Monday, August 13, 2018

Beginnings and endings

NB: These nuggets of wisdom have provided me much intellectual nourishment. I shall add to them occasionally, but am posting them in the hope that readers will enjoy them: DS

Bhagwadgita
Ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca // samanyam etat pasubhir naranam
dharmo hi tesam adhiko viseso // dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah
Hunger, sleep, fear and sex are common to men and animals
What distinguishes men from animals is the knowledge of right and wrong
Bhagwadgita; Translated by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, 1948, 1971, p 79

Plato: (Euthyphro; circa 395 BCE)

Socrates: And what do you say of piety, Euthyphro? Is not piety, according to your definition, loved by all the gods?

Euthyphro: Certainly.

Socrates: Because it is pious or holy, or for some other reason?

Euthyphro: No, that is the reason.

Socrates: It is loved because it is holy, not holy because it is loved?

Epicurus (341–270 BC)
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able, and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

G.W.F. Hegel: This is the hallmark of the sublime and absolute destiny of man - that he knows what good and evil are, and that it is his will which chooses either the one or the other. In short, he can be held responsible, for good as well as for evil, and not just this or that particular circumstance and for everything around him and within him, but also for the good and evil which are inherent in his individual freedom. Only the animal can be described as totally innocent.’ (Introduction to the lectures on the philosophy of world history, 1830 (CUP, 1975; p 90-91)

Zhuang Zhi: (370-287 BC) Everyone knows the usefulness of what is useful, but few know the usefulness of what is useless. 

Christopher Colmo: Theoretical contemplation satisfies our eros given the way we are built. Philosophy is good not because the truth is what it is but because we are what we are. The truth is good because we love it. (Consider Plato's Euthyphro, where we are asked whether the gods love what is pious because it is pious, or alternatively, whether something is pious only because the gods love it.) Reason and Revelation in the Thought of Leo Strauss; Interpretation, Fall 1990, Vol. 18, No. 1; p 155


Leo Strauss: It was (Heidegger’s) contempt for these permanencies (such as the distinction between the noble and the base) that led the most radical historicist in 1933 to submit to, or rather to welcome, as a dispensation of fate, the verdict of the least wise and least moderate part of his nation while it was in its least wise and least moderate mood, and at the same time to speak of wisdom and moderation. The biggest event of 1933 would rather seem to have proved, if such proof was necessary, that man cannot abandon the question of the good society, and that he cannot free himself from the responsibility for answering it by deferring to History or to any other power different from his own reason.’ What is Political Philosophy, (1959) p 27

Men are constantly attracted and deluded by two opposite charms: the charm of competence which is engendered by mathematics and everything akin to mathematics, and the charm of humble awe, which is engendered by meditation on the human soul and its experiences. Philosophy is characterized by the gentle, if firm, refusal to succumb to either charm. (ibid) p 40

Hannah Arendt on Heidegger: In his political behavior, in any case, Heidegger has provided us with more than ample warning that we should take him seriously. [As is well known, he entered the Nazi Party in a very sensational way in 1933-an act which made him stand out pretty much by himself among colleagues of the same calibre. Further, in his capacity as rector of Freiburg University, he forbade   Husserl, his teacher and friend, whose lecture chair he had inherited, to enter the faculty, because Husserl was a jew. Finally, it has been rumored that he has placed himself at the disposal of the French occupational authorities for the re-education of the German people.]

In view of the truly comic aspect of this development and in view of the no less genuinely abysmal state of political thought in German universities, one is tempted simply to dismiss the whole business. What speaks against such a dismissal is, among other things, that this entire mode of behavior has such exact parallels in German Romanticism that one can hardly believe them to result from the sheer coincidence of a purely personal failure of character. Heidegger is really (let us hope) the last Romantic - an immensely talented Friedrich Schlegel or Adam Muller, as it were, whose complete lack of responsibility is attributable to a spiritual playfulness that stems in part from delusions of genius and in part from despair. (What is Existential Philosophy? (1946) in Essays in Understanding (1994); p 187

Leo Strauss: A social science that cannot speak of tyranny with the same confidence with which medicine speaks, for example, of cancer, cannot understand social phenomena as what they are. It is therefore not scientific. Present day social science finds itself in this condition. On  Tyranny, (1948, 2000, p 177)

Hannah Arendt to Mary McCarthy: The chief fallacy is to believe that Truth is a result which comes at the end of a thought process. Truth, on the contrary, is always the beginning of thought.. Thinking starts after an experience of Truth has struck home, so to speak. The difference between philosophers and other people is that the former refuse to let go, but not that they are the only receptacles of Truth.. Truth, in other words, is not in thought, but... it is the condition for the possibility of thinking. It is both beginning and a priori.” Carol Brightman, ed., Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975

