Friday, 18 April 2014

Christian Era and Before the Christian Era


What do you think of this C.E. and B.C.E. in scholarly usage? My title refers to what one Indian on a list thought it meant and that is a fair indication that you can't get away from the general truth that the associated number has its roots in a claim. That does not mean that we have to accept that claim or that using it is an implicit acceptance. I can understand that the Anno Hejirae or the Anno Mundi of the Orthodox Jew could be dear to their people and incorporate a sense of a new departure but as a purely secular form of annotation whatever its roots, A.D.and B.C.have won out. Why retrofit our sensitivities. Let us do tonglen on our prior Eurocentrism, forgive it in ourselves and like time move on.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Taylored Wittgenstein


Of course, it might be said, whatever game you choose to play at, the rules of that particular game must be your supreme reality, so long as you are engaged in it. But it depends on your own choice what game you will play and how long you will keep at it. There is no game at which we all, irrespective of personal choice, have to play, and there is therefore no such thing as an ultimate reality which we must all recognise as such; there are only the special realities which correspond to our special individual purposes. You have no right to set up the particular rules of the game of scientific thought as a reality unconditionally
demanding recognition from those who do not choose to play that particular game.
from Elements of Metaphysics by A.E. Taylor

'This game is played'

Sunday, 13 April 2014

In the Body Experience on The Path to Rome by Hilaire Belloc.


Hilaire Belloc in football parlance was carrying a ‘bit of a leg’, the knee part, his pack was heavy but he was pressing on hoping to be in Switzerland by night. The quart of wine that he was carrying with him he was about to be disemburdened of, helas. Those events where you look and look at the broken glass and say ‘Oh No’, I carried you and I was saving you’. He tells us that he found better wine there. Starting at Toul he was averaging 30 statute miles a day, a modest amble for the man who held the student record for walking from Marble Arch (London) to Carfax (Oxford) in 11hours 30 minutes. Find The Path to Rome on Gutenberg:Path


I wished, as I had often wished in such opportunities of recollection and of silence, for a complete barrier that might isolate the mind. With that wish came in a puzzling thought, very proper to a pilgrimage, which was: 'What do men mean by the desire to be dissolved and to enjoy the spirit free and without attachments?' That many men have so desired there can be no doubt, and the best men, whose holiness one recognizes at once, tell us that the joys of the soul are incomparably higher than those of the living man. In India, moreover, there are great numbers of men who do the most fantastic things with the object of thus unprisoning the soul, and Milton talks of the same thing with evident conviction, and the Saints all praise it in chorus. But what is it? For my part I cannot understand so much as the meaning of the words, for every pleasure I know comes from an intimate union between my body and my very human mind, which last receives, confirms, revives, and can summon up again what my body has experienced. Of pleasures, however, in which my senses have had no part I know nothing, so I have determined to take them upon trust and see whether they could make the matter clearer in Rome.

But when it comes to the immortal mind, the good spirit in me that is so cunning at forms and colours and the reasons of things, that is a very different story. That, I do indeed desire to have to myself at whiles, and the waning light of a day or the curtains of autumn closing in the year are often to me like a door shutting after one, as one comes in home. For I find that with less and less impression from without the mind seems to take on a power of creation, and by some mystery it can project songs and landscapes and faces much more desirable than the music or the shapes one really hears and sees. So also memory can create. But it is not the soul that does this, for the songs, the landscapes, and the faces are of a kind that have come in by the senses, nor have I ever understood what could be higher than these pleasures, nor indeed how in anything formless and immaterial there could be pleasure at all. Yet the wisest people assure us that our souls are as superior to our minds as are our minds to our inert and merely material bodies. I cannot understand it at all.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Bhagavad Gita and Satkaryavada


B.G. 2:16:
Of the unreal there is no being; the real has no nonexistence. But the nature of both of these, indeed, has been realized by the seers of Truth.

