Saturday, 1 September 2007

Propos impertinents (2007)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXVII No. 2


PROPOS SUR LE BONHEUR
  Alain



The French philosopher known as Alain (born Emile-Auguste Chartier in 1868, died 1951) lived in Mortagne in Normandy, a small market town in which  a statue and small museum are a testimony to his continued standing in French intellectual life. During his life, he wrote many brief pieces attacking the establishment of his day ­ clerics, academics, politicians - and Brenda Almond has selected and translated four of these for The Philosopher, drawn from his Propos impertinents, written between 1921 and 1936.


Propos #1
8 December, 1922

Bucephalus - Find The Pin 

When a small child cries and refuses to be comforted, the child's nurse often makes ingenious assumptions about the young person's character, his likes and dislikes; she even summons up heredity to help, and claims she can already recognise the father in the son. These attempts at psychology continue until the nurse discovers what has really caused it all: a pin.

When the famous horse Bucephalus was presented to the young Alexander, there wasn't a horseman who could keep his seat on the wonderful creature. An ordinary person would have said: 'That's a wicked horse.' But Alexander looked for the pin, and he soon found it; he noticed that Bucephalus was terrified of his own shadow; and because his fear made his shadow jump too, this just kept the situation going. But Alexander pointed Bucephalus' nose towards the sun, and by keeping him going in that direction, he managed to calm him and tire him out. So Aristotle's pupil already knew that we can't control our feelings as long as we don't know their really causes.

Plenty of men have overcome their fear, and for good reasons; but someone who is afraid doesn't listen to reasons; he is listening to his own heartbeat and the pounding of his blood. The pedant reasons from danger to fear; the emotionally-charged individual reasons from fear to a danger. Both of them want to be reasonable, but both of them are making a mistake. The pedant, however, is doubly mistaken: he doesn't know the real cause and he doesn't understand the other person's mistake. A person who is afraid invents some danger in order to explain his real well-founded fear. Now the least little surprise can frighten someone when there isn't any danger at all, for example, a gun fired close to you when you aren't expecting it, or even just somebody's sudden unexpected appearance. [Napoleon's genera] Masséna took fright at a statue on a poorly-lit staircase and took to his heels and fled.

A man's impatience and bad temper are sometimes due to the fact that he's been standing up too long; don't reason with him about his temper, but offer him a seat. Talleyrand, in saying that manners are everything, was saying rather more than he realised. In his concern not to cause other people trouble, he was looking for a pin and he ended up by finding it. All diplomats today have a pin placed to prick them through their clothes ­ it's the source of Europe's complexities; and everyone knows that when you get one child crying, it makes the others cry too; what's worse, they're crying because of the crying! Nurses, following their professional instinct, lay the child on its stomach; immediately there's a change of behaviour and a new regime; here's a way of persuading that doesn't aim too high.

The evils of 1914 happened, I believe, because important people were taken by surprise; and this made them afraid. When a man is afraid, anger is not far behind; irritation follows fright. It's not very nice for a man to be brusquely called away from his leisure and his rest; he often changes and changes a lot. Like a man whose been rudely awoken, he is too wide awake. But never say that men are wicked; don't ever say that's their nature. Look for the pin. 

*Alain, Propos sur le bonheur, Folio Essais no. 21. Edition Gallimard, 1928. pp. 11-13



Propos #54

11 April 1906

The Wisdom of the Voters  


When I said I was a radical, a serious-looking man said to me: 'What does 'radical' mean? It's just a word, a label, nothing more. I understand what it is for someone to be a monarchist or a socialist, but thereís no such thing as radicalism.'

I replied: 'To my mind, radicalism is something that is quite precise, and it's easy to define. Essentially, it's a political doctrine; it's only secondarily that it's an economic theory, and that's where you could attack it; for as far as property, work, taxes, in a word, the real business of the legislator, are concerned, it's opportunistic. But the political doctrine is perfectly solid. You could call it pure democracy.

Human beings, although they are unequal in practice, are equal in law ? that's the principle involved. The law and the authorities must constantly battle against inequality, which natureís laws ensure is constantly reborn, and in a thousand different forms.

Always, and whatever happens, there is one sure way to remedy this: that is to keep on improving universal suffrage, i.e. government of the people by themselves.

An educated populace, which deliberates and debates; a people enlightened and informed by experts and by their representatives, but not governed by them ? no, governed by itself - that's the ideal. And it's worth working to that end because we're still a long way away from it. All the powerful forces in society, the aristocracy, religion, wealth, authority, almost always get together and work to deceive the voter, to deceive the person they have elected, and to resist by cunning the will of the majority.

The radical takes on himself a double task; first to find out to the best of his ability, and on every issue, what the majority wants; then to keep an eye on the authorities and call them to account.

If you now ask the radical where this system is taking us, youíre asking too much of him. The republic will be whatever the majority want. Every other kind of justice is tyranny.

Alain, Propos impertinents, (1906-1914), Mille et une nuits, Departement de la Librarie Artheme Fayard, septembre 2002. pp. 13-15.



Propos #2063 
11 November, 1911


Too Long!

All those parliamentary speeches, all those reports people distribute, all the articles you read, all those works you pay so much for, they're all too long. Where does this dreadful word-mongering come from? Where did our brightest schoolkids learn to say in three pages what could be said in one? I dont know.

Our classical authors don't ramble on. Pascal, Moliere, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyere, Voltaire, Rousseau, say a lot in a few words. Even our tragic poets make a perfectly natural attempt to compress their thought into a single line; all good poems, all the ones you remember and quote, are remarkable for what you might call their density; they pack a lot of meaning into a small space. Even Hugo, who is sometimes long-winded enough to be boring, is, in his best passages, more succinct than anyone. In short, the model that grips and impresses the student is always something that is tightly presented and rich in meaning. How is it that all, or nearly all, of those who have worked the most along those lines finally come round to developing, extending, expanding, repeating, and drawing things out? For every speech is too long, every article is too long, every book is too long.

Scholarly custom, no doubt. You dont usually train pupils to present a point that has been made in two lines in one line, as one should. On the contrary, you tell them to expand it; because their work has to have a certain length. A teacher who awarded the prize for an essay of four lines would be laughed at. So the original statements are forgotten. They are added to rather than slimmed down; three sentences are generated out of one; words are deployed like an army, to occupy as much ground as possible. It's just the opposite you should be aiming at.

You have to take account, too, of the laziness of the reader, who skims through, and expects to understand the whole thing if he understands one sentence in ten picked up at the gallop. On the other hand, the two failings are complementary; the verbose author creates a lazy reader. Similarly, the one who is succinct wakes the readers attention. When we had a radical opposition, it created a rhetoric of attack which could destroy a government minister in three sentences. But once in power these radicals are more long-winded and heavy-handed.

The reason is, perhaps, that you have to be long-winded if you want to trick and numb your opponent; the defence strategy is always to draw things out rather than launching the shortest possible attack. The first of these methods produces results; the other just intimidates. Now all our radical thinkers are preparing themselves for public office; so they have to be weighty and serious to the point of boredom. Let's not forget either the prejudices of historians, who want to go back to the year dot; this useless history is a dead weight on all speeches and all reports. You can't propose raising taxes on cotton or on salted meat by a couple of centimes without giving the history of taxes, or indeed of tax in all countries. This pedantry of the diplomat and the historian has to be killed with ridicule.
*Alain, Propos impertinents (1906-1914), Mille et une nuits, Departement de la Librairie Artheme Fayard, September 2002. p. 61. 



Propos #2795

15 November, 1913

Two Worlds

 
A workman had some pretty strong things to say about teaching methods: The kids are in class; they're being told what a storm is, and what lightning is. Just then, there's a flash of light and the sound of thunder; but they quickly shut the windows and draw the curtains. Everyone laughs. And everyone also senses the symbolic force of this story. All that talking about things inside four walls, when outside you have the things themselves, that would provide us with such good lessons!

But you need to see both sides of the question. On the one hand, you have to know how to profit from vivid and striking real-life experiences that open the door into the child's mind; it is sometimes necessary for the lesson to follow the experience. For example, a lesson on compassion will be better absorbed and take root more deeply if it follows image of misery that makes you cry. Or a lesson on prudence, following a terrible accident; or on sobriety about an unpleasant drunkard. For it is quite rare for a child's attention, as shifting as a bird, to stop for a moment on anything. Grasp the opportunity; use the thunder.

Our teachers all stopped at this point. But its only the first moment, the purely instinctive moment of attention. Undoubtedly it is the key characteristic of man on this planet not to pay attention to the thunder, and instead to look at things that the ear doesn't hear and the eye doesn't see, such as the law of gravity, the movement of the stars, the relationship of volt and ampere, or the indirect measurement of the arc of the meridian, using triangles.

Because, in fact, practical experience rains down on the whole world; everyone gets equally wet, yet not equally well informed. The real task of the human being is to go back over these things, not just considering those that sparkle or burn. And that's what the cat or the dog cant do; they only live by imagination. There's a moment when a young pupil doing arithmetic tries hard to work things out for himself, and despises rote learning, which is so good at giving the answer without the reasons. You have to help him pass from the animal to the human condition, by getting him to see, for example, the rigour of thought for its own sake. In short, the child has to come to despise trite stories, showy experiences, the cinema, eventually all the games of imagination.

