divine is manifest. The divine is the holy. These
ideas about the nature of holiness are found in theological works and in
discussions within religious seminaries, rather than in the domain of secular
But it does not necessarily follow that the feeling of holiness as a phenomenon
of the human mind is a sign of some divine presence. Consideration of the
meaning of this phenomenon for the human condition is a legitimate subject for
philosophy outside of the sphere of seminaries. It is important to consider
this special human quality without the bias of long-standing religious dogmas.
If one believes unreservedly that the sense of holiness attached to images of
Christ suffering on the cross stems from the presence of an almighty God -- no
matter how one conceives this presence -- then no possibility of philosophical
inquiry exists. On the subject of holiness, one cannot serve both the dogmas of
religion and independent philosophical thought.
The phenomenology of holiness is as diverse as human experience itself. The
conventional idea of holiness is associated with the Christian sacraments but
also may be associated with other forms of religious experience such as mere
entrance into a church or listening to sonorous church music. The Cathedral at
Chartres or the Requiem of Faure may elicit a sense of holiness unmatched by
the more common forms of religious expression. The feelings are described as
awe, mystery, fear, exaltation, love, fascination or mixtures of all of them.
Otto uses the term numinous because he thought the idea of holiness was
erroneously associated with morality and needed to be distinguished from it.
Mysterium, Tremendum, Fascinosum were the Latin terms he used to describe
numinous feelings. They all refer to the fact that the feeling of holiness is
something set apart from the ordinary mundane experiences of life.
William James, in his monumental work Varieties of Religious Experience,
provides a whole host of reported personal experiences indicating the range and
depth of the experience of holiness. He relies on these to make his points
because for James, the quintessential critical thinker of American philosophy,
abstract formulations in this area cannot take the place of personal experience.
The sense of holiness is not limited to religious artifacts or activities. The
New England Transcendentalists brought into American consciousness the idea
that holiness is to be found in nature. 'The happiest man is he who learns from
nature the lesson of worship' was Ralph Waldo Emerson's pithy formulation in his
essay entitled Nature. Human beings are part of nature and it should not be
overlooked that one who experiences holiness can include his own self in the
'numinous feeling' evoked by natural phenomena. As an aside, it may be stated
that Eros is one of the natural sources from which numinous feelings are
produced in certain fortunate individuals.
A different take on holiness is had by those who feel it to be solely a tool of
institutionalized religions using it to implant fear in the mind of believers
ensuring that they will remain faithful. These skeptics believe holiness
promotes superstition and terror of the unknown. The need for a higher
authority on earth is implanted in those who dread the implacable mystery of
human mortality. Children are especially susceptible to what the skeptics look
upon as the organized humbug of religions. Schopenhauer says somewhere that if
a child is given over to religious education before he is eight years of age,
there is no hope for him in the future.
One can hardly quarrel with the assertion that a great deal of humbug is tied
up with the sense of holiness. Since Voltaire, generations of intellectuals
have sharpened their literary knives on the inanities, meanness, cruelties and
tyrannies of organized religion, mainly Christianity, sparing neither Roman
Catholicism nor Protestant sects. Lately, a similar trend has appeared
regarding the Muslim faith but the fear of assassination has inhibited this
trend. One can expect it to increase, however, in future years.
The literary masterpiece of this approach is Dostoevsky's 'Legend of the Grand
Inquisitor' found within his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Jesus' second coming
is made to take place in Spain during the period of the Inquisition -- 'The Holy
Office' -- when the Savior is promptly thrown into a dungeon by the Grand
Inquisitor because of his fear that Jesus' reappearance will disturb the public
order. A similar legend but without Jesus was told by Samuel Butler in Erewhon
However, the disparagement of the sense of holiness because of its misuse by
religious institutions throws out the baby with the bathwater. Rudolf Otto, in
line with his Kantian orientation, asserts that the sense of holiness is 'a
purely a priori category.' In other words, the disposition to the feeling is
inborn. It is already present in the mind of the individual -- in the soul, if
one is permitted to use this forbidden term in a philosophical essay. To make
the concept of the a priori perfectly clear, Otto quotes the famous opening
lines of the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason:
That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be
no doubt. For how is it possible that the faculty of
cognition should be awakened into exercise otherwise than
by means of objects which affect our senses?... But, though
all our knowledge begins with experience, it by no means
follows that all arises out of experience.
