- POPULAR CULTURE
- MENTAL HEALTH
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
- APPLIED SCIENCES
- PRINT & MEDIA
My website on the subject of philosophy divides the field of philosophy into: classical, medieval and modern, three separate sub-divisions and three separate webpages. Readers who come to this introductory section on philosophy are advised to click on one of the other sub-sections at the top-right if they want to continue reading on the subject of philosophy in one of those 3 time-periods. Readers who want some of my take on other disciplines, other topics, should go to other sections of this website. Readers can click on any one of the many other sections found at the top of this access-page. Given the inevitable, and in this 21st century, necessary interdisciplinary nature of so many fields of study, I encourage readers to go to some of the other sub-sections of this website, dealing as they do with: history and political science, economics and sociology, religion and the print and electronic media, inter alia.
This introductory section on philosophy also includes the subject of "political science" toward the end of this webpage. There is much more to political science than the endless partisan discussions that fill the air-waves day after day and night after night. The daily dose of the serious and the trivial from the world of partisan politics and popular culture is often important, sometimes entertaining, but sometimes highly complex, indeed far-too complex for your average punter requiring, as many subjects often do, a knowledge-base far in excess of the basic facts of the news-item in question. Many issues are dealt-with in a two-minute, a 30 second, or a 10 second fact-grab or sound-bite; the viewer is often left at the end of "the news" with an assortment of stuff that requires the sport and the weather to neutralize the heat, the sound and the fury.
The significant is, as Shakespeare noted, often reduced to nothing but an endless and frenetic passivity in our contemporary world. "Would you like a cup-of-tea, dear?" For a helpful video to introduce philosophy with an emphasis on St Augustine and the Romans go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBAxUBeVfsk&feature=em-subs_digest This video could more properly be part of the classical or medieval philosophy sub-sections of this website, but I place it here as a type of enticement especially for those with little background in philosophy. The video is part of The School of Life series made by Alain de Button for u-tube.
I have studied, taught, and written about political science and philosophy for at least 60 years, 1956 to 2016. I had a decade, 1949 to 1959, of warm-up in the home of parents who took their politics, their partisan politics, seriously. For some years in my late childhood & early adolescence, my parents belonged to a small political party in Canada and they often held meetings in our home. Those years innoculated me against the whole field of partisan politics. But I still took an interest in the field of political science; I just avoided the partisan variety. Now, in the evening of my life, I continue my study of both political science and philosophy in my private life. The result of this study are the many posts on this webpage, on many other pages of my website and at many other locations in cyberspace. When this 4th edition of my website was in the planning phase nearly 6 years ago in September 2010, my website design company & I divided the field of knowledge into more than 80 sub-divisions. I did not include the subject, the discipline, of political science at the time, and so I have added it in the nearly five years since this 4th edition "went live" on 21/3/'11.
It is impossible to adhere to the Socratic dictum, "Know thyself!" This is especially true, if one knows nothing else.-Henry David Aiken, The Age of Ideology: The 19th Century Philosophers, A Mentor Book, 1956, p.ix.
The 19th century philosophers became involved in a gigantic task of ideological and cultural reconstruction....They were involved in a prolonged crisis of reason, more profound than any that had occurred in Western culture since the original collision of paganism with primitive Christianity.
In the 19th century the philosophies of the Enlightenment began to have a dramatic effect, the landmark works of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau influencing new generations of thinkers. In the late 18th century a movement known as Romanticism began; it validated strong emotion as an authentic not of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror and awe. Key ideas that sparked changes in philosophy were the fast progress of science; evolution, as postulated by Vanini, Diderot, Lord Monboddo, Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, Goethe, and Charles Darwin; and what might now be called emergent order, such as the free market of Adam Smith within nation states. Pressures for egalitarianism, and more rapid change culminated in a period of revolution and turbulence that would see philosophy change as well. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/19th-century_philosophy
A HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY
A History of Philosophy is an 11-volume history of Western philosophy written by English Jesuit priest Frederick Charles Copleston. Copleston's History provides extensive coverage of Western philosophy from the Pre-Socratics through Dewey, Russell, Moore, Sartre & Merleau-Ponty. The first nine volumes, originally published between 1946 and 1974, were written for Catholic seminary students with the goal "of supplying Catholic ecclesiastical seminaries with a work that should be somewhat more detailed and of wider scope than the textbooks, commonly in use, and which at the same time should endeavour to exhibit the logical development and interconnection of philosophical systems."
A tenth volume was added in 1986, and the eleventh is actually a collection of essays which appeared in 1956 as Contemporary Philosophy. For more on this work which I first came across while studying history and philosophy in 1964-5, again in the 1970s as a lecturer in the social sciences & humanities, again in the '90s, & finally during my retirement, 2000'15 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_Philosophy_%28Copleston%29 I have yet to read all of this massive work. It is one of many books, many series of volumes, that will not be read now that I have to deal with a terminal illness that saps my energies and leaves me little time for reading and writing, editing and publishing.
The history of philosophy is the compilation and study of philosophical ideas and concepts through time. Issues specifically related to history of philosophy might include, but are not limited to: (i) How can changes in philosophy be accounted for historically? (ii) What drives the development of thought in its historical context? (iii) To what degree can philosophical texts from prior historical eras be understood even today? All cultures — be they prehistoric, medieval, or modern; Eastern, Western, religious or secular — have had their own unique schools of philosophy, arrived at through both inheritance and through independent discovery. Such theories have grown from different premises & approaches, examples of which include (but are not limited to) rationalism (theories arrived at through pure reason), empiricism (theories arrived at through observation), and even through leaps of faith, hope and inheritance (such as the supernaturalist philosophies and religions). The history of philosophy seeks to catalogue and classify such developments. The goal is to understand the development of philosophical ideas through time. Fore more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_philosophy
Paul Vincent Spade is the Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Associated Faculty of the History and Philosophy of Science at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Licentiate of Mediaeval Studies 1969. In 1972 he received his PhD from the University of Toronto. Spade is a historian of philosophy. His main research has been concentrated in medieval philosophy, particularly late medieval logic and semantic theory. He has long had a strong teaching and research interest in Sartre through Sartre's period of Being and Nothingness. His most recent interests have focused on Kierkegaard. Some of his recent courses have been on "Anselm of Canterbury," "Medieval Epistemology," "History of the Problem of Universals in the Middle Ages," "Søren Kierkegaard," "Philosophy of Humor, " and "Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness."
Spade says that there are three reasons to be interested in the history of philosophy. First, one might be interested in plunder, hoping to return from excursions into the past with booty (concepts, distinctions, arguments, etc.) that might be useful in present day arguments. Second, one might be looking for the stamp of authority for current pet ideas. Although we all know that arguments from authority are fallacious, we are still quite happy to remind others that our positions would have been endorsed by Aristotle, Kant, etc. Finally, and this was Professor Spade's preferred reason, the history of philosophy (the history of anything really) is an intrinsic good. We should do history for the joy of learning about the past.
For a summary of the philosophy of Gilbert Ryle(1900-1976), a British philosopher who was a representative of the generation of British ordinary language philosophers who shared Wittgenstein's approach to philosophical problems, go to the following link. This summary opens with the words of Paul Spade. Ryle is principally known for his critique of Cartesian dualism, for which he coined the phrase "the ghost in the machine. Go to: http://opac.library.usyd.edu.au/search~S2?/fElectronic+Jou and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_Ryle for more.
WHAT PHILOSOPHERS REALLY KNOW
'What Philosophers Really Know' is an article in The New York Review of Books(8/10/'15) by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. It is a review of Philosophy of Language: The Classics Explained by Colin McGinn(MIT Press, 225 pages). Goldstein begins: "Academic philosophy often draws ire. The complaints are twofold and not altogether consistent with each other. The first is that philosophers can’t seem to agree on anything, with dissension descending to such basic questions as the nature of the field itself, both its subject matter and its methodology. The lack of unanimity implies a lack of objectivity and suggests that any hope for progress is futile. This complaint often comes from scientists and culminates in the charge that there is no such thing as philosophical expertise. Who then are these people employed in philosophy departments, and what entitles them to express subjective viewpoints with the pretensions of impersonal knowledge?" And more:
"The second complaint is that academic philosophy has become inaccessible. For more than a century now, the kind of philosophy practiced in most philosophy departments, at least in the English-speaking world, is analytic philosophy, and analytic philosophy, or so goes the lament, is too technical, generating vocabularies and theories aimed at questions remote from problems that outsiders consider philosophical. Here the complaint is that there are philosophical experts and that, in carrying the field forward, they have excluded the nonprofessional. The suppressed premise is that philosophical questions are of concern to all of humanity and therefore ought to remain within reach of all of humanity." For more go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/oct/08/what-philosophers-really-know/
This issue of the online journal Essays in Philosophy(31/1/'14) is, as far as I know, the first extended effort to look at the theoretical structures of public philosophy. It is therefore, idiosyncratic and diverse in its approaches. There are times when the authors speak with tentative caution and others when they proclaim with loud and certain voices. The relevant call for papers defined public philosophy as “doing philosophy with general audiences in a non-academic setting,” adding that “while it is often said to play a role in democratic education, public philosophy is its own enterprise. It is philosophy outside the classroom, a voluntary endeavor without course-credit, assignments, or even a clear purpose.” As broad as it is, this description hides the fact that many consider the very name “public philosophy” to be an oxymoron. It is said that only philosophers can do philosophy and that the most that the general public can be are students. Furthermore, whatever a philosopher chooses to do with his or her time, public philosophy should not count as research. It might be teaching, it might even be service, but it is most definitely not scholarship, or so many pre-tenured philosophers are told. For more go to: http://commons.pacificu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1485&context=eip
THE HUMANITIES: AN OVERVIEW
The humanities are academic disciplines that study human culture. The humanities use methods that are primarily critical, or speculative, and have a significant historical element—as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences. The humanities include ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, religion, & the visual & performing arts such as music & theatre. The humanities that are also sometimes regarded as social sciences include: history, anthropology, area studies, communication studies, cultural studies, law and linguistics. For more of this general overview of the humanities go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanities This website has separate sub-sections on several of these humanities, & these 4 philosophy webpages deal with but one of these humanities. Readers with the interest in 1 or more of the several humanities subjects I deal with can access them by clicking-on the subject headings found at the top of this page as well as at the top-right.
A. To one who thinks philosophically, no story is a matter of indifference, even if it were the natural history of the snail. Of course, the health of the thinker, when and where the story is conveyed and by whom, the comfort of the thinker and the general environment in which the story is conveyed, all play their part in the thinker's reception of the story. The reception of my writing here by the readers of this introduction to philosophy is also the result of these several personal, environmental factors. In reality it is difficult, indeed impossible, for Everyman to be highly interested in everything, all subjects and all-disciplines of learning. Even if one hypothesized the existence of such an individual, he or she would only be able to translate that interest inventory into daily life, in actuality, to some of life's endless litany of 'stuff' during their lifespan.-Ron Price with thanks to H. M. G. Koster, Associate Professor, Inorganic Materials Science, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands.
B. Philosophy has almost as many definitions as there have been philosophers, both as a subject matter and an activity, and no simple definition can do it justice. The issue of the definition of philosophy is thus a controversial subject that is nowadays tackled by Metaphilosophy (or the philosophy of philosophy). The word is derived from the ancient Greek words philo-, to love or to befriend, and -sophia, wisdom. Modern usage of the term is much broader; the concept of philosophy encompasses all of knowledge and all that can be known, including the means by which such knowledge can be acquired. However, in the contemporary English-speaking academic world, the term is often used implicitly to refer to analytic philosophy and, in non-English speaking countries, it often refers implicitly to a different, European strain, continental philosophy.
C. The ancient Greeks organized the subject into five basic categories: metaphysics,epistemology, ethics, politics and aesthetics. This organization of the subject is still largely in use in Western philosophy today.Thought or thinking is a mental process which allows beings to model the world, and so to deal with it effectively according to their goals, plans, ends and desires. Words referring to similar concepts and processes in the English language include cognition, sentience, consciousness, idea, and imagination.Thinking involves the cerebral manipulation of information, as when we form concepts, engage in problem solving, reason & make decisions. Thinking is a higher cognitive function; the analysis of thinking processes is part of cognitive psychology. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Contents/Philosophy_and_thinking
THE PHILOSOPHER'S MAIL: The Book and the School of Life
The Philosopher's Mail is a new news organisation. It has bureaux in London, NYC and Melbourne. This news organization is run & staffed entirely by philosophers. In 2015 a group of philosophers asked themselves a question: could philosophers write the news? Now in 2016 this experiment is complete. The team behind the Philosophers’ Mail is now putting its efforts into this continuing venture. Among its many 100s of posts and publications is a new book. It’ll take years to write and it exists only online. It’s called The Book of Life because it’s about the most substantial things in your life: your relationships, your income, career, and anxieties.
Alain de Botton has always tried to get ideas to impact on the way we actually live. So in the summer of 2008, Alain and some colleagues set up The School of Life. The School has a passionate belief in making learning relevant – and so runs courses in the important questions of everyday life. Whereas most colleges and universities chop up learning into abstract categories (‘agrarian history’ ‘the 18th century English novel’), The School of Life titles its courses according to things we all tend to care about: careers, relationships, politics, travels, families. An evening or weekend on one of its courses is likely to be spent reflecting on such matters as your moral responsibilities to an ex partner or how to resolve a career crisis. Go to these 2 links for more:http://www.philosophersmail.com/WHAT.php and http://alaindebotton.com/the-school-of-life/
Philosophy is the study of a certain kind of general and fundamental problem. This certain kind of fundamental problem, though, is connected with existence and knowledge, values and reason, attitudes and beliefs, mind and language, inter alia. There are all sorts of other fundamental problems which do not come into the domain of philosophy. Philosophy is distinguished from other fields, and other ways of addressing these fundamental problems by: (i) its critical and generally systematic approach, (ii) its reliance on rational argument, and (iii) a range of other factors which I leave to readers with the interest to investigate and study, if they have the interest. The word "philosophy" comes from the Greek philosophia which literally means "love of wisdom". For the main branches of philosophy, philosophy's history, and its main theories developed from classical times into our contemporary world, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy
THE MAIN BRANCHES OF PHILOSOPHY
The main branches, or areas of inquiry, in philosophy are outlined under the following headings. This part of my website can not deal with all these sub-sections of philosophy in any detail or prolixity would result. I encourage readers with the interest to further their knowledge with a study of whatever aspects of the following outline concern them.
1.4 Ethics and political philosophy
1.6 Specialized branches
The main traditions of philosophy are:
2.1 German idealism
2.5 Structuralism and post-structuralism
2.6 The analytic tradition
The 'specialized branches' mentioned above in 1.6 include:
1.6.1 Philosophy of language which explores the nature, the origins, and the use of language.
1.6.2 Philosophy of law, often called jurisprudence, which explores the varying theories explaining the nature and the interpretations of the law in society.
1.6.3 Philosophy of mind which explores the nature of the mind, and its relationship to the body, and is typified by disputes between dualism and materialism. In recent years there has been increasing similarity between this branch of philosophy and cognitive science.
1.6.4 Philosophy of religion
1.6.5 Philosophy of science
THE CONCERNS OF PHILOSOPHY
The concerns of academic philosophy are to some degree the concerns of everybody. At the same time, they often appear to plain, to ordinary pre-philosophical men and women, including those perhaps not so plain persons who might be professors of English or History or Physics, as vaguely ludicrous. Academic philosophy is centrally concerned with such all-pervasive concepts as those of truth, rationality & goodness. Students and scholars in other academic disciplines, or simply individuals in the transactions of everyday life, of course are also concerned with and possess implicit commitments to these concepts. In some ways, no one can avoid admitting to a certain vulnerability to the conclusions of professional philosophers on these matters. Given the print and image-glut of our 21st century life, though, it is hardly surprising that what you might call "the Facebook-oriented spinners" who send and receive sound-bites, visual bits-and-pieces, and endless info-pieces on their furniture, food and fashion, their comings-and-goings will never enjoy the landscape and rich intellectual pastures of philosophy.
In some ways, of course, you can hardly blame your average Everyman from getting caught-up in the trivia of everydayness and its quotidian reality. We are all in love with the senses in our idiosyncratic ways. The level, too, at which academic philosophers treat the above questions often appears to outsiders, including some philosophers themselves in their off-duty moments, as disturbingly abstract and unrealistic. So it is that those outside the field of philosophy, outsiders, tend to oscillate between a reluctant admission of the philospher’s status as universal legislator and an irritated dismissal of philosophy as unworldly and irrelevant. In the end, to each their own as we all travel the road of life.
Philosophers themselves all too often respond by alternating between an ingrown professionalism in which they conceal themselves behind thickets of technicality, and an equally self-indulgent form of popularisation in which the proportion of rhetoric to argument is unduly high. It is, then, something of an event when a book appears in which the central task which laymen demand of the philosopher – that of providing a clear and forceful statement of what conclusions of general importance emerge from the tangled encounters of professional argument – is discharged without sacrificing the requirements of detailed and rigorous argument.
Such a book is Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature by Richard Rorty. It is some 400 pages in length, & it appeared nearly 35 years ago in 1980. The elegance of its style, the easy and effective deployment of historical scholarship, and, above all, the ability to distinguish the central threads of recent debate from the side-issues are all qualities of this book. Readers, with the interest, are able to follow through the implications of the debates in an original and exciting way. All of these factors combine to charm the reader as well as to engage his or her argumentative powers. Charm, it might be added and as defined by Albert Camus, is that quality which produces the answer ‘Yes’ before any question has yet been asked.
What is it of which Rorty seeks to convince us? Go to this review of Rorty's book and of two other books: The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality and Tragedy by Stanley Cavell, 500 pages, 1980, and Philosophy As It Is edited by Ted Honderick and Myles Burnyeat, 500 pages, 1979--at this link:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v02/n11/alasdair-macintyre/alasdair-macintyre-on-the-claims-of-philosophy
PHILOSOPHY: AN ANSWER TO DESCARTE'S QUESTION
Primarily, at least since the 17th century, philosophy has been dominated by a master image, the image of the human mind as a great mirror in which the facts of nature are represented. The elaboration of this image in argumentative terms was chiefly the work of Descartes, and at the core of Descartes’s philosophy is the question: how can we be sure that what the mind represents as the facts of nature are indeed faithful representations? The main professional duty of the philosopher has become the provision of answers to this question. The evaluation of the answers provided by Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Kant, and others from then on, has furnished philosophy with its central subject-matter.
If the originally Cartesian question is correctly posed, the importance of philosophy for all other disciplines is obviously vindicated. 'Cartesian' means of or relating to the French philosopher and discoverer René Descartes—from his Latinized name Cartesius. Go to this link for more on this word 'Cartesan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartesian By the way we answer the above question, claims to knowledge in every discipline will succeed or fail. But, on Rorty’s view, as expressed in his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, the question is not correctly posed. For the Cartesian view of ‘the’ mind on which everything else depends cannot withstand critical examination.