It is necessary to move on from imagination to understanding; that's where a problem comes in useful; and it's the second moment. And, finally, the child has to appreciate the leap he's made and to separate as if into two worlds, the playground and the classroom. He's pretty happy with that; he isn't so keen on childhood; he would like to escape it. The child will despise you, teacher, if you let him please himself.

*Alain, Propos impertinents (1906-1914), Mille et une nuits, Departement de la Librairie Artheme Fayard, September 2002. p. 61.



Review: Praised Be Our Lords (2007)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXV No. 2



Régis Debray, (right) being arrested in 1967 at Camiri in Bolivie (Credit: 



PRAISED BE OUR LORDS:
A Political Education

Reviewed by Colin Kirk



Praised be our Lords : A political education by Regis Debray (Loués soient nos seigneurs. Une education politique trans. John Howe), Verso London/N.Y 2007 UKP 19.99 IBSN: 978-1844671403 


A pupil of Althusser, Debray loved his mentor but ignored his guidance. Theoretical practice of Marxism, historical inevitability dehumanised, and academia generally, were not his milieu. Indeed, he craved experience of revolution, sought political involvement. He was not to be disappointed.

During the early years of the Cuban revolution, Debray was a familiar of Castro, who was to use him as link man with Che's Bolivian mission. He spent four years in prison after that tragic fiasco. He served a much longer sentence as political advisor to Mitterrand. Between the two he fitted in Allende's brief presidency of Chile and its demolition by Pinochet and the CIA. He advises anyone keen on academic eminence not to follow this route. He means he hasn't been summoned to the Ecole Normale Supérieure like Althusser, or the Collège de France like Foucault, a contemporary of his as a prodigy of Althusser. Nor is he likely to be!

This is the second part of Régis Debray's Autobiography Le temps d'apprendre à vivre, published by Gallimard in 1996. The first part Les masques, une education amoureuse 1988 and the third, Par amour de l'Art, une education intellectuelle 1998, are not indispensable. This volume is. Before explaining why, it is necessary to sweep away the humbug, of which there is not a little.

The cover of the paperback edition of Praised be Our Lords has a monotone of Debray's face uncannily like Che's on the Cape/Lorrimer edition of Bolivian Diary, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, Introduction by Fidel Castro, London, 1968. This is the famous Christ like image of the dead Che produced by the CIA, which did almost as much to iconise him as the 
ubiquitous image fortuitously found behind a shot of Sartre and de Beauvoir on their eulogising trip to Havana in 1960: a quartet of media personalities? Like Althusser, Debray does have a tendency to back modestly into the limelight.

Moreover, Debray's ironic title and opening sentence I loathe public life and politicians have to be a shade deceptive. Fairly recently Chirac appointed him to the commission on secularity, under the chairmanship of Bernard Stasi, Médiateur de la République, which resulted in the head scarf ban. Debray is director of the European Institute of the History of Science and Religion, which aims inter alia to be a check on mis-educational aspects of Media bombardment, and Professor of Philosophy at the Université de Lyon-III.

Nor will he make the Académie Française. These elevated positions are in the gift of the President of the Republic, one Sarkozy no less. In the first round Debray advised voting for Bayrou, in the second for Royale, even wrote despairingly of the shift in French politics to the extreme right. And anyway, French literati criticise Debray for slipshod writing, lack of structure and so on.

In Praised be Our Lords, Debray defines by experience and direct reflection. The structure of the book is a triptych within a proscenium arch. Enough to satisfy the most refined literary tastes. But disciples of Althusser are expected to ape his perfection of French elegance of expression, pellucid prose and so on.

Debray has a somewhat Surrealist stream-of-consciousness style, which John Howe captures admirably. The translation is better than faultless, it is great writing.

Now, with all the easy sarcasm out of the way, which French reviewers revelled in ten years ago, let's get down to the serious business of consideration of why this book bears comparison with Machiavelli's The Prince, which Russell described as a handbook for gangsters. His grandfather, British Prime Minister 1846-52 and 1865-6, would have known better. He too had practical experience rather than theoretical wisdom. The nearest Anglo-Saxon (wonderful Gallic portmanteau word) parallel to this book is Hobsbawm's Revolutionaries, an exclusively academic achievement.

Essential differences between revolutionary politicians, who terrorise by use of violence, and bureaucratic ones, who have others exercise terror on their behalf, are that terrorists purchase their arms whilst bureaucrats manufacture them for both sides. Kalashnikovs, poetry in steel, are manufactured world wide. Arms manufacture and occupation of moral high ground are synonymous, profits from the former fund media manipulation to achieve the latter. Terrorist politicians perform their speeches extemporary from the heart, bureaucratic ones read theirs.

Debray was speech writer for Mitterrand during the reformist socialist period of his first presidency. He was sacked during the second, before the decline into mediocrity and total self absorption. His interests are methodology of achievement and maintenance of political power, personality of political leaders, their choice and use of cronies, individual and communal response to them. In addition, what they do for their peers as against their poor oppressed communities and our individual and community reactions to them. Indeed, he thoroughly explores Kant's dictum: Humans are animals that need masters when living amongst other members of the species.

His account of the maelstrom of ideas, motivations, ambitions and ambiguities into which adolescence emerged at the end of the 1950s is brilliantly evocative. Are contemporary adolescents intellectually and emotionally involved in class struggle on behalf of the criminalised oppressed? English language media and media moguls rule their world. Certainly Anglo-Saxon thinking is no longer permeated by concerns from Paris café life as it was then; the francophone volume is down to a whimper. As Debray points out, France is now a canton of Western Europe.

One of Debray's strengths is that he acts like the guide in Dante's Inferno 
He indicates; the reader experiences. Whether intentionally or not, I guess intentionally: Debray dwarfs Mitterrand and inflates Fidel; rather he lets them do so for themselves. Fidel brandishes arms; Mitterrand makes and trades in them. Contrast between truth and enigma. You know where you are with Fidel. Even Mitterrand didn't know where he was with Mitterrand. Although Debray's initial high regard survivesÖbut tattered, not intact.

Debray was in Cuba for revolution. Fidel's primary activity was fermenting revolution. He had training camps for revolutionaries. Dressed in fatigues he trained revolutionaries. He lived in camp, slept on a camp bed set up on a pile of small arms. He had childlike delight and wonderment in the life; belief that a small group of revolutionaries can topple governments. 
Miraculously it had worked in Cuba. Fidel had conviction it could work elsewhere.

The Cuban experience was not exportable, of course. Che wasted his life proving the point. Revolutions occur in a society, lead by home grown leaders, with native passion, bound for glory. They can be trained abroad. They can not be bred abroad. Nor can outsiders substitute for them. Fidel remains Fidel to faithful Cubans; in all societies a minority are unable to kick the habit of hero worship. He became Castro to Debray as a result of the Ochoa show trial in 1989. General Ochoa, the de la Guardia brothers known as los Jimagua, and others were tried for drug trafficking. The U.S. trade embargo, which arguably has kept Castro in power, did not cover this highly lucrative trade, a formidable earner of essential foreign currency. The show trial sacrificed friends of Castro, who had initiated the trade, in the interests of international reputation.

Castro as demagogue, who declaimed five hour long tirades, is media make believe. Rather he ruminated an hour or so, confidentially and enquiringly, on concerns he shared with fellow Cubans, certainly a selected audience. With almost as many Cubans in Florida and thousands in gaol, the available set was somewhat diminished.

Fidel was left with the constituency of poor oppressed he sought to serve. Are their lives richer than downtrodden Americans? Certainly America does little for its own oppressed and seeks to impoverish Cuba, where everyone has access to health care and reasonable quality education. But the comparison Debray presents is with socialist France and its monstre sacré.

The centre piece of Praised be our Lords, a chapter called Disconnection, is reflective, as befits a period of meditation in prison. That it ranges forward as well as back in time is because it was written much later.

However, Che's Bolivian Diary was written at the time. Debray, known as Danton, was used by Fidel as link between Havana and Che's mission in Bolivia. From Che's diary for 1967:
April 2 . . . What has happened to Danton?
April 27 . . The Bolivian radio transmitted army reports which . . confirm Danton is a prisoner near Camiri . .
ANALYSIS OF THE MONTH (APRIL) . . .Danton and Carlos fell victims of their own haste, almost desperation to get out, and of my lack of energy in trying to prevent them, so we have cut our communications with Cuba (Danton) and we have lost our plan of action in Argentinia (Carlos).
ANALYSIS OF THE MONTH (MAY) . . . The fuss about the Debray case has given more combat power to our movement than ten victorious fights.
ANALYSIS OF THE MONTH (JUNE) . . . Debray continues in the news, but more in relation to my case, that now I appear as the leader of this movement.
September 9 . . . suspension of Debray's trial until the 17th . . .
October 3 . . . We heard an interview with Debray, very bravely confronting a student who provoked him.
October 5 . . . The radio reported our two Cambas had been transferred to Camiri to act as witness in the Debray trial. 
The diary ends on October 7. On October 8 Che was wounded, captured and later shot. By then he had gained the opprobrium of Washington, Moscow, Beijing, as well as Caracas and Buenos Aries, probably Havana, quite an achievement.