Here Krishna is expressing the Samkhya doctrine of satkaryavada and it is a central element in the in the ontology of the Gita. It is also expressed as the non-difference of cause and effect. It is not a syncretic strain to see it as very like the thought of Parmenides : cf.
Parmenides

also satkaryavada

In the Gita the satkaryavada thesis is used to subvert the feeling of aham karta (I am the doer). We act thinking we are achieving our goals when in fact the goals are already there as potency. This is expressed as the non-difference of cause and effect. What is already there emerges. If it was not there it could have no traction on reality in order to emerge; a vertiginous theory that leaves the actor falling into an abyss of non-being.

This certainly seems like determinism and that is a defensible interpretation looked at solely from a cosmic perspective. It could also be viewed as the general context or background against which agential libertarian activity takes place. Everything arises out of causes and conditions and in retrospect we can give a causal account, prospectively we have options. Freedom isn't free, it's a duck rabbit kind of thing.

There is also the doctrine from the Upanishads, particularly the Chandogya Up,that Brahman is the material cause of the universe. The classic analogy of material identity, clay and vessels of clay and the claim that their fundamental reality is just clay. Only name and form changes. I can see where this is useful as an analogy but when it is proposed as an ontology with the claim that cups and pots are unreal and only the clay is real then I think that there is a confusion of different levels of discourse. There are cups made of clay and there are plates of clay. At the level of material reality they are just as real as clay itself. The real/unreal ontological discussion is about the general absorption into a higher unchanging reality of the material. An interim holding position is sometimes taken as final. My sense of the Indian tradition is that they give you just as much of the truth as you can handle until you are ready for an update. Because the teaching template is a guru/sisha one the confusion created in the mind of the simple occidental by contrary messages is not a factor. The groves of the academy are still the groves of the Academy with plato and aristotle delivering their evolved thought to everyone at the same time.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Free by Willy Vlautin


The worst of fame is that it insulates you from criticism, nothing fails like success.. Editors are after all only Eng.Lit. majors and by definition inept, addled by theory flaneurs whose job it is to keep the gravy flowing. Nobody said to Vlautin ‘the dream sequence is detachable, anything detachable falls off in the end; please streamline. My gude wife who is an English and Philosophy major, what conversazione, said as much- no theory in her time. She skipped and in a short novel you should not be skipping any more than in a short story. It’s sociological as well with a lot of informational dialogue which he normally does well but here seems laden with 'previously’. The Free as in ‘The Land of’, is not going to be a good news story, America as a dystopian present as charming as nail fungus. Safety nets tend to be large mesh. Freddie ‘two job man’ and Nurse Pauline caregiving and not getting much are the poles of this story. Leroy the brain damaged Iraq vet in a coma from a suicide attempt is the link between them. Freddie is the caretaker and night watch at the home where Leroy was resident. By day he works at the paint store, his house which once was paid for is now double mortgaged to pay the medical bills for his daughter who lives with his wife. There are no intact marriages, nobody eats health food, late model cars are a rumour, are there any donuts left?

Look, it’s still better than Donna Tart. Maybe he should give up the band and work at the day job.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Nishkama Karma (desireless action) and Nishkarma Karma (actionless action) In the Bhagavad Gita


Looking at this lecture
On Karma
by Professor Chris Framarin on the Bhagavad Gita I heard him mention that he demurred from the position on habits and dispositions which was the dominant one espoused by such luminaries as Professors Potter and Perrett. That seemed interesting although in an introductory lecture he could not go into it in any great detail. When I read the chapter on this very topic in Hindu Ethics by Roy Perrett I have to say that I agree.

Nishkama karma is translated as desireless action or action without being attached to its fruits. For some strange reason or I perhaps heard it wrong this sounded to me like nishkarma karma or 'actionless action'. Theres's a sense in which this is true. If desire for the fruits of the action is its mainspring, or what drives it or what is its chief mark then the absence of desire fundamentally alters it. Metaphysically speaking we are no longer captive in time. T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets refers to this feature of action in Section III of The Dry Salvages:

Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: 'on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death' - that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare forward.
O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination."
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.

