Wednesday, 1 September 2004

Personhood and Freewill (2004)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXII No. 2 Autumn  2004

Ockham’s Razor and a Revival of the Introspective Argument

By Sharon Kaye

There is a disturbing movement afoot in contemporary philosophy. It is common for philosophers to argue that free will is a natural illusion, by which they mean that belief in free will is a product of evolution. Human beings, they seem to say, believe they have free will, not because this belief is true, but only because it is a useful survival strategy.

Let us call this view 'evolutionary determinism', and let its proponents grant that the sensation of free will is central to human consciousness. In our every waking moment we regard ourselves as agents with choices about what to think and what to do. For any given plan of action, we believe we could do otherwise. Without this conviction we could not function in a fully human way. Even the determinists themselves, who allegedly know they do not have free will, cannot stop believing they do. According to them, the belief is just as inescapable as it is mistaken.

But evolutionary determinism is disturbing because it undermines the possibility of self-knowledge and therefore personhood. How can we claim to be aware of ourselves as selves when we are so fundamentally deceived about what we are? People on the street claim to know of the existence of free will by examining their own experiences from the inside, what philosophers call 'introspection'. Despite its commonsense appeal and despite its role in shaping the tradition of metaphysical libertarianism, the introspective argument for free will has all but disappeared from the current debate and is widely regarded as a dead horse.

I endeavour here to restore confidence in self-knowledge, and hence in personhood, by reviving the introspective argument. In so doing, I turn back to one of its earliest and most committed defenders, William of Ockham. The determinist relies on Ockham's razor to justify the elimination of free will, but I will argue that this constitutes an abuse of the 'razor' and that the determinists have misrepresented the introspective argument as an argument from feeling.

Ockham's razor, the principle according to which the simpler theory is more likely to be true, is the lynchpin for the determinist's argument against free will. Since the long string of biological and environmental causes presupposed in the theory of natural selection is sufficient to explain everything human beings do, there is no need to posit free will.

Understanding Ockham's libertarianism requires a closer look at his razor. He himself, after all, was a thoroughgoing libertarian, despite the popularity of various versions of determinism in his day. The principle of simplicity was just as controversial in the Middle Ages as it is now. The crux of the dispute, in my view, depends on one's epistemological orientation. Rationalists often find the principle objectionable because they hold that true knowledge is certain. Certainty is an ambitious standard that is liable to require a complex theoretical support. Empiricists, in contrast, typically embrace some version of the razor.

Satisfied with probability in lieu of certainty, they begin with a large quantity of raw data about reality - as complex as you like. They use the razor, not to simplify the data, but to find the simplest possible explanation of the data. Everything observed must be explained through hypotheses and there should be no more hypotheses than absolutely necessary for a complete explanation. The rationale is that each individual hypothesis is a liability: no matter how benign it may seem, it carries the possibility of falsehood. The less possibility for falsehood in a theory, the more likely it is to be true.

Ockham was also an uncompromising empiricist. This is nowhere more evident than in his argument for libertarianism. He writes:
The thesis in question cannot be proven by any argument, since every argument meant to prove it will assume something that is just as unknown as or more unknown than the conclusion. Nonetheless, the thesis can be known evidently through experience, since a human being experiences that, no matter how much reason dictates a given thing, the will is still able to will that thing, or not to will it, or to will against it.

Opera Theologica IX [Joseph C. Wey C. S. B. (ed.), St. Bonaventure N.Y.: Franciscan Institute, p. 88]
Ockham regards the existence of free will in the same way most of today's empiricists regard the existence of the external world: it is the unproven and unprovable given upon which his entire philosophy is constructed. And Ockham fails to see any conflict between libertarianism and simplicity. In his view, the prospect of razoring free will never even arises because it is something we directly experience within ourselves. The razor does not permit us to simplify the raw data of reality; rather, it requires us to adopt the simplest explanation of everything we observe. In Ockham's estimation, libertarianism meets this requirement perfectly. His argument is a medieval empiricist version of what is today known as the introspective argument for libertarianism.

In the twentieth century, however, determinists represented the introspective argument as an argument from feeling. According to them, when human beings claim to have free will what they mean is that they feel as though they are able to do other than they do. But to construe free will as a feeling is to commit something of a straw man attack on libertarianism.

There is no reason to suppose subjective psychological states tell us anything about the structure of reality. My 'feeling watched' does not warrant me to posit a stalker. My 'feeling persecuted' does not prove that someone is persecuting me. My 'feeling lucky' does not make me any more likely to win. These feelings are subjective psychological states.

My feeling pain, in contrast, does make me likely to have some sort of injury. This is because, properly speaking, we do not feel pain, we experience pain. The fact that pain can be observed only introspectively does not make it a subjective psychological state. Likewise for free will.

Significantly, Ockham never appeals to feeling in his defence of libertarianism; he builds his introspective argument upon a feature of reality that is objective despite the fact that it lies within the human person. At this point, one might worry that the feature in question will turn out to be a spiritual entity. After all, dualists cast the will as an immaterial component of the immaterial soul, something unobservable by definition. There is no call, however, to saddle Ockham with such an unempirical position. The objective foundation of libertarianism is ability.

An ancient Talmudic saying asserts that one could never know that one has an ability to do otherwise because no one has ever done it. It is quite right to suppose that it is impossible both not to do something and to do it. Nevertheless, experiencing an ability to do otherwise does not require actually doing otherwise any more than experiencing an ability to do anything requires actually doing it.

I submit the following example in support of this thesis. Suppose I am a runner. I run ten kilometres almost every day. I ran ten yesterday and the day before that. I am keenly aware that I have the ability to run ten today. I am aware of this ability even despite the fact that, on this particular occasion, I do not feel like doing it. Let us call my running ability my 'zill.' Do I need to exercise my zill today in order to know that my zill still exists? Of course not. Therefore, human beings can be directly aware of their abilities.

This example hypostatises the entity of the zill in order to show that the will is a parallel hypostasis. There is nothing especially mysterious about it. We get by in ordinary speech without ever referring to the zill while firmly believing in the existence of running ability. We could get by equally well without reference to the will while affirming the ability to do otherwise.

It might be objected that there is no direct awareness involved in my running example at all. Instead, I have made an inductive inference. A compelling response to this objection emerges, however, in the familiar phenomenon of amnesia. Amnesia is loss of memory due to brain injury, shock, fatigue, repression, or illness. Studies show that many amnesiacs who cannot remember who they are or what they have done in the past, still know what they are able to do. If I suffered a blow to the head this morning rendering me unable to remember that I am a runner and that I have run ten kilometres many times, I may still know that I am able to run ten kilometres today.

It might still be objected further that human beings are notoriously inaccurate in estimating their own abilities. But regular error in this awareness is no more worrisome than regular error about what we perceive in the external world. Error is not a special problem for introspection. In fact, we should not expect introspection to be any more or less reliable than ordinary vision.

Socrates would argue that part of the purpose of philosophy is to exercise one's introspection so that, with practice over time, one might come to know oneself. Confidence in philosophy and in our ability to attain personhood through it requires the assumption that human beings can introspectively observe their own abilities. So, I have argued that we should take seriously the possibility that free will is not a natural illusion. We should take it seriously because our ability to claim a measure of self-knowledge necessary for personhood depends on it. If we are deceived about free will then we are deceived about our very nature as human beings. Although evolutionary determinists may insist that we are not deceived if we know that we are deceived, this is a logical contradiction. In order to know that one is deceived one must actually be deceived.

It could be said that since free will is an uncaused cause, being aware of it would be like being aware of the pink elephant that is not in the room. But philosophers are not entitled to dismiss an observation just because it does not make sense within a pet theory. If what I have argued here is correct, then the evolutionary determinist's case against free will abuses the principle of simplicity because it attempts to simplify the world rather than simplifying our explanation of the world. The razor is an empiricist principle that must take account of all objective features of reality--including that which is observed introspectively. Human beings introspectively observe free will, not as a feeling, but as an ability.

Address for correspondence: 

Dr. Sharon M. Kaye
Department of Philosophy
John Carroll University
20700 North Park Boulevard
Cleveland, Ohio, 44118 USA 

Conflict, Tolerance and Hospitality (2004)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXII No. 2 Autumn  2004


By Marko Zlomislic

Philosophy is traditionally defined as the love of wisdom yet its history is full of conflict without resolution. Indeed, the history of philosophy can be read as a series of conflicts without any final resolution. Heraclitus showed the conflict at the heart of existence when he argued that War is the father of all. The mythologists would give their model and this would conflict with the pre-Socratic model who in turn conflicted with each other. By wanting to know the truth about the becoming of all things the pre-Socratics conflicted with the mythologists. Each of the pre-Socratics conflicted with each other over the arche or source and telos or end.

Socrates found his conflict with the Sophists and the State. Aristotle conflicted with Plato while the Renaissance conflicted with the various streams of Medieval thought. Rationalism conflicted with Empiricism and Kant with his transcendental idealism thought that he had achieved a resolution until Hegel showed this his philosophy was the only solution.

Reacting to Hegel, Marx and Kierkegaard each gave their answers. This pattern can be seen in our religious traditions which records the conflicts between the peoples of the Book. Traditionally the methods available for conflict resolution can be divided into those based on power and those based on dialogue.

The power or authoritative method of resolution reveals how the stronger side promotes its interests by the use of force. Within this model, using force would be the only method of resolving conflict. Our human history is full of examples of this type of conflict resolution. The next model resolves conflict based on a decision made by an authority. Here a third party makes a decision based on their judgment of the situation. In this model no consideration is given to the interests of the parties involved in the conflict. The model of arbitrage again involves a third party who hears both conflicting sides and finds a solution based on legislation. The next court model uses the law as a basis for its decision, which the conflicting parties are forced to accept and respect. The power or authoritative method of conflict resolution is based on force; both as the force of arms and the force of law. As such this model is not concerned with justice.

