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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal

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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728

philosophypathways.com/newsletter/

Issue number 78 22nd February 2004

CONTENTS

I. 'Inspirations for the Unbounded Seeker' by Ovidiu Gherghe

II. On 'God and I': a Reply to David Robjant and Tony Flood
   by Geoffrey Klempner

III. Two Letters from ISFP Members

-=-

EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION

Ovidiu Gherghe is a Pathways student, following the Moral Philosophy program under the mentorship of Tony Flood. His first article for Philosophy Pathways takes its inspiration from the American pragmatist William James.

Thinking about a reply to David Robjant and Tony Flood's comments on 'God and I' (Issues 75 and 76) had the unexpected bonus of kick starting a new volume of my Glass House Philosopher notebook -- after a 21 month gap. I sincerely hope that this is not a flash in the pan. The piece below is taken from page 2.

Thank you to all the new ISFP members who have written to me in response to the latest ISFP membership card mailout. Below, I reproduce two emails, from Professor Herman Pietersen in South Africa, and Wilbert Tapia in Peru.

-=-

I. 'INSPIRATIONS FOR THE UNBOUNDED SEEKER' BY OVIDIU GHERGHE

A wandering inquirer may find inspiration, as I surely do, when reading words that seem to combine an inner sense of soothing approval with a delightful method of presentation appeal, neither reasonless nor emotionally exclusive; or I should say an interacting flow between -- what we divide into -- the so-called internal and external worlds. The wandering inquirer may even stumble upon those very words reproduced below, words which may not appeal to everyone, yet, may offer a soothing effect for some as they did for me:

     What you want is a philosophy that will not only exercise
     your powers of intellectual abstraction, but that will make
     some positive connection with this actual world of finite
     human lives.
    
There is a process of assessing the statement; an impulse to evaluate the information presented. There are some who may ask to know who said such words before rendering verdict. That may be an important factor to consider for some, while for others  the statement may appear as inconclusive and dubious. Remarks such as 'of course' or 'who wouldn't want such philosophy' may indeed be offered as immediate reactionary statements, and even if we hoped for more external cues of information there is enough in the statement to make us see that it deals with a sort of harmony at work; and perhaps an indication of potentially conflicting realms of human concerns and inquiry.

What the statement says depends in part upon the individual reader, as these words expressed as such are filtered and processed internally where there could only be limited options for verdict categorization. Can we measure how much do our own biases and individual temperament affect whether we end up agreeing, disagreeing or suspending judgment with such a statement? Can only formal languages adequately serve to settle the whole of human affairs and provide absolute answers? And maybe we should ask if philosophy is the most essential and connecting feature amongst reflecting and sentient beings? Or perhaps you, the reader, do not approve of the statement's direct emphasis on you; which may understandably stimulated a natural defensive reaction in which case it failed to produce the soothing effect it originally had on me.

Our mysterious author is William James. [1]  The pragmatic view, [2] of which James was a vivid advocate, questions the Cartesian bifurcation and the dominant monistic idealism views inherited, but it must be noted that it differs in variation from proponent to proponent -- some widely different in a number of approaches and conclusions. However, that is not a topic of our focus in this writing as we will only attempt a Jamesian incursion. James's quotation above reflects and implies what some would no doubt perceive as a 'philosophical attitude' and James continues on to propose a "system that would combine both things, the scientific loyalty to facts and willingness to take account of them, the spirit of adaptation and accommodation ... but also the confidence in human values and the resultant spontaneity, whether the religious or of the romantic type."

The philosophical reactions to the Kantian-Hegelian idealistic influence sprang into different conceptual directions, some attempting to rise above, others to completely denounce, and yet even others to assimilate between complete opposite concepts resulting in shifting philosophical interpretations. James acknowledges the connection between past thinkers and his own version of pragmatism, and reflect such debt by later subtitling his book Pragmatism as 'Another Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking.'