For more of this review by Alasdair MacIntyre(1929-), a Scottish philosopher primarily known for his contribution to moral & political philosophy, go to the following link. MacIntyre is also known for his work in the history of philosophy and theology. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University. He is also an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. During his lengthy academic career, he also taught at Brandeis University, Duke University, Vanderbilt University, and Boston University. Go to this link to read about MacIntyre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alasdair_MacIntyre, and to this link for his review of Rorty:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v02/n11/alasdair-macintyre/alasdair-macintyre-on-the-claims-of-philosophy
MEANING AND MAN: and SOME THOUGHTS ON FEMINISM
A. American writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist Gloria Steinem tells Ellen Fanning(March 14 2016) about her bizarre childhood and the event that changed the course of her life. Steinem is the headline speaker at the Sydney Writer's Festival in May 2016. Go to: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/gloria-steinem/6998434 Gloria Marie Steinem (born March 25, 1934) became nationally recognized as a leader and spokeswoman for the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 70s. She was a columnist for New York magazine and a founder of Ms.magazine. In 1969, she published an article, "After Black Power, Women's Liberation," which brought her to national fame as a feminist leader. In 2005, Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan co-founded the Women's Media Center, an organization that works "to make women visible and powerful in the media." Steinem currently travels internationally as an organizer and lecturer and is a media spokeswoman on issues of equality.
For over 50 years Gloria Steinem has been proselytising on feminism's behalf, criss-crossing the country and the world to talk about things other people ignore. Her nomadic life is partly due to the causes she supports and partly to heredity; her father was a wanderer who shunned hearth and home. In her new book, My Life on the Road, America's most prominent feminist looks back at the things that shaped her, including her unconventional upbringing and an abortion that changed her life. Go to: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/gloria-steinem/6998434 (10/12/'15) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloria_Steinem#Early_life
B. "The task of man is to fashion the world by giving it a meaning."-Simone de Beauvoir in An Existentialist Looks at Americans and Philosophical Writings, p. 325. Simone de Beauvoir(1908-1986) was: a French writer and intellectual, existentialist philosopher and political activist, feminist and social theorist. While she did not consider herself a philosopher, Beauvoir had a significant influence on both feminist existentialism and feminist theory. Again, I leave it to readers with the interest, to further their reading here, not only in relation to this French writer, but in relation to existentialism and feminist theory.
Beauvoir wrote: novels and essays, biographies & an autobiography, as well as monographs on philosophy, political science, & social issues. She is best known for her novels, including She Came to Stay and The Mandarins, as well as her 1949 treatise The Second Sex. This latter work was a detailed analysis of women's oppression and it became a foundational tract of contemporary feminism. For more on Beauvoir go to this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simone_de_Beauvoir
INTRODUCTION TO MY STUDY OF PHILOSOPHY
The academic study of philosophy began, for me, more than fifty years ago in September 1963 at McMaster university in Ontario Canada. Although my mother and my maternal grandfather were both strongly inclined philosophically, the formal study of the subject did not begin for me until that fall in 1963 at this university in Hamilton. This was just two months before the assassination of President JFK. The city of Hamilton now has a population of some 600 thousand, two to three times what it was when I lived in Hamilton & attended the university. Hamilton is, and was, a part of the densely populated and industrialized region at the west end of Lake Ontario known as the Golden Horseshoe.
This university in Hamilton beside Lake Ontario became a non-denominational private institution five years before I entered while I was finishing primary school. By the McMaster Act of 1968-69, after I graduated and while I worked as a teacher on Baffin Island, the University was organized into the Divisions of Arts, Sciences, and Health Sciences. By the time I graduated in 1966 I had had the field of philosophy opened before me, a field I have dabbled-in for the half a century since that first lecture in late September 1963.
Family influences in philosophy and religion were part of my life in the 1940s and 1950s, and the influence of the Baha’i Faith began in the 1950s. In 1964-65 I majored in honours history and philosophy. I taught philosophy as a component of various courses I was responsible for as a full-time teacher and lecturer from the 1970s to the 2000s. In 1994 I taught my last philosophy class as a lecturer in a technical and further education college, now a polytechnic, in Western Australia. Ten years later in 2004 I taught my last class in philosophy to senior citizens in George Town Tasmania. In the next decade, 2005 to 2015, years of my retirement from FT, PT and most casual-volunteer work, I read extensively in philosophy, nearly entirely in cyberspace.
In the early 1990s, I began to gather a set of notes for myself and my students when I was a 'philosophy 1A' and 'philosophy 1B' lecturer at Thornlie College of Technical and Further Education, as I say, now a polytechnic in Western Australia. It is now called Polytechnic West--Thornlie Campus. I continued this ingathering of notes and resources while teaching philosophy at the George Town School for Seniors Inc. from 2000 to 2004. In the more than a dozen years since I retired from FT teaching in 1999, I have spent more time studying philosophy. The two arch-lever files I began with when I retired from teaching in 1999 became four by 2010, and by 2014 I had added one two-ring binder. In the years 2010 to 2015 those four arch-lever files began to burst at the seams necessitating the opening of that fifth file. Inevitably I have some philosophy notes in other sections of my study since the social sciences and humanities have become so interdisciplinary in the last several decades.
Volume 1 of these notes deal with 'ancient and medieval philosophy' and volumes 2 & 3 contain 'modern philosophy,' volumes 4 & 5 are concerned with an assortment of topics in modern philosophy. The field is simply too immense to contain its substance in five files, but this core of material that I have in my files now serves as a base, a foundation for future studies in this the evening of my life. As I go through these middle years(65-75) of late adulthood, the years from 60 to 80 as some human development psychologists call these two decades, this organized system of resources, this framework for retrieval and study and for future expansion has already begun to serve me well. After more than half a century as a student and teacher of philosophy, my study of philosophy is informal, mostly connected to my writing &, in some ways, I feel it has just begun. Sadly, though, the arrival of pancreatic cancer in mid-2015 has severely limited my study.
18/12/'07 to 12/3/'16
There is a coherent philosophical world-view embedded in the Baha'i Writings. Readers wanting to explicate and explore the philosophical statements and concepts embedded in the Writings of the Baha'i Faith, and particularly those of Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha, can do so in one of several ways. The statements of the Central Figures of the Baha'i Faith cover a wide array of philosophical subjects including: metaphysics and ontology, ethics and epistemology, philosophical psychology and the philosophy of man, aesthetics as well as social, legal & political philosophy.
Readers wanting to explore the relationships between the philosophical world-view embedded in the Baha'i Writings, and the teachings of other world religions, as well as various influential philosophies, such as: postmodernism, existentialism and Marxism can do so with a little or a lot of internet Googling. Readers can then, if they so wish, apply and extend the philosophical views in the Baha'i literature, and especially its sacred texts, its Writings, to real-world situations and problems. Of course, it is equally the case that those who are Christians, Moslems, Jews or any one of a number of other religions, isms or wasms, can investigate the world-views embedded in their respective religions, philosophies or political traditions.
Readers with the interest, with the knowledge and, especially with the confidence, can then conduct philosophical apologetics. Apologetics, at least for the Baha'is who engage in the process, is the literary act of defending the philosophical views embedded in the Baha'i Writings vis-à-vis rival world-views such as: materialism, ethical relativism, pantheism, most forms of postmodernism. Such apologists can also defend their Faith against philosophical attacks by adherents of other religious belief systems, as well as those who are: atheists, agnostics, humanists, inter alia.
Many of the articles published in the Lights of Irfan series, which is a publication of the Irfan Colloquia, may be a good place to begin. Of course, I leave it to readers to work out their own exploration of Baha'i philosophy, and their own experience of apologetics should they want to dabble in these often complex and heady waters. Go to either of these two links for starters if you so desire: http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/science-bahai/sci-phi-rel/sprbhart.html and/or: http://irfancolloquia.org/publications/?file=publications
CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHERS WORTH READING
Bernard Williams had a very large mind. To read the following three posthumously published collections of essays is an overwhelming reminder of his incandescent and all-consuming intelligence. He brought philosophical reflection to an opulent array of subjects, with more imagination and with greater cultural and historical understanding than anyone else of his time. For a review by Thomas Nagel in the London Review of Books back in 2006 of three books by Williams go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n09/thomas-nagel/the-view-from-here-and-now These three books are: The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy (400 pages); In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument (200 pages); and Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline (200 pages). Thomas Nagel(1937- ) is an American philosopher, currently University Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University where he has taught since 1980. His main areas of philosophical interest are philosophy of mind, political philosophy and ethics. Go to this link for more on Nagel:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Nagel
Sir Bernard Arthur Owen Williams(1929-2003) was an English moral philosopher, described by The Times as the "most brilliant and most important British moral philosopher of his time." His publications include: Problems of the Self (1973), Moral Luck (1981), Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985), and Truth and Truthfulness (2002). He was knighted in 1999. For more on Williams go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Williams
In the history of western philosophy there are a host of philosophers worth reading and many, like Williams, who are our contemporaries. In our world of print and image glut, though, it is difficult to know just where to begin, where to end, and who to put in the middle. The vast majority of those who come to my website are dabblers in philosophy, if they read any philosophy at all. I leave it to each person to work out their reading itinerary. After 50 years of dabbling myself, I find the field so very immense that all I will do is scratch the surface of the discipline in my years on earth.
Back in the 1970s, while teaching the social sciences at what is now the university of Ballarat, I bought a copy of A History of Western Philosophy. It is a 1945 book by philosopher Bertrand Russell. Bertrand Arthur William Russell(1872-1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these in any profound sense. For more on Russell go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell
A conspectus of Western philosophy from the pre-Socratic philosophers to the early 20th century, Russell's book was criticised for its over-generalization and its omissions, particularly from the post-Cartesian period. Nevertheless it became a popular and commercial success, and has remained in print from its first publication. When Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, the book was cited as one of those that won him the award. The book provided Russell with financial security for the last part of his life. For more on this work go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_Western_Philosophy
IS PHILOSOPHY LITERATURE?
Is philosophy literature? Do people read philosophy for pleasure? Of course it is, and of course they do. People savor the aphorisms of Nietzsche, the essays of Schopenhauer, the philosophical novels of Sartre. They read the dialogues of Plato. They would doubtless read the dialogues of Aristotle too, had Western civilization not been so careless as to mislay them. Some even claim to enjoy the more daunting treatises in the philosophical canon. “When I have a leisure moment, you will generally find me curled up with Spinoza’s latest,” Bertie Wooster swankily announces in one of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves” novels. For more on this topic go to: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/is-philosophy-literature/
THE FUTURE OF PHILOSOPHY
As a new century and a new millennium go through their opening two decades the paradoxical thought preoccupying some philosophers is whether and if, how or why, philosophy is at an end. According to the now common opinion among many academic philosophers, the ideal of a universal knowledge through principles, 'philosophia', has long since been exposed as spurious. 'Philosophia' is a Greek word for the love of wisdom and also involves the intellectual and ‘erotic’ path which leads to virtue and knowledge. The term itself was perhaps first coined by Pythagoras. The Hellenic 'philosophia' is a prolongation, modification and ‘modernization’ of the Egyptian and Near Eastern sapiential ways of life.
'Philosophia' cannot be reduced to philosophical discourse. Over the last 2500+ years the word has been viewed in various ways. Aristotle found 'philosophia' in the life of contemplation. The philosophical life meant, to some, the participation in the divine and the actualization of the divine in the human through the personal askesis and inner transformation. Askesis is a strict self-discipline or self-control, for religious or meditative purposes. Plato defines philosophy as a training for death(See his Phaedrus, p. 67). The Platonic 'philosophia' helps the soul to become aware of its own immateriality; it liberates human beings from the passions and strips away everything that is not truly itself; for Plotinus, philosophy does not wish only ‘to be a discourse about objects, be they even the highest, but it wishes actually to lead the soul to a living, concrete union with the Intellect and the Good’; in the late Neoplatonism, the ineffable theurgy is regarded as the culmination of philosophy.
The author of the following article argues that no person of right mind would nowadays recognize or indulge in the search for this ideal of 'philosophia' as a legitimate pursuit. For the new philosophers the fact is that "philosophy," as traditionally understood, is a thinking no longer relevant for a post-modern consciousness and world. If it might still have a role it can only be in some radically attenuated sense: as writing its own obituary, clearing away of the rubble of its own ruined foundations, speculating as to what it might now mean to live and think post-philosophically. That the philosophical legacy has become moribund would certainly appear confirmed in the universities, where the former queen of the faculties has long been deposed and the view of philosophy as an obsolete discipline is so broadly established that even full professors of philosophy are rendered mute by the question as to why it should even be taught at all, much less what its proper curriculum should be.
This article reviews that last two centuries of philosophy and argues that, paradoxically, the modern spirit is imbued with philosophy through and through and that our modern world has not degenerated into what some historians of the Roman Empire by the 4th and 5th centuries see as a cultural malaise of mere thoughtlessness and caprice. This article is no easy read, though, and I leave it to readers with the interest and the peristence to follow the lines of thought of F.L. Jackson. For more on Jackson's view of the possible end of philosophy go to a 1996 edition of the online journal Animus: The Canadian Journal of Philosophy and the Humanities and his article "Post-Modernism and The Recovery Of The Philosophical Tradition" by F. L. Jackson at this link: http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%201/Jackson.pdf
In the online journal Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Arran Gare introduced issue vol. 8, no. 1, 2012 on the subject of the future of philosophy. Arran Gare is an Australian philosopher known mainly for his work in environmental philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of culture and the metaphysics of process philosophy. He currently holds the position of Associate Professor in the Faculty of Life and Social Sciences at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I quote his first paragraphs here and leave it to readers if they want to read more at:http://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/viewFile/288/502
The closing down of the philosophy department at Middlesex University, along with the downsizing of philosophy departments in Britain, USA, Australia and elsewhere, signify, if this trend is not successfully fought against, the coming to the end of an era in higher education, and perhaps, an era of civilization. This is the era dominated by the Humboldtian model of the university that began with the establishment of the University of Berlin in 1810. With this model, which all countries had to embrace in some measure because of its manifest superiority, philosophy was not just one discipline among others. It was the transdiscipline that questioned the assumptions and interrogated the values and claims to knowledge of all other disciplines, revealing their significance in relation to each other, asking new questions and opening up new paths of inquiry.
In The University in Ruins,(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996, ch.3), Bill Readings pointed out that the transformation of universities is associated with the end of the nation-state; that is, ‘imagined communities’ committed to governing themselves, with a world-order made up of such communities. In their place there will be a global market and economic actors, dominated by a global corporatocracy, with states reduced to little more than instruments to impose and regulate markets. See also Arran Gare, ‘Democracy and Education: Defending the Humboldtian University and the Democratic Nation-State as Institutions of the Radical Enlightenment’, Concrescence, 2005, 6: 3-25--at this link:http://www.concrescence.org/index.php/ajpt/article/download/92/54.
In accordance with its fountainhead, arguably its central origin, in Ancient Greece, the goal of philosophy was to provide the foundations for an integrated understanding of the cosmos and the place of humanity within it through which people could appreciate the meaning of their lives and define their ultimate ends. It had the responsibility for engaging with the broader culture and its problems, for investigating the relationship between culture, society and civilization, and for working out how people should live and how society should be organized. As Friedrich Schelling(1775-1854), a German philosopher and one of the philosophers who had a major influence on the founding of the University of Berlin, proclaimed: "Philosophy must enter into life. That applies not only to the individual but also to the condition of the time, to history and to humanity. The power of philosophy must penetrate everything, because one cannot live without it." It is not only what the collapse of the Humboldtian model of the university presages for the future of philosophy departments that raises the issue of the future of philosophy, however.
What many philosophy departments have been passing off to their students in the name of philosophy is really anti-philosophy dressed up as philosophy. If the word ‘philosophy’, the love of wisdom, has any meaning at all it is this aspect of philosophy which must not be lost. Many academics in philosophy departments have been undermining not only philosophy but the Humboldtian model of the university and all that it represented for over a century. Despite such academic degeneration, philosophy has been kept alive by people outside philosophy departments, many outside academia. Much of the most important philosophy over the last hundred years has come from: mathematicians and scientists, historians and artists, writers and public figures who reflected deeply on their particular disciplines, crafts and professions and related their work to broader developments and problems of civilization.
Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell and Edmund Husserl, who began their careers as mathematicians, are obvious examples of what I refer to above. I leave it to readers with the interest to find out a little more about these three thinkers. as well as about other thinkers who have kept philosophy alive and well in coteries in the wider society. Of greater concern at present is that philosophy itself is slowly being eliminated, not only from academia, but from public life, culture and society. In the new business-oriented universities with their career-oriented students, there is little place for philosophically reflective mathematicians and scientists, natural or social, historians or law professors, let alone philosophers. Outside universities, the educated public, who used to read works of philosophy, is aging. Fewer and fewer people now read works of philosophy or engage in philosophical reflection. Issues like this, though, are very complex and cannot be examined in any detail in one or two paragraphs here in my introduction to philosophy.
A POPULAR VIEW OF PHILOSOPHY
Alasdair MacIntyre(1929-) is a Scottish philosopher primarily known for his contribution to moral and political philosophy; he is also known for his work in the history of philosophy and theology. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Aristotelian Studies in Ethics & Politics at London Metropolitan University; he is also an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. During his lengthy academic career, he also taught at Brandeis University, Duke University, Vanderbilt University, and Boston University. MacIntyre spoke of the state of philosophy in an address to the American Philosophical Association in the late 1980s. In those late 1980s, I was just beginning my years of lecturing in the last college I would work in. I taught philosophy for several years before my retirement a decade later in 1999.
MacIntyre said that: "Philosophy is now seen as a harmless, decorative activity in education. It is widely believed that studying philosophy will benefit students by exercising and extending their capacities for orderly argument. This will help those who study it to join the line of lemmings entering law school or business school. The professor of philosophy, on this view, stands in relation to the contemporary bourgeoisie much as the dancing master stood to the nobility of the ancien regime. The dancing master taught eighteenth-century young people, whose parents could afford it, how to have supple limbs. The philosophy professor now teaches the twentieth-century successors of those students of those dancing masters of 200 years ago---how to have supple minds." For more on this popular view and the contemporary state of philosophy go to: http://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/viewFile/288/502
PHILOSOPHY AND LITERATURE
Some novelists with philosophical backgrounds vividly recall how they felt when they first encountered the writing of Iris Murdoch (1919-1999). Murdoch was an Irish-born British author and philosopher, best known for her novels about political and social questions of good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious. All novelists, of course, need to have some philosophical stance as they go about creating over the terra incognita of existence their particular take on things. Colin Wilson(1931-), the prolific English writer who first came to prominence as a philosopher and novelist, explores this idea in his The Strength to Dream: Literature and the Imagination(Abacus 1976/1962). This book was first published the year I took my last class as a student of Literature in grade 13 in Ontario, before immersing myself in the social sciences and education studies for four years at university. I did not really get 'into' literature until the late 1980s when I was a teacher of students studying literature for their university entrance ticket.
Colin Henry Wilson has since written widely on true crime, mysticism and other topics. He prefers calling his philosophy new existentialism or phenomenological existentialism. I leave it to readers to do a little Googling to unpack these somewhat complex philosophical terms. Go to this link and several others for more on Wilson:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_Wilson#Other_non-fiction_writing
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein(1950- ) is an American novelist and professor of philosophy. She has written five novels, a number of short stories and essays, and a biographical study of mathematician Kurt Gödel. Godel(1906-1978) was an Austrian-American logician, mathematician, and philosopher. Later in his life he emigrated to the United States to escape the effects of World War II. Considered one of the most significant logicians in human history, with Aristotle and Frege, Gödel made an immense impact upon scientific and philosophical thinking in the 20th century, a time when many, such as Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead and David Hilbert, were pioneering the use of logic and set theory to understand the foundations of mathematics.