On November 17 the military court at Camiri condemned Debray to 30 years imprisonment there. He served only four, thanks to de Gaulle and Pope Paul V, improbable petitioners for release of a Marxist revolutionary!

There is no conflict of fact between Debray's account in Praised be our Lords or elsewhere, he's been interviewed on the subject as well as having written about it extensively, including in Che's Bolivian Diary. However, disconnection well describes Debray's interpretation that Che was seeking death. Like all revolutionary activists he risked his life.

Indeed, it would read like a suicide mission if anyone else were involved. But Che had led a charmed and successful life despite chronic illness throughout; he had asthma, with recurrent debilitating attacks. Moreover, his life experiences were not a preparation for failure. He would be justified in regarding himself as invincible. This was the Cuban revolution all over again: Bolivia this year, Argentina next. Debray relays this information too, indeed he was part of the grand plan, but still has Che intent on early death.

Allende did commit suicide. With the presidential palace, democracy, socialism and all he stood for collapsing around him, poetry in steel gave him his preferred exit. Any alternative would have been designed by Pinochet, Nixon or Kissinger, heaven forbid.
By staking his life, the prestigious individual demonstrates that he has been liberated from the first of the servitudes, enslavement to life. He stands as a free man, in contrast to the base individual who refuses to subordinate himself to the Cause (for example, by accepting dangerous missions from the Commander-in-Chief), preferring the petty existence of a toiler who deals with the resistance of things to transform, day by day, the material conditions of existence. In the vassal aspiring to sovereignty, risking death is part of an unconscious strategy of domination, for it is valour in faith and blood that establishes the Master as the Master of serfs. 
 Here it is the revolutionary freebooter putting his life on the line for the Cause. But eventually:
He will no longer listen to the blockade as an excuse, he is bored by the constant redefinitions of the Enemy, he despises national defence as a police expedient. It is one thing to establish an emergency dictatorship to make war, and quite another to make war in perpetuity to legitimise a dictatorship-for-life. To make this distinction from the inside, when you have not been to university to read Hegel and Hyppolite, may well require twenty years of rumination. My own access to the best authors did not enable me to do much better.
He quotes Jean Hyypolite: Mastery - a blind alley - servitude the true path of human liberation.

After ten years in pursuit of revolution in Latin America, Debray returned to Europe in 1975 in expectation of creation of a genuine socialist republic in Europe. He had to wait until 1981 for Mitterrand's investiture. 
Meanwhile, Debray had fallen in love with France all over again and he and Mitterrand had become invaluable to each other.

Although invaluable to Mitterrand, Marxist Debray was an embarrassment to the regime. After the investiture elocution, he was shunted off to an Elysian back room between the cupboard where the hot line to Moscow was housed and the ex-ballroom where presidential papers were accumulated. He thus had access to everything that crossed the presidential desk the previous day. With far less to do he read them and became better informed than his master, to whom he had the access of a familiar. Familiars sit alongside the gilt armchair not the other side the desk like Ministers.

The sequence is depressing. Debray's critiques of Mitterrand tend to be of a generalised type:
An alternation of hopes and disappointments on the left; of anxieties and reassurance on the right. While they live, everything around such people is mitigated, support and opposition both: nothing in their conduct really inspires enthusiasm, or seems seriously deplorable. Their supporters would not risk death for them, and nor would their opponents to bring them down: the two balance out.
We are forced to witness the death throes in France of Marxist Socialists: a proud species that emerged in the nineteenth century from the crossing of the Revolution as myth with the Book as instrument but is now a technical anachronism, doomed to disappear in the global ecology of the videosphere. We had listened to our own yarns, we were living above our means in the imagination: That socialist president had delivered a last generation of socialist dreamers from the century of lies that had done us so much good.

Shortly before he died that socialist president ended his Mémoires Interrompus, written and published 1996: Mais tout cela ne se fait qu'aprés qu'une stratégie de gauche a été dessiné, une dynamique impulse. Il ne faut donc pas changer de cap: le rassemblement à gauche de toute la gauche.

Is Debray's Advice to Younger Generations a spoof or something serious? Perhaps both but to those who want to shine in today's world it is brilliant. He bases it on Mazarin's Breviarum politicorum 1683, which shows little has changed since the days of Loius XIV, or rather that it has changed and changed back again.

He provides a courtier's guide as applicable in the corridors of financial, legal, industrial and commercial as political power. Mazarin's basic precepts were: simulate, dissimulate, trust no one, speak well of everyone, foresee before acting. Read Debray's contemporary advice, apply it, and the cardinal's success can be yours. Or you might prefer to follow Jean Hyypolite's advice.
The final minesweeping review of the history of endless presumption, bottomless hostility and eternal trickery to which we can turn at any age to befoul our maiden souls with an invigorating truth - comes across as masterly and breathtaking.

He concludes with a A Brief Militant's Lexicon as a personal supplement to those that exist already. Political education is discovering that there is no pass-key  - making up your own set of picks as you go along. Here is Debray's soul laid bare, the antidote to Advice to Younger Generations. It deserves careful study.

For me practical politics ended in Augustus 1968, when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague and as in March 1939 and February 1948 western democrats were content to let the Czechs suffer. The last name in Debray's book is Jan Palach's whose suicide at the time he sees as a way of reminding those bogged down in life that reality is not our law and life is less important to free men than their reasons for living it.

Machiavelli chronicled and analysed realpolitik in Renaissance Florence when Savonarola's commonwealth briefly replaced the Medici bankers' military monarchy, backed by the Borgia papacy. Allende's brief intrusion of socialism between military capitalist regimes of Chile, backed by the USA, is a close parallel experienced by Debray. Savonarola and Allende were martyrs to their causes.

Socialism in action in Mitterrand's France, as in northern Europe generally, has as its martyrs the oppressed, raised briefly from their distress only to be impoverished again, awaiting benefits to trickle down through the widening gap between obscene wealth and serfdom.

The President of Cuba, in suit and tie as when he welcomed Pope Jean-Paul II to Havana, was the only world leader to receive a standing ovation from his peers at the fiftieth anniversary session of the United Nations.

How simple everything would be if communism had just been a machine for making prison camps! The curse (or blessing, I am not sure which) is that between the crimes it produced fraternity, self-denial, optimism, courage and generosity.




The Philosopher's verdict: Historically inevitable

Body Dysmorphia (2007)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXV No. 2


BODY DYSMORPHIA
The Social and Ethical Challenge
By Simon Woods



We have always celebrated the grace and beauty of the human form. The notion that there is an objective ideal of the perfect human form underpins a classical aesthetic that has become a consistent motif in every artistic genre. The Elgin Marble frieze with its lithe, athletic human figures represents the human form in every possible martial and athletic pose. These classical and idealised forms of human perfection reappear and are epitomised in the Renaissance, in paint, in marble and in the written word. So when Shakespeare's Hamlet says:
What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! 
We have the words and a repertoire of images to conjure with. However it would be wrong to suggest that classical perfection has been the sole muse for ideas and the arts. Ugliness particularly when coupled with sin and deviance has also had its place. It appears in many of Bosch's paintings, the malign ugliness in Goya's dark paintings and the deliberate "deforming" of the human shape distinctive of the modern and post-modern explorations of the human form.

Medicine also has its place within this history of culture and ideas and has also been influenced, some might say overly influenced, by the classical ideals. The concept of health as a state of perfection as represented in the much criticised World Health Organisation's definition of health is an example of this classical idealism. Concepts of health and disease often play on ideas such as perfection of mind and physical function, and deviations from this state become the basis for defining disease and ill-health. Nor are these efforts to define and categorise disease immune to normative concepts where disease is frequently associated with corruption, deviation, even with sin and immorality. Human moral failings have been closely associated with organic disease even in the contemporary world, so syphilis, T.B, cancer and AIDS have all had morally pejorative associations. It is perhaps in the area of psychiatry and mental illness that these associations are most obvious and most controversial. The anti-psychiatry movement of the 60's and 70's was partly inspired by individuals keen to take the moral and political out of the mental health context.

The taxonomies and terminologies of medicine and psychiatry have done a good job of disguising the moral, political and socially controlling aspects of these disciplines. However the tension that exists between concepts of disease as harmful pathology and the normative notions of disease as moral deviation are still evident in contemporary health care and it is with these thoughts in mind that I now turn to consider the particular challenge of healthy limb amputation.

In the late 1990's Dr Robert Smith a surgeon in the National Health Service performed amputations of ostensibly "healthy" limbs in two individuals who had approached him with this request. His plans to amputate the limbs of a third patient were halted when the Hospital Trust in which Dr Smith was employed prevented him from doing so. How should we regard Smith's actions and the subsequent decision to prevent him from continuing with this work?

