Friday, 23 February 2018

Original Maya?

What else besides the cool shawl with om all over it and some Benares brasswork for his mum did Augustine bring back from India? Some would say that the doctrine of Original Sin and the doctrine of Maya have analogical features. I disagree with that: original sin is the result of an act by Adam and Maya is a condition which is fortified by the fact of perception. (These strokes are made by a distemper brush) Yes, well, but isn’t the human condition the result of original sin and not due to any particular act of any descendant of Adam and Eve. Add that this condition is inescapable and another salient difference emerges. Maya is also a condition but it can be surpassed - knowledge casts out ignorance.

The delivery of the doctrine of original sin through the form of a myth (non-pejorative sense) is in contrast to the highly metaphysical casting of Maya. It is in the dealing with both those conditions by the Christian and Hindu that the common ‘anti-Pelagianism’ emerges.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Professor Troy Jollimore on Religion Based Morality

Troy Jollimore’s Aeon essay on ethics without god
ethics without god
describes a argumentative trajectory which culminates in a position contrary to that which he first starts out with. Is this an indication of retrocausality in action whereby a power acts from the future on a present situation? The ineluctable power of the truth that is yet to be assented to mitigates the contemporary confusion.

It begins, as American reflections often do, with a story. A student is shocked by Prof. Troy’s admission that he has no religious beliefs. This evokes his comment:
 ‘But Professor Jollimore,’ he stammered, ‘how can you not believe in God? You teach ethics for a living!’

The series of lectures in contemporary Ethics that was being taught made no mention of “the scaffolding of any faith or religious tradition”(T.Jo.) which in itself is a questionable choice. Leaving out the whole history of moralizing up to comparatively recent times is an example of bias and egregious leading. In any case the spontaneous reaction of a student is not a serious basis for a generalisation. I call that a ‘straw boy’. There’s nearly enough of them in the essay to make a full complement of mummers like the Straw Boys of Wexford that go out with the wren on St.Stephen’s Day.

His argument against divine rule is summarized:
Adding God would give us divine rewards and punishments, but that’s only to add self-interested reasons to be ethical, not genuinely moral reasons.

We’re not very far down the page when that hedging locution ‘worry’ comes on the pitch:

 I suspect that something else is going on, and that in most cases these arguments are just rationalisations for the belief that morality depends on faith in God. The actual explanation, I believe, is something else.

This lateral thought sends him in a direction which subverts his original thesis. Religion is fixed on the personal not the theoretical. There are no impossible computations about universal felicity.

This emphasis on being attentive to concrete reality tallies with the idea that it is the emotions (compassion and sympathy in particular), rather than abstract rational principles, that are doing the motivating when it comes to ethical behaviour.

It is wisdom that enables discernment:

Wisdom, as opposed to knowledge, might seem a somewhat quaint notion in the contemporary world. (Indeed at this point even the word ‘knowledge’ sounds quaint to many people, who prefer to talk about ‘data’ or ‘information.’)

Professor Jollimore quotes that section of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics on connaturality that I have referenced a few times in posts:

‘Actions, then,’ Aristotle taught, ‘are called just and temperate when they are such as the just or the temperate man would do; but it is not the man who does these that is just and temperate, but the man who also does them as just and temperate men do them.’

It would be impertinent of me to remind the professor that for Aristotle the highest form of happiness lies in contemplation. It is divine because the divine nous is absorbed in self awareness as its highest condition. It thinks itself. (cf. Lambda 9 Metaphysics) We become aligned to the divine in following that path.

It is in the summation to his essay that the strange turn occurs:

The idea that morality stems from strong character rather than from obedience to a strict set of rules, for instance, is very much in line with the moral reorientation proposed by Christ in the New Testament, from a view centered on obedience to God’s commandments to one in which love and compassion take centre stage.