The a priori concept asserts that what is made of empirical experience is not
only dependent on the objects of experience but also on the constitution of the
individual experiencing the objects. The sense of holiness, one may say, is an
emotion issuing from the depths of cognitive apprehension. The Anlage is
present prior to the experience.
What could be the significance of such a constitutional trait? Such feelings as
anger, fear, jealousy, acquisitiveness, sexual attraction, familial love all can
be attributed to the instincts for survival and procreation. Nietzsche thought
the will to power was at the bottom of all human emotions and activities. In
recent years, the phenomenon of morality has been traced to the survival of
social groups. But none of these biological explanations apply to the sense of
holiness experienced by individuals in circumstances conducive to this feeling.
It must stem from a different source.
I submit that the sense of holiness arises from a consciousness of the
spiritual aspect of human existence. This latter term has almost as many
connotations as the term metaphysical with respect to the uses that have been
made of it. But there is an underlying meaning common to all uses of the word
'spiritual,' which is that empirical sensory experience, no matter how complex
the instrumentation magnifying it, does not exhaust the entire realm of reality
available to human beings. This additional reality is to be found in the
The duality of the empirical and spiritual refers to the manner in which humans
experience reality rather than referring to existence of two -- or possibly more
-- distinct ontological realms. It may well be that there is a single Spinozist
'substance' underlying all existence. But by now it should be clear that
neither subparticle physics nor deductive epistemology will ever provide
satisfactory explanations of the nature of ultimate existence. The important
thing to recognize is that we humans apprehend reality in essentially two
different ways; empirically and spiritually. The former is the dominant mode
because our lives literally depend on it. Yet there is a certain
superficiality, even tediousness, associated with mere sensory experience.
Human beings desire deeper knowledge; spiritual experience pertains to this
This type of experience is fragile and unpredictable, and needs protection from
the mundane world. Gresham's law of economics that bad money drives out good
pertains equally to the mundane and the spiritual in the life of individuals.
Emerson states in his essay on The Over-Soul that 'our faith comes in moments,
our vice is habitual.' By faith, Emerson means spirituality, by vice he meant
The experience of holiness, whatever the context, is a reminder that there is a
world of spirit needful of attention if the self is to be fulfilled. This form
of experience is by no means uniformly present among all individuals. Rather it
is idiosyncratic, stemming from profound depths of the self. One person's sense
of holiness is the occasion for boredom or cynicism in another. In Blasco
Ibanez' novel La Catedral, the author unfolds the various ways in which the
characters experience the cathedral of Toledo; for some it serves as a means
for earning a living, others view it with curiosity or disdain; it serves as a
source of antiquarian study for those inclined in that direction and, for the
bishop of the diocese, it is an eternal budgetary problem. But for some it
elicits the feelings of mystery, awe, other-worldliness and spiritual
attraction that is encompassed by the term 'holiness.'
This aspect of the human condition deserves the attention of philosophers as
well as theologians. The mystical aspects of the mind deserve attention as much
as the rational. As William James put it in his treatise previously cited,
'Philosophy lives by words but truth and fact well up in our lives in ways that
exceed verbal formulation.' The sense of holiness is one of these ways.
(c) Richard Schain 2007
Web site: http://www.schainphilo.com
II. 'TIME FOR THE LEVIATHAN?' BY MARTIN JENKINS
In the pages of newspapers both local and national, one can read about
increasing levels of anti-social behaviour. Sink estates and parts of cities
are reported as 'no go areas' existing beyond the law and are instead, ruled by
gangs and organised crime. In the absence of the state authority, we have
witnessed events in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone and most
recently Kenya, where the unattractive characteristics of human beings have
Even if those on the Political Left dismiss all this as pessimism and paranoia,
the same behaviour can be observed in a different guise in those parties and
organisations of the Left itself. For in those parties of fraternity and
solidarity, vicious power struggles, factionalism, sectarianism and egoism
between 'brother and sister' can be observed. It appears that in one form or
another, human beings are continually at war with each other.
These observations would not have surprised English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes
(1588-1679). He would have judged them as confirmations of his political
philosophy and of the failure to adopt it. So 300 years or so after his death,
what does Hobbes have to say to we moderns? Is it time for the Leviathan?