The first point is that the authoritative model of conflict resolution is lacking because it is not based on justice and as such, only engenders further conflict. The dialogue or non-authoritative model of conflict resolution includes the methods of facilitation, mediation, conciliation and negotiation. Facilitation from the Latin facilitare means to ease. The facilitator is seen as someone who will ease the communication between the conflicting parties until an agreement that is satisfactory to both sides is reached. Mediation from the Latin mediare means to divide in half. Mediation focuses on achieving an agreement that is satisfactory to both sides.

Conciliation, from the Latin conciliare, means to give, to call together or to overcome something together. A conciliator helps the conflicting parties find a mutual understanding that creates a harmonious psychological connection between them. 

Negotiation, from the Latin negotiare, means to carry on business or to continue transacting business. Negotiation resolves conflict by way of communication but is restrictive in nature insofar as it remains tied with economics. From the postmodern perspective, these models of conflict resolution lack the ethical resolution needed to navigate conflict. The question of how to resolve conflict rests precisely on the notion of resolve. 

Resolve means to unloose, to dissolve, to loosen, to perform the operation required, to become fluid. These definitions of resolve point us to Derrida's notion of dissemination and the resolute or faithful decisions that can be brought forth. Rather than relying on oversimplified models whose ethics have not lessened violence or whose calculations have led to unspeakable crimes against both the human and the animal Derrida brings us back to the complexity of our situation in the name of a radical responsibility. The responsibility and individuality proposed by the ancients and the moderns can no longer predominate. This is the first effect of dissemination. Responsibility and individuality are more complex than the tradition concedes.

The procedures of the ancients and moderns operated according to a certain protocol. From Plato to Kant, the forms or categories functioned according to the notion of capital or the head. With Plato, to make head-way that is to move from the conflict of the Cave towards the resolution of the Sun required a certain, oppositional and hierarchical protocol that was already fixed in advance. 

With Kant the categories of the mind provided another protocol as to how one should function in order to gain understanding. The starry skies above and the moral law within provided the convention. All protocols, conventions, formalities, standards, treaties, must give way under the effect of dissemination because of their rigid and corpse like nature. Dissemination reveals the excess that cannot be contained by oppositional or dialectical models of conflict resolution. Here no form, formalism, category or structure can help us to find a path through our difficulties. 

The modern notion of standard requires responsibility and hospitality to a set of rules that must be obeyed so that the resolution will already have been established. The standard or standardised doses of the ancients and modern pharmacies with their hemlock, prozac or the healing word of God were ways of soothing and smoothing out conflict. The well kept pharmacy follows the logic of the if/then which already determines the outcome of any event. Dissemination, on the other hand, brings us back to the complexity of the decision. The ancient and modern notions of conflict resolution have attempted to pin down the person. 

Dissemination produces a snag in that project. There is no such thing as a final analysis that can bring the result of relief. The notion of conflict resolution that has been practised thus far implies that we can have a clear and distinct picture of all the drives and desires within us and that these conflicting drives and desires can be mended through therapy, an exchange of bombs (bellum punitivum) or any form of covert activity (uti exploratoribus) practised in the name of 'doing the good for the God who is on our side'; suppressed through the use of pharmaceuticals and psychiatric advice; contained through the prison system or eliminated through capital punishment and wars of extermination (bellum internecinum). 

Here one needs to think of the tyranny at the heart of all religions who see God merely as a rewarder/punisher. What kind of decision, responsibility and hospitality can there be when knowledge can no longer be trusted? Even though we do have knowledge it will never be enough knowledge. Though we don't know how to proceed we must not succumb to improvisation which in a certain way feigns knowledge or gives the appearance of having knowledge when there is none to be found. Every event that requires a genuine decision will both rigorous and necessary. The rigor and necessity of the situation requiring a decision cannot adopt an 'anything goes' attitude. It requires both chance and rule; chance insofar as we don't know all there is to know and rule insofar as something must be done immediately. The decision demands immediate action within the difficulty that we find ourselves in. 

The ancient and modern positions fail to see how undecidability can allow there to be a more credible responsibility. In Perpetual Peace: A Philosophic Sketch, Immanuel Kant gives a number of articles for resolving conflict. His third article states, 'the law of world citizenship shall be limited to conditions a universal hospitality'. Kant recognises that hospitality is something grave, that it to say urgent and not just an inscription on the innkeepers door upon which a burial ground was painted. Hospitality for Kant means,
... the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction; but, so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility.
Kant goes on to write that hospitality is:
... not the right to be a permanent visitor... a special beneficent agreement would be needed in order to give an outsider a right to become a fellow inhabitant for a certain length of time. It is only a right of temporary sojourn, a right to associate, which all men have. They have it by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe, they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must tolerate the presence of each other.
While Kant's rich analysis of hospitality requires a separate treatment a number of points can be made here. First his notion that the human race can gradually be brought closer to a constitution establishing world citizenship is admirable, yet Kant ends his essay with the words, 'one cannot flatter oneself into believing one can approach this peace except under the conditions outlined here'. 

Arguably this statement is a call to further conflict because it does not treat hospitality in a radical manner.  Even if Kant is critical of those powers who 'make a great show of their piety... while they drink injustice like water', and 'regard themselves as the elect in point of orthodoxy', his notion of hospitality is limited because it is based on the modern virtue of toleration. Kant remains an enlightenment humanist and is hesitant to adopt the postmodern value of dispersion as dissemination even though he recognises it but immediately reduces its effects through the phrase, 'they cannot infinitely disperse'. 

In the Judeao-Christian tradition there is a commandment to be hospitable to strangers since one has been a stranger before. Deuteronomy5 tells the Israelites to remember that they were slaves in the land of Egypt and therefore should accept those that come to them as guests in an unconditional way. 

The second notion of hospitality comes from the prophets who urged a general openness to be shown to widow, orphan and alien. In Jewish families a place is kept free for Elijah who may or may not come. Hospitality keeps an empty space, an openness is open to the radically Other. In the New Testament letter to the Hebrews 13:2, there is a commandment on hospitality. 'Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it'. 

While these notions of hospitality are admirable and are admired by Derrida they still do not go far enough in the direction of the aporia. For Derrida hospitality has to do with responsibility towards the Other in their individuality and singularity. Derrida argues that we have to reconcile the demand for equality with the demand for singularity. This is an aporia. The question is how can we at the same time, take into account the equality of everyone and respect the heterogeneous singularity of everyone? 

This is the main question of conflict resolution. We cannot content ourselves with applying existing norms or rules but must make an absolute risk in every singular instant as if it were being made for the first time. These aporias or paradoxes are difficult to integrate into practice but responsibility, decision and hospitality cannot exist without them. The ancient and modern traditions have proceeded from the position of assured knowledge that has often been euphoric, free of contradiction and without aporia. Such assured knowledge is calculated and calculating. It is like a machine without responsibility and without ethics. For Derrida there is no decision, no responsibility and no hospitality without the test of the aporia or undecidability. 

This 'impossible' of which Derrida speaks is inseparable from the thinking of justice and from the unconditional hospitality that is required of us. Hospitality focuses on what is most urgent today and the most proper for the articulation of a political ethics of conflict resolution. The unconditional injunction for conflict resolution is: 'I have to welcome the Other' - whoever 'the Other' is, and unconditionally. For Derrida this means, without asking for a document, a name, a context or a passport. I have to open myself to the Other. I have to open my doors, my house, my home, my language, my culture, my nation, my state and myself. 

This unconditional hospitality is frightening and transgressive, but it takes us beyond the Judeao-Christian understanding of hospitality where we are hospitable because we may be entertaining Elijah or Angels or serving Jesus or dogmatically serving our parishioners. It takes us beyond Kant with his notion of restricted hospitality that says we should welcome the stranger or the foreigner to the extent that they are citizens of another country. 

Kant's concept of hospitality remains merely political in its reference to the state, the authority of the state, to citizenship and to the control of residency. If we decide that everyone will be able to enter my space, my home, my city, my country, my language then there is a chance that the worst may happen. Yes. But we must be open to the best and to the worst in other words to the human animal, or our hospitality will no longer be an unconditional injunction based on justice but a legal formulation. The aporia of hospitality says that we have to welcome the Other, the orphan, the widow, the alien. Without this there would be no hospitality. We must welcome without assimilation. To offer hospitality is to be aware that the other may ruin my space. Hospitality is therefore a risk which has to be negotiated at every instant. 

The decisions for hospitality or the best rules to follow have to be invented at every second with all the risks that this involves. Hospitality is the name for our relation to the Other. It is the very principle of ethics. It is and always has been grave and urgent. Seen in this manner conflict can be resolved if the Other is in his own home in the home of the Other (chez lui chez l'autre). 

Hospitality goes beyond invitation. With invitation we expect a guest to arrive without surprise. Hospitality requires absolute surprise. We are unprepared or prepared to be unprepared, for the unexpected arrival of any Other. Hospitality is the receiving or welcoming which has no power, protocol or law. It is an opening without the horizon of expectation where peace can be found beyond the confines of conflict. 

Address for correspondence: 

Dr. Mark Zlomislic
School of Liberal and Media Studies
Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
299 Doon Valley Drive
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 4M4

Korzybskian Realization (2004)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXII No. 2 Autumn 2004

Ancient Wisdom, Modern Thinking
and the method of
Korzybskian Realization
By Ted Falconar

The notion of Realization (or 'seeing reality') came from the Buddha, if not rather earlier. Certainly Count Alfred Korzybski independently gained the same general idea from his study of the way Albert Einstein thought. I believe it is the greatest philosophical idea there has ever been.

