Sunday, 29 October 2017

Political Reflections

Not having any interest in politics in a systematic doctrinaire way is a conservative stance. Present. Being encouraged that Belgium avoided austerity through not having a government at the time when it was the article of faith Eurowide, and moreover that their economy grew at that time makes one sigh and shrug and continue to vote with a measure of irony. It is interesting that there is a general political logjam in both majoritarian (first past the post) and proportional (preference0 electoral systems. The hive mind has decided that stasis is the best plan lest too much power lead to decerebrate flailing. The public seems to be saying – for God’s sake take those shovels out of their hands, the hole is quite deep enough. America del Norte has gone in for shock and guffah.. I’m enjoying it but your smileage may vary.

What influence does politics have on culture? Does it reflect or distort it? Do we get what we deserve in those thrusting ambitious ones that have a plan? In our time a great many politicians start young without a measure of citizen experience (idiotes Gk.). Those layers of spinners, advisors, experts dancing like bees to indicate honey trove.

I think I’ll abdicate.

Friday, 27 October 2017


It is undoubtedly true that in the minds of many, in recent times, a shadow has been cast over this aspect of our lives. The cause of this is to be sought for in the fact which explains so much of the mental unrest of the present time,— namely, that we live in an age of transition. In the field of which I am speaking the last two or three generations have witnessed a species of disenchantment. In the less sophisticated ages of 
the world, which are sometimes called the " ages of faith," the relations of man to the order of nature and the government of the world were depicted in forms which M. Arnold called " fairy-tales." Feeling was permitted to grow and entwine itself round a picturesque view of the origin and history of the cosmos. 
(from The Inner Life in Relation to Morality by John Henry Muirhead)

Monday, 23 October 2017

Advaita not a Monism

I have lately seen Advaita described as a monism even though a-dvaita means non-dual. Clearly the view is that the philosophy is flying under false colours and is in fact a monism. There are then two and two only ontological flavours; Monism and Pluralism. Let me now in this back of an envelope sketch try to limn the advaitins’ justification for their claim and bring to the fore the concept of adhyasa or superimposition.

I have toddled down the path of the preamble to the Brahma Sutra Bhasya (Commentary on the B.Sutras) by Sankara before. Skipping o’er the puddles:

1: We have subject/object awareness
2: But how can that be? How can the inert/unconscious object become an object in my consciousness. Implicit in this is the realist assumption that we are aware of the object as it is, we as it were see through the mental modification to the object. Without straining the analogy there is an element of transparency and instrumentality in this ‘through’.
3: The famous analogy of the coiled rope that is taken to be a snake comes into play now. We experience a false image superimposed on the mind. (( This has proven to be a dangerous analogy bringing in notions of the argument from illusion. It is not that.))

Similarly the true object is superimposed on the mind. But how? It can only be that though they seem to be utterly different i.e. dual, they are in fact non-dual. They share the same substantial identity. At this point the theory of upadhi (form of limitation of absolute consciousness) and the vritti (mental modification of personal consciousness) is proffered. The personal mind as much as the object is conceived as a modification of absolute consciousness.

What then of the ultimate reality of the world? The teaching on this is that the world/creation is real as a manifestation. It does not have a free standing reality. It is contingent. Reality including the creation is non-dual.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Collingwood's Kant

For this reason we cannot look to Kant for a satisfactory theory of philosophical method. What he has to teach us on that subject will fall into two parts which he tries, but without success, to keep in two watertight compartments: one relating to the principles and methods of transcendental philosophy and taught chiefly by example, the other to those of metaphysics, taught by precept in the concluding chapters of the Critique.

Bearing this in mind, we may turn to these chapters in order to see how Kant, at the end of his critical inquiry, sums up his conclusions as to the
method of metaphysics. At once we see that his aim is not so much to controvert but rather to correct Descartes, by a careful distinction between philosophical and mathematical thinking. He argues in detail that, of the special marks of mathematical science, not one is to be found in philosophy, and that the adoption of mathematical methods there
can do nothing but harm.1 Philosophy knows no definitions: or rather, their place in philosophy is not at the beginning of an inquiry but at the end; for we can philosophize without them, and if this were not so we could not philosophize at all.2 Philosophy knows no axioms: no truths, there, are self-evident, any two concepts must be discursively connected by means of a third.3 Philosophy knows no demonstrations : its proofs are not demonstrative but acroamatic; in other words, the difference between mathematical proof and philosophical is that in the former you proceed from point to point in a chain of grounds and consequents, in the latter you must always be ready to go back and revise your premises
when errors, undetected in them, reveal themselves in the conclusion.
(from intro. to An Essy on Philosophical Method by R.G. Collingwood )

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.’

How prescient of Mr. Eliot

I must introduce a parenthetical protest against the abuse of the current term ‘social justice’. From meaning ‘justice in relations between groups or classes’ it may slip into meaning a particular assumption as to what these relations should be; and a course of action might be supported because it represented the aim of ‘social justice’, which from the point of view of ‘justice’ was not just. The term ‘social justice’ is in danger of losing its rational content which would he replaced by a powerful emotional charge. I believe that I have used the term myself: it should never be employed unless the user is prepared to define clearly what social justice means to him, and why he thinks it just.
(from Notes Towards the Definition of Culture)

Social Justice Warrior:
- You Mr. Eliot are an elitist fascist and I can point that out without having to explain myself or my position which is very complicated and anyway all my FB friends don’t like you. I’m upset.