Goldstein also wrote a biography of Baruch Spinoza(1632-1677). Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher. He showed considerable scientific aptitude. The breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death. His writing laid part of the groundwork for 18th century philosophy. Goldstein's first novel, The Mind-Body Problem (1983), was published after she earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton. I had just begun work as an adult educator north of the Tropic of Capricorn at the time, in 1983, and I knew nothing of Goldstein. She remembers being disappointed and confused in writing her book. “It didn’t ring true", she said. She was just being truthful about what had become a central feature of her intellectual and artistic life. Still, Goldstein and other philosophically trained novelists, including David Foster Wallace(1962-2008) an award-winning American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California, have been quite prolific.
In addition to her work at Barnard College, Goldstein has taught at Columbia and Rutgers. She has been a visiting scholar at Brandeis University. She taught for five years as a visiting professor in the Department of Philosophy at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Goldstein lives in Boston and Truro. She divorced her first husband, physicist Sheldon Goldstein, and married Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker. She is the mother of the novelist Yael Goldstein Love and the poet Danielle Blau. I mention these personal, these biographical, aspects of Goldstein's life because her novelistic and philosophical work is part and parcel of her real life, a serious life. If she manages to have fun and party, as the young call it these days, at least Downunder where I live and have my being, it's all within the context of her academic work.
I will mention two more novelists-philosophers. William H. Gass(1924- ) is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. Clancy Martin is a Canadian philosopher, essayist, translator and novelist. His debut novel How to Sell was a Times Literary Supplement "Best Book of 2009". Gass and Martin are but two novelists who are at the same time philosophers. They have wrestled with the relationship between their two intellectual masters: philosophy and literature. Both disciplines seek to ask big questions, to locate and describe deeper truths, to shape some kind of order from the muddle, the booming and buzzing confusion and complexity, of the world. The imaginative intellect is pitted against the logical mind in a cometitive teamwork, tackling problems from different angles?
Philosophy has historically viewed literature with suspicion, or at least a vague unease. Plato was openly hostile to art, fearful of its ability to produce emotionally beguiling falsehoods that would disrupt the quest for what is real and true. Plato’s view was extreme, indeed many of his views are seen today as extreme. He proposed banning dramatists from his model state, and he also proposed that children be reared by professionals not by their biological family. Plato saw the arts and the state as two enterprises with incompatible agendas.
Philosophy is written, from Plato's point of view, for the few; literature for the many. Philosophy is concerned with the general and abstract; literature with the specific and particular. Philosophy dispels illusions; literature creates them. Most philosophers, historicallt at leasat, have been wary of the aesthetic urge in themselves. This says something about philosophy. Perhaps this explains why, for millions in today's world, two of philosophy's greatest practitioners, Aristotle and Kant, as well as many others, were pretty terrible writers.
Of course, such statements as I have made above are never as simple as they appear. Indeed, much of what I write here in this introduction to philosophy needs to be unpacked by readers. The world has always been a complex existential reality but, with the knowledge explosion and the easy availability of vast fields of information across many disciplines of learning, the humble individual is now swimming or drowning in print and image-glut. Many of these humble individuals stay far away from the many, the myriad, green pastures of learning. Engaged in sport and having fun, watching movies and listening to music, cooking and gardening, an endless litany of activity that fills their years from cradle to grave, their years are spent with little real involvement in the social sciences and humanities, the physical and biological sciences, the vast oceans of knowledge. Occupied with life's challengages and occupations: with growing from childhood and adolescence to adulthood, with earning a living, with raising a family and, then, with recovering from all of this in old-age, most of humanity settles for the small rivers and seas of knowledge; the ocean is just too much to sail upon.
Individuals go on reading their daily paper or, in recent decades, getting their information from the burgeoning electronic media. They go on, at least in the developed countries, enjoying a little sport and TV, a little gardening or cooking, and the simple life, at least as much as they can make it simple. They keep their heads far away from other burgeoning fields where knowledge is exploding all around them. The knowledge explosion is a problem everyone faces, and everyone deals with it in their own way. All those with serious interests in learning now face a complex labyrinth in that world of print and image-glut. I do not have answers for others; I am kept busy exploring the questions, and working out my own response to the new world, the new age, this climacteric of history.
Abdul-Baha(1844-1921), writing a decade or so after Darwin's Origin of Species(1859), as the knowledge explosion had begun its journey, its many decades, if not centuries, into our time, asks rhetorically at the beginning of His The Secret of Divine Civilization(p.2): "Shall they who have knowledge and they who have it not, be treated alike?" He answers that question over many pages, if not the whole book. But the answer is complex, and does not lend itself to a simple "yes" or "no." 'Whom the gods would destroy they first make simple, then simpler, then simplest', is a sentence I recall reading in a review of a book entitled The New Nonsense: The End of the Rational Consensus(NY, Simon and Schuster, '74.)
To so many questions in life there are not simple 'yes-no' answers; there is much yin-and-yang, much complexity and subtlety in our world, our bewildering and wondrous existence. I leave it to readers, again, with the interest to explore Abdul-Baha's illuminating work, first published without His name, but eventually appearing in Haifa in 1928, and published by the assembly of the Baha'is of Haifa, then a city in Palestine. This leader of the Baha'i Faith from 1892 to 1921 was, among other things, a literary philosopher par excellence, although not trained in academic institutions. He was trained in the school of hard knocks, with a Person Who was arguably the most precious Being ever to walk the face of this earth as His Father. Abdul-Baha's life was spent in prison and exile from 1852, at the age of 8, until His release more than half a century later, in 1908, when the young Turk Revolution forced the release of all religious and political prisoners held under the old regime.
Plato, paradoxically, was himself another brilliant literary artist. Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard were all writers of immense literary as well as philosophical power. The history of philosophy is filled with brilliant writers. It is also filled with immense obscurity and stuff to make the mind of readers very weary. Philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and George Santayana have written novels, while novelists like Thomas Mann and Robert Musil have created fiction dense with philosophical allusion. Some have even suggested, only half in jest, that of the brothers William and Henry James, the philosopher, William, was the more natural novelist, while the novelist, Henry, was the more natural philosopher. Some experts quibble: “If William is often said to be novelistic, that’s because he is widely — but wrongly — thought to write well,” the philosopher Jerry Fodor wrote. “If Henry is said to be philosophical, that’s because he is widely — but wrongly — thought to write badly.” I leave it to readers here to google the various writers and philoosphers I have mentioned here, if they are sufficiently interested and if circumstances and time permit.
Alain de Botton can come into the vaccuum here. Alain de Botton(1969- ) is a Swiss writer, philosopher, television presenter, entrepreneur, and resident in the United Kingdom. His books, and television programmes, discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy's relevance to everyday life. At 23, he published Essays In Love (1993), which went on to sell two million copies. Other bestsellers include How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004) and The Architecture Of Happiness (2006). In August 2008, he was a founding member of a new educational establishment in central London called The School of Life. In May 2009, he was a founding member of a new architectural organization called "Living Architecture". In October that year, de Botton was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, in recognition of his services to architecture. In 2011, de Botton was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL). For more on Botton go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_de_Botton. For more on this theme of philosophy and literature, and the quality of writing for Everyman---go to:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/23/books/review/Ryerson-t.html
PHILOSOPHY AND POETRY
I am not a novelist. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I tried to write a sci-fi piece and got to 30,000 words, but literary fertility was denied me. It was denied me insofar as writing a novel, a work of science-fiction, or a work of historical fiction. By 1992, after some thirty years of writing poetry and essays, I came to accept by sensible and insensible degrees that my home was in those two genres. Perhaps I simply lacked persistence to do the legwork required to write an extensive, a long, piece of writing. Who knows? More than 20 years later, as I write this in 2014, I have written thousands of poems, hundreds of essays, and even several books. They are all works of non-fiction. I did not even toy with writing a novel, sci-fi, or other, in the last years of my paid employment(1992-2003) or the first decade of my retirement and life on a pension(2004-2014).
My focus on poetry and philosophy is described in some detail in the following simulated interview. I have written a great deal on my philosophy of poetry in particular and prose in general. It is a philosophy of organism, drawing on A.N. Whitehead, in which creativity is guided by purpose and is expressed by two capacities: loving and knowing. It is a philosophy which draws on many thinkers, writers, artists, sculptors, philosophers, historians, sociologists, psychologists, inter alter, too many to summarize here. This interview, though, focuses on one particular philosophy which is a part of my approach to poetry and prose. It is a field of philosophy with very large words, but I want to give it special attention, special focus here. In addition, this interview closes with a brief discussion of some of the psychology underlying my writing.
"I think the interview is the new art form. I think the self-interview is the essence of creativity," wrote Jim Morrison in his “Prologue: Self-Interview,” Wilderness, Volume I - The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison. James Douglas "Jim" Morrison(1943-1971) was the lead singer and lyricist of rock band The Doors, as well as a poet. Following The Doors' explosive rise to fame in 1967-8 when I was teaching among the Inuit on Baffin Island and pioneering for the Canadian Baha’i community, Morrison developed a severe alcohol and drug dependency problem which culminated in his untimely death in Paris in 1971 at age 27 due to a suspected heroin overdose. I was just about to begin my international pioneering life in Australia when he was buried. The events surrounding his death continue to be the subject of controversy, as no autopsy was performed on the body after his death, and the exact cause of his death is disputed by many to this day.
The interview below and some 25 others now total more than 150,000 words; 40,000 of these words are a statement of thanks & acknowledgements. Some of these interviews are on the internet. I have revised these interviews many times over the last 20 years: 1995 to 2015. I would have been happy to have the interview taped, even if the moment I know the interview is being taped, my attitude changes to being somewhat defensive and or histrionic. My words and ideas become, when I'm being taped, deliberately affected or self-consciously emotional, or overly dramatic in behavior or speech. Because interviews contain within their method and style a demand for rapid, improvised, on the spot responses, the interview makes it difficult, at least for me, to say anything particularly complex or sophisticated. My ambivalence regarding the live interview, also has something to do with the way in which, adopting a role as one does in an interview, the interview becomes a somewhat dishonest way to act.
One good way to do an interview, someone once suggested, is to have a long conversation without the interviewer taking notes. Then the interviewer can, if he or she so desires, reminisce about the conversation and write down his or her impression of what he or she felt, not necessarily using the exact words expressed. Another useful method is to take notes and then interpret them with a certain loyalty to the person interviewed. But I did not go for this method during these 26 interviews. I have wirtten my answers to hypothetical questions.
What ticks me off, so to speak, about the tape-recording process is that it does not seem loyal to the person who is being interviewed. It records and remembers what, in retrospect, one may feel are quite inaccurate or inappropriate remarks. That’s why, when there is a tape recorder, I am conscious that I’m being interviewed; when there isn’t a tape recorder, I can talk in an unconscious and completely natural way. This simulated interview approach is the closest I can get to a much more natural approach: reflective, honest, sincere and useful to future readers.(1)
In September 2003 Edward Said(1935-2003), Professor of English and comparative Literature at Columbia for 40 years, gave an interview. For more than three days he spoke about his life and work. This interview, entitled The Last Interview, begins with a quotation from Roland Barthes (1915-1980), a French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, and semiotician: "The only sort of interview that one could, if forced to, defend would be one where the author is asked to articulate what he cannot write."(2) Some people who are interviewed are unflappable and verbose; some are anxious about what they say; some don’t give interviews; and then there is me; I make up my interviews, that is, I simulate them.
(1) See Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Art of Fiction No. 69 and his interview with Peter H. Stone in The Paris Review, Fall/Winter 2005 for some of Marquez’s remarks on which I have drawn. Marquez(1927- ) is a Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist. See also the opening quotation above from Jim Morrison of the band The Doors
(2) Bob van der Linden, “A Critical Humanist among the Professional Experts”, in Other Voices, Vol. 3.1, 2007.
THE POPULARITY OF PHILOSOPHY
Philosophy is among the fastest growing A level subjects in Britain but, as far as I know, this is not the case in other Western countries. This suggests that, despite the pressure from governments to increase the teaching of technical, career oriented subjects, a lot of sixth formers have a stubborn interest in more traditional enquiries about the meaning of life. Also near the top of the list of fast growing subjects is Religious Studies; and this again seems to confound the experts. Notwithstanding constant announcements that religion in educated Western Europe is "on the way out", many intelligent young people seem to have a keen desire to learn about traditional spiritual frameworks of human understanding. Any kind of teaching that promotes the development of narrow perspectives can be charged with helping to encase souls in strait jackets. For an account of how philosophy has fared in Australian, American, and Canadian universities, readers are advised to do some googling.
Frustration often ensues as the aspiring philosophy or religious studies student climbs higher. The university study of philosophy in the anglophone world now offers little by way of a grand synoptic vision of human life and our place in the scheme of things. Instead, the subject has fragmented into a host of highly technical specialisms, whose practitioners increasingly model themselves on the methods of the natural sciences. By the time students of philosophy or religion reach graduate studies, graduate school, most students will be resigned to working within intricate, introverted "research" programmes, whose wider significance they might be hard pressed to explain to anyone outside their special area or, as one critic put it in a clever turn of phrase: "such students learn more and more about less and less, as they get their coveted PhD." -Ron Price with thanks to John Cottingham, Philosophy as Confession, March, 2011. John Cottingham is an English philosopher, educated at Merchant Taylors’ School near London, and St John’s College, Oxford. He is a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Reading, Professorial Research Fellow, Heythrop College, University of London, Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford and editor of Ratio: the International Journal of Analytic Philosophy.
The evolution of thought in western culture may at one time have promised a triumphant reason capable of continually enhancing a dominion of good sense. It is now undeniable that the evolution of consciousness does not necessarily refer to a positive or `upward' climb towards a wiser and deeper sensibility. It seems that at this celebrated historical juncture in the development of the collective mentality of the West, leading intellectual and political thinkers chose a fatally wrong turning, since the path they selected to follow has arguably led to a false conception of rationality which has made reason itself into a victim, among its other roles. Some of the simplest questions are not only the hardest to answer, but the most important to ask.' This elementary truth not only indicates the centrality of imagination in trying to frame the task of philosophy, it brings out the central importance of the frequently ignored themes of interest and importance. To continue this discussion go to: http://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/viewFile/289/433
DISCIPLINARY COMPLEXITY AND COHESION
Cohesion as a term connotes attraction, unity, and commonness amongst discrete entities. Considering cohesion as a concept is timely with the recent rise of network culture. The internet comes with both subtle and radical changes in how people connect with, position themselves in relation to, and understand other constituents of society. Such dis- and inter-connections signify an imminent and immanent epistemological challenge we must confront: how can we understand inherently multi-faceted subjects, components of which are in constant transformation? For researchers, disciplinary complexity is one of the main implications of this situation. While disciplinary integration may be an effective or vital component in pursuit of knowledge, it may also impart significant conceptual and pragmatic conflicts. What are possible ways to coalesce multiple dimensions of reality that can lead to conceptually cohesive & useful knowledge production? The journal of Media and Culture(Vol. 13, No. 1, 2010) attempts to answer this question by looking at different perspectives on the notion of cohesion across topical and disciplinary boundaries.
There is a need to understand the conceptual, experiential, significance of social cohesion in the increasingly urbanised, networked contemporary world. In the 1997 OECD report, Societal Cohesion and the Globalising Economy, Michalski, Miller, and Stevens attribute ‘strains in the fabric of OECD societies.’ The strains are due to global economic and political changes, as well as the rapid technological progress. The World Bank places social cohesion as a metonym for social capital; they argue that social cohesion is ‘critical for societies to prosper economically and develop sustainably,’ and that it is ‘the glue’ that holds constituents of the society together. While it is true that the need to build bonds between human beings, and to bring together otherwise disparate experiences & aspirations is evermore crucial to a sustainable future for the world, we doubt that the current pervasive view of cohesion as a measurable parameter for ideal harmony and unity. Rather, in this uncertainty we see opportunities for re-examining the existing definitions of cohesion and further shaping different versions of social/community strengthening. For more go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/view/cohesion
THE CONCEPT OF AMBIENCE
Ambience is all around you, verywhere you go. You cannot get away from it. You cannot hide from it. You cannot be without it. For ambience is that which surrounds us, that which pervades. Always-on. Always by-your-side. Always already. Here, there and everywhere. Super-surround-sound. Immersive. Networked and cloudy. Ubiquitous. Although you cannot avoid ambience, you may ignore it. In fact, ambience is almost as ignored as it is pervasive. For the most part, our attention is given over to what’s in front of us, what we pick up, what we handle, what is in focus. Instead of ambience, our phenomenal existence is governed by what we bring into the foreground of our lives. Our attention is, almost by definition, occupied not by what is ambient, but what is salient (Jaaniste, Approaching Ch. 1).
So, when Brian Eno coined the term Ambient Music in the 1970s, and Ensminger in the Journal of Media and Culture, they were doing something strange. They were bringing ambience, as an idea and in its palpable sonic dimension, into salience. The term, and the penchant for attuning and re-thinking our connections to our surroundings, caught on. By the end of the twentieth century, it was deemed by one book author worthy of being called the ambient century (Prendergast). Eno is undoubtedly the great populariser of the term, but there’s a backstory to ambience. If Spitzer’s detailed semantic analysis of ‘ambience’ and its counterpart ‘milieu’ published back in the 1940s is anything to go by, then Newtonian physics had a lot to do with how ambience entered into our Modern vernacular. Isaac Newton’s laws and theories of gravity and the cosmos offered up a quandary for science back then: vast amounts of empty space. Just like we now know that most of an atom is empty space, within which a few miserly electrons, protons, neutrons and other particle fly about (and doesn’t that seem weird given how solid everything feels?) so too it is with planets, stars, galaxies whose orbits traverse through the great vacuum of the universe. And that vacuum Newton called ambience. For more go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/view/ambient
SIMULATED INTERVIEW WITH RON PRICE
Over the years you have been aware of the philosophy of phenomenology as an influence on your poetry but, more recently, it has become more obvious, more articulate, more specifically influential. Could you describe this development, this increasing focus on, and inspiration from, phenomenology?
Yes, it wasn’t just phenomenology. During all my teaching life my focus was in the social sciences. It wasn’t until the last decade of my career as a teacher that the humanities, literature and poetry, found a place. And they found a place in an interdisciplinary mix. I came across phenomenology when I was teaching sociological theory in the mid-1990s. I had been writing poetry seriously for two or three years by then. I had just started working on a collection of poetry that came to be called The Terraces. The relationship between the poetry I was writing and the ideas in phenomenology did not really begin to come together, to connect, until after I had retired from teaching in 1999. It was then that I was able to focus on the philosophy of phenomenology and underpin my writing with a clear and articulate set of ideas albeit complex and not all that easy to put into words.
Anyone familiar with my work will know that many strands of philosophy and psychology, indeed from a number of the social sciences, make up the basis of my writing, but phenomenology came into focus as the 21st century opened, in 2000 and 2001. I think it is interesting that this happened just as the Arc Project on Mt Carmel was completed. Phenomenology involves the study of how perception shapes a person’s reality. The tapestry of beauty that was created in the 1990s on Mt. Carmel had a profound affect on me—as a man who was coming to the end of his working-employment life, to the end of the process of raising three kids and who was also wanting to decrease his involvement in community and social life. By the mid-1990s I wanted more and more to devote my time to writing. In the last dozen years, 2003 to 2013, I have done just that.
I: The history of 'the philosophy of phenomenology' goes back to the early years after the passing of Baha'u'llah, the late 19th century. I understand you see an interesting parallel development between significant events in the history of this philosophy, the history of the Baha'i Faith, and your own life.