C.S. Lewis: The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How (would it be) if you saw through the garden too. It is no use trying 'to see through' first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To see through all things is the same as not to see.  Abolition of Man, (1943) p 40

Stanley RosenIf there is no human nature that remains constant within historical change, and so defines the perspectives of individual readers as perspectives upon a common humanity, then reading is impossible.... If the contingent is intelligible, that is, if it is amenable to judgement, then the basis of intelligibility or judgement cannot itself be contingent. It is true that the wise decision under present circumstances may be foolish under other circumstances, but the wisdom of the decision under present circumstances is not arbitrary. To judge is to understand, not to create  ex nihilo...
Hermeneutics as Politics (1987), p 146, 149
                          
Yakub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (died ca 870 AD): We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth and to assimilate it from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign peoples. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself; it never cheapens or debases him who reaches for it but ennobles and honours him. (cited in Karen Armstrong, History of God, p. 172

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832): How could I write songs of hatred when I felt no hate? And, between ourselves, I never hated the French, although I thanked God when we were rid of them. How could I, to whom the only significant things are civilization and barbarism, hate a nation which is among the most cultivated in the world, and to which I owe a great part of my own culture? In any case this business of hatred between nations is a curious thing. You will always find it more powerful and barbarous on the lowest levels of civilization. But there exists a level at which it wholly disappears, and where one stands, so to speak, above the nations, and feels the weal or woe of a neighbouring people as though it were one's own’: Will Durant (1967); The Story of Civilization Volume 10: Rousseau and Revolution; Ch 24; p 607

Christopher Colmo: Philosophy does not refute religion by attempting to achieve a secular wisdom. Rather philosophy is the sympathetic but incorruptible judge of the failure of all attempts at wisdom, sacred or profane: Reason and Revelation in the Thought of Leo Strauss (1990)

Leo Strauss: If nihilism is the rejection of the principles of civilisation as such, and if civilisation is based on recognition of the fact that the subject of civilisation is man as man, every interpretation of science and morals in terms of races, or of nations, or of cultures, is strictly speaking nihilistic. Whoever accepts the idea of a Nordic or German or Faustic science, e.g., rejects eo ipso the idea of science. Different ‘cultures’ may have produced different types of ‘science’; but only one of them can be true, can be science. The nihilist implication of the nationalist interpretation of science in particular can be described somewhat differently in the following terms. Civilisation is inseparable from learning, from the desire to learn from anyone who can teach us something worthwhile. The nationalist interpretation of science or philosophy implies that we cannot really learn anything worthwhile from people who do not belong to our nation or our culture. The few Greeks whom we usually have in mind when we speak of the Greeks, were distinguished from the barbarians, so to speak exclusively by their willingness to learn even from barbarians; whereas the barbarian, the non-Greek barbarian as well as the Greek barbarian, believes that all his questions are solved by, or on the basis of, his ancestral tradition. German Nihilism 1941

Max Weber: What is the meaning of science as a vocation, now after all these former illusions, the ‘way to true being,’ the ‘way to true art,’ the ‘way to true nature,’ the ‘way to true God,’ the ‘way to true happiness,’ have been dispelled? Tolstoi has given the simplest answer, with the words: ‘Science is meaningless because it gives no answer, the only question important for us: “what shall we do and how shall we live?” That science does not give an answer to this is indisputable. The only question that remains is the sense in which science gives ‘no’ answer, and whether or not science might yet be of some use to the one who puts the question correctly. (Science as a Vocation, speech at Munich University, 1917)

Mary Catherine BatesonThe timing of death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it: With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson
(1984) 

Stanley Rosen: The crux of the matter is not one's attitude toward science and technology, and certainly not whether one is a “liberal” or “conservative” in the debased and largely mindless sense in which these terms are used today. Instead, it is our conception of reason, and specifically of the connection between reason and the good. Those who define the good as the powerful, whether they be positivists or existentialists, at once deprive themselves of the capacity to distinguish between good and evil, and so they cannot speak rationally of the goodness of reason. Nihilism: A Philosophical Essay, 1969, p. 110

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.. (ibid) p 172
                                                 
Alexandre Koyre neither the totalitarian states nor their parties are secret societies in the precise sense of the term... they operate in public and make a· great play for publicity. Which amounts to just this: they conspire in broad daylight. The Political Function of the Modern Lie (1945)


Leszek Kolakowski: The devil decided to go back to the old notion of politics based on truth - as opposed to contract or consensus. He invented ideological states, that is to say, states whose legitimacy is grounded in the fact that their owners are owners of truth. If you oppose such a state or its system, you are an enemy of truth. The father of the lie employed the idea of truth as his powerful weapon. Truth by definition is universal, not tied to any particular nation or state. A nation or a state is not just a nation or a state, trying to assert its particular interest, to defend itself, to expand, to conquer new territories, to build an empire and so on. It is a carrier of universal truth, as in the old days of the crusades.