Consider a clock whose mainspring is broken or removed. It's not even right twice a day because it isn't working and therefore not telling the time. It has 'clockness' without being a clock. Karma is a clockwork concept but without the 'mainspring' of desire it is 'nishkarma karma'.

Where Perrett goes astray is his narrow understanding of freedom in action as being linked to spontaneous response rather than habitual reaction. The cultivation of sattvic routines is the foundation of immediate morally sound reactions. It is arguable that the good man demonstrates his connaturality with the good by doing it without taking thought. He has freely conditioned his actions by training and attention to duty.

Perrett writes:
A response, in this sense, involves an agent directly encountering a situation in a non-­stereotyped way, taking account of the full variety of features present and selecting appropriately from a large range of non­-stereotyped actions. Notwithstanding the undeniable utility which accrues to acquiring at least some reaction repertoires, a response instances a special kind of value that a reaction does not. Many of us, I suggest, would prefer our lives to be lives of response, rather than of reaction, and we are well aware how much our dependence on our habits hinders our achieving this goal.
from:
Gita on Karma
It is perfectly intelligible to claim that a man or woman who have schooled themselves in courage in many different situations over a long period of time will do the courageous thing when it required of them. What they do spontaneously is built on that foundation.

The other point on which Perrett is mistaken is the characterisation of the ontology of the Gita as being a self/body dualism. My previous remarks on the jnana marga in Karma and the Gunas karma are centred on an understanding that is within the advaitic tradition. A self/body dualism is predicated on a Cartesian view. There are different emphases in the orthodox tradition but generally the mind is inert or more precisely the physical complex which is individual when pervaded by pure consciousness gives rise to an individual mind. I am using a distemper brush here.

There is an interesting discussion of first order and second order desires but really when the food is burnt nouvelle cuisine dribbles of jus won't rescue it.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Ludwig Wittgenstein and A.E. Taylor


Wittgenstein did not it seems read much philosophy but reading the classic work by A.E. Taylor, Elements of Metaphysics (1903) I was struck by the uncanny similarity between their statements on the difficulty of metaphysics which leads me to think that this at least was one book that Wittgenstein read. He could have done worse. It is also a matter of record that he approved of the distinction between being a clever man and being a good philosopher. Taylor’s puzzlement about Hume as to whether he was the one or the other or even both seemed to Wittgenstein a general truth. He did not commit himself to the sorting of Hume.

First from Elements of Metaphysics:
(1)
It is always difficult, in treating of any branch of knowledge, to put before the beginner a correct preliminary notion of the nature and scope of the study to which he is to be introduced, but the difficulty is exceptionally great in the case of the body of investigations traditionally known as Metaphysics.^ The questions which the science seeks to answer are, indeed, in principle of the simplest and most familiar kind, but it is their very simplicity and familiarity which constitute the chief difficulty of the subject. We are naturally slow to admit that there is anything we do not understand in terms and ideas which we are constantly using, not only in the special sciences, but in our non-systematised everyday thought and language about the course of the world. Hence, when the metaphysician begins to ask troublesome questions about the meaning and validity of these common and familiar notions, ordinary practical men, and even intelligent students of the special sciences, are apt to complain that he is wasting his time by raising idle and uncalled-for difficulties about the self-evident.

(2)
. We can now see some of the reasons which make the science of Metaphysics a peculiarly difficult branch of study. It is difficult, in the first place, from the very simplicity and generality of its problems.

From Philosophical Investigations#121:
The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something - because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. - And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.

It was of course Wittgenstein’s great genius to be able to evoke the sense of oddness of the everyday. The ‘Now go on’ instruction to complete the series or name the odd one out etc. How do you learn that concept of ‘going on’? It takes a philosophic mind to feel that we are stuck on that reef. “In my art or sullen craft” said Dylan Thomas. It is a type of stubborn brooding - there you are sulking over some wretched puzzle and it won’t leave you alone. Go out, dig the garden, make a cup of tea.

Find Elements of Metaphysics here: Elements