P: Yes, phenomenology began as a movement, a strand, a field, in philosophy about three years after the passing of Baha'ullah and spread, like the Baha'i Faith did, to many countries in the next few decades. One of the first major books in the field was published when 'Abdu'l-Baha was on His western tour, in 1913. It was called Ideas: A General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology by Edmund Husserl. Husserl(1859-1938) was a philosopher and mathematician and the founder of the 20th century philosophical school of phenomenology. A second major book in this field of philosophy was by Martin Heidegger entitled: Being and Time. It was translated into English and published the year I began my pioneering-traveling life for the Canadian Baha'i community, 1962. Martin Heidegger(1889-1976) was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being". Phenomenology is now in the first decade of its second century. I don't want to highlight or summarize this history here. The story is too long. The above will suffice for now.
I: I believe there are several tendencies or stages in this multidisciplinary movement called phenomenology. Your poetry seems to fit into two of them: existential phenomenology and hermeneutical phenomenology. The first, the existential strand, focuses on the issues and questions of existence; the second on systems of interpretation. These two strands draw on thinkers like: Heidegger, Marcel, Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Ricoeur. For the most part, their writings came after WW2. Do you see this as an accurate overview?
P: Yes, I don't have any trouble with that. But when you start to examine the details of the writings of these thinkers and how their ideas are expressions of the philosophy of existential phenomenology or hermeneutical phenomenology you get into a long and complex story. It is hard enough just saying the words, the basic terms. Most people, on seeing such words, run for cover. A poetry which is based on an existential phenomenology emphasizes the tension between existence and essence. It also emphasizes choice, responsibility, freedom and the joys and angst of existence. A poetry which draws on a hermeneutical phenomenology emphasizes the poet's interpretive systems, his flexible orienting frameworks, his own changing perspectives, the illumination and the dark patches in individual experience. It emphasizes a concern for, and an interest in, virtually every aspect of existence--on some sliding scale of varying degrees of personal meaning, of course.
Let me outline some core ideas, core concepts, in phenomenology to give you an idea of what it is about. Firstly, there is an emphasis on 'pure description.' In my poetry, therefore, I place a strong emphasis on the pure description of experience. Secondly, in phenomenology there should be an attempt to manifest what is hidden in ordinary, everyday existence. In my poetry, then, I try to get at what might be called the structure of everydayness, an interconnected system of things, ideas, roles and purposes and an introspective examination of my own intellectual processes as they experience the phenomena of existence. That's enough of a mouthful for now.
I: There seems to me to be a very strong social construction to reality, what you might call a sociological phenomenology. The means by which humans orient themselves to life situations through their stock of knowledge, their store of experience, their structure of experience, the historical patterns of life-experience, the landscape of judgements by which they fix their place in the world, the inner stream of consciousness. All these strands of thought seem to be involved in what phenomenology is all about.
P: You put it well. There are many ways of expressing phenomenological philosophy. One of these ways is by means of a sub-discipline of sociology called sociological theory. Much of it seems to be useful in expressing what I am trying to do in my poetry. The process involves what it means to be human, to be alive, to find meaning within life; it involves pursuing concepts; it involves the possibilities that flow from perceiving, believing and thinking. It involves truth as process and truth as something that emerges for a person in the process of their describing experience. Many of the names I mentioned earlier in this interview one can find in the field of philosophy or in sociological theory. I have found, in the years since I wrote my first poem in the early 1960s, that there is a strong interdisciplinary tendency in the social sciences. My poetry is partly a reflection of this.
I: For Heidegger an intricate and mysterious connection existed between finding a sense of self and the natural world. He sought refuge from the pervasive hauntings of the idle chatter of town and group life. This was also true of Thoreau. This is also true in your poetry as well, is there not, a search for solitude, a fatigue with chatter? (for more on Thoreau and his political theory go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJL9S0J8-4k&feature=em-subs_digest )
P: Yes, both Thoreau and Heidegger sought refuge in withdrawal from the social domain, into nature, into solitude, into silence, into reflection, into writing, into moments of vision in relation to: (i) what it means to be human, (ii) what it means to ask the questions in order to situate oneself in the world, to pluck the finer fruits of life, to move beyond the factitious cares and the superfluously coarse labours of life, beyond the slumber, the mindless mechanical motions of living, and so enter the poetic, the divine life. In a perpetual openness, the openness that Thoreau and Heidegger were seeking, my life becomes my stage and I become both actor and audience. My involvement in: (i) what Horace Holley calls 'the social religion',(ii) the teaching profession, and (iii) my inherent gregariousness, has required the kind of solitude and silence I am talking about here from time to time. In life one needs both: the social & the solitary. Over the last 60 years, since my parents became involved first in party-politics and then in the Baha'i Faith, and since I became involved in the social dimensions of sport and school, family life and friendships, all in the early to mid-1950s, I’ve had plenty of both.
I will now quote liberally from the historian and philosopher David Hume(1711-1776), in his Of Essay Writing. I quote Hume because I have come to cultivate more and more, but in my own way, as the years have advanced incrementally, from my mid-50s to my early-70s, the sentiments and sensibility that are conveyed in the following paragraphs of that essay:
"Must our whole discourse be a continued series of gossiping stories and idle remarks? Must the mind never rise higher than perpetually being stunned and worn out with endless chat about: someone did this, and someone else said that". As I have said elsewhere many times, in recent years my capacity to interact with others has been reduced to short periods of time, 90 to 120 minutes maximum. How much of this has to do with the medications I take for my bipolar disorder and how much is due to tedium vitae and the accumulating poison of excess speech over those 6 decades, I do not know. And so it is, as Hume says, I have been "worn-out with endless chat." Still, I engage in its inevitabilities because I am not a total recluse or hermit, and I have social responsibilities as a husband and father, grandfather and friend, secretary of the local Baha'i community, human being in community.
Hume continues: "I believe that delicacy of taste is to be desired and cultivated. The good or ill accidents of life are virtuallly beyond our control; but we are pretty much masters of what books we shall read, what diversions we shall partake of, and what company we shall keep." I have little control over my wife's illnesses, the nature and behaviour of my children, what other people write, what other people do in my extended family, among my friends and among the relations in the Baha'i community. All of this is, again as Hume puts it, "virtually beyond our control."
Philosophers, and many people invoking some religious sentiment or doctrine, have endeavoured to render happiness entirely independent of every thing external. "That degree of perfection," Hume says "is impossible to be attained, but every wise man will endeavour to place his happiness on such objects chiefly as depend upon himself." Hume goes on to explain that, at least how he sees it, this personal independence "is not to be attained so much by any other means as by this delicacy of sentiment. When a man is possessed of that talent, he is more happy by what pleases his taste, than by what gratifies his appetites, and receives more enjoyment from a poem or a piece of reasoning than the most expensive item that luxury can afford. And this is a new reason for cultivating a relish in the liberal arts." And this I do: in my reading and writing, editing and publishing, researching and engaging in online blogging and journalism, as well as a minimum of interaction with other souls both in cyberpsace and real space.
and Hume again:
"Our judgment will strengthen by the exercise of those things that please our taste, that are expressions of our talents. We shall form juster notions of life in this way. Many things, which please or afflict others, will appear to us too frivolous to engage our attention; we shall lose by degrees the affects that results from that sensibility and "delicacy of passion which is so incommodious". Some people are subject to that sensibility and delicacy of passion which makes them extremely sensible, sensitive, to all the accidents of life. They will experience a lively joy upon every prosperous event, as well as a piercing grief, when they meet with misfortunes and adversity. Favours, good offices, and good experiences with others will easily engage their friendship; while the smallest injury will provoke their resentment. Any honour or mark of distinction will elevate them above measure; but they will be sensibly touched with contempt on other occasions." Perhaps this is what Baha'u'llah means when He writes in His 'tablet of the true seeker' in his emphasis on detachment that we should "cleanse our heart of all love and all hate...and of all shadowy and ephemeral attachments."
"On farther reflection, I find, that such an attitude, such an exercise, such an engagement of my talents and faculties, improves my sensibility for all the tender and agreeable passions. At the same time these feelings and experiences render my mind incapable of the rougher and more boisterous emotions. As Ovid writes: "A faithful study of the liberal arts humanizes character and permits it not to be cruel."--Ovid(43 BC to 18 AD) in his Letters from Pontus."
"I think there may be assigned two very natural reasons for this temperamental development," Hume adds. There are, he says, "two reasons why I have come to be in the position I am now in in relation to the social. In the first place, nothing is so improving to the temper as the study of the beauties, either of poetry, eloquence, music, or painting. They give a certain elegance of sentiment to which the rest of mankind are strangers. The emotions which they excite are soft and tender. They draw off the mind from the hurry of business and interest; they cherish reflection; they dispose one to tranquillity; and they produce an agreeable melancholy, which, of all dispositions of the mind, is the best suited to love and friendship. In the second place, this delicacy of taste is favourable to love and friendship, by confining our choice to few people, and making us indifferent to the company and conversation of the greater part of men."
"You will seldom find, that mere men of the world, whatever strong sense they may be endowed with, are very nice in distinguishing characters, or in marking those insensible differences and gradations, which make one man preferable to another." In their gregariousness and in many ways anyone, Hume states, "is sufficient for their entertainment. They talk to him, of their pleasure and affairs, with the same frankness that they would to another; and finding many, who are fit to supply his place, they never feel any vacancy or want in his absence." I have come, in these latter years, not to be like this. I certainly prefer some people to others and, in my now limited gregariousness, I people my life with a preferred few.
In some ways, though, I have gone beyond this personality preferencing. I now prefer solitude and silence to the company that results from my limited gregariousness and only visit others for short cameos, as I have come to call them, short appearances on the stage of life. I am like Ustad Baqir and Ustad Ahmad in Abdul-Baha's miniature biographies, His Memorials of the Faithful. These two men kept to themselves and "away from friend and stranger alike." I am also like Mirza Muhammad-Quli who "mostly kept silent, kept company with no one and stayed by himself most of the time, alone in his small refuge."(Abdu'l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, p.46, 73) Still and now in my 70s, I engage in a modicum of social interaction, (a) extensively with my wife with whom I live, (b) much less with my son, his wife and my grand-daughter whom I visit and who visit me, and, over several months, (c) with a dozen or more people in my home and their homes.
Hume says of some people that: "their judgment may be compared to a clock or watch, where the most ordinary machine is sufficient to tell the hours, and the most elaborate time-piece is not required, the time-piece that alone can point out the minutes and seconds, and distinguish the smallest differences of time." A person who has well-digested his knowledge both of books and men, has little enjoyment except in the company of a few select companions, a few select time-pieces and, in my case now as I go through my 70s, only for the shortest of time frames. "Such a man," Hume expatiates, "feels too sensibly how much all the rest of mankind fall short of the notions which he has come to prefer in the select few. His affections, being thus confined within a narrow circle, he carries the relationships resulting from these affections far indeed." In my case, now in the evening of my life, I do not carry any relationships "far indeed." I carry them as far as they and I are capable of carrying them, and that is "not very far."
"Such an individual," Hume goes on, "carries these relationships further than if those individuals were more general & quite undistinguished. The gaiety and frolic of a boon companion becomes, over time, a solid friendship; the ardours of what was once a youthful appetite, those friendships of one's early years, become an elegant passion." Although this may have applied to me in my young adulthood and middle age, in recent years, in this last decade(70 to 80) of my late adulthood(60-80), none of this now applies to me. I have become a more solemn and reflective person even melancholic, perhaps due to life's travail; perhaps due to the rigors of, or the affects from the medications I take for, my bipolar disorder. This solemnity, this solemn consciousness, though, I have come to the view, is "itself the wellspring of a most exquisite celebratory joy" that I often feel in my solitariness. (Extract from the Universal House of Justice, Department of Secretariat letter 3 April 1991)
As that fine English essayist, William Hazlitt(1778-1830), writes: "I am never less alone than when alone."
I: So your life becomes your amusement, your novelty, a drama of many scenes with fresh and often not-so-fresh prospects every hour. You become the artisan of your own reality in which you hear faint echos of simplicity winding their way through the paths of complexity in your everyday life. Your poetic understandings revolve around the mystery, the simplicity and the complexity of being itself. This poetry also revolves around analysis and juxtaposition. Life itself becomes a poetic dwelling, with its sometimes mundane and simplified moments, its sometimes etherial and complex moments. They all sing and reverberate the meaning of one’s existence.
That is how Timothy Riley describes the process in his article "Heidegger and Thoreau: Questing for the Authentic Translation of Dasein." I think this is the Tim Riley(1960- ) who reviews pop and classical music and has written for truthdig, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, Slate.com and Salon.com. He was trained as a classical pianist at Oberlin College and Eastman School of Music. Anyway, does what I say here come close to your way of experiencing it?
P: I've never heard of Riley, but I like the way he puts it here. It's a little complex, but then phenomenology as a philosophy of poetry is not simple. Phenomenology provides for poetry a philosophic-poetic base which creates, as Heidegger puts it, a world space that sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. It also involves seeking our humanness, our mortality, in a relation to the immortals which in a Baha'i context is a relation to the Central Figures of the Cause and those who have been faithful to the Covenant and have passed on to the next life. They are the sources of inspiration for the poet who is a Baha'i. They are also the source of inspiration to Heidegger, although he would call them angels or muses. The poet occupies his private space only by simultaneously occupying the space of meaning belonging to the wider community. Community and privacy is a dichotomy that must be integrated in the life of the poet as well as in the life of anyone else.
The Scottish moral philosopher Alisdair Macintyre(1927- ) writes in his After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory(University of Notre Dame Press 1984, p. 219) that the human predicament is a fragile unity. He calls this "the fragile unity of the narrative quest....Quests sometimes fail, are frustrated, abandoned or dissipated into distractions; and human lives may in all these ways also fail." In the process of writing what is now a 2600 page autobiographical narrative I have become even more aware than I already was of this "fragile unity." Macintyre goes on: "It is the degree of predictability which our social structures possess, and much of physical reality, which enables us to plan and engage in long-term projects; and the ability to plan and to engage in long-term projects is a necessary condition of being able to find life meaningful.
A life lived from moment to moment, from episode to episode, unconnected by threads of large-scale intention, would lack the basis for many characteristically human institutions: marriage, war, the remembrance of the lives of the dead, the carrying on of families, cities and services through generations and so on. But the pervasive unpredictability in human life also renders all our plans and projects permanently vulnerable and fragile." If my life had not been embedded in the new social structure that is the Baha'i community and its administration, especially in the decades since the Universal House of Justice was formed more than 50 years ago, my fragile unity may have, probably would have, been no unity at all.
I: I've not heard of Macintyre either. There is another aspect of poetry that has its roots in a philosophy or a sociology of phenomenology and that is its subjective orientation. Subjective meaning in the interpretation of social action, of history, of life and of reflexivity is at the centre of this poetic philosophy. Would you agree?
P: There is no question about the essentially subjective nature of this poetry. There is also an objective aspect, a facticity, the kind of objectivity that the philosopher Paul Ricoeur emphasizes. The self which writes or is written about exists in an institutional system, a complex of relationships, dwells in a pattern of social control exerted by the poet, the person himself and by others. This self is defined and described through the centrality of language as the organizing medium of the lived-in-world. There is an essential precariousness, an ultimately symbolic aspect, to the definitions of reality, to the social worlds, described by the poet. Truthfulness lies in this mix, in this complex web. And I like to think for my particular philosophy there is some truth in every manifestation of existence, of the human spirit, however polarized, eccentric and apparently absurd that manifestation is. Synthesis, amplification, engendering, context—all these are words that are representative of my aim not obliteration, criticism, blight.
I: Of course, there is much more to the philosophical underpinnings of your poetry. Could you comment briefly on these other bases?
P: I have written thousands of words on the philosophy behind my poetry. I seem to have developed a concern for writing poetry and for commenting on its nature, its purpose, its philosophy, its direction, inter alia. I would encourage readers to dip into my poetry. I've got several hundred thousand words at this website: poetry and prose. It explains a great deal of what I'm trying to do. Phenomenology is a key but, for me, there are many keys. The whole thing is far too complex to reduce it to one approach, no matter how big the word is and how subtle, intricate and useful its reach. I like to think the philosophy behind my poetry goes back to both Plato and Aristotle and the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, at least in the Western tradition.
I: We could approach this whole business of the underpinnings of your poetry by means of psychology instead of philosophy or sociology. What sorts of things would you say, if we were to take this approach?
P: In my four years of tertiary education and training(1963-1967) I studied psychology in three courses. In the 1970s and 1980s I taught psychology six or seven times as part of social science and behavioural studies programs and twice as courses in psychology itself. The notes from all these courses are lost to me now. From 1992 to 1994 I taught an introduction to psychology unit at Thornlie Tafe College in Perth. I kept a core of the notes from that course when I retired in 1999. In the opening years of this 21st century I taught psychology to a few students in a Seniors School. In the several years since last teaching psychology, 2006 to 2014, I have widened the scope of my notes and my studies in psychology.
I have found psychology to be a fertile field of study during these initial years of my retirement. As was so often the case when I taught a subject, I never really had a chance to get my teeth into it since I always had one eye on the student and another on just getting "up" on the basic course content. Now that is still the case but for quite different reasons, the main one being an interest in a host of other subjects as well, subjects that occupy my attention across a wide spectrum of disciplines.
There is always so much to learn and the focus on. It has been more than 50 years since I first came across this subject at university in the autumn of 1963 and it would appear this interest will continue well into the future. It certainly provides some useful foundations to my poetry. But what specifically would you like me to focus on here in this interview?
I: There are so many ways of looking at it. Why don’t we do the same as we did with philosophy and sociology, that is, look at some of the theoretical stances, ideas, concepts in psychology that you find useful, relevant to your writing of poetry?
P: Fine. Back in those eight months of 1963-64 when I was first introduced to psychology, the course, that introductory course in psychology, just touched on the field of theories. Even now I recall the following from that first dalliance with psychology: learning theories, personality theories, trait theory. As the years went on: leadership, interpersonal, socio-historical, cultural, gestault and transpersonal theories, good-god, the list is as long as your arm. I think each one of these theories contributes something to my understanding of self, society and my value system—the basic content of my poetry writing. I don’t think I could even begin here and provide a succinct statement. I’d need several pages,
I: Okay; let’s take a different tack. Let’s look at some of the major thinkers who have had an influence of some significance on your writing of poetry.
P: Fine. I’ll list a core of psychologists but, again, it might be difficult to be brief in articulating their influences. Adler, Freud, Jung, Fromm, May, Rogers, Erikson, Piaget. I’ll stop there because these eight men have written enough stuff to sink a ship and each of them has at least two or three central ideas that I can not ignore in their influence on both what I write and how I write it.
I: Fair enough. Why don’t you pick your favorite over the years and talk about his influences?
P: That would be easy. I have enjoyed Rollo May(1909-1994) the American existential psychologist and the author of the influential book Love and Will which was published in 1969. I came across this book in about 1970. I had started writing poetry in the early sixties and, by 1970, I had entered the longest period when I actually wrote little to no poetry, the 15 year period from 1964 to 1979. But when I did start writing poetry again in the 1980s and 1990s, I found May’s analysis of self, society, values, beliefs and attitudes in his many books very helpful. In 1992 Roger White, a Canadian poet with whom I had been corresponding for a decade or so, sent me a copy of May’s The Courage to Create. It was about the psychology of the creative process, about courage, about much that is involved in living, working, loving & being. It is difficult to summarize May. I think the best I can do is encourage others to read his books.
