Saturday, 25 August 2012

Parades's End BBC dramatisation

I saw the first episode of Parades's End a dramatisation of the tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford on the B.B.C. last night. Even Sir Tom Stoppard could not manage the rapid transitions that cannot be evoked by mere cutting. Can film represent duration when as a medium it flouts it and offers us a reduction into mere time as Bergson points out in Creative Evolution? The linking of images can represent the moving forward into a present intensity and no doubt there will be an accumulation of key moments as the series progresses. Breakfast with the scatological vicar lacked punch. Sorry about that, I'll get my coat. So far O.K. and it must send people to the book which is woefully neglected.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford

Obviously I had heard of the Mitford sisters; talented, beautiful, charming, wayward and cracked but detail was lacking and they remained occluded by celebrity. Coming across The Blessing by Nancy Mitford at the Bell, Book and Candle for €2 I thought this might be a good place to start. The 'blessing' is the child of Grace an English woman and Charles-Edouard a French man, both scions of their respective aristocracies. The difference between them is that the British view their land as a luxury to be hunted, shot and fished over with a respite in London in the season to marry off their 'gels' to other members of that narrow class whereas the French aristocracy treat their ancestral lands as factories producing wine and timber and agricultural produce. They repair there for the Summer and when business demands, but real cultural life is lived in Paris. For Charles-Edouard this is the collection of objects d'art and assiduous venery. The era of the novel is post WW II.

Grace and Charles-Eduoard met during the war while he was in London being a colonel in the Free French and they married there and Sigismond was conceived . By the time they meet up again, after his various missions, Sigi is seven and they spend their first months of reunion at the family chateau in Provence. For Grace it is blissful, for C-E it is that but also a tiresome interlude before the resumption of real life which includes the longstanding affaire with Mme. Morel. How Grace has this affaire confirmed to her has a touch of French bedroom farce. She and her old school friend are learning about the stately homes of the neighbourhood where they live. On these exclusive tours for a sizable fee they get to see what would normally be inaccessible to any but family. A residence of a relation of Charles-Edouard is one of those and though she has often been there her friend persuades her to go. One of the rooms that she has not seen is a bedroom with a famous erotic ceiling used by the Marquise de Hauteserre when meeting the Regent and others. Seemingly by special arrangement or the malice of fate the guide has a key for this piece de resistance.

Within are her husband and Mme.Morel :

Grace happened to be standing beside him, and together they looked in. It was a tiny room decorated with a gold and white trellis; an alcove contained a bed, and on the bed, in a considerable state of disarray, were Juliette and Charles-Edouard.

After this she takes herself and Sigi back to England and her father's house being unable to accept the cynical complaisance that is expected of her:

'It's no good, Charles-Edouard, I'm too English; your behaviour makes me too miserable, and I can't bear it any more.'

This event takes place midway in the novel. Before that the French and their obsession with culture is described which makes her feel like each dinner party is an examination even though she is beautiful and speaks French well which is a sure pass. The hereditary nanny who rears Sigi is a true English woman who holds that abroad is bloody and makes Bird's custard and tapioca pudding over a spirit lamp in the nursery lest Sigi fall ill from messed about food.

It's witty and deft and skips along but at a certain point I had a feeling that there was an undercurrent of wry regret that Grace who was faithful should love a man that was incapable of fidelity. Mitford's more famous book The Pursuit of Love is dedicated to a man Gaston Palewski who shares some of the biography of Charles-Edouard and is described by Mary S.Lovell author of The Mitford Girls as unsuitable.

The second half of the novel is set around the playing of the estranged couple against each other by the devious Sigi and the courting of Grace by an old boyfriend Hughie who decides that the boy must go to Eton. This cult of Eton is amusingly mocked by an account of a recce they make on the pretext of taking out a nephew for the day. No wonder the officer class were immediately at home in Staleg 7. The food was better too.

