Thursday, 19 October 2017

Eudaemonism and Virtue

Neo-Stoicism as eudaemonistic is questionable certainly but ought eudaemonism be causally linked to virtue at all?

Relating eudaemonia to being a virtuous person may have arisen as the result of equivocation. It seems to be so for Aristotle where being good and doing good are linked as perhaps they should be. However he warps the connection by suggesting that the more good you can do the better person you will be. Ethics are propaduetic to Politics in his mind because in Politics the possibility to do great public good is enhanced. Doing more good means that you are more virtuous. The good life i.e. being successful is an indication that you are virtuous. Rhetorically it is because your Ethos is ample that you are trusted in the Polis. In Athens the concept of being a private citizen was tangential to your role as member of the polis with recurring public duties. In our time the family is the basic unit of society and we can regard the person who is of no public importance as having the same value ethically speaking as the politician. The struggling, debt ridden individual may be a good father or mother or friend and so forth.

For me there’s a whiff of success gospel about eudaemonism that repels.

Coleridge and Newman on Conscience

Of course it was not Voltaire’s intention to sneer at God as an invention that was required to frighten miscreants with the prospect of eternal punishment. That was a useful side effect of God’s actual existence. Coleridge finds his way to the moral order via man’s actual existence.

In The Friend cf: coleridge on metaphysics
he by what Ramana Maharshi would have called atma vichara self-inquiry turned his attention to the nature of consciousness itself:

But what are my metaphysics ? merely the referring of the mind to its own consciousness for truths indispensable to its own happiness! To what purpose do I, or am I about to, employ them? To perplex our clearest notions and living moral instincts ? To deaden the feelings of will and free power, to extinguish the light of love and of conscience, to make myself and others worthless, soulless, God-less ?

He finds in the immediacy of consciousness the clarity of its truth seeking nature. As the upanishad tag has it : satyam vada, dharmam chara Speak the truth, follow dharma.

In the concluding section of Essay XV Coleridge declares:

God created man in his own image. To be the image of his own eternity created he man! Of eternity and self-existence what other likeness is possible, but immortality and moral self-determination ? In addition to sensation, perception, and practical judgment — instinctive or acquirable — concerning the notices furnished by the organs of perception, all which in kind at least, the dog possesses in common with his master; in addition to these, God gave us REASON, and with reason he gave us reflective SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS; gave us PRINCIPLES, distinguished from the maxims and generalizations of outward experience by their absolute and essential universality and necessity; and above all, by superadding to reason the mysterious faculty of free-will and consequent personal amenability, he gave us CONSCIENCE—that law of conscience, which in the power, and as the indwelling WORD, of a holy and omnipotent legislator commands us —from among the numerous ideas mathematical and philosophical, which the reason by the necessity of its own excellence creates for itself,—unconditionally commands us to attribute reality, and actual existence, to those ideas and to those only, without which the conscience itself would be baseless and contradictory, to the ideas of soul, of free-will, of immortality, and of God.

In contrast to the rolling thunder and fulminations of S.T.C. we have the quiet wisdom of Cardinal Newman:

An ethical system may supply laws, general rules, guiding principles, a number of examples, suggestions, landmarks, limitations, cautions, distinctions, solutions of critical or anxious difficulties; but who is to apply them to a particular case? whither can we go, except to the living intellect, our own, or another's? What is written is too vague, too negative for our need. It bids us avoid extremes; but it cannot ascertain for us, according to our personal need, the golden mean. The authoritative oracle, which is to decide our path, is something more searching and manifold than such jejune generalizations as treatises can give, which are most distinct and clear when we least need them. It is seated in the mind of the individual, who is thus his own law, his own teacher, and his own judge in those special cases of duty which are personal to him.
(from An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Chapter 9)

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Coleridge on Metaphysics

I AM fully aware, that what I am writing and have written (in these latter essays at least) will expose me to the censure of some, as bewildering myself and readers with metaphysics; to the ridicule of others as a schoolboy declaimer on old and worn-out truisms or exploded fancies; and to the objection of most as obscure. The last real or supposed defect has already received an answer both in the preceding essays, and in the appendix to my first Lay-Sermon, entitled The Statesman's Manual. Of the former two, I shall take the present opportunity of declaring my sentiments ; especially as I have already received a hint that my idol, Milton, has represented metaphysics as the subject which the bad spirits in hell delight in discussing. And truly, if I had exerted my subtlety and invention in persuading myself and others that we are but living machines, and that, as one of the late followers of Hobbes and Hartley has expressed the system, the assassin and his dagger are equally fit objects of moral esteem and abhorrence; or if with a writer of wider influence and higher authority, I had reduced all virtue to a selfish prudence eked out by superstition,— for, assuredly, a creed which takes its central point in conscious selfishness, whatever be the forms or names that act on the selfish passion, a ghost or a constable, can have but a distant relationship to that religion, which places its essence in our loving our neighbour as ourselves, and God above all,—I know not, by what arguments I could repel the sarcasm. But what are my metaphysics ? merely the referring of the mind to its own consciousness for truths indispensable to its own happiness! To what purpose do I, or am I about to, employ them? To perplex our clearest notions and living moral instincts ? To deaden the feelings of will and free power, to extinguish the light of love and of conscience, to make myself and others worthless, soulless, God-less ? No! to expose the folly and the legerdemain of those who have thus abused the blessed machine of language; to support all old and venerable truths; and by them to support, to kindle, to project the spirit; to make the reason spread light over our feelings, to make our feelings, with their vital warmth, actualize our reason:—these are my objects, these are my subjects; and are these the metaphysics which the bad spirits in hell delight in ?
(from The Friend Essay XV by S.T.C.)