Galileo, Motion and Human Nature
According to Hobbes, appetites and aversions motivate the human being. Contrary
to the writings of Aristotle it is not rest but Motion that is the natural
condition of phenomena including human beings. Hobbes draws this conclusion
upon observations of the society around him and the application of Galileo's
Law of Inertia.
Galileo's Law states that motion is the natural condition of objects and as
such, they will continue in motion until hindered by another object[s]. On this
principle Hobbes, as C.B. Macpherson writes:
...had found a grand design for a new master philosophy
which would explain nature, man and society in terms of
Objects external to the person and in motion press upon the sense organs. Sense
organs transmit this motion to the heart/ brain eliciting a counter motion or
Endeavour as Hobbes terms it. Endeavour is either of Appetite or Aversion,
Voluntary or Involuntary. Appetite moves the person toward the said object.
Aversion moves it away from the object. The success of the,
movement is aided by the amount of Power -- natural or artificial -- one has at
one's disposal. Satisfaction of the appetite/aversion [henceforth called the
desires] occasions felicity. So one can plainly see the principle of motion at
Moreover, Motion is perpetual and new desires are incurred after the
satisfaction of previous ones. Hence:
Felicity is a continuall progresse of the desire, from one
object to another, the attaining of the former, being still
but the way to the latter.
As written, felicity follows upon the satisfaction of a desire. Power is
instrumental in achieving this. As other human beings act in the same manner,
the greater the power at one's disposal, the greater the chances of
satisfaction over and against other human beings. Accordingly, Hobbes remarks
...in the first place I put for a general inclination of all
mankind, a perpetual and restlesse desire of Power after
Power that ceaseth only in death.
In the absence of a stronger Power to keep them in order, the nature of human
beings as described above, will lead them to compete against each other
utilising whatever Power they have at their disposal. If two or more
individuals desire the same object, they will come into conflict, becoming
enemies intent on subduing or destroying each other -- in order to acquire the
The victor is then subject to others who will seek to deprive him of his
acquisition. Hence an increase in Power is sought not merely to secure felicity
by acquiring the object of desire; an increase in Power is sought to assure the
future acquisition of other objects.
Thus the nature of human beings naturally leads them into an escalating
conflict with their fellows. This natural human condition is as Hobbes famously
terms it, the 'condition of warre' where it is a matter of 'every man against
every man'. Without secured Peace, industry, culture, civilised existence is
impossible. The condition of warre is not restricted to an isolated battle but
is a general disposition to settle issues by the fist, the sword or by
conquest. Consequently people exist in:
...continuall fear, and danger of violent death; and the
life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short.
By means of a covenant made between made with each other, people elect to give
one of their number the power to rule over them. Ruling through Absolute Power,
this Monarch or Assembly of Men will provide Peace and Security for their
subjects. Absolute Power is necessary, as partial power will allow the
condition of war to re-emerge. Consequently, the condition of war will be left
behind and civilised society -- or the Commonwealth as Hobbes terms it --
historically begins. The Sovereign Power utilises the threat of the visible
Power of punishment to keep his subjects observing his Laws and utilises actual
punishment to those who break his Laws. This is justified by the Covenant.
Unlike other Social Contract theories of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
Sovereignty does not remain with the People. Government is not accountable
to or revocable by the People. If it was and the people could rid themselves of
a government they did not approve of -- this would degenerate into the condition
of War. Some would support the government while others would not. The result
would be Civil War as Hobbes experienced in his own lifetime.
So according to Hobbes, absolute and authoritarian government is natural
government as it follows out of human nature. Non-Authoritarian government is
correspondingly wrong and would be disastrous for society. Is Hobbes convincing
Firstly, the conclusions drawn from the natural sciences and applied to the
non-natural social world can be disputed. Non-conscious phenomena are
quantitatively and qualitatively different entailing different methods of
observation, experiment and 'laws' from that associated with conscious
phenomenon. So Naturalistic methods may not be applicable to Non-Natural
The mechanistic, materialist contention that human beings are merely sites of
the causal 'too and fro' of appetites in motion is too crude and reductive to
be an explanatory hypothesis for conscious, social beings. It ignores the
significance of human consciousness, of socialisation and sublimation whereby a
crude cause does not of necessity, elicit an effect. Human beings have the
capacity to reflect and learn. This capacity of reflective adaption has the
possibility of altering, repressing and inhibiting the expression of desires
and passions. So from empirical experience, it is feasible that the
unrestrained desires of greed, violence, and selfishness are valued to be
destructive and are prescribed against. Human activity correspondingly changes.