I: I think that’s enough for now. There is so much we can explore and we will do so in future interviews. I’ll come back to these issues and I look forward to future exchanges on the philosophy and the psychology underpinning your poetry, Ron
P: No problemo, as the former governor of California once said.
The bibliography that could be written here is extensive. Readers are advised, should they want to follow-up on phenomenology, to go to a good university library or look it up on the Internet using some of the key words from this interview.(23/12/01 to 18/7/'14)
WHY DO PHILOSOPHY?
What drives some people to pursue the field of philosophy? What gets people started, leading them down the garden path to philosophy's gaping maw? What sort of skills, or what sort of temperament, might be involved in philosophy's seduction and the subsequent compulsion? In thinking about these questions I have felt free to rely on my own case, hoping it is not too terribly idiosyncratic. Indeed, if anything, philosophy's seduction in my life had a common beginning, that is, a beginning which 1000s of other students also had. Between 1963 and 1966 I had a goal to get a B.A. and, in the first two years of that three year B.A. program, I studied philosophy because I was able to get high marks. It was better than Spanish or economics two subjects which I studied for several weeks and then dropped. I was also unable to study the various physical and biological sciences, or mathematics and the applied sciences, because my matriculation results were not sufficient or appropriate in order to enter these fields. With my higher marks in philosophy and history I entered my 2nd year of university in a double major, as it was then called. I knew which subjects I could not do. There were many reasons I could not do them: incapacity, disinterest, simple preference for some subjects over others. By my 3rd year I had opted for sociology over philosophy and history. I have now been in and out of the field of philosophy--and sociology--as I say elsewhere on this thread, from 1963 to 2015.
It is said that philosophy begins in wonder. We find this remark in many places, but it can be traced back to comments in both Plato and Aristotle. The slogan, the words about wonder, in English suggests that the drive to philosophize begins in some psychological state that encompasses curiosity of all sorts. But it is only a certain type of curiosity. The two questions: I wonder how far away the sun is, or I wonder whether there is a way for humans to fly?.....are not philosophical questions. These two questions express a kind of wonder, but not one that is especially relevant to philosophy. Another kind of wonder is what we might think of as a variant of being awestruck, or being appreciative in some fashion. This kind of wonder is nicely evoked in the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s famous remark: "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more frequently and persistently one’s meditation deals with them. These two things are the starry sky above me and the moral law within me."
If one associates philosophy with a sort of religious attitude or appreciation of the world, one might think philosophy involves this kind of wonder, this sort of attitude or appreciation. But this has little to do with the philosophical impulse that actually drives us, or at least has driven me for more than half a century, to pursue philosophy as practiced in academic institutions or privately in the last 15 years of my retirement from the world of jobs. I’m nowhere near a scholar of ancient philosophy, having taken only one course in that sub-section of the subject as well as having read and taught it from time to time over several decades. From what I understand, though, it seems plausible that the “wonder” that both Plato and Aristotle mention as leading people to philosophy has more to do with perplexity, where perplexity is quite different from both curiosity and awestruck contemplation. Perplexity is a kind of irritation, and the drive to philosophize is aimed at getting rid of that irritation. For more on this theme go to: http://philosophy.cah.ucf.edu/fpr/files/11_1/witmer.pdf
THE MAKING OF THE MODERN IDENTITY AND SENSE OF SELF
Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity is a work of philosophy by Charles Taylor, published in 1989 by Harvard University Press. It is an attempt to articulate and to write a history of the "modern identity." The book "is an attempt to articulate and write a history of the modern identity, & what it is to be a human agent." Taylor writes about: "the senses of inwardness, freedom, individuality, & being embedded in nature for citizens in the modern West." Charles Taylor(1931- ) is a Canadian philosopher from Montreal, Quebec. He is best known for his contributions to political philosophy, the philosophy of social science, and intellectual history. His academic writing earned him the prestigious Kyoto Prize and the Templeton Prize, in addition to widespread esteem among philosophers. In 2007, Taylor served with Gérard Bouchard on the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on Reasonable Accommodation with regard to cultural differences in the province of Quebec. Taylor currently teaches at McGill University in the Department of Religious Studies. Go to this link for more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sources_of_the_Self
PHILOSOPHY: COMING TO AN END?
In the electronic online journal Animus, some 17 years ago, in 1996, an article entitled "Post-Modernism And The Recovery Of The Philosophical Tradition" appeared. It was by F. L. Jackson. Jackson taught the history of modern philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland for over thirty years, both the grand tradition from Bacon to Hegel, and its 19th and 20th century critique. He has a background in experimental psychology and has written mostly on Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl, as well as contemporary cultural and constitutional issues. He considers himself a modern through and through. Jackson raised some important questions in philosophy, at least for me. The following paragraph opens Jackson's journal article:
"As century and millennium draw to a close the paradoxical thought preoccupying philosophers is whether or how philosophy is at an end. According to the now common opinion - among many academic philosophers, indeed, a certainty - the ideal of a universal knowledge through principles, philosophia, has long since been exposed as spurious so that no person of right mind would nowadays recognize or indulge in it as a legitimate pursuit. For the new philosophers the fact is that "philosophy" as traditionally understood is a thinking no longer relevant for a post- modern consciousness and world; if it might still have a role it can only be in some radically attenuated sense: as writing its own obituary, clearing away of the rubble of its own ruined foundations, speculating as to what it might now mean to live and think post-philosophically." Jackson continues in a long, and for most readers, a complex article. This article is a good example for me to make the point that much of the serious reading in the social sciences and humanities requires, not only a general familiarization with the field, the discipline, but a persistence with the language even when one is, in my case, not a novice. After half a century of reading, studying and teaching philosophy I found this article demanding.
"That the philosophical legacy has become moribund," Jackson continues, "would certainly appear confirmed in the universities, where the former queen of the faculties has long been deposed and the view of philosophy as an obsolete discipline is so broadly established that even full professors of philosophy are rendered mute by the question as to why it should even be taught at all, much less what its proper curriculum should be. In the general culture too the appeal to rational grounds is viewed as un-chic, if not indecent; a moralistic presumption prevails that equates the naive appeal to principles with allegiance to established religions: as indicative of an atavistic and reactionary turn of mind. In a culture that tolerates the most capricious and absurd superstitions provided they claim no more than a subjective validity, the achievement and the way of philosophy does not even garner that much respect. The popular view accords more with the judgement of Nietzsche that the philosophical outlook and spirit is not merely misguided, it is perverse." For more of Jackson's fine but difficult article go to: http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%201/Jackson.pdf
PHILOSOPHERS WHO HAVE INFLUENCED ME
To list and comment on all the philosophers who have influenced my thinking and my writing would lead to a prolixity that would result in filling, at least, another 60 books beyond the 60 that are already present at this website. But I will begin with a woman who I am sure few who come to this site will have even heard of: Suzanne Langer(1895-1985). Langer was an American philosopher of mind, and of art, who was influenced by Ernst Cassirer and Alfred North Whitehead. Ernst Cassirer(1874-1945) was a German philosopher trained within the Neo-Kantian Marburg School; he initially followed his mentor Hermann Cohen in attempting to supply an idealistic philosophy of science; after Cohen's death, he developed a theory of symbolism, and used it to expand phenomenology of knowledge into a more general philosophy of culture. He is one of the leading 20th century advocates of philosophical idealism. Alfred North Whitehead(1861-1947) was an English mathematician and philosopher. He has been called the “greatest speculative mind of the 20th century.” He wrote on algebra, logic, foundations of mathematics, religion, philosophy of science, physics, metaphysics, and education. All of these subjects were integrated into his comprehensive worldview known today as process philosophy. In the above paragraph there are several names and terms which I encourage readers with the interest to Google in order to fill in the background, a background which will make this part of my website more comprehensible.
To return to Langer: She was one of the first women to achieve an academic career in philosophy, and the first to be popularly and professionally recognized as an American philosopher. Langer is best known for her 1942 book Philosophy in a New Key. In 1956 she was awarded a grant from the Edgar J. Kaufmann Foundation which allowed her to devote the remaining 25 years of her life to research and writing. For more on Langer and her writing go to: http://www.anthonyflood.com/langer.htm , and :https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susanne_Langer
INTRODUCTION TO LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN
In the early 1990s I began collecting notes and resources on Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein(1889-1951), an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. At the time I was a lecturer in General Studies at a technical and further education college in Perth Western Australia, at what became, first, the Swan College of Tafe in Thornlie, a suburb of Perth, and then a polytehcnic. I was teaching English literature at matriculation level and philosophy to students in Certificate 3 and 4, and Diploma courses. The writings of Wittgenstein were relevant to my teaching.
Wittgenstein held the professorship in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947; I had come across him before, but never as frequently as in those early 1990s. I now have a file which contains the results of some 25 years(1991-2014) of my collecting resources on Wittgenstein. This has been a periodic and largely serendipitous exercise. As a Times Literary Supplement(TLS) article in 2005 put it, in introducing the subject of Wittgenstein:
“Why are artists so fascinated by Ludwig Wittgenstein? Frege is a philosopher’s philosopher, and Bertrand Russell was every shopkeeper’s idea of a sage; but Wittgenstein is the philosopher of poets and composers, novelists and movie directors. Derek Jarman made his last major film about him; Bruce Duffy plucked a novel from his tormented life in The World As I Found It; M. A. Numminem has set Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to music in his Tractatus Suite, and garbled fragments of the same text can be heard croaked in a hilarious stage-German accent by a Dutch pop group. The list is long.” I have made a start to a formal collection of resources on this philosopher as I revise this introduction.-6/7/'05 to 18/7/'14.
“Perhaps the best place to begin trying to understand Wittgenstein’s character,” the British philosopher Colin McGinn once remarked, “is with the photographs that exist of his face. Looking into Wittgenstein’s eyes," McGinn went on, "it is hard to meet his gaze for very long: They are imploring eyes yet with an intense rage flaring just behind the iris, sending off an unnerving blend of supplication and admonition…. The look is simultaneously delicate and military, tender and ferocious. If you stare hard at the face, it seems to shift aspect from one of these poles to the other…. You feel the excitement and peril of an encounter with the man." Go to this link for more: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/jun/06/looking-for-wittgenstein/
INTRODUCTION TO POLITICAL SCIENCE:
This page of my website, deals in the main with "an introduction to philosophy", but I have devoted the latter part of this philosophy page, this philosophy sub-section, to "political science" & "political philosophy". Readers can also find some content on political philosophy in the sub-section of my website entitled: "Philosophy: Modern." I intend, in the next, the 5th, edition of this website to have a separate page devoted to political science but, in the meantime, readers who are interested in my comments on political science will find them here in this part of my website on philosophy.
The term politics comes from the Greek word politikos meaning "of, for, or relating to citizens." It is a term generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs including behavior within civil governments. The word also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the corporate, academic, and religious segments of society. It consists of "social relations involving authority or power" and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy. For more of this general overview go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics The following is my introduction to this subject, an overview of my experience with this discipline, a discipline that includes political philosophy.
Political science is a social science discipline that deals with systems of government and the analysis of political activity and political behavior. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics which is commonly thought of as the determining of the distribution of power & resources. Political scientists "see themselves engaged in revealing the relationships underlying political events and conditions, and from these revelations they attempt to construct general principles about the way the world of politics works." Political science draws upon the fields of economics, law, sociology, history, anthropology, public administration, public policy, national politics, international relations, comparative politics, psychology, political organization, and political theory. Although it was codified in the 19th century, when all the social sciences were established, the study of political science has ancient roots that can be traced back to the works of Plato and Aristotle which were written nearly 2,500 years ago. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_science
As a student in primary and secondary school in Canada political studies occupied a very small part of the total curriculum. In grade ten I remember taking an introductory Canadian politics, or civics, course as it was called then. History, of course, contained its share of political issues, & history was a subject I took every year that I was a student as far back as grades four and five, in 1953 to 1955. In the autumn of 1963 I took my first course in philosophy and, in 1964 at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, I began my first and only course in political science in my five years of post-secondary education. I was, back then, in my first two years of a four year arts degree. In 1964 I majored in history & philosophy. The political science unit I took at university was the last course I took in political science in my tertiary studies, although it was impossible to separate all political issues that were part and parcel of several of the courses I took in my external studies, distance learning, and summer courses from 1970 to 1988.
The first practical contact I had with politics, as I indicated above, was with the partisan variety. This was during a period of time in the 1950s when my parents were involved with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in Ontario, Canada. In 1961, the CCF disbanded and was replaced by the New Democratic Party. The Ontario CCF party was formed in 1932 with the support of a number of Independent Labour Party clubs. Its roots were in the Hamilton area. The party elected its first MLA in the 1934 provincial election in Hamilton East. We had meetings in our home for a period of, perhaps, two years. This was before or even during the first years of the involvement of my parents in the Baha’i Faith. These meetings in my home innoculated me against partisan politics, and favourably disposed me toward the Baha'i Faith and its non-partisan political stance.
I did teach political science and political philosophy on many occasions from the 1970s to the 1990s & the first years of the 2000s. At the Ballarat College of Advanced Education, now a university, political science & political philosophy were part of an introductory social science course which I taught for three years to several groups of students. I also taught philosophy and political science from 1989 to 1995 at the then Thornlie College of Technical and Further Education, now Polytechnic-West. They were separate courses not integrated or inter-disciplinary. The political science I taught was in a course entitled 'Australian Government and Legal Systems' much like a more comprehensive form of that civics course I took back in high school in the 1950s. The course was called by its acronym, AGLS. AGLS was largely a course to help Australians understand their political system. During that time I amassed two arch-lever files of notes which, on retirement in 1999, I threw away by degrees as my interest developed more fully in political science, political philosophy, and less and less, in the partisan variety that was part of the core of mass media politics.
I tired of teaching this program, as I tired of the endless daily diet of Australian political life, and its essentially partisan politics. Australians who utilize the print and electronic media with an interest in what is generally called "current events" get a regular and daily dose of politics. My guesstimation is that the average Australian watches and listens to at least 30 minutes to one hour of the variety of politics & current events known as partisan politics, and local, national and international affairs. But who watches what and how much is a complex demographic question which I leave to readers with the interest. I think that many Australians take little to no interest in politics in any form, and so that average I have given may be an overestimation. Being essentially a pleasure-loving people or, at least, a people which enjoys a fun-culture with its emphasis on: food and fashion, sport and gardening, entertainment and exercise, family and friends, the political world is largely a tangent to their lives. I think this has become even more true in this 21st century with its increasing complexity. This generalization is, of course, only partly true as many generalizations are. The issue and the question of what 25 million people do with their time is highly complex.
I did not tire of the issues raised in political theory & political philosophy; like sociological theory I found this field intellectually stimulating. I have found these fields stimuating now for more than half a century: 1963 to 2015. In the 1st years of my retirement from FT work, 1999 to 2003, it became increasingly important to me, because of my interest in these fields, to open a file on political philosophy & theory. In the first week of September 2003, I opened two files of recently photocopied articles on political philosophy and theory. For William Morris on political theory via u-tube go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiNFoJqOJhs&feature=em-subs_digest .....For Thoreau on political theory go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJL9S0J8-4k&feature=em-subs_digest
By the time I retired from FT paid-employment in 1999, I took little interest, as I say above, in partisan politics and the kinds of issues generated in that AGLS course, in the media, and indeed most modern 'civics' courses. But political theory and philosophy interested me, and that is what is found in my current political science files. Inevitably political science, as a discipline of study, has a sociological and a psychological, an historical and a philosophico-religious component. The social sciences have become so very interdisciplinary. These two files contain political theory and the purely political aspect of the social sciences. This theoretical area is an aspect of political science that has, as I say above, little to do with partisan politics and the range of issues that tend to occupy the media such as: the republic, senate powers, parties, minority groups, pressure groups, foreign & domestic policy, voting & the electoral process, the legal system, parliamentary processes, the Labour & Liberal, Republican & Democratic, political agendas, inter alia.
These political science and political philosophy files are more concerned with the very general, the abstract, aspects of political and philosophy, basic ideas and conceptions behind the many philosophies and ideologies, systems and approaches to the organization of society. This is a more intellectual, a more philosophical, a more theoretical, approach to political and its problems. The line, though, between theory and practice is not always clear-cut. These two files have now been in existence for more than a decade, 2003 to 2014. Thusfar, I find I do not draw on them very much in my writing. When I do write about political and political philosophy it is generally about some TV program or news item which does not require a theoretical base, or some article in a popular journal or newspaper like: the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the Guardian or the New York Times.
Time will tell how these two files evolve in the years ahead. In 2013, I opened a sub-section of my history files to deal with economics since that subject had, at that time, no place in any of the files in my study. I also added 'Economics' to the 'History: Introduction' sub-section of my website in 2013. Since my first year of university, in the autumn of 1963, when I took an economics course for three weeks, I have never found economics an attractive subject. In the more than 50 years from 1963 to 2015, economics has always been a poor cousin in both my teaching & learning, although I did teach the subject of economics occasionally from the 1970s to the 2000s: (a) as part of the several social science courses which I taught, and (b) as a discrete subject at Polytechnic-West in the 1990s.
19/12/'10 to 7/ 6/'15.
There are now dozens of online journals in the field of political science. I recommend the following journal PSQ: Political Science Quarterly. PSQ was launched in 1886 by Columbia University Professor John W. Burgess, the Academy’s first president, with the active involvement of New York publisher George A. Plimpton. Published continuously since that year, PSQ has been the most widely read and accessible scholarly journal on government, politics, and public policy. Broad in its subject matter and dedicated to objective analysis based on evidence, PSQ examines both domestic and international issues. It has no ideological or methodological slant and it is edited to be accessible not only to scholars but also to general readers who have a serious interest in public and foreign affairs.
Although most of PSQ’s authors are drawn from the top ranks of professional political scientists, its pages are also open to talented younger scholars whose work meets the Quarterly’s high standards. PSQ’s articles are frequently cited in related academic literature and reprints are often used in classrooms. The thirty to forty book reviews in each issue are timely & thorough to ensure that readers are kept up to date on new literature in the field. For more go to:http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)1538-165X/issues
THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL THOUGHT
The history of political thought dates back to antiquity. The political history of the world, & thus the history of political thinking by man, stretches from the ancient world up through the medieval period and the renaissance. In the age of enlightenment, political entities expanded from basic systems of self-governance and monarchy to the complex democratic and communist systems that exist of the Industrialized and in the modern era. In parallel, political systems have expanded from vaguely defined frontier-type boundaries, to the definite boundaries existing today. For more of this overview of the history of political thought go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_political_thought Go also to this link for a discussion of the general transformation of studies in the humanities, and especially the remarkable transformation over the past half-century of the history of political thought: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n21/colin-kidd/europe-what-europe
HITLER'S POLITICAL THOUGHT
For an essay entitled "Hitler’s World" byTimothy Snyder in the New York Review of Books(24/9/'15) go to this link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/sep/24/hitlers-world/ Timothy David Snyder(1969- ) is an American historian, author, and academic specializing in the history of Central and Eastern Europe, and the Holocaust. He is a professor at Yale University and is affiliated with the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna and the College of Europe in Natolin, Poland. Snyder is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Snyer's essay begins as follows: "Nothing can be known about the future, thought Hitler, except the limits of our planet: “the surface area of a precisely measured space.” Ecology was scarcity, and existence meant a struggle for land. The immutable structure of life was the division of animals into species, condemned to “inner seclusion” and an endless fight to the death. Human races, Hitler was convinced, were like species. The highest races were still evolving from the lower, which meant that interbreeding was possible but sinful. Races should behave like species, like mating with like and seeking to kill unlike. This for Hitler was a law, the law of racial struggle, as certain as the law of gravity. The struggle could never end, and it had no certain outcome. A race could triumph and flourish and could also be starved and extinguished." Snyder continues:
"In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could. Hitler thus broke with the traditions of political thought that presented human beings as distinct from nature in their capacity to imagine and create new forms of association. Beginning from that assumption, political thinkers tried to describe not only the possible but the most just forms of society. For Hitler, however, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die."