But to explain it is a problem that has baffled Buddhists for 2,500 years, Korzybski for thirty to forty years and me, myself for some twenty years.

Yet the idea is very simple: in essence it is that after childhood we no longer use our senses fully. We recognise things cursorily and name them. We do not look really closely. A.H. Maslow, the author of Motivation and Personality, used the word perception for the way we should think, that is to say, that we should not try to recognise but instead to perceive. This was the main characteristic of what he called his 'higher' people - the self-actualised.

The Buddhist way of explaining the idea that is most familiar to those in the West, comes via the Zen philosophy of Japan, which itself came out of Chan (the same word) in China and Dhyan, the original Indian version. The method of Zen is to confront students with riddles called koans. The first was said to come from the Buddha. When asked what reality was he simply held a rose over his head and smiled. This meant that the rose has to be sensed, it is beyond words, it can only be known through the senses.

Most koans are nonsensical with the purpose of making students understand the limitation and unreality of words. One such of these paradoxical koans is called the Sound of the One Hand: In clapping the hands a sound is heard: What is the sound of the One Hand?

Alas, the results from this way of explanation are very poor, hardly any students have become 'Realized'.

The Tibetan method of teaching Realization is more rational and entails actual meditation in various states: Dharani, Samath and finally Samadhi. Respectively: absorption, tranquillisation and what D.T.Suzuki, author of Essays in Zen Buddhism, called 'earnest contemplation'. This last comes near to being Realization.

The importance of Buddhism in Tibet is that when Hinduism reasserted domination over Buddhism in India, there was a danger of elements of Buddhist teachings being lost, but the Tibetans faithfully transferred many such Buddhist teachings and safeguarded them.

I once listened to twelve lectures by the Rimpoche Samdhong who was the then Principal of the Centre for Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath, Benares. He told the group I was with that he had never helped anyone, yet Realization was the main subject he was teaching. It seems that it is a subject that cannot be explained rationally except to a very few people.

I myself went to India fifteen times, ten of them for three months each year to learn the method. It was only after about seven of these visits that I returned home and came across Korzybski's book Science and Sanity, and it suddenly all came to me.

In this book I read of the 'Structural Differential', [my illustration is at the foot of this article] that he had designed in a failed attempt to explain his system to John Dewey, the philosopher of education [and sometime contributor to The Philosopher - Ed.] and John Watkins, the Behaviourist at a symposium in New York. It came to me as a revelation. Korzybski explained that without using the 'Structural Differential', it was practically impossible to grasp this kind of non-Aristotelian thinking.

So what is the theory? What is Realization all about? Let me offer ten pointers.
1. When children learn words the joy of their childhood ends and the colours fade into a black and white world of words. Later many of them are bored, they want to get away on holidays, to be entertained and so on. Yet there is a wonderland all round them.

2. Words throw out senses, thus our senses, which are in touch with reality, are replaced by words that have nothing to do with reality. Korzybski called words a primitive language not even having the same structure as reality; only mathematics has the same structure as reality.

3. Visualization is the language of Reality for it mirrors reality; its pictures are of real things. Its written language is Higher Mathematics. It unmasks abstractions: words that are not about reality.

Mind you, even mathematics is not wholly accurate. Albert Einstein once said: 'As far as the Laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are uncertain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality'. Korzybski thinks, as he puts it, that: 'Visualization represents the most beneficial and efficient form of human "thought".'

4. Visualization is the most beautiful language. One of the greatest mystics, Kabir, said we must:
'... make our body a house of pictures'. We can make it what we will- a garden more magnificent than any physical garden or we can make it a hell. He visualized an Ocean of Pearls and made it his real home: his homeland. Visualization is the light of the mind.

5. The Indian Guru, Rajmeesh, wrote that senses are the doors of the body into the infinite. If we don't use them the body is a dungeon, moreover without visualization it is a dungeon without light. Examples of people using the senses are artists, poets and creative people who all sense and do not recognise or see similarities with other things. Artists teaching at an Art School were always saying to students LOOK AT THE MODEL. Students had their own idea in their minds of an arm leading to grotesque arms, they were not seeing reality: not seeing real arms.

6. Korzybskian thinking is not just useful for arts but for all life including everyday, practical matters like managing factories and so on (I myself used to manage one for Tetley Tea) and because by using it we force ourselves to see reality.

7. Love and its fading is caused by a change from an emotional and sense relationship to a verbal and intellectual one. Whereas animals never lose their ownersí affection because it is a sensing friendship not an intellectual one. This is a knowledge that can give a large benefit in human relations. Words act like a barrier but it is sensing and emotions including visualization, that lead to rapport.

8. Nothing is more rare than a truly original or first-hand idea. We are taught things, we read things, we see things on the Internet, we recognise things, we see resemblances between things. All this is second-hand. What is original and first-hand? You can go out into the first-hand universe and see or sense something in a new way like an artist. That is original.

9. Senses have been neglected. For instance in a survey of American men and women, it seems 80% of the former and 70% of the latter could not tell the difference between the four primary tastes : sweet, sour, salty, musty. It is as Aldous Huxley once wrote in the Doors of Perception, only drugs will induce a wonderful view of reality. Yet we do not have to take drugs, we can instead just cultivate the senses and sense reality. Reality truly is wonderful - a wonderland.

10. Finally, remember Korzybski studied the way Einstein thought. Creativity follows from Korzybskian thinking. H.D.Thoreau made his whole life a creative art. Every day he went out to look for beautiful ideas. He called his life his Elysium.
Of course, these ten points are not just for information but to be put into action: they must be experienced.

In Thoreau's Journal, all our senses are paraded: here are sound and sight and smell. The episodes all demonstrate Korzybski's way of the Structural Differential: Sense-Feel-Visualize-Verbalise. They may end in what is called 'Creative Rapture' or 'the Peak Experience' - which is the highest mental joy.

Thoreau's Journal entry of January 8, 1852:
I go forth each afternoon and look into the West a quarter of an hour before sunset, with fresh curiosity to see what new picture will be painted there, what new panorama exhibited, what new dissolving views. . . . Every day a new picture is painted and framed, held up for half an hour in such lights as the Great Artist chooses, and then withdrawn, and the curtain falls. And then the sun goes down, and long the afterglow gives light. And then the damask curtains glow along the western window. And now the first star is lit and I go home.
June 16 ,1852. An evening in Concord, New Hampshire:
A sultry night. A flute from a villager. How rare among men as fit a thing as the sound of a flute at evening! The sonorous note of bullfrogs is heard a mile off in the river, the loudest sound this evening. Ever and anon the sound of his trombone comes over the meadows and fields a-lulling all Concord to sleep -- Have not the fireflies in the meadow relation to the stars above, ETINCELANT? Do not the stars, too, show their light for love like the fireflies.
Etincelant: that is glistening, sparkling. Scents such as I remember in America. Alexander von Humboldt, while travelling on the Orinoco, wrote of Columbus approaching the New World:
The grateful coolness of the evening air, the ethereal purity of the starry firmament, the balmy fragrance of flowers wafted to him by the land breeze, all led him to suppose that he was approaching the Garden of Eden, the sacred abode of our first parents. The Orinoco seemed to him one of the four rivers, which according to the venerable tradition of the ancient world, flowed from Paradise to water and divide the surface of the earth, newly adorned with plants. 
 The sounds of nature, the songs of birds and noises of animals... Thoreau too wrote about those little flasks of music when he heard the Bobolink,

Journal, June 1, 1857.
It is as if he touched his harp within a vase of liquid melody, and when he lifted it out, the notes fell like bubbles from the trembling strings. . . . It is the foretaste of such strains as never fell on mortal ears, to hear which we should rush to our doors and contribute all that we possess and are. 
And I myself must describe his 'Coral Island music box':
In Bermuda I heard the sound of a pure and celestial flute in the night. It was bell-like in its clarity. I saw in my mind some magic bird, a nightingale of the Coral Islands. In the morning I found the flute player-a small green frog like an emerald brooch adorning a tree. I marvelled at it, a frog not even an inch long, no larger than a thumb nail. I knew then that it was more inspiring than if the sound had come from an Orphean bird. I saw this frog as a small jewel box, a matrix, in which pure notes of music were formed and cut as by a skilled diamond cutter and then released as glittering, crystalline jewels.
I have hardly written yet of taste and touch, the last the most neglected of our senses. Andre Gide wrote in his wonderful book The Fruits of the Earth (Nourriture Terrestre in the original, although a French man told me it seemed an inferior title to the English translation) of pomegranates that their flowers look made of wax:

They are coloured like the fruit.
Guarded treasures, honeycomb partitions,
Richness of flavour,
Pentagonal architecture.
The rind splits; the seeds fall
Crimson seeds in azure bowls
Or drops of gold in dishes of enamelled bronze.

Not only do we not read this with real understanding so that we can redeem our lives, but even Gide wrote in his Journal that he never regained the Rapture he felt while writing The Fruits of the Earth: surely a supremely sad admission.

What can we make of this? By using his senses in the creative way, Thoreau preserved his Elysium; Gide abandoned his for the intellectual world. Let us not think this entails a confrontation between the two approaches, however, using the senses is merely another dimension of our talents and facilities.

Our senses have been neglected for millennia, perhaps many millennia, though the worst of the neglect may have begun only with the printed word. Of these Touch seems to be the least used for art by modern humans. However Love must be the most universal experience of Touch, indeed it galvanises all our senses. But Robert Bridges' lovely poem: 'So Sweet Love Seemed' (unfortunately rather long for such an article as mine) tells us how love does not endure. These episodes show how we can use our senses for art and for our whole lives.

