Thursday, June 12, 2014

Stanley Rosen (1929-2014). A great philosopher passes

NB: Stanley Rosen passed away on May 4, 2014, in Philadelphia, USA. (Read an obituary here). I never met him, but only managed to convey my regards via a couple of email messages. I was introduced to his writing about a decade ago, and was profoundly moved and impressed by his wisdom, devotion to truth and relentless efforts to educate people about nihilism in our time. He was the author of 20 books, which, apart from English, were translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Serbian, Polish, Chinese and Hebrew. He researched and commented extensively on Plato, Heidegger, Hegel, Nietzsche, Strauss, Derrida, Wittgenstein and Gadamer not to mention thematic appraisals of metaphysics,  logical positivism, nihilism, hermeneutics, deconstruction, ordinary language philosophy, modernity, enlightenment and related questions. He was also the recipient of numerous honours, and a former president of the Metaphysical Society of America. Stanley Rosen was an acharya and satyashodhak in the true sense. Rest in peace sir - Dilip

"... is there available in our ordinary experience an icon of what Socrates means by the “vision” or “prophecy” of the good? I believe that there is—the good man. A good man, as we observe him within our daily lives, is not “useful for…” in the same sense that tools, food, acts, even just and beautiful things exhibit utility. Entirely apart from the happiness which may justly accrue to the good man because of his consciousness that he is good, there is a certain fulfillment, completion or perfection which shines forth from such a man, and which we too admire, even perhaps without envy or desire, because of its splendor..."
Nihilism: A Philosophical Essay, 1969, p. 172 (This book is available on the Net)

More about his life may be read on the Stanley Rosen Memorial Portal

“Philosophy is everything; everything is philosophy. It can’t be about something alone; it has to be about everything … It is the love of wisdom; it is a way of life with the ultimate goal of striving for completeness — the most a human can be.”

Tributes
Teaching in an Age of Ideology: Stanley Rosen

Extracts: Segments from an essay named Sad Reason (1999). In this, Rosen speaks of one of the consequences of the postponement of gratification, as being "..the simultaneous stimulation and stupefaction of our spiritual faculties that is induced by the endless pursuit of happiness. In slightly different terms, the residents of modernity alternate between radical new proposals for the attainment of happiness and admissions of temporary failure. The result is that while we anticipate happiness, we experience sadness directly. This anticipation is easily confused with happiness, especially because of the intensity with which we throw ourselves into revolutionary enterprises. With apologies to the psychiatrists, I call this manic depression, and this, I suggest, is the peculiar feature of late-modern sadness.."... "The connection between reason and the good is established by the structure of human experience as choosing between better and worse. It is a false description of human nature and therefore bad science, to say that we make these choices on a narrowly utilitarian basis; and it is simply unintelligible to be told that we are not making these choices at all but that they are being made for us by our blood sugar level or the firing of cells in our brains. There is no ghost in the machine, not merely because there are no ghosts, but because we are not machines.." ... "Of course humans disagree about which things in particular are good and which bad. But the disagreement would be impossible if they did not agree that there is a difference between good and bad.." "To say that reason is good for life, is of course, not the same as saying that life is good. My point, however, is not that reason is an instrument for something else but that it is a direct expression of goodness." (From Sad Reason in Metaphysics in ordinary language

‘It is time to state that philosophy is neither analytic nor synthetic, but both, and more. Philosophy is the dream of the whole. This dream is known in the textbooks as metaphysics.. What is required is the capacity to see outside the limits of analysis, and this means to see, indeed, to dream, the context of analysis. In so doing we must not reject analytical thinking. The turn to the pre-scientific is not a turn away from science but an act of obedience to the original intention of science, of which contemporary analytical philosophies of science are fantasms' - in The Limits of Analysis