The patients who presented to Dr Smith were said to be suffering from a psychiatric illness, a disease "of the mind" that led them to believe that their otherwise healthy limbs did not belong to them and that they would be healthy and whole once the limb was removed.

There are a number of ways in which to begin thinking about this situation. Take for example the phenomenon of the phantom limb, a common experience in those who have suffered a traumatic amputation or elective surgery related to disease. Many amputees often experience this unpleasant symptom, haunted so to speak by the "ghost" of their former limb. One explanation for this phenomenon is the idea that the mental schema of the body is now mismatched, since this schema has failed, or at least partially failed to adjust to the new surgically adjusted physical territory of the body.

One can perhaps draw a parallel to the case of the person who wishes to be rid of a healthy limb because their mental schema is also mismatched with the physical territory of the body. In this instance the physical limb of flesh and blood might be said to be the "phantom" which haunts the person.

So how are we to understand this phenomenon and how ought we to respond as a society in which the health and well-being of our fellows is a shared social concern? Perhaps one way of comprehending this phenomenon is to distinguish the failure to recognise a part of the body as one's own and the desire to have a body part amputated? Therefore a first question to consider is whether there is one kind of case or more.

The neurologist, Oliver Sacks, has described several neurological cases, including his own experience following an accident in which he suffered a serious leg fracture. Sacks describes cases of patients who fail to recognise part of their body as belonging to them - a condition dubbed asomatagnosia. In such cases patients have been known to attempt to throw the alien limb out of bed and have invented all manner of bizarre stories to rationalise how an alien limb has become attached to their body. Cases of asomatagnosia are all associated with a neurological condition, a lesion in the brain or other form of physical damage. But these cases do not exhaust all possible examples of the phenomenon.

Within the taxonomy of disorders recognised by psychiatry there are a number of groups of conditions. These groups share, to a lesser or greater extent, the elements of recognition and desire. The first group is known as the paraphilias in which sexual arousal is derived from non-sexual or inappropriate objects and states. So the infamous examples of shoe, leather and rubber fetishism are examples of paraphilias. The more disturbing phenomenon of paedophilia is also included within this group. Of interest to this discussion are the conditions known as apotemnophilia and acrotemnophilia. The first is a condition in which the individual achieves sexual arousal from the state of being an amputee and includes people who have become amputees and those who strongly desire to become an amputee, the so called "wannabes". The second term is applied to those who achieve sexual arousal from being in close proximity to amputees, known colloquially as "devotees". There is a thriving sub-culture of such individuals within complex virtual and real communities enabling them to indulge in their own particular "paraphilia" or life-style choice.

Again within psychiatric taxonomy there is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) in which individuals believe that their body is diseased or extremely and offensively ugly causing them to become reclusive and often seeking multiple cosmetic surgeries. There is a view within psychiatry that such disorders are related to conditions such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia sharing in common a "monothematic" delusion, a powerful but false belief that the individual is too fat or diseased or ugly.

The third group is known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) sometimes referred to as Amputee Identity Disorder. In psychiatry there is a view that such conditions are related to Gender Identity Disorder in which individuals seek male to female sex-change surgery. It is argued that these cases are similar because the motive is not associated with a sexual desire and therefore not a paraphilia but with the belief that one's physical body is at odds with the mental schema of the body, giving the person a strong sense of alienation from the physical body which is often the cause of severe distress. This distress can be so profound that it often drives people to take extreme measures to seek relief including engineering their own amputations.

All of the conditions discussed here raise issues both for society at large and for medicine in particular. The moral goods with which medicine is concerned, relief of pain and suffering, amelioration and cure of disease, are also strongly endorsed by society. However this does not mean that these goals lack ambiguity. Medicine does raise controversial issues and conflicting intuitions. So how ought we to respond to the apparently "healthy" person who requests the amputation of one or more of their limbs?

One radical and perhaps controversial response would be to argue that this is not a matter for medicine, or indeed for society, but is rather a private matter, a personal choice of lifestyle. On this view, it ought to be a given that people are free to shape and re-shape their physical bodies in the same way that they change fashion or have a new hairstyle. This would require a liberal society in which the "wannabes" and "devotees" are free to pursue their interests within their own sub-culture so long as the costs are met mainly by themselves and not the rest of society. This sort of move would place most of the issues outside of the concern of medicine, except insofar as individuals may wish to buy the services of the cosmetic surgeon to aid in the reshaping of their bodies. This solution, of course, raises quite different questions about repugnance and social norms and the power a society may have to insist upon certain standards of behaviour as a condition of enjoying its membership.

A more troubling case is that of those individuals who are not driven by a sexual impulse or a radical view of lifestyle choice. For some individuals their life is severely impaired by the mere fact that, whilst appearing to be healthy, they are tortured by the existence of an unwanted and, in their view, additional limb. Tim Bayne and Neil Levy, two philosophers interested in this phenomenon, have argued that in the particular case of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) the medical model, involving surgical amputation, is appropriate and justified. They argue that the suffering of the person is real and significant enough, with a high risk of associated self-harming. The belief is rational enough and there is no other therapeutic alternative since the condition has proven resistant to psychiatric treatments. Bayne and Levy also argue that the outcome of the intervention is good in the small number of cases where amputation has taken place either surgically or through self-harm. Following such interventions the individuals do not request subsequent amputations and appear content with their reformed bodies. However, as convincing as these cases may seem, there are some complications that must be addressed. For example, in order to show that the outcomes of amputation are indeed good there is a need to conduct research on a sufficient number of interventions that are rigorously assessed and followed up.

There is, of course, the methodological problem of designing such a study. For example to what form of intervention would this be compared? There is also the further problem of whether such a research project could be sanctioned by a research ethics committee. However, a failure to make this enquiry or to provide these clinical services means that people will go on suffering; they may take drastic self-harming action forcing medicine to respond and pick up the pieces, or they may die in the process. All of which are serious harms worthy of medicine's and society's concern.

This essay has raised a number of intriguing questions in the context of healthy limb amputation that span several fields from philosophical questions about the nature of mind and the mind/body interface, questions in the philosophy of medicine about the nature of disease and impairment, social and political questions about the freedom to pursue life-style choices and the hard practical questions of medical ethics. There is not an easy solution to any of the questions raised here, but the issues are sufficiently complex to demand further enquiry - the main aim of this essay is to contribute to that enquiry.



Tuesday, 1 May 2007

The Mystery of the Parmenides (2007)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXV No. 1 Spring 2007


Head from a squared stone pillar with a carved head on top discovered at an excavation in Velia in 1966. The pillar had been discovered in 1962, with the inscription ‘Parmenides the son of Pyres the natural philosopher’, however it is unlikely that the sculptor knew what Parmenides looked like. Instead, it is believed that this portrait is actually based on the bust of the Epicurean philosopher, Metrodorus.

THE MYSTERY OF THE PARMENIDES
By Kelsey Wood



There is an old joke that many philosophers must have heard: If metaphysics tries to understand existence as Existence, and the theory of knowledge tries to understand knowing as Knowing, then metaphilosophy is the effort to understand a as A.

What should we understand by ‘metaphilosophy’? One way to put it is that metaphilosophy questions our ability to understand anything as it is in itself, apart from particular examples of that thing in particular situations. In other words, metaphilosophy is philosophy as the critique of philosophy itself. Critical philosophy, or metaphilosophy, tries to understand our ability to comprehend truth as such; in short, metaphilosophy probes the boundaries of philosophy.

And this is why Plato’s Parmenides has been something of a mystery for scholars for centuries. Scores of interpretations have been published by commentators who cannot seem to come to agreement about the meaning of this dialogue. The Parmenides dialogue remains a mystery because both traditional Plato scholars as well as hostile critics of so-called 'Platonism' have been misreading the dialogue at least since Aristotle. My argument (set out more fully in a book, Troubling Play (SUNY Press, 2005) is that both Platonists and hostile critics of Platonism have missed the full significance of Plato’s dialogues all along. Plato's Parmenides is neither metaphysics nor yet epistemology; it is metaphilosophy; a critique of philosophy. It is not a theory of reality or a theory of knowledge. In the Parmenides, Plato is asking the question, ‘What is philosophy really capable of?’ He is not simply dealing with how we know, or what we mean when we say that something exists. More fundamentally, he is asking: ‘How does truth happen; how is truth at all possible?’

Parmenides is not the only Platonic dialogue that questions the very nature of philosophy and of thinking as such: in fact, this ‘metaphilosophical’ question is one of Plato’s primary themes, a theme addressed in many other of his dialogues, including Meno, Apology, Gorgias, Protagoras, and Republic, among others.

This long-standing tendency of scholars to misread Plato’s Parmenides is why the dialogue remains controversial to this day. But why does the Parmenides remain so fascinating to readers of Plato? The fascination is due, in part, to the fact that this dialogue represents the initiation into philosophy of Plato’s teacher Socrates by the legendary Parmenides of Elea. In addition, Parmenides is one of Plato's most carefully-crafted works, and yet it seems to be thoroughly contradictory. Significantly, in this dialogue Plato undermines the (allegedly) Platonic metaphysics, or theory of reality: the so-called ‘theory’ of Forms. This is why I argue that both hostile critics of Plato and traditional Platonists have been misinterpreting Plato for centuries, because Plato himself insists in his later dialogues - such as Parmenides - that there is no ‘theory’ of forms. Plato's Parmenides demonstrates decisively that if the Idea or Form existed separately, apart from human experience, then both sense perceptions and Ideas would be utterly unintelligible.