A friend once said that sense impressions are the raw material of art. More than this, our senses are our only direct contact with reality: if we don't make use of them, we are alienated from Reality - indeed we are alienated from everything.

Address for correspondence:

Ted Falconer
Slieau Lewaigue
Isle of Man IM7 1BG

Saturday, 1 May 2004

Dukkha, Inaction and Nirvana (2004)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXII No. 1 Spring 2004

A Look at Nietzsche's Critique of Buddhist Philosophies
By Omar Moad

Comparisons between Buddhism and the various schools of existentialism have revealed a number of parallels. Such studies have frequently centered on each tradition's metaphysical approach and the fact that they all appear to share some form of phenomenological methodology. In the area of ethics, however, existentialism and Buddhism generally seem to differ radically. This difference is the most marked in the case of Nietzsche.

Nietzsche is interpreted nowadays as having been a major pioneer of existentialism in the western world, and certainly deals with many of the same problems and even takes positions similar to those that emerge in Buddhist philosophy. In places, however, he explicitly attacks the Buddhist ethical prescription as diametrically opposed to his own doctrine of life-affirmation. For Nietzsche was not uninformed when it came to Buddhism. Some scholars claim that he was 'probably one of the best read and most solidly grounded in Buddhism for his time among Europeans'. Be that as it may, when philosophers juxtapose their own views against others, it becomes imperative to determine to what extent they understand and accurately depict the ideas they are attacking.

When it comes to Nietzsche's criticisms of Buddhism, such an investigation uncovers what seems to be a misunderstanding of the real meaning of Buddhist doctrine; and one not limited to Nietzsche alone, but common to much of the lay-level understanding of this religion in the West. My goals here, then, will be to address this misunderstanding by examining three important Buddhist concepts at its center: dukkha, inaction, and Nirvana. By focusing on the meaning of these concepts for Buddhists, I do not hope to reconcile Nietzsche with Buddhism in any way, but only to identify a few areas wherein his understanding of it was misconceived. Furthermore, by selecting these three areas for analysis, I do not mean to preclude that there are other important elements of Buddhism that need analysis in light of Nietzsche's critiques.

At the end, I hope it will be seen that the possibilities for comparative study between these two philosophies are rich and numerous, even if the present project is meant only as a beginning look into the relationship between them with a view to a clearer understanding of the Buddhist concepts in question. The first step necessary to this analysis will be to briefly outline an important position that is shared by Nietzschean and Buddhist doctrine. Next, I will present Nietzsche's criticism of the Buddhist response to this position, his description of this response and how it differs from his own. Lastly, I will examine the concepts of dukkha, inaction, and Nirvana and show how Nietzsche's understanding of these concepts plays a part in his misconception of Buddhism.

An interesting thing about the comparison between Nietzsche and the Buddha, as just alluded to, is that they begin from a common notion about the nature of the world and the human condition. These commonalities have to do with their epistemological views and their nihilistic attitudes toward metaphysical issues.

A dialogue in the Sutta-Nipata presents the Buddha responding as follows to an enquiry on competing metaphysical theories. 'Apart from consciousness', he says, 'no divers truths exist. Mere sophistry declares this 'true' and that view 'false'.' A similar notion appears in Nietzsche's Will to Power.
'Judging is our oldest faith; it is our habit of believing this to be true or false, of asserting or denying, our certainty that something is thus and not otherwise, our belief that we really 'know' what is believed to be true in all judgments?' 
 The products of this 'habit of believing', for both Buddha and Nietzsche, include substance, self, universals, and duration. Both philosophers radically deny the reality of these things in favor of a dynamic, interdependent stream of phenomenon that lacks any objective basis whatsoever. Instead, underneath our perceptions there is only what the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna called sunyata, and what Nietzsche referred to as the 'abyss', a void beyond the categories of being and nothing, true and false.

This 'emptiness'is the human condition to which both Buddhism and Nietzsche respond. The subtleties and complexities of this view in both philosophies run deep enough to write volumes about, and the focus of this study is limited to the controversy over their respective responses; the answer to the question of appropriate praxis in the face of such an existence. The Buddha is said to have become aware of the fleeting, temporal nature of reality through his first encounters with a sick man, an old man, and a dead man. Nietzsche refers to what he interprets as the Buddha's reaction in Thus Spake Zarathustra:
'There are those with consumption of the soul: hardly are they born when they begin to die and to long for doctrines of weariness and renunciation. They would like to be dead, and we should welcome their wish. Let us beware of waking the dead and disturbing these living coffins! They encounter a sick man or an old man or a corpse and immediately they say, "Life is refuted". But only they themselves are refuted, and their eyes, which see only this one face of existence.' 
Nietzsche criticized Buddhism for many of the same faults he attributed to Christianity, though he showed more respect for the former as being more realistic and opposed to revenge (he believed Christianity was a manifestation of latent resentment). He praised Buddhism for setting out to treat 'suffering'as opposed to 'sin', but believed the treatment itself represented a surrender of life, and ultimately a weaker response to the human condition than his own. In the following passage from Beyond Good and Evil, he contrasts his interpretation of Buddhism (along with Schopenhauer, a major contributor to this interpretation) with a general sketch of his own ideal response:
'Whoever has endeavored with some enigmatic longing, as I have, to think pessimism through to its depths and liberate it from the half-Christian, half-German narrowness and simplicity in which it has finally presented itself to our century, namely, in the form of Schopenhauer's philosophy; whoever has really, with an Asiatic and supra-Asiatic eye, looked into, down into the most world-denying of all possible ways of thinking - beyond good and evil and no longer, like the Buddha and Schopenhauer, under the spell and delusion of morality - may just thereby, without really meaning to do so, have opened his eyes to the opposite ideal: the ideal of the most high-spirited, alive, and world-affirming human being who has not only come to terms and learned to get along with whatever was and is, but who wants to have what was and is repeated into all eternity...' 
These passages illustrate Nietzsche's interpretation of Buddhism as a life-negating philosophy that seeks to escape an existence dominated by suffering. In The Gay Science and Will to Power, Nietzsche comments on Buddhism further, characterising it as an effort to withdraw from pain into an 'Oriental Nothing - called Nirvana', by way of following the maxim 'One must not act'. In The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche categorizes Buddhism as one among a group of ideologies that promote '...nihilistic turning away from life, a longing for nothingness, or for life's 'opposite', for a different sort of 'being'' According to Nietzsche, Buddhism can be described as an effort, through restraint from action, to escape suffering and pass into absolute non-existence. But is this description accurate?

Dukkha is the Sanskrit word commonly translated as 'suffering'. Its full meaning, however, is much more extensive, and this has important implications for the interpretation of Buddhist doctrine, because it is an integral constituent in the articulation of the fundamental Buddhist doctrine, the Four Noble Truths, as expressed in the Vinayapitaka:
'And this, monks, is the Noble Truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, and old age is dukkha, and disease is dukkha, and dying is dukkha, association from what is not dear is dukkha, separation from what is dear is dukkha, not getting what you want is dukkha - in short, the five aggregates of grasping are dukkha.' 
Understood simply as 'suffering', the word dukkha in this central Buddhist passage expresses only simple pessimism. The common translation of dukkha as suffering has quite likely been the cause of a great deal of misunderstanding on the part of the non-Buddhist world. In fact, 'dukkha'comes in three flavors. The first is dukkha-dukkhata, suffering qua suffering in its direct physical and mental manifestations. The second is vapirinama-dukkha, or suffering through transformation. This refers to the awareness that one's happiness is highly contingent and dependent on factors beyond one's control. Though you may be happy now, it could change at any moment, and this is due to the ungrounded and fluctuating nature of existence itself.

The most important type of dukkha, however, is sankhara-dukkha, an existential incompleteness due to spiritual ignorance. This incompleteness arises from being limited to one's own contingent and unenlightened perspective. Panna is the word used to refer to the transcendental consciousness of those who have attained enlightenment and are thereby free from sankhara-dukkha and existentially complete. For those who have attained Panna, even the most blissful existence as a deva in one of the Buddhist Heavens would seem to be a miserable Hell. This is because any of these existences of a relative nature (more or less blissful, painful, etc.) are only results of the spiritual ignorance that results in sankhara-dukkha.

Interpreted in this way, it is easy to begin to see how the statement of the First Noble Truth takes on a much deeper meaning than was assumed by Nietzsche. Not only are birth, death, and disease painful, they are products of spiritual ignorance. To say that they are 'dukkha'implies that they are, as co-dependently arising oppositions, ultimately unreal. It is not, therefore, merely pain that the Buddhist wants to overcome, but the perspective within which these illusions (as well as their happy counterparts) are taken to be real. Perhaps the most compelling evidence that the primary motivation behind Buddhism is not simply suffering qua suffering is the fact that out of the 121 classes of conscious experience listed in Buddhist psychology, only three have to do with pain, while 63 are joyful. Both the joyful and the painful, however, are considered sankhara-dukkha - products of spiritual ignorance.