THE RISE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln by Sean Wilentz(W. W. Norton & Company, 1050 pages) is an enormous book. It has been in the works a long time, and the results are nothing less than monumental. An old-fashioned account of the rise of democracy during the first half of the 19th century, it is a tour de force of historical compilation & construction that more than justifies all the articles and monographs on antebellum politics written by historians over the past several decades. Wilentz, the Dayton-Stockton professor of history at Princeton, has drawn extensively on these secondary sources and on his own research. He has brought it all together into a clear and generally readable narrative. Coming in at just over a thousand pages, "The Rise of American Democracy" is one of the longest works of history to appear recently, and this at a time when most histories and biographies are getting shorter, presumably because of our reduced attention spans.
Wilentz makes no concessions to his readers' patience. He has filled his book with an extraordinary multitude of details about nearly every conceivable aspect of antebellum politics, both at the state and federal levels. Of course, since context is everything in history, excessive detail of this kind warms a historian's heart, though whether anyone except a few scholars and information-hungry graduate students will have the stamina actually to slog through such an enormous work remains to be seen. Awesome in its coverage of political events, this is a long, long read. For more of this review in November 2005 in The New York Times go to:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/13/books/review/13wood.html?ref=topics
THE LAST 50 YEARS OF POLITICAL THOUGHT
Few areas of the humanities have undergone such a remarkable transformation over the past half-century as the history of political thought. Students of political science like myself back in 1964-65, and millions of others who are introduced to the study of this field of the social sciences, usually do so in the context of introductions to the government & legal systems of their home countries. Such students are rarely introduced to it by way of its historical giants--the likes of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau & Marx, among others. Generally it is only students whose major field of study is political science or law who are introduced to a history of political thought. Such a history was reckoned to be a more elevated, if stilted, affair, of giant responding unto giant, sometimes across centuries of silence and endless hair-splitting. The history of political thought belonged for many centuries, not to historians, but to philosophers; & political scientists, broadly speaking, concurred. Political scientists, too, studied political thought by way of its canonical figures, for the light their ideas shed on perennial problems in government. A living discussion among contemporaries, between great thinkers and lesser fry in the ancient, medieval and modern world was not part of that traditional exposure of students to the history of political thought.
Unconvinced that the concerns of political philosophy were timeless and universal, a group of scholars, who have come to be known as the Cambridge School, inaugurated a contextualist revolution. The school’s founding father, Peter Laslett, pointed out the errors and anachronisms of political philosophers who paid no attention to the genesis of the texts they studied. Although Locke’s Two Treatises of Government wasn’t published until after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Laslett’s edition of 1960 showed that it had been composed during the Exclusion crisis of the early 1680s and was framed in response to that immediate context, in particular the posthumous publication of Robert Filmer’s patriarchalist theory of government. Of course, all of this is of little interest to those who follow the nightly, the daily, routine that the mass media presents before its votaries. Average citizens, if there is such a thing any more, engage their minds and emotions to varying extents depending on the time and circulstances of their lives.
Since the 1960s, authorial intent and context have been the central preoccupations of the Cambridge School and its leading proponent, Quentin Skinner, whose recent retirement from the Regius chair at Cambridge signals just how far from the margins of history that the history of political thought has travelled since the middle of the 20th century. In his inaugural lecture in 1997, Skinner confessed to a legitimate worry that history which did not inform present-day concerns amounts to little more than self-indulgent antiquarianism. Skinner presented his practice as socially useful for its ‘excavation’ of the hidden or misunderstood concepts that underpinned the modern state.
The modern state is a vexed topic for many in the contemporary world. On the one side, the modern development of the state has been seen as the source of manifold evils: from new forms of modern evil in totalitarianism and genocide, to the perversion of forms of social life that would be pre-modern or post-modern, to the distortions of our very most intimate selves. On the other side, it can well appear that the modern state is not only an inevitable necessity, but the only remedy to modern forms of evil: indeed the sine qua non of any kind of realized human dignity or human rights. The consideration of the modern state is easily polemicized and its historical development misrepresented. A special edition in 2008 of Animus:The Canadian Journal of Philosophy and the Humanities was written from a variety of perspectives but, as a whole, it provided the opportunity to better understand the intellectual and wider cultural sources of the modern state. This was not intended as a defence of the modern state, but rather as a consideration of the deeper reality of the state as understood by some of the crucial thinkers of the early modern period. This, in turn, provided readers with a sense of the truth as well as limits of the modern state. For more on this subject go to: http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%2012/PREFACE.pdf
CIVIC CULTURE AND MODERNIST LIBERAL POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
During the last three hundred years, the ideas central to the form of civic culture prevalent in most North Atlantic liberal democracies, and other liberal deomocracies around the world, were those supplied by modernist liberal political philosophy. This means that, on the occasions when some kind of coherent account or explanation of the moral and political norms proper to liberal democracy was called for, the ideas most readily available and rhetorically effective were those drawn from the tradition of political thought identified with authors such as Locke, Rousseau, Bentham, Kant, and Mill. For a u-tube item on Rousseau go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81KfDXTTtXE&feature=em-subs_digest
These ideas provided the dominant interpretation of the basic liberal democratic ideals of individual freedom and equality & were used to articulate the conception of political justice underlying liberal political institutions. In popular political discourse, rhetoric that appealed to notions of popular sovereignty, social contract, natural human rights, and to related ideas of authentic individuality and autonomous personhood seemed to have an immediate intelligibility and validity. The plausibility of these notions then served to reinforce adherence to the norms and ideals proper to civic life. However, during the last fifty years, since I was at university in the 1960s, the intelligibility & plausibility of these notions have eroded considerably and at an increasingly rapid pace. This erosion is related to a growing skepticism about the universalist and essentialist assumptions underlying modernist liberal political thought. Modernist liberal political philosophers drew their vocabulary and arguments from the intellectual and rhetorical resources produced by the European Enlightenment. For more on this crisis of modernist liberal civic culture, what amounts to a collapse of Enlightenment civic culture go to: http://www.civsoc.com/cltphil1.html .......For a series of essays on reconstructing civic culture go to: http://www.civsoc.com/reconciv.htm
THE MODERN STATE
A state is an organized community living under onegovernment. States may be sovereign. The term state is also applied to federated states that are members of a federal union, which is the sovereign state. Some states are subject to externalsovereignty or hegemony where ultimate sovereignty lies in another state. The state can also be used to refer to the secular branches of government within a state, often as a manner of contrasting them with churches and civilian institutions. For a lengthy overview of the state go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_(polity)
A sovereign state is a nonphysical juridical entity of the international legal system that is represented by one centralized government that has supreme independent authority over a geographic area. International law defines sovereign states as having a permanent population, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood to be a state which is neither dependent on nor subject to any other power or state. For more on the sovereign state go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_state For a series of articles on the modern state go to:http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/vol12.html
J. G. A. Pocock(1924- ) is a writer, and a historian of political thought. He is especially known for his studies of republicanism in the early modern period, especially in Europe, Britain, and America. His work has been on the history of English Common Law, his treatment of Edward Gibbon and other Enlightenment historians, and, in historical method, for his contributions to the history of political discourse. Since 1975 he has had tenure at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Pocock is celebrated not merely as an historian, but as a pioneer of a new type of historical methodology: contextualism which is essentially the study of "texts in context". In the 1960s and early '70s, he and Skinner introduced "languages" of political thought. Skinner focused on authorial intention. John Dunn stressed biography, and the three men united informally and called their approach "the Cambridge School" of the history of political thought.
For Pocock the then-reigning method of textual study of the Cambridge School and its adherents would not do. Simply engaging a vaunted 'canon' of previously pronounced "major" political works in a typically anachronistic and disjointed fashion, was inadequate. Pocock's "political languages" is the indispensable keystone of the historical revision he initiated. Defined as "idioms, rhetorics, specialised vocabularies and grammars" considered as "a single though multiplex community of discourse", languages are uncovered or discovered in texts by historians who subsequently "learn" them in due course.
The resultant familiarity of the above study produces a knowledge of how political thought can be stated in historically discovered "linguistic universes", and in exactly what manner all or parts of a text can be expressed. As examples, Pocock has cited the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century political languages of the "common law", "civil jurisprudence" and "classical republicanism", through which political writers such as James Harrington, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke reached their rhetorical goals. Pocock's own writings since 1957 have evolved and in no sense has he urged a single model over the decades. His writings on method, collected in Politics, Language and Time (1971) are especially associated with the idea that the task of the history of political thought is to trace the discourses, the political languages, which unified intellectual exchange into idioms with common styles, assumptions, preoccupations and results. Although I had been a student of history for at least a decade by 1971, I knew nothing of Pocock. In 1971 I moved to Australia from Canada and began 3 decades of academic life as a teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator, as a generalist. History became just one of many subjects which came to interest me and which I came to study.
Just as I was retiring from a 50 year student & paid-employment life, 1949 to 1999, Pocock published the first two volumes of a five-volume work. I did not begin to become even a little familiar with this monumental work until I had turned 70 in 2014. Pocock branched out from the Cambridge School in these volumes: Barbarism and Religion, vol.1: The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737–1794 (1999); Barbarism and Religion, vol.2: Narratives of Civil Government (1999); Barbarism and Religion. vol. 3: The First Decline and Fall, 500 pages(2003), and his Barbarism and Religion. vol. 4: Barbarians, Savages and Empires, 400 pages(2005); Barbarism & Religion, vol.5: Religion: the First Triumph(2011).
Pocock feels no embarrassment about the sorts of inquiry that hard-nosed political scientists might deride: clerical erudition, sacred history, ecclesiology, patristics, Christology and the esoteric stuff of antiquarianism, whether classical, medieval or even Orientalist. All of this is germane to his expansive definition of the history of past political argument. Moreover, the lines between the history of political thought and other kinds of intellectual history, historiography especially, begin to blur. Pocock insists that political thought is as often to be found in historical narrative as in philosophical argument; sometimes it is found, not least in colonial settings, at the confluence of history, anthropology and jurisprudence. For a useful review of volumes 1 and 2 go to: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=4052 Readers can find reviews of all of Pocock's book with a little 'Googling'.....For much more on this subject go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n21/colin-kidd/europe-what-europe
EARLY MODERN POLITICAL THOUGHT
The following two paragraphs come from: "The Closing Of The Early Modern Mind: Leo Strauss And Early Modern Political Thought," by Neil G. Robertson in the journal Animus(1998), a journal of philosophy and the humanities published in Canada. Like Nietzsche and Heidegger, Strauss sees that the West is in the grip of a profound spiritual crisis. This notion of crisis has been a note struck with varying degrees of intensity for some two centuries. Leo Strauss(1899-1973) was a German–American political philosopher & classicist who specialized in classical political philosophy. He was born in Germany to Jewish parents and later emigrated to the United States. He spent most of his career as a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, where he taught several generations of students and published fifteen books. For more on Strauss see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Strauss For an article in Minerva - An Internet Journal of Philosophy(Vol. 17, 2013, pp. 49-73) about Strauss go to:http://www.minerva.mic.ul.ie//Vol17/Strauss.pdf For readers who want more of the following article beyond its opening two paragraphs go to:http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%203/robert3.pdf
"Following Nietzsche and Heidegger, Strauss sees that this spiritual crisis itself opens up the possibility of a release from modernity. This release brings to light a principle that is beyond, but forgotten by, modernity. This release also points to a return to origins, free from and prior to the sources of modernity. At the same time, it is important to distinguish Strauss's analysis of modernity from that of either Nietzsche or Heidegger. Unlike these two thinkers, Strauss does not trace modernity to the metaphysical turn which began with Socrates and Plato, nor to the slave revolt of morality that received its most decisive impetus from Judaism. Rather, Strauss sees the roots of contemporary nihilism in the deliberate reformulation of political philosophy achieved by the great early modern thinkers, above all Machiavelli and Hobbes." For a u-tube item on Thomas Hobbes go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9i4jb5XBX5s&feature=em-subs_digest
"The source of modernity, according to Strauss, lies not in a metaphysical, religious, or even scientific transformation, but rather in an alteration of how political & moral things were understood. Strauss sees the history of modernity as a history of the further development of this initial alteration in political philosophy. The "three waves of modernity" are the stages by which the fundamental nihilism that was implicit in the origins of modernity came to appearance. Strauss describes the change in political philosophy that produced modernity in various ways: as a lowering of horizons; as a new conception of nature; & as a replacement of human will for nature as the source of standards. In these characterizations it is clear that, for Strauss, modernity is founded upon the internalizing of the sources of morality within human subjectivity, and, as the necessary consequence of this, the oblivion of nature and the total historicization of all moral and political standards. For Strauss, in this sense, Heidegger and Nietzsche, far from signalling the end of modernity, are the most complete realization of it."
"The grand Marxist promise has ended." --Jean Baudrillard
I have been reading and studying Marx(1818-1883) and his thought since my third year of university, 1963-64, some 50 years. In that year I took an introduction to political science; in 1965/6 I began to read Marx. I took a course in sociological theory and spent one of the many chunks of theory on Marx going back to his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts(1844). Like so much of the content of the courses I took at university, all I received was an initial exposure. It was not until I had to read and teach his thought, beginning as I did in the 1970s through to the turn of the century, that I began to get anything one could call, colloquially, a handle on his thought. For more on Marx readers of my website who have the interest can go to the sub-section "sociological theories" for more on Marx.
To Jean Baudrillard, a sociologist I first came in contact with in the mid-1990s when I was myself teaching sociological theory, Marx is still of central importance to class analysis of contemporary society. For many, Marx's overall critique of capitalism remains unsurpassed. Yet the impact of Marx on contemporary thought continues to moderate as we go through the second decade of the twenty first century. For many, Marx has become irrelevant in this age of a 1000 Marxisms. One way we can consider the place of Marx in contemporary thought is to assess the place he occupies in the thought of recent major theorists. There are many major theorists in the last century. I will deal with only one, briefly: Jean Baudrillard.
Jean Baudrillard(1929-2007) was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, & photographer. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and specifically post-structuralism. I leave it to readers with an interest in these subjects, and related topics, to do a little Googling. Baudrillard did not believe in the death of Marxist thought. Responding to a question in 1993, he said that Marx’s thought “continues to make a difference even though it does not have the impact it once had politically." As he also told interviewers in 1993: “Marx’s analysis was certainly influential upon my work, but I immediately came to question it, became ambivalent about it, and distanced myself from it.”
A decade later, he told François L’Yvonnet that his break with Marx came during the writing of the Mirror of Production(1973) in the early 1970s. This is correct, but a break is also detectable in his work theorizing The System of Objects(1968) and The Consumer Society(1970). Baudrillard evolved as a thinker in the late 1960s and early 1970s as Marx’s radical other.
Another implication of our post-Marxist condition, at least for Baudrillard, is that we are left with a circumstance in which “people are no longer fighting alienation but a kind of dispossession”(1997). In Baudrillard’s terms this means that we are no longer combating the spectre of alienation which was one of the great concerns of Marx, but that of hyperreality(1995). Baudrillard did not like our contemporary condition but he did his best to thrive as a thinker and a writer while coming to grips with its radical uncertainty. Baudrillard's political science is concerned for the most part with post-Marxist political science. As Baudrillard said, with such heart-rendering poignancy for a man of his generation, a between the wars generation, we must travel now intellectually without Marx. Baudrillard leaves us to ask, then: “Who are we?” and “where are we going?”....largely without Marx.
For many essays that express some enthusiasm for Marx and his ideas, though, go to the online journal Cultural Logic: An Electronic Journal of Marxist Theory and Practice at this link: http://clogic.eserver.org/2010/2010.html For more on Baudrillard's take on Marx go to the electronic online journal Nebula, V. 6, N. 4, December 2009. This article covers the subject in more detail. It is by Gerry Coutler "Marx in Contemporary Thought: The Place of Marx in Contemporary Thought: The Case of Jean Baudrillard: http://www.nobleworld.biz/images/Coutler2.pdf
THE PARTY IS OVER
In the London Review of Books(Vol. 36, No. 10, May 2014), we find a review by Jan-Werner Müller entitled "The Party's Over." It is a review of Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy by Peter Mair(Veso, 200 pages, 2013). The review begins as follows: "The word ‘party’ – as in ‘political party’ –has a very bad odour across the West, though for different reasons in different places. In the United States, everyone from the president down seems to lament the polarisation of politics and the increasing rise of partisanship. But then hostility to parties is nothing new in American history; ‘if I could not go to heaven but with a party,’ Jefferson wrote, ‘I would not go there at all.’ Europeans tend to be less in thrall to the ideals of the one indivisible nation. They worry about the opposite problem: that the parties are all the same. So there’s a problem when parties have distinct ideologies, and there’s a problem when they don’t. What, then, do we really want from them?
Peter Mair’s Ruling the Void offers some disturbing answers to this question. We remain in the dark about the strategies Mair might have recommended to address the crisis of Western democracy; he died of a heart attack in 2011 before his book was finished, but his brilliance as a political scientist comes through clearly, as does the magnitude of the challenge posed by the passing of the ‘age of party democracy’. Modern democracy, Mair tells us, simply cannot work without parties, so that when parties cease to play their proper role, democracy itself is at stake. The lack of serious political dissidence in Western democracies stems not from the innate superiority of the political party system, but from the endless array of apolitical entertainment that narcotizes revolutionary fervor. Juvenal’s complaint that the ancient Roman public demanded only “bread and circuses” gains renewed relevance in the carnival of online amusements. Evgeny Morozov’s most recent work seems to extend the concerns about the Internet as a source of stupefaction rather than revolution. See Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate The World, 2011 at this link:http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/09/net-delusion-morozov-review For more go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n10/jan-werner-muller/the-partys-over
This issue(Vol.16, No.1, 2015) of Essays in Philosophy has the following introduction: “Democracy is a provocative idea. From its Greek roots to its series of expressions in the history of Western philosophical thought, what it means has been fiercely debated and heatedly discussed. But that historical trajectory assumes some philosophical continuity through to the expressions of democracy found around the globe in the 21st century. That assumption carries with it the baggage of Enlightenment liberalism and the inevitable coloring of political relations by the aftermath of the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Is democracy in the 21st century tragically flawed by perspectives that are Eurocentric and colonialist, making it inevitably the philosophical tool of Empire? Or are there emergent forms of democracy that step outside this trajectory and offer new possibilities and new hope? This issue will not be focused on promoting or defending the continuity of 21st century democracy with Enlightenment philosophy. Rather, the intent is to explore the philosophy of democracy, encouraging the development and discussion of ideas emerging from movements for democracy in the early 21st century. Papers focused on the Arab Spring or popular movements for democracy in the global South are especially welcome, as are papers on the reactions to democratic regimes reflected in the Occupy or Idle No More movements (in North America) and their equivalent elsewhere. For more go to: http://commons.pacificu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1517&context=eip
BAHA'I FAITH AND POLITICAL NON-INVOLVEMENT
"There is, however, one case in which one can criticize the present social and political order without being necessarily forced to side with or oppose any existing regime. And this is the method adopted by the Guardian in his `Goal of a New World Order'. His criticisms of the world conditions beside being very general in character are abstract; that is, instead of condemning existing institutional organizations it goes deeper and analyzes the basic ideas and conceptions which have been responsible for their establishment. This being a mere intellectual and philosophical approach to the problem of world political crisis, there is no objection if you wish to try such a method, which immediately carries you from the field of practical everyday politics to that of political science in general, and political theory in particular. But in view of the fact that no clear-cut line can be drawn between theory and practice you should be extremely careful not to make too free a use of such a method."-Ron Price with thanks to a letter written on behalf of the Guardian, Lights of Guidance, p. 452.