'The initial purpose of hermeneutics was to explain the word of God. This purpose was eventually expended into the attempt to regulate the process of explaining the word of man. In the nineteenth century we learned, first from Hegel and then more effectually from Nietzsche, that God is dead. In the twentieth century, Kojève and his students, like Foucault, have informed us that man is dead… As the scope of hermeneutics has expanded, then, the two original sources of hermeneutical meaning, God and man, have vanished, taking with them the cosmos or world and leaving us with nothing but our own garrulity, which we choose to call the philosophy of language, linguistic philosophy, or one of their synonyms. If nothing is real, the real is nothing; there is no difference between the written lines of a text and the blank spaces between them..' 
From Rosen's Hermeneutics As Politics - click title for review 

This is a radically revised and expanded version of a short essay commissioned by Parallax for a special issue on Kojève’s Paris. I want to emphasize that what follows is a memoir, not a scholarly analysis. It is nevertheless my hope that some readers will find it of philosophical interest. I have been thinking about Kojève for almost forty years, both in himself and in relation to another great teacher, Leo Strauss. Strauss used to endorse Nietszche’s remark that the student’s duty to his teacher is to kill him. This advice, which was not understood by many of those who later came to be called Straussians, is intended to free the neophyte for the arduous task of philosophy, and for the task of doing justice to the nature of one’s teacher. It is, of course, not intended to legitimate a shallow, narcissistic expression of independence or presumed originality...It is a striking fact that, although Kojève was the more “original” of my two teachers, in the sense that he espoused a fully developed philosophical system as Strauss did not, there are many Straussians but very few if any Kojèvians. Much of the protestation about Strauss’s disciples is hypocritical in that it overlooks the equivalent phenomenon associated with all charismatic teachers. Nevertheless, it is worth asking why Kojève’s influence was of a different kind from that of Strauss. The answer, I think, is that Strauss seemed to represent the revitalization of something old, whereas Kojève claimed to manifest the conclusion of the philosophical tradition and seemed thereby to license the initiation of a postphilosophical epoch...

In 1960-1961 I was a Fulbright Research Professor at the Sorbonne. My sponsor was Jean Wahl, a kindly gentleman who was one of the first, and perhaps the first, to redirect French philosophical attention to Hegel in the late twenties with his lectures on the unhappy consciousness. Wahl was interesting because of a certain amorphousness in his nature. By education and age, he served as a symbol of the Paris of the previous generation. At the same time, he possessed a childlike openness and imaginative predisposition for novelty that hinted at things to come. One could not confuse him with the traditional masters of erudition like Gueroult or Gouhier, who exemplified in a higher degree the classical formation of France between the two world wars but who at the same time were speaking in muted voices to partially closed ears. Unfortunately, Wahl was no longer in his prime when I met him. Our contacts were limited and of a social rather than a philosophical nature. In short, even though Wahl was administratively or politically the most important philosopher at the University of Paris (or so I was told), he was no longer in a position to lead the way into the next generation... Despite the presence of interesting younger individuals (among them Paul Ricœur), the Sorbonne was essentially in the hands of the old guard, a cadre of cultivated historians with an academic view of philosophy. Those who were interested in philosophy as a living enterprise had to look elsewhere: the École des hautes études, the Jesuits, the salons, and above all, the Quai d’Orsay, where Alexandre Kojève held court... read more: http://stanleyrosen.jimdo.com/kojève-s-paris/

Chicago Days” by Stanley Rosen
I first met Leo Strauss as a nineteen year old student in the College of the University of Chicago in the Spring of 1949. This was the epoch of the presidency of Robert Maynard Hutchins, and the University was at the height of its glory. The College was at that time famous for the eccentricity and precociousness of many of its students, as well as because of an idiosyncratic program that permitted entering students to take examinations on the basis of which they were assigned course requirements. It was therefore possible to graduate in less than a month of residence. Apparently this was accomplished by the graduate of a Swiss private lycée some years after my departure. In 1949, the record was one year, and this was matched by eighteen members of my class, including Seth Benardete and myself. Another peculiarity of the College was that one could enter at any age, and there were a number of virtual children among my class-mates, in at least one case as young as thirteen. I should add that I arrived in 1948, relatively speaking an old man. I had been admitted to the College following graduation from High School in 1947, but chose to live in New York for a semester under the mistaken impression that I was a burgeoning novelist.

