A persistent set of themes in my research has been the concept of subject/object relations, relativism, and the impossibility of the absolute. These abstract themes are realised again and again in philosophy (cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am – therefore, what are you?), politics (native vs foreigner), theology (God versus man), technology (nature versus human) and metaphysics (Deluze’s philosopher as ontologist). In dialectics, as recently discussed, enlightenment versus romanticism. In the first instance, if we take Descartes’ cogito, the impossible ‘I’ is the flaw in the argument. Who, or what, is I? It is me, surely, my consciousness, my context within which the thought is occurring. And yet the actual cogito, the thought, can only be realised in relation to the world. Therefore, the only possibility for consciousness is that it must be conscious of something other than itself. Setting aside whether there would be any point in a self-referential consciousness, one that is only conscious of itself, one has to question what the mode of consciousness would be? Descartes’ fundamental concept of consciousness is intended as a metaphor to that which you and I define as consciousness, invariably considered as a kind of awareness of itself, of its existence. When Descartes says ‘consciousness’, I immediately relate that to my consciousness. It is not consciousness of my self; the self is constructed by and beyond consciousness. It is consciousness in and of itself, the base fact of consciousness. Set aside too the mechanisms that allow us as human beings to conceive of the idea of consciousness, which in and of themselves compromise such a pure concept, like the observer effect in quantum mechanics.Continue reading “Consciousness and Ecology”
In assessing the battlefield casualties Rome suffered in the first thirty years of the second century BC, Livy (c59 BC – c17 AD) estimates 55,000. The classicist Mary Beard distrusts the figures – and that number, she suggests, is far too low. In the first instance, ‘there was no systematic tally of deaths on an ancient battlefield; and all numbers in ancient texts have to be treated with suspicion, victims of exaggeration, misunderstanding and over the years some terrible miscopying by medieval monks.’ In addition, she continues, ‘[t]here was probably a patriotic tendency to downplay Roman losses; it is not clear whether allies as well as Roman citizens were included; there must have been some battles and skirmishes which do not feature in Livy’s list; and those who subsequently died of their wounds must have been very many indeed (in most circumstances, ancient weapons were much better at wounding than killing outright; death followed later, by infection).’ (SPQR, p.131-2)Continue reading “The Politics of Posterity”
In a very crude sense, the western history of political philosophy can be divided into five phases: the city state Greek democracy, an oikonomia derived in Ancient Greece from a principle of agreed control; colonial empire, deriving first from the Greek colonies and extending into the military-bureaucratic structures of the Roman empire; federalist patrimonial states, an essentially feudalist structure allowing for larger domains to be managed through grace and favour; and modern variations on social democracy (including communism) since the French Revolution, based on concepts of individual equality and freedom. Max Weber, Francis Fukuyama and countless others have variations on these phases and structures, some more global (Fukuyama in particular considers Indo-Sino histories), and others more scientific (Weber’s forensic sociology in particular).Continue reading “Failures of Political Philosophy”
In his 2019 book The World Philosophy Made, Scott Soames quotes the historian of Greek religion Walter Burkert, who claimed that the epic poetry of Homer and Hesiod was no less than ‘the glue that held Greek society and culture together.’ Burkert says that ‘[t]he authority to whom the Greeks appealed was the poetry of Hesiod and, above all, Homer. The spiritual unity of the Greeks was founded and upheld by poetry – a poetry which could still draw on living oral tradition to produce a felicitous union of freedom and form, spontaneity and discipline. To be a Greek was to be educated, and all education was Homer.’ (Soames, The World Philosophy Made, p.2; Burkert, Greek Religion, p.120)Continue reading “The Soul of the State”
In 2004, Bertie Ahern’s government was busy deregulating the banking sector in Ireland, and GDP growth was accelerating. There remained some concerns, however, and some discontent, culminating in Fianna Fáil’s dismal local election performance in May of that year. Charlie McCreevy, the outspoken Finance Minister in the coalition government, became a lightning rod for discontent, both a party and public representation of why Fianna Fáil had done so badly. He was dispatched to Brussels with what some may term indelicate haste, dismissed from Irish domestic politics, and became EU Commissioner.