Bahá’u’lláh required that His followers strictly abstain from conflict and contention, which are characteristics of the partisanship practiced in present-day politics. Bahá’ís, in whatever country they reside, are prohibited from holding membership in any political party. At first glance, one might expect to find the members of the Bahá’í community actively engaged in a wide range of political pursuits in furtherance of its universal ideals. The opposite is in fact the case. But Bahá’ís are urged to contribute to the welfare of society. One way to do this is to fulfill their civic responsibilities. Bahá’ís are free, therefore, to vote in a general election for any candidate who, in the privacy of their conscience, they believe would make the most valuable contribution to the society in which they live. Bahá’ís may also accept non-political government appointments. But they may not identify themselves with or campaign for any political party or partisan movement. For more go to:http://www.bahai.org/misc/politics
When it comes to politics Baha'is are instructed to "shun politics like the plague." There is a difference between politics and governance/policy. Politics is also much more than the competitive power struggle between individuals, parties, and organizations within systems of governance. Politics refers to anything relating to social issues, governance, public life, and the general administration of society by the current governments of the world. Baha'is are not geared, or engaged, in bringing the triumph of new and altered systems of governments, however much they are aloof from partisan politics. Global forms of governance in general, and the Baha'i' Commonwealth in particular, are both a long way down the historical tract. These are early days for any serious interest in global governance. We are, arguably, at the end of the first century since the beginnings of serious interest in global governance with Woodrown Wilson's 14 points and the League of Nations in the years 1919 and 1920. The League was an intergovernmental organisation founded on 10 January 1920 as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War.
The Baha'is & the Baha'i community are not focused on the emerging Baha'i system of governance. They are involved in working within the Baha'i administrative Order, and being good citizens, in a wide variety of ways within the traditional systems of governance in the current world, however anachronisitic these systems often appear to be. Giving what is an overt and active support for a candidate, or joining a political party, is not an appropriate MO for a Baha'i. Neither is the Baha'i community engaged in building an alternative government. As Shoghi Effendi writes: "Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct & perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country's constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries." --The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 65. This does not mean that all discussions of elections, public officials, policies, acts of governance, and even social issues are prohibited. Baha'is are quite free to engage in such discussions. Not all of those items of discussion which I have just listed have to do with partisan politics, and for those that do, it is the context and the frame of the discussion, the style, manner and mode of discourse that often matters most. Matters of international relations between countries are generally better left to Baha'i institutions to handle. These elected Baha'i instiutions can express the concerns of Baha'is in a manner which is dignified and, while vocally defending the innocent, does not give the impression of our being partisans, in the sense of narrowly pushing particular Baha'i interests, or doing so in an aggressive manner.
Abdu'l Baha, in writing about the orientation of the Bahais to politics, says that the Baha'i community has "no worldly object nor any concern with political matters. The fulcrum of their motion and rest, and the pivot of their cast and conduct, is restricted to spiritual things & confined to matters of conscience; it has nothing to do with the affairs of government, nor any concern with the powers of the throne; its principles are the withdrawal of veils, the verification of signs, the education of souls, the reformation of characters, the purification of hearts, and illumination with the gleams of enlightenment.-Abdu'l-Baha, A Traveller's Narrative, p. 85.
Abdul-Baha writes in another context that: "should they place in the arena the crown of the government of the whole world, and invite each one of us to accept it, undoubtedly we shall not condescend, and shall refuse to accept it. To attain to this supreme station is, however, dependent on the realization of certain conditions: The first condition is firmness in the Covenant of God. For the power of the Covenant will protect the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh from the doubts of the people of error." -Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 50. Shoghi Effendi himself wrote, back in 1947, "The Faith which this order serves, safeguards and promotes, is, it should be noted in this connection, essentially supernatural, supranational, entirely non-political." --Shoghi Effendi, Summary Statement - 1947, Special UN Committee on Palestine.
Shunning politics, though, does not mean that the individual Baha'i can not discuss government, policies, and government leaders. Baha'u'llah Himself wrote to many governments and leaders. The Baha'i International Community and the Universal House of Justice itself does the same on many issues. The Universal House of Justice has encouraged Baha'i's to teach the faith as relevant to social issues, so clearly Baha'i's must be up to speed in that regard. Clearly Baha'is need to discuss government when they go after Baha'i issues; for example, Baha'i human rights in Iran and other places. Clearly there are figures and policies involved in such discussions. So clearly politics has nothing to do with any of these things. This is governance and, I would argue, political science not politics. The issues I have discussed above, though, quoting as I have done from the Baha'i writings, have a degree of complexity. Readers who would like more quotations and more discussion of the subjects involved might like to go to this link:http://bahai-library.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2107
JAMES BALDWIN and ME
This prose-poem tells about an episode in my university days that was the closest I came to any political involvement both before or since in my more than 60 years of association with the Baha'i Faith, 1953 to 2014. The episode involved a group known as SNCC, and it occurred while I was a history and philosophy student in my 2nd year at McMaster university in Hamilton Ontario. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was one of the most important organizations of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. For more on SNCC go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_Nonviolent_Coordinating_Committee I have placed the episode in the context of the life & writing of author and activist James Baldwin. I have placed the post at this link: http://www.online-literature.com/forums/member.php?2768-Ron-Price , and
James Baldwin returned to the United States from Paris in the summer of 1957 while the Civil Rights Act of that year was being debated in Congress. In the spring of 1960 the Partisan Review editor Philip Rahv suggested to Baldwin(1924-1987) that he report on what was happening in the American south. I was in grade 10 at the time, in love with a girl around the corner from my house, and had just joined the Baha’i Faith. I knew nothing of James Baldwin. Baldwin, an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic published an essay in 1962 in the New Yorker. The New Yorker called the essay "Letter from a Region of My Mind". Baldwin also published a shorter essay The Fire Next Time.1
In Baldwin’s first five years back in the USA, from 1957 to 1962, as I say, I had not heard of him. These were my high school years, and in 1962 I was gearing-up for the most demanding year of my academic life, grade 13 in Ontario with its nine subjects. In 1962-63 four hours of nightly homework were required if I wanted to get into university in 1963. The year 1962 was also my last year of organized baseball for the Burlington All-Stars on the mound. It was also my first year of travelling-pioneering for the Canadian Baha’i community.
In the early 1960s Baldwin aligned himself with the ideals of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee(SNCC). In 1964/65 I had become involved with SNCC while at university in southern Ontario. I got my photo on the front page of The Hamilton Spectator due to my taking part in a protest rally in Toronto, my involvement at the time with SNCC, & my being a student at McMaster university in Hamilton. For an overview of SNCC go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_Nonviolent_Coordinating_Committee -Ron Price with thanks to 1Carol Polsgrove, Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement, 2001, pp. 94-99, and 155-156.
By 1965, when I was finishing
2nd year of history-philosophy,
SNCC fielded the largest staff
of any civil rights organization
in the South organizing direct
all segregated facilities…..and
voter-registration projects, in:
Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland,
Missouri, Louisiana, Virginia,
Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois,
N. & S. Carolina, Georgia, &
activists in….that "New Left."
SNCC wanted all sorts of change
in American society. But by 1966
I was completing my degree in
sociology; SNCC had changed
its policy of non-violence to a
black supremacist hatred of all
whites1 platform…..And I was
ensconced in a wider, a global
ideology with a different policy
agenda that would determine the
direction of my remaining years
from Canada to the antipodes!!!2
1 Go to this link for SNCC's transition from non-violence to violence: http://www.aavw.org/protest/carmichael_sncc_abstract06_full.html
2 By the late summer of 1966 I had decided to be a part of the Baha’i teaching program in the Canadian Arctic. In September 1966 I was the vice-chairman of the elected body of the Baha’is of Windsor Ontario, and was being mentored by Jameson Bond, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Windsor. This was part of my commitment to being a primary school teacher in the District of Franklin and a Canadian pioneer to that region.
16/1/’13 to 8/7/'14.
For my letter to Dialogue, a Baha'i Journal, in the late 1980s on social activism go to:http://bahai-library.com/circle_unity_responses
THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
Political science as a separate field is a relatively late arrival in terms of social sciences. However, the term "political science" was not always distinguished from political philosophy, & the modern discipline has a clear set of antecedents including: moral philosophy, political economy, political theology, history, and other fields concerned with normative determinations of what ought to be and with deducing the characteristics and functions of the ideal state. For a detailed history of political science go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_political_science
Political history, on the other hand, is the narrative and analysis of political events, ideas, movements, and leaders. It is distinct from, but related to, other fields of history such as diplomatic history, social history, economic history, military history, constitutional history & public history. Political history, generally, focuses on decisions made by the leadership of nation-states. Political history studies the organization and operation of power in large societies. It does this by focusing on the elites in power, on their impact on society, on popular response, and on the relationships with the elites in other countries. The field often involves the deconstruction of myths and received wisdom. The political historian has the constant, and somewhat awesome, responsibility of doing justice to the leadership of the past. According to Hegel, Political History "is an idea of the state with a moral and spiritual force beyond the material interests of its subjects: it followed that the state was the main agent of historical change." This contrasts with social history, which focuses predominantly on the actions & lifestyles of ordinary people, or people's history, which is historical work from the perspective of common people. For a video in relation to Hegel and various political philosophies and the psychology of mind control go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXi4fU8KJGM&app=desktop For more on political philosophy in general go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_history
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why, or even if, they are needed; what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights & freedoms it should protect & why; what form it should take & why; what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any; and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever. In a vernacular sense, the term "political philosophy" often refers to a general view, or specific ethic, political belief or attitude, about politics that does not necessarily belong to the technical discipline of philosophy. Political philosophy can also be understood by analysing it through the perspectives of metaphysics, epistemology and axiology. It provides insight into, among other things, the various aspects of the origin of the state, its institutions and laws. Go to this link for more:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_philosophy
The following link provides a list of political philosophers including some who may be better known for their work in other areas of philosophy. The list is for people who are principally philosophers and they are listed in order by year of birth to show rough direction of influences and of development of political thought. A 20th century political philosopher who is not on the list is one whom I have read extensively since teaching the history of ideas in the early 1990s at a polytechnic in Perth Western Australia. I first came across his many volumes in the first years after he died. Eric Voegelin(1901-1985) was a German-born American political philosopher who was educated in political science at the University of Vienna. He became a teacher and then an associate professor of political science in a faculty of law. In 1958 he accepted an offer by Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität to fill Max Weber's former chair in political science, which had been empty since Weber's death in 1920. For more on Voegelin go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Voegelin, and go to this link for that list of political philosophers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_philosophers
The English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead described the history of European philosophy as “a series of footnotes to Plato.” In the same spirit one might say that, since the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971, political philosophy in American universities has largely consisted of a series of footnotes to John Rawls. This is not to disparage the notes or other authors but, rather, to place a certain emphasis on an individual who has played a critical role in political philosophy since the 1970s. For his life & works go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rawls ...For several videos on Rawls go to: https://www.youtube.com/channel/U
Martha Nussbaum has been a productive & creative commentator on the questions raised by A Theory of Justice, & her book Political Emotions is a long & thoughtful discussion of one of them. Nussbaum discusses the question: "How can we engage the emotions of the public, of the citizenry, and produce, in the process, a more just, a more inclusive, gentler, & more imaginative society?" She asks, in passing, "is this a way of construing a more loving society?"
To put her central and fundmanetal question another way: how can a “decent” society do more for stability and motivation in cultivating public emotions without becoming illiberal and dictatorial? For an excellent review of this book in The Times High Education, 7/11/'13, go to: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/books/political-emotions-why-love-matters-for-justice-by-martha-nussbaum/2008725.article For a second review by Alan Ryan entitled "In the Spirit of Maya Lin" in The New York Review of Books, 9/10/'14, a review of Martha C. Nussbaum's Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2014, 450 pages), go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/oct/09/martha-nussbaum-spirit-maya-lin/?insrc=toc
POLITICAL AND CULTURE WARS IN AMERICA
Professor Paul Edward Gottfried, who teaches at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, is a longstanding veteran of the raging political and culture wars in America. His books include: After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State, Conservative Millenarians: The Romantic Experience in Bavaria (1979), a work which attests to his early-found interest in complex intellectual history; The Search for Historical Meaning Hegel and the Postwar American Right (1986), a work which combines his interests in Continental European political theory & American right-wing politics; the two editions of The Conservative Movement (1988 and 1993) on postwar American conservatism; as well as Carl Schmitt Politics and Theory (1990), a highly nuanced work about the controversial yet often acute German right-wing theorist.
Paul Gottfried is today probably the leading political theorist of the so-called "paleoconservative" grouping. In fact, he is credited with coining that term. He could be called one of the leading "white generals" in the American "counterrevolution." He has been a senior editor of The World & I, and is currently a senior editor at Telos, a scholarly journal of eclectic political criticism, and a contri-buting editor to Humanitas as well as Chronicles. He is also editor-in-chief of This World. After Liberalism, which has been published by Princeton University Press as the lead title in a major new series, "New Forum Books," presenting original scholarship focusing on the juncture of culture and law, political science and politics. For more go to:http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc0904/article_830.shtml
The gigantic paradox of Clive James's book Cultural Amnesia is that it is a text for liberal humanists for whom there can be no text because liberal humanists are always floating, queasily, in doubt. So how does he achieve this? Liberalism, he says, is the awkward truth, the messy one that is hard to defend because it is so nuanced, whereas ideologies are barbed with certainties. He illustrates those nuances time and time again. Readers might like to have a broad look at liberalism as a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property. For more of this overview go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism
I revelled in Clive James's Cultural Amnesia, its surprises, its complexities, the diversity of its topics, its insouciant seriousness. What is remarkable is that, although James has an array of rhetorical weapons, he shows no malice, no desire to kill off his intellectual enemies. He has views on just about everything, and everyone, but he never gives in to anger or bitterness. He is firm in his belief that liberal democracy may not be perfect, but it is the best deal going, despite the awfulness of materialism and its consequences, including the absurdity of celebrity worship. For more of the many reviews of this book go to: http://www.clivejames.com/books/current/revamnesia
CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
The following is a review of a book entitled Edmund Burke: The Enlightenment and Revolution, by Peter J. Stanlis(New Brunswick, N.J., Transaction Publishers, 1991). Professor Peter Stanlis has done perhaps more than any other scholar of the last century or more to explicate the thought of Edmund Burke as both philosopher and statesman. His Edmund Burke and the Natural Law, first published in 1958, did much to dispel the myth propagated by nineteenth-century utilitarian and positivist scholars that Burke was opposed to the classical and Christian natural law tradition. Edmund Burke: The Enlightenment and Revolution, based on Professor Stanlis’ chief articles and critical review essays on Burke over the past 40 years, continues this work. For more from this article go to:http://www.nhinet.org/humsub/ahern6-1.pdf
In the 1980s traditionalist scholar Claes G. Ryn, and Joseph Baldacchino, founded the National Humanities Institute(NHI), a center for the study of the humanities from the conservative perspective which also publishes a bi-annual journal Humanitas. Noted traditionalist scholars who serve on NHI's Academic Board include George W. Carey, Jude P. Dougherty, & Peter J. Stanlis. The NHI also operates the Center for Constitutional Studies and the Irving Babbitt Project. For more on this go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditionalist_conservatism
For a review of two more books on Burke: (i) Edmund Burke and the Critique of Political Radicalism by Michael Freeman(Blackwell, 250 pages, 1980), and (ii) Burke by C.B. Macpherson(Oxford, 100 pages, 1980). The review appeared in the London Review of Books in Jan 1981, and begins: "With the inevitable exceptions of Thomas Aquinas and Karl Marx, it is doubtful whether any political thinker has inspired more sustained imbecility among his friends and enemies than Edmund Burke. And, despite first appearances, his appeal is far less predictable than theirs. Both Aquinas and Marx were in the first place theoreticians: the latter died at his desk, the former should have done." The reviewer Owen Dudley Edwards continues:
"Burke in action automatically comes to mind as on his legs before the House of Commons, admittedly with his profundities passing over the thick heads of most of his audience. Aquinas and Marx are approachable in a large but obvious body of writings: Burke survives through a wide swathe of pamphlets, speeches, letters, no single item being in the least comparable in extent with Das Kapital, much less the Summa. Above all, Thomists, Marxists and their enemies know, and make known, what they are for and against and why, while Burkeans & anti-Burkeans are far less predictable in ideological terms." For more of this review go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v03/n01/owen-dudley-edwards/burke-and-history
Finally, there is this review of David Bromwich's The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence (Harvard University Press, 500 pages, 2014) in The New York Review of Books(5/3/'15). The review begins: "Edmund Burke, who died in 1797, remains a figure to reckon with more than two centuries later. He has been & still remains an inspiration to American conservatives, most strikingly to those lamenting the absence of an American cultural aristocracy early in the twentieth century, & to those at the height of the cold war who took their cue from his Letters on a Regicide Peace and sought the rolling back of communism by any means possible, including war. Burke is certainly a formidable figure, but one who resists recruitment for twenty-first-century causes. It is his elusiveness that makes him a live presence; he was a traditionalist and a progressive, an enlightened critic of Enlightenment run amok, a secular thinker who insisted on the indispensability of religious faith. For more of this review by Alan Ryan(1940- ), who was a Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford and who is currently a lecturer at Princeton University, go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/05/edmund-burke-dangers-patriotism/?insrc=toc
USA POLITICS: 2016
The Trump insurgency has left the Republican Party in an almost debilitating dilemma. Does it endorse an ‘amorphous populist’ who regularly antagonises the Republican leadership, if that candidate gives them the best chance of winning this year’s presidential election? A similar dilemma played itself out in Australian politics in 2013, when the federal Labor Party reinstalled former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. even though some of his own colleagues had described him as a ‘wrecker’ and a ‘psychopath’. At what point should a political party choose principled consistency over winning? Go to this link for more: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/theminefield/when-is-a-political-party-obliged-to-lose/7213062
Chinese political philosophy dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period, specifically with Confucius in the 6th century BC. Chinese political philosophy developed as a response to the social and political breakdown of the country characteristic of the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. The major philosophies during the period, Confucianism, Legalism, Mohism, Agrarianism and Taoism, each had a political aspect to their philosophical schools. Philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius, and Mozi, focused on political unity and political stability as the basis of their political philosophies. Confucianism advocated a hierarchical, meritocratic government based on empathy, loyalty, and interpersonal relationships.