Now, it is true that from early on in Plato}s thinking, the notion of Form indicates the sameness - the identity - that gives a variety of things in our experience their intelligibility. This means that it is by the Idea or Form of humanity we recognise any person we see to be a human being, in spite of variations in appearance between newborns, adults, the very old, or people with disfiguring diseases, etc. In other words, Plato’s term, Idea or Form, refers to the understandability of experience.

But it is important to realise that Plato wrote conversations - dialogues that question our assumptions and biases - not treatises that provide answers. It is of vital importance to recognise too that Plato’s dialogues - especially later works like Parmenides - when examined closely, do not contain any consistent and comprehensive theory. Instead, what dialogues like Parmenides do is precisely the opposite of this: they show why there cannot be any consistent and comprehensive account or theory of truth or knowing or existence. The Parmenides shows why any philosophy, any theory, any political science, or any ideology, is inherently and irreducibly incomplete and inconsistent. In short, this dialogue is metaphilosophy: it is thinking as the testing, criticism of, and often rejection of a remarkable variety of hypotheses and theories.

Plato’s dialogues are conversations that raise questions and then transform these questions into better questions. Plato’s figure of Parmenides teaches Socrates the art of questioning some of our most fundamental assumptions. We participate fully in this activity only when we are shaken by some vital question to the point that we realise, like Socrates, that paradoxically, there is a sense in which we really know nothing. The Platonic pursuit of wisdom is propelled by persistent social critique and self-examination, carried to the point of intellectual crisis as the apprehension of irreducible paradox.

Now, let me set the stage. As is well-known, the earliest Greek philosophers believed that there must be some one thing or element or principle behind all the things we perceive around us in this world. The name for this belief or theory is monism. The English word monism derives from one of the ancient Greek words for a unitary abiding existence, in short, the One. As a theory of reality, monism involves the belief that everything that exists is unified, that all beings are in some way essentially one. Perhaps the main thing that distinguishes the earliest Greek philosophers is how they variously describe this abiding, ultimate existence or substance that lies behind all the appearances in nature that we perceive with our sense organs.

One of the earliest Greek philosophers we know anything about is Thales, who lived on the Western coast of what is today Turkey. Thales claimed that all things are essentially one, and that this unifying substratum is water. No doubt Thales and his predecessors arrived at their belief in monism through some process of reasoning like the following. In nature we observe things changing. For example, a goat eats grass, and the grass is transformed through digestion into the goat's body and then the goat's waste products are excreted. In short, one type of existence - grass - is transformed into another kind of existence: goat. Then when humans roast and eat the goat, its flesh is again transformed, this time into human flesh and energy.

But the process of changing grass into goat (when the goat eats and digests) does not take forever, otherwise the goat would starve no matter how much grass it ate. Similarly, the process of changing goat meat into human flesh and energy does not take an infinite amount of time, otherwise we would starve no matter how much meat we ate. So - and this is the important bit - one being is transformed into another in a definite and limited time. Now it is well-known among scholars of ancient philosophy that Greek thinkers in general were uncomfortable with the notion of an actually-existing ‘infinity’. Unlike some modern philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, the Greek thinkers in general thought it unreasonable to assume that an infinite thing or process or event could exist or happen or be understood. So no doubt it seemed unreasonable to Thales and his colleagues and pupils that a process - such as digestion - could be an infinite process that occurs in a definite, finite time period. Even if an infinite process were possible, why should we believe that it could be completed in a finite time?

So monism, the belief in an underlying unity, is an attempt to avoid the looming shadow of the infinite regress, epitomised by Zeno's paradoxes..

Let me mention another of the many Greek philosophers before Plato, whose work is relevant to our effort to understand the main point of Plato’s dialogue. Like Thales, Anaximander was also a monist: in other words, he believed that all things are essentially unified by some primordial ‘something’ that underlies all the beings and processes we observe in nature. But unlike Thales, Anaximander argued that water is just one element in our experience among other elements, such as fire, earth, and air. Now if - as Thales argued - water is the underlying substance of everything we perceive, then water is the substance of fire. But if that were the case, then why does fire make a little water evaporate? And why does a lot of water put fire out? If water were the substance of fire, it seems reasonable to believe that adding it to fire would increase and not decrease the flames.

So although Anaximander agreed with Thales that all things are one, that there must be some single, universal that underlies all the changes we observe; unlike Thales, Anaximander argued that this oneness - this universal substratum or element - is not like any of the particular things or elements that we observe with our sense organs in everyday experience. Anaximander, like Thales, was a monist, but he claimed that the hidden oneness beneath all things is not definable; it is sheer indefiniteness. Only things in our experience are definable and understandable: we can understand and talk meaningfully about any one thing or event in our experience. A dog, for example, is a mammal, though of a different species than a cat or a cow, etc.

So, to summarise the implications of Anaximander’s view of the unity of all things: only particular ones in our experience are understandable. The big One - the universal underlying element or substratum that unifies all the particular things in our experience - of this we can have no perception and no knowledge. It is reasonable to believe that it exists, but it exists beneath or beyond the realm of the definite and definable particular things in our experience. For Anaximander, the big One, in itself or as itself, is utterly indefinable. Anaximander's word for it is apeiron, and he uses this word apeiron to mean something that is indefinite and without definable, limiting features.

Perceptions and thoughts may be definite, but the underlying origin or cause of what is definite, this hidden origin is utterly indefinite and indefinable. In a sense, apeiron is a name for nothing; the word simply points toward the boundary of sense perceptions and the inherent limit of the names and concepts we use to talk about experiences. 


Plato's Parmenides remains fascinating and controversial because it demonstrates decisively that Plato was no Platonist.


Now we are ready to begin understanding the main point of Plato's Parmenides, because just seventeen lines into Parmenides' lesson for young Socrates, Parmenides claims that the One considered in itself alone is apeiron (see Parmenides, 137d). Plato's use of Anaximander’s term near the outset of Parmenides' training of Socrates is significant, because beginning in the initial philosophical exchanges, and throughout the dialogue, Plato's figure of Parmenides disputes Socrates’ claim that Form exists apart from human experience and apart from other Forms.

Here is something that Plato’s character of Parmenides says in the introductory section of this dialogue that bears his name: ‘Do you see, Socrates, how great the impasse is if we distinguish a Form as a separate entity in itself?’ (133b). It is important to realise, though, that in what follows Parmenides does not entirely reject the notion of the intelligible Ideas; rather, he refines Socrates' initial, naive conception of form. Parmenides suggests that denying the possibility of intelligible experience is like engaging in dialogue and then claiming that dialogue is impossible. He says:
Yet on the other hand, Socrates, if someone, having an eye on the difficulties we have just brought up and others of the same sort, won't allow that there are Forms for things and won't mark off an Idea for each, he won't have anywhere to turn his thought, since he doesn't allow that for each thing there is a character that is always the same. But this would utterly destroy the possibility of dialogue. (135b-c)
The Idea or Form then, is whatever it is that allows us to learn from experience, and to communicate what we have learned to others. Consequently, if we say that there is no Form, we are attempting to communicate the impossibility of communication.

But in spite of his (qualified) approval of the notion of form, in the remainder of the dialogue, Parmenides repeatedly demonstrates for Socrates why Forms cannot exist apart from one another and from sensible things: in short, if an intelligible Idea existed separately - as an entity in itself - it would be utterly unintelligible. So, to decisively answer a couple of our initial questions, Plato's Parmenides remains fascinating and controversial because it demonstrates decisively that Plato was no Platonist.

Evidence indicates that the Parmenides dialogue was probably written around the time Aristotle joined Plato's academy (c. 367 B.C.E.). This is noteworthy because Plato’s own critique of the  ‘Theory’ of Forms in his Parmenides is far more rigorous and thorough than Aristotle’s later criticisms. From Aristotle onwards, hostile critics of Plato have accused Plato of maintaining an impossible theory of Forms: impossible because if Ideas existed separately from our experience, then they would be completely unknowable. But Plato’s Parmenides had already demonstrated this. In fact, the arguments these critics use to attack Plato are usually taken from his dialogue.

To see that such critiques of Plato are misguided, all we have to do is to recognise the fact that in the majority of the dialogues attributed to him, Plato does philosophy as metaphilosophy. The Platonic quest for the truth does not involve any ultimate, overarching theory at all; Plato’s way of truth is the relentless testing and critique of a remarkable variety of hypotheses, and by implication, of theory itself. This is why, in his dialogue, Plato also depicts - long after the historical figure was dead - his character of Parmenides re-evaluating his own hypothesis on the One-Being. Plato is urging that even the legendary and revered Parmenides practiced philosophy as the ‘Socratic’ critique of knowing, as the testing of the limits of reason itself.