We need to:

.....teach ourselves to stop looking at morality as an abstract and isolated set of requirements and demands — an external authority that stands apart from and sets limits on human existence — and see it instead as a set of commitments, enthusiasms, and passions that are woven into the very fabric of our lives.

An exemplar that generates enthusiasm (en theos - god within) is the only force that can draw us out an in-group morality based on obligation to a universal one based on love. Such are the great saints and sages of world religions.

Hey Troy, you’re nearly there.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Divine Illumination, Augustine and the Bhagavad Gita

If Augustine had gone to India during his gap year and become acquainted with Advaita Vedanta and the Triple Canon it would be perfectly obvious where the influence for his theory of illumination came from. The Gita Chapter 15 played a role:

Verse 7:
In the world of living souls, a small part of me, becoming an individual eternal soul, draws to itself the five senses and the mind, which exist in material nature.

Verse 9: Overseeing hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell, and the mind, he makes use of the objects of the senses.

Verse 15: I am fixed in the hearts of all; from me comes memory, knowledge, and reasoning. I am to be known through all the Vedas, I make the Vedanta, I know the Veda.

Clearly in the Christian redaction Augustine moved from the impersonal all pervasive sat (being/truth) to the individually infused illumination but there is a permanent possibility of insight because the divine is near at hand.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Augustine and Pelagianism

I’ve finished reading the original 1967 part of Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown. The 1990 epilogue on the sermons discovered since ‘67 is interesting. For the general reader like myself the main body of the book with the story of his tussles with Donatists and Pelagians makes clear that setting the Imperial dogs on heretics is a self-defeating strategy. As we know the particular misstep that is involved in a recurrent heresy, like a too long bottom riser on a stairs, keeps catching one out.

"Idle and a fool in God's wisdom, I was misled by an unorthodox error at the time when I was pursuing philosophical studies. Sometimes I went to listen to the theologians discussing this matter [of grace and free will], and the school of Pelagius seemed to me nearest the truth. In the philosophical faculty I seldom heard a reference to grace, except for some ambiguous remarks. What I heard day in and day out was that we are masters of our own free acts, that ours is the choice to act well or badly, to have virtues or sins and much more along this line." Therefore, "Every time I listened to the Epistle reading in church and heard how Paul magnified grace and belittled free will-as is the case in Romans 9, 'It is obviously not a question of human will and effort, but of divine mercy,' and its many parallels-grace displeased me, ungrateful as I was." But later, things changed:

"However, even before I transferred to the faculty of theology, the text mentioned came to me as a beam of grace and, captured by a vision of the truth, it seemed I saw from afar how the grace of God precedes all good works with a temporal priority, God as Savior through predestination, and natural precedence. That is why I express my gratitude to Him who has given me this grace as a free gift."
(Thomas Bradwardine 14C. Archbishop of Canterbury)

Even today theological chatter about Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism is rife and libertarianism is a common assumption in matters of faith. We choose to believe and decide for Christ. What I have been considering is whether Augustine’s teachings would have been different if during his gap year before University he had gone to India. There he discovers Advaita and receives shaktipat initiation by a sat guru. Later on he renounces these affliations but they remain a force in his thinking when he becomes an internet Cardinal, a dedicated post created by Pope Aloysius. His net casts go out at 1:53 C.E.T.

More to come if you can stand it.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

The Seagull's Dilemma

As I was saying philosophers worry when they’re not being suspicious. One widespread botheration is ‘can I lend this person my ears, is his intellectual credit rating sufficiently high to warrant this? Will they build nests of convoluted conspiracy therein? Can they ever make fitting interlocutors?

It’s the seagull’s dilemma: at a pop festival nobody notices, downtown the buildings get in the way. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull says – Fly free and let your guano land where it may.

