PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS 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 primitive notions.
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 philosophy.
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 Revisited.
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 spiritual domain.
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 desire.
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 mundane.
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:---
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 predominated.
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 play here.
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 that:
...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 said object.
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 though?
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 phenomena.
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 beings.
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 Press. 2001
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 Russell.
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 nosy.
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 feet.
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 transcends nature.
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 this situation.
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 unknown.
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 man.
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 https:---
http:--- http:--- http:---
3. Hubertus Fremerey 'What is "Modern" in Modern Philosophy?' Philosophy Pathways Issue 84, 16th May 2004 https:---
(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 do.
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 https:---
(c) Peter Raabe 2008
Peter B. Raabe Professor of Philosophy University College of the Fraser Valley Abbotsford, BC Canada
Philosophical Counsellor Phone 604-986-9446 http:---