In the main body of the dialogue, his character of Parmenides investigates the existence and non-existence of the One, or unity. Plato portrays Socrates being initiated into philosophical self-examination - by the revered Parmenides - who practices philosophy as the testing of one's own hypotheses. Thus reductio ad absurdum and refutation constitute the mode of training that Parmenides demonstrates for Socrates, reducing to absurdity a remarkable variety of hypotheses about existence, including his own claim that the experience of any thing implies the oneness or unity of that thing.

In the process, irreducible ambiguities that accompany claims to truth are disclosed: Parmenides reveals a dimension of 'productive ambiguity' in truth or disclosure. By productive ambiguity, I refer to Parmenides’ repeated demonstrations that meaning is use in a context. But because the intended uses of language vary, and because the context differs at least in some way in every use of language, there is ambiguity associated with every moment of insight, every communication, every Idea. This is precisely why Parmenides in Plato’s dialogue describes his method as a ‘troubling play’: the aim of this dialogue is to reinterpret the Parmenidean One-Being in terms of Plato’s own notion of intelligible Form. In this dialogue, Plato's figure of the legendary Parmenides demonstrates for Socrates that the Idea is the one-in-many that unifies sense perceptions with the concepts of reason and language.

This becomes clear in the main part of the dialogue (from 137c-166c), where Parmenides demonstrates the style of inquiry that he describes as troubling play. This style or method involves alternating between empirical and non-empirical orientations in a provocative way: in other words, Parmenides intentionally juxtaposes things that are true of sense perceptions with things that are true of Ideas, in an effort to provoke Socrates to better understand the distinction between immaterial Ideas and material things. Parmenides states that only if Socrates perfects this oppositional mode of investigation, will he apprehend truth (136c5-7). Parmenides describes this manner of alternation as follows: 
You must examine the consequences for the thing you hypothesize in relation to itself and in relation to each of the others, whichever you select, and in relation to several of them and to all of them in the same way; and you must examine the others, both in relation to themselves and in relation to whatever other thing you select, whether what you hypothesise is assumed to exist or not exist (136b-c). 
Parmenides discloses absurdities implicit to Socrates’ claim that Form exists separately - in itself - apart from our experience. Then Parmenides reorients the beginning philosopher by indicating irreducible ambiguities that accompany any insight or successful communication. Recognition of such ambiguities in truth itself is the first step beyond conceptual deadlock. Conceptual deadlock, or impasse, is the result of the belief that there is only one mode of truth.

Again, the main point of Plato’s Parmenides is to indicate that no term, or statement, or thought, means anything in itself, apart from its context. This is why, in this dialogue, Plato's figure of Parmenides plays language games that unexpectedly shift between contexts. The implication is that such shifts between perception and concept constitute the intelligibility of experience. The terms ‘Form’ and ‘Idea’ name our ability to learn from experience and to communicate what we have learned. But the apparently un-Platonic conclusion of the Parmenides is that no Form or Idea signifies anything whatsoever in itself, apart from other Forms and perceptions. The Form or Idea always has two sides (at least). In other words, any moment of making sense of our experience is irreducibly ambiguous; truth itself is ambiguous. To put this Platonic insight into contemporary philosophical terms, apart from all of its signifiers, the sign would signify nothing.

This means that the unifying Idea and the unified perceptions are shown to be distinct modes of truth which nonetheless cannot exist separately, in themselves. The Forms gather sense perceptions into a concept or term that stands for, or signifies all of our previous perceptions of the thing named by the term. In the dialogue, the intelligibility of any one concept signifies its other, its many perceived and recollected appearances. Similarly, the many sense perceptions signify that which is other to them, namely the one Form or Idea of which they are examples.

Truth is in this way shown to involve signs that are two-sided, or dyadic. Ideas without perceptions would be empty names for nothing, just as perceptions without any intelligible Form would be sheer chaos. Parmenides playfully reveals these two sides of any term throughout this dialogue. For example, in Parmenides’ game, sometimes ‘the One’ means unity as displayed by a part or characteristic of a thing, and sometimes the term means one particular entity as distinguished from others. And at one point (153b), Parmenides even uses ‘the One’ to indicate the number one, the first unit of counting! In short, Parmenides' language games alternate between different kinds of oneness: on the one hand, examples of ‘ones’ (beings, numbers, and concepts) that are definable and even countable. On the other hand, Parmenides shows that there is another, more basic kind of unity that underlies and accompanies any truth about beings, or numbers, or concepts.

For traditional interpreters of Plato, the most troubling feature of this dialogue is that Parmenides demonstrates again and again that no being can be intelligible or exist separately, in itself (141e-142a; 155e-157b; 159d-160b; 164a-b; 165e-166c). In fact, at 141e, Parmenides argues that no ‘One’ considered entirely according to itself could even be one! This means that Form as Form - any singular, unique Idea - signifies nothing. Parmenides tells young Socrates that any Idea considered entirely according to itself cannot be known, cannot exist, and cannot even be named. Like his other late dialogue the Sophist, Plato’s Parmenides shows that reasoning involves the ‘interweaving’ of forms with one another and with sense perceptions; the complete separation of each Form from all others would be the obliteration of reason and communication (Sophist, 259e).

Significantly, the motif of time is woven through the entire dialogue. Parmenides investigates the possibility of any adequate disclosure of existence through reasoning. The problematic of time is developed as part of this broader investigation into the possibility any access to the full truth.

If thinking is nothing but the repetition of identities like A=A, then we learn nothing, and communicate nothing, because all such identities are purely formal and void of information. And yet we must presuppose the principle of identity - that a thing is what it is - if any statement expresses the truth about a thing or event.

The pivotal moment of Parmenides' demonstration for Socrates comes at his Third Beginning, at 155e-157b, where difficulties relating to time culminate in the paradox of the instant. This crucial section of the dialogue shows that the conceptual representation of temporal existence implies irreducible impasse: Parmenides shows that logical principles imply an impossible instant of simultaneity that neither exists nor does not. This means, paradoxically, that the logical principles of non-contradiction as well as the principle of identity are inconsistent with the law of the excluded middle, insofar as the instant of simultaneity neither is nor is not, but according to the Law of the Excluded Middle, a thing either exists or does not, and a statement is either true or false.

This section can be compared to his late dialogue, Philebus, where Socrates argues that anything that means something to us, even sensuous pleasure, involves the anticipation and memory of possibilities for experience. The Forms are the two-sided signs that allow sense perception to make sense. Again, one side is the concept that any term signifies, and the other side is all the sense perceptions, the signifiers that the Form names. This is precisely why in the earlier dialogue, Meno, Plato urges that all learning and communication involves recollection. Without memories of past experiences, any Idea would be an empty name for nothing, utterly void of information. And this is why Plato shows his figure of Parmenides demonstrating repeatedly that Form cannot exist or be intelligible in itself, apart from other forms and from sensible things.

Parmenides teaches Socrates that within any system of Ideas, there is some surd element that proves to be both essential to the system and yet utterly indefinable (‘the instant’ Parmenides, 155e-157b). This means that conceptual distinctions signify only as contextualised. But the context of all contexts transcends both perception and thought. In short, Plato's Parmenides reveals the incompleteness of any formal system.

To conclude, the surprising feature of the Parmenides is that it is Form considered entirely according to itself - abstracted from all relational contexts - that proves to be the absolute non-being. Form is the intelligibility of experience; but the singular Idea is nothing apart from its relations with other Forms and with perceptions.

Consequently, discourse would be impossible if there was not one form for each thing (135b-c). On the other hand, discourse would also be impossible if any one form existed in itself, entirely apart from everything else (Sophist, 259e). In this way Plato reaffirms the Parmenidean One as the intelligible unity of many particular phenomena.

In the Philebus, Socrates claims that this dialectical interpenetration of one and many is a necessary feature of language; it is a result of the sentences we utter, and he argues that any Form is both a one and an indefinite many. In Philebus, Socrates also shows that pleasure ‘is’ only in the differentiation from pain, and that the Idea itself intimately involves its opposite - its other - within itself. What anything is intimately involves what it is not.

In Plato’s later dialogues the recognition of Form - in other words, our ability to ‘make sense’ of sense perceptions - is shown to involve analogy. No experience could be utterly unique. Any experience we can have is comparable or analogous in some way to other experiences that we have already had, as well as experiences that we anticipate having in the future.

This means that any present moment of experience that makes sense involves the past and the future. Any Form or Idea - any experience or communication that makes sense - only does so insofar as it is compared and contrasted with remembered experiences from the past, and our expectations about the future.

Parmenides’ central inquiry into time shows why all truth, all learning and successful communication, involves analogy and substitutions: comparisons and contrasts with memories of the past and expectations about the future. The Parmenides shows that because experience makes sense to us, thinking must imply both Formal structure and variation of context, both sameness and difference.

This is precisely why both learning and effective communication would be impossible unless there is one form for anything that exists. And yet, on the other hand, learning and effective communication would also be equally impossible if any one Form existed in itself, entirely apart from everything else. In short, Parmenides shows Socrates a sense in which any ‘One’ is non-coincident with itself. This means that anything that exists could not be what it is apart from other things that it is not.