Asif Khan the Incondite comments:
At the festival all are afire with strange excitements and lack attention. The buildings are establishments with adherents. Anyone emerging from one in a newly cleaned and pressed suit is purged by ascetic practice and is ready for the fertilizing drop. Such........(Here the manuscript breaks off)

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Bergson's Nobel Prize

Henri Bergson won the Nobel prize for literature in 1927 for the brilliant skill with which he presented his ideas. Arguably his closest connection to literature as such was when Marcel Proust acted as best man at his wedding. The concept of duration influenced Proust of course and I have in past posts mentioned T.S.Eliot and Louis MacNeice in relation to ‘duree’. If he had turned his attention to literature as usually conceived then I have no doubt that his fertile imagination would have thrown up luxuriant scenarios. Here is a quick sketch during a discussion on primitive culture and curious tribal customs:

We have all come across one of those very united, self-satisfied families, who keep themselves to themselves, because they are shy or supercilious. It is not unusual to notice certain quaint habits among them, aversions or superstitions, which might become serious if they were to go on fermenting in a closed vessel. Each one of these singularities has its particular origin. It was some idea which occurred to one or another of the family, and which the others have taken on trust. It may be a walk they took one Sunday and took again the next Sunday, and which then became a settled thing every Sunday of the year: if they should have the misfortune to miss it once, goodness knows what would happen. In order to repeat, to imitate, to follow blindly, we have only to relax; it is criticism that demands an effort. Now take a few hundred centuries instead of a few years; magnify enormously all the little foibles of a family living in isolation: you will have no difficulty in imagining what must have occurred in primitive societies which have remained self-centred and self-satisfied, instead of opening windows on to the outside world, of dispersing the foul vapours as they gathered about them, and of making a constant effort to broaden their horizon.
(fromThe Two Sources of Morality and Religion

Monday, 5 February 2018

Lineaments of Rigor

Amod Lele at his blog:
unconscious illusions

There’s some interesting ideas lurking under the confusion. It needs a little exfoliation to reveal the lineaments of rigor. How difficult the mystic’s aporiae is to express and yet how frequently it is encountered in the lives of the saints. They can embody truth and yet not know or feel it. An hard saying indeed for we who are blithe wayfarers in the foothills savoring our frissons of ananda.

Here is a significant passage from Lele:

The classical Buddhists did not do Kahneman’s experiments; they had not even seen the Müller-Lyer illusion. But they deeply understood the importance of unconscious thought. When you measure the Müller-Lyer lines, do you believe that they are of equal length? Yes, and no. At the level of your conscious attentive mind you can reason to a belief that the lines are equal; but you still see them as different. It is this “seeing as” that a great deal of Buddhist thought is concerned with. It are why the Buddhist path is not merely a matter of reasoning, but of other practices – including restrained conduct (sīla) as well as meditation. You must train your unconscious mind to deeply recognize what your conscious mind fleetingly affirms. The only reason Sāriputta and Moggallāna could get liberated on hearing the Dhamma Eye is that they had already been on a long path of monastic self-cultivation that prepared them to understand it properly.

“unconscious thought” - Oh my! If thought then not unconscious by definition. Can we understand by this notion a structure like the context which gives form to our experience. It is not conscious in the normal way but insight can reveal it. It is the net which captures the birds which have escaped from Plato’s aviary. in contrast to the clever butchery of Plato for the realized sage the joints are from an altogether other beast, a beast limned by negative space, that between the joints.

Bhagavad Gita XV 1-5, offers the magnificent image of a tree to symbolize this shift of attention:

They speak of the eternal Ashvattha, (Peepal) roots above,branches below, whose leaves are the Vedic hymns, who knows it knows the Veda.

Its branches extend below and above, nurtured by the constituents; its shoots are the objects of the senses, and its roots, extending below, connect with action in the human world.

Here its form cannot be perceived, neither its end, nor its beginning, nor its continuity. Having cut this so maturely rooted Ashvattha tree with the strong axe of non-attachment, you should then seek out that place from which once they have attained it, men never again return - ‘I take refuge with that primal person from whom original activity issued out.’