I am looking forward now to reading The Pursuit of Love which I got yesterday in the Hibernian metropolis along with A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor and Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, all for €5 in pristine Penguin orange covers.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Law of Trine

Hilaire Belloc in his essay The Singer meets a man who sings out the virtues of his tinning trade. He asks him why he thus sings.

"The man," he answered, "who sings loudly, clearly, and well, is a man in good health. He is master of himself. He is strict and well-managed. When people hear him they say, 'Here is a prompt, ready, and serviceable man. He is not afraid. There is no rudeness in him. He is urbane, swift, and to the point. There is method in this fellow.' All these things may be in the man who does not sing, but singing makes them apparent. Therefore in our trade we sing."

His conversation so pleases Belloc that lacking a copper pot to tin he instead offers this observation:

Then I said, "You are right, and I wish to God I had something to tin; let me however tell you something in place of the trade I cannot offer you. All things are trine, as you have heard" (here he nodded), "and your singing does, therefore, not a double but a triple good. For it gives you pleasure within, it brings in trade and content from others, and it delights the world around you. It is an admirable thing."

Friedrich von Hügel is another who goes by the Law of Trine: (extracts taken fromThe Mystical Element of Religion which is in Readings from Friedrich von Hügel by Algar Thorold available on Internet Archive)

About the first stage of the religious life, the child's religion, he makes an observation which history has belied:

And at this stage the External, Authoritative, Historical, Traditional, Institutional side and function of Religion are everywhere evident. Cases like that of John Stuart Mill, of being left outside of all religious tradition, we may safely say, will ever remain exceptions to help prove the rule.

One recalls the case of Andre and Simone Weil who were ignorant of the fact that they were Jewish until they both found out at the same time at the age of 13 and 10 respectively.

At that first stage there is a comfortable concreteness to the fact of religion but with adolescence:

But soon there wakes up another activity and requirement of human nature, and another side of religion comes forth to meet it. Direct experience, for one thing, brings home to the child that these sense-informations are not always trustworthy, or identical in its own case and in that of others. And, again, the very impressiveness of this external religion stimulates indeed the sense of awe and of wonder, but it awakens curiosity as well. The time of trustful questioning, but still of questioning, first others, then oneself, has come. The old impressions get now more and more consciously sought out, and selected from among other conflicting ones; the facts seem to clamour for reasons to back them, against the other hostile facts and appearances, or at least against those men in books, if not in life, who dare to question or reject them. Affirmation is beginning to be consciously exclusive of its contrary: I begin to feel that I hold this, and that others hold that; and that I cannot do both; and that I do the former, and exclude and refuse the latter.

Here it is the reasoning, argumentative, abstractive side of human nature that begins to come into play. Facts have now in my mind to be related, to be bound to other facts, and men to men; the facts themselves begin to stand for ideas or to have the latter in them or behind them. The measuring-rod seems to be over all things. And religion answers this demand by clear and systematic arguments and concatenations: this and this is now connected with that and that; this is true or this need not be false, because of that and that. Religion here becomes Thought, System, a Philosophy.

Clearly it is at this point that the rationalistic attitudes of mentors and teachers can have an effect and it is a commonplace if inaccurate theory that here there is an awakening into maturity expressed by the jettisoning of the cargo cult of childhood. Is it really like that or is it an atrophying of the religious life through disuse? There are philosophers who fancy that the Argument from Evil or lacunae in The Five Ways could play a part.

In any event in the natural progression there is a third opening to the religious life:

But yet a final activity of human nature has to come to its fullest, and to meet its response in a third side of Religion. For if in Physiology and Psychology all action whatsoever is found to begin with a sense-impression, to move through the central process of reflection, and to end in the final discharge of will and of action, the same final stage can be found in the religious life. Certain interior experiences, certain deep-seated spiritual pleasures and pains, weaknesses and powers, helps and hindrances, are increasingly known and felt in and through interior and exterior action, and interior suffering, effort and growth. For man is necessarily a creature of action, even more than of sensation and of reflection; and in this action of part of himself against other parts, of himself with or against other men, with or against this or that external fact or condition, he grows and gradually comes to his real self, and gains certain experiences as to the existence and nature and growth of this his own deeper personality.
Man's emotional and volitional, his ethical and spiritual powers, are now in ever fuller motion, and they are met and fed by the third side of religion, the Experimental and Mystical. Here religion is rather felt than seen or reasoned about, is loved and lived rather than analysed, is action and power, rather than either external fact or intellectual verification.