Let me finish with a very Platonic example used by Martin Heidegger, a philosopher who was originally a Classicist: Isn't a clearing in the woods just the measured space where there are no trees? Yet, without the surrounding trees, the clearing would not be a clearing; it would just be part of a large open field or plain. It is in this sort of way that Plato tests the limits of reason, truth and existence itself.

Because of its articulation of many distinct but interrelated modes of truth, Parmenides is the pivotal dialogue for understanding Plato. In its inquiry into time and the tenses and moods of language, the dialogue anticipates much recent philosophy. Study of Plato’s Parmenides shows why Platonism - properly understood - remains vitally relevant in contemporary philosophy.


 
Address for correspondence: jkwood@ualr.edu

Review:: Delusive Sensibility (2007)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXV No. 1 Spring 2007



DELUSIVE SENSIBILITY
in Nietzsche’s philosophy

Reviewed by Zura Shiolashvili


 
Writing From The Late Notebooks, edited by Rudger Bittner
(Cambridge University Press 2003)
In the critical introduction of the latest collection of Nietzsche's previously unpublished writings, Writing From The Late Notebooks, light is cast over the contradictions within Nietzche's moral judgement while supporting the value of his thought.

That thought, according to the introduction, is centred in Nietzsche's theory of man's will to power, a theory which ultimately fails. Also discussed is the relation of this will to power to the descending survival of human existence and that life is the most important value. According to Nietzsche, "One must understand all motion, all 'appearances', all laws', as mere symptoms of inner events." And from the editor's introduction, "Thus all motion organic or not, has an inner side." He adds:
The somewhat cavalier fashion in which Nietzsche proceeds here, may be explained by the fact that in this point he is following his ‘great teacher’, Schopenhauer... It is one and the same will that manifests itself both in the forces of inorganic and the forms of organic nature.
and that: 
As far as it's scope is concerned, Nietzsche's 'will to power' simply takes over the place of Schopenhauer's will... The great defect of the present reading is that, understood this way, the doctrine of the will to power has no chance of being true.
In this essay I would like to give my own critique of Nietzsche's statement. If we believe Nietzsche, that all motion is merely symptomatic of inner events means that their motion has no synchronic connection with the outside world, then how can they exist? But if he means that both organic and inorganic motion have an inner side then Nietzsche becomes forced to acknowledge the importance of the metaphysical world within human nature, which is a contradiction of his 'wisdom'. In the introduction the authors also very clearly note Nietzsche's moral judgement upon Christianity and nature itself: 
As the naturalist reminds us, we are primarily living creatures; because it is hostile to life, our morality is thus negation of our very being. Hence we should try to liberate ourselves from it.... Yet it is difficult to understand how there can be such a thing as a morality hostile to life. If we had received our morality from above, it might easily clash with how we live. In Nietzsche's view, however, our morality arises from the way we live - so how can it turn against it?
Scientifically it is possible to extract a drop of blood in order to measure its condition and make a diagnosis of health. Similarly, in a spiritual way, I would like to analyse some thoughts from this latest offering of Nietzsche's writings and previous work to reveal the sensory delusion of his philosophy.

Nietzsche's pronouncement, ‘God is dead’, states the absolute priority of animal desire over the sublime value of mind. Free will, as seen by him, is a pleasure wherein consciousness embodies only a tool of man's feeling, i.e. there is no existent passion in the mind by which feeling can be exalted. In a word, he believes the mind should be driven by instinctive emotions. Hence, for Nietzsche the free will of animal nature in a human being represents the highest value in the existent world. But the question is: how does Nietzsche understand animal nature in the human ego and human nature in the animal ego? Nietzsche's sarcastic attitude toward morality requires a genuine response. Nietzsche's doctrine simply expresses the view that the purpose of morality is to destroy a sublime understanding of human nature. I hope to shed some light on the ugliness of this concept of aesthetic pleasure.

Let me continue with another quote from Nietzsche:
The animal functions are, after all, in principle a million times more important than all beautiful states and heights of consciousness: these are a surplus, except where they have to be tools for the animal functions.
From this revelation we have no alternative but to think that Nietzsche's aesthetics, as expressed in his book The Birth of Tragedy and Zararathustra, were totally motivated by his animal instincts and his consciousness was only a poetic tool of external decoration, as it had no sublime worth, pointing to the value of beauty. According to Nietzsche, we can summarise: the more animalistic man is, the deeper his aesthetic comprehension. However, if his true self is the 'animal functions’ and not the mind, neither his thoughts nor his animal passions can be true. For by the rational mind a human being is seen to be human, not merely by animal functions. Bright beauty strewn with stars does not personify a biological organism, but is illustrated by the shape of a celestial body glittering in the sky. Such luminosity has a pure, cognitive influence upon the human psyche.

So, we are speaking about cognitive loveliness that is not sensual, something which penetrates through the psyche to our animal ego. Hence, it means that in our animal nature the mind is attracted to the pure shape and colour of celestial beauty as well as delight in it. This is a pure spiritual longing that exists within feeling. Because an animal does not strive for purity, in which we agree, even with Nietzsche: ‘the spirit appears as a symptom of a relative imperfection of the organism. The pure spirit is a piece of pure stupidity.’ (From, The Anti-Christ)

But given the sublime nature of a human being we have to conclude that an existence of the self within the mind (as our second nature) has its inborn purity linked with consciousness, perceiving celestial beauty for its delight. Nietzsche has nothing to say on it, but the beauty of pure comprehension affects our animal ego. With its very disposition it beautifies the sensitiveness of flesh, that is, it purifies and elevates it.

Such a process must be the main reason for our transformation into human beings, which embodies the whole loveliness of nature. Consequently, our elevation over animal urges gives birth to the sparkle of beauty in our sensual glamour. Because the pure passion of the mind represents the main reason for our elevation over blind animal passion, psychologically, during sensual inspiration without a disposition of pure passion of the mind, a human being descends into the glamour of blind animal ego. Such a spiritual fall reveals the free will of a vivid nature, a happiness which is its sweetest bestial lust. As the pure passion of the mind manifests the pearl of love., the sublimated charm of a man becomes nothing but the death of the fallen ego, which is the sweetest lust to be like a beast. Hence the mind of purely animal passion is the self-same hell in which we can see the root of Nietzsche's antagonism towards idealism and Christianity.

Seeing that spiritual purity is a lie for Nietzsche, the exaltation of the sublime nature of the mind means ignorance of his animal pride and will to power, upon which is built his psychological self.

Thus he proclaims that, "animal functions are, after all, in principle a million times more important than beautiful states and heights of consciousness". Such deviation is only an opportunity for him to defend his fallen ego. If Nietzsche had ever looked at his fallen ego from the highest state of beauty he would have seen the vanity of his animal pride, illuminating the ugliness of his depravity. Instead, pure morality for Nietzsche must be acknowledged as all that is metaphysically absurd and, hence, idealism and Christianity as "anti-nature". Hence, obedience to animal lust ruins the loveliness of sublime passion by which a human being is marked out to be a human being. This is the cruel picture of the degeneracy of spiritual treasure in Nietzsche's theory, placing the importance of animalistic functions over the beautiful states and heights of consciousness.

Nietzsche could not master the heaven of happiness in human nature, with his free will to say no to its suffering, preferring rather to become like a joyous animal pursuing pleasure, rather than a misfortunate human being. When external beauty does not embrace the depth of loveliness in human nature, sensual glamour is defined by the blind animal ego wherein it is charmed. Therefore, if the sensuality of man is not accompanied by pure passion of thought, its glamour remains on the surface of its enchantment -that is to say, there is an emptiness in beauty. How miserable is the genius, who his whole life gallops on a horse, only to find one day that this horse was only a donkey!
 
‘What is Jewish morality? What is Christian morality? Chance robbed of it innocence; happiness polluted by the concept of 'sin'.’ writes Nietzsche, in The Anti-Christ. And: ‘Christianity is also opposed to everything that is spiritually well constituted,- only a sick reason can be used as Christian reason, Christianity sides with everything idiotic.’

According to Nietzsche, sin is a slave-psychology that originated from Jewish culture and Christianity is a branch of the same tree, causing the devaluation of happiness. Let us look at this psychology. Psalm 116 tells us: "I am greatly afflicted; I said in my consternation: men are all a vain hope." Here, I would say, is a classic example of the light of great wisdom spoken from an immeasurable depth of the human spirit, revealing simultaneously the abyss between great pain and love. Can anyone oppose this truth? His name is Nietzsche, the 'cleverestÇ and highest', for whom spirituality is a foreign experience, if there is no blind enjoyment or laughter in it, since "God is dead". Christian psychology is the ugly branch of sorrow by which mankind became wretched and fearful in its hope of mercy.