Perhaps Hobbes makes too strong a case for the incorrigible condition of human
Secondly, Hobbes writes that humans seek felicity and the satisfaction of
desires and appetites. He also writes that Humans can practice reasoning. It
seems feasible therefore, that without recourse to making a Covenant with an
Absolute Ruler, people could mutually create the conditions of peace
themselves; in which they can mutually satisfy their individual desires and
appetites through the security of a state defending the common interest. This
would make Hobbes' maximalist solution superfluous.
Hobbes would contest this on the grounds that either human desires are too
strong to be restrained within such an organisation or, there will always be a
troublesome minority to disrupt the social peace. This is disputable. Human
desires are not too strong to be restrained as can be seen by the existence of
non-authoritarian societies. Troublesome minorities do indeed exist but as a
minority, they don't auger a return to the condition of war.
Finally, even if the above criticisms fail to convince, Hobbes conception of an
incorrigible Human nature could undermine his political philosophy. As Hobbes
has proposed a definite conception of Human nature it must qua Human nature, be
universal and without exception -- it must be instantiated in all human beings.
If there are exceptions to this 'nature' then it cannot be Human Nature. If it
is the nature of human beings then it will be instantiated in the Absolute
Sovereign as with everyone else. Consequently, the Absolute Ruler will
perpetuate a war against his subjects, as there is no sword or covenant to stop
him. So the very justification for the founding of the Commonwealth -- that it
prevents the condition of war -- is negated.
In this all too brief overview of Hobbes' ontology and political philosophy, I
have provided a few pointers as to why Hobbes fascinating philosophy is not
convincing. His conclusions are too extreme and follow upon a crude ontological
model of human beings. The model is inadequate to account for the complexity of
the human condition. Pessimists will have to look for another Philosopher to
account for their forebodings.
1. P. 19. C.B. Macpherson. Introduction. Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. Penguin. 1968
2. P. 70. Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. Ed Richard Tuck. Cambridge University
3. ibid. P. 70
4. ibid. P. 88
5. ibid. P. 89
6. John Locke. Two Treatises On Government. Hackett. 1980
7. Jean Jacques Rousseau. The Social Contract. Dover Publications. 2007
(c) Martin Jenkins 2008
III. 'SOME REMARKS ON THE NATURE OF PHILOSOPHY (PART 2)' BY HUBERTUS FREMEREY
As I explained in my previous paper, my thesis is that the essential danger
of analytical philosophy is seeing philosophy as a narrowly intellectual
endeavour, as some sort of chess study or brain-twister. To solve problems in
real life -- while still being an intellectual task -- is 'intellectual' in a
much broader sense. To solve 'real' problems you typically need trust and
thrust, self-esteem and a daring vision of the goal to be achieved and the
pertinacity to achieve it against all obstacles, failures, and enemies. Nothing
of this can be justified 'from a logical point of view' in the sense of Quine or
Continental 'lebens-philosophie' from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to Bergson and
Heidegger was very aware of this fact, while in the Anglo-Saxon philosophical
world there seems to be not even an accepted translation of this word, which
labels a well known school of philosophy.
The main themes of Darwin, Marx, and Freud are all about 'fighting forces' of
competition, dominance, jealousy, and a striving and struggling will for life
and superiority. This view of human behaviour also explains the persistence of
religious belief, which seems to be a mystery to the analytical philosopher.
While 'logically thinking people' like Lord Russell cannot understand the
'stupidity' of reasonable people believing in God, the true believer fights
death and the devil with God at his side. For the true believer God is a
positive force in the battle of life, not a logical term in some proposition.
It would be wrong to think that I reject or despise analytical philosophy out
of hand. But you cannot analyze what is not there. To analyze a music or a
novel, you first should have the music or the novel. As I argued in my previous
essay, we would not know much of the fabrications of nature without first being
interested to know about it.