Kamma-niradha is the Sanskrit word for 'cessation of action'. This state is achieved through adherence to the eight-fold path, which guides the Buddhist into kusula, or 'skillful action'. Therefore, it is not simply ceasing to perform actions that the Buddhist believes will eventually lead one to his or her goal. Rather, the type of actions that are performed is the deciding factor. Likewise, it is wrong to conclude that just because one has attained Nirvana that one ceases to act. Such a conclusion implies a misconceived interpretation of kamma-niradha, as it is understood in Buddhism. This is the misconception Nietzsche seems to have made in characterising Buddhism as being centered on the guideline not to act. That such an interpretation is indeed misconceived is apparent when we consider the life and words of the Buddha. After attaining enlightenment and Nirvana, he continued to lead an active life for the next forty-five years. Again, it is the nature of the action that differentiates the enlightened, described in the following passage from the Vinayapatika:
'I, monks, am freed from all snares, both those of devas and those of men. And you, monks, are freed from all snares, both those of devas and those of men. Go, monks, and wander for the blessing of the manyfolk, for the happiness of the manyfolk out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the blessing, the happiness of devas and men. Let not two (of you) go by one (way). Monks, teach the Dhamma which is lovely at the beginning, lovely in the middle, and lovely at the end.' 
As this passage illustrates, there are certain kinds of actions that are enjoined on the enlightened. However, it is inaccurate to use the word 'enjoined'in this context because the skillful actions are naturally done by the enlightened Buddhist, and are no longer performed as if they are obligations in a code of behavior. Following the Buddhist 'code', the eightfold path, is merely a means to the end of making it obsolete upon enlightenment. This is because of the way 'skillful action' is defined in Buddhism. The action that ceases is not activity in general, but only the unskillful actions that originate in spiritual ignorance. An action originates in spiritual ignorance when it is affected by one of three biases. These biases are sense desire, desire for some future form of existence, and spiritual ignorance. Buddhism further classifies actions into three categories. Wrong actions run counter to the goal of enlightenment and are driven by one or more of the biases. Of right actions there are those that tend toward enlightenment but are still driven by one the biases and those that are completely free of the biases and based on the correct understanding of the enlightened agent.

Examples of the former are actions performed by aspiring Buddhists who have not yet attained enlightenment and behave according to the Buddhist guidelines because they are enjoined on them by the religion itself. Upon enlightenment, the cessation of action that takes place is a cessation of the actions that are driven by the biases and, hence, unenlightened.

By interpreting the Buddhist conception of inaction as a cessation of all action, Nietzsche presented Buddhism as an escapist, and 'weary' ideology. Rightly understood, however, the Buddhist ideal of kamma-niradha actually comes closer to Nietzsche's ideal - being, in his own words, action that is 'beyond good and evil', or outside the moral categories of a dogma. Now that it has become clearer that Buddhism does not involve a retreat simply from pain, and that it does not prescribe complete inertness, we must ask ourselves about the goal toward which its genuine recommendations are directed. The most crucial point of contention over Nietzsche's criticisms of Buddhism might be the question: is Nirvana really an 'Oriental Nothing?'Do Buddhists really seek, by developing panna and performing kamma-niradha, to exterminate themselves beyond the possibility of re-birth?
'Since a Tathagata, even when actually present, is incomprehensible, it is inept to say of him - of the Uttermost Person, the Supernal Person, the Attainer of the Supernal - that after dying the Tathagata is, or is not, or both is and is not, or neither is nor is not...' (Majjhima-Nikaya)
It is hard to imagine that Nietzsche misinterpreted the concept of Buddhist Nirvana completely inadvertently, given the sheer amount of Theravada literature that exists on the topic. In so many passages, the texts insist that Nirvana transcends the difference between the four sets of categories given above (being, non-being, both, and neither), and that it is therefore inaccurate to say of Nirvana that it is nothingness - and just as inaccurate to conclude that it must be something. Nirvana is postulated as a state quite beyond the realm of reason and language. In the Suttanipata, the Buddha explains:
''There is no measuring of one who has gone to his setting, Upasiva,' said the Blessed One. 'That no longer exists for him by which people might refer to him. When all conditions [dhammas] are removed, then all ways of telling are also removed.' 
All points of reference by which one makes descriptions and explanations are products of the unenlightened perspective. Nirvana, since it is beyond this perspective, is beyond description by way of these relative concepts and categories. It can only be understood by way of attainment ? of losing spiritual ignorance in exchange for enlightened understanding. That, according to Buddhism, is why it is so problematic to give an explanation for it. The Buddha replies to the bewilderment expressed by a disciple, Vacchagotta:
'It is enough to cause you bewilderment, Vaccha, enough to cause you confusion. For this truth, Vaccha, is deep, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. It is hard for you to understand when you hold to another view, accept another teaching, approve another teaching, pursue a different training, and follow a different teacher.' 
Admittedly, having not attained the state of enlightenment described by the Buddhists, I find it perplexing to conceive of. It appears that in order to understand the concept one must transcend rationality itself and operate on some plane completely outside of anything we can imagine. In other words, only the enlightened can understand the goal they have achieved (at which point it ceases to be anything like a 'goal'). 
Though only a fool denies the reality of a thing based solely on the fact that one has not yet experienced it, it is quite understandable that in so many cases a concept that requires such direct experience should be completely misunderstood by those who have lack the experience. In such a case, one unenlightened onlooker has really no point of reference by which to test the accuracy of another unenlightened explanation. Indeed, it appears that any words used to explain Nirvana, according to the Buddhist postulations, would be horrendous mistakes. And so it is with this in mind that we should examine a statement by Schopenhauer (in The World as Will and Idea), who was a major influence on Nietzsche, regarding the subject.
'We must banish the dark impression of that nothingness which we discern behind all virtue and holiness as their final goal, and which we fear as children fear the dark; we must not even evade it like the Indians, through myths and meaningless words, such as reabsorption in Brahma, or the Nirvana of the Buddhists. Rather, do we freely acknowledge that what remains after the abolition of will is for all those who are still full of will certainly nothing; but conversely, to those in whom the will has turned and denied itself, this our world, which is so real, with all its suns and milky ways - is nothing.' 
Obviously, Schopenhauer, after being so influenced by Hindu and Buddhist ideas about the effect that desire and will has on binding us to continued existence, completely dismissed the perplexing descriptions of Nirvana as 'meaningless words'. Unable to conceive of a state beyond the categories of being and non-being, he concluded that the final state that is entered into after dissolution of the will is complete non-existence. Hence, his diagnosis that the philosophers who postulated inconceivable states were merely 'evading'the nothingness that they feared. Diagnoses of 'psychological dishonesty'such as this became, in some form or other, staples of later existentialist thinkers. Nietzsche, of course, made similar attacks against Christianity as well as Buddhism.

The fact is, Nirvana can only be explained to the 'unenlightened' by negation. The Buddhist texts tell us what it cannot be thought of as, but the only positive descriptions of it tend toward non-existence. An example of this is the simile of the fire that the Buddha uses in his dialogue with Vacchagotama. He asks whether the fire, when it is extinguished, can be said to have gone north, south, east, or west. Of course, the obvious answer is that the fire no longer exists. Nirvana, however, cannot be described as existing, not existing, both existing and not, or neither existing nor not. For Buddhism, even nothingness is constituted by the relative contingencies that arise co-dependently as samsara.

For Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, nothingness is what is left when these illusions are removed. This explains their sharply opposed responses to the human condition as they understand it. Schopenhauer and, according to Nietzsche, Buddhism, prescribe a surrender into nothingness that can only be actualized by extinction of the will. Nietzsche, on the other hand, asserts an affirmation of the illusion by becoming the creator of it. His überman, by accepting the groundlessness of his own 'truths'and yet maintaining them and continually creating them - wanting to create them over and over again (as opposed to wanting to escape the cycle) - represents an ideal response to existence.

So both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer greatly misunderstood Buddhism,by interpreting Nirvana as non-existence. The Buddhist response to them both would be that they failed to understand the system fully because they failed to adopt Buddhist practices aimed at enlightenment - at which point they would have developed the capacity to conceive of Nirvana. 'Sire, Nirvana is', says the Buddhist disciple, Nagasena, 'cognizable by mind: an aryan disciple, faring along with a mind that is purified, lofty, straight, without obstructions, without temporal desires, sees Nirvana.'

Address for correspondence:

Omar Edward Moad, 
University of Missouri-Columbia

The Moral Regard for Others (2004)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXII No. 1 Spring 2004

By Ana Lita

In her essay, "The Sublime and the Beautiful Revisited," Iris Murdoch explains how it is that great art fosters aesthetic sensibility by revealing the world as it truly is.
"Of course great artists are 'personalities' and have special styles ... But the greatest art is 'impersonal' because it shows us the world, our world and not another one, with a clarity which startles and delights us simply because we are not used to looking at the real world at all."*
Iris Murdoch's creative new approach to ethics restores its link to aesthetics and arose from her dissatisfaction with previous developments (liberalism, romanticism, existentialism and linguistic empiricism) in the concept of the moral self which lacked, she felt, an adequate account of regard for others. She wishes to renew our sense of the difficulty and complexity of the moral life in dealing with particular persons. And to achieve this regard the moral self must perform an imaginative construal of the particular goodness and/or their suffering. Attentiveness to as well as acceptance of people in their particularity defines love.

Hence, love is a sensibility to others, which can best be explained, she argues, in terms of a close analogy between aesthetic perception and a morally adequate perception. Such a regard is not respect for a universal humanity in each person as Kant thought. But Iris Murdoch does reinterpret Kant's concepts of the beautiful and the sublime in an attempt to clarify the notion of "seeing" others in a morally suitable way.

Aesthetic perception involves sensitivity to beauty, both natural and moral, during contemplation of a particular object (thing, event, and other persons) as a unique whole. The object rises in sharp relief from the rest of the world and we appreciate it for its own sake. The object being contemplated (the thing of beauty) becomes - for the time being - our entire conscious world. Therefore, art transcends selfish limitations of personality and enlarges the sensibility of those who contemplate it. This aesthetic perception leads to a realistic vision of others that inspires compassionate love.