The devil, as the medieval theologians used to say, is simia dei, an ape of God. By inventing the ideological states he produced a caricatural imitation of theocracy. In fact the new order was to be much more thorough and complete than any Christian state of old, as it dispensed with any distinction between secular and religious authorities, concentrating instead both spiritual and physical power in one place; and the devil gave it not only all the instruments of coercion and education but the entire wealth of the nation as well, including the nation itself. Theocracy, or rather aleteiocracy, the rule of truth, had, at a certain moment, achieved an almost perfect form. [Chapter 15: Politics and the Devil  From Modernity on Endless Trial; pp 189]

Stanley Rosen: When philosophy is transformed into nationalism, wisdom itself becomes an ideology, and instead of a homogenous world state, we arrive at a perpetual state of global war: (Essays in Modern Philosophy, 2013, p 112

... it is hard to see how Heidegger, despite his distinction between Geschichte and Historie, (history as lived vs history as an object of inquiry: DS) makes it possible for man to take a responsible stand toward history. One must seriously question the adequacy of the resolute acceptance of tradition - i.e., what happens - as a criterion for human conduct. An ontology which cannot assist man in his struggle to preserve himself from his own actions runs the risk of Nihilism, which I regard as the consequence of the claustrophobia of complete immanentism masquerading as freedom. (The Quarrel Between Poetry and Philosophy, p 147)

Vassily Grossman (1905-1964): Whenever we see the dawn of an eternal good... whenever we see this dawn, the blood of children and old people is always shed... Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquerLife and Fate, (1960) 2011, pp 390-394

A. J. P. Taylor: In the state of nature which Hobbes imagined, violence was the only law, and life was 'nasty, brutish and short'. Though individuals never lived in this state of nature, the Great Powers of Europe have always done so." (The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918)

Hannah Arendt: totalitarian solutions may well survive the fall of totalitarian regimes in the form of strong temptations which will come up whenever it seems impossible to alleviate political, social, or economic misery in a manner worthy of man… It may even be that the true predicaments of our time will assume their authentic form – though not necessarily the cruelest – only when totalitarianism has become a thing of the past. The Origins of Totalitarianism (1948) p 592-593

Leo Strauss on Machiavelli: The recovery of ancient virtue consists of the re-imposition of the terror and fear that had made men good at the beginning. Machiavelli thus explains what his concern with the recovery of ancient modes and orders means fundamentally: men were good at the beginning, not because of innocence but because they were gripped by terror and fear-by the initial and radical terror and fear; at the beginning there is not Love but Terror; Machiavelli's wholly new teaching is based on this alleged insight (which anticipates Hobbes' doctrine of the state of nature). Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey; (eds) History of Political Philosophy (1987); (1963); 1972; p 310,
NB: Gandhi represented love; communalism represented terror. The foundation of India and Pakistan was the unstable mixture of the two: DS

Bruno Latour on Michel Serres: The mob in a state of crisis cannot agree on anything but on a victim, a scapegoat, a sacrifice. Beneath any boundary is buried a sacrificial victim.. (Serres) slowly realized that the sciences were not a way to limit violence but to fuel it. He decided to hear and to feel this terrible earth shaking tremor travelling from Hiroshima, the only date in history that he takes as a real turning-point; the earth has been shaking ever since…. Thanatocraty - Serres’ word for the black triad made by scientists, politicians and industrialists: The Enlightenment without the Critique: A Word on Michel Serres' Philosophy (pub. 1987)

Iris Murdoch: Freedom, we find out, is not an inconsequential chucking of one’s weight about, it is the disciplined overcoming of self. Humility is not a peculiar habit of self-effacement, rather like having an inaudible voice, it is self-less respect for reality and one of the most difficult and central of all virtues... Existentialism, in both its Continental and its Anglo-Saxon versions, is an attempt to solve the problem without really facing it: to solve it by attributing to the individual an empty, lonely freedom, a freedom, if he wishes, to 'fly in the face of the facts'. What it pictures is indeed the fearful solitude of the individual marooned upon a tiny island in the middle of a sea of scientific facts, and morality escaping from science only by a wild leap of the will. But our situation is not like this..
Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good (1970)

Niels Bohr: “The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images, parables, and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer. But that does not mean that it is not a genuine reality. And splitting this reality into an objective and a subjective side won’t get us very far.” Niels Bohr on Subjective vs. Objective Reality

Bulle Shah (1680-1757):
pad pad oh hazaar kitaabaan // kadi apne aap nu padheya nahi
ja ja varde mandir maseeti // kade mann apne vich vadeyaa nahi
avein lardaa hai, shaitaan de naal bandeya // kadi nafz apne naal ladeya nahi
Aakhe peer Bulleh Shah aasmani pharna aeN // jehra man wich wasda unhoN pharya nahin