In that essay, I also addressed a second important truth: Not only will you
have to break from your familiar shore to unknown shores beyond the horizon to
find a new continent, but the vision calling you to such a daring endeavour may
be totally different from what looks 'meaningful' in the light of cold reason
afterwards: What Kepler and Newton were looking for was the wisdom of God
showing in His creation, but what they prepared the way for was a godless world
of modern science and technology that was never on their minds and was even
contrary to their intentions. Things turn out like that in human history. Even
Columbus set out for America because he was wrong and ignorant about the true
geography of the globe. This is called 'serendipity'.
What I am arguing now is that nothing of this would have been predicted from
analytical philosophy. Analytical philosophy would not have told us that our
worldview is incomplete, and it would not have told us that to find a new
continent we should follow 'absurd and unjustified ideas'. If you do not know
where you are and where you are going, you have to be daring and playful and
Being a mathematical physicist myself, I never could reject or despise
analytical philosophy, because I recognize its value as a mental discipline.
But in the light of what I said above, I see the dangers of a method that is
almost as much corrupting our minds with 'complacency' as was 'good old
metaphysics' -- albeit in a very different way.
Metaphysics built houses even on untested ground, but at least people could
have a good time there until the house eventually came down. Then they built a
new house unabashed. All religions and pseudo-religions are of this sort. If
you are living in what you think is 'the truth', you do not need to ask for the
truth any more. Analytical philosophy on the other hand knows everything about
building solid houses 'in principle', but never builds anything of value for
the homeless, because 'there is no such thing as truth anyway, but there are
only methods and hypotheses.' Thus you dare not build a house, since it may
stand on untested ground.
You cannot expect analytical philosophy to understand the inner forces driving
human beings. Analytical philosophy can deliver a map and good advice, but it
cannot know of human unrest and longing and of the quest for the Holy Grail or
some other great goal. Yet these forces of hope and vision and the quest for
perfection or salvation and the hunger for truth and justice and beauty are
what was on the minds of Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, and on the
minds of so many philosophers and saints from all times and places before. They
were philosophers of the irrational, of the will to life, of the will to power.
This will and unrest is what drives evolution, first the Darwinian one, now the
post-Darwinian or cultural one.
What does post-Darwinian or cultural evolution mean? It means that man is what
nature invented to overcome its own natural limits. As a being with an ability
to think it over and to create in his fantasy pictures of 'what is not there
here and now' man has been set at a distance to nature from his very beginning.
To be not part of nature is what defines us humans. Nature has brought us forth,
but like our own children, we are free to use our own brains and follow our own
plans. As children we are not the subservient slaves of our parents but are
expected to find our own ways in life. We have to learn to stand on our own two
This does not mean, of course, that we should not love our parents or ask them
for support and advice then and now. But to become responsible grown ups is our
moral obligation. This is our human position as children of 'mother' nature and
'father' God. To always ask for their will and be submissive and calling
harmony with nature and God the highest value, is a fundamentally erroneous
attitude. We have to find our own way. That is what post-Darwinian or cultural
or 'second' evolution means.
Nature cannot build radios or cars, it cannot build birds with a wingspan of 80
meters and a liftoff weight of over 500 tons, it cannot build programmable
computers, it cannot build space stations and space ships, going for the Moon
or Mars and beyond. Thus nature made man to accomplish all that nature cannot
do by itself. This is the meaning of post-Darwinian evolution, a continuation
of Darwinian, natural evolution. Nature invented man, but man invented culture,
and with it science and technology, and the arts and philosophy and all else
that we call culture in the broadest sense. Culture in almost every respect
We should not speak of harmony. A thinking being with fantasy and passions and
longing for unknown shores beyond the horizons of space and time as man is,
cannot be in harmony with nature all the time. The philosophers of the East --
and the philosophers of the European Medieval period -- tried to calm down the
unrest of the human mind by directing its energies to the beyond in the form of
Brahma or God or Allah. But then Western man turned to nature itself and found a
new object for his restless mind: the future that man makes by himself and on
his own account. This is our situation. And this is how it should be.
Many people will jeer at this idea or call it stupid or outrageous. They will
speak again of this 'dangerous western arrogance' that will destroy the Earth.