To persuade us of the importance of the connection between aesthetics and ethics, Iris Murdoch appeals to Kant's theory of art, which closely accords with his theory of morals. This may be surprising since Kant's aesthetics is well known for the view that judgments of taste are "subjective," but these subjective judgments are universal claims. Furthermore, in the case of dependent beauty, as defined by Kant, there is an objective orientation to the experience, which will justify her use of terms like "seeing", "vision" and so on, in her theory. Her analogy between moral sensibility and the sensibility of the novelist as manifested in his act of creation explains how the goodness of others can be revealed. This analogy is developed in terms of the writer's love unconditionally displayed toward his characters, a love that seeks to see goodness in them and understand their suffering. The novelist's sensibility disrupts his natural selfishness, thus releasing him from self-concern to make him capable of loving the real others from a detached, unsentimental and objective viewpoint. 

“Loving others must involve also forgiveness and hope as long as we see them not only as they are, but as they might become...”

Beauty is what attracts such an unselfish contemplation, be it for objects of art, nature, or human beings. This feeling of beauty takes the form of a spell which is not available to abstract, theoretical reasoning. It is important for Iris Murdoch that the beauty in question is not subjective but is objectively seen in the character of others, the particular virtues that exhibit their goodness. Thus, the respect for individuality in the sense of particularity and contingency becomes the virtue of love. The beloved is other and distinct from the loving subject. This is seen in the novelist who, tolerant in his endeavor to display a real apprehension of characters whose existence is separate from himself and crucially important and interesting in themselves, sets free his characters. Great art brings us, if only for a brief moment, into a world more real than our own and such an attitude is equally required, states Iris Murdoch, in our daily moral situations. Art is the only available, unbiased method that increases one's capacity for understanding and loving other people. 

Kant's theory of "aesthetic perception" gives distinctively different accounts of the feeling of the beautiful and the feeling of the sublime and is not oriented toward perception of things as such; it is subjectively oriented. The beautiful is the experience of the conceptless harmony between the imagination's effort to grasp an object as a whole and the faculty of understanding. This feeling of harmony is, as Kant posits, the feeling of a purposiveness without purpose, the form of finality without finality. For Kant, art does not reveal impartial truths; it is rather the production of a certain quasi-thing with its own inherent justification. Kant's favorite examples of this purposiveness without purpose are drawn from nature. To see the beauty of a flower is not to see any perceptible quality in the flower but is instead to subjectively organize its perceptible features as if it were a thing with a purpose or defined in terms of a purpose. For Kant, the feeling of the beauty of a flower comes in the sense of a purposive unity in the lines, colours, shapes, fragrance etc. However, this is a feeling for which no concept can be supplied; rather, the unity is attributed symbolically or metaphorically.

Kant called this kind of beauty, "free beauty." The pure judgment of taste concerns free beauty. This feeling of beauty is truly disinterested and is not tied to an idea of the good or common sensory pleasure. The experience of free beauty is not driven towards some end and involves no emotion tied to desires. Flowers, birds, all music that is not set to words are examples of free beauty for Kant. The song of a bird can have more freedom in it than a human voice singing according to all rules that the art of music imposes.

On the other hand, dependent beauty, as defined by Kant, contains a purposiveness of form directed at or oriented toward an idea of the goodness of the object apprehended as beautiful. The beauty of a man or of a building presupposes a concept of the end that defines what the thing has to be and therefore a concept of its perfection. For example, in the form of a vase, the feeling of its beauty is to be oriented toward the idea of the fulfillment of its purpose as a vase. Thus a vase whose size, colours, lines etc. are so spectacular as to dwarf the bouquet of flowers which has been placed in it will be felt to be lacking some way. Either the bouquet calls for a different vase or the vase calls for a different bouquet.

This feeling of dependent beauty, for Iris Murdoch, is something very close to the feeling that we have for others in our loving regard for them. There is, however, an important difference: when we strive to see the goodness in others, we begin without a clear idea of their goodness that will critique their speech and actions; indeed, we seek out a purposiveness of form in their lives with respect to an idea of goodness we have not yet understood. Iris Murdoch does not present a strict standard of perfection by which to judge the purposiveness of all human actions, character and motives. Because no general pattern for morality exists, each person must struggle to form an idea of his own goodness, an idea that changes and is constituted in the very struggle of becoming a good person. Thus, regard for others does not refer to a concept of moral perfection as the ground of the goodness or virtue seen in the other.

In the case of "dependent beauty," the purposiveness of form in the lives of others is properly seen. While such qualities are objective and hence have an objective truth condition, this does not mean that one simply learns a rule for recognizing the virtues of others. As with beautiful vases, we should rather expect the virtues of persons to be unique and therefore uniquely realized. What is important is not learning to apply secondary moral terms as a matter of rule, but learning to extend moral language to fit ever new cases. Hence we can see why Iris Murdoch thinks that the novel is the art form which develops moral language, for when we read a good novel, we learn not rules but the art of seeing characters and by extension, the people around us. While reading novels, readers find some characters to be morally good, while others are not; additional characters might not appear to call either for moral approbation or opprobrium. But it is not the function of the novel, Iris Murdoch claims, to support rules of behavior, through which characters are evaluated. Instead, the novel applies Kant's concept of dependent beauty to evaluate characters based on a purposiveness they choose for their lives.

At this juncture it might be objected that a pure regard for others is not solely a matter of respect for their virtues. Common moral intuition tells us that perhaps the most important regard for others is that which we should have when people suffer or fail to come up to a supposed standard of virtue. This is where Kant's concept of the sublime should be brought to bear on the reflection about the regard for others, for with the sublime, Iris Murdoch thinks we can apply the concepts of fear and sympathy (which are considered to be traditionally "tragic") to our sense of the misfortunes, failures and blindness of others and of ourselves.

The feeling of the sublime should be viewed as a sort of negative image of the feeling of the beautiful, for when we find ourselves unable to synthesize our capacities and the specific contingencies of our lives within a sense of purposiveness oriented toward the good, we feel broken an defeated in the absence of such joyful harmony. Kant develops the concept of the sublime in a very different context which must now be examined before seeing Iris Murdoch's effort to make it the basis for understanding the "tragic" element in life. The feeling of the sublime is what we have when we are unable to exhibit by imagination a vision of the whole, as reason demands. As described by Kant the sublime is not connected with art at all. While the beautiful is an experience of the imagination and understanding in harmony, the sublime is an experience of the imagination and reason in conflict. The sublime is an emotional experience resulting from the overwhelmed yet revitalized attempt of reason to compass the boundlessness and shapelessness of nature.

When we look at the starry sky, reason demands that we comprehend the cosmos as a whole and indeed we are able to form an idea of the cosmos as a whole, but not a concept that can be empirically justified. What we cannot do as human beings is rationally comprehend the totality of the starry sky, as we experience it at some particular time, in order to truly see it or apprehend it as an "object."

In Kant's view, the sublime is connected with emotion. Thus, objects may be beautiful but no object is ever sublime. Some aspects in nature occasion feelings of sublimity in us provided that we are not actually afraid (For instance, the contemplation of Mont Blanc, the starry sky or Niagara Falls). Still, in our confrontation with the starry sky, the imagination fails to satisfy reason's requirement for systematic wholeness.

This inability to synthesize the object of our experience, as reason demands, engenders a challenge to our powers initially felt as fear, albeit a pleasurable one if we know ourselves to be safe. This experience, Iris Murdoch interprets, blends distress, given the failure of the imagination to cope with the demands of reason, with elation, which comes from realizing the powerful nature of reason, that goes beyond what mere imagination can achieve. This experience is very much like Achtung, a mixture of pleasure and pain we feel in our respect for the moral law. On one hand, we feel pain while contemplating a moral requirement; on the other hand, our rational nature, in the sense of freedom to conform to the absolute requirements of reason, makes us feel delight in our consciousness. The sublime therefore resembles moral experience because reason, that is the moral will, is active. On deeper reflection, the sublime brings us to focus upon reason itself - the power in us to form an idea of infinite wholes-- conceived as the capacity to give a law to our actions that explains the course of our lives to ourselves. Thus drawn, we experience, instead of fear, a respect for the law-giving power within us, which Kant holds is aesthetically pleasing.

Iris Murdoch views Kant's application of the concept of the sublime to nature as trivial. She disagrees with Kant's notion that the feeling of the sublime is fundamentally a respect for human self-confidence given by reason. On the contrary, for her, the sublime provides no occasion for pleasure, no impulse to elevate us above the world; rather the feeling of the sublime registers the frailty and sometimes even comical blindness of human life. It is filled with uncertainties and contingencies, which sometimes disrupt one's effort to give life purposive form with a view to goodness. Often one becomes pathetic when he blindly projects himself as a triumphant hero in his own life story and in the world of others. This is the mistake which both romantics and existentialists make in response to the "tragic" element in life. They presume that they can make sense of the tragic even if it is at the expense of monumentalising their own suffering (showing themselves as heroes against the world). Aristotle thought that the "tragic" emotions, fear and pity, provide a catharsis for the tragic in life, a temporary relief purchased by a few hours spent at the theater, but for Iris Murdoch the tragic emotions represent what ought to be a sustained readiness for the inevitable failure of some of our life prospects, ready also to be morally expressed in fear and sympathy regarding tragedy in the lives of others.