Kant and James were both adept integrators, attempting a reconciliation between conflicting verdicts, yet it will be a serious mistake to assume this to be an evaluative interpretation between the two. James appeals to a different temperamental character and a different philosophical vision, and is better viewed not in the same philosophical tradition as Kant, but as a voice singing that the old Way towards the Truth, ought to be ways toward co-truths. Kant referred to his own major formulations as "the Copernican revolution in philosophy," standing in between established boundaries in accord with the rationalistic philosophy of Descartes and the skeptical extensions of Hume. Also due to Kant is the sharp distinction between theory and praktische, and his distinction of separate ethical and pragmatische rules; the ethical being governed by an appeal to the 'categorical imperative' of one's duty to treat people as ends in themselves, while by his meaning of 'pragmatic' Kant meant prudent in the sense of self-interest, and not pragmatic in the sense meant by James when he first used the word in 1897 to associate it with his philosophical outlook.

Though Kant's impact is of unquestionable influence across a vast field of philosophies, James acknowledged instead he was "influenced by a comparatively young and very original French writer, Professor Henri Bergson," [3] of whose essential contribution to philosophy, in James's words, was the "criticism of intellectualism."

James similarly classifies Kant as against the intellectualism of his time, meaning only his denial of the complete knowledge of reality (ding an sich, thing-in-itself), but their principal association stops there. James pulls away from Kant due in part because "Kant still leaves [reality] laying down laws -- and laws from which there is no appeal -- to all our human experience;" and shifts closer in line with Bergsonian doubt. And it was Bergson who wrote these words:

     "Now it is the essence of mental things that they do not
     lend themselves to measurement... You cannot have a ton of
     love ... or a yard of hate or a gallon of numinous awe; but
     love and hate and awe are just as real as a ton of flour or
     a yard of linen or a gallon of petrol, more real indeed,
     because they have immediate significance, they are not
     simply means to ends like making bread, a pillow case or
     haste." [4]
    
James echoes Bergson's disagreement that Kantian "methods give any adequate account of this human experience in its very finiteness." [3] In another reading, James states:

    "We encounter [the sensible core of reality], but don't
     posses it. Superficially this sounds like Kant's view; but
     between categories fulminated before nature began, and
     categories gradually forming themselves in nature's
     presence, the whole chasm between rationalism and
     empiricism yawns." [5]
    
This is part of a defense on behalf of  F.C.S. Schiller's pragmatic view [6], challenged by absolute idealists of the time, in which James summarizes the "humanistic principle" as that "you can't weed out the human contribution." More impressively James goes on to call out a recurring prejudice against the pragmatist: "To the genuine 'Kantianer' (Schiller) will also be to Kant as a satyr to a Hyperion." [5]

It is in part a reaction against fixation that might have propelled James in a different direction; a search for a more dynamic and fluid philosophical system, yet similarly comprehensible, adaptable,  practical (shortly defined here as experimental or action-tested) and communicable to others in the hope for a better life. It is an open-ended system James is after, not one restricted to a fixed set of stagnant rules and classical standards. His attempt to be in harmony with a flux reality went against the absolute fixation of  principles and theories dominating academic institutions. James constantly refuses to give up his creative spark and his positions could be perceived by others as paradoxical and non-committed. My starting quotation at the beginning of this writing nevertheless may have struck some readers as such example. Or consider this: "On the one side the Universe is absolutely secure, on the other it is still pursuing its adventure." [5] But that is perhaps because it requires a certain leap of courage to understand, or to want to understand James; it may ask of ourselves to face and engage our own "human contribution" to the evaluation of what we divide between the internal and the external, and how we act towards others who may share a different worldview or come from a crossroads of multiple and various points of view. And what better enterprise for such quest to continue its intergenerational dialogue than philosophy itself, if it is to serve the humanity as a whole through individual participation of diverse 'philosophical attitudes' examining and interpreting a shared human experience.