But in my opinion, what we should see first and foremost is the naturalness of
What does it imply? Of course it is not just computers and spaceships. Science
and technology are but two aspects of human culture. But we should first of all
realize that electrical engineering and atomic engineering and computers and the
internet are not something nature could do. Brains and computers are
complementary: Where the brain is strong, the computer is weak, and vice versa.
Man is not just copying nature, he is enhancing nature by using nature's laws to
realize possibilities nature never could have realized herself. And those new
possibilities brought about by human science and technology are not just some
little enhancements here and there, but a whole new second nature, larger than
the first one which has brought forth man himself. The first nature, 'natura
naturans' of the old metaphysics, was restricted in its possibilities. But at
least it brought forth us nosy and inquisitive humans.
Natura naturata, the natural world we have inhabited for many millennia, is but
a very special realization of what is possible under the restrictions of natural
laws. The number of worlds compatible with the laws of nature is immense. And
while the world of airplanes and computers and space-ships at first sight is
just one more possible realization of what can be done under the restrictions
of natural laws, man, by the principles of applied science and technology,
could invent and realize countless additional different extensions of nature.
If you know a language, you do not write only one or two texts, you can write
innumerable texts of all sorts. So if you know how to apply the laws of nature,
you may be able to realize innumerable varieties of new plants and animals and
perhaps even new humanlike thinking robots. Well, we do not know so far what it
takes and whether it will be possible. But we see the principle. To invent the
wheel and the carriage is one thing, but to put electricity and the atoms and
even the nuclei to the service of man is quite another thing. To do that,
engineering intelligence and inventiveness could not suffice. Man had to
develop advanced mathematics and strange theories first. And -- as was shown in
the other essay -- these were introduced by metaphysical and even by theological
reasoning and not by practical common sense.
Some will ask, 'What about wisdom?' Building and launching a spaceship can be
done 'in the fear of God' as well as building and launching a wooden ship 2.500
years ago on the shores of Israel or Greece. Socrates' maxim 'know thyself' is
not incompatible with an understanding that the most honourable task of man is
to put his freedom into full use and become the explorer of the universe. I
cannot see why wisdom should keep us humans 'true to the earth' or 'in harmony
with nature'. As I stated above: We may be children of God and nature, but
growing up we should find our own ways.
But of course we have to decide on this. In principle we could decide 'to stay
home' in the same way as the Chinese decided in the middle of the 15th century,
after they had reached out from 1404 with large ships and several thousands of
troops very probably to much of Africa and Australia and even America too.
The wise Confucians decided that to explore the world was not worth the trouble.
Now what has all this to do with philosophy and in particular with analytical
philosophy? I once wanted to remind us all that analytical philosophy is a
formalism to improve methodology and the correct evaluation of statements. It
does not tell us what to do. But this is what we want to know and what I called
in another essay 'the terrible question of utopia.' We need to find out what
to do, and facts will never tell us. By concentrating on the facts, people shun
the responsibility for creative and daring deeds.
Should we stay home? Should we live in peace with nature? I don't think so. Man
is a nosy rat. Nature has made him so. By being nosy we eventually become
knowledgeable about the world around us. Such behaviour is part of the
self-protecting strategy of our genes and is part of our apish ancestry. The
'irrational' scientific inquisitiveness and daring explorative drive, and the
permanent quest for unknown countries of the globe and of the mind, is western
man's main legacy to mankind. Modern man is a 'frontiers man', pushing into the
This by itself is not philosophy. But we have to think it over and correct our
image of ourselves correspondingly. Man seen as a frontiers man exploring the
world and transforming the world according to his view of a better future is
not man the peaceful farmer and shepherd of those good ol' days. And I think
that to realize and to ponder this fact is philosophy.
I would like to add one last note: Since analytical philosophy is mainly a
critical endeavour, we even tend to see Enlightenment as a cognitive project.
Was not Hume writing on 'human understanding'? Was not the main concern of Kant
a critical evaluation of the limits of thinking? But this is quite misleading.
