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”
I’ve been reading my Hegel, Nietzsche and St Paul. It may seem like an unlikely combination, but then my boundaries are not very firmly set these days. There remain some constants: technology, and its power to reveal truth, is never far from my thinking; the dualism of faith and reason; ecology, monism, and the Spinozan idea of substance; memory and the philosophy of history; and theories of knowledge and epistemology. I get distracted, but ultimately there is some guidance there that keeps some orientation. But yes – dialectics.Continue reading “Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Nietzsche & St. Paul”
One of the key questions in philosophy is whether or not we (each of us) have free will. It is often referred to as the problem of determinism: are our actions pre-determined? Alternatively put: do we in the exercise of our will define our lives, and change the world? The knee-jerk reaction for the post-modern reader of this essay will invariably be ‘yes’! So let’s take two examples of me having exercised free will, determining my own future, one big and one small. I chose to go to college, and as a result I got a good job and had a successful career. And for the small example – I just lifted a pen from the desk. Are these choices entirely made by me?Continue reading “The Ecology of History: Time, Contingency, and Substance”
David Hume’s challenge to the philosophy of science – the problem of induction – has never properly been addressed. In essence, it argues that it is impossible to predict the future, because no matter how many experiments we can do, or examples we can take from history, we can never be sure that something we didn’t know might happen – like the emergence of a black swan, first discovered (or so named) in Australia in 1790, and prior to which – in Europe at least – it was presumed that all mature swans were white. We can deduce that if A = B and B = C then A = C. But just because every car we have ever observed has four wheels it does not mean that the next car will have four wheels. It may have only three. Instead of throwing our arms up and saying that none of modern rationalism can really make sense any more, a combination of pragmatism, wilful ignorance and theology have conspired to sweep the inconvenient position under the carpet.
This has profound consequences for the basis of modern thought and epistemology. In particular, it has particular consequences for history and the philosophy of history, and the philosophy of time. It also has a profound and immediately practical bearing on the criminal justice system, and how we attribute blame.Continue reading “The Folly of Causation”
Barreling through Eilenberger’s wonderful book on Weimar German philosophy, Time of the Magicians, themes begin to emerge. Some are forced, it has to be said, though language is certainly a consistent force. As Walter Benjamin had it, ‘the original sin of the philosophy of language in the modern era lies first of all in the fundamentally arbitrary nature of linguistic signs.’ (p.212) Ernst Cassirer ‘…understood man’s development through symbols as a continuous process of liberation that found its starting point in conceptual forms from which mythical thought derived.’ In other words, for Benjamin, language confused everything – that one is forced to theorise and philosophise through language limited the possibility of philosophy. Language of course was but one form of communication, one tool for concept formation; yet each concept, expressed as it had to be through nouns, imposed meaning on the thing, and distance between the signifier and the signified. For Cassirer, mythological concepts were as important as linguistic ones, allowing a level of transcendence – even if still wrapped in the stultifying chains of language.Continue reading “Language, Love and Meaning”
Staring out the window of the house this morning, I admired the raised beds I’d built ten years ago when we moved in. I had used eight foot scaffolding boards – they were going for a song after the crash, and the building trade was in the tank. Three high, two wide and two deep, these were large beds, with now semi mature trees, nestled into a yard paved with moulded concrete slabs and elsewhere dotted with containers and pots with all sorts of flowers and herbs. The boards were rotting now, but the heavy soil behind had long since settled and posed no direct-pressure threat to the integrity of the walls; they were threatened more from within, as the process of decay meant that they would pretty soon begin to crumble. Autumn is settling in now. I sipped my tea and exhaled; it was a comforting view.Continue reading “The Aesthetics of Aged Things”
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”
Presence or absence, with us or against us, in or out: righteousness has dogged mankind in modern times. Confidence in ourselves, in our existence, in our being, as rightful, positive entities on this planet and in this universe, has dominated the human condition. And so we seek to dominate! Assertive and strong (for to be otherwise is wasteful and somehow wrong) our existential duty is to dominate and multiply, to spawn and own. We are – nay, I am – absolute. Who denies me this? Who would argue that my existence is not infinitely significant, eternally worthwhile? Just as I shall not deny others their entitlement, I shall have mine.Continue reading “The Philosophy of History and The Binary Wasteland”
Later this week I’m speaking to the UCC conference on Eco-cosmology, Sustainability and a Spirit of Resilience, on the subject of ‘Machine Generated Illusions of Intimacy’, about the challenges of modernity and computational epistemology. Here’s a sneak peak.
What has happened to Europe? What of our glorious post-war project to bring together our cultured peoples after centuries of war, that brave experiment not merely in statecraft, but in post-state statecraft, to redefine government, and seize peace to our hearts? It has persevered and grown for over sixty years, launching exuberantly into the new Millennium with the Euro, but now she finds herself beset on all sides by vast forces including geopolitics, security, technology and global finance. Worst of all, Europe seems to have lost its soul. Not merely its raison d’etre, but its spirit, its ambition. What is missing?Continue reading “The Lost Soul of Europe”