Though Nietzsche was very lenient with animals, it seems he never reflected on the simple truth that in spite of the fact that animals have no religion. They have their own character and among them are both the strong and weak. This is not because of religion but because of nature itself. A deer can never become a wolf, nor an ass a deer. If a guiltless rabbit is chicken-hearted and weak, it does not mean it should be hated and despised, but be loved all the more. This represents a genuine love of the earth, one which, Zarathustra, as Nietzsche's highest wisdom, was unable to see at all but mocked.

As to Christianity, though history accepts that the authority of the Christian church was corrupted, affecting the spiritual degradation of humanity, it is nonetheless real. Here, none can oppose Nietzsche. Even now, many hypocrites with their pure power of pleasure can be seen. This should not be understood as mixing pure and impure water in the same glass. If a treasure is covered by dust it does not mean it should be rejected. Rather, it must be cleaned to see its worth. The existence of the mind within the body provokes inner resistance in human nature itself, not just for a religious reason, but first because of thought which personifies man's ego rooted in its will. The deeper is our moral discernment, the greater the suffering within animal nature. This is a simple truth, and needs no specific affirmation philosophically or psychologically.

Thus the concept of sin is like poison to the animal psyche in its origin, by its free will it can never be exalted semantically. Therefore Nietzsche's concept of free will, as in all his cultural achievement, deflowers the concept of beauty and in his psycho-sexual wisdom he appears to mutilate his art.

Despite his excellent achievement of stylistic writing in Zarathustra, it has to be acknowledged that his spiritual sensibility is flavour without mind. In his philosophy, I would characterise wisdom as like an attractive women who betrays; and the stylistic prose of his philosophy is the pure decorated frame of a corrupted painting. Thus his animalistic laughter sounds worse than misfortune. Though his ideas sometimes describe reality, yet they simultaneously reveal a blind, individual passion that needs light of day.

Take for an example his concept of the will to power. If Nietzsche had said the will to power must proceed from the sublime nature of mind, not out of the animal pride that would be progress nearer the notion of the truth, philosophically and psychologically. Such a mind creates a human nature superior to one grounded in animal power and passion alone, that which is above animal instinct and its physical reason. We are asked by the very existence of our moral sensibility to see human nature this way. The greater the purity of mind, the more the freedom of the animal self is restricted in human nature, through which man's feelings are adorned with beauty. In this way animal passion shares its free will with the will of the sublime mind. In rejecting this concept, Nietzsche can only call Christians domestic animals and see "sin" as a slave-psychology, the devalued residue of a Jewish culture. Surely, here we could agree with him: there exits no sin for animals; they are free from it. It would be inhuman to restrict their joyous freedom! Swine are honoured with the most freedom among slaves.

Now I want to move on to consider Christian aesthetics, though I am afraid my attempt to enlighten will not heal any "idiot" from pride in his animal sensibility. As the mind manifests the sublime nature of the self by way of consciousness, animal sensibility is given aptitude to comprehend beauty, reinforcing its longing for pleasure. For the gift of consciousness embodies freedom of the mind and not the sensitive animalistic self, the longing for happiness gives birth to an inner resistance between the values of comprehension and the animal instinct for freedom.

As consciousness appears in the first stream of beauty, the mind, with its ambition rewarded, eagerly aspires to guide human feelings, dignifying passion with the concept of beauty. In this way, the worth of human passions must embody purity that is acknowledged as a treasure of beauty. For the free will of passion has an advantage over consciousness, being under the obedience of animal gratification, the sublime beauty perceived in consciousness loses the bliss of itself and becomes a captive of its happy-hunting ground. During such ecstasy animal passion is excited by the animal sense alone and not merely by the pure loveliness of the sublime consciousness.

As a result, the seduced charm is transformed into animal gratification, thus, happiness loses the worth of its sublime beauty; it loses its purity as well. Without purity even beauty loses its meaning, thus, without pure concept the satisfied sensual passion becomes empty, as it loses the meaning of sense as well. Such an aesthetic illustrates the Christian comprehension of human nature, which Nietzsche believed was immoral, leaving him in the wild emptiness of bestiality. Can an animal be an idiot? Scientifically, no, but philosophically it is very possible.
Life as an individual case: hypothesis starting from here and extending to the total nature of existence. : strives for a maximum feeling of power : is essentially a striving for more power : striving is nothing other than striving for power. 
(Writings From the Late Notebooks)
Restricted to his animal functions Nietzsche was powerless to comprehend the glory of beauty within the sublime nature of the mind, his animal striving for more power should be admitted as the natural outcome. The emptier the animal passion, the wilder it is. Here I would like to advance a key concept of Religion. It is true the value of religion is always associated with the notion of purity, purity with the uninvited guest of dirt, attached to it in its kingdom. Purity personifies the treasure of beauty. Only in the sublime nature of the Word can the psychological impurity of religion be removed that threatens to triumph over the value of Beauty. 
Enough. For the time being belief in the body is a stronger belief than belief in the mind; and anyone who wants to undermine it will most thoroughly by undermining . . . measured by intellectual standard, this whole phenomenon 'bodyÇ is as superior to our consciousness, our mind.

(Writings From theLate Notebooks) 
So how can Nietzsche's doctrine be interpreted? It might be said: it is better to be a healthy idiot than to be clever and sick. A philosophical dilemma, is it not? But let us define it: a clever person who is sick, in both cases, has advantage over the healthy idiot.

First, he is clever and, secondly, to be sick is not the end. A chance still remains to succeed. As for the idiot, he will never become wise and there is a high probability that one day he will become sick in his idiocy. I would say that Nietzsche, with his bodily intellect, turns the value of life up side down. If we share Nietzsche's belief that our physical body is superior to our consciousness, another question arises: is physical existence more important than consciousness, as it would be with an animal? What meaning does bodily existence have without a notion of being human? The animal feeling as a matter in itself does not represent the notion, for it is empty, but the notion is transformed into feeling itself.

Even as an atheist, Nietzsche's theory seems very weak and regressive. It would be logical if he would equate consciousness with the body as a whole. For example, as an atheist philosopher he could say: Belief in the body should be held on equal ground, with the same strength, as belief in the conscious mind. I would argue that ambition of the self is determined by our consciousness, which independently from animal passion, must define the spiritual value of life. Without consciousness, animal functions in their free will are blind. In this blindness they reveal that free will cannot be moral, deflowering not only the subjugated mind but also the body.

Hence, anyone who affirms a priority of bodily functions over consciousness is subservient to immorality. If Nietzsche means physical survival as a priority of animal functions over consciousness, animal functions that equate to eating, drinking and satisfaction, it is true. We are aware that by the animal functions we come into being, but we do not need to pursue this; it is not philosophy even for non-philosophers. The gloominess of the matter is not that Nietzsche emphasises the importance of animal functions, but that his doctrine strives for the contrary side of the value of life. For him, an animal is a man and a man is an animal. "The constructor of morality" could not perceive that if you are a rational animal, it does not mean you are as yet a human being. Thus using consciousness just as a tool for animal sensibility it is not only a spiritual fall but the devaluation of human passions.
Without existence the value of life is absent.
Without the value of life existence is non-existence.

The value of consciousness and physical functions of the body is like two pearls of life in human nature. The purer of the two is the most precious. 
I would like to analyse some thoughts from this latest offering of Nietzsche's writings and previous work to reveal the sensory delusion of his philosophy. Sometimes we can see the accuracy of Nietzsche's thought, as when in he represents the ugly side of human nature in Zarathustra: "Once you were apes, and even now man is more of an ape than any ape." But when with the same breath he attacks the sublime passions of human nature, he turns into the monkey he thought to mock, becoming a clown through his own efforts. I would ask: Can "the architect of morality" be a liar?

In Beyond Good and Evil he says: "This is something in the morality of Plato, which does not really belong to Plato, but which only appears in his philosophy". And from Zarathustra: "I love him whose soul is lavish, who neither wants nor returns thanks: for he always gives and will not preserve himself." Do these words belonging to Nietzsche? This is the natural revelation of his wickedness. Firstly, in his borrowed wisdom inexperience betrays him.Secondly, this idea is developed in Christian nature long before that which he mocks and the meaning of this sentence contradicts all his psychology.

In this sentence Nietzsche elevates himself to the level of saint for whom generosity and kindness represents perfection in his concepts and wants nothing for himself (Here Nietzsche with his animalistic egotism is aping much again).

I would like to unmask Nietzsche's kind generosity. Let us look at what he wrote, later, in The Anti-Christ.
What is bad? Everything stemming from weakness.... The weak and failures should perish: first principle of our love of humanity. And they should be helped to do this. 
Where is his kindness and generosity which he admires and love? If we compare the spirit of these two sentences to each other and believe they are written by one man, to speak carefully we should accuse him of lying or quietly we can call him a real scoundrel. Even the ugly may be beautiful if no one can see what ugliness is and vice versa. But that which is not ugly and nobody can see that it is not ugly, might be neither beautiful nor ugly, for in this case there is less blindness.
 
Who could be Nietzsche in this world where there is less blindness?



The author would like to express his especial thanks to: Mr and Miss Keith and Mary Gwynne for their encouragement and support during my work on this article,also my thanks go to Pastor Jan McKenzie for his part in helping to bring it to fruition.