The world of experience is a constant flux, a "continuum" as James called it, while the activity of the mind is to discriminate, or better yet, to interpret reality by breaking up the continuous whole. As James would say: "We create the subjects of our true as well as our false propositions." [5] Reality is to be accounted as something which is shaped and created by the subject, a perceptive construct that has a higher degree of 'usefulness' or serves the better 'purpose' -- a reality colored by the individual's interests, desires and temperament. The emphasis on this conditioning of perception and its role is well off the mark of traditional logic. In his later life, A. N. Whitehead remarked: "[James] has discovered intuitively the great truth with which modern logic is now wrestling, that every finite set of premises must indicate notions which are excluded from its direct purview." [7]

Whitehead's process philosophy may offer a metaphysical extension to the Jamesian flux, as Whitehead's conclusion was that "nature is a structure of evolving processes. The reality is the process." [8] The world is, according to Whitehead, organic rather than materialistic, signifying his later departure from traditional views, yet maintaining that if philosophy is to be successful it must account for the discrepancies between the internal and external worlds of traditional dualistic philosophy.

Although some postmodern neopragmatists may denounce metaphysics outright, I support the 'Jamesian totality' and non-exclusiveness of all realms and methods of inquiry. However, my extension of support also goes with James's choice of philosophical near-sightedness and therefore focusing away from a heavy metaphysical outlook, but in all honesty, that is a temperamental bias and is countered by a constant reminder for a sense of granting individuals their will to believe, but also my co-allowance of reciprocal and mutual right to believe as long as it is inquired through a framework of justice in the name of every one possible to be considered, and not just the one only absolute to be followed. That constant search for democratic realignment and harmonization is what keeps philosophy fueled; whether the distinction is made between those in the institutionalized academia or the wandering wonderer, the questions circle back to 'what is philosophy?' and 'who is to be considered a philosopher?' This is the perpetual human flux in which inquiry and creativity dominate and refuse to be governed by fixed and static laws. It constantly has to re-question whether or not it requires a methodology or a static classification. It has to question the 'facts' of the sciences within the comprehensiveness of a pluralistic reality, as human nature and the human point of view -- for us and in itself -- means much more than a single abstract concept or an atom of matter, for example. Such linguistic and conceptual cycle and its pluralistic outlook give movement to the engine of philosophy; James put it this way:

    "We humans are incurably rooted in the temporal point of
     view. The eternal's ways are utterly unlike our ways. 'Let
     us imitate the All,' said the original prospectus of the
     admirable Chicago quarterly called the 'Monist.' As if we
     could, either in thought or in conduct! We are invincibly
     parts, let us talk as we will, and must always apprehend
     the absolute as if it were a foreign being." [9]
    
As there is no escape into Solipsist Abstraction with James, there is no escape into a theistic God either. Again, in his lecture The Present Dilemma of Philosophy, James says "The God of the theistic writers lives on as purely abstract heights as does the Absolute." James is not only dethroning, but creating. He is an innovator, a repairer and constructor, and he would nevertheless allow others to disagree to my interpretation, not only since value judgments are hypothetical but because it would generate the philosophical dialectic of those desiring to investigate the truth of opinions; and how else better than engagement in the dialectic?

And for those whose temperament and experience may naturally react against the fixation of mind and who believe that philosophy truly can help us understand each other better, the 'love of wisdom' at least offer us the banks for the river of the common language, in the hope that it  allows those of us who try to understand the perspective of another in order to expand our own. It requires a concern for some acceptance of the strange beauty of others. Not to exclude, but to accept them; mingle them with our own interpretations and visions even though they may stand opposed to even us, that is something in itself to be respected in philosophy. In a world where abstract perfection is something to be emotionally satisfactory to the individual, but not exercised authoritatively or divinely, the gates of philosophy shall stand open to all willing to embark on a journey of learning, discovery and experiencing. I leave you with another great saying from William James, in which those who find that restrictive conditions limit the freedom of the mind, those wandering wonderers may find a feeble but non-extinguishable flame of hope, as I surely do:

    "Among the variations, every generation of men produces
     some individuals exceptionally preoccupied with theory.
     Such men find matter for puzzle and astonishment where no
     one else does. Their imagination invents explanations and
     combines them. They store up the learning of their time,
     utter prophecies and warnings, and are regarded as sages.
     Philosophy, etymologically meaning the love of wisdom, is
     the work of this class of minds, regarded with an indulgent
     relish, if not with admiration, even by those who do not
     understand them or believe much in the truth which they
     proclaim. [10]
    
Let your mind prevail; never give up the struggle for philosophy -- whatever that may mean to you -- and the search for your good within the boundaries of the mutual good of others. Let honesty guide you towards that good, and never lose hope. I only wish that my words will at least offer inspiration to some, while at the same time accepting the accusation from others that I have failed to Philosophize. That would only take us back to the beginning, once again:

     What you want is a philosophy that will not only exercise
     your powers of intellectual abstraction, but that will make
     some positive connection with this actual world of finite
     human lives. [1]
    
Notes

0. All James's essays are from William James, Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth (Harvard University Press, 1998) and The Writings of William James (ed. John J. Dermott, University of Chicago Press, 1977) 1. The Present Dilemma in Philosophy 2. James credits Peirce in 1897 as the originator of Pragmatism 3. The Compounding of Consciousness 4. ibid 5. Pragmatism and Humanism 6. Schiller's referred to his version of pragmatism interchangeably as humanism, voluntarism and personalism. 7. Modes of Thought, A. N. Whitehead, 1958 8. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http:---  9. The Types of Philosophic Thinking 10. Philosophy and Its Critics

Also See:

http:---

(c) Ovidiu Gherghe 2004

E-mail: ovi1@bigfoot.com

-=-

II. ON GOD AND 'I': A REPLY TO DAVID ROBJANT AND TONY FLOOD
   BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER

From Glass House Philosopher notebook II, page 2:

First a little detour.

In Easter Week 1959, a group of philosophers gathered together at Downside Abbey, near Bath in Somerset to discuss the possibility of metaphysics. I would never have known about this had I not come across a slim red volume, Prospect for Metaphysics, Ian Ramsay, Ed. (London Unwin 1961) in an Oxford second hand book shop. I was a graduate student at the time (this was around 1980) trying to accommodate the vastly different perspectives of F.H. Bradley and Wittgenstein, and the book came just at the right moment. In the late 50's logical positivism -- inspired originally by Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus but most popularly represented in A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic -- was still seen as the main threat to metaphysics. But the general consensus amongst the participants was that metaphysicians have better things to do than spend all their time attacking positivism.

My first impression of the book was that it had a bit too much theology for my taste. I'm glad I got over that first impression.

The most interesting article from my point of view was Ian Ramsay's, "On the Possibility and Purpose of a Metaphysical Theology". Ramsay focuses on the word 'I', arguing that the impossibility of defining 'I' descriptively provides the model for knowledge of God. He never considers the question of how an omniscient God can know the 'I'. But for anyone looking for material to counter my argument that an omniscient God cannot know the 'I' -- or the I-ness of I -- Ramsay's article is a good place to start.

In his reply (Issue 75) David Robjant offers the following scenario:

     My companion falls, grazes her knee on the pavement, and
     wails. I rush to her with a hand outstretched. Granted, I
     am not omniscient as God is defined to be. But why should I
     say that my knowledge of what it is like for her in that
     moment of pain is 'imperfect'? I can see what she is
     going through. It is there on her face - perhaps in the
     movements of her whole body. Another example. She contorts
     in grief at the death of a loved one. Again I know her
     feelings. I feel with her (com-passion, mit-gefuhl), and
     my attitude towards her is bound up with my immediate and
     certain knowledge of her experiences. I don't see why I
     should be forced to say that I know her grief inadequately
     or imperfectly, merely on the grounds that I am me, and she
     is she. I can just see her pain.
    