All religion, Friedrich von Hügel holds, will have aspects of this tripartite schema. He finds it in both the individual and the collective whether that be religious movements that seem absorbed in one stage more than another. Even orders of the Catholic Church seem to reflect this natural division. There is danger and difficulty in transition:

The transition from the child's religion, so simply naive and unselfconscious, so tied to time and place and particular persons and things, so predominantly traditional and historical, institutional and external, to the right and normal type of a young man's religion, is as necessary as it is perilous. The transition is necessary. For all the rest of him is growing, —body and soul are growing in clamorous complexity in every direction: how then can the deepest part of his nature, his religion, not require to grow and develop also? And how can it permeate and purify all the rest, how can it remain and increasingly become "the secret source of all his seeing," of his productiveness and courage and unification, unless it continually equals and exceeds all other interests within the living man, by its own persistent vitality, its rich and infinite variety, its subtle, ever-fresh attraction and inexhaustible resourcefulness and power? But the crisis is perilous. For he will be greatly tempted either to cling exclusively to his existing, all but simply institutional, external position, and to fight or elude all approaches to its reasoned, intellectual apprehension and systematisation; and in this case his religion will tend to contract and shrivel up, and to become a something simply alongside of other things in his life. Or he will feel strongly pressed to let the individually intellectual simply supplant the institutional, in which case his religion will grow hard and shallow, and will tend to disappear altogether. In the former case he will, at best, assimilate his religion to external law and order, to Economics and Politics; in the latter case he will, at best, assimilate it to Science and Philosophy. In the first case, he will tend to superstition; in the second, to rationalism and indifference.

But even if he passes well through this first crisis, and has thus achieved the collaboration of these two religious forces, the external and the intellectual, his religion will still be incomplete and semi-operative, because still not reaching to what is deepest and nearest to his will. A final transition, the addition of the third force, that of the emotional-experimental life, must yet be safely achieved. And this again is perilous: for the two other forces will, even if single, still more if combined, tend. to resist this third force's full share of influence to the uttermost. To the external force this emotional power will tend to appear as akin to revolution; to the intellectual side it will readily seem mere subjectivity and sentimentality ever verging on delusion. And the emotional-experimental force will, in its turn, be tempted to sweep aside both the external, as so much oppressive ballast; and the intellectual, as so much hair-splitting or rationalism. And if it succeeds, a shifting subjectivity, and all but incurable tyranny of mood and fancy, will result,—fanaticism is in full sight.

Friedrich von Hügel 's schema has the sense of a truth so true that it is easy to overlook. It may be and this is a speculation of mine own, that those who lose their faith and come back into it again have to revisit those three stages and relive them in a different light and also undergo the dangers of transition.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Sankara and the Proofs of the Existence of God

For this further reason, one should not on the strength of mere logic challenge something that has to be known from the Vedas. For reasoning that has no Vedic foundation and springs from the mere imagination of persons, lacks conclusiveness. For man’s conjecture has no limit. Thus it is seen that an argument discovered by adepts with great effort is falsified by other adepts; and an argument hit upon by the latter is proved to be hollow by still others. So nobody can rely on any argument to be conclusive for human intellect differs. If, however, the reasoning of someone having wide fame, say for instance, Kapila or someone else, be relied on under the belief that this must be conclusive, even so it surely remains inconclusive, inasmuch as people , whose greatness is well recognised and who are the initiators of scriptures (or schools of thought) - for instance, Kapila, Kanada and others - are seen to hold divergent views.
(from Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya II.i.11)

Speaking of Brahman Sankara writes:
So what need has one to argue that the nature of Brahman whose power is beyond all thought, cannot be ascertained unless it be through the Vedas? So also has it been said by an author of a Purana, “Do not bring those things within the range of argumentation which are beyond thought. The nature of a thing beyond thought consists of its being other than the things within nature.” Hence a supersensuous thing is truly known from the Vedic source alone.
(from B.S.B. II.i.27)

This is indeed contrary to the Scholastic tradition particularly that of Sankara’s opposite number Thomas Aquinas and his latter day followers. Other Christian denominations demur and the adherence to the Ontological Argument that has seemed supremely rational to some great minds is now generally discounted which indicates that the feeling of certainty is a mirage.