The moral regard for others fundamentally comes from attempting to see their goodness and their tragedy through the experience of the sublime. Seeing others properly incorporates emotions of respect and compassion that characterize love and such seeing is cognitive love. Love is a dual concept based upon the analogy between artistic sensibility and moral sensibility. Its two components are a contemplative one and Achtung. Iris Murdoch interprets Achtung as an expression of compassion towards the tragedy in people's lives. Thus for her Achtung is not only a mixture of pleasure and pain while contemplating the moral law; it is also part of the love we manifest for others in our regard for them. She connects the sublime via Achtung with Kant's ethical theory in that his theory of the sublime has to be a theory of tragedy, even though Kant's theory of ethics contains no place for the idea of tragedy.

Despite its apparent strength, her view of regard for others poses several interrelated problems which must be addressed. She claims that to see others through aesthetic perception is to see them as they really are. This "realism" contrasts to the deficiencies in sight or the illusions implied in previous accounts of the moral self, deficiencies of abstraction in the cases of liberalism and linguistic empiricism, or neurotic illusion in the cases of romanticism and existentialism. This claim about realism is also the way in which she would have us understand what constitutes true realism in the novel. Iris Murdoch's concept of love for others and the way in which she develops and applies this concept in her novels extends her concept of regard for others beyond what is merely a matter of aesthetic perception. This fact seems to undermine the claim that regard for others, as she conceives it, is fundamentally a kind of "seeing."

For example, characters presented by Iris Murdoch in a comical light are, almost always redeemed elsewhere in the novel by their good attitudes, such that even their moral faults are exhibited to some degree as re-describable in terms of goodness. However, one needs to ask whether these re-descriptions are actually realistic characterisations so much as expressions of forgiveness and hope for redemption. It may be that a truly loving regard for others includes such attitudes, that is to say, such as forgiveness and redemption. If so, though, it becomes difficult to see how such a view of regard for others is adequately characterized when it is spoken of as a kind of realism.

A critic might go further and suggest that the effort to describe such regard for others as "seeing," simply masks an idealization, a determination to see the world through rose-coloured lenses. If it is, then Iris Murdoch's theory ironically falls under the weight of the very criticism that she makes of romantic and existentialist conceptions of the moral person. Instead of "seeing" a dependent beauty in a person, the kind of re-description she envisions may turn out to be a merely subjective projection of the form of a purposiveness which, as such, is not there in what is "seen".

Nonetheless, Iris Murdoch might be correct in thinking that a regard for others should be loving in the way she suggests, because loving others must involve also forgiveness and hope as long as we see them not only as they are, but as they might become. Her problem may lie in claiming that aesthetic re-description is a sufficient condition for revealing a virtue where before one had seen only fault or vice.

The essential challenge for Iris Murdoch is to ask, what does it mean to apprehend a virtue in oneself or in another? While this is too broad a question to answer completely, the answer encompasses something more than aesthetic description. It must include learning how to see which, according to Iris Murdoch, is also a kind of knowledge. The visual knowledge obtained through aesthetic perception that she is trying to persuade others to embrace is equally useful as a guide in the moral world. The insight we have into the other through love acts upon us and draws us to see goodness in that person, independent of the need to provide an evaluative rationale endorsing that person's behavior.

As a result of such insights, moral principles become something that we must ever learn anew, in and through particular cases. The other's goodness exists and can be grasped by our imagination. But it requires unconditional love in which attention and imagination play a crucial role. I am inclined to think that individuals have a fertile imaginative nature and can truly "see" despite the intrusion of bias or accident into their lives. Our systems of values alter to a lesser or greater degree but always in a potential harmony with what has gone before bringing into the focus qualities in a person that we did not previously recognize. For the novelist, the power of description and imagination is, of course, greater when it comes to developing characters. On the other hand, for real persons to develop moral character depends on more than a vivid, even plausible, aesthetic imagination of what the course of one's life is or might be like.

At the core of Iris Murdoch's assumptions about the moral regard for others lies a reflective shift in developing moral sensibility through an enhancement of aesthetic perception. Her account makes for the concept of the particular individual as unique rather than for the rational agent or citizen central to contemporary liberal theory. The moral perception of the particular individual essentially involves an aesthetic component, the imaginative construal of the goodness of others (a qualification of beauty), and of their tragedy, as their free powers fail to fulfill a purposive wholeness in life (a qualification of the sublime).

*The opening quotation is from Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature, edited by Peter Conradi (New York: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press, 1997, p. 352,).

Address for correspondence: 

Further reading on Iris: 

Conradi, P. J. Iris Murdoch: The Saint and the Artist, New York: Saint Martin Press, 1986.
Dipple, E. Iris Murdoch: Work for Spirit, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. 

The Laws of Thought (2004)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXII No. 1 Spring 2004

By James Danaher

Western philosophy to a very large extent has been founded upon laws of thought. We believe that our thinking should strive to eliminate ideas that are vague, contradictory, or ambiguous, and the best way to accomplish this, and thereby ground our thinking in clear and distinct ideas, is to strictly follow Laws of Thought.

Ones like:
  • the Law of Identity (A=A),
  • the Law of Non-contradiction (A does not equal ~A),
  • and the Law of the Excluded Middle (either A or not A but not both A and ~A).
In spite of how dominant these laws of thought have been, they have not been without their critics, and philosophers from Heraclitus to Hegel have leveled powerful arguments against them. But the issue does not seem to be whether the laws are applicable or not, but where and when are they applicable? Certainly, the laws of thought have a place, but what is that place?

Both the laws, as well as opposition to them, can be traced to the Pre-Socratic philosophers. It was Parmenides who first formulated the law of non-contradiction. 
"Never will this prevail, that what is not is."
Plato also refers to this in the Sophist: "The great Parmenides from beginning to end testified . . . 'Never shall this be proved - that things that are not are.'"

It may seem strange that the principle of non-contradiction was not part of a natural way of thinking that had its origins deep in our prehistory, but rather was introduced by Parmenides in the 5th century B.C. Even more surprising is the fact that Parmenides' law of non-contradiction represented a radical break from the Ionian philosophy of nature which preceded it. The Ionian philosophy was based on observation or experience in the ordinary sense. On the basis of such experience, Heraclitus argued that contradictions not only existed but were essential and the basis of a thing's identity: 

"Not only could it be stated that identity is the strife of oppositions but that there could be no identity without such strife within the entity." Heraclitus argued that since things changed, they had to contain what they were not. Only such contradictions could account for change. As Heraclitus says: 
"Cold things grow warm; warm grows cold; wet grows dry; parched grows moist."
In direct opposition to Heraclitus, Parmenides claimed that identity involved the idea of non-contradiction. What made for the difference between Heraclitus and Parmenides was what they respectively believed were the proper objects of thought. For Parmenides, the things we encounter in our experience make for poor objects upon which to fix our thoughts. Indeed, the things we experience are not suited to provide the kind of knowledge that Parmenides, and so many others who were to follow him, wanted. The kind of knowledge they desired was a knowledge that was fixed and certain. Such knowledge would require objects of thought that were equally fixed and certain. Thus, Parmenides settled on the idea of being itself into which all change would collapse.

The Pythagoreans too desired objects of thought that were fixed and certain. For them, mathematics provided those kinds of objects. Plato too sought similar objects of thought and settled on otherworldly forms that were eternal and immutable. With the Platonic forms, as with Pythagorian numbers and Parmenidian being, the laws of thought are certainly applicable. Thus, Plato endorsed the laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle in the Republic when he has Socrates say:
"It is obvious that the same thing will never do or suffer opposites in the same respect in relation to the same thing and at the same time." (Republic 4:436b) 
Of course, Plato was well aware that in order for the laws of thought to work they needed to be restricted, for if left unrestricted they could lead to absurd conclusions. In the Euthydemus, Euthydemus' brother Dionysodorus argues that Socrates must be the father of a dog, since the dog had a father, and Socrates has admitted that he is a father. Since one cannot be a father and not be a father at the same time, Socrates must be the father of the dog. Although Socrates is obviously not the father of the dog, it was not so obvious in Socrates' day where Dionysidorus' thinking went wrong. Thus, Plato attempts to sort out where and when the laws of thought apply and where and when they do not apply.

The restrictions Plato places on the laws of thought (i.e., "in the same respect," and "at the same time,") are an attempt to isolate the object of thought by removing it from all other time but the present and all respects but one. Thus, although we are involved in many relationships, when we think about ourselves relationally, we must restrict our thinking to one relationship, at one time, in order for the laws of thought to be applicable. Thus, it is not only the Platonic forms that are abstract and apart from the world of experience, but any idea to which the laws of thought are to be applied must also be abstracted from the reality of our experience which is multi-relational and multi-temporal.

Like Plato, Aristotle also believed that the laws of thought, in spite of being controversial, were cornerstones of all right thinking. He argues for them in several places (Metaphysics G, 3&4; De Interpretatione 11, 21a32-33; Topics IV 1, 121a22-4; Sophistical Refutations 5, 167a1-6). It is, however, not so much that he argues for them as he sets them in a proper light. That is, he shows were they are appropriate and where they are not appropriate. Basically, what he says is little different from Plato. He argues that such laws apply only to attributes and attributes at a particular time and in a particular respect.
"The same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect."  
(Metaphysics G, 3,1005b18-20)
By limiting the laws of thought in this way, Aristotle overcomes Heraclitus' claim that identity contains contradictions because the attributes of a thing change over time. By isolating identity in one moment of time, Aristotle abstracts the objects of thought just as Plato had done. Thus, identity is set in a different light than it had been for Heraclitus who understood identity as dynamic and thus involving change and equally contradictions.