He continues:

     The suggestion that our knowledge of what it is like for
     another must always be imperfect is odd, when we put it
     into particular human contexts... This is used by GK (it
     seems) as an argument to limit God's knowledge. My present
     objection is that if... accepted, it would limit our
     knowledge too, and in quite implausible ways.
    
But I had already thought of this. In fact, anticipating that it might not be so easy to convince the sceptical reader about our knowledge of another  person's suffering, I gave the example of knowing what it was like to be me an hour ago. No-one can know better what it was like to be me an hour ago than I. Yet, an hour ago I didn't know that I would be writing the words I am writing now. An hour ago, I was feeling rather anxious about what I was going to say, not sure of how to cast my argument. I can recall the fact that I was anxious, but I cannot feel that very anxiety because the anxiety is gone. The words are flowing.

For the sake of argument, I am prepared to grant that an omniscient deity can know everything about GK, including GK's innermost feelings. I am prepared to grant in addition that an omniscient deity not only knows these as facts but experiences them at first hand though a process of direct intuitive knowledge to which human beings can never attain. Yet still, there is one thing that such an omniscient being cannot know. As I put it last time (Page 1) "In knowing what it is like to be me, an omniscient deity knows something which is indistinguishable, in essence, from its knowledge of what it is like to be the other GK in the alternative reality where I do not exist. -- Therefore, an omniscient deity does not know I."

Some will be sceptical about the idea of "an alternative world exactly like the actual world except for the fact that GK is not I." Here's a way to grasp the idea. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously proposed that the history of the universe endlessly repeats itself. He called this the 'Eternal Recurrence':

     The greatest stress. How, if some day or night a demon
     were to sneak after you into your loneliest loneliness and
     say to you, 'This life as you now live it and have lived
     it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times
     more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain
     and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything
     immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you
     -- all in the same succession and sequence -- even this
     spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this
     moment and myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is
     turned over and over, and you with it, a dust grain of
     dust.' Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your
     teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?
    
     F. Nietzsche Thus Spake Zarathustra Part One, 101
    
But will it be me next time around, or only someone exactly like me? I don't think Nietzsche makes his case. I, for one cannot make any sense of the idea that next time around I will be writing these words, rather than someone just like me. I think the onus is on Nietzsche to give the reader a reason for thinking that it will indeed be my very self, rather than an infinite number of people just like me, who will live this life, and the next one, and the next to infinity.

I think about all the bad times and feel sorry for all the GK's who will come after me. I think of all the good times and feel glad. But I don't dread, or look forward, to experiencing those bad times or good times again. I will be long gone.

As I remarked in my introduction to Issue 76, Tony Flood's reply presupposes a basic knowledge of the system of A.N. Whitehead, as put forward in his magnum opus Process and Reality. Whitehead's philosophy provides the most potent repudiation of the picture of a block universe, where the flow of time -- the endless succession of nows -- is rejected as mere illusion.

Here is Tony Flood's take on this:

     On this alternative view [to the vision of a block
     universe], subjectivity equates with the present and
     becoming: momentary and partly indeterminate. Objectivity
     equates with the past and being: permanent and wholly
     determinate. Being is, as it were, "matter" that becoming
     ingests, assimilates, and creates with. Each entity plays a
     decisive role in determining its successor after having felt
     and then integrated, with varying degrees of relevance, its
     entire past world. Each resulting being is a new denizen of
     the past, a complete, objective fact, available for
     integration by later subjects.
    
Like Bergson before him, Whitehead's core vision is of a process of creative advance, the reality of the now-perspective. It would be interesting to see if an analogous construction could be used to express the reality of the I-perspective. Could it be done? I don't know. What I am sure of is that Whitehead's philosophy, as expressed in Process and Reality falls squarely into the category of what I describe in Naive Metaphysics as a 'nonegocentrist' metaphysic, a theory of reality which views the perspective of every subject with the same philosophical detachment, ignoring or obliterating the brute metaphysical given that one of these subjects is myself.