Sankara does not leave aside all reasoning in religion.
And when there is any divergence as regards interpretation of Vedic passages, it is through reasoning, meant for the determination of the meaning of sentences, that false interpretations are discarded and the proper import is determined.
(from B.S.B. II.i.11)

The Vedas are not determinant of knowledge which is accessible through conventional means. Even if the Vedas were to declare that fire is not hot or water does not wet, this would not make it true. However on matters which are supersensuous the Vedas are authoritative and regarded as a pramana or reliable means of knowledge. The Mahavakas or great sayings such as Tat Tvam Asi or Aham Brahmasmi respectively ‘that thou art’ and ‘I am that Brahman’ are the key utterances. There are five in all. It is not as though these mahavakas could be experientially ratified for then they would not be beyond the senses, but that they are the metaphysical ground which makes experience as such possible. This is where the Advaitic concept of the non-duality of Subject and Object that is realized in experience comes in. The notion of realization is not the dawning of an awareness as in normal usage rather it is the condition that makes experience itself possible. Certain of the aporiai of natural reason as Sankara treats of them in his premable to the B.S.B. are resolved by the concept of non-duality, though the understanding of that extremely condensed passage is contested. What is the real meaning of the well known snake/rope analogy used therein? More anon.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Fideism of Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner wasn’t mentioned in my round up of philosophersphilosopher swimmers who converted to theism from atheism because I don’t know what his early religious affiliation was. In any case he was a self-confessed fideist a position that many of those in the skeptic community considering his prominent position therein found puzzling. He had studied philosophy at University, graduating in 1936 so he was not imprinted with the universal dogma of knowledge as justified true belief. JTB came later, though exactly when, savants dispute. Here is a good example of the puzzlement felt by his allies in the skeptic department.
There is a baffled plaintive note like the hum of a fridge in that post, which regrets that Gardner whilst otherwise sound had a defective jtb module. The atheist’s salute, rational beliefs/reasonably held, would have been denied him.

On reading his essay on Proofs of God in the collection The Night is Large: Collected Essays 1938 - 1995 I find that his observations to be generally sound and I proffer the modest thesis that his unaccountable fideism is the strategy of a private man who has reasons that like the dust of butterfly wings will be smeared by the prehensile snatch of the skeptic community or be snuffed in the killing bottle of jtb. He wishes to shortcircuit discussion with those who regard fideism as a sublime tripper of the switch o’ reason.

In his essay he isn’t being really self-contradictory when he impugns natural religion theists for mistaking a feeling for a reason. For him a feeling is a reason for belief, an open not a covert reason. This sort of belief is not a static fixed direction that we orient ourselves by. Unless it has confirmation of an inward sort it must wither. Dismissing the demands of unmistakable miracles that confirm the existence of God, Gardner in the opening paragraph of his essay writes:

If God spoke to us audibly, as Jehovah does so often in Old Testament tales, we might (unless we thought ourselves mad) believe in God’s existence for much the same reasons we believe in the existence of other persons. If God demonstrated his power by stupendous miracles, such as turning someone into a pillar of salt, there would be other good empirical grounds for believing. If we could perform experiments that supported, even indirectly, the hypothesis “God exists”, we would believe in God for the same reasons we believe in gravity. I do not think God reveals himself, or has ever done so, in such crude signs.

If not crude signs then subtle ones may hold the key to Gardner’s faith but he can no longer tell us as he discounted table turning. He died in 2010 at the grand age of 95.