Friday, 28 May 2010

Realism 1

Realism was the firstest with the mostest. Everything springs from it and is a reaction to it. Because it is the intuitive position and philosophy earns its keep by countering folk metaphysics some thinkers like to characterise it as 'naive'. To me that is to substitute rhetoric for reasoned analysis. Were Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas and Shankaracarya naive realists?

What is the initial encounter that gives realism its primal force? Of anything we can say 'it is and it is something'. Being meets being one might say but when you turn on that tap aporiai begin to flow. Sheltering as they did in the pleroma the pre-socratic and vedic sages could utter:

Om. That (Brahman) is infinite and this (universe) in infinite. The infinite proceeds from the infinite. (Then) taking the infininitude of the infinite (universe), it remains as the infinite (Brahman) alone.
(from Brh.Up.V.i.1)

“Nor is it divided, since it is all alike;/ and it is not any more there, which would keep it from holding together,/ nor any worser, but it is all replete with What Is./ [25] Therefore it is all continuous: for What Is approaches What Is (B 7.1)

Early in both encounters with being there emerged the puzzle: how could being emerge from non-being, how could something which was not cause something which is. The satkaryavadathesis emerged as an early answer within the vedic tradition and was very influential. My note on this theory fragmentary though it is I will post separately.

At this point someone will say that there is no real connection between the pre-socratics and the vedic sages other than that they reside within the ambit of my mind. That for the anti-realist would be perfectly real enough within the meaning of the word. My view is that neither of these groups comes from Mars and that the ingenuity of their individual responses can be analogous. However I would reject outright assimilation. Nobody then knew that they were realists.
But since there is a furthest limit, it is perfected/ from every side, like the bulk of a well-rounded globe,/ from the middle equal every way: for that it be neither any greater/ [45] nor any smaller in this place or in that is necessary;/ for neither is there non-being, which would stop it reaching/ to its like, nor is What Is such that it might be more than What Is/ here and less there. Since it is all inviolate,/ for it is equal to itself from every side, it extends uniformly in limits.

If they weren't realists can they be said to be monists? A commonplace interpretation has been that they both ignore diversity and cling to the nostrum which declares 'all is one'. Not true but there is the difficulty of accounting for the 'many' where there is such a powerful intuition of the 'one'.


Amod said...

I suspect that most contemporary academic philosophers (analytic or continental) would indeed classify Plato and Aquinas and Ramanuja as naive realists, alas. Which seems like an extraordinarily naive thing to do.

skholiast said...

This observation-- that realism is where we start-- is extremely pertinent. To define this as "naivete" is like saying we are born babies-- and that human beings in general are somehow more than babies. In fact, one might argue that we spend the rest of our lives piling illusions atop the baby realist intuition. This is obviously putting it tendentiously, but there is a sense in which striving after a certain naivete-- a paradoxically schooled naivete, a "learned ignorance"-- is part of the philosophia perennis.

ombhurbhuva said...

Hi Amod,
I'm tardy. I haven't signed in for a while, mired in solipsism or something. Yes there is a kind of dismissal of the pre-enlightenment thinkers and a resistance to the history of philosophy. It's as though they were saying 'those old maps will get you lost'. But here to subvert the old saying, the map is the territory

ombhurbhuva said...

Ditto Welcome:
Have you noticed that a lot of babies look like Winston Churchill? That openness that you mention is important, there has I believe to be an emptiness of the vessel for it to be filled. But then as Momma used to say 'empty vessels make the most noise'. There is a poem by Dennis Devlin called Angkor Wat and a line from it (memory) is :
Here the dung filled jungle pauses
Buddha has covered the walls of his temple
With the vegetative speed of his imagery.

Once upon a time I got into trouble for saying that Idealism was easier to understand than Realism. I still hold that view. One can get the Kantian thing directly and he is persuasive but Aristotle, now he's hard.

ombhurbhuva said...

To atone for on my misquote I am placing the whole poem on the blog. Denis Devlin (1908-1959) was an Irish diplomat. I think this poem shows a rare spiritual sensitivity and the comparitive note which in poetry is generally the letter that killeth in this case is reticent and aware of the gaps.