It follows, in the same way as before, that what an omniscient deity knows, in knowing the actual subject GK that exists now, is what GK has in common with any GK that has appeared or will appear in the endless creative advance of the universe.

URL: http:--- Mirror: http:---

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2004

E-mail: klempner@fastmail.net

-=-

III. TWO LETTERS FROM ISFP MEMBERS

From Professor Herman Pietersen:

4.2.04

Dear Dr G Klempner,

Thank you so much for the life-long ISFP membership and invitation to respond. Please accept my apology for not making contact earlier (had an academic visit to Norway in October 2003, year-end exams back home, holiday-break, etc.).

Here are some bits of info about myself (see also attached) and especially my interest in and long involvement with '-Sophy' (that most demanding but also wonderfully rewarding mistress of the mind! I can only, in paraphrase, echo Kierkegaard: "in a lifetime I shall not weary of such endeavours").

A common starting point (and, interestingly, quite similar personal reaction to academic philosophy, afterwards) is Robert Pirsig's Zen.

A motorcycling friend of mine brought the book to my attention in 1984, during one of our extended 'road-running' trips on the South African 'highveld' (plains?). Reading it proved to be a mind-opening experience (I had little knowledge of philosophy at the time) -- and inter alia helped to confirm growing doubts I already had about the real value and purpose of an increasingly fragmented and number-crunching knowledge endeavour at large (and my own field of Industrial/Organisation Psychology in particular).

I have since read the book a number of times, always finishing it with a Maslowian sense of "peak experience".(This, of course, does not mean that I agree with all of Pirsig's ideas -- I still plan to respond to his philosophy one day, if I can find the time). In passing, another important, initial stimulus to my philosophical quest was provided by Arthur Koestler's "The ghost in the machine..." (although it at that time -- early 80s -- coincided more with my interest in general systems theory, than philosophy as such).

At the time of discovering Pirsig (1984/85, and just finishing my doctorate in I/O psychology) it was already clear to me that I was irrevocably hooked on matters philosophical. Now, twenty years later my nightly journeys into the world of high ideas (my life's breath in many ways!!) had become an indispensable, central part of my existence -- my BEING!

I have since published a number of papers in The Examined Life online philosophy journal (of which I also became an associate editor, by invitation) and, at this stage, feel very gratified with its reception and my progress in philosophy. You may be interested to know that a collection of my papers will appear as an online book beginning of March 2004 in The Examined Life, under the title: "Essays in meta-thought".

Well, I better stop now -- 'so little time left so much philosophy to do'!!!

All the best, also with your own path-breaking venture to 'give philosophy away' to a wider audience.

Kind regards

Herman J Pietersen SOUTH AFRICA

E-mail: pietersenh@unorth.ac.za

---

From Wilbert Tapia:

15.2.04

Dear Geoffrey Klempner,

I have read the last newsletter and I found Alexander Guilherme's article, "Teaching Formats for Small Group Philosophy Tutorials: An Emphasis on Situated Learning".

I believe that topic of philosophy's teaching is not frequently present in philosophical discussions, although it's very important because its the way to close philosophy to the society.

With this purpose, I have created a groups discussion dedicated to the topic of the philosophy's teaching , but in Spanish. Anyway I would like to invite members of the International Society for Philosophers and all interested people in this topic to be part of this group.

The URL to subscription is:

http:---

Write your e-mail and send the application. With confirmation you can participate using e-mail: didactifilosofica@elistas.net

I could subscribe you directly If you give me permission.

In any case, Mr. Klempner, I would thank you to contact those that are interested in philosophys teaching.

Greetings

Wilbert Tapia

PS: Be free to change my writing if you want to share this information. Remember that my first language is Spanish.

E-mail: wtapia@viabcp.com


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