The project of Enlightenment was first of all a practical one. The guiding idea
always has been, to turn our world into a better place for human beings to
inhabit, where wars and violence, crime and poverty, illness and madness and
all other evils would be driven back and eventually eliminated by the force of
reason and scientific understanding. To understand 'human understanding' was
never meant to be a goal in itself by Locke, Hume or Kant, but was always meant
to provide the necessary means for improving the world in the best service of
I am only stating a natural mechanism, as mechanical and as matter of fact as
is 'neo-Darwinism'. All talk of 'progress', 'Weltgeist', 'spiritual evolution'
is purely speculative. The question of what a better future of mankind should
be like and what we should do about it will not vanish from our philosophical
agenda. This question cannot be formalized into something scientific. No
science will tell us what is good and valuable. Only some creative genius can
show us. Overall it is a moral and metaphysical question, not a technical one.
Man is not just a smart rat; he is not only a thinking animal, a homo sapiens.
He is an inventive animal, struggling creatively with the countless mysteries
of his strange existence in this world. He tries to understand his situation
and to overcome obstacles by inventiveness and fighting and hard work. This is
much more than mere thinking, reflecting a situation. Man is homo creativus,
the creative animal building bridges and roads and spaceships -- physical and
spiritual ones -- to explore and conquer the world.
Man the explorer, man the conqueror of his future, man the transformer of the
world, man carrying on the creative task of nature need not be man the madman
or man the destroyer. To be the trustee of nature and to expand and transform
it is not in itself contradictory any more than to continue the work that our
parents could not finish themselves. We can transform nature and be in harmony
with nature at the same time. This would be the very meaning of being a
'trustee' of nature, by putting its capital to work.
1. Hubertus Fremerey 'Some Remarks on the Nature of Philosophy' Philosophy
Pathways Issue 133, 8th February 2008
3. Hubertus Fremerey 'What is "Modern" in Modern Philosophy?' Philosophy
Pathways Issue 84, 16th May 2004
(c) Hubertus Fremerey 2008
IV. 'COMMENT ON POUGET' BY PETER RAABE
I read with interest the thought-provoking essay titled 'A Rope Stretched Over
An Abyss: Ethics, Law And Neuroscience.' In it Pierre Pouget points out that:
Neurophysiological experiments show that before a subject
is even consciously aware of a decision to perform an act,
the brain was active. The brain, as a physical organ is
carrying on the ongoing action before the consciousness and
awareness of the subject.
This raises some intriguing questions, such as, Is it true that when I left for
work this morning, my brain wanted to kiss my wife goodbye before I did? Does
that mean my brain cares more for my wife than I do? Or is my brain perhaps
having an affair with my wife? I can see I shall have to have a talk with my
brain about this. 'No you don't!'
Wait a minute, was that my brain talking just now, saying, 'No you don't'? Am I
just doing what my brain wants me to do? Am I typing this because my brain wants
me to be typing this? What about what I want to do? Who's going to do that?
Dr. Pouget also explains that:
By recording the activity of single neurons, scalp
potential or variation of blood flow, one can today,
literally, observe how one's own brain is thinking.
This raises the question, What am I doing while my brain is doing the thinking?
It also seems to me that if one is observing how one's brain is thinking, then
it is actually one's brain that is observing how ones brain is thinking.
Doesn't this result in a self-referential infinite regress of my brain
observing my brain observing my brain... etc?
If it's true that what I thought I was doing is only being done by my brain,
then there really isn't any 'me' at all! And if there's no me to speak of, just
my brain, then don't give me any credit for this short response, or blame me
either. It's all my brain's doing. So blame the brain. And finally, I
congratulate Dr. Pouget's brain for the essay it wrote, which he mistakenly
thought he wrote.
With all due respect to Dr. Pouget, neuroscience is a reductionist science. But
when it comes to human beings, the whole (person) is greater than the individual
parts. After all, it's not the neuron that thinks, but the brain. And it is not
the brain that thinks, but the person. And it is neither the neurons nor the
brain that is moral or immoral, but the person. It is a mistake to discuss
neuroscience and morality in the same breath because it always leads to the
absurd claim that it is brains and neurons that are responsible for what people
When the human being, the person who is me, is eliminated by neuroscience,
there is no morality or ethics left. Morality and ethics is basically about a
person trying to avoid intentional harm to others. Neurons and brains can't
even begin to try.
1. Philosophy Pathways Issue 133, , 8th February 2008
(c) Peter Raabe 2008
Peter B. Raabe
Professor of Philosophy
University College of the Fraser Valley
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