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Happy Medium

What the good person takes to be good is good according to Aristotle. What the good person does often happens to coincide with a mean, the aurea mediocritas, but not always. A good person may take extreme positions on slavery, on abortion, on rack renting, on social protection etc. The happy medium might be ‘these things will always be with us, we cannot eliminate them so let us try to regulate them in a humane a way as possible’. Correction by History or fatuous meliorism won’t suffice. The good person is, in that over used metaphor, an icon. An icon’s mysterious powers are attained by the artists work on himself via ‘prayer and fasting’. Being perfect from the Latin ‘perfectus’, finished, is not a state that the good person has attained, his work on himself is continuous, never ending.

To focus on actions as the absolute base of our moral assessment of a person is wrong when we don’t know what is in their heart. A tree growing in the shade of another one grows crooked trying to maximise
access to light.

Half right and wholly wrong the Utilitarian is open to evil remedies because results are what count.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Hamlet and Private Judgment (A Protestant to be or not to be)

Stripped of its euphony:

Non existence is a hard one. Some suss really. Some people have very bad luck and you wouldn’t blame them for doing away with themselves. It’s like being asleep only you won’t wake up. But the dreams might not be good. So we stick it out and put up with the boss and legal hassles and all the rest of it in our miserable lives. We just don’t know what’s after life if there is. Thinking and second thoughts paralyze us.

But hey, Ophelia will pray for me.

I think you will agree, that is philosophically trite but there may be a reason for it. In the month of the 500th. anniversary of the nailing of the Articles to the Church Door in Wittenberg where Hamlet went to University I suggest that he in that famous soliloquy is suffering from a bad case of private judgment. Why did old Catholic Hamlet send young Hamlet to that center of Lutheran thought? To become a new man with a new subjectively informed conscience, to get with the program.
((Have a look at, I prithee:
Newman on Private Judgment
Disagree with it but enjoy his ‘supple, periodic prose (Joyce) and his high toned ironic vivacities))

Not far away in time or place Rene Descartes was retiring into an airing room to consult his personal certainty and get it all quite clear. ‘I doubt said the Carpenter and shed a bitter tear’.

Shakespeare had recusant sympathies, that is clear but within the rules of what was permitted on the stage had to hold back on religious controversy. Magic, witchcraft, the Ides of March, love potions and the like were the nearest he could come to discussing spiritual matters. Yet it comes out In Hamlet with mentions of purgatory, auricular confession, remission of sins, the intercession of the dead and the life of the world to come. Above all it is the violent chaos that issues from the Wittenbergerish private judgment that is the central theme. Shakespeare’s father was involved in the Talibanism of the destruction of rood screens and statues, the painting over of murals, and the smashing of stained glass windows of the churches that were under new management. That such atrocity would never surface in the myriad minded man Shakespeare is not credible. At the end of it all the stage of Europe is littered with bodies and Tyburn is ‘a place of much commerce’.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Fail Again, Fail Better with Costica Braditan

Costica Bradatan, those tripping dactyls,has written another hymn to failure in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It’s a special subject of his to which one as a person of no importance is liable to retort ‘Bah humbug’. Read it:
In the course of it he hands out what in Carmelite monasteries were called disciplines, short whips of knotted cords, to keep down brother ass. You are too comfortable, too cosy with your precious confraternities and conferences at which the latest daft ‘ism’ is listened to with respectful nods.

As long as we are part of the group, and play by its rules, we can expect to survive. In exchange, we surrender some of our freedom, our individualism and autonomy, but that is more often than not a good deal. Atavistic as it may be — we can survive alone, now — we still find nothing worse than to be left out, all alone, the one in the corner no one talks to. 

And who is in a corner:

If she now surrenders to the power of the group, the philosopher fails twice. First, she fails because in the eyes of the others she is already a failure — a weakling, an outcast. Then she fails because she doesn’t know how to be a failure: how to use the outsider’s privileged position for philosophical purposes. For, philosophically, to be a failure is a very important thing to be — almost a blessing. Far from being crushed by her social failure, the philosopher could put it to excellent use: to gain insight into the workings of the mind, into the affairs of the human society, the abyss of the human soul. Provided that she knows how to exploit it, the philosopher’s social failure could make her a richer, more penetrating and original thinker.

Is this Jacqueline Horner in the corner? Not at all. It is just any philosopher whatever, one of that anonymous multitude. ‘She’ has replaced ‘he’ as the unmarked pronoun. I have written about this in the past:
golden cobra
no intuitions

Bradatan as an editor of LARB has chosen this otiose hieratic usage. Women who read philosophical papers and essays are in the park already and do not need patronising encouragement. It’s like Huddon of Huddon & Duddon coming downstairs and then going upstairs again to bring down his boots.

He deplores networking but a peek at his C.V. shows that he puts himself about with an international reach. Five editorial appointments, lecturing in Texas and Brisbane, a grant evaluator in the Czech Republic, Cyprus and in Italy. ‘Ah yes’, he might reply, ‘the more I succeed the more I fail, I am rising without a trace’