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Poetry and Reason

When you shave with a straight razor you need to focus on the job in hand; cold, clear, clinical; and palping and stretching the skin against the grain mutter your implacable enemy’s name to make the hairs stand out. Whisk them away before they have time to retreat. Ply the emollient lotion of emotion recollected in tranquillity. Very close, very Brooks of Sheffield.

Emotion but not only emotion. In classical times verse was used to write philosophical texts. I think that the demands of prosody made the writer avoid the pitfalls of cliché or those mental grooves that we normally run it. They were forced to think past the habitual, ‘I suspect’, ‘I worry’, ‘this muddle’ and work into a new clarity. The Four Quartets of T.S. Eliot achieve this.

Deep thinking is attainable only by a man of deep feeling, and all truth is a species of revelation

To make the reason spread light over our feeling, to make our feelings, with their vital warmth, actualize our reason
(from S.T. Coleridge Aids to Reflection and The Friend)

Friday, 13 October 2017

Nichomachean Ethics

Simple and naive questions about the Nichomachean Ethics: dare to be stupid o.k. Who was Ari, who did he lecture to and what were, in the immortal terms of the teacher’s lesson plan, his Aims & Objectives?

A: He was well connected, lectured to the elite well connected and prepared them to connect to the well connected. His virtues had a strong instrumental cast to them, essentially those that were likely to win friends and influence people. My instinctive reaction to the N.E. is distaste and repulsion. I realize that I am irrational in this but there it is.

Stoicism and achievement

Can Stoicism which is unconcerned with mere externals be eudaemonistic when actual achievement is surely a mark of a flourishing life? That is unquestionably a false dichotomy for the stoic practice of focusing on the present moment does not eliminate results. It could be said that it is a much more effective way of achieving a good outcome as one’s attentions are altogether gathered and not divided. Moreover being overly concerned with results or how your actions will contribute to your posthumous fame is a distorting factor:

If therefore it be a thing external that causes thy grief, know, that it is not that properly that doth cause it, but thine own conceit and opinion regarding the thing; which thou mayest rid thyself of , when thou wilt.
(from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius)

Sunday, 8 October 2017

F.H. Bradley on Matthew Arnold's Religion

I have written of that high toned vivacity which was a mark of the Victorian grand style as practiced by Arnold, Newman and in the following extract from Bradley. (Taken from Francis Herbert Bradley by T.S. Eliot)

Eliot:Here is the identical weapon of Arnold, sharpened to a razor edge and turned against Arnold. ((the following is from Bradley's Ethical Essays))

‘But the “stream” and the “tendency” having served their turn, like last week’s placards, now fall into the background, and we learn at last that “the Eternal” is not eternal at all, unless we give that name to whatever a generation sees happen, and believes both has happened and will happen — just as the habit of washing ourselves might be termed “the Eternal not ourselves that makes for cleanliness”, or “Early to bed and early to rise” the “Eternal not ourselves that makes for longevity”, and so on — that “the Eternal”, m short, is nothing in the world but a piece ofliterary clap-trap. The consequence is that all we are left with isthe assertion that “righteousness” is “ salvation” or welfare, and that there is a “law” and a “Power” which has something to do with this fact; and here again we must not be ashamed to say that we fail to understand what any one of these phrases means, and suspect ourselves once more to be on the scent of clap-trap.’

A footnote conunues the Arnold-baiting in a livelier style:(Eliot)

‘“Is there a God?” asks the reader. “Oh yes,” repkue Mr. Arnold, “and I can verify him in experience.” “And what is he then?” cries the reader. “Be virtuous, and as a rule you will be happy,” is the answer. “Well, and God?” “That is God”, says Mr. Arnold; “there is no deception, and what more do you want?” I suppose we do want a good deal more. Most of us, certainly the public which Mr. Arnold addresses, want something they can worship; and they will not find that in an hypostasized copy-book heading, which is not much more adorable than “Honesty is the best policy”, or “Handsome is that handsome does”, or various other edifying maxims, which have not yet come to an apotheosis.’