Legalism advocated a highly authoritarian government based on draconian punishments and laws. Mohism advocated a communal, decentralized government centered on frugality and ascetism. The Agrarians advocated a peasant utopian communalism and egalitarianism. An excellent source here is: Eliot Deutsch and Ronald Bontekoei, A Companion to World Philosophies. Wiley Blackwell. 1999, p. 183. Taoism advocated a proto-anarchism. Legalism was the dominant political philosophy of the Qin Dynasty, but was replaced by Confucianism in the Han Dynasty. Prior to China's adoption of communism, Confucianism remained the dominant political philosophy of China up to the 20th century. For political philosophy of ancient Greece, India, medieval Christianity, Islam, the Reanaissance, the Enlightenment, the modern and contemporary period as well as political philosophers---go to this link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority. It is the study of what the above terms are and what they mean, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it should take and why, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever. In a vernacular sense, the term "political philosophy" often refers to a general view, or specific ethic, political belief or attitude, about politics & political science that does not necessarily belong to the technical discipline of philosophy. In short, political philosophy is the activity, as with all philosophy, whereby the conceptual apparatus behind such concepts as aforementioned are analyzed, in their history, intent, evolution and the like. For more on this subject go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_philosophy
MY WRITING AND PHILOSOPHY
Writing became a psychological necessity for me due to a complex set of reasons that I explain elsewhere in my memoir. I did not sacrifice other things; other things lost their previous charm or demand, their role and responsibility. I was able to express my emotions and at the same time give them form and control as a poet like the English poet Philip Larkin did. I was able to find relief from fears and anxieties as Sartre did in his literary work. Unlike Larkin, though, I have not had a fear of death nor have I had his melancholy gloom. Unlike Sartre I do not have his philosophy of atheism, his massive literary output nor his tendency to construct a series of personae to hide his real self as he dealt with a variety of correspondents.
I would not like to experience my final years in the same way that Jonathan Swift(1667-1745), the Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for the Whigs, then for the Tories), poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin---did. Swift accurately predicted his mental decay. When Swift was about 50 he remarked to the poet Edward Young when they were gazing at the withered crown of a tree: "I shall be like that tree, I shall die from the top." I, on the other hand, have been able to enjoy the benefit of the field of psycho-pharmacology as practiced by psychiatrists to deal with my bipolar 1 disorder. Whether I experience some dementia in my final years, or some other disabling disability, only time will tell. As I head for the age of 70, though, in less than 20 months, the horizon looks bright with promise and there are no signs, as yet, that I am going to die from the top down.--Ron Price with thanks to: R. L. Brett, “Philip Larkin: A Psycho-Literary Sketch,” About Larkin 7, April 1999.
MY INTERNET POSTS ON PHILOSOPHY: at the following link:
A WAY OF TRAVELLING: A MODUS OPERANDI/VIVENDI
THE IMPLEMENTATION OF A PHILOSOPHY OF PIONEERING
ALAIN DE BOTTON
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, religion lost influence, but the religious impulse lingered on. Some people sought salvation in the secular religions of politics: in Communism, fascism and various utopian experiments. Others saw artists, musicians and writers as Holy Men, who could provide transcendence and meaning, revealing timeless truths on how to live. I could put the following book in the religion section of my site but, for now, since the author is more philosopher than man of religion in the traditional sense, I am placing it here in my introduction to philosophy. The book is entitled: Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton. The following is a review by The New York Times columnist David Brooks on 16/3/'12:
In 1913, the innovations of the Armory Show in New York & Diaghilev’s production of “The Rite of Spring” had a seismic impact because audiences believed the shape of the culture determined the shape of their souls. In 1922, George Gordon, the Merton professor of literature at Oxford University, could write, “England is sick, and . . . English literature must save it.” These days politics, political science, and culture have more modest aims. As the writer and freelance philosopher Alain de Botton argues in “Religion for Atheists,” cultural and intellectual institutions are no longer about the salvation of souls: “The methodologies which universities today employ in disseminating culture are fundamentally at odds with the intense, neo-religious ambitions once harbored by lapsed or skeptical Christians. . . . While universities have achieved unparalleled expertise in imparting factual information about culture, they remain wholly uninterested in training students to use it as a repertoire of wisdom.”
De Botton looks around and sees a secular society denuded of high spiritual aspiration and practical moral guidance. Centuries ago, religions gave people advice on how to live with others, how to tolerate other people’s faults, how to assuage anger, endure pain & deal with the petty corruptions of a commercial world. These days, he argues, teachers, artists and philosophers no longer even try to offer such practical wisdom. For more on how de Botton sees militant secularization go to:http://http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/fighting-the-militant-secularization-of-europe-muslims-and-christians-united/?ref=alaindebotton And go to this link for more of David Brooks' piece in The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/books/review/alain-de-bottons-religion-for-atheists.html?ref=alaindebotton
THE IMPORTANCE OF DOUBT
Doubt, a status between belief & disbelief, involves uncertainty or distrust or lack of sureness of an alleged fact, an action, a motive, or a decision. Doubt brings into question some notion of a perceived "reality", and may involve delaying or rejecting relevant action out of concerns for mistakes or faults or appropriateness. Some definitions of doubt emphasize the state in which the mind remains suspended between two contradictory propositions and unable to assent to either of them. For a useful overview on the concept of doubt go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doubt
In developing the M/C Journal of Media and Culture(Vol. 14, No. 1, 2011) the editors were interested in two related questions about doubt. On the one hand, they hoped to gather case studies that can gave some indication of where and how doubt surfaces in contemporary media, culture and politics. They collected a diverse sample of case studies considering the role of doubt in the American political response to 9/11, the media’s reporting of sexual assault, how scientists talk about climate change, and the philosophy of religion.
However, they were also interested in attracting articles that could contribute to our thinking about doubt as a method and mode of practice. Doubt, said the editors, has two sides. It can be a subject – like any other – which we can study and consider using the tools of scholarship founded on objectivity and the norms of knowledge production. Yet, doubt also has the potential to challenge those accepted methods. The definition of knowledge at the base of all scholarship, and by association the methods used to acquire it, has its foundations in Descartes’s formulation that what counts as knowledge is a conviction which is beyond doubt. In the method that leads to knowledge so-defined “doubt is predicated only to be ingeniously harnessed as the means of its own overcoming”. In her fascinating analysis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as being founded on doubt rather than obsession, one of the papers traced the extent to which the role of doubt in the project of modernity is far more complicated than this definition of knowledge and its production implies. It appears that Descartes’s revolutionary formulation of the cogito (“I am thinking, therefore I exist”) “depends on recasting… doubts as themselves proof of the one thing, thought, that cannot be doubted”. For this series of papers on the subject of doubt go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/view/doubt
An Intellectual is the man or woman who engages in critical study, thought, and reflection about thereality of society, proposes solutions for the normative problems of society and, by such discourse in the public sphere, gains authority from public opinion. Coming from the world of culture, either as a creator or as a mediator, the intellectual participates in politics, either to defend a concrete proposition or to denounce an injustice. He or she does this usually by producing, or by extending, an ideology. In the process, he or she defends some system of values. For more of this useful overview of the concept "intellectual" go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual
What happened to French intellectuals? Once we had Camus, “the contemporary heir to that long line of moralists whose work perhaps constitutes whatever is most distinctive in French letters” (Sartre). We had Sartre himself. We had François Mauriac, Raymond Aron, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, & the ” inénarrable Mme De Beauvoir” (Aron). Then came Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and—more controversially—Pierre Bourdieu. All could claim significant standing in their own right as novelists, philosophers, or simply “men of letters.” But they were also, and above all, French intellectuals. For more on this subject, this review by Tony Judt in The New York Review of Books in 2010 go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/mar/11/paris-was-yesterday/
In a society, the intellectuals constitute the intelligentsia, a status class organised by ideology: the conservative, fascist, progressive, reactionary, revolutionary, democratic, communist intellectuals, et al. Their social class can also be organized by nationality: the "American intellectuals", the "French intellectuals", the "Ibero–American intellectuals". As a status class, the intellectuals originated from the intelligentsiya of Tsarist Russia (ca. 1860s–70s), the social stratum of men and women who possessed intellectual formation (education or Enlightenment or both), and so were Russian society's counterpart to the German Bildungsbürgertum and to the French bourgeoisie éclairée, the "enlightened middle class" of those countries. There are probably as many takes on how an intellectual should operate and what he or she should be. Michel Foucault(1926-1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, philologist and literary critic. Foucault's statement that the intellectual should be one who is "incessantly on the move, doesn't know exactly where he is heading nor what he will think tomorrow for he is too attentive to the present," represents one view.
PHILOSOPHERS AS WRITERS OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
What apter practitioners of autobiography than historians? Trained to examine the past with an impartial eye, alert to oddities of context and artifices of narrative, they would appear to be the ideal candidates for the difficult task of the self-description of a life. Yet strangely it is not they but philosophers who have excelled at the genre – indeed all but invented it. In principle, autobiography is the most intimately particular of all forms of writing, philosophy the most abstract and impersonal. They should be oil and water. But it was Augustine and Rousseau who gave us the personal and sexual confession and Descartes who offered the first ‘history of my mind’: in modern times Mill and Nietzsche, Collingwood & Russell, Sartre and Quine, all left records of themselves more memorable than anything else written about them. For more on this subject go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n19/perry-anderson/the-age-of-ejh
CLIVE JAMES AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY
Totalitarian states were driven by ideologies, and what else was an ideology except a premature synthesis? Such is one of the many things Clive James writes about totalitarinaism in his elaborate defence of liberal democracy. His book Cultural Amnesia is a book about how not to reach a totalitarian state. Themes emerge in this 900 page work from the apparent randomness, and these themes make this work intelligible beneath an ocean of fact and commentary. This book will undoubtedly be a turbulent read, though, for many. "If this book were not difficult, it would not be true," writes Richard Locke in his review in April/May 2007 entitled "James's Gang" in the Book Forum. For many reviews of James's book go to: http://www.clivejames.com/books/current/revamnesia
COALITIONS IN POLITICS AND SOCIETY
While the notion of the 'coalition' is one normally associated with formalised alliances between political parties, coalitional affiliations are not limited to mainstream politics. Such affiliations share a focus on strategy and outcome across the full range of human endeavours. Parties with varying priorities will put to one side their differences in order to focus on overlapping concerns. Thus coalitions come in all shapes and sizes and cross all walks of life: from families and clubs, from teams to friendships, from churches to sects, from companies and co-operatives to scientific formula, mathematical groupings to multimedia/multi person online gaming environments.
The issue of M/C Journal of Media and Culture(Vol. 13, No. 6, 2010) mounted a timely critical reflection on the multiple contemporary meanings and uses of 'coalition' and coalitional thinking. Some of the questions the authors of this edition addressed included: how does the notion of coalition inform political practices and powers? How have coalitions changed in recent times? What other (non-political party) coalitions exist and how might they work? How do coalitions inform understandings and expressions of race and whiteness, gender and sexuality, class and poverty, nations and borders? What does it mean to be 'post-coalitional' and how might we map persistence and change in recent political and non-political groupings and collectives?
Recent history has revealed large cracks and major shifts in public & political alliances. In Australia for example, November 2007 marked a change in politics and culture that saw the demise of then Prime Minister John Howard and his Coalition government. The coupling of neoliberalism and social conservatism was said to be the hallmark of that government's commitment to 'old Australian values', to severe forms of border control, the refusal of same-sex marriage, scepticism toward climate change, and rapid privatisation policies for public services. The Coalition, it appeared, no longer represented the interests of the public. Since then, the incumbent Labor leader was deposed from within his own party, and Australia’s first female Prime Minister, after having lost a majority, formed a new coalition with smaller parties and independents in order to keep governing. For more go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/327
AN APPLICATION OF MY PHILOSOPHY TO JOB-HUNTING
2 JOB APPLICATIONS A WEEK FOR 40 YEARS: JOB HUNTING 1961-2001
For over 40 years, perhaps as long as 50 years(1955 to 2005) I applied for jobs. The following essay in 4 parts is a brief outline of this experience. The information and details in my resume, a resume I no longer use in the job-hunting world, should help anyone wanting to know something about my professional background, my writing and my life. This resume might be useful for the few who want to assess my suitability for some advertised/unadvertised employment position which, I must emphasize, I never apply for any more. I stopped applying for full-time jobs a decade ago in 2001, part-time ones in 2003 and general volunteer activity in 2005. I left the world of volunteer activity, except for work in one international organization, an organization I have been associated with for nearly sixty years, so that I could travel in my mind and write about the results of this mental moving about. And so it is, that after travelling in the world of those great new technological birds of the sky, which began their extensive movements to and from cities and continents in the 1950s, that after my own years of buying tickets to travel by air(1967-2002)-some 35 years, I never get into the sky any more.
From the age of 55 to 60 I experienced a turning point in my life trajectory into a much more extensive involvement in writing. Writing is for most of its votaries a solitary and hopefully stimulating leisure-time-part-time-full-time pursuit. Travel takes place but it is, for the most part, in my mind, my imagination and memory. In my case in these middle years of late adulthood(65-75) writing is full-time, about 60 hours a week.(1) The times I travelled by air: to Baffin Island, to several cities in Canada, to Europe, to North America, to Australia, to Hong Kong, to Israel over those 35 years are now memories, happy ones that dotted my life with their landmarks of change and transition.
Inevitably the style of one's writing is a reflection of the person, their experience and their philosophy. I could set out my experience in an attachment and I did so for some 40 years in a logical fashion in the form of a resume.(2) If, as Carl Jung writes, we are what we do, then some of what I am could be found in that attachment. Of course, we are much more than what we do. This document, this resume, now seems over-the-top as they say these days since it goes on for some 30 pages, but forty years in the professional and non-professional job world produces a great pile of stuff/things. This document is the last resume I used when I was in the job hunting game back in 2001-3. I have updated it, of course, to include many of the writing projects I have taken on during these first years of my retirement from full-time, casual and volunteer employment.
The resume has always been the piece of writing, the statement, the document, the entry ticket which, over the years, has opened up the possibilities of another adventure, another pioneering move to another town, another state or country, another location, work in another organization, another portion of my life.(3) I'm sure that will also be the case in the years of my late adulthood(60-80) and old age(80++) should, for some reason, movement from place to place be necessary or desired. But this seems unlikely as I head into the last stages of my life. The first step was the job application and the second step, if the first was successful, was to get on a plane or a bus, into a car or a train and go to a part of the world where I had never been. At the end of the journey would be a job interview.
People who come across this statement might like to see it as "what happens when you can travel and not have to go to work any more." In the last dozen years which have been the first years of an early retirement(1999 to 2011), I have been able to write to a much greater extent than I had been able in my early and middle adulthood(1965 to 2005) when job, family and the demands and interests of various community projects kept my nose to the grindstone as they say colloquially. And now, with the additional unloading of much of the volunteer work I took on from 1999-2005, with my last child having left home in 2005 and a more settled home environment on the domestic front than I've ever had, the last years of late adulthood(age 67 to 80) beckon. My resume reflects this shift in my activity-base and travel is what it's all about now. But, as I say, it is travel in my head, on TV and DVDs, on video, in paintings, photos, pictures but never in those jets and their streams of energy, their booming and buzzing through the sky with their silence and their noise.
This process of frequent moves and frequent jobs is not everyone's style or pattern of living. I have lived in 37 houses and 22 towns since I was born in those 60 years from 1944 to 2004. That was a good deal of travelling, let me tell you. Many millions of people live and die in the same town, city or state and their life's adventure takes place within that physical region, the confines of a relatively small place and, perhaps, a very few jobs in their lifetime. Physical movement is not essential to psychological and spiritual growth, nor is a long list of jobs, although some degree of inner change, some inner shifting is just about inevitable, or so it seems to me, especially as we have moved toward and entered this new millennium. Most of the people on Earth never get on a plane.
For many millions of people during the years 1961-2001, my years of being jobbed, the world was my oyster and the oyster of many a million in the West. It was an oyster, not so much in the manner of a tourist-oyster, although there was plenty of that, but rather in terms of working lives which came to be seen increasingly in a global context, a global oyster. This was true for me during those years in which I was looking for amusement, education and experience, some stimulating vocation and avocation, some employment security and comfort. These were my adventurous years of pioneering, my applying-for-job days, a particular form of travel, the forty year period 1961-2001.
The following resume(not included here) altered many times, of course, during those forty years is now for the most part, as I indicated above, not used in these years of my retirement, except as an information, bio-data, vehicle for interested readers. This document is a useful backdrop for those examining my writing, especially my poetry, although some poets regard their CV, resume, bio-data, lifeline, life-story, personal background as irrelevant to their writing-work. I frequently use this resume at various website locations now on the Internet when I want to provide some introductory background on myself, indeed, I could list many new uses after forty years of only one use--to help me get a job, make more money, experience some enrichment to my life, etcetera. The use of the resume saves one from having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.
I don't have to say it all again in resume after resume to the point of utter tedium as I did so frequently when applying for jobs, especially in the days before the email and the internet. A few clicks of one's personal electronic-computer system and some aspect of life's game goes on or comes to a quick end—and another jet appears like magic on one’s personal horizon.
During those job-hunting years 1961-2001 I applied for some four thousand jobs, an average of two a week for each of those forty years! Well, its not the best base for travel, but it is a very common one. This is a guesstimation, as accurate a guesstimation as I can calculate for this forty year period. The great bulk of the thousands of letters involved in this vast, detailed and, from time to time, exhausting and frustrating process, I did not keep. I did keep a small handful of perhaps half a dozen of those letters in a file in the Letters: Section VII, Sub-Section X of my autobiographical work, Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Given the thousands of hours over forty years devoted to the job-hunting process; given the importance of this key to the pioneering venture that is my life; given the amount of paper produced and energy expended in the process; given the amount of writing done in the context of these various jobs,3 some of the correspondence seemed to warrant a corner in the written story of my life, my autobiography.(4)
It seemed appropriate, at least it was my desire, to write this short statement fitting all those thousands of resumes into a larger context. I like to see it as 'a perspective on travel.' The things we do when we retire!5 Reflections on one’s experience of the age of popular jet travel, the opportunity to travel in a sort of fantasy land that really took off in the 1950s when I was a child and adolescent.
1. This involves reading, posting on the internet, developing my own website and writing in several genres.
2. My resume is only included with this statement when it seems appropriate or on request.
3. Beginning with the summer job I had in the Canadian Peace Research Institute in 1964, I wrote an unnumbered quantity of: summaries, reports, essays, evaluations, inter alia, in my many jobs. None of that material has been kept in any of my files.
4. The Letters section of my autobiography now occupies some 25 arch-lever files and two-ring binders and covers the period 1960 to 2005. I guesstimate the collection contains about 3000 letters. This does not include these thousands of job applications and their replies. I have kept, as I say above, about half a dozen of these letters.
Note: Since about 1990 thousands of emails have been sent to me and replies have been written but, like my 5000+ job applications from 1960 to 2005, most have been deleted from any potential archive. For the most part these deleted emails seem to have no long term value in an archive of letters. They were deleted as quickly as they came in. Of course there are other emails, nearly all of the correspondence I have sent and received since about 1990 which would once have been in the form of letters, is now in the form of emails. They are kept in my files. A brief perusal of my files will indicate a great deal of the form of travel I am emphasizing here.
That's all folks!
SOCIALISM, DEMOCRACY; AUTOCRACY AND ARISTOCRACY
Socialism is a social and economic system characterised by social ownership and/or social control of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy, as well as a political theory and movement that aims at the establishment of such a system. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism For several recent books on socialism go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v06/n04/geoffrey-hawthorn/what-would-socialism-be-like
Wikipedia has a useful overview of these other terms and many others in cyberspace. I leave it to readers with the interest to further their knowledge of the above systems. Wikipedia and other sites contain useful starting points for many terms in political sciences. The internet is now full to overflowing with studies of any and all of the terms in political science.