But Aristotle also introduces another element to further support the laws of thought. The principle he introduces concerns the way we formulate our concepts or ideas of kinds. According to Aristotle, our idea of a kind or species is best conceptualized by uniting the genus of a species with its differentia or the characteristic that differentiates that species from the other members of the genus. To establish a clear concept of the species "man," we combine the genus "animal" and the differentia or that characteristic which distinguishes man from other animals * for example, that he is rational. Thus, the species "man" is conceptualized as, "rational animal." It may be true that our clearest concepts are those which proceed from, and are members of, a single genus. 
Our desire for clear and distinct concepts has made Aristotle's model for conceptualising species enormously influential in Western thinking. In biology we classify and understand species under a single lineage whereby each concept or idea of a species belongs to only one genus. Every family of living things belongs to only one order, and every order belongs to only one class, and every class to only one phylum and kingdom. Such ordering gives us neat and clear concepts and satisfies our desire to conceptualize things in as simple and clear a way as possible. But the platypus does not fit neatly into a single genus or more precisely into the class designated as "mammal." In fact, many species do not seem to fit such a neat Aristotelian model, and might better be conceived if we understood them to belong to more than a single genus.

This Aristotelian model for conceptualizing species has not only been applied to biological species, but we attempt to organize all of our experience in a similar fashion. In spite of the fact that many of our concepts might be better conceived if we understood them as descending from multiple genuses, the Aristotelian model of concepts which descend from a single genus is deeply entrenched in our thinking. One of the reasons behind its entrenchment is that such a principle allows the laws of thought to work consistently and appear universal. On another model in which concepts are thought to descend from multiple genuses, the laws of thought are not as applicable because, as a member of more than a single genus, a concept could contain contradictory attributes.

Materialism and the Corpuscular Philosophy

With the modern era, a mechanical view of the universe replaced Aristotle's biological paradigm. With such a model, things were no longer organic wholes but composites of parts and, as such, more compatible with an analytic way of thinking that broke things down into ever smaller parts until all contradictions disappear, and the Laws of Thought prevailed. Basic to this mechanical view known as the corpuscular philosophy, was an apparent distinction between the kinds of qualities that we attribute to physical entities. Qualities such as shape, extension, motion, etc. were thought to exist within the objects themselves, while tastes, smells, colors, etc. were said to exist within us. The former kind were referred to as 'primary' and the latter kind 'secondary'.

The explanation the corpuscularians offered was that these secondary qualities were produced in us by the arrangement and motion of the insensible corpuscles which were made up of primary qualities and constituted the internal structure of a thing. So a physical thing like a strawberry, while not actually possessing anything that resembles the taste or smell of the strawberry, does have the power to produce those sensations within us because of the arrangement and motion of the insensible corpuscles that make up the strawberry's internal structure. By contrast, when we perceive that the strawberry is extended, we are perceiving a quality that represents the thing itself, since the strawberry is made up of corpuscles and corpuscles are extended.

Thus, the claim of the corpuscularians was that primary qualities were more real than secondary qualities. Of course, what is meant by "more real" is that primary qualities seem to be more objective than the subjective, secondary qualities. But why should we privilege the objective over the subjective? One reason, perhaps the most important reason, is that the laws of thought are more applicable when subjectivity is removed. Subjectivity certainly undermines the Laws of Thought. While a thing can be sweet and not sweet at the same time, it cannot not be square and round nor in motion and at rest at the same time. Consequently, primary qualities make better objects of thought in the sense that the laws of thought better apply with them than with secondary qualities. What has in fact taken place, however, is that the objects of thought have been made ever more abstract and removed from the reality of the world we actually experience.

The idea of primary qualities, like the objects of mathematics, Plato's otherworldly forms, or Aristotle's idea of species that are members of single genuses, are enormously abstract and artificial notions and not like anything we actually experience. The pure objectivity of primary qualities is something we create rather than experience and we create it for the sake of having clear and distinct objects of thought to which the laws of thought might be consistently applicable. By the 18th and 19th centuries, such abstract notions of objectivity would come under attack from a phenomenological perspective which would take up the Herclitian theme and argue that the phenomenal world of experience is more real than the abstract world we have come to think about.


Berkeley's phenomenalism privileged the world of experience over the abstract world of objective matter which the corpuscularians had introduced. Berkeley thought that abstract ideas of any kind were inconceivable (set out in the Principles of Human Knowledge), and that primary and secondary qualities were inseparably joined in the phenomenal world and could not be separated even in thought.
"I desire anyone to reflect and try, whether he can by any abstraction of thought, conceive the extension and motion of a body, without all other sensible qualities. . . extension, figure, and motion, abstracted from all other qualities, are inconceivable."
For whatever reason, Berkeley did not explore the consequence of his phenomenalism upon the laws of thought. Hegel, however, certainly did. Like Berkeley, Hegel's phenomenalism attacks the idea of abstraction, but Hegel seems to have had more of an understanding of how much the idea of abstraction was at the very base of traditional logic and metaphysics. Hegel seems to understand that the focus of traditional logic was to make "Abstract identity its principle and to try to apprehend the objects of reason by the abstract and finite categories of the understanding." By so doing, traditional logic secured a realm over which the laws of thought could sovereignly rule. 
Once proper objects of thought have been created through abstraction, the laws of thought certainly apply. Hegel would argue, however, that these laws of thought do not apply when the objects of thought are not such abstract entities. Thus, the laws of thought do not universally rule over all thinking but are only universal when the objects of thought are abstracted from the reality of the phenomenal world. If we turn our attention upon the world of experience, "everything is inherently contradictory." Thus, Hegel posits the law of contradiction, rather than the law of non-contradiction.

As it was for Heraclitus, reality for Hegel is something that moves, thus making any fixed, abstract identity impossible. Things are always becoming and so they must contain within themselves that which they are not. Contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.

A little later, he says something that is even more shocking to those who strictly adhere to the traditional laws of thought and imagine them to be the basis of all right thinking. 

"Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this "here", it at once is and is not." This is an obvious contradiction, and the laws of thought would say that something cannot be here and not here at the same time. Of course, what is behind Hegel's statement is the matter of how we conceive of time. If we think of time and motion analytically, and the continuum of time moves from one fixed, analyzable point to another (i.e., t1, t2, t3 . . . ), thus constituting a present or here, then Hegel is certainly wrong. If that is the case, then something is here (e.g., t4) and not any other place. If, however, there are no fixed points on the continuum that is time, and time is continually moving, then it cannot be stopped and analysed without making it something other than what it is. If the nature of time, like motion, defies arrest, then Hegel is right and analytic thinking is not suited to understand such things. To think of time as an ongoing continuum forces us to think contrary to the laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle, and understand that something is both here and not here at the same moment.

If motion defies the traditional laws of thought, then all living things violate the laws of thought in so far as they are in constant motion * not in the sense that they experience constant local motion but in the sense that all living things experience perpetual internal motion. This internal motion of all living things prevents them from having any fixed, analyzable point of identity.
"Abstract self-identity is not as yet a livingness....  Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradictions within it." 
Hegel even attacks the law of identity and claims that the law of identity says very little in itself.  The fact that A = A is no more than a tautology and has little meaning.  It tells us almost nothing about the identity of a thing.   The only way a thing truly takes on identity is through its otherness or what it is not.  What a thing is not is as necessary to the identity of a thing as what it is in that what it is not is what gives boundaries, definition, and meaning to a thing.  Thus, its otherness must be contained within the very identity of the thing. 
What is at the base of all that Hegel has to say is a logic that is synthetic rather than analytic.  With a synthetic logic which joins things into ever greater wholes rather than analyzing them into ever smaller parts, the Laws of Thought are not the universal principles they are with analytic thinking.  With a synthetic logic that examines wholes rather than parts, contradictions are natural and to be expected.  The way to eliminate contradictions is to employ an analytic logic which divides things into ever smaller parts until the contradiction disappears.  When Plato and Aristotle qualify the law of non-contradiction and say "in the same respect," and "at the same time," what they are doing is breaking a thing down into its parts.  If we focus on ever smaller parts, we can eventually eliminate all contradictions and thus preserve the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle.  When, however, we deal with the whole, rather than the parts, we are treating all the respects or parts together and then we certainly may encounter contradictions and the truth is often both/and rather than either/or.
When we say that life is full of joy and sorrow, we can eliminate that contradiction, or any such contradiction, by analyzing life and dividing it into joyous parts and sorrowful parts.  That is, in one respect, it is joyous and in another respect it is sorrowful.  If, however, we leave life (or anything else) whole and do not analyze it into this respect or that respect, we see myriads of contradictions because that is the nature of the reality in which we live.  We have been taught to think analytically about abstracted parts of our experience in order that the laws of thought can be neatly applied, but that is only one way of thinking.  We can also think about wholes rather than parts and when we do, the laws of thought do not always apply.
This does not mean that there is no place for analytic thinking and the laws of thought.  Analytic thinking is a mode of thought we use all the time.  The problem lies in the fact that Western intellectual history has been intent upon creating an understanding that is founded upon universal laws, and, in order to create such universal laws, we have attempted to eliminate all objects of thought to which such laws do not universal apply.  This, however, is irrational since there obviously are dynamic and holistic objects of thought to which the laws of thought do not universally apply.
Twentieth century science has discovered the bicameral nature of the human brain, and although pop psychology might be too quick to draw hard and fast lines between the two hemispheres of the brain and assigns analytic thought to the one and synthetic thought to the other, there certainly is something to the fact that the physiology of our brains allow us to think in different ways.  Analytic thinking, based upon one hemisphere of the brain, has dominated in the West.  Thus, it is no wonder that the laws of thought seem so absolute to so many. Yet, to strictly apply the laws of thought to all of our thinking is perhaps to use only half our wits. 

Address for correspondence:

James P. Danaher, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Head, Department of Philosophy