By the time I arrived in Chicago, my vocation had shifted from fiction to poetry. If I am not mistaken, I am the only one of Strauss’s long-term students who came to him from poetry. I was also virtually uninterested in politics, unlike the majority of Strauss’s students. In addition, I was an avowed metaphysician, who had elaborated a philosophical position, partly influenced by T. S. Eliot, one of whose main tenets was that philosophy and poetry are two different languages about the same world. There was for me no quarrel between philosophy and poetry, as there was (albeit in a subtle form) for Strauss, who followed Plato. In addition to these intellectual deficiencies, I was undisciplined in the academic sense, and spent most of my time writing poetry, with some professional success and with reasonable hopes for future progress as a poet. High on my list of things that I had no intention of doing was to become a professor of philosophy. To my adolescent vision, being a philosopher and a professor were incompatible, and besides, I regarded myself as already a philosopher. 

I had a number of unusual class-mates during my year in the College. Perhaps the most interesting of my closest friends was the aforementioned Seth Benardete… read more:

Also see
Philosophy isn't dead yet
Plato, Strauss, And Political Philosophy: An Interview with Stanley Rosen

Stanley Rosen's latest books
http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/I/bo16382279.html 
http://www.staugustine.net/our-books/books/essays-in-philosophy-modern/
http://www.staugustine.net/our-books/books/essays-in-philosophy-ancient/

More quotes from Stanley Rosen
“Abolition of a metaphysics of values leaves everything valueless, abolition of a metaphysics of substance leaves everything without substance. This is as good a description of nihilism as I can propose.”


‘Because science cannot certify itself as noble, we fall into rhetorical justifications of science, justifications that cannot be valid or rational given the criteria of validity or rationality that are acceptable to scientifically oriented philosophers. The ultimate consequence of this situation is a steady deterioration in the certitude of the rationality, and so the legitimacy, of the modern revolution altogether. The revolution begins in a flurry of rhetoric, a rhetoric designed to repudiate rhetoric, and deteriorates into the rhetoric of nihilism. The way out of nihilism is not by a return to the past, but instead by a reconsideration of ordinary experience and so to the rediscovery of the starting points of philosophical investigation.’ 

 ‘The results of the modern revolution are much worse than those of traditional metaphysics with respect to one crucial point. In each of its versions, the world of traditional metaphysics is defined by fundamental aporiai. But the world of post-traditional post-metaphysics is defined, if by anything, by an absence of foundations, and hence a fortiori by an absence of fundamental aporiai. The postmodern world is not a world at all, but chaos.. Nietzsche’s esoteric teaching has today become our exoteric teaching.’ 

 ‘Views are thus replaced by viewpoints, which are said to be determined by one’s historical standpoint. The common accessibility of views is replaced by the neutrality of points. In other words, the ostensible privacy or subjectivity of the content of one’s viewpoint is joined to a generalizing or mathematicizing of the activity of looking, which in turn leads to the subsequent devaluation of subjective content; one viewpoint is worth neither more nor less than any other. Each is a point on the continuum of history.’

 (Recalling Nietzsche’s advice to conservatives) -‘“Man is not a crab”... he cannot travel sideways or backwards but must go forward into the depth of nihilism in order to emerge on the other side. If I endorse this maxim it is not because I am a nihilist but because we are now in the midst of nihilism.’

 “...in order to discriminate among rival instances of extraordinary use, an extraordinary criterion is required. That extraordinary criterion... is wisdom, or at least a claim by someone to have given a completely rational speech. Such a claim cannot be fulfilled, but that takes nothing from its validity as the end and standard of philosophy.” ...“ordinary language philosophy is incompatible with ordinary language, or is unable to distinguish between speech and silence... The ordinary language philosopher teaches us to philosophize, not with a sledge-hammer, but with a nail-file. He does not say, “I am dynamite”, but rather, “I am a kitchen-match”. The tools are different, but the historical pattern is the same. In both cases, the remark of Leopardi is apposite: “Reason is a light; nature wishes to be illuminated by reason, not set on fire.” 

Where the mind is without fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake 
Rabindranath Tagore